Launching a boat is a process couched in optimism. The annual ritual of unwrapping, polishing, swapping fluids and slapping on bottom paint leads to a triumphal splash that marks the beginning of another sailing season.
This year I was somewhat organized but left starting the motor until the last minute. I wasn’t too concerned as my Yanmar 3GM30 has always fired up easily. This year, it was already in the water when it finally started…. but I’m getting ahead of the story.
Tortuga was already sitting by the crane when I arrived an hour ahead of my scheduled launch time. Uli was unusually efficient that morning and the crew were itching to launch. So much for a leisurely pre-splash inspection. I grabbed a pail of lake water and scrambled onboard to start the motor while the slings were being fitted. It seemed that the battery was weak as the cranking rpm was low and the motor wasn’t catching. Strange… Complicating the starting process was the crane’s diesel motor was idling six feet from my head. I think roaring is a more apt description as I couldn’t hear the engine cranking and was relying on the tachometer to see if the engine was actually turning over. This really threw me as the batteries should be, and were, fully charged by the solar panels. This was confirmed by the voltage showing. I’ve never started the engine deaf, relying solely on the tach, so I wasn’t sure how fast it usually spins on startup.
Rather than delay the launch any longer, I gave the go-ahead to splash. I figured this would give me time to charge the batteries and figure out what was going on. I set the charge controller to equalize to get a deep charge. I let it sit for an hour. I finally got the engine to start and immediately there was a smoke coming from the engine! A quick shutdown and inspection revealed that the alt was seized?! Now I’m completely confused as the alt was fine at haulout and recently rebuilt! The boat is dry and the water fresh so corrosion shouldn’t be a factor. I loosened the belt and then loosened the alternator pivot bolt – this freed up the alt.
In a flash, all my confusion vanished and all the sensory feedback made sense. The alt mounting arms have 1.5mm of play on the engine mount, I must have tightened up the alt and that warped the housing enough to pinch the rotor. Luckily releasing the pressure released the pinch and no real damage was done.
I shimmed the gap with a washer (will have to get the proper diameter) and replaced the belt with a new Gates AX 37 TRI-POWER, keeping the old lightly toasted belt as a backup.
I hope I haven’t over-stressed the poor starter motor, I am actually surprised and impressed that I was able to start with a seized alt, not something that I want to repeat.
I should have started the engine at least the day before in the quiet of the yard. Being in a rush and feeling pressured to meet the yard schedule isn’t the best path to clear thinking.
I should have stopped cranking and inspected the engine, although catching a seized alt is hard to notice, stopping and thinking might have led to my remembering that in the fall I adjusted the belts and must have tightened the alt mount with more vigor than previously.
I should trust what I know. I knew the batteries were charged, I could see the voltage was high and the starter battery cable was warm to the touch. This should have registered in my brain that the cranking loads were high and something was amiss.
We had just left Kingston Marina and were motoring east past the scenic Kingston waterfront to begin the trip back to Toronto. I headed down into the boat for some reason (stereo? chart? sunglasses?) when I heard a very faint high-pitched whine for a couple of seconds. I dismissed the noise but immediately began to smell something burning.
As every sailor soon learns, ignore unusual sounds, smells, or vibrations on a boat at your peril. If the noise didn’t trigger a response in me, the smell certainly got me busy.
I lifted the step and peeked into the engine compartment and didn’t see anything amiss – no flames, no billowing smoke. I took a second look and realized that the alternator wasn’t turning but the belt wasn’t broken. Alt seizure? I immediately shut the engine down to take stock of what was happening. It turns out the belt was toast, literally. It was crisp, hard and smoking. It was so worn out that it wouldn’t turn or flex.
I think the noise was the alt spinning down.
I did a quick replacement as we slowly drifted towards the rocky shore, past a few sailing dinghy’s and stand up paddlers. I put on a Genuine Yanmar 25132-003700 (old part no# 128670-77350). We were back up running in 5 min, I think Rufus was impressed.
Every fall I re-research which liquid to pour into my boats many freshwater systems. I find I keep coming back to the blog by Practical Sailor author Drew Faye, Sail Delmarva.
I particularly like the fact he has researched his opinions and they are based on fact. So here are his winterizing suggestions:
Pump out the potable water tank. Vacuum out the remains with a shop vac.
Add a shut-off valve and tee just down stream of the tank and upstream of the pressure pump. Add a second valve on the tee’s side branch and a length of 1/2-inch ID hose. Suck a 30% propylene glycol antifreeze mixture into all of the lines using the pressure pump, opening the taps one at a time (hot and cold) and letting them run; the clear water goes down the drain until it’s as pink as the feed (you can recycle some of this by boosting it with with concentrate). When finished, remove the suction hose from the antifreeze container and blow out the lines with the pump by letting it run dry for just 20 seconds per tap (the glycol lubricates the pump, so it will not be damaged in a minute). If you have a tank water heater you should drain it and bypass. I have an instant heater and the above works well.
Our dinghy motor, a 1987 E4RCUD Evinrude has an interesting history. It was made in Belgium, spent several decades in a locker in Grand Cayman and was shipped to Toronto via DHL in a cardboard box. I would guess that before I got my hands on it that it had probably only had an hour or two of runtime. I think the previous owners would head out straight off the beach to dive. Rumour has it that the previous owner never had any luck running the engnie and spent lots of time trying to get it started – to the delight of the other residents.
When I recommissioned the motor all it needed was a throttle/cam follower as the U-shaped plastic snapped due to age.
I’ve cracked it open this fall to change the impeller and generally show the old girl some love. It’s always been grumpy at idle and the choke doesn’t stay put, meaning start-up requires a delft touch and several hands.
Mid-winter, on one of my periodical visits to the boat, I was blown away with the smell of diesel fuel when I slid the hatch open. I chalked this up to the new cover not giving the boat as much ventilation as it used to have, but I really wasn’t fooling myself. In the back of my head I’ve been wondering why the boat smells worse this year then last?
When doing my spring commissioning I discovered a drop of fuel on one of the fuel filters. I didn’t have time to look at it until now. I was partly motivated as we are are on day 10 ( I’ve lost track) of a trip to the 1000 islands. The girls still crawl into our bed some nights and last night I was squished up against the back bulkhead, getting strong wafts of diesel. That was enough to motivate me this morning to see if I can stop the leak.Continue reading Maintenance on the hook – chasing smells→