This past Saturday, Judy and I departed the marina for two nights at anchor in the Apostle Islands. The weather on Saturday delivered on and off rain through much of the day. We watched the weather and saw that a current shower would soon end and there was a clear patch behind so we fired up the diesel, backed out of the slip and headed out and into the islands. The forecast was for light winds but coming from many directions. We opted for dropping the hook at Presque Isle Bay off Stockton Island.
This proved to be a good choice. Weather conditions made for a comfortable swing at anchor and we saw some sailing friends drop their anchors not far away.
Allegro at anchor (not Presque Isle)
That evening, we gathered on Neverland and played music well into the night, one guitar and two flutes, until another rain shower sent us packing back to Allegro. We got a good sleep that night.
Morning came and we got up rather late. Many of the boats in the anchorage had departed and were heading down the North Channel to get back home Sunday evening. We had one more night to enjoy at anchor.
We went ashore by dinghy, had a good low fiber breakfast (preparation for my upcoming medical procedure) and watched Neverland and Golden Sun sail past before they departed the anchorage.
It was our turn to haul the anchor and depart. We planned to sail around the islands then choose another anchorage for the night. Time to fire up the diesel.
I did my normal starting routine. All three cylinders did not fire immediately, but this is not unusual. After a few seconds they usually start firing, and with a belch of smoke from the exhaust (unburned fuel), the engine settles down to a smooth purr. This time was different.
The engine kept turning after releasing the starter motor. But it never smoothed out. Only one cylinder – or perhaps two – was firing. And the low oil pressure alarm continued to scream. From below, Judy hollered that there was smoke. I looked over the transom and didn’t see excess smoke from the exhaust. She said it was “down here!” There was black smoke bellowing out from the engine compartment. I had shut down the engine and I went below. There was lots of black smoke! I was not going to try the engine again until I could have it looked at.
Now we had to sail off the anchor. We got the main up and I hauled 90 feet of chain and the anchor up by hand. We turned toward the North Channel and rolled out the jib. There was enough wind to make modest headway but it would be several hours to Port Superior at this rate. But we kept moving.
We made a call to Rick and Michelle on Golden Sun to explain the situation. They offered to come back but we thought we could proceed on our own if the wind held – and it was forecast to hold. We also tried to contact someone at Port Superior to let the service department know that we would need someone to look at the engine when we got back and to arrange for a tow the last bit into the marina when we sailed to the entrance.
The wind did not hold and our boat speed fell to almost nothing. We talked again to Golden Sun and they decided to come back. When they arrived, they took a line and took us in tow – and continued towing us the remaining 13 miles to the marina, into the marina and past our slip where we cast the tow line and coasted into the slip.
First thing Monday morning, Jeff from the shop came to the boat to diagnose the problem. With Jeff right at the engine, he had me try to start it. It fired up easily as normal! Jeff put a temporary oil pressure gauge in place of the pressure sender unit. Oil pressure was fine at all RPMs and after it warmed up. He looked for other possibilities such as water in the fuel. Nothing in the Racor filter housing. He took off the secondary filter on the engine. There was possibly a drop of two of water and some fine debris but it didn’t look like the problem – except: the O-ring was missing. It was found up in the housing but it was the wrong size. There was only a metal to metal seal to keep air out of the fuel line. Our problem could very likely be an air leak.
Filter and O-ring were replaced and the air was bled out of the fuel lines.
We took the boat out and ran the engine for an hour, then sailed for another or so and started the engine again. It ran fine and sounded nice and smooth.
The bad news is that we had an engine problem. The good news is that is proved to be minor and it happened BEFORE we depart for our long trip to the Canadian North Shore.