Thursday, November 14, 2013

When the 'Fun to Suck Meter' swings the wrong way! Engine Troubleshooting in Rio Dulce

When I started this adventure I knew that there would be some hard days.  The objection is to have more fun days that hard ones.  By hard ones, I mean days where you bang your head against the wall, or hull in our case, trying to resolve a problem or fix something.  There should be a high ratio of fun days to hard days, so after last week, I should have a lot of good days coming!!!!

'Fun to Suck Meter' swinging the wrong way!!!
While traveling down from Belize, we had a few intermittent engine starting incidents.  Luckily, the engines always started at some point and we were never in any danger.  I believed that it was caused by a simple wire on top of the engine that needed to be soldered instead of twisted and taped.  This is what the technicians at Moorings had done.  Every time that we couldn't start the engine, it was only a matter of twisting the connections or taping on the battery connections and the engine would start.  So, one of my tasks was to solder these connections, add heat shrink tape, and clean the battery connections, and our problems would be solved.  If only things were so easy!
To add to our frustration, when I finally got ready to work on the engines, the rain started here in the Rio.  The engine hatches are at the stern on each side, but the access is an open hatch from the outside.  So every time that I planned on working on the engine, I had to work around the constant raining, working between the showers.  This all started a week ago, just after we finished the Solar Panel install. 

Our engines are on the end of each hull, with an opening on top
Yanmar 3YM30 engines on MokaKat
So I quickly repaired the twisted wires on both engines, soldering a nice clean connection.  I was so happy that our engine starting problems were going to be resolved and we could head out to Belize next week!  I went to start the engines, and both of them would not start!  What????  So I spent the day checking each connection from the starter switch to the starter motor.  Of course, I really didn't know much about starters, solenoids, and relays.  That was about to change, and my first hard lesson in engine starting was about to start!
The next day I researched on several cruiser forum sites, and found out that Yanmar engines had an issue where after 5 years or so, the wiring running from the key start would get corroded, and there wasn't enough power to kick in the solenoid and start the engine.  The solution was to add a relay in front of the solenoid and the problem would be solved!  So I hit the streets of Fronteras looking for a relay, wire, and connections.  Of course, in a Spanish speaking country this was a little more difficult, but I was successful in getting all of the parts needed!  So I build the relay configuration that would solve all of my problems!  I also began to understand what the solenoid does and how relays work!
I have all of the parts ready to build the relay configuration!
A casualty of my efforts...another trip to Fronteras!
The finished relay connection, ready to install!
So I connected all of the wires, following the advice from the Forums, and tried to start the engines.  Still nothing, actually not even a click or anything!  Later I learned that my engines already had starter relays installed, and the information on the Cruiser Net was for older engines.  The frustration level was getting higher and the moral lower on MokaKat....what happen to sundowners, and snorkeling, and actually sailing????  Of course it was continuing to rain through all of this. 

So, I am not going to bore you with all of the details of the past week, the long hours of staring at engine parts and wires, the constant rain, the many trips to Fronteras, the fruitless Internet searches, the crying, the praying, the head beating, the hair pulling, and the bleeding. 

 What is wrong?????...please just start!!!!
No more rain!!!!...please just start!!!!

Head banging didn't help....please just start!!!!!

So here is a recap of the week's activities:

Port Engine:  This engine I could not even jump at the solenoid, so I removed the starter and solenoid.  After cleaning both, I applied 12Vs to the starter, and it barely turned over.  We then tried the same thing with the starboard battery, and the starter jumped to life!  Really, this whole time the battery was the problem!  The battery showed 12.5 volts, which I had checked at the very beginning, but when a load was applied, it dropped to about 1 volt, not enough to start the engine.  So off to Chiqui's Tienda for a replacement.  After dropping $200, Yikes, for a new battery and installing the starter back in the engine, and connecting all of the wires, we had a running engine!  Yippee, one engine fixed!  The mood on MokaKat was improving, even with the rain.

 Starter and solenoid removed before cleaning

Front view of starter and solenoid.

Where the starter and solenoid are supposed to be!

 All this time, and the battery was bad!

New $200 battery ready to connect!

All connections were polished and battery spray(red) was applied.

Cleaned starter and solenoid installed and connected!

Starboard Engine:  This engine I could start by jumping the solenoid, so the starter and solenoid were good.  I then did some trouble shooting from the key switch to the solenoid, and discovered that the relay that I didn't know was installed on these motors, was actually bad.  I installed new wire spade connectors and installed the new (automobile style) relay, and presto, the engine started!  After two weeks, we finally have both engines running again!!!

The bad relay is the round object with the wires coming out!

Bad, bad relay!

The wires were re-tipped with blade connectors, ready for the new relay

New relay installed!  I connected it on one of the bolts of the old relay, so that it would face the wires down and that I can one day replace the relay with the Yanmar part instead of an automobile relay.

Starboard engine with new relay!

Wow, it sounds too easy in the recap.  I also cleaned up all of the battery connections, soldered any twisted wire connections, and clean the engine rooms!  I also replaced air filters and checked all belts!  I actually feel better about my engines, as I have learned a lot in the past week.  I was asked by several people why I didn't just hire a mechanic to come and fix the engines.  Well, I would have at some point, but I needed and wanted to figure it out myself, if possible.  Yes, it was harder, but the knowledge that I learned will pay off in the future when I am somewhere more remote and maybe my boat would be in danger.  I now feel more confident that I can start the engines in most situations, or at least determine where the issue is!  That was the result of my education last week!

The 'Fun to Suck Meter' is starting to swing back to the fun side!!!!

Ready for sundowners, sunny weather, sailing and snorkeling!


  1. $200 for a battery??? Don't you miss your neighborhood Walmart? :-) - Vadim

  2. You see, the 29 years you spent troubleshooting problems, participating in war rooms has paid off. - Ken