Location: The Gulf, right outside Pass-a-grille

Now that we've gone out to the gulf a few times, I'm finding that I'm taking more of a liking to sailing in open waters - even more so than navigating channels, bridges, and bays.  There's less under you to worry about so you can devote more time thinking about what's not around you.

In any case... for a year now, ever since the Gasperilla Race at TSS where our engine stopped right outside a timed bridge, we've been having a big of engine anxiety.  Once or twice where the problem was obvious can be forgiven and forgotten.  But when it happens at every cruise and we can't fix it quickly - that creates anxiety.

Iron Jenny, Our Perkins 4-108

I'm over top of the stuffing box here. Lots of room!

The engine is an earlier model Perkins 4-108.  Maybe we'll name her Jenny - since there's a tired sailor quip about getting out the iron genny under light or unfavorable weather.

Jenny was most likely born in the early 77's or even back in 76.  Then sometime in 1977, Jenny was stepped into a brand new hull which would eventually become Petrichor.

The hourmeter was inoperative when we bought her, so we don't really know how many hours she's been running. BUT, due to the record keeping from the previous owners, we do know the work done on her.  Here are a few lines from the regular maintenance schedule...

Date Work Type Work Done
7/2006 Maintenance Fuel Polished, Alternator Belt Replaced
8/18/2006 Maintenance Heat Exchanger thermostat replaced, Fuel Filter Change
11/14/2006 Maintenance Heat exchanger Coolant change
10/7/2007 Maintenance Oil and Oil Filter change
10/10/2007 Maintenance Transmission Fluid change
8/10/2008 Maintenance Oil and Oil Filter change
2/15/2009 Maintenance Fuel filter change
9/1/2009 Maintenance Oil and Oil Filter change

There's a flurry of work and receipts starting in 2006, so I'm assuming that that's when CT, the previous previous owner, bought Petrichor.

Up until the end of 2009, we can tell that the engine was maintained regularly with fluid and filter changes about once a year.

From 2009 to 2016, the maintenance schedule stops.

The maintenance log was printed in a large, bold, serif font.  It was designed to be really easy to see and understand.  I love how sailors do things to avoid mistakes.  Now that we're in charge of Petrichor's care, we maintain separate logs for engine and battery maintenance.  We found a couple of nice columnar log books off Amazon that worked nicely (link at bottom of page).

Digging a little deeper into work invoices and looking at other documentation we have, we noticed that CT did most of the work during this period.  He's the same person who did the maintenance so it can assumed that he continued oil and filter maintenance without updating his logs - but erring on the side of caution, we've done work assuming that maintenance had stopped.

Flipping through the work and job invoices...

Date Work Type Work Done
7/17/2006 Repair New: Heat Exchanger, 12V/105A Alternator; Rebuild: 12V Starter
11/10/2006 Repair New: Exhuast System, Fiberglass Exhaust Elbow; Hook Up: Transmission Cables
7/10/2006 thru 9/26/2006 Repair 33 hours of work performed over 2 months
7-8/2006 Repair New: Propeller & Cutlass Bearing; Rebuild: Fuel System
7/15/2016 Repair Rebuild: Injection Pump
7/31/2018 User Error No fuel, secondary fuel filter on wrong

Right at the end, the part about "User Error" was us!  So if we follow the logs we have on hand, a story starts to develop - giving us a hint at what we should look out for.

In any case, Iron Jenny's story is starting to develop a bit more now.  There's no documentation from 1977, when Petrichor was built, through 2006 when CT bought Petrichor.

NN, the previous owner, had the injector pump rebuilt in 2016.  We bought her in 2017 and despite some user error, the engine's been running like a champ.

Records seem to indicate that we'll need to keep an eye on the cooling system.  All the repairs over the last 20 years have had to do with the heat exchanger - we just fixed a small pinhole leak in the wet exhaust that had been slowly attacking and rusting the port side of the engine bay.  New project: Scrape it all off, replace what can't be saved, apply rust inhibitor and engine paint over what can.

Luckily, there were no other problems.  So let's continue to replace the fluids, filters, and other lubricants.

We've also sent our RPM and Hourmeter back to Faria for repair.  It'll take about 4 weeks so we'll have that again sometime next month.

I checked the rpm output and it appeared to be good up until the gauge.  Faria techs have noted that the gauge itself is broken.

If you're wondering what the user error was... they were two fold:

  1. Insufficient Fuel
  2. Improper installation of Fuel Filter

I can give you excuses, but instead I'm going to own up to them as rookie boat owner errors!  So here are the excuses:

  1. I assumed there was more fuel in the tank than there was
  2. I performed the change myself by copying how it was done previously

For #2, I can also add that she ran for a year without any filter issues.  What Terry, the same mechanic who's been working on Petrichor since 2006, noticed was that there was an old hardened o-ring stuck on (new ones were just put right over them); and that the outer filter sealing gasket was installed incorrectly.

Who knows how fuel got through while we sailed her.  Despite these errors, some good must come out of it.

Insufficient Fuel

Insufficient fuel means that we've been sucking in dirty fuel from the bottom of the tank for a year.

We'd jerrycan 5-10 gallons at a time... just enough for the day's sail.  In retrospect, this was a horrible decision.  Lesson learned: Keep the tanks as topped up as possible!

The positive is that most of the junk's been pushed through a few fuel filters always seemed to need replacing so often.

To prevent this error in the future, I put in fuel 5 gallons at a time through a pre-filter with a shaker tube (works really well).

After every 5 gallons, I put in the fuel measurin' stick and recorded how far up the fuel went up the stick.  Now we know for sure about how much fuel there's in the tank.

Incorrect Filter Installation

Ya this was just dumb.

Iron Jenny is a Champ

Now that we have all that taken care of, Jenny is performing to the Perkins 4-108's reputation.  She starts up cold as soon as the starter turns.  We don't even hear the start motor going sometimes.

So the key to making her run well, according to Terry is to keep the fuel clean.  Replace the Racor regularly (every 3 months) and the fuel filter as well (every 6 months).  Polish our fuel and clean the fuel tank once as year.

So that takes care of our engine anxiety.  And now back to the original story.

Out to the Gulf

Blue Sky Meets Blue Gulf

Our previous sail out to the Gulf, we had just replaced the stuffing box and went out to test it out.  Good news, the new flax worked well.  Bad news, the engine stopped.

Asa was at the helm and we had passed the pass-a-grille channel's entrance marker about 30 minutes ago.  Time to turn around because things are running well!

We had the sails up too for some motor sailing, just in case something went wrong w/ the engine.

It was at this moment, just as our bow cross the wind, and we completed tacking the sails.. The engine stopped.

We have steerage and complete control of the boat.  It's just more tricky without Iron Jenny to push us through party boats, power boats, jet skis, other sailboats, slack tide currents, and a bridge.

We quickly decided that we'll sail her back.  We've done it once before last year.  We can do it again.  This time without David (an experienced sailor) on board.

Turning the ignition key, the starter engine didn't turn on.  There was either a loose connection somewhere, the starter battery was dead, or the starter had broken.  

With Asa at the helm carefully making our way back and setting our sails on what felt like a good point of sail down the channel, I went below to see if I can find the problem.

To see if it was a bad starter, I manually energized the starter motor.  This caused the starter to turn.  Good.  Not the starter, not the battery.  

After spending a few more moments, I couldn't find the loose connection to get the starter going again.  So I went back up to work the sails and help Asa.

The channel back home works it way north and then north-west to west.  The winds were a bit shifty, but generally coming from the west to north-west.  This meant that up until we make our last turn into the quarter mile canal leading up to our dock, we would be sailing a beam reach through to a run.

This worked well.  Asa kept the rudder movements to a minimum; and I was trimming and adjusting the sails to eek out what we could out of light winds and a dropping tide.

We crawled under the Pinellas Bayway Bridge at 2 knots with other motor boaters calling out warnings about hitting the bridge.  Our mast is at 52' (it's less than that, but we've added a few safety feet) - the bridge has 60' of clearance.  Plenty of space.  But from water level, you can't tell and it looks like we wouldn't make it.

But... with Asa giving Petrichor words of encouragement, we made it past the bridge.  Now for the turn and sail back into our dock.  Asa took her close to the seawall, knowing that there's often a sand dune that builds up where the canal and channel meet.

We were just about head to wind going that last 400 meters.  For 30 minutes, we tried to do short tacks only to have to round up and try again.  We tried going at it from the south; the north; and even sailing out a bit to gain a couple more knots before trying again.

Ultimately, the winds were too light; coming form the direction we wanted to go; and the tide and currents were against us.  The towboat.us guy had been watching us the entire time from the bridge.

We got out our handheld VHF and hailed him over to help.  Captain Jason came by and quickly had our paperwork done up.  He was really professional and polite.  He told us he'd been wondering what we were doing before we called him.

Within about 5 minutes, Petrichor was safe back at her dock.  From there, we called up Terry, set up a time for him to come out and diagnose my errors.  Terry was actually retired, we found out.  He only came out because he's had a long history with Petrichor and knows her well.  That's an interesting thing about sailors and boats.

With those corrections made, we invited Nina and David out for a sail the next weekend.

We took her out the same path.  Through pass-a-grille and out to the gulf.  We sailed her up and down the coast for 8 hours.  After realizing it being almost 6, we decided to head back home before it gets dark.  Crossing our fingers, a little bit of that engine anxiety was still there as we turned the key.  And instantly, Jenny came roaring to life.

Before we knew it, we were back home - satisfied and thrilled that we finally had a sail without a problem.


Stuff we mentioned in the post that we got off Amazon:

Columnar Notebook

Shaker Tube