Boat Maintenance Butchart Gardens

Heading Home . . . Or Not

Sunday, January 25, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

These are my least favourite days of the cruising season.  The ones where an endless parade of fronts, troughs and low pressure systems move through the area giving us no option but to hunker down and wait . . . and then wait some more.  The ones where everything on Cambria seems to break down, ourselves included, and the balance of cruising is tipped from being ‘rewarding’ to ‘difficult’. These are the ‘dog days of summer autumn’ and they seem to drag on forever. 

It doesn’t’ help that David’s killing me with indecision and the promise of being tied up for the year.  I’m ready.  I’ve been ready.  It’s getting colder and our heater isn’t working, which makes for some long and uncomfortable days. But he’s keen to pick up the parts he needs to fix it while we’re still in Canada because he hasn’t been able to source them in the US for a reasonable price.  So, we’re going to wait.  And I get that.  But it doesn’t make life any easier, especially when our heater supplies our only source of hot water and without hot water there aren’t any hot showers and I really need a shower!

But I digress.

A major storm system is headed our way, so we moved down to Tod Inlet from James Bay on Sunday.  The anchorage is a veritable hurricane hole located on the backside of the world-famous The Butchart Gardens just off Saanich Inlet.  It’s also a convenient place to meet Lance, our heater guy, to get the parts we ordered while also picking his brain about what’s been happening.  But, like most cruisers, we live on a budget and would prefer to avoid putting our hard-earned cash into someone else’s pocket, so David tore apart the aft cabin and got to work on the heater himself to see if he could diagnose the issue once and for all. 

We’ve been getting flame-outs intermittently for about a year now, which coincided perfectly with a dying house battery bank.  Ever the optimist in search of the easiest solution, I thought the problem resulted from low voltage and would resolve itself once we replaced the batteries.  David (the mechanical engineer and practical one) wasn’t as convinced, so he changed out the fuel pump along with the filters earlier in the year and we were back in business . . . for a while.   But here we are again, months later, plagued with flame outs, and now everything seems points to the fact that we picked up some bad fuel along the way.

To check, David disconnected the fuel lines (supply and return) to the boiler and installed temporary lines that he ran from a jerry can with fresh diesel. The system tested well:  The hydronic loop heated up quickly and the cabin fans went online in less than 10 minutes (a big improvement over recent start-up times).  Similarly, the domestic water Aquastat  was quickly satisfied – all with no flame-outs.  Clearly the issue lives on the fuel side.  But in the process, David discovered that the connectors for the fuel lines were mislabeled:  The supply line has been acting as the return and the return line has been acting as the supply – the diesel going to the heater wasn’t being filtered at all.  Unfortunately, this means we still needed Lance to come aboard despite David’s efforts:  He’s the one who installed the heater, after all.

Long story short, it was bad fuel but David and Lance were able to isolate it in our port diesel tank and set the system up so the heater was drawing fuel from the starboard tank, which has been run through the engine’s filtering system and was clean.  To make sure, they adjusted the height of the fuel supply line so it drew diesel from the top and away from any settled gunk (belts and braces).  The heater’s fuel filter was changed out and a new fuel pump was installed.  But, as far as the fuel lines were concerned, they weren’t mislabeled after all.  Because the previous pump was either clogged or not working properly, the diesel travelled the path of least resistance (i.e. the return side) – it was a simple case of too many things happening at the same time and confusing the diagnosis.  Here’s what David had to say in Cambria’s maintenance log:

In summary, this flame-out issue was the result of two virtually concurrent issues which, in short time span, combined to create the problem: the progressive weakening and subsequent failure of the original fuel pump; and, despite the installation of a fresh primary canister filter, the new higher flow capacity and more powerful replacement pump seemingly caused the accelerated introduction of foreign matter from the tanks into the filtration system, thereby creating flow restriction at the filter and increased negative pressure within the fuel feed to the heater unit, consequently creating fuel starvation to the point of burn instability and flame-out. In a nutshell, contaminated fuel. It took a while working through all the other possibilities for this to become apparent. Damn it – if I haven’t been chasing ghosts and overlooking the most simple possibilities. Yet I’ve learned even more about this system than I previously knew – gained knowledge, worth its weight!

With the heater up and running, we’d hoped to cross the border back into the US over the weekend but the forecast wouldn’t cooperate so we made the decision to stay in Tod Inlet and wait for the next weather window to take us home and officially end our cruising season which gives us (and by us I mean David) plenty of time to fix the heater. 

Yep.  You read that right. 

Once the heater was back online, it took a whopping 24 hours for it to break down again.  This time a coil in the salon fan unit burst a weld and antifreeze leaked out of the system into the bilge.  It’s not the first time this has happened.  In fact, it’s the fourth.  But the only way to fix it at anchor is to bypass the unit and take it out the system which means, after one measly day, we no longer have heat in the salon.

And I'm still waiting for that shower.

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