Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pesky coolant leak

During commissioning we struggled with a number of engine coolant leaks, but they seemed to have been licked.... until now.  A few days ago I noticed a trail of coolant under the engine.  Tracing it back revealed a steady drip drip drip from the left hose joint in the picture below, and nearly 1/2 gal of coolant under the floor and in the bilge.  Not good.  I tightened the clamp some more and the leak seemed to stop.  I found it troubling that this problem had returned, but if it was just a loose clamp, no big deal.

Then, about two days later, the joint on the right hose started to leak.  Not as bad, but it was noticeable.

The engine coolant runs through a series of hoses and pipes down to the keel cooler.   Below is one section where pipes make a complex turn to get from the engine bed to the keel cooler.  This is below a small hatch in the engine room floor, and although not impossible to access, it's not the easiest spot either.  Those blue shop towels are my tell-tales to locate leaks.  When they get wet it shows really well against the blue - much better than white paper towels.  With a few of these strategically placed, it makes it much easier to identify the origin of a leak.

Here's an example of two hose segments coupling together pipes, or in this case a pipe and the keel cooler fittings.  After closer inspection, the upper connection to the keel cooler was dripping very slowly as well.

Now the question was what to do about all this.  If the leaks stayed very small, we could just keep going.  But if they got worse, it could incapacitate the main engine which would be a real pain.  Embarking on any repairs also carries the risk of complications, some of which could make the situation much worse.  And, just to add more complexity, we had guests arriving shortly to cruise with us for 10 days or so.  The last thing I wanted to greet them with is an incapacitated boat.  And even if I did want to attempt a repair, what would that be?  It was completely unclear why these joints were leaking.  And any sort of repair would necessitate draining all the coolant out of the system, and if only it actually did drain.  You can drain it out of the engine, but the contents of those pipes and the keel cooler have to be pumped out somehow.  There is somewhere between 10 and 15 gal to be removed.

Research time!  The only thing I could think to do was to separate the hose joints, apply sealant, and reinstall them.  But my experience with hoses like this is that they seal very well on their own as long as everything is the right size, etc.

I also noticed that on the keel cooler fittings you could see a bulge in the hose where there was a bell at the end of the nipple.  The bell is just a short section at the end of the fitting that's wider than the rest of the pipe.  It helps provide a better seal, and ensures that the clamped hose can't pull off the end of the pipe.  The two fittings coming off the engine had similar bells visible, but I could not see any on the various pipe ends.  This raised my first suspicion which was that the hoses were just clamped over straight pipe.  That would provide less effective sealing, and might have allowed the hoses to shift due to vibration.  If this were the case, sealant was probably the best solution.

Then I started looking into the different kinds of hose and learned a bunch of important stuff.  The hose used is wire reinforced, and commonly called hard walled hose.  It is used for long runs, runs with bends, and anything with suction.  The wire ensures the hose retains its shape in these situations.  It is arguably the most rugged hose one can use on a boat.  The down side is that the same wire that ensures the hose holds its shape also resists being compressed to make a tight joint connection.  I learned that the fittings need to be the exact right size, and that sealant is often required.  This was sounding like a likely cause of the leaks.

In contrast to hard walled hose, there is also soft wall hose which is the same stuff but without the wire reinforcement.  Soft walled hose is more pliable and seals much better at connections, especially where the fitting size isn't exactly right.  Since all these hose runs are straight, short, and involve no suction, soft walled hose seemed like a better choice for this application.  So one option was to replace the hose segments with soft walled hose.

Then, someone told me they had cured leaks by using Silicon hose which is every bit as tough, but much more pliable at the same time.  It seals even better at connections, and is much easier to muscle into place.  This was starting to sound like the way to go.  One reason I was reluctant to tear things apart is that I expected it would be very difficult to get the old hose and pipe segments apart and back together given all the tight spaces.  Silicon hose sounded like it would go back together much easier.  Either way I needed to get hose, so figured silicon was the way to go.  One thing I knew for certain was that if I was going to do a repair, I only wanted to do it once.  So I ordered some hose from Seattle to be flow in ($$ ouch $$).

Then I procrastinated for a day, pondering the pros and cons of leaving the system as-is and risking a problem in some far away place, or make the repair while in Juneau and risk making matters worse.

Yesterday morning, I finally screwed up the courage to attempt a repair.  The first step was draining the coolant which took about 3 hrs.  First I drained the engine block, and then the heat exchanger  That was easy.  Next I had to disconnect the highest pipe at the engine and use a wet vac duct taped to a hose to suck out the coolant.  I worked the hose down the pipe as far as I could, essentially intubating the cooling system.  Once I had extracted as much as possible, I started to separate the joint that had been leaking the worst, and as I pulled it apart, used the vac to suck up the coolant that was still in there.  Next I tried to remove the coupling to the keel cooler, and sure enough there was not enough space to pull either end of the connection off.  So I ended up cutting into the hose and again used the vac to suck up the coolant as it came out.  Finally, I used a sawsall to just cut the hose between the two fittings.  What a messy, pain in the ass job.  But at this point I was passed the point of no return.

Once all the joints were apart, a number of new things surfaced.  First, I discovered residual epoxy or something like it on the keel cooler fitting.  It looks like this got on there while the boat was being built and hardened like a rock.  Then later the hose just got put on over it.  Based on how much there was and how irregular a surface it created, it's no wonder this joint was leaking.  The other fitting also had some of this crap on it, but not nearly as much.  A little emery cloth and elbow grease and it cleaned right up.

The next discovery was a pleasant one.  It turns out that all the pipes have nice stainless barbed fittings on their ends.  The barbs are not large, but enough to create a good seal and keep the hose from pulling off.  So you might be wondering why those joints hadn't sealed well given the barbed fittings.  The reason became obvious once everything was apart.  Most of the hoses had been clamped over the smooth pipe and not over the barbs.  The clamp on the pipe in the picture below was up near the line that I've drawn.  So the barbs were serving no purpose at all.

So at this point I was  actually quite encouraged that between cleaning the crap off the keel cooler fitting surface, clamping directly over the barbed ends of the pipes, and the use of silicon hose would solve the problem.

But before starting to reassemble everything, I needed to mark all the pipe ends so I could be sure where to locate the clamps to get them centered on the barbed surface.  The next two pictures show examples of this.  I marked a line somewhere that wouldn't be covered by the hose once it was reinstalled, then measured the distance from the line to where the center of the clamp should be.

Now it's time to put it all back together.  First are the pipes under the floor.  In the picture below, the hoses are in place and the clamps are ready to be tightened, but I'll wait until I have everything connected and lined up before tightening anything.

Second are the couplings between the engine and the main pipes.  You can clearly see the bulge in the lower hose where it goes over the bell in the end of that pipe.  There also are two brackets that secure the pipes to the engine, and they need to be reinstalled at this point so the pipes are held in the correct position.

Now we are left with the final coupling between the long pipes and the s-shaped pipes under the floor.

Today I got all the pipes aligned and the clamps tightened up, then fired up the engine to test things out.  The only load I could put on the engine was the hydraulics for the stabilizers (I didn't want to leave the engine in gear when I was alone on the boat and down in the engine room), so it took a while to come up to temp.  But no leaks!  I kept it running for about an hour to monitor, but we will really have to be underway to complete the testing.  With the engine fully warmed up, the pipe going into the keel cooler was hot, but the return pipe was still very cold indicating very little coolant flow required to maintain proper engine temp.  But given what I found, I'm pretty confident that this problem is now resolved.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Circumnavigating Revillagigedo Island

Ketchikan is on Revillagigedo Island.  Can anyone tell me how to pronounce Revillagigedo?  It's no wonder that locally it's called Revilla Island.  We were ready to slow down now that we were in Alaska, so decided to circumnavigate Revilla Island, including spending some time in the Misty Fiords.

Revilla Island is surrounded by the Behm Canal, aptly named the East and West Behm Canals depending on which side of Revilla you are on.  The Misty Fiords, a National Monument and part of the Tongass National Forest, branch off the East Behm Canal.  So we headed that way to do a counter-clockwise circumnavigation.

June 21, 2015 Winstanley Island

Our first stop was Winstanley Island which is a convenient half way point to the first major fiord.  It provides a great anchorage with excellent holding and moderate depths.  Another nearby attraction is this 240’ pinnacle called New Eddystone Island, situated in the middle of water that is otherwise around 1000 ft deep.  It just goes to show how quickly ocean depths can change.

New Eddystone Island
New Eddystone Island
June 22, 2015 Rudyerd Bay (Misty Fiords)

The next day we explored Rudyerd Bay which is one of the largest fiords.  It includes a couple of branches, two of which form a “T” at the end.  We first explored the north branch which winds through a narrow passage about half way up, then opens again into a beautify cove.  We poked around a bit to see if we could find a reasonable place to anchor, but it was all too deep, then a sudden shallow bar.  So we moved on.

Approaching narrows up north fork of Rudyerd Bay

Next we ventured down the south fork where there was supposed to be good anchoring.  The whole area is a very popular float plane and tour boat destination from Ketchikan, presumably serving the cruise ship passengers.  Planes were buzzing overhead the whole time we were there, but quieted down at night.  We found a good place to anchor, and were treated to our first bear sighting.  Sorry, no pictures – it was too far away.

The next morning we continued on, including a loop through Punchbowl Cove, then back out to the East Behm Canal.

Rudyerd Bay waterfall
June 23, 2015 Walker Cove (Misty Fiords)

The next fiord north of Rudyerd Bay is Walker cove.  It’s much smaller than Rudyerd, and not nearly as popular a tour destination.  Our kind of place.  We first did a loop of the far reaches of the inlet, then settled into a cover to anchor for the night.  An the way in, another boat radioed us to say there was a sow with three cubs that had been there all morning.  We got anchored, and watched these bears eat and play for the next 24 hours.

Sow and three cubs

June 24, 2015 Fitzgibbon Cove

The next day we continued on to the northern tip of Revilla Island where the east and west parts of the Behm Canal meet, and anchored in Fitzgibbon Cove.  I’m not sure what else to say other than “yet another beautiful anchorage”.  After a while it gets kind of repetitive, but it’s the kind of repetition that I can deal with…

June 25, Port Stewart

Once on the west side of Revilla, there are no fiords so we moved along a little faster, transiting about half the distance back, stopping at Port Stewart.  Port Stewart consists of nothing, and is a windy narrow path in.  It looks like at one point part of it was used as a staging area for log booms.  But the inner cove is outstanding. 

Today also was our first really rainy day.  It wasn’t too bad during the morning, but after we got anchored it just poured and poured.   As we were winding our way into this cover, we spotted three kayaks hauled up on the shore of one of the islands, and a small tarp lean-to.  These guys has apparently hauled out to get out of the rain, and remained huddled there until the next morning.  I sure was glad to be in our warm, dry boat in such conditions.

One sad event happened while we were at anchor.  I heard a Pan-Pan over the radio for a float plane in the Misty Fiord that was over due.  A Pan-Pan is an alert about anybody in trouble, and to request other boaters to be on the lookout for them.  A short time later the Pan-Pan was cancelled, so I assumed the plane had turned up.  Unfortunately, we found out a couple of days later that it had turned up, but pasted to the side of a cliff.  8 or 9 people were killed, all from one of the cruise ships, plus the pilot of course.  Very sad.

Overnight, the rain cleared, and as we departed Port Stewart we saw that the kayakers had emerged from their huddle and were getting ready to depart as well.

This leg of the journey concluded our trip around Revilla Island, bringing us briefly in range of cell service as we passed a few miles from Ketchikan, then we were off to Meyers Chuck.


June 18, 2015 Ketchikan
Today we are off to Ketchikan, repatriation in the US, and arrival in Alaska!  It was a long day, but conditions crossing the Dixon entrance were like glass so we just gave it some extra gas and went for it.  It was a steady parade of boats all making their way towards Ketchikan which is a mandatory stop for everyone entering the US.  Some of the boats were planning to stop at Foggy Bay which is inside the US, but if you call Customs in advance and tell them you are stopping, it’s OK.

Ketchikan is an interesting place, and I gather a bit unique for Alaska.  Big cruise ships stop here, in fact two were leaving just as we were entering.  While we were there, the average appeared to be 5 per day.  Two or three would arrive very early around 5:00AM and stay until early afternoon.  Then two or three more would show up right after and stay until late afternoon or early evening.  Some were heading north, and some were heading south, and these were not small ships.  I’ve never been on a big one like this before, but all ranged between 275 and 300 meters, so you are looking at 900’-1000’ long ships.

Passing cruise ships on our way into Ketchikan

Yes, they are big

For visiting boats like us, Ketchikan is a “hot berth” port with all dock assignments issued by the harbor master on arrival.  No reservations are taken – it’s all first come first serve.  We called in and got our assignment and were shortly tied up and settled in.

There is a place in Ketchikan called Frontier Shipping that will accept c/o packages and hold them for you.  The fee is a very reasonable $1/package.  I had ordered up a hand full of things and had them shipped in, so the first order of business was to go find Frontier and fetch our packages.  I have to admit to a little bit of shell shock on this first venture out.  All the cars, buildings, people, and noise were quite the contrast to our past 10 days if isolation and solitude.  With Frontier found, packages de-boxed and contents stuff in a tote bag, back to the boat I went.

We planned to stay for 2 full days/3 nights, to have plenty of time for errands and provisioning.  Plus, having unconstrained internet was really nice for catching up on email, web sites, etc.  I actually started doing this blog entry and got a bunch of pictures loaded, but didn’t get very far writing.  The longer you procrastinate, the more daunting the job becomes, so further procrastination becomes more and more appealing, and so forth and so on.  But here I am, finally catching up.

Days two and three involved some geek sessions with fellow boaters.  We had connected in Port McNeill with Sam Landsman, editor of the Waggoner cruising guides.  He had been reading this blog and was interested in discussing some of the electronics issues.  Cruising with him was Kevin Monahan, author of “The Radar Book”.   Kevin had also been reading the blog and was interested in talking about radars.  His book was my first purchase after I started suspecting problems with my Simrad radar, and so started my real education on radars, what they can do, and how to really use them.  They left Port McNeill about the same time we did, and were leading a flotilla put together by Waggoners.   We kept crossing paths and were seldom more than a port apart, but didn’t finally catch up until Ketichikan.  There is probably a pun in there somewhere, but I’ll resist…

Anyway we had a great time over a two days talking shop, comparing equipment a features, and wishing all the virtues of radar were more widely understood.  I highly recommend Kevin’s book, as well as the Waggoner guides.