Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zen and the art of outboard motor maintenance...

Over the past three or four days, I've confined myself largely to the boat and to varnishing, finally getting two coats of varnish on all the exterior teak except the caprails.  And, I got the last coat on just in the nick of time, for about ten hours later a deluge came by way of a line of squalls in front of another cold front moving off the Southeast U.S.  The rain did not spoil it at all, for which I was very grateful. 

But boats and their gods have a way of giving with one hand and taking away with the other.  The morning after the rainstorm, I decided to hold off on the caprail until after the cold front, which was promised that evening.  Since my batteries were down half way, I ran the engine for an hour to charge them up ... the wind generator keeps up pretty well, but over about three days or so if the winds are not a steady 15 knots, the generator cannot produce enough amps.  While I don't like running the engine without a load, at least it gave a byproduct which I enjoyed: hot water.  So as soon as possible after I cut the engine, I took a warm shower. 

In the process of showering, the head sort of instantly gets washed down, so a byproduct of my body washing is cleaning the head, and this led me to decide to do other boat chores for the day: brush down the upolstery, clean the cabin sole, pack up all the garbage and take it in to a dumpster, do a load of wash, and also pick up my Raymarine C-80 chart plotter, which was finally repaired.  So around noon I loaded a big bag of garbage as well as a bag of laundry into the dinghy, and then the boat god bit me.

I could not get the engine started.  For an hour I tried all the recommended techniques, read the owners manual over, pulled the spark plugs and cleaned them, and nothing seemed to work.  Eventually I off loaded the garbage and laundry bags onto Alizee, and called a couple of local shops, both of which directed me to Rainbow Rentals, where Andy told me to bring it in the next morning to his shop down by the freight dock.  A bit later, I heard an "ahoy" outside, stuck my head up and Harvey and Nancy Melfi from Stardust, anchored just near me, stopped by to ask if I'd heard about the boat dragging through the anchorage during the storm.

"Did you hear the horns blasting," asked Harvey.

"Not a sound," I replied a bit sheepishly.  "I slept right through it.  I'm glad it wasn't me dragging.  I've got enough problems."

"Say, how are you with outboards, Harvey?" and I told him my problem.  He suggested I try putting in new sparkplugs, as he'd experienced a similar problem a year before and that worked.  I said I'd try that, but I only had one spare plug (the engine takes two), so he agreed to stop by around 1600 and, if changing out one plug hadn't gotten the problem solved, he'd take me in to the marine store to get some more new plugs.  I tried it, and briefly got the engine started, but it died and wouldn't restart just after I untied from Alizee, so I got to row back to Alizee.  

True to his word, Harvey stopped by around 1600 and took me into National Marine, where I bought the last three new plugs of my engine's type.  While there we bumped into an old friend of Harvey's who said he'd had the same problem a while back and the plugs were the solution, so I was uplifted and we went back to  Alizee where I swapped out the plugs.  Ah ha!  Success!!  The engine fired and kept running, so I dinghied over to Stardust to thank Harvey and get a boat card from him.  Wouldn't you know it!  The damned engine died when I turned it down to idle, and it would not start again.  Harvey agreed he'd tow me into Rainbow Rentals in the morning, and I rowed back to Alizee thoroughly dejected, frustrated, exhausted, and drained.  I tilted the engine on the dinghy, leaving it out of the water, a practice I sometimes do, but often don't because I'm in and out of it so often, and poor Penelope got to hear me whine for most of our evening Skype conversation.

The night brought the cold front (really not very cold, just wind, lightning, and rain), and for me it was pretty exciting because I'm not used to lightning.  I think we had a couple of strikes within a couple of thousand yards, although I haven't heard that any boats suffered a hit.  Anyhow, I didn't sleep too well because of my frustration over the engine and the storm, and was up before 0800 to get ready to take the dinghy over to the shop.  When Harvey pulled up, he said: "Have you tried starting it?"  "No," I replied."  "Well, go ahead and try it."  And, damned if it didn't start up on the first pull, just like it's suppose to start.  "I'll follow you over," said Harvey, and we set out across the harbour.

When we arrived at Rainbow's docks, I turned off the engine and then restarted it ... just like it's supppose to restart.  Nevertheless, we walked up to the shop and talked to Andy, the owner.  After telling him everything that I'd tried, what the symptoms were, and so forth, he suggested a couple of other things I might do if it kept recurring.  It might be the carbuerator, getting a little water in it, and I could drain it and also check for a fuel blockage by pump fuel through with the drain out.  It could be the kill switch faulting, and I could override that by disconnecting a single wire.  Meantime, maybe it resolved itself, he said.  "Just like the boat gods to do that," I mused.

She started right up and has successfully started and restarted a half-dozen more times today, allowing me to pick up my C-80 plotter, go to the wine shop to restock the larder, and sneak into Curly Tails for a quick lunch ... sort of in celebration.  Of course, I now notice another oddity on the engine ... the oil warning lamp goes out after the engine's started as it is supposed to go out, but then comes back on and stays on.  I know there is plenty of oil (I checked it when changing plugs three or four times), and the owners manual troubleshooting guide gives only two options.  The warning light being on either is saying the engine is running to slowly and there's no oil pressure, or the warning light is defective.  I'm guessing it's the latter, or perhaps I jiggled a wire when puzzling on the the starting problem.

Well, another day in the cruiser's life, and another way to gain respect for the boat gods.  At least I've got a good classic boat, and I'm not driving what I can only describe as a most bizarre sort of watercraft, a waterborne RV.  The Abacos is clearly not the Caribbean ... it's all too Floridian (thinking Boca Rotan) or Southern Californian (thinking Newport Beach), although this RV appears to be sporting a German flag ... go figure.


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