Boat Check March 2014
14 March 2014 | Whortonsville, NC
To say the winter of 2014 has been harsh would be an understatement. We have had brutal cold, ice and snow and plenty of just plain dirty weather. That and the fact that the first mate works during tax season has meant that we have not been down since late January. When we were down in January we spend a cold day and night huddled around the heater. If it had not been necessary to check on the vessel we would have stayed home. During the boat check the little diesel refused to crank. I was not sure what was causing it and it was too stinking cold to do much investigating. I suspected a bad starter motor and I started to send an email to my friendly neighborhood diesel mechanic but thought better of it and decided to check a few other things before throwing my hands up. This trip was made without the first mate so that I could find out what the engine trouble was so it could be fixed before sailing weather sets in.
Tuesday March 11, 2014
Regular readers will notice that Tuesday is not a typical departure day for the crew of S/V Southern Star. There have been significant changes to my professional life since the last blog entry. I have worked as a computer programmer for over 20 years. The last 14 was for a major national financial institution. On February 12 I got a call from my manager telling me that my services were no longer required. This was not a surprise because it has not been a secret that the application that I was working on was being “sunset”. No one, including my management, knows exactly when the application will go away but as development work slows there was less and less need for developers. This was part of a larger reduction on force so I was not alone that day. I think my manager was more upset than I was. If I were 40 years old I would have applied to other departments to move to another application, but to be honest, at 63 years the thought of starting at the bottom of an almost vertical learning curve again does not appeal to me. That said, none of this is a bad thing. For now at least I plan to stay retired and do a lot of sailing, camping and being active in my other major hobby, amateur radio.
Shortly after I get the ax (so to speak) I stopped by a local diner for lunch. I never went out to lunch often when I was working because of the 60 minute time limit. After I ordered at the counter I saw several guys that had been school mates at one time or another. I sat down close by and had a great visit with them. Since I was in no hurry I got caught up on all the gossip and happenings around the community. I spent at least an hour and a half having lunch and afterword it occurred to me that I was like one of those old retired guys that you see hanging out at the fast food restaurants chewing the fat. Well, I thought, there is a reason for that! I enjoyed every minute of it and plan to attend further meetings as time allows.
Getting back to the blog…
I left at about 8am for no particular reason except I woke up at 7 and it took about an hour for me to have coffee get dressed and check my email. The drive was uneventful. I stopped for a fast food breakfast and lunch. I got a Subway sandwich to go because I did not want to go anywhere for dinner. Of course when I arrived mine was the only car in the parking lot. Unpacking was easy since I did not bring much. The goal for the day was to determine whether or not I needed to call the diesel mechanic. I got right to it.
I followed my standard engine cranking protocol. Open the seacock, set the battery switch to #2 (the cranking battery), turn the ignition switch on, hold the glow plug button in for about a minute then hit the starter button. Clunk no joy. This was exactly what happened last time. In days gone by I have learned that sometimes tapping with a hammer or wrench can get a stubborn solenoid switch to activate. Since I suspected the solenoid found a heavy pair of vice grips and gave it a good rap. On my way back to the cockpit I decided to turn both batteries on instead of just #2. When I tried again the engine came to life. At least it turned over which is a major improvement from just “clunk no joy”.
The engine was turning over but not cranking. With a marine diesel you cannot continue to crank if the engine does not fire because you can easily draw cooling water into the cylinders. This is a really bad thing. I let her turn for a few seconds then took another tack. I allowed the electric fuel pump to run and proceeded to do the only other thing I could think of, bleed the air out of the fuel system. I cracked the valves both at the fuel filter and at the injectors. I heard no air pass at either place which probably means there was no air to bleed. Back in the cockpit I gave the glow plugs another nice long run before I tried the started again. This time after about 10 seconds the engine fired and came to life. After setting for over two months I would expect any diesel to be moody about starting.
I went to the bathhouse to wash the fuel off my hands and met Nick and Jeanette in the yard. I learned that Nick’s father had passed away since I saw him last and they had been away for at least a couple of weeks. Losing a parent is always hard. I lost both of mine and no matter how prepared you think you are it is still a shock. I expressed my condolences.
I wanted to see if the engine would crank after being turned off for an hour or so. I followed the same protocol. Turn the battery switch to #2, press the glow plug button for a minute then the starter. Clunk no joy. Then it dawned on me. Maybe battery #2 is simply dead. I went below and turned the battery switch to “both”. When I tried again the iron sail came to life immediately. This is a good thing. It tells me that there is probably nothing wrong with the starter motor or the solenoid. Battery #2 simply needs to be replaced. I had replaced both house batteries last year and thought the cranking battery would be good for another season. Maybe it was the brutal winter or just the age of the battery but I will take it home and see what I can find at NAPA or Sams or WalMart. This is much better than calling the diesel mechanic.
The picture at the top of this blog entry is significant because the engine is running. If you look closely you will see water flowing from the exhaust port.
After a long day I turned in fairly early looking forward to an early start going home in the morning. The weather is supposed to go south quickly so I may be driving in the rain.
Wednesday March 12, 2014
I was up early and gone by 8:30. I wanted to make some stops on the way. Judy and I are seriously considering an extended camping trip to the western U.S. this summer. We have been talking about it for years and now we have the time. We will have to upgrade our elderly popup camper to something a bit more livable for an extended trip. There are camper dealers on route home. If we do get a different camper we will need a shelter for it. I stopped to look at shelters and campers between rain showers.
The camping is only one of many things we are planning. Now we will be able to go to because of the weather instead of in spite of the weather. It opens up many opportunities that have not been available because of the need to be back at a desk on Monday morning. The only fly in the ointment is that Judy is working during tax season and will be occupied until mid April. So stay tuned…