Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Three Hour Cruise…

Easter Sunday and our first guests for an actual cruise! I was pretty excited and nervous as we had a big crew to accommodate: Mike D, his wife Julie, her brother, his wife and four kids! Oh and Mike D’s mom! Hoo boy. I wanted everything to go just right. Our plan was to pick them up at the fuel dock for A&B Marina. I had called on Friday to make sure they would be open on Easter Sunday. A nice guy named Mark said, “Sure we’re always open.” I asked if I could pick up some passengers and at first he said no, not if we were not renting a slip. I asked where we could pick up people and he was stumped and then said, “Oh that’s ok. You can pick them up here for a day sail.” Fine.

We brought Enee from the mooring ball on the east side of Flemming Key around to the west side and down to Key West Bight. Our crew was there on the dock waiting with lots of food and snorkeling and swimming gear. We get moored for fuel and the first thing I hear form some little shit working the dock is that we can’t pick up crew here. I explain that I was told my Mark that I could. He backed down. Based on engine hours (no working fuel gauge, remember?) I estimated that we’d need around 30 gallons of diesel. It took 12. I couldn’t really figure that out right then with all the confusion of getting people and gear on board so I just let it go. The little guy said it was $35. I gave him two 20’s. He bitched at me for correct change! I said sorry, that’s what I have. In retrospect I think this guy didn’t want to walk the length of the pier for the proper change. We settled on using plastic. He complained that this wasn’t a retail outfit and had some other general complaints about sail boaters in general. After that and getting everyone on board one of my crew said that the little guy said we couldn’t off load there. I had to get back in his face and said I damn well WAS and what did he think I was going to do with a crew of 8 sail them to Cuba? He complained about Mark (Like I care!) and another guy pulled me aside and told me to come back and not worry about it. Apparently he too knew what a jerk this guy was. Short people!

OK, Everyone settled in and we are off. We are planning to sail out to one of the reefs about 3 miles out where you can tie to a mooring ball and go snorkeling. Nobody except Mike had ever been on a sailboat before and I explained the workings of a few of the more obvious pieces of equipment and so forth. We raised the main and kept the engine on as the wind was very light in the channel as we passed one of the huge cruise ships moored there. Then it happened…

The engine sputtered, slowed…and stopped!

(Julie and 'the kids' during a happy moment)

Let me point out that we have been in Key West for about 3 weeks and have run the engine once or twice a day to keep the batteries charged and all has been fine. Now I have my first sailing guests and having been there before I know that this will now be a day from hell.

It was.

The last time this happened we were coming into Miami and had to bleed the entire fuel system. I checked the Racor paper filter and it was black! Why hadn’t I been monitoring that? Swinging on the anchor for too long can make you really lazy. I replaced the filter and we tried to start the engine. No. Stupid! Upon looking at this filter, it was already solid black from the dirty fuel that was in the Racor filter bowl. Damn! I have sucked tons of chunks up into this filter. Why? I empty the bowl and put in some clean diesel and another fresh filter. Start? No. I take off the fuel line and blow through it. A nice high ensued but did nothing for the engine!

Mike and mom, Charlotte enjoying the view from the poop deck

Meanwhile Sue is sailing up and down the channel like a schizophrenic sailboat! It is hot in the engine room from our morning run and now smells of diesel in which I am drenched. Yes I glisten in sweat and diesel but it is NOT a good look. Well, when this happened before we had to bleed the entire fuel system. Everyone topsides seems to be having fun. The kids were great and easily entertained by each other and by being on a sail boat, so might as well get to it. I start with the bleed screw by the screw-on filter and pump that about a thousand times. Start? No. From there you have to bleed all four injectors. I loosen them all up and put paper towel under them as Eric taught me to see that fuel is coming out. Sue cranks the engine and I look for the pink drips of diesel which I find on all four towels. The nuts for these are not the most accessible but I finally get them all tightened up again. Now let’s start it. Crank, crank, sputter, pop…..VROOOOOOMMMMM!!!!

A cheer goes up from the cockpit which I can’t hear but which the crew gladly recreated for me. I decided to shut the engine down and only use it at the end of the day for fear we would suck up some more junk and be back where we started. Now to the reef!

Todd and Cindy enjoying non-Minnesota weather!

The wind had died and what there was was on our nose. Is this the day in hell as predicted or what. We tack back and forth or as Hornblower would say, “Clawing our way up the coast.” We finally get clear of the southern island off of Key West and head a little west. We decide that it will be a very long day if we go all the way to the reef and back especially if what wind there is dies even more. We opt to anchor right off that island and eat the delicious food that Julie had made and brought. Now, when you are anchored and there is some boat traffic the ONLY motion you get to experience is up and down. And up. And down….and up….and down…This had the unfortunate effect you can imagine on Julie. I could see her separate herself from the crowd and begin that long stare at the horizon.

So after eating and straightening up a little I thought the best thing to do would be to sail right to the mouth of the harbor and then motor in from there using minimal engine that way. The wind was a little abaft the beam now and we headed up the channel under full sail. At one point Mike said, “Hey, we’re on a treadmill.” I watched the cruise ship beside us and sure enough our position was not changing with respect to the ship. Now what? Of course! The tide was falling and there is about a 3 knot current in this channel. Remember me predicting this day? Well, there’s nothing to do but start the engine and use more than I wanted to. She starts right up and runs for about 20 seconds. Dies and refuses to start again.

I. do. not. want. to. live.

Now even if I could get it started I’m not going to trust it in a tight harbor with million dollar boats all around me off of which I would probably be bouncing. The alternative? Our good friends at Tow Boat US!

The boat came out within half an hour and a guy by himself did a great job getting us in. I listened to the radio as he talked with that little guy back at A&B Marina who said that we were the ones who picked up crew ‘when we weren’t supposed to’! He’s still mad about that! It was agreed that we could be put at the end of their fuel dock behind a catamaran but we could only stay one night and then we’d have to leave. Big fishing tournament coming in. I’ve never felt less welcome in a marina.

We got tied up and the nice guy helped us. Passengers and gear off loaded and apologies fill the air. Mike says not to worry. Since nobody knew what to expect whatever happened was fine. Nice to say. Still…

Sue leaves to get beer. Do we have priorities in a crisis or what? I poke at the engine a little and think what the hell. I give her a start. sputter, pop…grind…sputter…VROOOOOMMMMM. Ran perfect for about 5 minutes until I shut her down. What’s left to say?

OK now that all this has happened we think about the clues we were getting before this day.

  1. When we ran the engine lately to charge batteries the rpm’s will slowly climb all by themselves. I figured it happened as the current draw from the alternator is decreased.
  2. We only took on 12 gallons when it should have at least been double that.
  3. When an engine runs lean (not getting enough gas) it will run fast.
  4. The trouble started right after adding fuel.

Ok boys and girls, today’s quiz. In 25 words or less what was happening to Scott and Sue’s engine that could have been avoided.

Times up. Pencils down. The answer is the fuel filter was no doubt slowly clogging up. I promised to always check it but became complacent. As it clogged the engine was running but starving for fuel (lean) hence the fast rpms. When we added fuel we stirred up the gunk in the tank, sucked large amounts of that into the paper filter and that was the last straw. I like when it all makes sense but not so much when it is after the day in hell. The reason it started ok later in the day was probably because gunk had resettled to the bottom.

On Monday morning we called around and found a guy (Cory Stuard) from Atlantic Marine who agreed to come right out and polish our fuel. What he did was suck fuel from our tank and put it through a filter/water separator and back into the tank. We found LOTS of water in the tank. Probably 5 gallons or more. It sits on the bottom and nothing too bad happens as long as it doesn’t reach the engine but you don’t really want water in your fuel, right? After about 3 hours and several filters we were no longer getting water and no longer seeing chunks of stuff floating in the fuel. Cory did a great job and taught us a lot about fuel and fuel tanks. You might be wondering how the water got there in the first place. Diesel engines return unburned fuel to the fuel tank. This fuel is warm and the engine compartment is warm so at the end of the day you have warm fuel. Now it cools off at night and the air above the fuel has moisture in it which then condenses on the inside of the tank and sinks to the bottom being more dense than diesel. The other growth in there needs oxygen to grow and that can be provided also by the oxygen in the water.

So once again we learn our lesson the hard way and our passengers had to pay for it. Tomorrow we are getting more Racor filters and inspecting them every, oh I don’t know, 15 minutes of running time? Sound about right?

Stay tuned...our next blog will be "Where in the World are Scott and Sue Going Next".


deborah said...

People who are not "sailors" enjoy sailing in all kinds of situations that people who are "sailors" find rather irritating, cold weather,rain, engine not starting, rough seas, ect....I think it's because they don't know to be irritated. Have all the kinks worked out before October:-)

Gracie Liberation Front said...

I declare that the Enie Marie will be, henceforth, known as the Vomit Comet. Up and Down. And Up and Down. And Up and Down. And Up.

Oh, I feel sick just typing it.

"I hear the voices." --George W. Bush

Chairman Meow

brian said...

I'll pray for your engine

Rich P said...

I-do-not-want-to-live. Nice "Young Frankenstein" reference.

Rich P said...

Also....watch out for pirates!

DavidB said...

Hey Scott and Sue,

Really nice write up of the fuel issues. My wife and I are planning a cruise in the next couple years. And I'm not the best deisel mechanic. So I'm learning all I can.

Keep the stories coming!

Scott said...

Do not fear the diesel engine. They are basically simple devices that only demand clean fuel, and oil change and watch that belt!