Time to Become a Diesel Mechanic

Your engine won’t start. What do you do? Call a mechanic, unless you happen to be one. Or, if you’ve taken a diesel mechanics course, try and find your notes.

Over the last year, this has happened to us a few times. We get ready to sail for the day or a weekend, and the engine won’t start. Most of the time it just makes that rhythmic rrrrrr, rrrrrr, rrrrrr sound that’s so indicative of a dead battery. Three times I’ve had to jump start our engines off the house batteries because the starter batteries were dead. I hate doing that. I always feel like I’m going to get zapped.

But this time was different. We were getting ready to sail from O’Brien Cay to Warderick Wells with our buddy boat, Cascadia, another Leopard 45. Starboard engine, start. Port engine, tap. What? What the hell was that noise? No rrrrrr, rrrrr, rrrrrr. Just a tap. Let’s try that again. Push the button. Tap. Huh? Tap?

Back up a day – Our friends on SV OliLuki, yet another Leopard 45, keep a seriously clean boat. I mean, this guy’s engine rooms look as clean as the day they were new. It’s embarrassing for the rest of us. So, like a good Jew, I felt guilty. My engine rooms weren’t as clean.

I got to work. I started with the port engine, spent hours wiping grease and grime off the floor, scraping rust off the bolts and engine mounts, wiping up anything that didn’t look like it belonged. And in the end, she was really pretty. I didn’t realize how much I love a clean engine room.

Jump to the next day. Warderick Wells is in our near future, along with a cruisers happy hour on the beach that night. And then, tap. Ugh, what happened?

Sometimes when you’re banging around in the engine room, you can accidentally hit the STOP switch. That wasn’t it. I was so careful to not disrupt anything. I bent myself in half several times to clime under, over, and around obstacles in there. So glad that I practice yoga.

Dead battery? Nope. Jump starting did nothing, and our volt meter showed a full charge. The starter! Let’s hit it with a winch handle! Jeff has always wanted to do that. We were on Scrub Island in the BVI a few years ago when the engine wouldn’t start. The dock hand climbed in the engine room, asked for a winch handle, and gave the starter a good whack! And just like that, the engine started. Did that really happen? A good whack and it started? Yes! So Jeff tried. Whack! Nothing. He tried again. Whack! Nothing. And again and again and again. Whack! Whack! Whack! And nothing.

I got in again and started looking for anything that was amiss. Then it started raining. Jeff was so nice, putting that huge beach blanket over the engine room hatch so I wouldn’t get soaked. He had to stand there with two corners of it in his hands to hold it up.

What to do now? I know! I’ll call my friend Alex. He’s the most competent engineer I know. Knows all things mechanical, electrical, and marine.

“Test the starter for voltage with the volt meter.”

Done. Plenty of voltage.

“Look for the really small wire coming off the starter.”

“What really small wire? I don’t see one. There are two large wires.”

“Nope, there should be a really small one.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I can’t see any more wires.”

“You keep looking and I’ll do some research. I’ll call you back.”

So frustrating. What small wire is he talking about? Let me get a flashlight. Maybe I’m missing something.

Me: “Honey, I need a flashlight.”

Jeff: “Ok, give me a minute.” Hmmm, trying to find some way to secure the loose end of the beach towel. “I know. I’ll take this wooden statue that Adrienne gave me for my birthday and set it down on the corner of the towel on top of this skinny ledge. That should do it. Hmm, need more weight. What about this potted plant? Too light. Oh, this potted plant is bigger. That’ll work.”

I was unaware of this strategy.

As he walked away to get the flashlight, a gust of wind blew the towel from underneath. The statue fell off that skinny ledge and right onto my head. The potted plant? It fell upside down into the engine room, leaving a trail of dirt down the entire front of my body and culminating in a giant mound of dirt on my newly cleaned floor. And to make matters worse, everything was wet from the rain! Needless to say, I was very muddy and very not happy.

I cleaned up the dirt, got a flashlight, saw the disconnected wire, reattached it to the starter, and the engine fired right up.

“In hind sight, maybe securing a large beach towel with a statue and a potted plant on a 3″ ledge in a rain storm probably wasn’t the best decision.”

I’m still waiting for my massage that he promised me.

May 2021