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A Good Book and a VERY Big Wrench

A trusty pipe wrench

Our story opens in the midst of a voyage from Anacortes, Washington to Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, a very remote little archipelago well west of Vancouver Island. Lioness, a Defever 49 with five guys aboard, owner Phil Chernin and his brother-in-law Monty Bourn amongst them, eases along toward Queen Charlotte City, Haida Gwaii’sd one and only big town. 

“The serendipity that had been with us for a while ended on the morning of our fifth day out,” says Phil. “Trouble started when the fan belt and the alternator on the starboard engine began squealing, so I shut down the engine to let it cool off. No sense tightening a belt on a super-hot engine, right?”

This was a reasonable thing to do, of course, but it soon produced wretched developments. When Phil made the next hourly pass through his engine room, he discovered to his eye-popping amazement, that water was pouring from the screened air intake on the starboard engine’s turbo. Because he’d forgotten to close the appropriate valve in the cross-connect system his mechanic had added while installing new PSS dripless shaftlogs, water from the port main (and most likely also from outside the boat) had literally drowned the starboard main during the brief shutdown.  

“So now we couldn’t possibly crank this engine,” Chernin explains. “We figured water was in the cylinders too, which turned out to be the case, and since water does not compress, we knew we’d break a rod or worse trying to start ‘er up again.”

Murphy struck again an hour later. As Lioness limped along toward Queen Charlotte City on one engine only, said engine’s oil pressure suddenly dropped from 45 to 10 psi, a sporty happening that forced yet another impromptu shutdown.

Now Lioness had an oil-cooler failure to contend with, too. The crew poured all the spare motor oil on board into the port main but it did not affect the dipstick reading at all. So, using a five-gallon bucket, they resourcefully scavenged six more quarts (rated 10W-40, a close-enough substitute for the Delo 15W-40 that was the engine’s normal fare) from the boat’s stabilizers and carefully funneled the stuff in. It worked.

“That first night in Port Charlotte,” says Phil, “we were more than happy to crack open a few beers and a scotch or two and connect with some of the local people—just to relax and find out who might be able to help us with our two engines.”

Somebody also cracked open a book from a shelf in the saloon: Boatowner’s Mechanical And Electrical Manual, by Nigel Calder. And, wonder of wonders, it contained solid advice on how to restart a drowned diesel.

“What I gathered from what Nigel was saying and my mechanic in Anacortes was telling me on the phone,” Phil explains, “was that if we could simply rotate the crankshaft in the appropriate direction, we could force the water past the cylinder rings and into the crankcase, where we could pump it out via the dipstick tube.”

Phil and his mates chased down the largest, longest (to boost leverage) pipe wrench in Port Charlotte. They then affixed the jaws of the wrench to the crankshaft on the front of the engine. And finally, Phil’s brother-in-law Monte, the heftiest guy in the bunch, began methodically jumping up and down on the wrench’s handle to turn the crank.

“It took two hours to get 10 revolutions,” adds Phil, “But that was enough. After we’d removed the water from the crankcase, we did four complete oil changes and fired her up—she ran just fine.”

Dealing with the bad oil-cooler on the port engine took four complete oil changes as well. But first, Phil and his crew simply bypassed the cooler with hydraulic hoses and fittings, thereby tempoarily removing it from the system, and plumbing the oil pump right back into itself.

“Because it was cold outside,” Phil concludes with the satisfaction of a skipper who’s dealt successfully with tough circumstances, “that engine ran only about five degrees hotter than normally, all the way back to Anacortes.”