Saturday, June 28, 2014

Final Push #2: Exhaust Noozle

This is the exhaust elbow.  The last time you saw this it was bolted to the rear of the exhaust manifold.  It's now on a bench in Titto Torres' machine shop, where it is being used as a pattern to fabricate it's replacement plus an additional spare. 

Titto's shop is quite an establishment for a Panamanian business.  It takes up an entire building.  The majority of small service businesses are run out of a small, grungy, ground floor shop or a small shed.  His shop is in a neighborhood where a gringo like myself might run into trouble.  I could probably walk out to a major road without incident, but if I did get mugged the blame would fall on me for stupidly being in the wrong place at the wrong time.   The buildings are kind of shabby but they have good bones

Back to the elbow.  I am having two of these built because my existing elbow is at the end of it's life cycle, and I can get two very robust replacements that function every bit as good as the factory part for half the price.

Here's the fabricated part.  It's not as pretty as the original, but after a two hour test run, I can attest that it works just as well

We did have a bit of a glitch with this elbow.  We installed it, did a test run and found it necessary to remove it.  One of the welds had a pin hole leak requiring a return to Titto's.

The shop ground out the weld, and made many new welding passes rebuilding the ground out area.  When the job was completed we returned to Grace, installed the repaired elbow, test ran the motor, and everything was good.

This ends, I hope the engine saga.

I haven't, until now, posted much about what it takes to keep Grace running figuring it would bore my reader (hi Mom) but what I just went through is one of the realities of cruising.  Everybody out here has these kind of problems.  Engines, water makers, fragile electronics, etc. are breaking down all the time. 

We had a boat come through a couple weeks ago get hit by lightening just moments after completing a canal transit.  While on the Caribbean side they had installed a whole array of electronics for their trip to the South Pacific.  Everything they had just finished was fried.  He was on a schedule, so he hired virtually every boat worker in the area and was underway again within a couple weeks.  He had to pass through the ITCZ on the way out.  We have not heard from him.  Hope they're ok.

Kenny is bringing the second elbow over this morning, I will have him run me down to the bank to get what's left and pay him off. Then I will come back to the boat and figure out what to do with my Alder Barbour refrigerator that suddenly stopped cooling yesterday, after only 29 years of trouble free service.  It's running, I can hear gas entering the evaporator, but no cooling is going on.  I've probably got a refrigeration leak.  This thing is so old that it uses R12 type refrigerant.  R12 is nearly impossible to find even in Panama, so may have to replace the whole thing.  It's gonna cost a fortune.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Final Push #1: The Starter

Kenny removed the starter a couple days ago.  He said it was the hardest one he has ever removed.  It would have been impossible for me to do, which is why we replaced it even though it was working fine.  The question was, how long would it have worked fine, it's original 1985 equipment, and as I am coming to understand, sometimes things break just 'cause they are old.  I will take the old guy into the shop for new bearings and brushes, and will have a nice spare for a part that I physically cannot replace by myself.

The big, dirty, corroded thing laying on the engine is the old starter.  If you look a little to the right of the starter you will see a silver cylinder and a oil dip stick with a red handle.  Behind this is a black box with a piece of blue tape, this is the air filter housing.  All of these things were removed and the starter came up through the opening, but only after three nuts were removed from the studs holding the starter in place.  These nuts  had never been touched since the day, long ago, the starter was installed, and they did not want to be removed.  Additionally, the stubborn nuts were about an arm length and a half deep, with access further reduced by the starter motor itself.  The slightly larger diameter motor made it impossible to get a socket on the nuts. 

I was there assisting Kenny, watching the whole thing, and I don't quite know how he got these nuts loose, but he did, and got the new starter installed and running.


As you can see, the degree of difficulty extracted a toll.  Thanks Kenny for not giving up!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Isla Taboga

Anchorage for ships waiting to transit
the Canal.  Taboga is in background.
We did our final test run out to Isla Tobago, a small island with deep anchorages about 12 miles from Panama City.  Tobago served as a jumping off point for Pizarro's expeditions of plunder in Peru.

Taboga boasts that it's church, built in 1524 by Padre Hernando de Luque, dean of the Panama Cathedral, is the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere.  Padre Luque wanted Pizarro's spiritual needs attended to before he descended on the Incas. 

Iglesia San Pedro surrounded by the village of San Pedro
Taboga is popular with Panamanians as a weekend get away.  It is also beginning to attract international tourists.

For us it was a convenient distance as a final test of our water leak fixes.
Thankfully everything checked out ok, and we can put it behind us.

Only two engine projects remain: changing the starter motor and replacing the exhaust elbow.

Bridge of the Americas.  Balboa Yacht Club is in the right

Monday, June 16, 2014


The US plays Ghana today at 6PM local time in the World Cup.  Ghana has eliminated the US in the last two World Cup games.  We're hoping for a better result today.

We have become moderately interested in futbol while here in futbol crazy Panama.  There is no choice really, as that is all there is on TV now.

We have not made our last proving run yet.  Last time we were out the engine's rpm's started surging up and down while we were returning to Balboa Yacht Club.  Coming and going from the Club requires us to run alongside the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, and the absolute last thing we want to is to lose power anywhere near the Canal.  If we were to drift into the way of a transiting vessel the consequences could be dire.

Surging rpm's indicate the engine is not getting a steady supply of fuel, and the #1 suspect is fouled fuel filters.  I have changed our primary filters, and they were pretty dirty.  Today I will change the final filter that is mounted on the engine.  Then I will run the engine a couple hours while on the mooring to see if this has cured the problem and also to recharge our ship's batteries.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Update 05

It's a quiet listless night.  In Grace's cockpit I'm wondering about my engine once no, no.....just kidding.  Actually it's overcast and raining.  In Grace's cockpit, however,  the sun is shining and the birds are singing 'cause I've got water in the heat exchanger.   13/8 inches of water are showing above the first baffle, exactly what was there before our last test run.  Thoughts of departure are running through my head. 

Kenny is as relieved as we are, but is perhaps a bit more realistic.  He has strongly advised us to do an extra long test run before we get to carried away.  We're taking his advise and will run over to Tobago Island and back tomorrow.  Its a four hour trip, long enough to be pretty sure we got a good fix.

Our plans have changed a bit because of the delay.  Instead of heading straight out to the Marquesas Islands we will spend about a month in Ecuador.  We should arrive in the Marquesas' in September and will spend the 90 days our French Polynesia visas allow us to be in country in the Islands, then head up to Hawaii.  This will allow us to do this passage after the hurricane season, and put us in Hawaii sometime in late November or early December.  We plan on wintering over, making the trip back to Seattle in July of next year.  Or we may just go somewhere else....whatever the Admiral wants.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Update 04

It's a very quiet listless night.  In Grace's cockpit I'm wondering about my engine once again.

The morning after I wrote Update 03 I found the water level to be low.  We had lost water again.  But something was different this time.  I saw a leak!  Water was dripping from the connection between the heat exchanger and the circulating pump.  One of the O-rings sealing the joint had failed.  I was elated.  Here was something I could see and fix. 

I tore down the engine one more time, replaced all the O-rings connecting the heat exchanger to the rest of the engine.  When everything was back together I ran the engine for a couple of hours.  It held it's water.

This morning we took a two hour test run.  The water level is holding ok.  Not perfectly the same, it is a little bit lower, but close enough to be within my margin of error.
Tomorrow morning we will take another test run.

I've started checking the weather again.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Update 03

It's a very quiet listless night in Grace's cockpit, the days energy was spent producing an early afternoon semi-tormenta.  Semi-tormenta  because there was no lightening during the hour long deluge. 

I'm wondering about my engine.  We took it for a three hour run this morning to test the newly recertified and reinstalled exhaust manifold.  I will test the water level tomorrow when it has cooled to room temperature and compare it to a measurement I took at the start of the day today.

Looking at the level this evening, I feel it is remotely possible that the levels will match up. 

I probably need a plan.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Yesterday I tore down the engine again, removing the intake manifold, heat exchanger, exhaust manifold and mixing elbow.

From the left are the heat exchanger, exhaust manifold,
the mixing elbow is perched on the manifold
and the cylinder head with intake ports
I gave the exhaust manifold and mixing elbow to Kenny to pressure test.  He suspects the leak may be at the metal gasket mounted between the elbow and manifold.  This gasket blocks water ports in the manifold that provide cooling water to the turbo on the turbocharged version of our engine.  Kenny's pretty busy right now, so I may not hear from him for several days.

The turbo charged version of our engine has the turbo
mounted on the manifold.  Cooling water for the turbo comes
from the water jacket of the manifold 
Our engine has the mixing elbow mounted on the
manifold.  The water ports in the manifold are
blocked by the gasket (#16) that is inserted
between the elbow and manifold.
I may have found a used exhaust manifold to replace ours if it turns out being the source of the leak.  I spent hours on Skype talking with Volvo dealers, hoping to find one sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere, with no luck.  Finally I was referred to a fellow in upstate New York who collects new and used Volvo parts.  He "knows"| he has one somewhere.  He just can't remember where he put it.  If we need to replace our manifold I'll give him a call and see if he has found it.

By the way, the cost of a used manifold: $1500.  Ouch!

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Friday was oil day.  It seems like there is a limit of one project per day while cruising, no matter how trivial the project.  This was the case for getting the oil tested.  I took the sample up to the shop about 10 in the morning, thinking that by then they would surely be open, even in Latin America.  Not the case, they came about 12:30, but promised the results by 3:00 that afternoon.  They were going to call, so I grabbed a cab and went back to the boat.  I got comfy in the cockpit, reached for my Kindle, and then dug in my pocket for the phone.  NO PHONE.  Crap, I had to do an emergency back track.  I jumped into the next water taxi to the dock and rushed up to the restaurant, where I had stopped to chat.  My friends were gone.  No phone on the table and no phone turned in at the bar.  Shoot, this meant another wasted day buying a new one.  Since it was about 2;00 by then, I grabbed a taxi and headed back to the oil shop to get the report in person.  Got there and hung out until 3:00, went in for my report and was handed my phone instead. Fantastic, just saved a day.  In order to get my report I had to go outside with the owner and technician and have my picture taken.  I was their first customer and they wanted to photograph the handover while standing in front of their new business sign hanging in the window.  We were all happy.  They had a paying customer and I had my phone and a oil report that gave the dad gum Volvo a clean bill of health.  No water or Leak Stop present, plus all the other measurements were perfect.  The bottom line was the head gasket was not leaking.  This is good news, I guess.  Instead of having a cheap and easy to replace head gasket leaking, the expensive and unavailable wet exhaust manifold remained our chief leak suspect.

Saturday Judy and a friend went over to the Caribbean for the day, so our test run was put on hold until Sunday.  I puttered around all day and actually did some good.

This morning we went out for a 4 hour test run.  Everything worked great, the radios, radar, autopilot and all the rest of the lightening damaged pieces, except we lost about a cup and a half of water.  This is much better then it used to be, but still a serious bother.

I will confer with Kenny tomorrow about what's next.  I think a tear down and leak test of the exhaust manifold.