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Old 05-07-2011, 13:58   #1
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Cruisers Stranded - in Need of Advice

Hello, We were cruising the Bahamas and on our way home to the States when our small oil leakage problem took a turn for the worst and the engine will now not start.

We sailed into the Nassau Harbor and just dropped the anchor before getting swept through. Here are our symptoms if you care to help out.

It's a Yanmar 3GM30, diesel, raw water cooler, 24hp, 1985

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 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.

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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 where we can tie up our dinghy to the side of the boat and use the 3.5hp outboard to tow ourselves.

Thanks for listening CF.
Bright Eyes
s/v Bright Eyes
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:07   #2
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

Diesel Engines not my forte.........but would probably help others (to chip in) if you also mentioned the make / model of engine.
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:08   #3
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

What brand and model of an engine do you have?

Edit in>>

Man your fast David!
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:09   #4
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

From the symptoms and diagnosis already done it sure sounds like a blown piston. That pretty much eliminates any fast fix.
- - But I have had friends in similar circumstances and they mounted a outboard motor bracket (the raisable kind) on the transom and bought a 25 hp 2-cycle outboard and used it to provide propulsion when it was not prudent to rely only on the sails.
- - A 15hp 2-cycle outboard is a little small but you might be able to get by with a 20hp. You should find some either used or new at a reasonable price.
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:13   #5
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

It is only a 2 day sail from Nassau to West Palm Beach and it is with the prevailing wind.
The mechanics are noting blow by. This is either past the valves or rings or through the top of the piston. If it is a gas engine a compression check will narrow it down. In any case the head will have to come off to affect a repair. If you get to West Palm I can direct you to a good mechanic.
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:23   #6
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

a seidelmann 37 can do the sail without engine--just need to tack occasionally--is a fast lil boat. yanmar 3gm is a good engine-- mebbe the oil leakage is a simple thing-- can ye put the engine back together and make do until ye get to yanmar territory?? there is a fella on sailboat owners forum with a seidelmann 37 i sailed with 2009-2010 named nice n easy--lookhim up--mebbe he can help ye--i have his fone number in case you may wish it--he is in louisianna--he may be interested in helping but doesnt make much income to fly there to ye-but may be able to help ye thru this....
goood luck an dfair winds. you can get back ok-- try to get the engine back into one piece shape,even with a leak.....
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:37   #7
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

I agree with the broken piston or ring diagnosis. Though I'm just an armchair mechanic.

Sorry you're in that situation!

I agree with the others suggesting slapping an outboard on the back to nurse your way home.
Let your heart tell you where to go, but let your brain tell you how to get there.
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:43   #8
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

If it were me I would mount an outboard as a kicker and make the transit with my dinghy as the backup during an appropriate weather window.

Once you are in West Palm/South Florida you can pick a mechanic of your choice. I'd recommend Dave Post.. we use him..
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:54   #9
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

You might need a tow out past the breakwater but some other cruiser is sure to help you. The sail to Florida shouldn't be too difficult as you don't need to hit any particular location and the Gulf stream will cary you in the direction you want to go anyway.When you reach a harbor that has an easy entrance,and you can take your choice,pull in and anchor then call for local assistence.
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Old 05-07-2011, 14:56   #10
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

If you do need a major engine work, let me know before you do anything. I have an almost new Yanmar 3GM that I could probably sell you for less than a major overhaul. Email me if you are interested.
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Old 05-07-2011, 15:00   #11
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

Sorry to hear of your predicament. I would sail it back to Florida and get towed into a slip. If you feel you really need an engine get an outboard, they're cheaper in Nassau than in the States, $2100 for a 2 stroke 15hp Yamaha. You're less than 200 miles from Florida. Your best bet would be to go through the Northeast Providence Channel (north of the Berrys) and then on to Lake Worth.
Rick I
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Old 05-07-2011, 15:01   #12
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

Did you ever lose oil pressure? Or for some reason think you might have lost all of the oil at one point?

In my limited experence, a multi cylinder engine will run with one cylinder toast. It won't run well, but it will run but I usualy have delt with 4+ cylinder engines. Maybe a 3 cylinder engine won't run, even on starter fluid? At the very least, it ought to fire off once or twice on starter fluid.

My first thought was you lost your timing chain. I think that's what the Yanmars have to turn the cam shaft. It should be easy to pull the valve cover, and see if the valves move as the engine is turned over. Alternativly you could put your hand over the air intake, and see if it draws a vacuum. If they don't move and it doesn't draw a vacuum then you busted the timing chain. That should be fixable.

The "air and fumes" from the removed oil cap is pretty damning indication for a burnt rings or burnt pistion, but not a burnt or stuck valve. However, what is "alought"? On this specific engine, where does the crank case breather go? Is it plumbed back into the engine intake, or a catch can under the engine?
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Old 05-07-2011, 15:11   #13
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

Perhaps you already have a dinghy you can use as a tug once you get back to Florida to get you from landfall to a dock. I don't suggest you tow it across the stream but it should be good once you make landfall. Just time your passage carefully.

I agree with ViribusUnitis about checking the timing chain. A 3 cylinder engine should start with only one bad cylinder. Wont sound good but it should run.
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Old 05-07-2011, 16:12   #14
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

My first check would be to get hold of a diesel engine rated compression tester, then, go from there.[ gas engine one won't do !!!]
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Old 05-07-2011, 16:15   #15
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Re: Cruiser Stranded in Need of Advice

Diesel mechanics is not rocket science. You can do a lot of the disassembly yourself. If you take the head off, you will be able to inspect the pistons and cylinders. If they all go up and down in their proper order, there is no hole in any of the pistons and the walls of the cylinder are not scored or show other signs of wear, it may just be a bad valve. I kind of doubt that because of the oil coming out the exhaust would indicate a bad piston or cracked block. Anyway, by pulling the head you'll probably have an idea of the cause of the problem and the remedy. To pull the head all you have to do is remove the head bolts or nuts, remove any hardware connected between the head and block, pull the injectors or remove the fuel lines that run to them and Bob's your uncle.

If it is a piston or cylinder problem, the engine will have to come out for machining and reinstallation of piston, etc. In any case an inspection of the head will tell you if you have a problem with a valve or valve guide. Since you'll have it apart, it's a good idea to do a valve job, in any case. Most any competent machine shop can do that be it third world or the States. The head is not such a big and heavy item on a 3GM that you couldn't stick it in a bag and fly to somewhere with the ability to handle a fix. Reassembling the head to the block is a reverse to removing. The bolts have to be tightened in the right sequence, you'll need a new headgasket and gaskets for the injectors if you removed them. A call to Mack Boring will get you any information you need on parts and how to do it if it's not available on line.

I hesitate to try and get the engine running without having a good idea of the cause of damage. A holed piston won't hurt much but if you have a broken rod, piston ring or other detritus floating around inside the engine, you can do fatal damage, BTDT.

As far as getting back, did you ever wonder how people got about on the ocean before the invention of the steam or internal combustion engine?? It's a sailboat and probably an excellent sailing one at that. Keep a stern and bow anchor permanently rigged and ready to drop over the side at a moments notice. Sail it to the nearest place that has the facilities to do an engine overhaul. If the winds are right, sail it into a harbor, drop anchor, and call for a tow into a yard with a crane to haul out the engine. If the winds aren't blowing from the right direction or the channel is too narrow to tack in, drop your anchor outside and call for a tow. If weather is too crappy to anchor, sail around till it improves and then do the above. If a hurricane should pop up, get as far away as fast as you can or find a hidey hole where your at to wait till it goes away.

You should drop your dinghy off and tie it up to the quarter of the boat and practice manuevering under its power while you are still in a safe anchorage. Doesn't take much horsepower to move a boat in light winds. I've even towed my 14,000 boat by rowing my dinghy.

Look at it as an adventure that will make you a much better, though poorer, person when it's all over. Just out of curiosity, why do you need extra crew to deliver the boat to Florida or Maryland?? You've been cruising with your exisiting crew, seems that would be enough to get you where you are going.
Peter O.
'Ae'a, Pearson 35
'Ms American Pie', Sabre 28 Mark II
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