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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Sansbury

A New Start(er)

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

Ever since we left Annapolis, our starboard engine has been acting a little funky.  Literally, the day after we left.  It had been acting absolutely fine the entire time we were tied to the dock, and all of a sudden it decides that it wants to start acting up as soon as we leave. What's that called? Murphy's Law?

It began acting a little hesitant when we went to start it, often turning over a few times before the engine would actually start.  We thought that maybe it was an issue with the start button, or a loose connection in the start wires.  It was obvious that something was off.  But it didn’t worry us too much because it would act up for a few days, then be perfectly fine for another few days.  Weird.  We put it on a list of projects that we would get to once we could settle down somewhere for more than a day, and continued to head south.

Well, it finally died on us.  Matt went to fire up the engines the other day and the damn thing wouldn’t start.  It would turn over and do a high pitched whining sound for a bit, before giving way to a horrible clunking sound.  It sounded horrible.  I think it was trying to hold out long enough to get us to Key West before completely quitting.  Kinda sweet, if you think about it.  I guess there could be worse places to be stranded in.

Time to get in there and see what the heck was going on.  Matt noticed the more he tried to start it, the pulleys would lock up which made him think that it had a hydrolock (when water gets into the engine and creates a seal). After talking to a few people and consulting the all mighty Internet, we learned that a hydrolock was a bad, bad thing.  Like, may need to have the engine rebuilt, kind of bad thing.   He bled the engine to get the water out and dumped an entire can of WD-40 in there to prevent any rust from the salty sea water, just in case any water got into places where they shouldn't.  By the death rattle it was making, and all of the doomsday articles we’d read on the Internet, he knew he needed to call in some support.  He got a hold of a Yanmar mechanic who said he’d come to the boat on Monday to take a look.

At this point there are a few scenarios going through our head:

1. Our engine is screwed.  We’ll have to limp it up north one Key to Stock Island where they have a big enough lift to have it hauled.  Possibly call SeaTow if we can't get there on our own accord.  If we DID have a hydrolock, coupled with the horrible metal grinding sound, we may need our engine rebuilt. This is absolute doomsday scenario.

2. Should we call our people in Annapolis and have them start looking for a rebuilt engine?  This could potentially cost us tens of thousands of dollars and wipe out our cruising kitty quicker than an all in bet on red at the roulette table.

3. We'll need to put the Bahamas on hold and get jobs ASAP to pay for all of this nonsense.

4.  Hooray!  We’re getting a new engine and will only have to worry about the port engine from now on!

5. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse.  Trying to find answers to our engine problem is like someone trying to self diagnose on Web MD.  Stuffy nose = cancer.

The mechanic finally made it out on Tuesday afternoon, only one day late.  I was actually really surprised that he was only off by a day.  It’s Island Time down here, so he could have showed up two weeks from now and still considered that acceptable.  This guy was in his late 50’s and was working the best handlebar mustache I’d ever seen.  We asked him where he was from and he told us Seattle.  Hmm, long way from home, huh?  He said KW was as far away as he could get from ‘her’. Ha!  Guess everyone runs here to escape something.

Within minutes of listening to the engine, he determined that we, in fact, did NOT hydrolock it, but it was a starter issue.  Seems we had sheared the nose of our starter clean off.  That was that horrible metal clanking sound we’d been hearing.  The reason why the pulleys weren’t turning?  The piece of metal that had broken off was lodged in their way. How the heck that managed to happen, we'll never know.

For the record, that’s supposed to be one piece.  The smaller piece in the bottom of the picture was what broke off and was clanking around in the engine.

The mechanic called back to his shop and told them to meet him in town with a new starter.  Two hours later, we had the new one installed and the engine started right up.  We have yet to know the final amount of this project, but starters run for about $100, according to the Internet.  I’m sure he’s going to slap a ridiculous “emergency call” fee on top of his hourly rate, so we’re guessing it’ll be in the area of a $500 fix.  Not cheap, but waaaaay better than the $10k we were originally stressing over.

To celebrate, we went in town for a spaghetti dinner and a slice of Key Lime pie. It’s pretty windy and cold here right now (65 degrees – brrrr!), with the wind blowing directly from the North.  Needless to say the dinghy ride back to the boat was a little adventurous, with 1-2′ waves and huge rollers coming in from the ocean.  Matt got the brunt of the waves and took one (or a few) for the team.  Small price to pay for avoiding the potential disaster we though we were in earlier that morning.  Yin and Yang, baby.

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