Not So Fast: More Engine Trouble

One week ago, I wrote a post about a starter circuit repair I performed on Meander.

I noted how I was mercifully equipped to do this by the collective wisdom of others who know much more about, oh, everything than I do. And I concluded by expressing the gratefulness I felt at my improbable success, at least “until the next mountain-in-a-molehill arises.”

And so I could hang onto that feeling for a fleeting moment, I prudently avoided getting into the fact that I had already seen the top of that molehill looming on the horizon.

Because even as I put the piece to bed by clicking the “publish” button, I was smelling diesel fumes coming from the galley.


While we were negotiating for Meander three months ago, we had a marine survey done—the boat equivalent of a home inspection. And while our surveyor did disclaim that his services did not extend to a thorough inspection of every component of the engine, he was yet conscientious enough to point out those irregularities that were clearly observable by anyone who knew what he or she looking at.

And one of the irregularities the surveyor observed was a pronounced wetness around the fuel pump, indicating a leak. And, of course, the smell of diesel.


Primed suspect.

After the survey, we continued our negotiation by requesting that the previous owners correct a select few of the many mostly minor items it had uncovered. And according to Pam, having the leak at the fuel pump fixed is one of the items we requested.

At least, it was one of the items she requested. However, it was me who had been doing the negotiating.

“Well, you did ask the sellers to fix that leak, didn’t you?”

A direct question deserves a direct answer.

“Yes, absolutely, there’s no question that I did. And there’s no question that the sellers gave the fuel pump job to their mechanic. So the only possible explanation is that he didn’t do the job very well, except for the second possible explanation in which they didn’t give the job to him after all, because when I revisited the boat to check the completed work out, I don’t remember them showing me the fuel pump, although they should definitely have done that because I definitely asked for it, and I should have made them show it to me. Or maybe I shouldn’t have, because, now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure I had prepared a list of the items I was supposed to check that day, and I don’t think a fuel pump fix was on the list, so the third possible explanation, I think, is that I might not have, you know, asked for it. I don’t remember now if I did or not. But now that I think of it, even if I did remember not asking, I wouldn’t have to say so anyway, ‘cause I’m an American, darn it, and the Fifth Amendment says I don’t have to testify against myself. So there.”

A direct question doesn’t always get a direct answer.

Moving on from that helpful exchange, we proceeded to investigate the source of the smell yesterday. I pulled off the cover separating the galley from the engine compartment. I reached for the “diaper” placed under the engine to capture nasty dripping petrochemicals before they can escape into U.S. waterways. And when I pulled it out, its nominally white finish was almost completely altered by pink stains.


Pink: a lovely color, really, anywhere except under a diesel engine.

And when I reached up to the fuel pump and the fuel filter, I found each of their bottoms wet, and the hose between them absolutely soaked.

Thanks to that little chat Pam had earlier had with me, at least I knew where to look.

Live to Fight Another Day

In my experience, if you give most do-it-yourselfers a choice between an electrical job and a plumbing job, they will choose the electrical job almost every time.

Makes sense to me. Electrical failures, at their worst, can kill you. But plumbing failures can get your stuff wet.

I reflected on this as I considered the leak in front of me in the light of my recent starter circuit victory. That operation had been like every electrical home repair I had undertaken in two previous houses, requiring nothing more than snipping some wires and attaching them to other wires. (Granted, accomplishing the not-getting-killed part of such operations does require knowing what to snip and what to attach.)

In contrast, this job would require removing fluid-filled hoses. And clamps. And gaskets. And replacing—what? Any of them? All of them?

Add to this the problems I foresaw in confronting an entity as alien to me as anything Sigourney Weaver faced in those movies. The potential to spill another pint of diesel into the bilge, or to leave an air bubble in a fuel line, or to have an invader’s spawn implanted in my body cavity for the duration of a slow and painful gestation period that would ultimately result in my untimely and grisly death—each of these awful possibilities crossed my mind.

And so we opted instead to call a boatyard not far from our marina, and were told that they could see us right away. All we had to do was to cast off from our slip, motor around the corner, arrive in the vicinity of their service dock, and call them from the water so they could come out to catch our lines.

Of course, anyone who read the recent story of our best laid plans to get some anchoring practice in will see where this is going. Once again, we never got out of the marina.

Déjà vu all over again

Witness, if you will, the heroic power of one man facing an electrical modification alone, relying solely on his own tools, his own wits, and detailed step-by-step instructions consecutively given by no fewer than four other people.

OK, so no one is going to be offering me the lead in any Lone Wolf and Cub movies anytime soon. But if a light bulb on the set goes out, perhaps I’ll be on the call list to fix it. Because this time, when we turned Meander’s ignition key and pressed her start button, her starter robustly kicked in once again and coaxed her engine immediately into life.

And so we went about casting off our lines. First, the port bow line. Then, the port stern line. Then, the starboard stern line.

And then, with three lines off, the engine suddenly slowed. And then wheezed. And then died.


Yeah? Well, I hate you, too.

Starboard stern line back on. Port stern line back on. Port bow line back on. And another call to the boatyard, this time to find out if they made house calls.

They did. At 11:00 AM, the yard’s office manager told us their mobile Boat Fixing Person would be over right after lunch. Then at 1:30 PM, the office manager called to say the Boat Fixing Person was delayed on another job, but would be over before the end of the day.

And so we spent the rest of the day hunkered down in our cabin, engine compartment and companionway open, trying to stay warm against dropping afternoon temperatures, waiting for the Boat Fixing Person. Who, ultimately, never showed up.

That other job must have been a doozy.

What happens next?

No harm, no foul; just a little frustration. We’ll call again this morning and lobby the office manager to be moved to the top of the list.

When the Boat Fixing Person arrives, he or she will find the starter operating quite nicely due to my previous electrical triumph, thank you very much. And after listening to our vivid description of yesterday’s failure, he or she will tell us, “Sounds like you ran out of gas.”

Then we’ll show him or her the fuel pump leak we had fixed three months ago. Or had asked to have fixed. Or had forgotten to ask to have fixed.

And we’ll watch and learn as the problem is taken care of and the invoice proffered.

And once again, I’m going to reach for that grateful streak I know I have buried in me somewhere. Since boarding Meander two months ago, we’ve put more than twenty hours and eighty nautical miles on this engine. And these things that might have happened to us on the water–first the starter failure, now the fuel pump leak–keep happening instead in the safety of the slip.

But in the ninety-eight parts per hundred that make up the rest of my temperament, I am filling up instead with dread. Because the conventional wisdom tells us that these things happen in threes.

And I’m not eager to find out what will happen with this hunk of iron next.

6 thoughts on “Not So Fast: More Engine Trouble

  1. Unfortunately, we can relate to a diesel fuel leak. Ours was on the high pressure side so it only leaked when we ran the motor. Steve kept tightening the fittings thinking one of the hoses was loose. We finally discovered it when we took the motor cover off, started the engine and spewed diesel all over cabin and me through a pin hole in one of the hoses. Hope yours is remedied soon!

    S/V FNR


    • Marci, it was brave of you to offer your body as a human shield for the sake of engine diagnostics. I would have preferred to have Pam stand between me and the engine. . .

      A pin hole leak in a rubber hose, with its potential to be literally anywhere and its virtual invisibility when not under pressure, has got to be the worst kind of leak to detect. I’m impressed you two found it, and I’m making a note of your method (with a sheet inserted somewhere between the engine and the cabin) in my maintenance log.


  2. That engine looks socomplicate. What’s the thing that looks like a donut with blue something wrapped around it. From my description of the engine thingies, you can tell I have PhD in engines. Good luck with the engine and I think you’re right to call the experts. 🙂 🙂


    • BJ, I appreciate your willingness to go to this vulnerable place by admitting your incomprehension of this sensitive, touch-and-feel world of diesel mechanics. But the donut with the blue fins around it is not a “thingy,” silly. It’s a “whatchamacallit.”

      Although, come to think of it, I do believe people who actually repair these monstrosities call it an “alternator.” From this, I infer that its job is to alternate between working and not working.


  3. Your “direct answer” indicates you would be successful in politics. Good luck in getting a repair person to your boat. Nice to know they are as dependable on water as on land.


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