After leaving St. Augustine, our next planned multi-day stop was Vero Beach. We left early on December 29th, anchoring in a place known as the Cement Factory and at Callilisa Creek the next night.
On New Year’s Eve we were motored down Mosquito Lagoon and then the Indian River. Although the forecast had called for 10-15 knots, we were instead getting a steady 20-25 knots, right on the nose. The water was rather choppy and the channel was narrow with depths of about 2 feet right outside.
Because there are never any engine issues in calm conditions with plenty of room all around (it’s always in rough water, or when you’re going through a narrow cut with rocks on either side, or trying to dock), at that moment the RPM’s on the engine dropped, almost to the point of stalling. Almost as quickly as it had dropped, it went back up again. A few minutes later, it dropped again, but not quite as severely as the first time. Once our heart rate returned to semi-normal, we decided to siphon our remaining diesel from the jerry jug into the tank on the off chance the choppy water was interrupting the diesel flow from the tank.
The RPM’s stayed steady for the rest of the trip, but we found ourselves pondering what the issue could be. I mentioned to Jeff that the last few days when we started the engine the RPM’s had dropped a bit before settling in. Maybe it was connected somehow?
The wind was still blowing hard as we anchored by the bridge in Cocoa, FL. Not the most scenic area, but Jay from S/V Minx had mentioned at Cumberland Island that bridges were helpful for blocking in the wind in flat areas such as Florida. He was right, and we enjoyed finally being in a flat, less windy spot. Now we needed to try to figure out what was going on with the engine.
I posted on a recreational marine diesel engine Facebook group that I belonged to, along with Women Who Sail and the Bristol Sailboat owners Facebook page. The unanimous consensus was to start with the easiest thing first – changing the fuel filters. Having never done this before, it was going to be interesting. We pulled out our manuals, hopped on the internet, and got to work.
Changing the filters was actually pretty easy, but after that we were going to need to bleed the engine to get the air out of it. Bleeding the engine involves loosening a nut on the primary fuel filter and flicking a small lever on the engine for what feels like forever until diesel with no bubbles starts coming out of the nut. Then you repeat the process with the secondary fuel filter. We had tried to do this once before with Thumper to no avail, eventually calling our mechanic and paying dearly for it. This time we were going to be on our own, with our previous experience doing absolutely nothing to boost our confidence.
Jeff sat down, stuck his head in the engine compartment, found the lever, and started flicking. He flicked and flicked and flicked. Nothing was happening. I gave it a try. Flick, flick, flick. At this point it had been almost an hour, and still nothing. I posted again on Women Who Sail, and luckily our friend Anita from S/V Lone Star saw the post and texted us.
Tom and Anita gave us a call from their anchorage in the Bahamas and Tom gave us an excellent tip for getting the fuel through the primary filter. Typically you would fill it with diesel to begin with, but that wasn’t an option for us since we had used the last of the diesel in the jerry jug earlier that day. Oops. Tom suggested detaching the hose leading from the filter to the engine, and then using a manual pump to suck fuel through the filter and into the hose. At that point we would know there wasn’t any air in the primary filter. It worked like a charm, so we turned our attention to bleeding the air out of the secondary fuel filter.
We opened the nut on top of the filter and began flicking the lever once again. We flicked and flicked. Then we flicked and flicked and flicked and flicked some more. It was New Year’s Eve, fireworks were going off outside, and we had our heads in the engine compartment flicking and flicking a little lever. Jeff attached a hemostat to the lever to give us something more to grab onto, and we flicked some more. Nothing. At 11:30 p.m. we gave up and decided to try again in the morning.
Shortly after we woke up the next morning my phone pinged. This time it was Marcia from S/V Cutting Class, fellow Shenny members. Like S/V Lone Star, she had also seen my post on Women Who Sail and was texting us from an anchorage in the Bahamas. Her husband Dan called and spoke to Jeff, giving him some very helpful tips and suggestions. We opened up the engine compartment, assumed our seated position, and began to flick the lever again.
After half an hour it felt like there was a bit of diesel on my fingers, but we couldn’t see anything coming out. We flicked and flicked some more. After another half hour we were getting very frustrated when Jeff suddenly noticed that there was diesel all over the oil diaper that we had set under the engine. Closer inspection revealed that diesel had been coming out from the nut, but on the rear side where we couldn’t see it. Judging from the amount of diesel on the diaper, it had been squirting out ever since I had felt a bit on my fingers. Doh! Our frustration with ourselves was greatly outweighed, however, by our excitement at finally being finished with this task!
We weren’t sure whether we should also open the nut on the injectors to bleed some more, so we called Tom from S/V Lone Star. He suggested we try to start the engine without dealing with the injectors. If it didn’t start, we just needed to restart the bleeding process and now that we knew what we were doing (kind of), that wouldn’t be so bad.
We crossed our fingers and started the engine. It ran for a few seconds and stopped. We tried again. Same result. Third time proved to be a charm though! It started and kept running. After 15 minutes were felt confident that it wasn’t going to stop, so we high-fived each other, texted Lone Star and Cutting Class to thank them for their help and let them know we were on our way again, and posted our success on the various Facebook pages. It took a village of people in both the U.S. and the Bahamas, but we had successfully changed our fuel filters and bled the engine. Yay!
Raising the anchor, we continued on without Big Red skipping a beat. Destination – Vero Beach!