Trials and Tribulations

The mechanic at Dockside Marina in Carrabelle did an excellent job getting Beach House back in operation. After our 4-hour tow back to the marina from the Gulf of Mexico, and a quick phone call to the mechanic, Eric arrived early the next morning. We were concerned with letting the engine sit, even overnight, with water in the cylinders and oil pan. There wasn't much that could be done about it on such short notice and just getting someone on board by the next day was better than we expected. Not knowing how serious the problem was made for a fitful sleep that evening. Whenever something like this happens, you always expect the absolute worse and have expectations of major expense and delay. When you live on your boat full time and don't have a place to go ashore when these things happen, it makes the anxiety even stronger.

The next morning Eric arrived bright and early. After a blow by blow of the description of the previous day, he quickly diagnosed the probable culprit and immediately went to work purging the water from the engine. First the cylinders needed to be cleared so we could get the starter to turn things over. With the Ford Lehman hydrolocked, there was no turning things over either by hand or with the starter. The valve cover was removed and as I turned the engine over using a large wrench on the front of the engine, Eric opened the exhaust valve for each cylinder. The engine was turned over by hand until it stopped and then we moved on to the next cylinder. This was done over and over until all the cylinders were cleared and the engine easily turned over. Next we turned the engine over using the starter, but without actually starting while adding oil over the valves. Finally the engine was allowed to start for a very short period of time. It was getting late so that was all we did the first day.

Next morning the head was removed and our suspicions were confirmed. The head gasket had failed at a fresh water port and allowed the compression to force the water out of the system when the engine was running. Then, when it was shut down and the intake valves opened, water was drawn into the cylinders. It wasn't a major breach of the head gasket, but enough. With the head removed, the cylinders were flushed with transmission fluid. That was allowed to sit and soak in past the rings. Then oil was poured into the cylinders and again the engine was turned by hand. This was then allowed to sit until the head was returned and the new head gasket arrived. In the meantime, the oil was pumped out of the pan using our oil changer system. This draws from the bottom of the sump so about a gallon of water came out before we finally started seeing only oil. The oil changer has always made changing the oil much easier, but under these circumstances, it made the process much cleaner and go much faster than if it had to be done with one of the manual pumps.

The head went out to a machine shop to be checked for warping and any possible cracks or failures. Fortunately, the report was good and no damage had been done. A new gasket kit arrived with a head gasket, exhaust manifold gasket and thermostat gasket. At the same time, a new thermostat and cap for the fresh water tanks was also ordered and replaced. We weren't taking any chances. Once everything was reassembled, the engine crankcase was filled with a combination of diesel and transmission fluid. It was run for just a moment with this concoction. Before starting, we filled the fresh water system with water and a gallon of white vinegar. The diesel transmission mix was removed from the engine and 3 gallons of oil added. The engine was started once again and allowed to run for a few minutes to work the oil into the rings, etc. and get the water vinegar mix circulating in the fresh water system. It was wonderful to hear the engine running and sounding normal. But we were far from finished.

The mechanic had done his part and the rest was up to us. The vinegar sat in the fresh water system for a couple of days. On the first flush, it was amazing how much stuff came out. Lots of what looked like mud, rust colored water and other things we couldn't identify. The fresh water system was flushed with clean water almost 10 times before we finally saw clear, clean water. Once that point was reached, a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and distilled water was added. The oil still showed some water so we did two more oil changes using the cheapest oil we could find. The engine was run up to temperature each time between changes. The third oil change did not show any water so we were satisfied. The only thing left to do was to take the boat out for a seatrial and run it hard to be sure we had the problem solved and that there was no other internal damage that we missed. Little did we know...

It took about a week before we were able to do the seatrial. In the meantime the boat was run at the slip and in gear for a couple of hours. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Finally, a break in the weather and a break in our schedule brought the perfect day to get out of the slip and run out to the sound. We pulled out of the marina about midday and headed downriver. Several checks of the engine room showed all was well and the engine sounded good. There was no smoke or any problems that showed up in the exhaust. It took about 45 minutes to an hour to reach East Pass where we could exit the sound and head out into the Gulf of Mexico. We poked our nose out in the Gulf and turned back around quickly. We didn't want to be caught in the Gulf if we had a problem; the seas were a little lumpy and the wind was picking up.

As Beach House turned back into the sound, but while we were still near the pass, we popped open the engine room hatch. To our surprise and dismay, a large puddle of oil was lying under the engine. Climbing down in the engine room revealed that a sending unit on the side of the engine was leaking and not just a drip. The engine was immediately shut down to see if there was a quick repair we could do. At this point, we were drifting around near east pass with strong currents and lots of shoals all around. The oil was leaking, but not so much that we were in danger of loosing all the oil. Tightening the sender did not slow the leak and we didn't have a replacement. A plastic pan was placed under the leak and we started the engine and headed back toward the marina. It took about an hour to get back and a quart of oil was added while underway to make up for what was lost. Finally, the boat was secured back in the slip. This wasn't the seatrial we expected, but the good news was that after 2 hours of running, the engine showed no signs of additional problems from the first repair. Now we had to deal with this leak. In retrospect, a relatively minor issue.


  1. You have no idea how much your posts are helping me. I have inherited a lovely old 43 foot Kauri Bridgedecker Launch 1947, with a ford the same as yours, your posts have given me a lot of confidence and helped trouble shoot some issues, thank you. Peter - New Zealand.

    1. Peter, We're very happy that the Blog has been helpful. That's why we do it. Chuck

  2. Chuck and Susan,

    What top notch maritime educators you are! THANKS!

    Alan V. Cecil
    Hampton Roads

    1. I'm not sure about educators. We just like to share our knowledge. Chuck


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