Wednesday, September 16, 2015

From The Pit of Despair to the Valley of Hope

Henry in his natural element.
For months I've been making almost daily forays into The Pit of Despair, a.k.a. the engine room on Oceanus.

Just before we bought Oceanus three years ago Jason, the previous owner, pulled the Perkins 4-108 and rebuilt it. He fired up the engine before we purchased the boat and it ran great. The fuel lines from the engine were stuffed into a five-gallon jug of diesel fuel and there were a few more things that needed finishing up, but the big job was done. Finishing up the rest of the install would be, well, maybe not easy, but something I could do. Or so I thought.

Actually I didn't think about it much. For the first two years we owned the boat my wife and I focused on the fun stuff; finishing the interior of the boat and painting the outside. These were things we knew how to do.

But I had the nagging sensation that I should get things done in the engine room. Here's a partial list of what needed doing: replace prop with correct one, replace raw water pump (the old one leaked around the shaft), rebuild spare fuel-injection pump and replace the one on the engine (it had a fuel leak around the throttle shaft), make new instrument panel, install new fuel tanks, run new fuel lines, install new fuel-tank vents and run vent lines, install secondary fuel filter, replace/upgrade alternator, mount oil filter and raw-water strainer... the list went on.

Before our haul out last year, Jason helped replace the raw-water pump and, with the help of Lance the diver and Jason again, we replaced the prop. That was enough to get the boat safely up the Yaquina River 11 miles to the boatyard and back, but it still left a lot that needed doing.

I thought Jason would be around to coach me on work in the engine room, but (good for him -- sad for me) he moved to Hawaii last fall.

Last winter and spring (we only have two days of summer on the Oregon Coast, which I took off) I worked at finishing up the interior, installing plumbing (another hated job) and cutting down the engine room to-do list. With the latter I got good advice from Henry, a marine engine mechanic from Salem who spends every weekend working on his 50-foot 1950 Stevens motor yacht. He would drop into the engine room and tell me what I was doing wrong and I would change it. (I moved my secondary fuel filter three times.)

Each day I climbed down the hatch my discouragement grew until I began calling the engine room The Pit of Despair. With time running short and faced with some daunting tasks, like changing out the fuel-injection pump, I cried uncle. I was in over my head and I knew it. It took some persuading, including my wife talking to Henry's wife, Kelly, but we finally got a commitment from Henry to help me.

Over the last couple of weekends, he finished most of my list and found several other problems that needed fixing. One was rebuilding the starter, which he took back to his shop and brought back the next weekend. The difference was nothing short of amazing.

Between weekend visits Henry would give me assignments as he found more things that needed doing.
Henry measures for new cables.
Henry spent one long day changing the fuel-injection pump. The old fuel-injection pump leaked fuel from the throttle shaft. It took Henry until late evening to install the newly-rebuilt pump, but we couldn't get the engine started. The hour was late and Henry needed to leave to go to his home and business in Salem the next morning. "Don't worry," Henry said, "the engine kicks over the first time on only about 20 percent of fuel injection pump installs."
I made the new instrument panel, but Henry finished wiring it.
But worry I did. I would wake in the middle of the night worrying. When Saturday came I hoped Henry would have time to work on my engine, but he had another job that needed doing. Saturday evening he came by the boat and dropped off some tools and a battery switch and said he would work on the engine Sunday morning while we were at church. During church I found myself wondering and worrying about how Henry was doing. I'm not used to turning over boat projects to other people.

As we walked back down the dock from church I could see water happily spurting out of the engine exhaust. The engine was running great! All was right with the world.

Henry also installed a battery switch and cables so we can use our house bank to start our engine if our starter bank fails. We can also charge our house bank using our new alternator.

"Now tomorrow I'm going with you when you motor over to the fuel dock to fill your starboard tank," Henry said. "I want to check to make sure there are no leaking fittings."

Henry in his ever-present, faded orange knit cap aboard Oceanus.
It was great to have Oceanus leave the dock again. Henry and I noticed that idle was a little fast, but the engine ran great! The fill up went well with no leaks.

Back in our slip Henry adjusted the throttle and discovered another problem. The throttle and shift cables needed replacing. So next weekend Henry will be back getting Oceanus one more step closer to leaving.