It never ceases to amaze us how a wonderfully blissful day can quickly be turned into bewilderment, stress, and sprinklings of dread when you are cruising. We had one of those kind of days in mid December 2017, making a passage from Bimini to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry's, on one of the most beautiful cruising days we have ever had on the ocean.
The day started normally for us, up the crack of dawn to see the sunrise over the ocean, the forecasted calm weather and flat sea conditions came to pass, and we headed east further into the Bahamas over the turquoise Bahama Bank. The plan was to spend a week or two in the Berry Islands before heading onto the Exumas. "The plan"... when will we ever learn? If you cruise on a boat for any length of time at all, you know plans are made in beach sand at low tide.
The passage is about 80 nautical miles. So with a run that long, and going our normal cruise speed of 8 knots, I was going to put the boat on plane for 20 minutes ever 3 hours. It makes the day a little shorter, and it blows the carbon buildup in the engines from going slow. Plus the big Cats like to stretch their legs every so often. It's the last 7 miles of a perfect cruise, we see GHC in the distance. I decide to put the boat on plane one last time before we stop and set the hook just outside the entrance to the harbour. Once at speed, about 19 knots per hour @2250 rpm, the port engine started to feel a little rough, I glanced at the fuel flow meters and it showed much more fuel burn on that engine, oil pressure and temperature we normal, glanced behind me and seen that engine blowing some black smoke out the exhaust, and I heard what sounded like a knocking noise. This can't be happening! My heart stopped, seemingly my heartbeat had moved from my chest to the port engine. I immediately took her off plane and told Cyndi to stand watch. I went down below and lifted the stairs to the engine room and the knock in the engine was clear. I shut the port engine off and limped into our anchorage for the night, feeling defeated and a little uncertain what this was all going to mean for our continued trip through the Bahamas.
Some important things to note here about what had just happened. There was no power loss at the moment the event happened, if it wasn't for the roughness and knock we would of kept right on planing. There was no loss of oil pressure (40+ PSI warm) or high temperatures noticed at the time of the incident. In the anchorage I checked the oil level and it was also normal. Starting the engine up cold produces a greyish smoke, maybe mixed with a little blue.
A couple of other things that may be considered is I had just changed the fuel filters and replaced the belts on this engine in Bimini before we left.
Sitting in the anchorage wondering what our next move would be, we decided that the best course of action was to take a dock at Great Harbour Cay Marina, this might give me access to a mechanic, quick access to town, and access other people if needed. Other boaters are great for moral support when you have trouble like this. Cruisers all have their stories of similar things.
We've been at the marina for 3 weeks now. I've been trying to diagnose the issue myself with some remote professional assistance, (thanks Sam, Danny, and Barry for your help). And also following some advice from the nice people on BoatDiesel.com.
Some things I have done so far are:
- Dumped the secondary fuel filter checking for water.
- Checked the primary filter and re-primed the fuel system.
- Checked for water in the oil and smell if the oil was burnt.
- Switched to pull fuel from the Starboard tank instead of the port tank.
- Checked for loose fuel lines, kinks, or leaks.
- Cracked the fuel lines at the injectors (nozzles on the 3208 Cat) to see if there was any change in sound.
- Ripped open the oil filter looking for metal pieces.
- Looked inside the turbo from the Air filter side.
- Had the valve covers off looking for broken bolts, rocker arms, or anything else obvious.
- Pointed an infrared thermometer at the base of the exhaust valves looking for a cold one.
Doing these things revealed nothing abnormal as far as I could tell. The only thing is that I didn't hear much difference in engine sound when cracking the fuel lines at the injectors. This may indicate something.
We also had 2 Mechanics drop by the boat for a short time to give their opinion on what the issue could be. Both had differing opinions. They didn't have much in the way of diagnostic tools and they didn't go deep. I'll just leave it at that.
I have two other fuel related strings to pull, one being checking the full pressure on the fuel injection pump, but as of right now I'm ready to shoot myself in the head. :-D I so want the skills to do this diagnosis myself, but I'm afraid this one requires years of diesel engine experience, and possible years of experience with 3208 Cats.
If you have any opinions on what our engine issue is, please feel free to give your opinions and ask further questions in the comments below. Here are some of the options;
- Bad Injector(s)
- Value Lash/adjustment
- Too Much/Too Little Fuel
- Head Gasket
- Other (state in the comments)
We may limp back to Florida on one engine, to get someone who really knows what they are doing to get hands on with the engine. If I could of narrowed it down to an injector or valve, I could of did the work myself, or went to Nassau to get it done. It is looking like we will have to make a decision;
- To stay here in GHC for the Winter and go back to FL for service in the spring, GHC is not a bad place to be stuck. We still get some really nice Bahamas experiences here.
- Go back to FL within the next two weeks and maybe we get fixed up soon so we can head back over to the Bahamas and continue on to the Exumas for the rest of the season. The risk here is getting stuck in the US with a big job and as Canadians dwindle away our days we are allowed in the US per year.
- Fly a mechanic in from the mainland to hopefully diagnose the engine, then decide on option 1, 2, or if the diagnosis is not all that bad, head to Nassau to get it done, or do it myself.
Let us know in the comments what you think we should do.
Once again, cruising is not all sunsets and dolphins. Things can happen that can eradicate your plans. For us though, this is worth it, this is just a small inconvenience, maybe even an adventure rightly considered, and we still cannot imagine doing anything else. We will eventually get fixed up and we will once again be on our way to Freedom, Adventure, and Simplicity. Though, simplicity seems to be the hardest one of those to maintain, due to unexpected boat maintenance costs this year.
"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." -Gilbert K. Chesterton
We will keep you updated either here on the blog or on a YouTube episode of this continuing story. Be sure to like us on Facebook and Instagram to get more real time updates, and of course subscribe to our YouTube Channel if you haven't already. We are still making videos, even if we are a little slow. Cheers!
**Update Jan 13, 2018**
There is one thing I should say about this event and us sharing it; We have a lot of very wonderful and generous people that follow our adventures and reached out to help. We are truly overwhelmed by the response and genuine caring we have received. From well wishes, mechanical advise and troubleshooting procedures, to offerings of the use of airplanes. Truly an amazing bunch of people.
Lots of people have been asking for an update. We will post updates here and I'll mention it in the comments. If you subscribe to the comments section below where it says "Subscribe via e-mail", you will be notified of new comments, including us notifying you of an update. So here is the latest.
Checked the blow-by hose coming out of the valve cover. Compared to the good engine, the forcefulness of the air is relativley the same, same amount of smoke coming out, which is minimal. The engine in question does have a noticeable pulse against the hand, that pulse is much more diminished on the good engine, the good engine has almost a steady stream of air.
Removed the air intake going into the turbo again and listened for popping. Didn´t notice any "popping" sound, but there is a pulse of air like on the blow-by hose and was much more pronounced coming out of the turbo. I don't think air should be coming our of the turbo intake. The turbo also spins freely.
Also cracked the fuel lines again at the valve cover to check for diminished smoke. We thought at cylinder 3 the smoke diminished if not eliminated. Cyndi was looking and getting it on video. Tried it two more times but didn´t notice any diminishing smoke. We now think the wind changed and blew the smoke under the swim platform. Here are the results of that.
Cylinder - Smoke Diminishes - Sound Change
1 - No - Slight
3 - Yes/2nd & 3rd time No - Yes
5 - No - Yes
7 - No - Slight
2 - No - Slight
4 - No - Yes
6 - No - Yes
8 - No - Yes
Tools to do the Valve Lash and change some injectors are on order and should be here this week. Look for an update after the weekend of Jan 20th.
**Update Feb 5, 2018**
Here is the latest on the engine issue. I did a valve lash adjustment, and some valves were out of adjustment. However, it did not fix the issue. I also checked, as best I could, the springs and pushrods. All seem ok. I was going to change some injectors, but since there is huffing air coming out of the air intake on the turbo, this points to something other than injectors. If my hunch is right, I think the head gasket is blown between cylinder 2 and 4. I say this because this is where the noise is most intense when I hang my head over that side of the engine. Though I cannot isolate that with a piece of wood or metal up to my ear.
With the job getting far beyond what can be accomplished here in Great Harbour Cay, we are pondering when we will head back to Florida. If we see really good multi-day weather window in the next few weeks, we may take it. This is in hopes of getting fixed and heading back to the Bahamas till May. If we don't get an acceptable weather window, and we run into March, then we are cutting it to close to ruining our yearly days in the US, as we don't want to head back to the Bahamas in hurricane season, and this summer we may not go as far north as Canada. Decisions, decisions.