When I started this blog, I thought to myself, “Surely, this boat will give me something to write about.”
What I had no way to account for at that time was how little time I would have to write it.
This is no doubt due to a certain naïveté with which I am maddeningly—uh, I mean, endearingly—afflicted. Then, I rather saw my wife and me hopping merrily onto Meander, taking a few days to get to know her, taking another few days to settle in, and then spending the rest of our happy days drifting carefree from one port of call to another while I collected fascinating photos and produced amusing anecdotes for posting at an easygoing rate of, let’s say, five times a week.
Now, less than three months later, I have a very clear picture of the things I didn’t think to set aside time for. Chief among the more recent ones: chronic trouble with our fuel line.
Having moved past them, and having since left Cambridge, MD to arrive at the unlikely mid-November cruising destination of Greenwich, NJ, I am given the gift of a moment in which to try to remedy the fact that I haven’t posted anything here in nearly two weeks. The dismay I feel at this fact is uncomfortable. But not unexpected.
This seems like a good time to fill in the first of those two weeks.
At last writing, Meander was still in the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin, and I was hanging my head over a small contribution I had made to the petrochemical pollution of the Chesapeake Bay when I blew some diesel fuel off the boat after botching the setup of a pressure test on our fuel line.
Up to that moment, we had suffered no fewer than three engine failures with Meander already underway as we tried to leave the marina on various errands, and we had determined that the probable cause was air intrusion into the fuel line. The first two failures were successfully, if temporarily, addressed in the field by Ralph, a mechanic from the nearby Yacht Maintenance Company. It was after the third failure that, trying to apply Pam’s research into the several places a compromised fuel line could be admitting air, I tried to pinpoint the location of the leak with surgical precision by running the homemade test that unmade our small corner of our marina.
After that debacle, we made two decisions.
First, I was no longer going to try to find and fix the air intrusion at its precise location. By that time, Pam had read too many stories of cruisers who had ended up locked into months-long cycles of Lather-Rinse-Repeat using that approach. Rather, we were going to rebuild the entire line from the diesel tank to the secondary filter, replacing every single hose, clamp, fitting, seal and gasket to which we could get access with new materials, and knowing when we were done that we would be truly done with it for many years.
Second, I wasn’t going to go it alone this time. Rather, we would move Meander to the Yacht of Maintenance Company, where someone with a little more experience with diesel engines than I have (read, almost anyone on the planet) might mercifully take the gun out of my hand if he or she noticed I was waving it in the wrong direction.
Yacht Maintenance Company
And so on Thursday, October 29, the folks at the Yacht Maintenance Company sent Ralph out to us once more to bleed our engine, get us started, and, should the fuel line choose to suck in one last breath of unauthorized air, stay aboard with us during the half-mile ride.
After a blessedly uneventful trip that left Meander safe and secure on their dock, Braxton, the official Service Manager and my unofficial Hand Holder, came quickly to a willing and workable arrangement with us, allowing us to do our own work on the understanding that we would buy our repair materials through their parts department.
As Braxton said, “We’re easy here.”
She started us off by sending Ralph and assistant service manager Scott out to pump the remaining diesel in our fuel tank into a clean storage drum. And after that, life became simple and direct.
Each morning, I would banish Pam and Honey from the boat so I could have simultaneous and unobstructed access to the engine compartment, the fuel tank under the cabin floor and the bilge spaces between them. I would then pull apart the fuel line, length by length and piece by piece, and bring the pieces to Art, the official Parts Manager and my unofficial Baby Sitter. Art would sit with me half an hour at a time sorting through the materials he could replace from stock, the ones he needed to order for next-day delivery, and the ones whose lack of availability mandated the invention of a reasonable workaround.
Art, as Baby Sitter, was also in a position to offer life lessons.
“Art, why is it that every replacement you give me looks a little different than the original I gave you?”
“Mike, that’s going to happen a lot on a twenty-five-year-old boat.”
Then I would take my newly acquired parts back to the boat, installing them length by length and piece by piece, until I got to a piece whose installation logic defied me—for instance, the fuel tank pickup tube whose outlet should have faced toward the back of the boat when I tightened it, but which ended up facing forward instead. Then Braxton would send Ralph aboard again, and Ralph would straighten it out.
So if you don’t own your own boat, go out right now and buy one. Then sail or motor it into Cambridge, MD, break it, bring it over to the Yacht Maintenance Company, and let these people take care of you. They are terrific.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Meanwhile, Pam would never be caught lounging during an exile I imposed for my personal productivity. Rather, she would find her own ways to be productive: working on her own blog about Honey, Something Wagging This Way Comes, from remote wifi hot spots; running errands to the grocery store, the library and the post office; arranging takeout lunches; spending half a day walking our clothing and bedding two and a half miles to the laundromat and back.
At the end of each day, she would come back to the boat, cook dinner for us, and listen to me kvetch and moan about how little I had gotten accomplished.
And, toward the end of our stay, she would take that one last long trip to the grocery store, unaccompanied by her usual Sherpa, to provision for our trip to southern New Jersey.
Getting On With It
And so passed the first week of my recent blogging silence.
On Tuesday, November 3, I finished up the fuel line replacement at 5:30 PM. On Wednesday, November 4, Ralph pumped the fuel back into our tank, we took Meander out for a blessedly uneventful hour-long field test, and we prepared to depart Cambridge the next day.
On the morning of Thursday, November 5, one week after landing at the Yacht Maintenance Company, we turned the ignition key and pressed the starter button. The engine turned over, but failed to catch.
We waited a few seconds, then pressed the button again. The engine again failed to catch.
With a sigh, we waited a few seconds more, and pressed the button again.
The engine caught and sputtered a little.
I reached up to the throttle and pulled it forward a little, and the engine got over its cough and settled into a healthy putt-putt.
And so, ever onward. We steered Meander out into the Choptank River, and, saying Goodbye-For-Now to our newly adopted home port of Cambridge, MD, set off for southern New Jersey here in mid-November. On the way, we stopped on three different nights at three different marinas, and the engine started without drama or objection each morning thereafter. So we think we have this fuel thing licked for the moment, and hopefully for the next ten years.
Oh, right. You asked, “Why travel north to southern New Jersey of all places, when everyone else in a boat on the U.S. East Coast is headed south to Florida at this time of year?”
Because my brother, the diesel mechanic who put us onto the path to solve the starter circuit troubles we were having a few weeks ago before all this fuel line nonsense began, lives in southern New Jersey. And there’s no going south until we’ve given him and his family at look at the boat.
And I’m awfully glad he’s here. Because after our fourth night in our fourth marina, we tried to start the engine to charge our house batteries; and once again, readers of this blog will have already guessed.
The starter circuit I thought I fixed is suddenly and inexplicably on the blink.
When I started this blog, I thought to myself, “Surely, this boat will give me something to write about.” But I hadn’t thought that what I’d be writing about would be Endless Engine Trouble.