Friday, January 8, 2016

Feeling Neglected

After all the time spent building the new hardtop, it seems other things on the boat have been a bit neglected. The salon seat cushions that we have wanted to reupholster because of the ugly blue vinyl have degraded into cushions mostly covered in vinyl fragments. The port side hull, that has no climate control capability, is slowly turning into a mold forest and is in desperate need of some cleaning.  But these aren't the things that are preventing our departure from cold Virginia.  Other systems have started acting up.  In particular, the ones that run on diesel.  Both the engines and the generator have decided to prove that they need a little love too.

When I fired up the generator as a test and part of my semi-regular attempt to make sure oil gets circulated on all those internal, rustable parts, no water was found shooting out of the exhaust.  For those that aren't aware, boat diesels use seawater as part of the engine cooling circuit and said water is ejected via the exhaust.  If no water is flowing from the exhaust, it indicates the raw water is not being sucked up to cool the engine and the engine will overheat.  The lack of water can usually be attributed to a blockage at the intake (including the intake seacock [valve] being closed) or a failure of the replaceable rubber impeller in the raw water pump.

Picture of a raw water pump with the impeller access plate removed.
Photo from Compass Marine (an awesome site for boat repair information).

I check the seacock, and it was indeed open.  I open the inline strainer and pour some water in to see if it will flow out through the intake and it did, so no blockage there.  I then remove the plate on the pump expecting to see the broken rubber bits of the impeller.  Unfortunately, the impeller looked in pristine condition.  None of the usual culprits was the cause, and this is not a good thing.  With the cover removed, I have my wife bump the starter to verify that the pump is turning the impeller.  The impeller didn't move.  Drat.  It is starting to look like something may have broken inside the pump.  I pull the pump in preparation for taking it up to the marina shop to see if they have one.  When I pull the pump, I find that the nut that holds the gear on the back side of the pump is loose.  The result is that the gear would spin freely on the pump shaft. I tighten the nut and viola, turning the gear now turns the shaft which, in turn, spins the impeller. I reinstall the the pump and when I start the generator, the magic cooling water once again flowed from the exhaust.  So, the good part of this story is that the fix was nothing more than tightening a nut.  The bad part is that it took up a few hours that could have been spent preparing for our departure.

While messing with the generator, I noticed that the radiator cap looked like it might be leaking. Fortunately, radiator caps are relatively easy to find and one was procured from a local auto parts store. Hopefully that will resolve that little problem.

The two Westerbeke engines that propel the boat through the water (when not under sail) were also being cranky.  They, not unlike my wife and I, were protesting the cold weather and were incredibly hard to start.  The last time I started them they weren't too happy, but I figured it was due to the amount of time since I last started them in combination with the cold.  This time it hadn't been all that long, but it was a bit colder and they nearly refused to start. It took me over an hour to coax them to life so we could move the boat as the marina requested.  This simply would not have worked at all if we weren't attached to marina power where we could recharge the batteries between attempts. This needed to be fixed before we leave since I'm sure we would have killed the start batteries trying to get the engines started.

Diesels are pretty simple systems as far as engines go.  They run on fuel, air, and compression.  No pesky ignition systems to complicate issues.  But they don't like cold temperatures.  To battle this, they have things called glow plugs, basically little heaters that warm up the combustion chamber for those cold starts. I did some quick checks of the air intake and fuel and quickly focused my efforts on the glow plug system. On the starboard engine I verified that I could hear the click of the solenoid that activates the glow plugs.  I checked for voltage on the wires and it seemed fine. I then pulled one of the glow plugs and checked the resistance and it was just a little low compared to what the book said it should be (1 ohm instead of the 1.2 ohms). That didn't seem bad but we went to see if I could find a local source for them (it was getting late and I wanted to check availability before the stores closed). No one had them in stock, and I would have to order them if I needed them.  The next morning I tested the glow plug I pulled by taking a couple wires and connecting them directly to the battery.  The glow plug worked just fine.  Hmm.  I then hooked the plug back up to its voltage supply wire and attached a separate ground so I could see it work while it was hooked up to the engine.  We pushed the preheat button and nothing.  I re-verified that I was seeing voltage on the wire, and I was.  The only explanation I could think of is that the contacts in the solenoid were old and over time have developed a high resistance. This would explain seeing voltage but not enough power to make the glow plug glow.  I reinstalled the glow plug and then used a jumper wire to bypass the relay.  This time when we tried to start the engine it quickly roared to life.  Aha!

The solenoid causing the starting problem.

So, off we went to try finding a replacement solenoid.  The only diesel shop in town said they didn't have the Westerbeke part but might have a suitable replacement if I could bring them a picture.  I took several pictures and went to the shop to see what they could do.  They took a look at the pictures, walked in back and came back with a solenoid that looked very similar to the OEM part.  I took it back to the boat and installed it.  During the installation I double checked the wiring diagram and the installation on the other engine just to make sure everything was hooked up correctly.  We gave the new solenoid a try...and nothing.  This time I couldn't even hear or feel the solenoid click.  I removed the new solenoid and reinstalled the old one.  I verified that the old one still clicked and that I got the wiring right.  It was right.  Sigh.

We had wasted enough time on this issue and the weather window to leave was getting shorter, so we decided we would just press on using the jumper wire workaround until we got someplace where we could order the Westerbeke part and have it shipped in.  We took the new solenoid back.

Suspecting a similar issue on the port engine, I ran the same tests.  Voltages were fine.  I pulled one of the glow plugs and tested it and it was fine.  I did the test for the solenoid expecting it to be the fault, but was surprised when it worked fine too.  I reinstalled the glow plug and decided to give the engine one more test before I pulled the other glow plugs to see if one of them is at fault.  The engine fired right up.  Huh.  My only guess is the process of removing and testing the first glow plug must have cleaned up some corrosion and now the system is working fine. I'll call that a win.

When doing instrument checks in preparation for departure, I ran across another issue.  The chart plotter was complaining about not getting a signal from the remote GPS.  Figuring this was a connection issue, I pulled all the plugs from the back of the plotter and plugged them back in.  Restart the chart plotter, and it was again happy.  I do like these simple fixes.

When I get to warmer climates I'll need to revisit a few things.  I should take some dielectric grease to some of the electrical connections to help combat corrosion.  I also need to clean and paint the engines...but I'm not sure the paint will even dry at these temperatures.

So, we are a few days behind in our preparation to leave, but with any luck we should be heading out soon.  Now where is that grocery list...


  1. Like that famous SNL actress said "It's always somethin". One of the great things about most cats is there are 2 engines. Glad you have some workarounds and great to hear you are just a few days away from leaving Frostbite VA.
    Doug in VT

    1. Yeah, on a boat it is always something. Can't wait to get outta here.

  2. We replaced our glow plug solenoid and bought the new one on Amazon. lol look for the link and send it t you.

    SV Kintala

    1. Here's the one we bought for the W50. Not sure if it's the same on yours or not.

    2. Ours looks similar, but it has two terminals for the activation circuit (the one pictured here has one terminal and presumably grounds through the relay body/mount). I'll see if I can locate one through Amazon though...probably far cheaper than the Westerbeke one.

  3. I say go, a lot of this stuff will "fix itself" as things get used and run. A rubber mallet is a great tool for fixing the head scratchers, with a small steel hammer in reserve. It really is amazing how fast stuff gets finicky on a boat. Get moving, if something doesn't work for 2 weeks or more, it is probably in need of a repair. Otherwise, if is a "non-essential", and almost everything really is non-essential if you think about it, it can wait... especially if you are in the states. Good Luck!

    1. Unfortunately, maneuvering the boat out of the marina will require the engine to start as will motoring down the ICW (don't know how much the weather is going to cooperate with letting us go outside). So, getting the engines to start in the cold weather is essential to us being able to go anywhere. Fortunately, those items are pretty much resolved now.

  4. Most marine radiator caps fail when the spring becomes weak over time from the heat/cold cycles. A new one is a quick fix.

    Wish I was there to help!



    1. I don't think this cap was that old. The seal that was failing was the outer seal. So, when the cap would release pressure (it is rated at only 7lbs), it would leak out the outer seal instead of going in the overflow bottle. Then when it cooled down and wanted to suck from the bottle, it got air from the failing seal instead. But, yes, easy fix at the marine aisle at the local Auto Zone.