For Want of a Hose…

So here we are, almost a week later, and still in Savusavu, Fiji.

Last Friday it went according to plan. Mostly. We got up and had breakfast, went to the market, cleared out of customs and spent all but the last $1.60 of our Fijian money. We set off around 2:30 in the afternoon and started motoring out to sea.

Before we left we’d found and fixed (we thought) a couple of problems. One of them was a big pool of oil under the engine.

Some of you may recall we had serious oil leak problems on the way to Fiji. The was disconcerting since we had a lot of work on the engine before we left New Zealand and the engine was supposed to be set. On the way to Fiji we thought we’d figured out why the oil was leaking and stopped it.

Over the coming months I had checked the oil and added a little a couple of times. More than we used to add (which was basically none) but not huge volumes. The space under the engine was a mess again after the trip, which made spotting leaks more difficult.

After draining the oil out and changing it last week before departure, I noticed there was of oil under the engine. Quite a lot of oil. It had been leaking out still, but we hadn’t been moving much or running the engine often enough to catch it happening. Once again I tightened the clamps on the dipstick and checked the crankcase breather hose for blocks and kinks, then finished my oil change. Kathy cleaned the oil and water out from under the engine so we could more easily see any leaks. I started the engine, ran it for ten minutes and detected no leaks. Excellent!

Back to last Friday. Sailors have a superstition about leaving port on Fridays, it’s supposed to be back luck. Leaving port on a Friday the 13th might also fall into the “bad luck” category.  But so what? I’m not superstitious, the weather window was right, the boat was ready, so we left.

About twenty minutes into our trip Kathy suggested we should check the engine to make sure there were no oil leaks or problems. What she found was that oil was bubbling out of the dipstick at the top of the engine. Lots of oil, coming out quite quickly. The wind had picked up, so we put up a single sail to keep the boat moving while I went below to have a look.

What I found was oil coming out of the engine again. With the engine heated up and running at speed we were indeed losing oil out of the dipstick hole. After fiddling around and trying a few things I concluded that the problem was a block in the crankcase breather hose. When I disconnected the hose, the oil oozing stopped. When I re-connected it again…presto, the oil started coming out.

The crankcase breather hose is not necessary for the engine to run. It’s function is to allow any pressure in the crankcase to escape. The fumes, hot air, and misted oil though will make a mess in the engine room and could be dangerous if carbon monoxide accumulates. So a hose is run from a fitting on the valve cover back to the air filter so the oil and fume exhaust laden air can get sucked back into the engine. My main safety concern running off shore without the hose in place was carbon monoxide and exhaust getting into the cabin. Also, it would make a mess.

We decided that we needed to sort this out so we were comfortable. At least we needed to find a jury rig to hold safely until we got back to New Zealand and could get it handled permanently. Time was running out on us though, the Customs and Immigration offices closed in the afternoon and we needed to re-enter the country and get our paperwork straightened out. Fortunately, we reached them by cell phone and they agreed to wait for us and to reverse our clearance back in so it would be like we never left.

This is not a large hose.

This is not a large hose.

My working hypothesis is the breather hose got replaced in New Zealand when the engine was out, and the new one is too small. I tried to blow through it and it was nearly impossible. The inner diameter of the hose is less than 4mm – less than one half the cross sectional area of the factory part.. The fitting on the valve cover the hose comes out of is 3/4″ in size, and that has a step down covering that takes it to a 1/4″ hose. But this little hose has pretty thick sides. The air flow wasn’t high enough to bleed off the pressure, and the back pressure was pushing the oil out and making the engine difficult to start. With the hose disconnected the oil didn’t leak, and the engine started normally. Ergo the hose is the problem.

The real reason sailors don’t leave on Friday? Because if you have to come back with a problem almost nothing is open until Monday. Saturday morning the hardware stores and gas stations were open until noon. I went to seven different shops before noon on Saturday, not one of them had a hose anything like what I needed. There were hoses, but none that could take the heat of engine exhaust without melting. By noon everything was closing up here and in New Zealand and Australia where I might need to call for parts. Basically, we had to sit on our hands until Monday. There’s usually a practical reason behind a superstition.

Come Monday, after a lengthy conversation with the folks that did the engine work in New Zealand I arrived at a possible solution. All I needed was a hose. A bigger hose would do, any hose that I could run from the breather fitting to the air filter, so long as it was bigger than the one I had. A friend came up with a possible hose for me, and I went into town again looking for a new hose with different parameters.  Instead of replacing the old hose with one the same size, I wanted any hose that I could figure out how to jury rig on to the valve cover and air filter.

Eventually I found a 3/8″ hose at a hardware store. I realized I should be able to fit this over the step down adapter instead of inside it like the tiny hose did. After puzzling the other end over for a while and considering cutting a large hole in the air filter case to slip the hose into I came up with a better solution. I used some stainless steel seizing wire wrapped around the hose, then threaded into the intake grating and tightened down to hold it in place.

The clever, and larger, replacement hose.

The clever, and larger, replacement hose.

This morning, to be extra sure, we took the boat out for a spin. We ran the engine up hard and at least as long as before we found the leaks Friday. It all held – no oil leaks, and no fumes and exhaust in the engine room.

So we’re good to go once again and are planning to leave on the 18th of November (our date here in Fiji, the 17th back home). With luck it will take us a week and we’ll be in New Zealand in time for the Thanksgiving dinner at the Opua Cruising Club.

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