Open Boat Surgery

After our productive jaunt (so far) through Virginia, we were looking at making it to NC exactly as we planned. Our mechanic, Ellis, did great work for us on the engine, and so we were raring to leave his dock on Friday afternoon (July 24) and head just 10 miles south to an inlet that offers a quick in-and-out to our next big city; Norfolk.

Long story short, we lost our engine about 3 miles from our desired anchorage. After spending so much money, we were really pissed that we saw oil continue to leak AND now fuel leaking too (or so we suspected). There wasn’t much time to delay though, since we were in a precarious area (busy channel and lots of shallows), so Jake tried to bleed the engine to get us going; we really just needed to get to anchorage so we could figure out the next move. He managed to get it bled enough so we could motor slowly in through the channel and drop the hook.

Since it was a Friday afternoon, we pretty much knew we were sitting ducks until monday. Boy how we hate weekends! It usually means that the anchorages are packed with people and nothing is open (i.e. – services) for us. haha funny how our mentality shifted since we started cruising.

Anyway, we decided to give Ellis a call to let him know our issues; he was extremely kind and insisted that we come back so he could take a look at everything; which we planned to do that following Monday. But until then, we hung out at the anchorage, reading, relaxing (As much as possible). It was a very pretty spot with tons of breeze and we saw DOLOPHINS (again!). So that was awesome.

While we were there, the gentleman who towed us on Wednesday (to Ellis’s dock the first time), came by in his tow-boat. Apparently he lives right up the creek, and recognized us as he passed by. We explained our situation and that we would probably need a tow on Monday back to Ellis’s dock. He said he’d happily be there!

Monday brought some thunderstorms, so we made our way out early in the AM. There was very little wind and though we tried to sail it was futile. Our engine ran OK until we got out of the channel, but then it started puttering out again. It was absolute perfect timing, because our tow-friend (Captain James) was coming by…actually on a completely different call, but he spotted us and offered us a tow (it was only about 3 more mile and on his way).

Once at the dock, we awaited our mechanic, who ended up having some personal matters to attend so we did not see him until the following morning to diagnose our issues; Since day 1, the bulk of our engine issues have been with FUEL DELIVERY. We have always known this, but have done our best to take care of the issues step-by-step in the system. Somehow they have never been completely solved (at least not yet as far as we know).

Ellis and crew came by in the morning (July 28) to discuss what our issues were…namely fuel leak and engine shut-down; but still have oil issues and possibly water leak somewhere (though that was at the bottom of the totem pole). Right off the bat, Ellis found that the fuel lines were full of dead bacteria. He assumed that our tank was loaded with it. He actually said, “this is the biggest of a problems you could ever have with your engine”. Luckily he runs a full-service diesel repair shop out of his home!

So first things first, he setup a fuel tank polisher to clean out our diesel tank. His assistant “Rhino (aka – Derick – fellow Marine / Devil Dog) got straight to work. But it wasn’t JUST Ellis and Rhino. Jake actually got to help out, learning SO MUCH along the way. Since he was the smallest/skinniest of the crew, Jake had to maneuver into the tiny compartments the other’s couldn’t manage. First: fuel lines. However access to the lines was virtually impossible from any compartment on the boat. Ellis suggested that we add a deck fitting (opening) just above the area.

We were hesitant to drill a hole through the cockpit, but Ellis is a professional and convinced us of its usefulness. Plus he did a beautiful job (quality craftsman) and he was so right! Now we have easy access to a part of the engine that was previously impossible. A brilliant addition to Bosco.

Once that was complete, changing fuel lines was cake. We also learned that we had the wrong fuel lines installed on the boat (they were too pliable, causing them to pinch and stop delivering fuel). So now we have all brand spanking new and proper lines installed; which Jake got to do with his bare hands. Then we got the fuel polisher working its little butt of. Holy cow, after two hours of polishing, we discovered the nastiest batch of crap in our diesel tank. After all that, we decided to replace the primary fuel filter (since the other one was also full of dead bacteria) to further clean the fuel. Goes to show how tough our engine must be to have made it THIS far. Plus having a real mechanic who knows his stuff makes a big difference.

So how did we get all this crap in our tank? The old owner (like 90% of boat owners) didn’t use the boat very often (not daily like us). He used an additive to block/kill any growth, which is good for winterization, but not continuous use. All that dead bacteria was just sitting in the tank, never getting cleaned out. No wonder we were having so many of these problems.

It was a VERY productive day to say the least, but we weren’t finished. Ellis and crew called it at 5PM and said they would be by the next morning to wrap up. The last order of business was to replace a few more fuel lines (so now all of them are brand new) and then to reverse the order of the fuel lift pump that Jake attempted to install a few months ago.

Apparently it was not installed right. Go figure. Well its not totally Jake’s fault. The old pump was installed wrong, and he just installed the new one in its place. Basically the new pump needs to go BEFORE the primary fuel filter in the chain, not after it. The pump is meant to move fuel from the tank NOT push it through the entire system…which is how the pump was previously installed. No wonder it burned out so fast.

This is a perfect example of why a professional mechanic (who knows their stuff) is way better than any hack. And an added bonus is that Jake was able to sit in (and help out) on the entire job, asking questions, learning, experiencing these things so that he is now pretty much the expert (at least with our engine). Nothing beats that and it is a skill set that will be very handy in our future to come. Plus Ellis and Riverside Marine Services (in Hayes, VA) are phenomenal, do amazing work and are the nicest people.

And now we are ready to try (again) to make our way down to Norfolk and the ICW…its really happening!

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4 comments on “Open Boat Surgery

  1. Interesting – dead bacteria in the fuel lines and in the fuel tank. I NEVER would have guessed that! How can bacteria survive in an environment of FUEL? I would have thought that fuel would kill any and all bacteria instantly. But hey – What do I know? I feel as if I am learning at least a bit concerning small marine diesel engines myself. HOPEFULLY your engine issues are now under control! I will keep my fingers crossed for you two!

    • Thanks for your support Steve! I know it is wacky that bacteria could survive in a fuel tank. But microbes actually feast in diesel *whenever and wherever any water is present* and they thrive. Really its the water that’s the culprit – that’s all they need (fungi and bacteria). And they love it! 🙂

  2. Hello Jake and Jill, I have been reading all of your posts. I am pleased when Patty said you had finally made it to Orient, NC, where you had dropped off your car. Wow! You all have really been through a crash mechanics course surrounding your boat motor. Sounds like you have finally got her fixed for dependable operation.

    Everything is calming down here at Boulder for Patty and me. We cleaned out 1090 Ithaca and our landlord was most pleased with the condition of their home upon return. We sold, donated or disposed of enough unwanted or improperly sized stuff, such as my BIGASS Desk and Chair(s) to fit our belongings into a POD. Patty really, really worked her tail off in selling stuff combined with pulling together a 3-day garage sale.

    On July 25 we moved into Hilton’s Homewood (aka Homeless) Suites in S. Boulder. With the best expectations we have become hugely disappointed that the property’s WIFI is “dial up” speed which means….no cell calls and very weak connectivity. Now that we have 2-weeks under our belt , along with emergency support from T-Mobile and our IT specialist (to confirm there is nothing we may do) we have resided to new low level of connectivity. I am doing the primary amount of work at Alfalfa and becoming a SUSHI Junkie (it is good here) and Patty ….well, she has just made a SEACHANGE in her WIFI + CELL ecpectations and behaviors.

    Last Monday we walked through our new trailer office and….whew! When we purchased and designed the trailer we had the layout of a 16′ x 70′ trailer. We had to order 16′ x 64′. The 6′ we lost was in our living room as all the other rooms remained the same. We have a very small (but cozy) living room. Patty and I are committed to making all of this work….and we will. We now realize that we will have some special effort to purchase the correctly sized furniture as we move OneSource, and ourselves, into this new space.

    Within all of this we decided to take a “real” vacation. We are scheduled to fly to Seattle on September 6th. We will be staying at a nice Hilton (full service) near Pikes Market. We will be taking a train to Vancouver where we are staying at the downtown Fairmont hotel (classy place). We will then take a bus to Victoria Island, for a few days and then take a boat back to Seattle. No cars. Patty has never been to the Pacific Northwest before and I have never had personal time in this area. We are really excited and I have pledged to Patty that I will limit my work to the very minimum possible…with the support of my partners.

    With Our Best…….Bon Voyage!!


    • WOW you guys have been through so much! I think though that you will really enjoy your own place and not have to worry about paying a mortgage or anything. One thing Jake and I have learned on the boat is that even though it is relatively tiny space (compared to our life before) its perfectly sized. We have found a way to make it our home and its comfortable. Its less than 200 square feet and that’s more than enough for us! I bet you guys will find the same with your new home. I’m excited to hear about your trip to Seattle – you will love it! Make sure to check out the Chihuly gallery by the Space Needle. There is also a restaurant downtown called Vons 1000 Spirits – its AMAZING – the salmon cakes are so good (and I don’t even like salmon) and the fresh-baked fried donuts (for dessert) are simply heaven. You will love it! Can’t wait to see you guys sometime soon – we miss hanging out with you guys! Love Jill and Jake

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