Thursday, May 29, 2014


Stop Leak stopped the leak.  Water levels seem to be holding after several hours of running the engine.  We were going to take SV Grace out for a "sea trial" Friday morning, but we have a new development that needs to be pursued first. 

Yesterday morning we were heartened by the apparent success of Stop Leak as we torqued all the head bolts (some were loose) to tighten up the head on the head gasket.  This was done while the engine was hot, so we had to let the engine cool down overnight, before we adjusted the valves. We ran it this morning with the newly adjusted valves for a good long time.  It sounded great and there was no apparent water loss. 

This afternoon I pulled a small amount of oil out of the engine for a detailed oil analysis.  The analysis can detect impurities like antifreeze in the oil in very minute quantities on  the order of one part per million.  This was the final check to confirm the head gasket was ok.  When I took a close look at the oil in the sample bottle however, I saw many small silver specks.  Since Stop Leak is composed of some kind of finely granulated silver metal all bets are off on the head gasket.  This morning's first order of business is to get the oil up to the test facility and see what's going on.  Maybe head gasket is bad after all.

This would be good news because it would eliminate the "retired" exhaust manifold as the source of the leak.  "Retired" is Volvo speak for "no longer being manufactured".

I am not real happy with them.  Parts like the exhaust manifold are not usually replaced early in an engine's life.  These parts fail only after many years.  So just when you would expect to see a spike in the demand for these castings, Volvo has ceased making them, forcing owners to consider repowering......with a Yanmar. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I have gone a bit overboard mixing Spanish and Latin, especially since I don't know either of them, but sometimes you got to make your own fun.

Kenny did come, did see, but the vici may take longer.  Disappearing water is a non trivial problem even for him.  We have reached a tentative diagnosis, there is a part that I did not know about, and it may be leaking:  It's The Exhaust Manifold, stupid.  It too has cooling water circulating through it, and it too, after a sufficient number of years, may leak.

If it is the manifold we would never see the red coolant once it mixed with the high volume of salt water that is mixed with the hot exhaust, cooling it before it hits the rubber exhaust hose.  Kenny had me mix some Stop Leak into the cooling water while running the engine at temperature.  If this stuff stops the leak then we will remove the exhaust manifold and take it into Radiadores Alaska for pressure testing.  I have to ask Kenny if the Stop Leak works, won't the leak test show that everything is OK?  I'm thinking maybe we could borrow a boroscope from a cruiser who has offered it's use to us and have a look inside the manifold.  Perhaps the silver colored Stop Leak would show up bright and silvery at the leak site. 

The saga continues tomorrow.....


Kenny is the mechanic who rebuilt the pump for me.  He gets universally high reviews.  I am eager to get him aboard because I'm pretty sure he will know where the coolant is going and how to fix it.

Yesterday I ran the engine then removed the intake manifold.  There was no water in the intakes, but I have left the manifold off so Kenny can see the condition of the valves.  They might need to be reseated.


Monday, May 26, 2014


I test ran the engine yesterday morning, after installing a freshly rebuilt water pump.  The new pump seals worked great, no water leaks.

Last week I had the heat exchanger tested for leaks.  The shop reported it did fine and there are no internal leaks.

All the hoses and hose clamps have all been double checked and are holding fine. 

The new radiator cap is good. 

I took the cap off while the engine was running and cooling water did not erupt out of the heat exchanger as it would if the head gasket were leaking combustion gases.

There is no evidence of external leaks anywhere.

There is no water in the oil.

There is no white steam in the engine exhaust.

In spite of this seeming water tightness, we still are losing about a pint of water from the cooling system every hour the engine runs.  And I have no more parts to change. 

I think that means it's time for some professional oversight.  I have emailed the local diesel guru for help.  He will be coming out soon. 

In the meantime I will run the engine one more time this morning, bring it up to temperature, shut it down and remove the intake manifold and take a look at the intake valves to the cylinders. I had the manifold off the other day in order to replace the water pump, and noticed some moisture in the
passageway to a couple of the valves.  I had spilled a little water over the inlets to the valves while removing the heat exchanger, but don't think any got by the duct tape I used to seal the openings.  By bringing the engine up to operating temperature I can see for sure if water is leaking into the intake valves.

If water is present I may have a problem.

Friday, May 23, 2014


The weather was the day's torment.  We had a squall move directly over the moorage this afternoon, and one boat got fried.  Lightening was hitting all around.  The hotel next to the yacht club was hit.  There was a strike at the head of the dock near the boat tram, and the one solid hit in the moorage.

The weather barrage lasted about an hour, bringing torrents of rain with the thunder and lightening.  The count between them was way under 5 many times.  It's a bit unusual to get such a direct hit. Storms track over Panama City most days now.  If the storm is in your lane its gonna get real and crappy for a while, but there a lot of other lanes and most afternoons we spend time in the yacht club bar, thanking our good luck and raising one to Balboa.

We did our test run and the leak is back, but I do have another part to change....

Installed our rebuilt fresh water pump today.

Friday, May 16, 2014


"THE HEAT EXCHANGER".....sounds like a good name for a country song.

The heat exchanger is back (first line?) from the shop and reinstalled and working fine.  I ran the engine a couple hours today while tied to the mooring and the coolant level seems to be holding ok.  We will take the boat out tomorrow for a run at high RPM and see how it does.  I'm slightly hopeful. 

The shop, Radiadores Alaska, pressure tested it, tweaked it somehow (I don't speak Spanish and the mechanic doesn't speak English), retested it and says it is all ok.  The charge: $55.  I paid more for the taxi ride.

Maybe I can forget about buying a new engine and get on with crossing oceans.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


We're sitting on Grace with all hatches closed, the cockpit enclosure all buttoned up, because its raining Gatos e Perros (cats and dogs) rocking in a vicious cross swell, sweat soaking our clothing. And we are back to counting the seconds between the lightening flashes and the arrival of thunder.  Thunder travels one mile per second, a 20 second count means we can relax because the lightening is four miles away.  That's oh sh_t number one.  We did not want to go through another rainy season counting off seconds.  We got hit by lightening last summer.  Once is way more then enough.

Oh sh_t number two is an el Nino is likely to occur this year. Conditions in the Pacific are displaying classic el Nino characteristics and are very much like those that existed prior to the worst ever el Nino that took place in 1997-1998.  A large body of warm subsurface water is moving from the western Pacific to the shores of South America.

If westerly winds appear in areas where easterly trade winds predominate the el Nino will occur.  Should westerly winds not develop then no el Nino.  There have been westerly wind bursts.  Meteorologists rate the probability of an event at 70 %, and could start in July.  I'm not going to head off to the Marquesas' some 4000 miles from here if we may have to beat into westerly's. 

And finally, the big OH SH_T, it may be that our coolant leak is a failing tube bundle in our heat exchanger.

Item #14 is the tube bundle

I spoke with the local diesel guru today, and this was where he felt our problem may be since we are not getting water in the oil (a sign of a bad head gasket) nor are there any visible leaks anywhere.  He says it is a function of age, and our motor is old.  It was made in 1985.  The replacement part costs $2300 dollars from Volvo.  We are at a point where it is beginning to make sense to repower rather then repair. 

I will remove the heat exchanger bundle and get it pressure tested Monday.  If it is leaking then we have a big decision to make.  Repowering will cost 15 to 20 thousand dollars, but when it is time to sell we might be able to recover some of this, as a fresh repower is highly valued by boat buyers.

Repowering probably means we stay here through another rainy season.  OH SH_T!!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


In my last post I mentioned that we like Panama.  I'm glad we do 'cause we are still here. 

A couple days ago we departed for the Galapagos Islands.  We only got far enough to reach the point that we put the autopilot on.  When we did the boat swerved hard to port.  Dang, its a new pilot.  It shouldn't be doing this.  We motored back and dropped the hook in Las Bresas anchorage, just off of downtown Panama City, to trouble shoot the pilot.  I had moved the pilot "brain" to allow us to move the salt water strainer to a more accessible spot.  The strainer catches stuff, like plastic bags (very numerous, second only to old sandals), before they get to the engine and block water flow.  Moving the strainer would allow us better access to it while underway.  I figured that there had been a mistake in wiring up the relocated pilot brain, and that hopefully I could switch a wire or two around and everything would be ok.  Well, there were no wiring problems.  This was turning into a big deal, so we decided to move the boat back to the Balboa Yacht Club while I dug a little deeper into the pilot.  As normal I checked the engine oil and cooling water levels before starting the engine and found we had lost about two quarts of coolant in the three hours we had run the engine the day before.  Crap, now I had a bad autopilot and an engine leak. 

Back at Balboa again I worked on the autopilot and was advised by the manufacturer's tech support people to switch the wiring to the rudder drive motor.  Lead "A" was to be moved to the "B" terminal and vice versa with the "B" lead.  Then we were told to take the boat out and redo our pilot commissioning, which involves turning the pilot on in "standby mode" and driving around for an hour or so, doing several 360 degree circles.  Once the commissioning was done we switched the pilot to auto and it worked!  That was easy.  Back to Balboa we went, sitting contently awhile the autopilot steered along side the Panama Canal entrance back to the Yacht Club. 

Now for the leak, which had continued during the commissioning.  I brought in a diesel mechanic to help with this and he promptly found some leaks at our hot water heater.  It has a loop of tubing carrying engine coolant through it that warms water in the tank when the engine is running.  We took the easy way out and bypassed the heater.  Our mechanic was confident that the leak was cured. 

No way.  The lose of coolant has dropped quite a bit, but not completely.  There are no apparent leaks anywhere.  I don't know what to do next, so tomorrow I will call the Volvo marine engine dealer in Seattle and get some suggestions.

I will shoehorn this into a day already filled with chores.  The boat bottom and propeller are going to be scrapped clean of barnacles plus I need to take a long taxi ride out into the country where propane tanks are refilled.  The tank farm used to be located in the city, but an explosion and fire in the plant induced the city to move them out of town.  Should be a fun day.

I'm not real happy about all this, but I am grateful as hell for the autopilot breakdown.  It saved us from possibly overheating and damaging the engine on the way to the Islands. 

This is not to say my joy in complete.  While working on the autopilot I had a hissy fit and threw open the lazerette lid with such force that it snapped the darn thing completely off it's hinges..  I am in and out of the lazerette all the time, so something had to be done to restore it.  I glued the split and splintered board back together, replaced a couple sections that were to badly damaged to repair and reinstalled it.  So far the glue joints are holding.  I doesn't look real good.  Maybe I'll replace the board when I can get a suitable piece of teak, or maybe I'll let the next owner do it.

The shiny thing is the piano hinge that runs the length of the lid.