Let’s be honest. I have not, as I have grown up, shown any great aptitude or even good attitude when it comes to maintenance. Of anything that has an engine. Computers I love breaking/fixing and breaking again, but mechanical stuff? Forget it. For example, I burned more cars (two) than I fixed or worked on (zero) through college. Upon joining the Army, I got drilled into my head that preventative maintenance is key to making sure you stuff works. That is–take care of the equipment by doing the routine services and it is going to last a lot longer. But I didn’t actually DO the maintenance; just made sure it got done! I mean, your hands get dirty and stuff! When it came time to get work done, I outsourced it to someone else. Rather have someone else dork it up than me!
So I have an appreciation for maintenance, why it should be done, and what happens when it isn’t done. But my practical application was not great. So as we started looking at heading out on this trip, I realized that my gap in actual knowledge of what to do when something went wrong was going to be a problem. Or at least it was going to be very expensive to have someone do all the work for us and I am cheap above all else. So time to get cracking. I started doing the maintenance on our monohull to get some hands on training. I took classes from Annapolis School of Seamanship on diesel engines, outboards, electrical connections. And looked at a lot of youtube videos. So that by the time we left, I was at least able to get the routine maintenance done, had tools and spares on board and felt relatively confident that we could at least get the boat to a boat yard if something happened.
And so far so good. Been knocking out maintenance on the outboards every 100ish hours. Fixed electrical problems with shower pump, deck light, stern light and various other issues. And we kept knocking on wood that nothing had gone wrong.
Until yesterday. Tuesday. 5 Dec 17. At 1230pm local. In the mooring field at Fort Myer, FL. When we started up the generator and it sounded wrong. Like really, really loud. So I went topside, looked over the port side at the exhaust and could see no water coming out from the exhaust; just smoke. This is a diesel generator cooled by seawater and the heat is carried by the sea water out the through hull; we should have seen water. And I learned in one of my classes that no water is BAD and you should SHUT DOWN THE ENGINE/GENERATOR IMMEDIATELY! Which I went to do, but the system went ahead and shut itself down.
Preventative maintenance. Needs to be done on all the systems on the boat. And the generator is one of those systems that we don’t use every day AND it really hard to get to. Consequently the preventative maintenance had not been done. Or at least to the standards of the outboard engines.
The likely culprit was the impeller on the sea water system. Pretty easy to get to on this generator and once we had torn the back cabin apart and got to the generator, we found that indeed, the impeller had gone ahead and destroyed itself. Which means we had to search through the system and find all the little pieces of plastic. Which took many hours and much swearing. And cemented in my head, at least, the fact that I have to pay attention to the generator!
At 1230 the generator crapped the bed. At 1400 the generator is in pieces, our house batteries at 60% and I’m looking at the little pieces of plastic and think that this may not end out well. So I request that Jan call and see if we can find a marina in the local area that we can stay at. We can get power in case the fix goes to crap. She calls around and finds a space at the most expensive marina in town. The Pink Shell Marina and resort. So at 1500 we moved to the Pink Shell and we go back into the aft cabin. I get most of the pieces out except one which is jammed. By using a mirror, I can see it, and can touch it, but can’t get it out. In comes Jan with a magic tweezers and gets the last piece (we HOPE) out. We put the whole thing back together and cross our fingers and start the engine.
And it works! Water flowing out at an impressive rate. Until it stops. And we all scream to AJ (who is manning the kill switch) to STOP THE GENERATOR! TURN IT OFF!! Which he does. A quick looks and we see that the top to the water filter bowl was not screwed on correctly and so there was no seal. We reaseat it and BAM! Generator running again. By 1830 the whole thing is done.
Now, I think, would be a good time to service the generator. So we leave most of the stuff out of the back cabin and at 0700 on Wednesday, Lucky and I are running the 1.5 miles to the nearest autoparts store to get two quarts of 15W40 oil, and once secured, run back to the boat (well…there may have been some walking, but I only did it because Lucky seemed to be tired1
). We change the oil, fire it back up and it is working like a champ. We did discover a small leak in the T connection for our through hull that I will apply plumbers tape. And I need an 11/16th wrench I can get into a very tight space to change the zinc. Those two projects will be done this weekend.
This is actually a good news story for a couple of reasons. First, it was kind of a fluke that we started the generator at noon. Up to this point we have charged our battery at night, usually when Jan is watching ‘The Voice’ if it is Monday or Tuesday. But after talking to another sailing cat we decided to give a bit of a charge in the day. Otherwise we would have found this at 8pm at night and been stressed about charging our house bank all night. Second…if it is going to fail for the first time, rather it be at a place where we could phone a friend for help. We didn’t need it, but it was nice to have. And now that we plan on going to more remote places, we know we have to keep an eye on all our systems.
And the last reason it was a good news story was that we didn’t fall apart and panic or stress. Something broke, we figured out what the problem was, determined we had all the parts, we all worked together to fix it. Five months ago we would have head a seizure and been Googling “marine generator mechanic near me,” “how do we get a tow back to Maryland,” or “please make me generator work.” Today? Generator fixed AND we ended up at a resort marina and I type this as I sit by a pool. I’m not going to be happy when I pay our bill tomorrow, but I’m liking the view right now!
Preventative maintenance. Gotta get it done!!
1Which, for those of you who have met Lucky, you know is a big, fat, lie.