Friday, September 19, 2014

Catch-up day

We are docked at the Maryland Yacht Club, off Rock Creek near Pasadena, Maryland (map).  It was a very short trip here from our last stop -- anchored just a few hundred yards away at a familiar stop in Rock Creek along with our friends aboard Blossom.  They weighed anchor shortly ahead of us, did some docking drills, and headed off to Baltimore, where we will join them tomorrow.

We had a nice cruise Tuesday from our quiet anchorage on the Corsica.  Blossom headed out just before us, and they ran a good half to three quarters of a knot faster than us as well -- it's a longer boat and so has a higher cruise speed.  We were able to mostly keep up with them by cutting all the corners closer, as we also have a lower draft.  We would have been right behind them coming in here except I had to dodge a Coast Guard cutter and a container ship while I was crossing the ship channel.

While we were anchored here, they lent us their whizzy pedal-powered kayaks to try them out.  I have to say, they are much easier to propel with the big leg muscles than with upper arm strength.  That said, for our purposes, simpler is probably better and I think we will continue shopping for a two-person conventional paddle-powered model with no frills.

We got together Tuesday evening for cocktails on Vector, and Wednesday we had cocktails aboard Blossom before piling in their enormous tender and going ashore to Mike's for dinner.  They were having a special on crab cakes, and four of the five of us ordered them, which left Louise and I with three leftover crab cakes for dinner last night as well.  Good thing -- there's nothing in walking distance here except the yacht club itself (closed Thursday evening), but at least we are here on a free two-night certificate that we won at last year's MTOA rendezvous.

Now that we're apart for a couple of days, today was a good day to tackle some projects.  Chief among them is the leaking engine coolant pump, one of perhaps two dozen pumps on the boat.  A week ago, Louise noticed some red coolant in the bilge during a routine engine room check.  After the engine cooled down I was able to track it back to behind the coolant pump pulley, and after removing the belt guard it was clear that it was coming out of the weep hole on the bottom of the pump.

This can mean only one thing, which is that coolant is coming past the shaft seal. A call to Northern Lights in Seattle confirmed the seal would probably need to be replaced, and to get to the pump I'd have to remove the expansion tank, the thermostat housing, and all the external coolant plumbing.  Then I'd either need an impeller puller and a bearing press to rebuild the pump, or to replace the pump entirely.

A follow-up call to the service manager on the east coast brought some slightly better news.  It turns out that we have the wrong coolant in the engine, a type that is known not only to cause premature seal wear, but also to squeeze past the seal much more easily.  The engine was delivered with the proper coolant, as well as a coolant filter and time-release additive canister.  Somewhere along the line some mechanic removed the filter canister, including all its mounting hardware and plumbing, and refilled the cooling system with this incorrect coolant, nominally to extend the drain interval.

The suggestion from the service manager was to completely drain the extended-life coolant and replace it with plain water, run the engine for a few days, and see if the leak stops or at least slows down.  If so, he thinks I can get away with refilling the system with the proper coolant without having to replace the pump just yet.

So today's project was to drain the coolant, all seven or eight gallons of it, and fill the system with tap water.  We wanted to be at a marina for this project, in case anything went wrong (such as a drain petcock breaking).  A bonus in doing it here is that this marina actually has a collection drum for used antifreeze.

We've now got fresh water in the cooling system, but I had to valve off the loop going to the domestic water heater, as I could not bleed all the air out of it.  The engine is running fine on a static test, but only the trip to Baltimore tomorrow will tell us if the cooling system is working normally.  I don't expect to have a result on whether this will slow the leak until another few days of running, after we leave Baltimore.

Given that this is a critical failure point, and could leave us stranded, I also ordered a replacement coolant pump, which is waiting for us in Baltimore. Northern Lights wanted $1,800 for it, but I was able to order it directly from Komatsu for $1,300 -- apparently, it costs $500 to spray-paint it Lugger White over the stock construction-equipment yellow.  And I used to think Detroit Diesel parts were expensive.

If we end up needing to replace the pump, we'll do that in Deltaville when we are there next month.  They have a Lugger technician on staff, and can get all the O-rings, gaskets, and seals that will be needed to reassemble the cooling system after the replacement.  If it is still serviceable, I might have them rebuild the old pump as a spare.

When it rains, it pours, and the other pump on the main engine is also failing. That would be the raw water pump, and the shaft seal on the wet side of the pump is now leaking.  I have a spare for this pump, but I want to also replace all the hoses that connect to it, a job that will be easier when we are out of the water in Deltaville.  I've already had this pump off the engine once, to replace a leaky oil seal, and it's a big job.

Tonight we'll have dinner right here at the Yacht Club, which is supposed to be quite good, and tomorrow morning we will continue on to Baltimore.  Martin and Steph say goodbye to their training captain, Jim, today, and we will reconnect with them when we get into town.


  1. I've been following your blog since I discovered it a few weeks ago and have been living very vicariously through it since.

    You've had to do a number of very in-depth repairs and I'm curious if this is a function of a used boat (ie, you're just lucky to own it when these parts hit the could-be-trouble point in their duty cycle) or if this is just boating generally. My boating has been limited to freshwater-only with a much simpler runabout, and while little stuff (broken catch, stripped screw, etc) happens the general mechanical reliability has been better.

    Is there a point where you will be able to run for a period of time and not expect a major maintenance issue (ie, tearing apart the cooling system)?


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