Well, That Could Have Gone Better.


This morning I awoke to a gorgeous, sunny day, an obvious sign that my move out of False Creek would go smoothly.  Of course, I neglected to check on the phase of the moon or something and it all went horribly pear shaped – I am currently still at anchor in False Creek, about 500m west of my previous anchorage.  I’ve been sitting around doing dayjob work and waiting for the VPD to show up so I can tell them my sob story and pray they don’t issue me a fine or tow me.

This morning I cooked a big breakfast, checked in on work stuff, and prepared Tie Fighter for the grand exit.  I fired up the engines – she started (almost) right away!  I pulled the anchor; no small task, with months of False Creek grime and growth along the full length of the rode, and noticeably heavier due to the addition of a thick steel cable that I dragged up from the bottom also.  The ocean floor of False Creek has a legacy of a hundred years of industrial garbage.

I motored away from my anchorage, a bit nervous, and made it about 200m west before I heard a strange ‘clunk’ and the engine started making a new and different noise – nothing huge, but a perceivable shift, and that’s never a good thing.  I went down and checked out the engine compartment, and I could hear a bit of a noise but couldn’t see anything out of place.  I later discovered that the secondary water pump – which wasn’t hooked up, but which I had bolted loosely to the engine “just to get it out of the way” – had shaken loose of its mounts and was resting against the beltwheel of the primary water pump, grinding into the bronze housing of the pump.

I went back up to the cockpit and throttled up, and things went smoothly for about five minutes – I could almost see the Granville Bridge, and I figured I could dock there and sort any further problems out before making my way out into English Bay.  No such luck; within another minute I felt the engine power drop suddenly, and I saw smoke begin to pour into the cockpit via the engine compartment vent.  I immediately throttled down, dove below and opened the engine compartment hatch, only to be met by a cloud of black smoke.  I killed the engine and waved the smoke away looking for signs of fire, ready to jump for the fire extinguisher at the first sign of flickering yellow and orange.  Fortunately there were no flames, just thick, black smoke pouring out of the dark engine compartment.  I thought at first that perhaps I had over- or under-tightened a belt, but as I looked closer I realized that there was a gaping hole melted into the side of the brand-new water trap I had just installed, and the plastic elbows in the exhaust line had both melted beyond recognition.  $@&%!  The smoke was a combination of diesel exhaust and scorched plastic.

With no engine, floating free in the shipping lanes of False Creek, I was in a bit of a bind.  I threw out my anchor and got on my VHF radio.

“Vancouver Coast Guard Radio, Vancouver Coast Guard Radio, this is Tie Fighter, Tie Fighter, over.”

“Station calling Vancouver Coast Guard Radio, go ahead, over…”

I outlined the situation – normally the Coast Guard would recommend me contact a towing company, but given that I was about 500m from their station I thought it might be worth a try giving them a call.  About ten minutes later they showed up and offered me a tow, which I gladly accepted.  They tied the massive Coast Guard zodiac – the ‘Kitsilano 1’ – to the port side of Tie Fighter and towed me the 150m or so to the nearby anchorage, where I dropped my anchor.  I thanked them and sat down to give them all the information needed for their incident report.  They left me a copy of the report, so that I can present it to the VPD when they come knocking next.

Anyhow – the long and the short of it is that my exhaust system has been malfunctioning for a while, and now I am 95% certain the problem is in something called a “raw water injection elbow”.  The elbow is where seawater that has been used to cool the engine is injected into the exhaust system, cooling down the exhaust and ejecting the warm seawater from the boat.  These elbows apparently only last about five years, and lacking a decent record of maintenance on my engine, I have absolutely no idea when the last time mine was replaced.

End result?  I’m still in False Creek, albeit closer to the Granville Bridge.  A new water trap is about $330 (I know this well, having just bought one last week, argh), a new injector elbow is $390, the connecting bit which may need to be replaced is about $120 and the replacement exhaust elbows are about $35 each.  Instead of moving on with my great adventure, I’m now out about a thousand bucks and have a bunch of engine work ahead of me.

Someday.  SOMEDAY this engine will be stable and reliable!