They make it look so easy!

They make it look so easy!

It’s a sailboat, right?  So what’s with the engine?

Yeah, I wish it was that easy.  Not having an engine would save a lot of headaches and money.

It’d create a lot more storage room.

And it’d make me a better sailor by not having my engine to rely on in tough situations.

But it’s slightly complicated…and I haven’t quite taken the plunge of engine-less sailing.

I’ve done a fair amount of work on automobile 6-cylinder gasoline engines back in my college days, but this is my first marine diesel.

My mentality for my post-Air Force days is “I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere; if there’s no wind, I’ll just hang out for a while”, where most people would fire up their engines since everyone is always in a hurry.  I’m ready to cut that umbilical.

But for now, I still need the engine for getting me through tight channels, in small docks, powering my refrigerator compressor, and charging my batteries.  I want to hang on to it for now, until I can figure out everything I need to about not having the “iron spinnaker”.  So I’ve been a little upset about its starting problems.

Diesel Engine Starting Problems

My engine, a Yanmar 2GM raw-water cooled 13hp diesel, has relatively few hours for being a 30-year old engine.  Yanmar marine diesel engines will last forever if properly maintained.  But in 30 years, the maintenance records have been next to nil and I have no clue when someone last took a look at it.

It’s been tough to start lately, and not knowing when the fuel filters have been replaced, I went ahead and replaced both the primary Racor filter and the secondary engine-mounted filter.  Nothing but tar came out of the drain for my primary filter, so I naturally assumed that I found the problem.  After filling up with new diesel and bleeding the air out of the system, she still wouldn’t start.  She’d cough, get a few compressions, and die.

Naturally I started assuming the worst…bad injectors, bad high-pressure pump, need a new engine…things I didn’t have the resources to fix myself.  Friend and dockmate Michael Williams suggested that I try bleeding the system again.  Diesel engine troubleshooting usually starts here.  “Bleeding” involves getting all of the air out of the fuel lines.  I thought I had a grasp on it…apparently not.

The First Fix

So I did it again.  I started at the secondary fuel filter and operated the fuel lift pump until only diesel came out of the bleed screw.  I tightened that.

I went to the high-pressure fuel pump inlet, loosened the nut there, and operated the lift pump again until nothing but diesel came out.

The nuts on the outlet side of the high-pressure pump were frozen, so I soaked them in Teflon and finally got those free.

I ran the starter without compression until only diesel came out of those nuts.

Finally I loosened the nut at one of the injectors and ran the starter again until only diesel came out.

After securing everything, I took a deep breath and started the motor with compression.  She started rough, rpm all over the place, lower than normal idle, but after a few seconds both cylinders kicked in and ran like normal.  Success!

So I guess the root cause was not bleeding the system completely after changing fuel filters?  Add one more nugget of knowledge to the book o’ know.

Other Fixes

So far I’ve had to replace the complete water pump assembly (hole in it was spewing seawater), replaced both anti-corrosion zincs, and changed the crankcase & transmission oil.

I carry spares of the cheaper parts in case I need to replace something in a pinch.  I’ll also need to clean out the exhaust mixing elbow soon (or at least inspect it) and I should be sittin’ pretty until the next unexpected disaster.

A simple diesel class is a great idea for all sailors planning on being self-sufficient, and is something I may look into in the near future.

The Return on Investment

Probably the biggest reward I got out of all of this was learning new things about my engine and gaining the confidence to fix things myself.

A lot of people would hire a mechanic to take a look at their engine and fix some things that may not seem simple at first, but in reality can be done by most people.  The problem with this is that if you’re in a remote area and need to start the engine for some reason, the only mechanic available will be the little guy inside your head who accumulated the knowledge from previous repairs.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop carrying my Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual, a good resource for sailboat diesel engines.  I still find myself referencing this book for things I think I already know!

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