News From The Front

We finally managed to escape from Shelter Island!

A particularly poignant lesson I’ve learned in the past two weeks – well, technically I had already learned it once twice this summer, but apparently I’m either a sucker for punishment or a sucker for a “deal”.  The lesson is that – to borrow from Robert Asprin’s ‘Myth Adventures‘ series – when you think you’re getting a deal from a dock rat, you had better count your fingers, then your limbs, then your relatives.

“Dock rats” are people who live in the boatyard or on the dock, picking up cash contracts wherever they can.  Dock rats who charge cheap rates for carpentry or painting or engine work often do because they’ve got addiction problems, socialization problems, or are just straight-up incompetent, preventing them from working for reputable companies or starting their own.  In some cases it’s a combination of all three!

valve cover, showing the damage

Anyhow.  I was bitten three times at Shelter Island, hiring dock rats for labour – there were at least another three times that the work I hired them for was of excellent quality, but one carpentry job was botched utterly, one painting job went sour, and now finally my engine repair work has gone south.  The technical version?  When the guy reassembled my engine after replacing the head gasket, he didn’t tighten down a particular lock-nut properly, and within a couple of hours of use the engine vibrated the nut loose and eventually fired a push rod up and straight out the top of my valve cover!

On a good note, despite the fact that the engine is currently not running while I await delivery of the parts from Toronto (parts cost: $15.  “overnight” shipping: $85.  ouch, but it beats waiting two weeks…),  I feel very, very good about the engine!  When we removed the head to change out the head gasket, we found that whoever it was that last changed the head gasket actually installed the wrong gasket for the engine!

I’m sure 95% of you have no idea what it means to have the wrong head gasket installed – I didn’t know until very recently.  The short version?  The gasket was completely blocking the passages for the engine coolant, which finally explains my overheating symptoms.  Ah HAH!  Finally, a big, glaring reason for the problem that’s been plaguing me for a solid year!

"Two dollars. No receipt."

The repairs from here will be pretty easy.  I’ve had the main part done already; finding a guy to weld a patch into the cast-aluminum valve cover.  This wasn’t a problem in a blue-collar fishing town – asking around at the marine stores resulted in a list of seven local guys who could do the job, sorted by price and quality of work.  I chose a guy near the center of the list, and when Miya and I found him, he barely said three sentences to us from the time we explained the problem until the repaired piece was back in my hands.  I asked how much he wanted for his time, and he charged me a whopping two dollars.

The rest of the repairs I think I can handle myself, there’s not much to it.  I’ve picked up a set of feeler gauges; basically a set of strips of metal, each one a specific thickness.  I’ll use those to carefully adjust the rockers on the top of the engine to their specific gaps, and with any luck the engine will fire up and run smoothly.  I will still eventually have to convert the engine back to fresh water cooling, but I’m pretty confident that I can do that myself some weekend.

*sigh*.  Well, engine repairs aside, I am overjoyed to finally be back at anchor!  Miya and I limped into Steveston Harbour on Saturday night and we’ve spent the past few days anchored across from Steveston Landing, which is a lovely, quaint little “seaside boardwalk town”.  There are probably two hundred fishing boats at the public docks, then a fisherman’s wharf market flanked by retirement condos on all sides.  The first time I visited this neighborhood was a few months ago with Ernst, dropping off my diesel stove at Mariner’s Exchange, a consignment marine store – he mentioned that Steveston Landing was a really nice place to spend a day with the significant other, wandering around the docks, taking in the sights and having a nice meal.

Tie Fighter at anchor in Steveston Harbour

One milestone that might not seem like much to the casual observer but that really meant a lot to me – last night was the first night spent under the newly-installed LED anchor light – a legally-required white light at the top of the mast.  No big deal, right?  In the time I’ve been living aboard I’ve noticed that very few of the anchored boats have their anchor lights on at night.  As a result a lit anchor light at night has come to mean to me the difference between a well-appointed, properly-maintained sailboat under the command of a skipper with a good attention to detail and a… oh, I don’t know.  An unoccupied boat?  A derelict vessel?  A scofflaw?  I have always wanted to be one of the boats with their anchor light lit up at night, but between electrical problems and battery issues and just plain not having the light at the top of the mast… I haven’t ever been.  If I can help it, I will never spend another night at anchor without my light aglow.

The plan from here?  When the parts arrive, I will finish the engine repairs and Miya and I will head back to False Creek for a few weeks.  We’re hoping to sail on Saturday; we’re approximately 20nm from home, and if we make decent speed we can be back in Vancouver in about four hours.

One thought on “News From The Front”

  1. I know about incorrectly installed gaskets. My Nova blew a gasket and a family friend helped install a new one. He didn’t have the right one, so he too another one he had and flipped it on backwards to fit, and cut a chunk out of it to make it right. Fortunately, it didn’t die before I got rid of the car! That car was crap from start to end.


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