Long passage from Ixtapa to Barra
30 May 2010
We departed 8 a.m. Thursday morning from Ixtapa, heading north to Barra de Navidad. We were going against 20 knot winds and an adverse current, so the going was slow. Bashing against big waves and running 30 degrees against the wind, if we used only the sails the best we could manage was 3 or 4 knots. Likewise, with just the motor, 3 or 4 knots. With both motor and sails together we could manage 5 to 6 knots. We estimated the 180 mile trip would take about 30 hours.
Pascale took the helm in the evening, so that I could do the graveyard watch from 1 to 7 a.m. At 2 a.m. the engine suddenly died. I had Pascale take over, steering the boat on course under sail while I took a look at the engine.
When a diesel engine quits, it's because it isn't getting fuel. I checked the two primary and one secondary filters. I switched from primary filter #1 to #2, and I changed the seconday filter. Then, as always when a diesel runs out of fuel, I bled the injectors, and finally got the engine started, 1.5 hours later.
We continued all night and into the morning, when Pascale took over and I went to bed. Later in the afternoon, at 3 p.m., we were getting close to Manzanillo, and the engine died again. At least this time we weren't in the dark. I checked the filters, bled the jets, and got the engine started again after an hour. By this time we were getting tired and it was getting late... we would no longer be able to make it to Barra in daylight. So we decided to head to Manzanillo and drop anchor at Las Hadas. We dropped anchor just as the sun was setting, had a very light snack, and then the entire crew drifted off to blissful sleep. I noticed, that when I had the boat in reverse gear, I could not get the engine up to normal rpms.
The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and pulled up the anchor at 11 a.m. As I applied throttle in forward gear, I found I could only get the engine up to idle speed, even at full throttle. Putting the boat into neutral, I revved the engine and it went up to the normal 2500 rpm. Putting it into forward gear again, it went into the normal 2500 rpm this time. (very strange).
We counted our blessings and headed back out to sea, hoping to make the passage from Manzanillo to Barra in 4 to 5 hours. The morning sea state was better now, smaller swells (3 to 4 feet instead of the 6 to 8 foot waves we had the day before). Running with both the sails and the engine we were able to maintain 6 to 7 knots most of the way.
By the afternoon the winds had increased again to 24 knots, and we had big waves again, right on the nose. We were about 1 hour from Barra, and eagerly anticipating our imminent arrival, and suddenly the engine died. Again.
This time I started to analyze the fuel system. I found that I could not get fuel from the tanks to the filters. Perhaps there's some blockage in the tanks (like algae buildup and scum?) In other words, there was no fuel flow coming out of the tanks going into the filters. No wonder the engine was having trouble!
We had two 5 gallon jerry cans on deck with diesel fuel in them. I jury rigged a rubber hose leading from a jerry can in the cockpit, down the the input of one of the fuel filters.
Now all of a sudden I was getting fuel at the fuel injector pump bleed screw, whereas before I was not getting much.
But then, Francois, who was at the wheel, said we had to tack, as we were getting too close to shore. So I joined Francois and Pascale in the cockpit to help with the tacking manoeuvre. We tacked and hove to.
When I got back to the engine, the bleed screw that I had set aside on a tray, had fallen into the bilge under the engine. The bleed screw was gone, I couldn't find it. Without the bleed screw, there would be no way to get the engine started. What's more, with the excellent fuel flow now coming from the elevated jerry can, we had a geyser of fuel coming out of the hole where the bleed screw was. I had to have Pascale keep a finger on the hole to stop the fuel flow while I searched for the bleed screw.
Unable to find it, I looked for another same sized metric bolt elsewhere on the engine that might be non-essential. I located a bolt holding a bracket, tried it out, and it was the right size but 1/4 inch too long. I got out the grinder and cut off the end of the bolt to make it fit. Success! The newfound bolt fit the bleed screw hole perfectly. After bleeding the air out of the injectors, I got the engine started and we ran the engine off of that jerry can, all the rest of the way to Barra.
We arrived in the harbor, weary and grateful, around 6 PM (the attached photo was taken by a guest at the hotel). We thought the drama was over. This was not to be.
We pulled into the harbor and approached our slip. We wanted to back into the slip stern-in, so I took the boat past the slip, planning to back into the slip afterwards. I put the boat in reverse gear and... nothing. The engine won't turn more than 1000 rpm. I have no ability to stop the boat's forward motion, much less back it up into the slip. We narrowly missed colliding with the bows of some other boats in the marina. Luckily there were guys on the dock to help us. We instead pulled into another slip further down the marina where we could go bow-in.
So here we are, trying to figure out what has gone wrong. We are thinking that the culprit is dirty fuel tanks, and possibly some of the dirt has gotten into the fuel injection pump.