The Search For Bright Waters

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How Will Bright Eyes Get Home?

So in our week here, stranded in Nassau, we have had a lot of diagnostic work done on the engine.  

If you don't fancy engine talk then skim down to the page break below to find out what we have decided.

I went through the engine looking for oil leaks and tightened a few bolts and hose clamps that showed signs of leakage.  I checked that the fuel filter was clean of water and that fuel was reaching the cylinders.  There was excess transmission fluid so I removed it all and added new oil.  I resealed a small water leak at the water intake filter. I checked the aft engine zinc which was fine.  

The primary indications of problem were oil coming out of the exhaust when we were going through heavy waves and when trying to get off of a shoal.  The main engine oil leak seems to be between the transmission and the engine block.  The head gasket shows no sign of oil leaking.  I replaced the oil lube pipe before we left and it was still leak free.  The engine does turn over but would still not start.

The first mechanic opened the oil cap and felt a lot of air coming out as we tried to start the engine.  From this he concluded that there was crank case pressure and probably a failed piston. He said they need to remove the engine from the boat and take it apart to find the problem.  But then later he said that our engine did not have a liner on the head gasket and that the head was probably scorched and that they did not have a machine shop to fix it so we would need a new engine: $10,000 estimate

Our friend Francois from George Town just happened to be anchored next to us here and came over to lend his expertise.  He tried switching the compression levers over.  He noticed the air coming out of the oil cap when removed as well as fumes.  He concluded that there could be a faulty valve that might have seized the last time our engine leaked out oil.  Or we could have a failed piston ring in need of replacement.  He advised me to take the valve cover off and find the faulty valve.  He also said I should be able to take the head off and into a mechanics shop to have the valve replaced without removing the whole engine.

The second mechanic tested all the fuel lines for fuel.  There was fuel coming through.  He used starting fluid on the air intake as well as switching the compression levers.  He too noticed the fumes coming from the removed oil cap.  He also put gasoline on a rag and put it over the air intake to try to start it.  It would not.  He concluded that their was a compression problem, probably a failed piston ring.  The only option they gave us was to remove the engine from the boat and take it apart back at their shop to find the problem.  The estimate was at least $3000.

None of these mechanics seemed honest though so we are not paying $1000 to have the engine removed and then getting stuck in a situation where we have to pay $10,000 for a new engine or paying another $2000 to have our engine put back together with nothing solved.


So that leaves us with few options to get back home.

1) We will attempt to take the engine apart ourselves and find the failed valve or try to take the head to a mechanic for fixing. If the engine starts we will sail to Florida, only using the engine to dock/anchor.

2) We will fly in an experienced sailor to help us sail back to Florida or Maryland (preferably MD) without an engine.  We can't afford to pay anyone but we can cover all your expenses.  We can pay for two people to fly into Nassau to sail to MD or one person to sail to Florida and then we would fly them home.  We estimate the sail to MD to be about 7-10 days straight and the Florida sail to be 2 days straight .  If you are interested in this please email me at to talk details. 

3) Our last option is to sail without an engine to Florida by ourselves.  We do believe we can do this.  Our only concerns are sailing upwind, getting stuck in a storm, and docking.  We can use our Boat US to help with the docking. We also learned a trick from Francois where we can tie up our dinghy to the side of the boat and use the 3.5hp outboard to tow ourselves.

My mom was supposed to fly into Eluethera to spend a week with us but because of our immobility she will just hop off the plane at her Nassau layover.  She will be here later this month so we have until after her visit to make a decision.

Until then we will just hang tight. It's not the worse place in the world to be stuck :)


s/v Skylark said...

Engine troubles have been the bane of my existence, so I certainly feel your pain. Since you are in no hurry, I am sure you can find the right weather window for you to sail the boat back to Florida. In my experience, the winds are predominately in the right direction for your crossing and beating into the wind should not be an issue. If possible, find a boat leaving the same time you are and buddy boat across. It's a quick trip. Once back in FL, you will have more options for finding the right way to get the engine fixed. If you really wanted to get back to MD before doing anything, borrow a 9hp or even use the 3.5 outboard you have and rig a temporary bracket to hang it off the back of Bright Eyes. Won't be the fastest trip, but you will certainly make it up the ICW.
Good luck.

Anonymous said...

im with this guy. buy a nine horsepower and have someone put a bracket on the back or make one. you could use one inch electrical conduit and bolt a three quarter inch piece of ply wood to it to mount the engine. a conduit bender is like seventy bucks and up here, the conduit itself is like ten dollars for a ten foot piece. or use the three and a half but because of the short shaft, it will probably be very difficult to operate since it would have to be mounted so low. -your buddy dave

Anonymous said...

From the pics the engine looked to be a Universal. Most Universal are marinized Kubota engines...I can tell you a long block for a 35HP Kubota is nowhere near 10K, closer to 2K. A long block is the block, crank pistons cam head and such. You bolt on your waterpump, Alternator, heat exchanger and injectors and injector pump....

It may be the way to go......

Captain Dan (Dock Bum) said...

for the record the yanmar service here in Nassau is ''Marine Diesel 394-2135''.

Anonymous said...

I have in the past put an outboard bracket on my transom and it worked. You just have to drill the holes and bolt it on. Different brackets that are sold have varying amounts of travel that will allow them to extend close enough to the water to use even a short shaft engine. I have known three other people to do the same. One came back from the bahamas that way. About the price of a new engine, you can do it for almost have of what they are saying. I would put in at port canaveral and move into cape marina where they have a full service boat yard. It is the easiest inlet that I know of to enter and you don't have to cross the locks. Good luck, Tom

Joey and Christine said...

Thanks for all the advice. We like the outboard idea.

We think we can get to Florida by ourselves so just let us know if you are interested in sailing from Nassau to Annapolis. That would be ideal.

Captain Dan: We did use Marine Diesel. They were the first mechanic who said we needed a new engine.

Anonymous: It's a Yanmar 3GM30

We posted this on Cruiser Forum also and between all the info we have gathered it's either a bad valve or a bad piston ring. We will open her up soon and find out.

Mike said...

Hey guys

I put a post about this up on our blog for you:

Hopefully things get sorted out for you one way or another. Sounds like you're getting some good advice.


Bob said...

Sorry to hear. 3GM30 is a pretty solid engine. I have posted your info to a few sites as well and hopefully someone can help. I do agree with the excess air being pumped, and suspect more along the lines of piston problems, not valve problems.

Bob said...

Joey as a follow up it could be as little as a blown head gasket, so removing the head is not a bad idea if you have the proper tools, like a cordless impact wrench and metric impact sockets. Maybe you can get that kind of stuff at NAPA or CarQuest. If it is a the head gasket, it would be easy to replace. If it is a piston/valve, you will also know.

bob said...

Didn't anyone do a compression test??

If you have air pulsing out of the oil filler, then there is air being pumped into the crankcase. That could come from only one of two possible causes: a hole in a piston or very worn rings. My recommendation for either of these would be to get a long block.

A diesel engine will run if it is supplied fuel and there is nothing mechanical wrong with it. That yours is getting fuel but won't start is a strong indication that there is no compression (there's that compression test again - any competent mechanic would run one - it'd take 10 minutes at most).

Thinking aloud (always a dangerous thing...) the 3GM is a 3-cylinder engine. Even if you had a hole in a piston, it should start and run on 2 cylinders. Or at least try to run. If you're getting no firing at all, then I have to ask whether this is a 10,000 hour engine or if it has been subjected to something drastic like a severe overheating episode. In either of those cases too, my remedy would be the long block.

But I am just rambling here - not enough information to do a good diagnosis.

s/v Eolian

Brad said...

Tough choices ahead, but it sounds like you're getting some great info, keep posting, and stay safe with whatever you decide.
Are you some place where you can practice sailing upwind and then use the dinghy to get back to the dock/mooring? Awhile back you said you would post some pics of your sails while underway for some pointers. If you do that, maybe people can help calm your concerns about sailing to Florida? Good luck, email me if you have questions.

Laura and Hans said...

I'm sorry your engine issue has become such a problem. I have a feeling you'll get to the bottom of it though. And if you do have to sail home I hope you have a couple of volunteers with you. It can be a long haul if the winds aren't right and that damned Gulf Stream is a pain! Hans loves a challenge but we're in the process of getting ready to move to Florida so he can't help you there. Good Luck you two!!

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

So sorry to hear about your engine woes! Being new to all of this we can't offer much help, but we're sending good vibes your way!

Anonymous said...

I think I would try and limp back to florida and look for a rebuilt engine or have that one rebuilt. It would be a lot cheaper in the long run, and you do have a sailboat. Once you get into US waters, you can call tow boat US and get yourselves into an anchorage or port and start researching alternative engines.

You can plan 6k for a total rebuild by Mack Boring and not have to re-engineer a motor installation.


Hollywoodme said...

Greetings guys,

Hope things are coming together for you both. When I first read this, I thought, "Man, trapped in Nassau has to be rough..." but when I actually thought about it, it has to be (at the very least) an uncomfortable feeling. That's not including the horrors of repairs looming. Try to enjoy it while you can. You'll be fine on the voyage to FL or MD.

Cheers mate.

Ted and Rhonda said...

Here's an idea for you. If you sail your boat to Key West, the junior college there teaches a diesel engine maintenance course where you get to overhall your own engine (check this out to make sure they still have this course). There's a mooring field west of Key West where lots of people moor their boats and the charge is minimal. You might even be able to find jobs in Key West while you are there.

There may be other junior colleges in Florida that have this type of class if Key West does not appeal to you.

We lived on our boat for almost 3 years. Pulled into Key West for 3 days and spent 6 months there because we liked it so much. After that we sailed the boat back to Myrtle Beach and sold it to the Slapdashers (

I'm a retired USAirways pilot and if I could talk my wife into it We'd like to help you sail back to Florida. Been sailing since I was four and I fly for free (standby, not positive space).