Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Mechanical Mystery

So Stephanie's already told you about our woes with Lucky. Now it's my turn to provide some technical details.

The short version

Lucky still has a power issue on the port engine. The mechanics don't know why.

The long version

Last we left it, we had replaced the bad injector, everything looked good and we were waiting to replace the secondary fuel filter cover before going out on a sea trial. Friday morning Neil and his new sidekick, Eligh, came and replaced the fuel filter cap and got ready to go. everything was looking good. Fuel consumption was back to normal and no vibration was evident.

We headed down the new river. All the way down, everything looked good. Once I got past the twisty bits, I upped the RPM to 1000. Still no vibration. We headed out the cut onto the Atlantic. Conditions were rougher than the last time, we 2 - 4' waves. Nevertheless, once past the markers, I pointed us into the waves, dropped us down to 600 RPM and waited for Neil's signal.

Last time we went out I ran the throttles up gently, taking maybe 15 seconds to walk both levers to the fully open position. This gave Neil difficulty in matching reading from the engines to each other, as the readings are taken every second. This time we "slammed" the throttles and let the engines wind up to their maximum RPM in their own time. Much to our surprise, the port engine max'd out at 3350 and the starboard was 3530. Not only was the port engine not spinning up to maximum RPM, but the fuel consumption was 25% higher than the starboard. When we throttled back to 600, this increased fuel consumption continued. We repeated the test a few times, going into the waves and with a following sea, walking the throttles and slamming them. The same result in all cases. Lower RPM and higher fuel consumption on the port engine, exactly where we were before the injector was replaced.

We came back in. On the way back I ran at 1000 RPM to maintain around 5 knots heading up river. There was noticeable vibration. A little experimentation confirmed that it was coming from the port engine and not the drive.

Back at the dock, Neil executed one more test. Using the plug in computer, he ran a "run up" test. The computer, by revving up the engine, can some how calculate the maximum compression each cylinder was able to maintain, stated as a percentage of the design pressure. Volvo's specifications require each cylinder to reach 83% of maximum and the difference between the lowest and highest to be no more than 10% for the engine to be acceptable. Number 2 cylinder was 100%, but number 6 - the cylinder that had the bad injector - was only 60%. The others were in the 80's. We also ran the test on the starboard engine and all the cylinders were in the high 90's.

It was late on Friday and none of us had had lunch, so we called it a day with the plan to come back on Monday and look into the cylinders with a boroscope.

Monday came and Junior showed up in the morning to remove all six injectors. They were going to be sent to an injector shop to be tested. Later that day Brent showed up with the boroscope and we had a look. The theory is that if the bad injector had been putting more fuel into the cylinder than it should, the excess fuel would not have burnt and run down the cylinder wall, washing away the oil. This would allow excess wear from the piston to the cylinder wall to occur. This wear is very easy to see. The cylinder walls have a fine crosshatching etched into them. This crosshatching holds the oil and allows the piston rings to seal. excess wear would be evident by the crosshatching being worn, or gone, and there should also be vertical scoring. The cylinder looked fine. In fact, there was no discernible difference between any of the cylinders.

Where does that leave us?

In short, where we were two months ago. A lot had been fixed, but there's still an issue with no obvious cause. Brent thinks there still may be a compression issue with cylinder 6 - maybe a stuck piston ring - but wants to test this "the old fashioned way". So he's going to rig up a pressure tester out of an old injector and we'll try this later in the week. Meanwhile the injectors are being tested and a sample of oil was taken that, after analysis, may show fuel present. This would be another sign of a leaky cylinder. We'll know a little more by the end of the week.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Learning to Let Go

Well folks, the cruising days are over. It's been a really difficult weekend, though it's also been very enlightening. Martin and I have done a good job of communicating and working through our situation together (even if I do say so myself!) The upshot from the sea trial on Friday was bad. I don't know the details, but it's highly likely that Lucky needs to be hauled out Again and this time - have her port engine taken away. It IS as big a deal as it sounds.

So the cruise is over. We've been discussing Australia but it didn't feel right. It took a few days of really thinking about things and being very honest with ourselves to come to the conclusion(s) that we have:

First, Lucky needs to get fixed in Florida. We can't take her home til she works. If we go to Australia it feels good: "FINE, we'll just leave and party somewhere else, pth!" But that's not very productive. And our heart isn't in it and that would be too wonderful a trip to go on if we weren't completely present. Second, we need something to do/look forward to this fall. We can't spend a total of 6 months living this way. Third, on some level, we are getting tired after 3 months of this. My friend Sue called it, "travel weary", I think that fits. No home, no itinerary, no goal.

Ironically, I've worked at the Osher Center for 7 years. I've been listening to "learn to live in the present moment" woo woo for years. Okay, now it's time to embrace the woo! :) We've been living for "next week" for 12 weeks. Not settling into the hotel, not exploring the area, not accepting that we LIVE in Fort Lauderdale. Okay, I don't like Ft. Lauderdale but hey, make the best of it, right? Where are those coping skills? What happened to positive reappraisal? We need to live it, not talk it, people!

So here's the deal. 1. Seize the moment! Hey - we get to live in Ft. Lauderdale until November 2nd! Let's move back into the nice room at the hotel and rent it for a month rather than extend every 3-4 days. We can visit the butterfly garden and take day and over night trips to see Sue & Armando, snorkel with manatee, visit the everglades... I can rent my own car so I'm not trapped in a hotel and I can grocery shop on my own and go have lunch with Margie! 2. Maybe we can get Lucky fixed in 6 weeks. If we give it 6 more weeks, maybe we can have the boat ready to ship home before we leave for... 3. Curacao! We adore Curacao so let's go! Our week there in August was the highlight of our summer. We'll spend the month of November in our favorite vacation spot. What a great place to spend my birthday and Thanksgiving! It's only 3 hours away and it feels like home. No travel weary woes. 4. We'll have December to either continue to work on Lucky or ship her home and make it back right on time.

Martin and I are fighting a sense of loss, we really wanted a year of living and exploring on Lucky. We both wanted nothing more than to head to Lucaya, Bahamas with Margie and CJ this fall. But fate had other plans and we can suck it up or be sad for 3 more months. The former makes more sense!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An update!

So while Stephanie was writing and uploading her post below, she was ignoring her phone that was telling her I'd called and left a message.

Note to self: Don't leave phone on silent mode in different room.

If she'd picked up my message, her post may have been a little different.

Yesterday, Neil performed a test on the injectors, that deliver fuel into each cylinder. Unlike gas engines, diesel engines do not burn all the fuel they take from the tank and some fuel is returned back to the tank. The test involved measuring how much fuel was being returned from each injector. He has this nifty little rig that has a hose connected each injector to a small measuring cup. You can then measure how much fuel is being returned by each injector. This should be a certain amount at idle and a differing amount, either too low or too high, indicates various injector issues.

We turned the engine on and watched the fuel slowly creep it's way up the hoses to the measuring cups. All, that is, except on the injector furthest aft. In it's hose, the fuel was barely moving, indicating that the injector wasn't taking any fuel at all. The problem was obvious and a new injector called for. When Neil pulled the injector it's tip was dry. As it should have been wet, it was definitely malfunctioning. A few calls later and a replacement was found in Michigan and overnighted.

By the time I had arrived at the boat this morning, Neil had replaced the injector and had both engines running. Fuel consumption on the port engine was now slightly lower than the starboard, rather than 20% higher. A good sign! There was no vibration in neutral, so we went out into the river to check with the drives engaged. No vibration with the drives engaged, either! So things are looking really good!

Neil advised going out on a full sea trial today. There were still a few things needing attention. The fuel delivery tubes needed to be replaced and they'd sent the wrong type. These steel tubes connect the common rail, a cylinder containing diesel fuel pressurized to some ridiculously high amount - 36,000psi or so - to the injectors and should be replaced whenever changing any injectors. Having the fittings blow at speed would be really bad. Neil also noticed that the priming cap above the secondary fuel filter wasn't priming. This could cause air to leak into the fuel line which could also cause performance issues.

So we'll do the full trial tomorrow. I'll post up when we're done, but it's looking really good!

Back from CA and trying to make decisions!

We had a really nice time back home! I got a few pics - of the cats, house, a party and my friends absolutely adorable baby girl. I need to get back in the habit of taking pics again. I attended my first "festschrift". It was a one day conference on coping and emotion, a tribute to Susan Folkman's immense contributions to the field. I'm so glad I was able to go! I also got to see my friends and co-workers and the new office space (we've been moved).

It was a busy week of smogging and registering the car, trying to keep my COBRA, ordering cat meds, attending birthday parties and barbeques, visiting with good friends and hanging with my kitties. The fur-kids definitely remembered us after our 4 month absence but I must admit, they seem somewhat apathetic about our return. I think they are going to miss Ghislaine a Lot! Bean had a check up and her health is very good while her attitude is back to cranky :)

We are back Kira-Mar hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. There is an usual high tide right now (the lunar "perigee" as the moon gets really close to earth) and it's wild - at high tide (around 6am and 6pm right now), the river raises so much that the streets flood! We got a good pic of outside our hotel last night.

So the latest sea trial (Tuesday) showed that we still had 1 engine problem and 1 transmission problem (vibration). Yesterday, the mechanic figured out the engine issue and it's pretty easy to fix (bad injector?). The vibration remains a mystery and likely means getting hauled out again.

Martin and I have been having a series of long talks about what to do and if we should put "Plan B" into action. "Plan A" is ideal and what we really want to do. We want to get back on Lucky and go to Delray and then the Bahamas with Margie & CJ. But, if Lucky can't get fixed "soon" we need to act. We had a Wonderful 6 months and are hooked on boating but we'd like to finish out the year with a bang rather than a drizzle in Ft. Lauderdale. If Lucky is a lost cause, we're thinking Plan B - 1 month in Australia, and then 1 month in Curacao. This would put us back state-side in early December. But when and how to decide if she's a lost cause? We've had almost 3 months of thinking "maybe she'll be set to go next week". We could easily do this right to December it seems. We need a cut-off, drop dead date. We're making this October 1st which means we should know by end of next week.

It's actually a really difficult decision to make. We had dinner with CJ & Margie last night and then swung by the boat. I'm so tired of hotels, I just want back on the water, back on Lucky, back cruising with our friends. I'm a bit surprised at just how much I enjoy living on Lucky - being outside all of the time, the smell of the water, the freedom to head out and explore whenever you want (weather permitting of course :), meeting new people and talking "boating", hoping to see a dolphin! Even the rocking that used to make me sick eventually came to feel comforting in a weird way.

Well, we should have it figured out by next week. Our October 1st deadline is quickly approaching and we are going to have to make a decision. Martin is with the mechanics now, probably being told we need to haul out. We'll be back and keep you updated as things unfold! Oh the drama.... ;^)

Sunday, September 13, 2009


This is what happens when 370hp of irrestistable force meets immovable rock through a bronze interface.

I'm writing this sat on my bed in my house in Redwood Shores, CA. We've been home for about 10 days catching up on mail, friends and cats. It's been a nice trip. The house is fine, all the toys work and we managed to catch up with almost everyone. I should have written this blog last week as I've quite the 'splaining to do, but I've been putting it off. Stephanie has finally kicked me in the rear enough times that here it is.

Those of you on Facebook already know and the picture above might clue you in, but the day before I flew out of Florida I managed to run aground. There's a first time for everything and it happens to every boater eventually. Ten days ago it was my turn.

It was Wednesday afternoon, two weeks ago. The mechanics had put all the engines and drives back together and we were going out on a sea trial. As you may remember from the last time, this involves going down The New River to the Intercoastal and then taking the Intercoastal south to the Port Everglades cut and then out to sea. No problem. We'd done this a few weeks earlier. Despite meeting The Jungle Queen, a large Mississippi style paddle steamer at the tightest bend in the river, we negotiated the trip down river without stress. It was merging into the ICW (Intercoastal Waterway) where the problems occur.

When negotiating the waterways, there are marker posts showing the places to go. While there are many different kinds of signs on the marker posts, the two predominant and most important are red triangles and green squares. The red and green markers show the location of the deep water - the channel. The reds marks one side of the channel, the green the other. To stay safe, you travel between the two colors. Pretty straight forward, really. The complications start to arise when there's only one colored marker visible. You need to go on one side or the other, but which one? As you'd expect, there's a convention followed and a simple mnemonic to remember it.

"Red, Right, Return".

When you are "returning", keep the red markers to your right (and by implication, the green markers to your left). You are "returning" when you are entering inland waterways from the sea or going upstream. You are returning home. The ICW is a special case as it winds it's way along the eastern seaboard. Sometimes downstream, sometimes upstream, sometimes "on the outside". As "Red, Right, Return" has little bearing and even less consistency, the convention is that going southbound, red is right. It's pretty straight forward. The confusion arises where the ICW crosses or joins a river or cut. At this point there's a profusion of markers, some marking the ICW and some marking the river and the two conventions collide. If you're traveling downstream and make a left to go south down the ICW, or are heading north up the ICW and make a left to go upstream, the conventions switch and you have to pass between two markers of the same color. Better make sure you know which two to pass between, right?

So here's a link to the official NOAA chart for Ft Lauderdale

and here's a link to a Google Map, where I've superimposed both the red and green markers, along with my fateful track.

You can see from the satellite photo, that there are two very obvious shallow spots where the New River joins the ICW. Groundings are so frequent here that Towboat US hang out here waiting. In fact, we didn't need to wait at all and were pulled off the rocks within 30 minutes of hitting them.

I can't excuse what happened. As pilot I should have been aware of our route the whole time. Unfortunately for me, we were at low tide. Another 30 minutes and a foot of water and we would have sailed clear over them, probably none the wiser.

I spoke to the mechanic on Friday. In the end we need 4 new props, 2 new prop shafts, seals and 2 new clutch packs. Add in the labor and I be lucky to get change out of $10,000.


We fly back to Florida tomorrow afternoon. I have the boat lift scheduled for Tuesday morning and the mechanic will be on hand. Once we're back in the water we go out for a sea trial again. Hopefully we'll not hit anything and the engines and drives will operate as we hope - no overheating and reach full RPM of 3600 - and Steph and I can resume our journey.