Sunday, February 5, 2012

Boat boondocking

Boondocking is an RV term that refers to parking somewhere in the boonies.  We like having services like power and water but we also enjoy being out in the boonies on occasion.  Most of the time we spend at Quartzsite is boondocking time.  Even when we join the GM/Eagle rally in Quartzsite we might as well be boondocking because there are no services at the rally site.

This morning we woke up at the crack of noon in Plumper Cove.  It was still morning but barely so when I tried to start the generator.  I preheated it and turned it over – nothing.  The next time I carefully preheated it for a full half minute but still no joy on the starting.  Next step – down into the engine room for two hours – yet again no joy. 

No generator left us in a pretty pickle.  Our barbeque crapped out a couple of days ago – nothing serious – it just needs a new burner tube – but its hors de combat until we get to West Marine or Stevestons.  Other than the barbeque Gray Hawk is a 100% electric boat when it comes to cooking so we were kind of helpless without a generator.  We decided we would come up Howe Sound anyway, find Bruce, have a quick visit and tomorrow we would cross the Strait back to Cow Bay where I could deal with the generator in the comfort of an electrified moorage.  On the way up Howe Sound we would be able to warm up some dinner with power from the main engines. 

So we headed off up Howe Sound looking for Bruce.  Bruce is the fellow we met at Plumper Cove last winter.  He lives on a work-in-progress sailboat.  We had expected to see him again at Plumper Cove and in fact that is largely why we went there.  I’m thinking about buying a used canvas winter cover that was originally made for a sailboat and is now for sale (cheap) on  If we were to buy it then we would need someone who could alter it to fit Gray Hawk and Bruce just happens to have several sewing machines onboard.  More importantly he knows how to use them.  Bruce wasn’t at Plumper Cove but some powerboaters from Vancouver stopped in for a barbeque on the dock and when we got talking it turned out that one of them knew Bruce and knew where he was spending the winter.  Which is how we found ourselves headed up Howe Sound this morning with no way to make a hot meal but nevertheless in search of a runaway bluenoser in a homemade sailboat.

When we got to McNab Creek sure enough, there was Bruce’s mastless sailboat tied to the inside of the remains of a logging float.  So we pulled up to the outside of the float and pretty soon Bruce appeared to greet us and help handle our lines.  After a bit of a reunion I couldn’t resist going back below to have another go at the generator.  As I have told neophyte diesel owners countless times, a diesel engine is about the simplest piece of machinery known.  If it will turn over and it has fuel then it should run.  A gas engine needs spark and it needs good fuel, properly carbureted and it generally needs a host of things to come together in order for it to run.  A diesel should run if it turns over rapidly and has fuel delivered to the injectors.  I can’t abide having a piece of equipment that I know isn’t working so I headed below for round two more or less as soon as we got tied up at McNabb Creek.

I had already changed the fuel filters, despite thinking that wasn’t really the problem.  I had loosened the lines at the injectors and it seemed like there was fuel getting to the injectors but it didn’t seem that it was spurting out the way it should when the engine rolled over.  This morning I ran out of generator battery to do much further troubleshooting but by the time we got to McNabb Creek the battery was fully charged again.  Our Onan has a lift pump ahead of the main injector pump and when I got looking in our stock of spares it turned out that we had two spare lift pumps.  It seemed to make sense that if we had two spare lift pumps then they might be a known problem so that pointed to possibly needing to change the lift pump.  At the same time it just didn’t seem logical that the lift pump could be the problem.  On an RV or truck installation the lift pump has to deliver fuel from the tanks which are generally mounted lower than the generator.  On the boat the fuel actually flows to the generator under head pressure so it didn’t make sense that the lift pump could be the problem.  However when I was able to troubleshoot the system it was clear that the lift pump wasn’t forcing fuel to the injector pump.  There was fuel flowing when I took the line off at the injector pump but it didn’t shoot out the way I expected it to. 

So with very little enthusiasm I set about changing the lift pump.  I’ve always believed that more is lost by inaction than the wrong action but its hard to work up any enthusiasm for a project that you are pretty certain is a goose chase.   Of course everything is awkward to get at and I couldn’t see what I was doing half the time which only served to heighten the sense of futility.  I didn’t use my big trouble light because it would have meant running the inverter and therefore drawing down the precious battery power that we needed to preserve in order to do everything else we might want to do if we were stuck for the night with no generator.  So I was reduced to doing everything by flashlight if it happened to be in a dark spot, which was where most of the work seemed to be.  Getting the old pump out was no big deal but getting the new one back in place without having the gasket slide out of alignment was a major challenge. 

If you’ve read this far then you likely can guess that when I hit the starter after getting everything tightened back up and after bleeding all the lines the generator started right up like it never had even hiccupped.  So tonight we’re tied to the remains of a logging float at McNabb Creek with a bonfire on the beach.  Thank you George (and all the previous owners) for the extensive stock of spares you had onboard.  Tomorrow I’ll clean up the mess I left in the engine room but tonight we’ll roast smokies over an open fire on the beach under a full moon.  Life is good.


With ample generator power available and an internet connection thanks to a long run of siamese coax to the shore we have decided to spend a few more days here in McNabb Creek.  Today I hauled both our crab traps and got a couple of keepers for supper.  The traps are back at work so perhaps by tomorrow night we’ll have some frozen crab meat again.  If I get really ambitious maybe I’ll drop a prawn trap as well but they fish in really deep water here so I’m not keen on hauling those by hand.

Bruce is appreciating our generator so part of the reason for staying a little longer is to let him have longer access to our 110 volt power.  He lives a pretty minimalist existence – not entirely by choice – so the little we can do to help him feels good.  He bought one of those cheapo Chinese diesel gensets – the kind that I was sorely tempted to buy – and it did exactly what I expected it would – crapped out after about 6 hours of use.  He’s been salvaging logs and splitting them with wedges but he needs power to finish sawing them.  We’ve got a tour scheduled to see what he is doing with all the lumber he is sawing with the benefit of our power.  Tomorrow maybe I’ll post about using a Hughes tripod dish from a boat.

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