My adventures with Valentina's engine (Part I)

It's funny how life knocks you around, sometimes to unexpected situations and places. A month ago, I thought Valentina was ready to go back on the water after two and a half years of refitting. It’s not finished, but not having to pay the boatyard fees and been able to use the boat would have been great. I did my last checks on all the systems, and among other things, I let the engine run for a good one hour so. Everything seemed to work fine. The engine started easy (after two years without running) and didn’t miss a beat. No white/black/blue smoke, good oil pressure and temperature. I was elated, and already started making plans to go next weekend with the kids to one of the many small islands around. Just before leaving the boat, I checked the oil in the engine. Well, there went all my excitement and plans for the weekend. I had lots of water in the oil!. For a few moments I debated what to do next; I could drink a couple of quarts of the emulsified water/oil mix from the engine, it didn’t look so bad really, kind of café laté. Or perhaps, I could tie the main anchor to one of my legs, and jump off the boatyard’s dock… At the end, I decided for the easier choice. I just went home for the day, spare the family - and myself - the grief of a suicide, and would come back next day to figure out where all that water was coming from. After some reading and thinking, I found out that there were several possible culprits: the raw water pump (which is directly geared to the engine), the oil cooler, the exhaust manifold (lesser in the list, but still a possibility), bad-seated vales combined with a defective manifold (another lower in the list), and the head gasket (water coming from the fresh water cooling of the engine, rather than from raw-water circuit).
I came back to the boat next day, loaded with Nigel Calder’s book (I highly recommend it), the workshop manual for my Russian-made engine -which so far had only been a reference to buy spares- and lots of doubts and fears. You see, I have always been a little afraid of engines. Because of this, I never cared to learn much about them, or tried to fix them. Because of this, I didn’t do much to the engine when I had it out of the boat, probably the best time to do what I end up having to do now. But to be fair, I also dislike being covered in diesel, oil or grease, which is impossible to avoid when you are working with engines. Since I was going to have to gulp down my oil-phobia and engine fears, I also added a six-pack -well, more like two of them- to my bag.

I started on my first suspect, the oil heat exchanger. I disconnected and tested it with pressure water. Not a single leak. This was expected since it was new, but then I got it from e-bay, and you never know. Dealing with the heat exchanger was easy and encouraging in a twisted way. I say encouraging, because I didn’t get all that much oil on me. Twisted because the heat exchanger would have been an easy fix, just fork out another $300 for a new one, but mostly, because it meant the problem was something else, likely harder to deal with.

Next, I went for the raw water pump. As it is frequently happens with boats, this was not easy. To take the water pump, I have to remove the centrifugal oil filter first, because it blocks the way to get the pump out. Of course, all the bolts that attach the oil filter base to the engine block were seized, and in the process of getting them loose, I damaged the heads of two bolts. I wasn’t really my fault. My father loved working with engines. As a kid, I expend many weekends helping him fix his cars. It was more like passing him the pliers, spanners, etc., but he taught me the importance of using the right tools. To my credit, I was using the right wrench, but the bolts were simply seized, and the heads got deformed and damaged from the pressure to get them out.
Now I had a much bigger problem, and still couldn’t get the raw-water pump out. I checked my clock, and it was already noon. So I did what anybody else living in paradise would have done. Had two beers, jumped off the boatyard’s dock for a swim (without an anchor), and left Patrick, the worker that helps me on the boat, trying to knock off the two bolts. It was not an easy decision. I don’t mean the beers and the swim, but the part about knocking off the bolts. You see, Seychelles is one of those places where it could be close to impossible to finding bolts the right size and thread.

I came back from my short swim refreshed and less frustrated. The bad bolts were still there, though. The raw water-cooled exhaust manifold had to be removed in order to leave enough room to chisel -or pry- out the two damaged bolts. That was ok with me. The manifold was also in the list of suspects, although with a lower priority. So I left Patrick busy with this part. I had already swallowed two parts of my engine fear, so I went on the engine head. Removal was relatively easy following the recommendations of Calder’s book. The engine’s workshop manual was obviously made for professional mechanics, so they don’t care to mention basic stuff like the order to loosen/tight the bolts -to avoid warping the head-, or that bolts should go back on the same slot they were taken from. I thought it was going to be a straight job, after all, I had changed many other gaskets on the boat. Take the head out, clean a little, change the head gasket (I already had a new one), and put the head back. How wrong I was. To my horror, there were deposits of silt all around and inside the head gasket.

Not only that, looking inside the oil passages of the cylinder head, I could see silt that had amalgamated into pebble size rocks…

At this point I realized I had a major job in my hands, and was up for several days of engine work, and all that oil…

To be continued ...

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Comment by Terri on October 18, 2009 at 4:38pm
Will light a candle for you! :-) good luck, hope all goes well!!
Comment by Marco Garcia on October 18, 2009 at 11:15am
Engine is fixed now, well sort of. Still have problems with a leaking water pump and a couple of leaks on the piping, nothing major. The boat should go back on the water soon. Better, because starting next week I don't have a job anymore...
Comment by Terri on October 17, 2009 at 5:30am
It's stories like this that me glad I have an outboard. Good for you for jumping right into tearing her apart and not going over the side with the anchor attached. Hope you're able to fix her and begin your sailing adventures!

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