My mind feels all jumbled up. There’s so much I want to say but I’m not sure if I can take the jumble and detangle it. The events of my life over the past few months as a new boat owner seem to be guided. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that there’s an angel looking out for my family and I. Something has somehow prevented us from serious engine failure. More on that to come…
Every day we wake up not knowing what the day will bring us and to our on-going surprise, the most bemusing situations befall us.
A coincidence here and there is one thing – coincidences every day is another
If our recent plan came to fruition, we’d be sailing up the east coast of Italy on our Oyster 56′ sailboat for a visit to Venice. And after a quick tour of mainland Italy, hubby, my 4 year old daughter and I planned to lay the boat up in Sicily to get necessary repairs done over the winter.
Generally speaking, however, our plans never play out the way we think they will – I’m begining to realize that that’s the sailors way
In my short 6 months of being a new boat owner live-aboard sailor I’ve quickly learned the skill of flexibility and flow. To be a happy sailor, you must drop your need for achievement. And in this context, I mean getting to a destination or having a plan come to fruition.
Try as you might to get to destination A – if the winds, weather or engine gremlins get in your way, you’ll surely end up in destination B – if you get to any destination at all!
Furthermore, things change all the time
We often think we’ll stay in once place for 2 days and it extends to 9 days. Once we stayed 2 weeks longer in a particular area because we ran into good friends and couldn’t pull ourselves away from them.
On another occasion, hubby and I tried several times to sail to Santorini, the one ‘must do’ island on my Aegean bucket list, but the winds wouldn’t allow us to go. Incidentally, however, we did eventually get the island when the weather was perfect AND we had a crewmember on board to man the ship while we toured the island. Everything worked out perfect and had I become upset that we missed Santorini it would have been wasted energy.
I no longer even speculate about where we might be in 2 days time – thinking about it is futile
So instead of sailing up the coast of Italy, I’m now moored up along a hard in mainland Preveza, Greece watching all sorts of engine and generator pieces and parts leave our sailboat. An example is below…
Totally unexpected, we’re having a complete overhaul of our engines in addition to serious fixes made to our rigging
To put things bluntly, our generator and engine have not been property serviced since the boat was built 11 years ago. The injectors have never been taken out and looked at. The heat exchangers have never been cleaned. Some of the anodes have never been changed. The diesel pump has never been opened. And that’s just naming a few of the issues.
When taking the heat exchanger off the generator, our engineers found almost a kilo of salt in the tubes and 2 impeller blades
The whole unit was completely clogged up and the anode crumbled like a cookie.
Furthermore, all the safety components to shut the engines down were decommissioned
For example, instead of our generator turning off if it overheats, the sensor was disabled so it would carry on running.
Previous to buying the boat, we were given the receipts for the services and a log of previous maintenance.
Either the receipts were fake or the previous owner paid a lot of money for nothing
The receipts we have are from a marine servicing shop in Palma de Mallorca and one of the listed items is: “Drain cooling water, dismantle heat exchanger, pressure test in workshop, clean, assemble and fit to generator.” That was clearly not done last year.
We did the right things – or at least we thought we did. We had a marine surveyor spend around 12 hours looking over our boat with a fine toothcomb. He told us there were issues but nothing out of the ordinary.
Is it only me that thinks it’s strange that a marine surveyor didn’t realize the engines were in such a bad state?
When taking various bolts off the engine/generator (holding the injectors, water cooling system, etc.) the paint chipped off indicating that the bolts have never been loosened!
In the course of 6 months, we’ve had over ten ‘engineers’ look at our engines due to leaks, failures or malfunctions. A few of them suggested we simply needed new engines…that “they are worn out”. If any of the engineers took the time to look deeper into the engines they would have realized why there were issues.
The whole reason we purchased an Oyster was due to the quality, craftsmanship and reputation of the boat
Having a child with us, safety is number one on our priority list and an Oyster is known to be one of the safest (and heaviest) boats there is. And a Perkins engine is one of the best engines there is – if maintained correctly, it will go forever.
I find it so hard to believe that someone (the previous owner) would have paid so much for a boat and then failed to take care of it. Then again, we’ve been sailing around for 6 months assuming everything was up-to-date but it was far from it. Ultimately, we are like the previous owner – ignorant to the state of our equipment.
To say that I feel stupid, vulnerable and inexperienced is an understatement
How could this happen? How could we get so far without knowing/realizing that our home was cracking underneath us? How could such an expensive sailboat be mishandled so badly and for so long? How could so many engineers look at our engines and fail to express the dangerous state it was in?
Perhaps the majority of the marine world is full of sharks?
Engineers can create a quick fix; send you one your way and they know that the next time it breaks you’ll be far, far away. I’d really hate to believe that the bulk of the industry is that disingenuous.
But our current engineer that we serendipitously met, took ten minutes looking at our engines and riffled off all the problems immediately
He explained that the reason the others didn’t mention various things could have been because the jobs are very time-consuming, dirty and there is very little space to work. He said it’s easier to tell you to get a new engine – they make more money and don’t have to do any of the messy stuff.
In fact, I’ve discovered that it’s common practice for marine engineers to tell you that you need a new engine, pull it out, fix and sell it on and then sell you a new engine. The engineer makes profit on the old engine and the new.
Before meeting our new engineer hubby and I were trying to figure out how we could afford new engines
Heck, we’re going to sail around the world! We need engines that are going to work for us. The cost of what we needed would reduce our travel budget by at least one year. In other words, we’d have to come home one year earlier to pay for the new engines.
But something in me kept thinking, ‘that can’t be right.’ Our engines cannot be that bad. Diesel engines are supposed to last forever.
We naively thought that we’d get a boat, learn how to sail it and maintain it – we’d make sure everything was working well and then once we were confident, we’d leave our backyard (the Mediterranean) and head out around the world.
Through all our various minor problems, the confidence in our engines reduced by the day
We’ve always been willing to stop for a while, sort out the problems properly and then get going again, but until now every engineer failed to come up with a solution or take the time to actually look at the engines properly.
In Palma we had engineers look at the engine to make sure we’d be good to go for our trip to Gibraltar. From Girbraltar we paid engineers to look at our engines before our trip to Malta (850 miles). How is it that neither of these places looked at the fuel and water-cooling systems? HOW?!?! I’ve learned that it’s not even hard to look. Yes, it’s hard to repair/fix but to look is relatively easy.
Be forewarned about Palma and Gibraltar marine engineers
When taking our Diesel Marine Engine course our teacher told us that we needed to watch engineers work. He showed us how long it takes to clean a water cooler/heat exchanger unit and stressed that we needed to make sure they do it properly. He mentioned that most engineers run pipe cleaners down the tubes (if that!) pushing the gunk to the end rather than taking the unit off, soaking in acid and removing the gunk from the circuit.
Now I realize that our teacher wasn’t kidding
When our generator water cooler was taken off today, it was filled with a solid mass of gunk. Our injectors are all covered in carbon. The list goes on.
To keep myself from crying, I mentioned to our current engineer that we must have one hell of an engine and generator for them both to still be going! He agreed with me and confirmed that we do, indeed, have angels looking after us.
What was the sequence of events that brought us to this new engineer in Preveza, Greece?
In June, our hot water heater developed a small leak and then turned into Niagara Falls. A reader of my blog, and a 56’ Oyster owner also, gave me the name of a contact in England that helps Oyster owners source parts – a great guy named Andy Willett from Willett Marine.
After emailing Andy in a panic over the weekend, not only did he help us find a replacement but he talked us through rerouting our fresh water supplies so we could use our taps.
Furthermore, Andy helped us to find someone in Greece that could help us install the new boiler
After a couple months, we eventually arrived in Kos Marina, Greece where Andy’s contact, Pierre, was waiting for us with our new boiler. Pierre not only helped to install our new boiler, but he changed a broken areal, installed new waterproof speakers, taught us how to grout the teak, changed a water tap, put a new water pump in, demonstrated how to clean the chrome and what supplies to use. The list goes on…
Throughout our time with Pierre he was so helpful and genuine. In his French accent he would say, ‘That is shit,’ if he thought so. I painted the windows as there was a rust issue and hubby got the wrong paint – gloss. Pierre let me know that he didn’t think it was good and told me what to do instead. I liked his attitude about things – he told us how he saw things. Furthermore never did we feel like we were paying too much. His prices were reasonable – they were normal.
Keep in mind I’m still talking about a sequence of events here
So fast-forward to September when we pick up a friend in Crete – Stefano Luezzi, a retired Italian Naval Admiral and ex helicopter pilot. We met Stefano while sailing in Sicily in April where he became our Italian angel. He helped us with so many things I can’t even list them on one page. If he wasn’t helping us with translations, he was teaching us to sail or cook spaghetti. He took us on road tours (Mount Etna for one) and sailing through the Aeolian Islands, north of Sicily. Stefano helped us sail to Stromboli volcano at 3am so we could see an eruption!
We’ve adopted Admiral Stefano as part of our family, so having him on board was a real honor
We sailed to Santorini, along the Peloponnese and eventually to the Ionian Islands. While sailing to Leftkas Island our main halyard broke and my husband, Simon, spots oil in the bilge.
WTF is all we can say
WTF, WTF, WTF!?!?! (Grandma, if you’re reading this, WTF means ‘what the freak’”) Why are these things happening to us?!
Simon thinks about whom he can call and tries Pierre in Kos first. Perhaps he knows someone in the area? Wouldn’t you know it – Pierre has a great contact near Leftkas. Simon makes the phone call and within a couple hours, a new engineer is on board while we’re moored up in the middle of Spinola bay.
Interestingly, the new engineer is Italian and an ex-helicoptor pilot, amongst many other talents
As you can imagine, Stefano was happy to meet up with someone with so many things in common.
Simon explained our issues to the engineer, Andrea, who inspected the engine and made a phone call about our rigging. All the while, I was down below making videos with my daughter. She was a Hello Kitty newscaster reading the news.
Next thing I know, there’s three new Italian people on our boat
Two going up the mast, one looking at the engine. I thought, ‘where did all these people come from – we’re in the middle of a bay!’ I also thought, ‘keep speaking Italian, it sounds so amazingly lovely!’
What happened was Andrea called a rigging specialist – no, he’s not a rigging specialist…he’s a world famous sailor, who happened to be sailing by teaching a group of 8 people about advanced skippering. Have you heard of Vittorio Malingri? If you haven’t, he’s one of the most respected sailors in the world. One of his accolades is sailing single handed around the world in the Vendèe Globe race. (The above picture is Vittorio and his amazing son, Nico)
My husband later relayed to me that Vittorio came into the busy harbor under sail and actually anchored without turning the engine on. I think when he left, he did so under the same conditions.
The guy is amazing
Anyway, Vittorio is friends with Andrea and even though he was teaching a course, he took a detour as we needed serious help. After a couple hours of going up and down the mast, a temporary solution was created HOWEVER, the work we had done on the mast in Malta and later in Catania, Sicily was inadequate.
It seems like we had ‘experts’ repair something that works for aluminum masts rather than carbon fiber masts…apparently, there’s a big difference. Carbon fiber is a rather new material in the sailing world so let this be a lesson if you have it – you need to find someone that knows about carbon fiber.
After Vittorio looked at the problem, he could see an easy solution and it wasn’t expensive
Vittorio explained however that the small thing could cause massive issues and even damage the rigging beyond repair. Apparently, we were very lucky to catch the issue now.
As you can imagine, I was now thinking WTF, WTF, WTF in a different manor
I was thinking, how the heck did we end up in this particular bay at this particular time to get access to the people we need that will help us most?!
Later, I discovered that Andrea is quite a busy person. He has seven boats lined up to do now, manages 70+ boats already and took us on simply because we knew Pierre. Apparently, Andrea gets flown all over the world by his clients because he actually does the right thing!
So, we’re now moored up next to Andrea in Preveza, Greece
For the past couple days another engineer comes and helps him take pieces and parts off
From what I’ve been told bits of our engine are in Athens now – I think our turbo is there being looked over. Other bits are being cleaned in some kind of solution. For all I know, our engine and generator are all over Greece.
And each day, Andrea teaches us how to take things off, what to do to service various items
He says, ‘Engines are very easy to look after. The main things to maintain are the fuel and water systems. If you keep on top of maintenance, engines will run forever.’ The picture below is Andrea teaching my husband how to solder some lose wires.
Yesterday, after a ½ hour of our Andrea ‘yelling’ at me for allowing our engines to be in such a bad state, he explained that he’s cleaned the generator – the outside. And that he’s going to clean the engine and repaint them. He then explained, ‘I will only clean your engines once. If you come back to me and they’re dirty, I will not help you!’ YIKES…
I swore up and down that hubby and I wouldn’t let him down.
What have I learned from all this and what advice can I pass to you?
- If you haven’t purchased a boat yet, find a marine engineer, above and beyond a surveyor, and pay them to tell you what condition the engine is. Get one through recommendations and let them know that they won’t be the engineer fixing the engine. Perhaps by saying so, they’ll have no ulterior motive. (Look how cynical I am?) Better yet, if you can find a marine engineer that lives on a boat (like Andrea), get them to look at your engine or engines!
- If you have a boat now and you’re not sure about the state of your engine, I urge you to pay for a recommended engineer to spend a week taking things off the engine (or engines) and looking at them. Learn how to check the water-cooling system. Know where the anodes are and how often to check/replace them. Learn how to take the injectors out and determine if they’re okay or not. All of these things are very simple now that I’ve been shown how to do it.
- If you pay for servicing, I recommend that you watch everything the engineers do. If the water-cooling/heat exchanger system does not come off the engine, there is a problem – it cannot be serviced while still attached! When I’m more knowledgeable about all the things that should be covered I’ll write a more comprehensive list for you. As it stands now, I’m only part way through my training.
- Above and beyond all the stuff about the engine, I think the largest lesson I’ve learned is to trust in the flow of life. I know that probably sounds corny, but by not having set plans, everything seems to sort itself out. My husband and I knew that we needed to sort our engines out but we didn’t know how. Amazingly, life had a way of bringing us to the best place at the best time!
Every day we wake up and have no idea what will unfold…and by doing so the most amazing experiences take place
I’m 100% confident that we’re getting the best job for our engines for the most amazing price possible. The universe seemed to deliver us here and we didn’t put obstacles in its way.
When we leave our mooring hubby and I will know the exact state our engines. We’ll have a calendar of all the maintenance checks and we’ll have confidence that our engines will see us around the world.
I have so much more to say about the amazing service that we’ve received thus far but I’ll dedicate that to another article. If you’re ever anywhere near the Ionian Islands and need amazing help with your rigging and/or engines, I cannot recommend enough Andrea, Vittorio and their team of engineers.