Flooding my Diesel Engine, a Saga of Errors

In September 2005, "Corleto," my Catalina 27, was due for a haul out. She had been at the dock unused for two summers and while the hull was still free of any hard growth, I had plenty to break off of the propeller and shaft before I could expect more than just a few knots speed. That was mistake number one, not using a boat for that length of time. It's a 30 mile trip to the nearest haul out and use of the engine has always proven necessary going north. After some effort with a long handled brush at the dock to break off the growth, I took her out for a short motor out of the marina and back to make sure she could make 5 knots, which she did. My second mistake was that I had forgotten that the Hood Canal Bridge would be closed the following week and that we had a trip planned the following three weeks, so I called and postponed my haul out for a month. The third mistake was that I had never guessed that barnacles and mussels could grow back in one month if the surface is not cleaned well. One month later, shortly after leaving the dock, I realized my GPS speed was only three knots and that I would never be able to reach the haul out point on one tide interval at that speed. I did not have enough time to return to the dock to clean the propeller and still meet my haul out time so I speculated that since the growth was so new, I might be able to wear it off with more RPMs. That was mistake number four and resulted in a smoky exhaust, extra vibration, and finally a loud thump! from the engine. Smoke was now coming from inside the cabin and I shut down and looked below. All looked in order from below and I restarted but the smoke persisted. I opened the bilge cover to discover that a full flow of cooling water was flowing through the bilge. I shut down again and after opening the side panel I could see that the exhaust riser tee which feeds the bronze water injection fitting had fallen apart and I had exhaust and water spraying all over in the engine room.

This is the old riser after removing and cleaning it.

There was barely enough wind to sail but the full ebb tide had kicked in by this time. I decided to return to Kingston since I was only a mile or so away but with adverse current. Despite sailing across the Sound to Edmonds where there was less current, I was barely making headway towards Kingston. What ever chance I had to make it on my return tack was cut off by an outgoing container ship. By the time I made two tacks to let the ship pass, my wind was less and I had even more current. Faced with the prospects of spending the next ten hours getting Corleto back to Kingston under sail alone, I decided to let the engine idle and motor sail. That got me back to my slip in a more timely fashion, but made quite a mess inside the engine room. In removing the mess, I managed to aggravated a 40 year old neck injury plus my tendonitis and was unable to complete the work until September 2006, after many months of physical therapy.

The old exhaust riser was wrapped 1 1/4" NPT pipe fittings with a bronze injection fitting. Westerbeke has taken over the Universal parts replacements and the new riser is a cast aluminum water jacketed riser which I obtained plus a new gasket for the manifold as my old riser adaptor fitting was still serviceable and the new riser is 1 1/4" NPT. I was troubled by the fact that the new riser sat 7 inches lower than the old riser, and is lower than the loop between the muffler and transom.

The new riser is shown here, attached to the engine.

My engine has a heat exchanger installed with the raw water flow provided by a FlowJet Quad Series pump with a 3.3 GPM output. This is a heavy flow and I was concerned that it might back up into the engine. I did install an anti siphon valve in the feed line and when first running the engine, I only opened the cooling water cock after the engine was running and made sure I closed it before shutting the engine down. I cleaned the prop once again and motored the 60 miles round trip for the haul out with no problem. The engine and cooling seemed back in order at that time. In hindsight, that became mistake number five, because there were no safeguards against flooding the engine should the pump run and the engine not start. In August 2007 the engine would not start. The starter would click but not engage. My first concern was I might have flooded the engine so in subsequent tries in getting the starter to work I tried to remember to not open the cooling water valve. I checked several times over the next year to make sure the engine turned freely, insuring me that I had not flooded the engine. Mistake number six was in not realizing that I had probably already flooded the engine at that point and may have even made it worse by rotating the engine.

By August 2008, the starter was still not working but now the engine was no longer turning, so it became a top priority to get it taken care of. After many phone calls I was told that starters can jam, freezing up the engine, and rings can freeze from carbon and be hard to break loose. But, after finally getting the starter out, I knew it wasn't a jammed starter gear. After pouring Marvel Magic Oil into the cylinders through the injector ports I was still unable to turn the crank and knew the engine needed to come out. I was unable to find any combination of tide and wind to make a one day sail to Port Townsend from Kingston in September and we were planning to travel the first week in October. Not wanting to have the engine sit flooded that long, or to risk having to drift around overnight with no engine, I paid $800 for a tow to Port Townsend, pulled the engine and and had it torn apart before our trip. The repair shop replaced the pistons, valves, and rod bearings, had the starter repaired and got her running again.

My seventh mistake was the biggest and was not boating related but resulted in the delay. I was in a hurry and took a shortcut in collecting my tools on another project and managed to fall 40 feet down a cliff, breaking my neck. Meanwhile, the boatyard was charging me huge work yard storage fees for the three months delay while my neck healed.

As a safe guard against flooding the engine again after I reinstalled it, I added a relay which uses the oil pressure switch to control power to the water pump, so the pump won't run until the engine develops oil pressure.

My eighth and last mistake of this series, was not taking the alternator to the local shop to have it checked out while it was off the engine. An hour into our return trip to Kingston, the engine started overheating and I shut it down. A loose connection in the ignition switch caused a power interruption to the water pump. When trying to restart the engine, there was not enough charge left in the batteries to turn the engine over. Fortunately, a breeze picked up just enough to let us sail back to Port Townsend. Repair of the alternator involved replacing both diodes but the bearings and brushes were good. With the alternator reinstalled and after the batteries had a few days on the charger, we motored back to Kingston with no further problems. I have since replaced the ignition switch but the water tank froze and the windex blew off and was lost in a strong wind while the boat was hauled out in Port Townsend. So, I have those added repairs before I will resume sailing again.

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