The Great Wander

One Family's Journey to a New Life


YouTube is not sailing.  I know this.  It’s a slightly romanticized version of living on a boat, but there’s a lot that you can’t learn from YouTube, like when to reef your mainsail.  Or how to turn the boat to minimize the slapping of the waves on the bridge deck.  There’s a lot that you have to do on the water to learn how to do it.  There are a few things that you can learn though.  One is being prepared.  I am pretty sure that every YouTuber that we watch has had some kind of problem while in passage.  They are thousands of miles from land or from other boats and they have a problem.  Sometimes it’s been a leaky escape hatch, so water in seeping into the boat and you have to figure out how to seal the hatch, in one case the boom broke off of the mast.  Or the watermaker has gone out. It varies, but something is going to break in an inconvenient time or location.  It’s bound to happen.

One system that gets a lot of use is the engine.  Even on a sailboat.   Sailing Nahoa spent most of the passage from Thailand to the Maldives running their engines because they were sailing upwind most of the time and couldn’t get the right angle to keep the sails up.  Anchoring pretty much requires engines.  Even though you don’t want to use your engines, you are going to have to.  And engines break.  Even with regular maintenance and upkeep.  There’s a chance that something goes wrong.  So you need to know how to fix it.  We know that we need to learn how to maintain our engines.  As I said before, I can change the oil in my car, but beyond that, there’s not a lot that I do.  When it comes to diesel engines…well, that’s a big mystery!

One Life has two Yanmar diesel engines onboard.  One in each hull.  Because of this we did some specific looking for a place that offered marine diesel engine maintenance courses.  Turns out that there really aren’t a lot of places that offer the kind of class that we were looking for, one place that did offer a diesel engine maintenance course though is the Victoria Sailing School.  That’s where we did our 101 and 103 courses.  It’s also only 2 hours down the road.  We are pretty fortunate.  We signed up and headed down to Denver for the class.  When I say we are fortunate to have the VSS just down the road, we had people in our class from Georgia, Texas, and Connecticut.  So, people travel from all over the country for this class.

Day one was pretty straightforward.  Here’s the book, lets look at some engines, let’s get an idea of how this works.  A little hands on stuff, but not much.  At the end of the day we started both engines.

Day two, we walked into the shop where the class was held and the instructor said, “I don’t know what happened overnight, but these engines don’t run.  Figure it out.”  So, we started with the electrical system on engine number one.  We discovered some problems with the key switch.  Fixed that by replacing it.  The engine still wouldn’t start.  So, we checked the fuel system.  Found out the lift pump didn’t work, replaced that, the fuel filter, and then had to check the air system.  Oh, yeah, the impeller for the raw water cooling system was missing as well.  That had to get replaced.  All of this was done by the eight of us.  We took everything apart and fixed pretty much every system on the engine. 

On the third day, we did a bit more advanced stuff, like rebuilding the injectors and checking the gap on the valves and how to adjust the gap if need be.  With the injectors we did a couple of pop tests to see what the pressure was on those.  One thing that is not an uncommon occurrence on a marine diesel engine is to have the impeller blades come off and get stuck at the entrance to the heat exchanger.  There’s a hose that runs from the impeller housing to the heat exchanger, and we were able to take that off to inspect for impeller bits. 

I’m clearly not an engine expert.  But right now, I feel like, between the three of us, we can do a lot of troubleshooting and work on the engine pretty effectively.  Would I feel comfortable installing a new/larger alternator to have a boost for charging batteries, probably not.   I think I’d call in the experts on that.  But, if the engine isn’t starting, or if we don’t have exhaust water coming out, we can troubleshoot some of the basics of that and probably get things running again.  Or at least recognize when things are out of our league. 

Victoria Sailing School did a great job of removing the mystery from diesel engines.  We’ve got a handle on how to trace potential problems in the fuel system.  Changing an impeller isn’t as daunting as it was when I saw Sailing Sweet Ruca do it.  I have seen Ben from Sailing Nahoa in the aft cabins doing engine work and I remember thinking; well, I guess I’ll figure out what to do when the time comes. Now, though, I have the confidence that I really can figure out the problem when something comes up.

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About Me

An English diarist and naval administrator. I served as administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament. I had no maritime experience, but I rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II through patronage, diligence, and my talent for administration.


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