5/10/2011 – An Ordeal or an Adventure?

It was windy all morning at Timbabbiche and we’d about decided to just stay put for another day or two. But, at about 1300, the wind died down and we figured, what the heck, might as well make at least a few miles. So, we got everything ready and headed out about 1400. What wind there was was located close enough to our nose that we would have been close-hauled all the way. Maybe we should have gone ahead and sailed but then who knows where we might’ve been when things went to pot.

Our plan was to sail to Ensenada Las Ballenas, about 14 nautical miles away. But, the waves, wind and current must have been fighting us because we were only making about 3.5 knots over ground. At that rate we wouldn’t arrive at Las Ballenas until 1830 or maybe later. So, we decided to just go to our original destination of Punta San Telmo, a mere 3.5 miles away.

We were tooling along, minding our own business when the engine suddenly got louder. Not a lot louder, but definitely louder. My first though was that the exhaust leak was back in a big way. Lulu hopped down below and opened the engine compartment and the smoke rolled out. Yeah, we had our exhaust leak back alright. No worries, though, we’ll just continue on and deal with it when we’re someplace that we can. Then she noticed that the bilge pump was running. Not continuously, but a lot. I climbed down and opened the engine room door to have a look. Oh yeah! The joint between the exhaust manifold and the mixing elbow had blown out and there was smoke and saltwater spewing everywhere. Well, crappage! Not much we could do about it then so we decided to just press on. As long as the bilge pump kept up, the worst that would happen was that we’d make a huge mess in the engine room. But we were almost there, so…..

The engine speed faltered a couple times and I started to worry a bit. Decided we were better off shutting the engine down and sailing in so we could start it up when we needed it for anchoring. Rolled out the jib and shut the engine off. This worked for a little while but, as we neared the anchorage, the wind died down and we had to start the engine back up. At first it balked like the battery was weak but on the next try it fired up after a lot more extensive cranking than normal.

We pulled in to Punta San Telmo and dropped the hook in 18′ of water. Let out about 100′ of chain, backed down on the anchor to set it and secured the engine. There was exhaust smoke coming out of every orifice on the boat. There was smoke coming out of the hawsehole to the anchor locker fer crimineesakes! First thing was to open every hatch and porthole and get this baby aired out. Next I climbed into the engine compartment to turn off the raw water valve which was a trick since the visibility and, more importantly, the “breathability” in there was about zero. But we managed to get it all done.

Punta San Telmo proved to be a bad choice as an anchorage. There were (and still are) swells coming in from the NW causing it to be very rolly.

We sat in the cockpit and theorized what might have happened and what needed to be done to fix it. Finally decided that theorizing was stupid. I needed to climb down inside and find out what happened. Blown gasket? Broken fitting? Loose clamp? No way to know without looking so we cleared things out of the way, loosened the clamps that hold the engine compartment cockpit access closed, and opened her up. The engine compartment was a greasy, sooty, wet mess. I climbed down and confirmed my worst suspicion: the lip on the opening of the mixing elbow had rotted off so the clamp no longer had anything to clamp to.


We had come up with a lot of ideas about what to do if the gasket was blown but not what to do about this. I climbed back down to remove the clamp and the broken-off lip. While I was doing that, every so often we’d get a wisp of smoke from under the heat exchanger. Lulu and I both told ourselves that it was just steam from water hitting some hot engine part. But it didn’t look like steam. It looked like smoke. And the engine wasn’t particularly hot anymore. Then, while I was messing around trying to find the cause of the “steam”, I got a spark from under the heat exchanger. WTF? A little more briggling around and another spark or two. Obviously a wire was shorting to ground under there.

There was a wiring harness running under the heat exchanger so I started to disconnect the wires at one end. Then I decided that the wire needed to be replaced anyway so I just cut the wires. They’re all color-coded so it would be easy to get the right ones reconnected. Now it became a job that had to be done right now. With the exhaust leak the engine could at least still run. With all the wires cut, no way. So, after a bunch of struggling, I managed to pull the piece of the wiring harness out. Holy crap! I can’t believe the engine even started. On a section about 3″ long, all the insulation had been melted. A whole bunch of bare copper wires were exposed. No telling what was shorted to what.


Fortunately I have wire and terminals on board so I replaced the burned section with fresh wires that I ran over, instead of under, the engine. Shouldn’t get too hot hanging up in the air like that.

Now, what to do about the exhaust leak? I didn’t know. I’ll figure it out tomorrow. So, figuring we were finished for tonight, I got cleaned up. You should have seen the washcloth! While I was cleaning up, it suddenly hit me: J.B.Weld. Of course! I’d just JB Weld the broken off lip back onto the mixing elbow and hope for the best. Since you’re supposed to let the stuff cure overnight before using it, I figured I’d better get it started tonight, which I did.

The rest of the evening was (is) pretty standard except for the heavy rolling. We talked to David on s/v Aztec who are anchored at Bahia Los Gatos, about a mile and a half south of us, and they said it was calm as could be. Fine! And us unable to move. Oh well.

So, here’s the plan: Tomorrow we’ll check out the JB Weld repair and add more epoxy if needed. If no extra epoxy is needed, we might motor back down to Los Gatos just to see how the repair is holding up. Then, if everything is looking good, we’ll leave Thursday morning. We checked the map to see whether La Paz or Loreto was closer. Loreto, easily. So we’re going to go up to Puerto Escondido as fast as we can, sailing as much as we can. We’ll tie up to a mooring ball there and see if we can find a good welder or fabricator in Loreto. If not, we’ll bus it back down to La Paz to get the part fixed. If all that fails, guess we can have a new mixing elbow shipped down from the States. But, knowing how proud Westerbeke is of their parts, I’d just as soon have the old part repaired or a new one made.

So there you have it. That was our day. Like I’ve said, it’s not all fish tacos and cervezas. But, like Bob Bitchin from Lattitudes & Attitudes magazine says, “The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude.” A-Men, brother.


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About sryoder

Steve & Lulu... retired. Had enough of the cold wet dreary fall/winter/spring in the Pacific Northwest. Bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our home and sailed to Mexico in November, 2010. Been here ever since except for occasional forays to the States (summer only, thank you) to visit the kids, parents and siblings. If you're looking for a sailing blog, this is the wrong place. This is a traveling, hunkering in, eating blog. Sailing is just how we get from place to place when we can't walk.
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