Fuel Filter analysis

Cutting open the fuel filter led to an unpleasant discovery. However, first we need to discuss the structure of a fuel filter.

There is an external metal shell inside of which the actual filter sits. At one end of the shell is the top and in the flat top is a series of holes – small ones in a circle surrounding a larger threaded one in the center.

Fuel enters the filter shell through the smaller holes. Inside they go through a corrugated filter (corrugated so there’s more surface area) into the center of the filter, which is hollow. The fuel goes up the center, hollow, section and out the bigger hole in the top and thence onwards through the fuel system. Marine diesels generally have two of these filters – the primary and the secondary. The secondary filters out what gets through the primary filter.

I brought the secondary filter home with me after it was changed during the Mechanical Inspection, and cut it open with a dremel tool.

What we found was that the inner core was severely rusted, which indicates that there was significant amounts of water over a long period of time in the center of the filter. Since there is nothing between this filter and the engine to prevent it, that means there’s been water in the engine too. Despite being a marine diesel, they do not like water in them. They want to stay dry.

The other bad news was that there was significant blow by on one of the cylinders. This means that the piston isn’t sealing against the cylinder wall correctly and stuff is getting past it, indicating damage to the piston, the piston rings, or the cylinders themselves. Unfortunately, without opening up the engine, we can’t tell how much damage has been done to it at all, meaning we’re taking some risk in buying the boat. The engine might work fine for years or it might die tomorrow. Fixing it could be a few hundred dollars, six thousand dollars, or need complete replacing at about twenty thousand dollars, plus labour.

We’ll wait for the results of the marine survey and then talk to the seller and see if we can come to an agreement about who shoulders how much risk. Worst case is that we walk away from the deal, though I’m hoping that doesn’t happen.

Tasks for today

Due to the short time frame in taking possession of the boat, we can’t stop working on things. Today’s “To-Do” list consists of cutting open the extracted secondary fuel filter to examine it for rust and then beginning the search for some place to keep her, long-term.

Normally I’d use a hacksaw to open the fuel filter but since I lack one of those, it’s going to be a Dremel tool with a cutting wheel on it. This should be an interesting experience.

Fuel Filter

Basically, I’ll be cutting the end off of it (the end facing us in the picture) and then examining the side of it we can’t see, that’s close to that center (big) hole. I’ll be mainly looking for rust, but also examining it for any other oddities that might indicate that things were in the fuel that shouldn’t be, and that they were making it into the engine.

After that will come phoning around to the various marinas looking for a place to keep our new boat. This is about as easy as finding on-the-street parking in New York City. I had hoped the search would be made a bit less difficult by easing COVID restrictions but, unfortunately, yesterday had the restrictions tightened. Still, there’s nothing to do except keep on plugging away.

We’re following multiple lines of attack on this problem, though, ranging from sub-leasing moorage from someone who is intending on being away for a bit, to joining yacht clubs (which isn’t a bad idea all on its own). We’ll see what comes of it all!

Tomorrow, the boat will be hauled out of the water so that it’s sitting high and dry for the marine inspection (which I intend to attend) on Friday. Later Friday, it will be refloated and then the current owner will be taking it back to its home port at the Vancouver Rowing Club. Some time next week will be the sea trial in which we get to see how well she actually sails and operates in the “real” marine environment.

And then there’s paying for all these inspections. The mechanical inspection yesterday cost us approximately $800.00. Tomorrow’s marine survey and haul out will come to about $2,000.00, and we’re out that money even if we decide against buying the boat. Darn boat is expensive even before we own her!

Mechanical Inspection!!!

This afternoon was the Mechanical Inspection for our potential new (to us) boat. The mechanical inspection is an evaluation of the motor (and motor-attached) things such as the transmission.

It should be said that any used (and even new) sailboat there’s going to be problems. There’s no such thing as a pristine and perfect sailboat. That’s just the nature of the beast. You take something made of metal and fiberglass and gears and electricity and you put it into one of the most hostile environments, there’s going to be problems.

Nevertheless, the mechanical inspection is giving me a bit of pause. You see diesel engines don’t like water. They really don’t like salt water. They especially don’t like salt water inside of them, thank you very much.

Unfortunately, during mechanical inspection, it was discovered that there was water in the primary fuel filter. A lot of water. Following along, we again found water in the secondary fuel filter, which is the last guardian before the engine itself. So, did water pass through the secondary filter and get into the engine? If so, how much? The engine can tolerate a bit of water as it simply turns it into steam and expels it, but more than trace amounts is Not Goodtm.

We (don’t you like how I’m taking part of the credit even though I was simply a passive recording device) found that there is a fair amount of blow-by on at least one cylinder. In an engine, there are the pistons that go up and down in the piston shaft. These pistons need to make a seal with the shaft so that the stuff it’s compressing (fuel and air mixed together) don’t just go around the piston and refise to be compressed. if the piston does not make a seal, then fuel and air leak around the piston. This leakage is “blow by”.

There were other things too, but those are the ones that cause me the most concern as they indicate problems inside the engine. Still, we’ll have to wait for the official report before making any decisions. At the least, though, it’s likely we’ll have to negotiate the price on the boat again. Argh!

Now the hard part starts

It’s taken us more than 6 months of looking, but we’ve finally gone and bought a boat.

Well, Ok, it’s not technically ours yet.  However we made an offer on it and it’s been accepted, so the process of actually buying it has started.  We have, essentially, formally stated that we wish to buy it from the current owner and he has, essentially, formally stated that he wishes to sell it to us.  There’s more legalese involved, but that’s the basics of it.

So what is next?  Next is a whole raft (no pun intended) of things to do.  Obviously we have to finish off the purchasing process.  That requires a marine survey, a mechanical survey, and a sea trial.

What is a Marine Survey?

When you buy a house, you generally have a home inspection.  This is where you have a professional come in and inspect the house for defects, flaws, and problems.  The idea is that the inspector is working for you and, therefore, has a vested interest in finding all the problems and potential problems so that you know the condition of the house you are buying.

A marine survey is very much the same thing except that the thing being inspected is a boat rather than a house.  The survey consists of lifting the boat out of the water so that the bottom can be inspected, then going over everything with a fine-toothed comb.  At the end, the surveyor gives you the results.  At this point you can either say that you accept the boat or that the survey has found something that has you concerned.  You might then negotiate a new price, accept the boat the way it is, agree for the owner or purchaser to fix it, or you might walk away from the deal.

The mechanical survey is similar except that it’s all about the engine only.

What is a sea trial?

It’s a chance to take the boat out and see how it actually performs.  At the same time you want to turn on everything on the boat, check everything while it’s sailing, run the engine, run the water, run the heater, run the radar, the navigation system, the radios, inspect everything for leaks, and also get a bit of a briefing on how the boat works.

Once again, at this point, you have the option of accepting the boat as it is, walking away from it, negotiating a new price, or agreeing that one or the other of you will fix any deficiencies.  Of course, if you open the negotiation again, the seller has some of the same options as you.

But that’s only the beginning!!

Non-Sale related things

You need a place to keep the boat.  This involves finding “moorage” at a dock.  In these times, moorage is scarce and difficult to find.  This is no small task!

You need to obtain insurance.  Just like a car, the boat needs, at a minimum, a liability insurance in case you do something like hit another boat.  Given the cost of boats, you probably also want some sort of loss or damage insurance for you as well.

These are probably going to be the two biggest tasks in the coming weeks before we take possession of the boat in late April.