Thursday, April 3, 2014

Moving On

I've intentionally been avoiding this blog.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the chance to document our little family adventures and share the experience with anyone who has the interest and free time to actually follow along.  But, for a long time now, this website has been nothing more than a venting space for my long-winded complaints about Mexican diesel repair.  I'm sure the two people still reading this blog have heard enough of my whining about our ongoing engine trouble, and, truthfully, I'm a little tired of telling the story.  So, after this post -- one last long-winded rant about the difficulty of getting an engine rebuilt  -- I will officially put the subject to rest.  It's time to move on.

No, we're not currently sailing across the Pacific -- in case anyone was wondering.  Yes, that was the plan.  And, up to about three weeks ago, we were prepping for a crossing.  But, as I've said before, even the best laid plans...blah, blah, blah...engines suck.  We're now tucked away in Puerto Vallarta at the Paradise Village Marina (not a bad place to be, I know) putting the boat away for another summer in Mexico and getting ready to fly back to the States.

At this point you're probably wondering what the hell happened.  Well, let me fill you in on the sequence of events that brought us to our current slip in Paradise...

After our glorious sail down through the Sea of Cortez, we spent a week in La Paz where I explained to a local mechanic that our twice-rebuilt engine was burning a quart of oil every 30 hours and puffing smoke under load.  His advice:  change the oil to a non-detergent type and put more load on it to try and break it in.  So, after three days of hunting for non-detergent oil in and around La Paz (which, apparently, does not exist -- at least not south of the border) I finally gave up and we sailed for Mazatlan.

If you happen to be paying attention, you know that Mazatlan is where we last rebuilt the engine.  The work was performed a year ago by Total Yacht Works, a well-respected business owned by Canadian Bob Buchanan.  After our initial debacle trying to get it rebuilt by Jonco in Barra, I was told by just about everyone to take it to Bob.  And, that's what we did.  It took many months, but our engine was finally rebuilt again and running well when we departed Mazatlan last May.  By the time we put the boat away in Guaymas I had 100 hours on it and it was still burning oil.  I emailed my concerns to Bob at the time and he assured me he would make it all right when we came back to Mazatlan this season.  That was the last conversation we had.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned that Bob, who had been in business for twelve years, suddenly cleaned out his office and disappeared in the night.   Apparently, he got in to a dispute with his business partner (the mechanic that rebuilt our engine) who got a lawyer involved who then got the Mexican IRS involved.  And, just like that, Total Yacht Works and our guaranteed fix was no more.  Unbelievable.

I knew all this when we sailed back to Mazatlan in February, but I wanted to talk to Rafa (the former mechanic and business partner of Total Yacht Works) about the oil burning issue.  His response was the same as the mechanic in La Paz -- change the oil and put more hours on it.  To his credit he offered to tear it apart and fix it at his cost.  But, the idea of spending another season in Mexico rebuilding the engine again was beyond comprehension.

So, I put six gallons of oil on the boat and we sailed to La Cruz to prep for a crossing.  The engine was running well, I just had to feed it oil every other day or so.  We figured it would probably continue to run in this state for many more hours before it became a problem.  By then we hoped to be in New Zealand where I could find a competent shop to work with.  Denial?  Perhaps.

After a week in La Cruz that little voice of reason deep down in my skull began to get louder, until it finally convinced me to pull the head off and take a look (the engine, not me).  If we didn't find any major issues then all we'd have lost is a head gasket and a couple days of work.  But, that little voice knew better.  With the head removed, I could see the top of each cylinder was polished smooth.  I hired another mechanic to come over and take a look.  The fact that all four cylinders showed the same pattern indicated a problem with installation of the cylinder sleeves.  It certainly wasn't going to get better in time.  The only fix was another rebuild (groan).  Reluctantly, we scrapped our Pacific Puddle Jump.

As my wife knows, I can be very stubborn and determined when I get my head wrapped around an idea -- like rebuilding an old Perkins in Mexico.  In this case that determination cost us many months and many thousands before I finally threw in the towel.  We won't be rebuilding again. 

There are a couple valuable lessons to be learned of course:  (1) stubbornness can be very expensive, and (2) regardless of what people say, Mexico is not equipped to rebuild engines.  You can find help with minor problems, but if you send parts to a machine shop for precision work to specific tolerances and expect to see the same results you'd get in the U.S. you're probably going to be disappointed.  I wish someone had told me that back in San Diego.  I guess some of us have to learn the hard way.

The good news is that we'll have a shiny new engine next season.  I'm just about ready to pull the trigger on a Beta 43.  They're good engines, are reasonably priced, and will ship directly to Puerto Vallarta.  I've been buried in specs over the past two weeks trying to work out the best engine/transmission combination to provide the power we need and fit the space we have.  I think we've got a winner.  Now I just have to pay the bill, get it through customs, deliver it to the dock, remove the old engine, drop in the new engine, line it up with the prop shaft, rework the exhaust system, hook up all the other systems, install the instrument panel, bleed the fuel lines, and fire it up.  No problemo.  Fortunately, I'll have some help.

Every problem can be solved with a little time and money.  Sometimes, it takes a lot of time and money.
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mom &dad said...

We love reading your blogs it's like traveling with you. we're looking forward to seeing you, but sorry your plans of sailing to new Zealand need to be put off at least for now! but we're confident your sailing travels & adventures will resumes next year, with a new engine on the Jean Marie sailing the ocean blue!! LOL :>)

Saeed said...

Shouldn't you wait for 'Release' version or at least 'Release Candidate'? I wouldn't cross Pacific on a beta engine ;-)

Tamiko said...

Hey you guys, it's Tamiko from s/v Landfall! For what it's worth, I just traded some engine work for bodywork from Jess on Hajime. She discovered that scar tissue and spasming muscles actually pulled one rib over the top of another and then fixed it, because she's awesome that way. They finally pulled the plug on their Perkins 4.108 and replaced it with a Beta. Me, Jess, and her husband Jim had a blast putting that shiny new Beta in. Fired up first try and purrs like a dream :)

Theresa said...

Well, it looks like there are more than 2 people who read the blog! haha! Colin looks pretty happy though so that must give you some joy in such a unfortunate sequence of events. What's up with Bob man? How strange...anyway, I enjoy reading your stories and your experiences. You are lucky to have the time and resources to be able to do what you love and that right there is a true blessing. Maybe I will finally be able to meet you all in the summer before I start my new adventure :0 Take care guys!

Guido Scott said...

Traveler here. Connie and Scott ran into Jim and Jessica on Hajime and heard their Perkins story. Well... our newly rebuilt by Rafa Perkins is dying also. That's three in a row!

Harry DeBold said...

We are also Fast Passage owners, have 'Cool Change', Tollycraft hull #9 currently in Marathon, Fl.
Our boat was re-powered with a Yanmar 4JH3E and we are very happy with the installation and performance. Does not seem to be a problem getting repairs or parts. Give it some thought.

James said...

#9 huh? We're #7 and we had a chance to see #6 (Inklin) in Mazatlán. Great boats...when the engines work.

I've actually given this a lot of thought. The Beta 43 is a high-torque, low-RPM Kubota block motor and offers improved power across all RPM. It's a close match to the 4-108 and won't require me to change out the prop shaft or exhaust. And, is a lot cheaper than the Yanmar.

I just have to get it in the boat.