Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trouble on the Mill Pond

It was mid afternoon when Interabang, the last of the four buddy boats, approached Los Muertos.  A light southeasterly breeze blew into the anchorage and the bows of the seven or so boats at anchor pointed out to sea.  It was as if an audience was awaiting our arrival.  We dropped the mainsail about a quarter mile off the point and then continued motoring in.  Passing the large reef on the northern side of the entrance and nearly abeam the point, we throttled back to reduce boat speed.  Instantly, the oil pressure alarm blared and the engine died!  We tried to restart the engine several times, but she wouldn’t go.

Fortunately, the boat still had plenty of momentum.  I put the wheel over hard to port, away from the point, and reversed course.  As the bow swung into the wind, we scrambled to get the main up and the jib unfurled.  We had little breeze but enough to claw our way off the leeward reef and back into deep water.  Later we were told that some of the folks watching from the anchorage thought we were going to show off by anchoring under sail.  We weren’t so bold or so lucky.

It was great to have the boat safe from running aground, but we still had an engine to get running.  Challenging situations seem to seek out the sleep deprived and this was no exception.  We were both exhausted from the two day passage and I was suffering from a full blown cold.  Trisha took the helm and I went below to investigate.  ‘If given clean fuel and clean air a diesel engine will run forever.’  I repeated the diesel engine mantra to myself over and over again.  I started with the fuel filter.  When I unscrewed the handle that holds down the housing cover, diesel fuel squirted out.  This seemed to indicate that the filter was clogged and the upstream fuel pump had pressurized the fuel line.

Fuel filter system on Interabang
The good news was that several years back I had put together a redundant filter fuel system for just such an occasion.  By flipping two levers, the fuel flow was easily changed to a clean Racor filter.  My biggest concern now was whether or not any air had been sucked into the fuel system.  I really didn’t want to spend the next couple of hours bleeding our Perkins engine while underway.  Bleeding this engine is a complex task after a good night's sleep while securely tied to the dock.  I went to the helm and explained the potential problem and solution to Trisha.  We said a brief prayer and crossed our fingers.  I pushed the throttle wide open and hit the starter.  The engine cranked over several times and then roared into action.  It ran a little rough at first, but was soon running smoothly.  We drove around a bit, throttling up and down.  The engine was shut down and restarted a couple of times.  Soon we had the sails down and started making our way into the anchorage. 

Suddenly, on either side of the boat, several rays started jumping out of the water, doing flips and showing off their white bellies as if they were happy that we got our engine started.  Trisha was laughing and clapping her hands out of both joy and relief.

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