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The John Deere Saga

24 July 2011 | Cartwright, Labrador, Canada
(Long, technical)

Two weeks ago, as we sailed into Cartwright Harbor (pictured). A few hundred metres away from the dock, we started lowering sails and prepared to start the engine to motor onto the dock. The engine oil level was unexpectedly high. The oil was black, so I figured the fuel pump had leaked fuel into the crankcase, as I saw no signs of water. We started the engine and motored onto the dock.

After shutting down the motor, the oil was checked again, and now it looked like a chocolate milkshake, a sure indication that water was mixed into the oil. The oil was changed and the filter washed out with fuel. I'd bought a dozen "compatible" oil filters at the auto parts store in Rimouski a month ago and hadn't used any of them yet, so hadn't yet realized that none of thembe fit the engine. So, I needed to find the source of the water getting into the fuel and change the oil and filter enough times to clear all the water out (when water mixed with antifreeze mixes with the oil, the antifreeze prevents the oil from lubricating the bearings and it soon destroys the engine if the engine is continued to be run). No suitable oil filters were available in Cartwright.

The engine in Issuma is made by John Deere, but marinized (mostly this means adding a heat exchanger and a seawater pump so seawater cools the antifreeze/water that the engine is cooled with) by Baudouin. As Baudouin is in France, with only one dealer in Canada (in Montreal), versus John Deere being the real manufacturer of the engine and having many dealers all over the place, including Newfoundland, I figured they would be the best place to have a new oil cooler and head gasket (the two possible ways for the engine water/antifreeze to get into the oil) sent from.

I called up the John Deere dealer from the payphone in the store (no cellular service here) and ordered the parts. The John Deere dealer needed the serial number of the engine to get the correct oil cooler. Unfortunately, when Baudouin marinized the engine, they REMOVED the serial number plate from the engine, putting their own serial number plate in its place. I had a service manual for the engine, which said there were three possible oil coolers, and had pictures of each type. I emailed a copy of the relevant page of the service manual to the John Deere dealer, and he thought he could get the right one based on that.

The oil filters took six days to arrive, as the dealer thought they would be best shipped to Goose Bay by air and then transferred to something else to get to Cartwright. After a few days, everyone in Cartwright knew we were at the dock, waiting for parts, and people helped us out. Blair Gillis and Innu Mikkun airlines got the parts and put them on a charter flight that was going to Cartwright. Then I was able to change the oil and filter several times and determine that the problem was the oil cooler.

The oil cooler, which had to be sent from Ontario, arrived after several more days. Unfortunately, it was not the same type as the old one, so didn't fit. Knowing there was a machine shop in Goose Bay (a 5 hour drive), I hitchhiked to Goose Bay, got a part modified at the machine shop the next day, and hitchhiked back. Several more hours of installing the oil cooler and replacing hoses (they needed to change size to work with the new oil cooler) and the engine was running properly.
Vessel Name: Issuma
Vessel Make/Model: Damien II, 15m/50' steel staysail schooner with lifting keel
Extra: Designed for Antarctica. Built in France by META in 1981. Draft 1.3m/4.5' with keel up, 3.2m/10.5' with keel down. More details at
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Survey pictures taken of Shekin V
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Created 29 April 2008