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Old 23-07-2017, 13:55   #1
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Location: Port Washington, NY
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My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

OK, so this is a long one, but it felt good to get it all out of my system, and hopefully helps others avoid a painful le$$on. That said, the cliff note version is: If you have not pulled your exhaust elbow apart and inspected the interior condition in the last 5 years or so, put it on your list, if it's been longer than that, replace it! Much cheaper than rebuilding your engine.

Last Sunday we were finishing up the last leg of our trip from Annapolis to Westerly, RI - on our new to us boat - 84' Tradewind 33. One of the big selling points was the major refit in 2004, to include a new Yanmar 3JH3E. The engine had just 380 hours on the meter when we bought it. She'd been neglected the past 5 years, so we put a few bucks into prevention; new Racor filter, drained the diesel, cleaned the tank, all new engine cooling hoses as per surveyors recommendation. The exhaust elbow looked new.

As we rode the last of the fair current down the middle of Long Island, we tweaked our course to head in toward the Connecticut shore, our bearing a marker just north and a little east of Niantic Reef. The current builds to 3+ kts through The Race so my better half went below to grab the Eldridge to check the current chart one more time. When she got to the foot of the companionway she said "something doesn't sound right". I should have throttled back immediately, I glanced at the gauges, all in the green, RPM's 2600 steady, instead I yelled over the roar of the engine "What does it sound like?" When I replay the whole ugly scene that's about to happen, this is the moment where I could have maybe done something to avert a catastrophic failure.

"Feels like there's some kind of vibration, something's wrong" she says. We swap places. I'm down there maybe 2 seconds and that vibration is now accompanied by the sound of an engine working harder, did the RPM's just drop off? "Throttle back!" I yell as I rip the companionway apart - now I can hear hissing. I pop the top panel open - steam mixed with exhaust billows out - somewhere in there a firehose is running. "Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!" All of that takes maybe 5 seconds. As the engine coughs and shudders to a stop I can clearly see that the tailpipe connecting the exhaust manifold to exhaust elbow is completely evered - water is still bubbling out of the tailpipe, then stops, quietly I call up: "We just lost the engine".

So we set sail in a hurry - the course we were on now requires a broad reach - our main is old school and the 15' boom snuffs the life out of the headsail, AWI shows 5 kts apparent. Did I mention the headsails were brand new? As in installed 2 days ago? Of course there's no freaking wind!!! But there is a Cross Sound ferry headed south to Orient Point - there's also a northbound ferry heading for New London - our course will cross theirs. We head up to a beam reach to get a little better boat speed, the AWI reads 8, the GPS says 3.5 SOG. The northbound will pass long before we can cross him, the south bound adjusts course and turns toward directly for us. I hail him on 9 but he's not answering. His radar no doubt tells him he will cross safely behind us. Eyeballing it takes a little longer to confirm, but yes, we are clear, at least for another 45 minutes or so, until the next pair start to go, as they do every half hour during the summer.

The beam reach was nice, but instead of heading toward Fisher's Island we are headed straight for The Race, and eventually out to Block Island Sound. There are a lot of boats trying to make it through The Race before the inbound flood begins. We try falling off to a broad reach - I rig the preventer - apparent wind drops back to 5, we are still managing 3 SOG, but the wakes are taking their toll. It's clear we will not make Fisher's Island Sound on this course. The current is slowly building in - behind us I see whitecaps forming on the small waves standing up against the light breeze.

I make my next bad decision. We jibe over to head in towards shore in a vain attempt to get away from the worst of the current that's coming. It's not the jibe, but the loss of momentum, having to walk the headsail through the slot between the staysail furler, and the wakes from passing sport fishing boats are more head on than they were. SOG is 2.5, then 2. I can see that we are losing ground against the shoreline now, but there is a silver lining, no worries about ferries, we will be pushed west of their channel. Still, if I can just work in a bit closer to that reef marker we can jibe back over and maybe make Fisher's Island Sound, that is if the wind picks up. It's mid afternoon, thermal updraft usually brings the breeze in around 4 PM - at least in western LI Sound . From the reef marker it's just 5 miles to Big Dumpling - from there I can get to an anchorage - we are in 150' of water right now, and the current is building. The little whitecaps catch up to us. GPS is still reading 2 SOG, but I can see we are sliding sideways at an alarming rate. We jibe over, won't make the course we need, but at least we won't be heading directly for The Race. SOG drops to 1.5. Good opportunity to go below and see what there is to see.

The inside of the exhaust elbow has a wet powdery ring of rust with the slightest hint of undulation to it, where threads might have one time been? The tail pipe appeared to be clean as a whistle, except the one jagged edge where the last thread holding it all together failed. I wire brush. I get out the biggest wrenches I have. I will take that tailpipe off and screw it back into the exhaust elbow. Magical thinking!

When it's obvious that's just not going to happen by any stretch of the imagination, I go one better. I will lash the damned thing together with Monel seizing wire, which I do, along with a fair amount of 1/8 dacron for good measure. Next bad decision: "Honey, give it a try". Really? Really, I don't know what I was thinking! Actually, I'm pretty sure I was thinking "I need this engine to work long enough to get us past those ferries.."

Of course, the cylinders were probably already flooded. She cranked nicely though - well enough for me to casually observe what I had been unable to clearly see when I was thinking: "holy sh!t what the hell is happening down here!!" Sooo, as I watched the raw water bubble up out of the tailpipe connected to the exhaust manifold, this is what a "catastrophic failure" looks like. http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/...s/facepalm.gif It was a new experience for me.

Back on deck - we are heading south - between wakes, flukey wind and a furled headsail, the broad reach is now a close reach and she just won't fall off without the headsail. My better half has been sailing solo for the past half hour or more - who knows really, I was in my own little McGiver fantasy world down there - and now she's feeling bad that we're heading across The Race and more immediately, straight for Little Gull Island. Without the headsail and with the current pushing the bow upwind there was no way to fall off. I apologized profusely - this was no time to be out of touch. It appeared we had actually gained a little ground, but once we got the headsail out and got back on course it was clear we were losing this battle.

We talked it through. We could give up on home port and sail down current, probably make it to Pilot's Point (Brewers) before dark, but the mooring at Avalon was paid for the season, and this was not going to be a quick repair, besides we had left our car at the Westerly Amtrak station. Time to call it a day. We have coverage for towing. Hopefully, sufficient justification to warrant a tow to our home port, with its Yanmar certified repair shop.

It was BoatUS busiest day of the season they said, explaining the 1 hour wait. The wind never showed up. We had a 2 boat relay to cover the 10 mile distance, and even at 7 kts across open water by the time we got up river and on the mooring, it took 2 full hours, and $1500. Still, we were floating quietly at our mooring, nobody hurt, just in a state of shock - the sudden death of a fairly young engine - that hurts! We were lucky this didn't happen just 20 engine hours sooner, coming up the East River through Hell Gate.

So, the verdict? Three bent rods, full rebuild. About 3K in parts, labor is reasonable at $90/hr, good shop, reasonable people. Glad we decided to call Avalon Boatyard home this season. Hopefully we are back in commision before Labor Day - so many great places to sail to, once we get down the river and back out into the sound.
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Old 23-07-2017, 14:47   #2
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

That sucks! But you made decisions that kept you safe...
It could have turned out so much worse, just another "first world problem".

Glad you got home safely!


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Old 23-07-2017, 14:56   #3
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

Great honest story, I will have to check my exhaust elbow, was already on my list but moved up to the top of listed items now. Thanks.
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Old 23-07-2017, 14:57   #4
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

Hi, 1boat2many,

That's a sad story, with a happy ending.

Here's something to consider doing or having done. When the engine rebuild is being done, they will order you a new "consumable" $500 exhaust elbow. Have a machine shop make you up one out of s/s. Use the s/s one, keep the other for a spare.

Ann
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Old 23-07-2017, 16:06   #5
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

Hi Ann,
Thanks for that - I was going to ask the yard to get stainless for me, better yet to get "consumable" as well - the cost is pretty modest compared to repairs, lost time, potential for even worse timing!

Hard to believe the threaded section just dissolved in place - the threads that are visible were outside the elbow - what was inside is just gone.
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Old 23-07-2017, 16:32   #6
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

I am sorry for a stupid question .... can someone please explain why a severed exhaust elbow will kill the engine ????
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Old 23-07-2017, 17:12   #7
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

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Originally Posted by Jd1 View Post
I am sorry for a stupid question .... can someone please explain why a severed exhaust elbow will kill the engine ????
+1. Count me in on this question. Does an exhaust elbow going south always result in water in the engine?
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Old 23-07-2017, 17:26   #8
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

Another honest question: you said you had towing coverage from BoatUS, so why did it cost you $1500 to get you back to shore? I was under the impression that this kind of rate was for uninsured boaters.
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Old 23-07-2017, 17:45   #9
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

I'm no expert but here's what I learned - once there is a break in the system, pressure of the exhaust gasses drops. Big break = big drop. The raw water injected into the elbow to cool the exhaust gases (in my case that was just above the break in the system) relies on the exhaust pressure to push the water away from the engine. When the pressure drops, water begins to find its way into the exhaust manifold and after the valves open to release exhaust gas, water begins to find it's way into the cylinder chambers - this will cause hydrolock. Once that happens you are done.

I didn't know about hydrolock until after the fact (and of course there are posts about hydrolock, here on CF, I just had no idea I should look for them!). Had I known I would not have tried to restart the engine. Bad idea. The rods bend when the cylinders are forced to compress water instead of air. In my case all three rods bent. The mechanic suggested that since we were at 2500 RPM it was likely that water was already getting into the cylinders. He may have been trying to make me feel better. All I know for sure is that this happened fast and without much warning. The fitting looks pretty crappy in the picture, where you can see the inside, but I promise you the exterior of these fittings looked corrosion free beforehand. This is probably my 4th boat with an inboard diesel, I had always thought that there would be some sign of trouble I could see.

Feel free to correct or post a more accurate description if I've got it the wrong way around (or incomplete). Thanks in advance for weighing in.
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Old 23-07-2017, 17:49   #10
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

Regarding the cost for the tow - covered by my regular insurance policy to 5K, but now I wonder if going forward I should spring for the BoatUS unlimited coverage since it's what they are there for.
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Old 23-07-2017, 18:14   #11
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

I've read the descriptions but I'm still confused about how a broken mixing elbow results in water getting in the engine.

Just because there's no pressure in your exhaust piping anymore doesn't mean there's no pressure in your engines exhaust manifold.

I suspect water got in when then engine was not running. While cranking.
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Old 23-07-2017, 19:45   #12
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

This is the thing that got me into the "Sailor's Confessional" - I suspect that cranking the engine after shut down was the cause of the damage - despite what the mechanic told me, maybe he was being compassionate and tried to give me "plausible deniability" for turning that engine over when I shouldn't have (or right out of the gate when I didn't immediately throttle back, get below and see for myself). Either way it's kind of academic for me, but it would be good to know one way or the other, at least for the next guy.
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Old 23-07-2017, 20:30   #13
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

Well unless the cooling water is injected at the side of the break that was still attached to the engine and unless the engine was tilted in such a way that the water flowed backwards towards the engine (well in that case it would never have run period) then I still can't see how this would destroy an engine. Further, if we assume that water got into the exhaust manifold and was sitting on the other side of the exhaust valves, I can only see how ONE connecting rod was bent if water got into the cylinder through an open exhaust valve but no way (that I can see) would all three rods be bent because turning over the engine would blow the water away from the valve.

I should also add my doubt that the starter could turn over a hydrolocked engine ... well maybe if it had a good run at it maybe one connecting rod but three ?????

On hindsight, I guess if there was only a tiny bit of water in the cylinder, enough to allow almost a full stroke but not quite, then the starter might have enough umph to pull it through ?
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Old 23-07-2017, 21:08   #14
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

Sorry for your troubles, happy all safe at mooring.
Re exhaust elbow, I just replaced my exhaust elbow on my 3 GM
with very nice stainless steel elbow from exhaustelbow.com
$129. delivered. Give Ben Cotton a call.
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Old 23-07-2017, 21:12   #15
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Re: My first "catastrophic failure" (exhaust elbow)

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Originally Posted by 1boat2many View Post
Regarding the cost for the tow - covered by my regular insurance policy to 5K, but now I wonder if going forward I should spring for the BoatUS unlimited coverage since it's what they are there for.
Yeah, unlimited tow is only around $170 a year. Basically, you paid almost 10 years in one incident. If you own a 30+ years old boat, I think it is a no brainer.
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