Of Waits and Weights

Yes!  Engine fixed and we are ready to resume the cruising life!  After four weeks of patiently waiting for our turn with the marine engine mechanic, it only took a little over a week for all the work to be done and we can pick up our trip where we left off way back on Nov 3.

We heard from Walt in early December that a big project ahead of us on the waiting list was bumped to later in winter, so he would be able to get to us ‘earlier than expected’ on December 13.  After five weeks of being marooned at the boatyard, we were thrilled to at least see some movement – starting with us moving the boat to another dock next to an ancient crane that I think is as old as the boatyard (which was established in 1936). Dave then spent the weekend dismantling all he could from the engine – electronic monitors, hoses, generator, fire suppression system, etc.  Took him two full days of knuckle-scraping, knee-banging, and random bruise-producing labors, but when Walt and Kyle arrived on that Monday morning they were pleased to see how much they didn’t have to do.  Kyle got to work doing the heavy physical stuff – removing the muffler, disconnecting other things that required the  contortionist abilities found only in the young to physically reach in the engine compartment. 


Dave dismantling something while Roxy stands guard.
This is the port engine compartment. Not a lot of room to work. The engine is to his right and tucked under the deck.

Once everything was disconnected, it got interesting.  Here was the problem: being a catamaran, the engine compartment opening is small to begin with.  Additionally, the engine does not actually sit directly under the opening, but rather is slid forward a couple feet, so you can’t just haul it straight up.  Plus there is a fixed fiberglass canopy over the entire cockpit.  Which means to get the engine out, one must lift it up and back, then sideways over the cockpit wall but out from under the overhead canopy.  But between Walt and the Atlantic Yacht Basin maintenance chief, this was hardly their first rodeo and their solution was elegant in its sheer simplicity. 

The engine on the rails and ready to be slid back to be under the compartment opening. Note the chain wrapped around it for lifting.




First, Walt designed and built a set of rails and a platform just the size of our engine compartment and a platform that they could slide under the engine and then pull the whole thing out.  He and Kyle somehow got it loaded on to the rails and chained down, and pulled back the three feet so that it was directly under the hatch. Heavy chain was wrapped around it like a present.

Next up were the AYB guys.  As soon as Walt (wearing a Santa hat) and Kyle arrived the next morning, James came over with a couple of his guys and they fired up their oldie-but-goodie crane and picked up a 30’ long steel beam.   They swung one end of the beam into the cockpit and Kyle attached it to the chain around the engine.  The other end of the beam was attached to a huge plastic water barrel and suspended it about two feet above ground.  Then six adults and a dog watched as a guy filled the barrel with a garden hose.  As the barrel got heavier from the water, it acted as a counter balance to the engine and once it had lifted the engine up off the rails a couple inches, they raised the whole engine-beam-water barrel with the crane until the engine was clear of the cockpit rails, then swung the whole shebang parallel out of the cockpit and deposited it onto the back of Walt’s truck.   It would have made a wonderful high school physics problem.   It only took about an hour, and as the truck  disappeared around the corner I have to admit it felt a little weird to think we were missing such a big piece of our ‘home.’  It was as if someone came and surgically removed your entire living room from the rest of your house, promising to return it completely renovated.  Now we were left waiting once again, this time to hear a diagnosis and treatment plan and had no idea how long that might take.

The crane that is most likely older than me. I only hope I work as well at that age. The long yellow thing on the ground is the beam used in this process.
Crane, beam, and water barrel (the square white thing).
The white water barrel is filled until it is a counter-balance to the engine on the other end of the beam.
Up she comes out of the compartment. You can see it's a tight fit. The square white thing dangling in the background is the water barrel on the other end of the beam, being filled from a garden hose.
Going onto the truck.

But an answer came the very next morning!!!   Walt called to say that Ryan – his other son – had dropped the oil pan and immediately had an ‘a-HAH’ finding: a bunch of gnarled, melted plastic tubing stuck against a filtering screen that was obstructing the oil pickup. 

The culprit.
The stuff that wasn't supposed to be there.

It was material foreign to the engine and we have no idea from whence it came.  Since Dave has not stuck anything of any sort down into the oil pan, it’s been there at least a year and has been just sitting until something jarred it loose and up into the lifter.  Who knows?  As meticulous as the previous owner was on boat maintenance, we sincerely do not believe it was anything he did or knew about.  It will forever remain a mystery. 

Now if you’re like me, the next question is: could the same thing be in the starboard engine?  Since we don’t know how this happened, of course it’s a possibility though unlikely.  But is it worth tearing that engine apart to look when we haven’t noticed any performance issues?  Nope.  But at least now we know what the symptoms are. Okay, so there’s only one symptom:  total loss of oil pressure and essentially engine failure.  But all agreed that it is still not worth pulling the engine out at this time. 

But there was another challenge in the short term.  The boatyard was shutting down for the holidays from Dec 23 to Jan 3.  Which meant that if Walt couldn’t get the necessary replacement part delivered (in the midst of the last minute Xmas shipping rush and ubiquitous supply issues) and the engine ready to go back into the boat within a week, we would have to wait until after Jan 3.   Our mantra became All We Want For Xmas Is Our Engine Back.

And Santa Walt-Kyle-Ryan came through for us and The Great Return Of The Engine was scheduled for Monday Dec 20 —  less than a week after it had been taken out!  This was the exact reverse of the procedure to take it out, using the same crane-beam-water barrel technique.  They arrived with the engine shortly before I pedaled off to get a haircut, and by the time I got back about an hour later, the engine was back in the compartment and Kyle and Walt were both squeezed down into the compartment hooking everything up.  They worked until about 3:30, and as soon as they left Dave got busy reconnecting everything he had previously disconnected.  He worked until 11 pm, and when he called it a night he had a bunch more unexplained scraped knuckles and bruises but almost everything was back in place and working. Walt and Kyle returned the next morning and finished up a couple things, and then we were ready for sea trials.  We dropped the lines and headed into the canal for some high speed runs – and everything worked perfectly!!!  Woohoo!!!

We returned to the AYB dock, and after profuse thanks and accolades to both Walt and AYB to get this done so quickly, they headed out.  Both Dave and I were surprised at how good it felt to have the boat ‘whole’ again and how much lighter we felt.  We were no longer tethered, and were free to leave whenever we wanted.

One final speed bump remained, though.  If you recall, I previously mentioned that it was looking like a race to see what would get fixed first: the engine or Dave’s knee.  Well, I guess the engine won that race.  But the knee issue was still running laps.  Okay, well not literally running, being a knee problem and all.  He had an MRI scheduled for late on Dec 22 that we had to get done before we could leave.  And with the looming Xmas weekend, most marinas and facilities were going to be closed so we decided to wait to depart until after Christmas.  

AYB was a ghost town by mid-afternoon on 12/23; everything was buttoned up, and there would only be a dockmaster there on the premises for the next 11 days.  We were one of only three boats left that had people on them.   Final errands were run (including dropping off a piece of equipment Walt and Kyle had left on the boat along with a batch of caramel pecan brownies) and provisioning for the trip completed.  We enjoyed a great Christmas Eve brunch with Chuck and his family.  Then in the evening we gathered in a cavernous boat hangar with the other two couples left at the boatyard and shared some munchies and good conversation.  Christmas Day we took Roxy on a long walk in Great Bridge Battlefield Park on the other side of the bridge, went to a movie with Chuck and Margie, then had them back at the boat for a simple dinner of soup and avocado toast (we were all still full from the previous day’s brunch and just tired of eating).  It was actually a very relaxing holiday. 

Xmas morning walk in the park across from the boatyard. Note how few boats are at the dock.

On Sunday Dec. 26, we said good-bye to our new friends at AYB and resumed our trip south that had started almost two months earlier.  We will be renting a car and returning to Virginia Beach in the near future to see the orthopedist and come up with a plan for Dave’s knee.  By now we were among the last stragglers in what was a record number of boats heading south for the winter, after having watched everyone else parade by for the past eight weeks.   There will be shorter days for traveling (though getting longer!), and probably more days of waiting out bad weather along the way.  But the good news is that there won’t be much boat traffic on the ICW nor competition for marina space.  

To appropriate a line from Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers: There’s 726 miles to Florida, we’ve got  full tanks of diesel, two good engines, it’s dark out earlier, and we’re wearing Personal Flotation Devices.  Let’s hit it!

3 thoughts on “Of Waits and Weights”

  1. Marge Sagstetter

    Yay! So great to see that you are back in operation (boat operation, that is!) Hopefully Dave’s knee does not need it’s own operation! Glad you had a relief-filled holiday and are on your way to sunnier climes. Stay well and safe travels!

    PS Loved the details about getting that engine out. Whew; so, so much work for some gummy worms in the filter. 🙂

  2. Congrats on the engine fix and for getting your freedom back! I loved your description of how the engine was removed… ingenious. Good luck with the ol’ knee, Dave.

  3. Stone Age Engineer

    Engineering excellence all around! Good work Dave and Walt, etc. Looking forward to Dave knee being restored. Hope don’t find mystery materials in his meniscus!

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