So what’s wrong with the motor?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since poor Sanitas limped into the Sainte Anne anchorage under sail. Capt. Mike tried all the troubleshooting options. He changed the fuel filters and air filter, cleaned the prop, and checked for diesel sludge in the fuel tank. (Did you know that microorganisms – bacteria, yeast, and fungi – thrive in diesel if water is present? And when they eventually die, they sink to the bottom of the fuel tanks, creating a sludge that can clog the fuel lines and filters? Yuck!) All of our sailing friends gave advice, either in person or via WhatsApp chats. Eventually, it grew so complicated keeping track of all of the advice and all of the options, that I brushed off my old project management tool kit and drew up a fishbone diagram to keep track of it all. Mike was convinced the problem was simply hard growth on the prop. (although this sounded less and less plausible each time he explained his reasoning) I was convinced it was a problem with the throttle cable, which the Captain had coincidentally recently adjusted. Nope and nope. And through it all, Sanitas was a cloud of messy chaos – tools everywhere, the stairs pulled out, the engine compartment exposed, everything a mess.

After about a week of this, our friend Dave on Boorie came over to help out. It’s great to know a guy with a diesel mechanics background! Dave and Capt Mike put their heads together, poked and prodded the guts of our Yanmar 4JH2E, read the manual, and came up with a diagnosis. They determined that we were running on three out of four cylinders, and that the fuel injector pump was not putting fuel out to cylinder number four. That’s about all I’m going to say about that because I am NOT a diesel mechanic. It felt like progress to finally understand the problem, although I was disappointed to learn that it was not something we could repair ourselves.

We decided to slowly and carefully move Sanitas from the Sainte Anne anchorage into the Le Marin marina where we’d pick up a mooring ball until we could get the engine fixed. We’d be closer to all of the chandleries and repair shops, and if we took the motor completely apart, hopefully we’d be safer in the protected cul de sac, on a well-maintained mooring than out in the high winds. We made our move right at sunrise, when the winds were at their lightest, and picked up a ball before the marina office even opened for the day. Le Marina marina is HUGE! And very busy. The sailboat charter business has definitely recovered from the pandemic here in Martinique. The marina is surrounded by grocery stores, restaurants, chandleries, and repair shops. We figured we’d have no problem finding a technician for our engine here.

View of the mooring field from Creve Cœur

Well, we were wrong. Capt. Mike overcame the language barrier and visited each of the recommended engine shops. Every time, he was told “We can’t do that repair. We don’t have the testing equipment to guarantee the work to Yanmar’s standards. Sorry” Well now what? True, we are a sail boat, so we can travel without the motor. But “safety third!” I would not feel comfortable taking on a long passage without a working engine. I have to admit, I was feeling a touch of despair. But we took advantage of the cruisers’ network and found the phone numbers for a couple of smaller mechanic shops. Our friend Chantal who is a native French speaker helped us with the phone calls. And we FINALLY found someone who agreed to come to Sanitas…in two weeks! Wow, that really requires some patience. The bad part of a busy marina means the few qualified diesel engine mechanics are in very high demand.

Fast forward two weeks. We finally had monsieur from Mecabat come over to Sanitas and then spent 3.5 hours (and a LOT of sighing, grunting, and French swearing) to take an alarming portion of our engine apart. He kept telling us “This system – is very bizarre! Very bizarre!” I found it too stressful to even watch, but Capt. Mike helped provide him with tools and watched and learned. So now we are back in the waiting game. The fuel injector pump has been delivered to a garage for servicing. We are supposed to hear back with some news in about a week. There has been no estimate of cost yet. Gulp. But at least we finally have an expert involved and made a tiny bit of forward progress. Wish us luck!

I hope we remember where all the parts go!

6 thoughts on “So what’s wrong with the motor?

  1. Jeepers! This reminds me so much of life with dad when he purchased a new, old boat with Diesel engines. He could always work on gasoline vehicle‘s but it 60 something enrolled himself and diesel mechanic school so that he could learn how to work on these two engines. Golliday. His teacher, once he had completed the class said that he was one hell of a mechanic but a huge pain in the ass because of all the questions he asked slowing everybody down. The interesting thing was though that his was the only engine that turned over first time when the class was finished. He was one smart guy and yes, one hell of a mechanic. He was also a terrific engineer that held patents. I miss him and our trips terribly. Thank you so much for the memories. Love you two!


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  2. I’m sure you’ll figure out what I mean to say. Speech to text is just not working for me lately, or actually ever. ?????

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