Singing the Boat Blues

Image: The fleet at anchor.

You know the old saying – “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money“? Well, two boats are two holes, so I’m singing the boat blues …

When we purchased the Awen, we knew we might have potential engine problems. The original 80 hp Ford Lehman engine had been replaced with a 40 hp Yanmar engine. Seriously underpowered, it was likely that the Awen had overworked the little Yanmar engine. Possibly as a result, the engine had been recently “rebuilt”, although the workmanship on this job was dubious, and Ken aptly described it as a “paint-on” rebuild. Taking the Awen from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, we had a couple of “over-heating” episodes. We coldn’t find the problem, but were able to keep going after letting the engine cool down for awhile. So, one could say we had some forewarning …

We had a couple more “mysterious” overheating events with the Awen while we were still in Prince Rupert, but by the time we started using the Awen in Port Neville, the problem had become fairly serious. Thinking that there was a problem in the the cooling system, we replaced the fresh water pump and the thermostat. Still, the overheating problem persisted – to the point where we couldn’t even cruise around in our little bay with having red lights coming on. At this point, Ken figured that we had a head gasget problem. So we ordered the parts just before Christmas. Things took awhile, with Christmas season slow downs and poor weather for getting into Campbell River, but we eventually did get the parts.

Now, one has to remember that we have two boats, which is at least twice as much trouble as one. The Moody Blue is definitely an alpha female boat. As we struggled with the Awen’s engine, she sensed that another boat might be dividing our attention, so she decided to develop battery issues. First, it was the starting batteries. We managed to “jump start” her using the house batteries, and dash off to town to buy a new set. Then, it was the house batteries. Of course, the bilge pumps are connected to the house batteries, so when they went dead, the Moody Blue started to sink. We pumped her out by hand, connected the bilge pumps to the new starting batteries, and headed to town to buy another set of batteries. Figuring we had everything under control, we arrived back at the boat with her new batteries, only to find her trying to sink again! Apparently, a bilge pump got jammed and drained the starting batteries. With the kind help of friends who had a gen set, we managed to get the bilge pumps working, get the Moody Blue pumped out (again!), and the new house batteries installed. Ken replaced the faulty bilge pump, repacked the stuffing box (which is where the water was coming from in the first place), and established a new, tentative, agreement with the Moody Blue that she was not to attempt sinking again!

Of course, all of this boat “trouble” had been happening as a background to the main event of our lives – building our cabin before winter set in. Well, we got the roof on the cabin, moved in, stabilized the boat situation abit (at least nothing was sinking anymore), and started to get comfy. That’s when our boat insurance agent reminded us that our insurance was due in April, and by the way, hadn’t we sold the Moody Blue yet? Well, that reminded us that we were intending to sell her – now that all the heavy cabin building material has been hauled, we really don’t need a 40′ boat, and really can’t afford to keep running such a large boat.

So, it really was time to get back to work on the Awen’s engine. We were now in the last week of February, and had the head gasget to hand. Ken spent three days crawling around in the Awen’s engine room installing the head gasget and doing a bunch of maintenance. Once we know the Awen is running again, we can sell the Moody Blue and reduce our boat blues by one. Everything was looking great – we did a test run up to Ransom Point. No overheating. Had a great visit with friends and enjoyed some early spring weather. Started to head home, and wham! Red light zone again! We boiled the engine almost dry. So it seems that the engine is still leaking around the head gasget – hot gases from the cylinders are getting into the cooling system, superheating the coolant, and voila! No coolant, no cooling, engine overheats, red light on the dash comes on! So simple (after you’ve spent a year tracking the problem down). Apparently, either pitting or warping of the head is preventing a good seal on the head gasget. The solution – a proper engine rebuild. The cost – $8,000 to $10,000. And that would still leave us with an underpowered engine. What we really need for the Awen is a properly sized new engine. The cost – $20,000. Boats are holes in the water into which you pour money …

All of this leaves us with a wee bit of a problem. The Awen, which was supposed to be a replacement for the Moody Blue, doesn’t run. We don’t have enough money at the moment to get her properly re-engined without selling the Moody Blue. However, if we sell the Moody Blue, we won’t have a working boat to get around with. Catch 22, as they say.

Ken and I spent some time pondering this quandary. This also brought up yet another boat problem. Having lived in Port Neville for nearly a year, we hve come to realize that a small, fast, and relatively economical “run-about” would be very handy, both for visiting neighbours and for making quick crossings of the Johnstone Strait when the good weather windows are tight. Even if we could magically sell the Moody Blue and fix the Awen simultaneously, we would still have a relatively slow boat, and would still need to make our Johnstone Strait crossings when we could count on two days of good weather (as we have been doing all year). Maybe what we need is another boat (groan!). I looked at the prices of small, used fiberglass “cruisers” in the 20′ to 24′ range, and found that they were considerably less expensive than the oost of repairing the Awen. So, maybe if we buy a little run-about that can cover our transportation needs, then we can sell the Moody Blue, and if we can sell the Moody Blue, then we can fix the Awen. Isn’t life with boats complex? We shall see where this takes us …

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