February 8, 2009.
We left Vero Beach at 0800 and turned around and headed back 20 minutes later. We had a bit of a problem in the engine room. We had one of those smells that nobody ever wants to smell. When I opened the engine room door there was a lot of steam coming from the exhaust elbow, or so it appeared.
On a boat the “exhaust pipe” is actually made from a heavy duty rubber hose. To keep it and the muffler from melting, engine exhaust gases are mixed with seawater to keep the exhaust system fairly cool. The water is introduced through the exhaust mixing elbow. The average life of these elbows is probably 5 to 7 years as they eventually rust through.
Just before the elbow our engine has a straight piece of pipe about 2 1/2 inches in diameter by 14 inches long. Inside that pipe are uncooled hot exhaust gases. In an effort to keep the pipe from superheating the engine room, its common practice to wrap the pipe in a heavy fiberglass bandage as an insulator. The wrapping looks like an ACE bandage, made from fiberglass or maybe even asbestos, I dunno. Our bandage was evidently wet as it was steaming like crazy. The water had to be coming from the elbow…..or did it.
We went back to the mooring field and once again grabbed a mooring ball. I set about unwrapping the heat shield and instead of finding a rotted elbow, everything looked solid, as it should be. The only explanation that I could come up with was that the section of pipe had been sweating so badly while we were sitting in Vero Beach that it had actually saturated the wrapping. When we started the engine it was just dissipating the condensation as steam.
So after an hour of troubleshooting we slipped our mooring and again headed out, for another 20 minutes, before we once again turned around and headed back. I was starting to sense a disturbing pattern.
This time it was a new smell, accompanied by wisps of smoke from burning oil coming from the engine room. After picking up yet a mooring, I delved into the problem. There was no longer any steam coming from the elbow, this was something else. It turned out that 2 of the 4 bolts that hold the valve cover in place were slightly loose. This allowed a fine trickle of oil to run down onto the hot exhaust manifold resulting in the smoke we were seeing and smelling. This was pretty easily fixed but Christy and I were pretty mentally exhausted from the 2 false starts so we decided to get a fresh start on Sunday morning.
This also worked out pretty well for Solitaire and Far Niente as they both were dealing with annoying problems as well. They had been right behind us as we left the mooring field and returned both times. Solitaire discovered that their bottom and prop had grown quite a collection of barnacles and they were only able to motor at about 4 knots. Jay from Far Niente has been having some issues with his outboard engine.
So we all ended up putting the extra day in Vero to good use. I hopped on the bus and did some running around to NAPA and the hardware store, Solitaire had a diver come and clean their bottom and Jay changed his fuel for the outboard.
As luck would have it there was a cruisers cocktail hour planned for that afternoon. After getting back to the boat I completed my repairs and we went to the party while my repairs were “drying”.
The party was loads of fun with at least 40 people in attendance. Afterwards we went back to the boat and fired her up. I put her in reverse while she was tied to the ball and we ran her at cruising RPM’s for an hour to see how the repair would pan out.
Things looked good so we’ll try to break away from Velcro Beach again in the morning.