Engine Starter Woes or Click, Click, Nothing!

It is the middle of the night, and we’ve been sailboat racing offshore for 14 hours so the batteries are draining down. We decide to start the engine to charge them up—click, click, click, uh oh!  That dazed feeling that you might be in trouble begins to set in, and you try to figure out what is wrong.  It’s just two of us aboard in this year’s annual double-handed distance race out of Newport, Rhode Island—the Solo/Twin.  We are in the open Atlantic Ocean, miles east of Block Island.  Fortunately, this is a sailboat, so we aren’t marooned, but we do need batteries for all our navigational instruments and running lights, and we don’t have much juice left.

Small diesel engines like this Yanmar are often found in cramped quarters on sailboats, making access the biggest deterrent to maintenance or repair.

I stay on deck and continue to sail while my buddy Jeff pops below.  “Try it again,” he shouts—click, click, nothing.  We start shutting down all the non-essential electronics, just like Tom Hanks in the movie Apollo 13, until only the masthead running light is left working off the backup battery.  We can hear the click and see the lights dim when I hit the starter button, so we’re thinking it’s either too low a battery, a bad solenoid, or maybe even a fried starter.

Out comes the battery jumper pack, nothing. We open the compression valves on the engine and spin it by hand, so we know the engine isn’t frozen, but still we can’t get it started.  I’m remembering all those horror stories of people breaking an arm trying to start a diesel by hand as the handle spins out of control, especially in our cramped sardine-can-sized engine compartment, and I’m thinking how much worse this might be if one of us were injured on top of our present dilemma. Jeff starts banging on the starter with a winch handle as I try the starter button again.

We finish the race about dawn, still with no engine, so we sail the boat right to the mooring and tie up.  Exhausted, we try to think through all the possibilities of the engine problem once again.  We had spark but were afraid of trying the age-old solution of touching a screw driver across the contacts of the solenoid, due to the confined space and having a hand in the engine compartment if it did decide to fire.  So we go ashore in search of a new starter and solenoid, sure that one is the answer.

After a shower and a short nap we return with a brand new starter/solenoid and install it, click, click nothing.  But we’ve also brought a jumper wire from Jeff’s basement that sparks enough for him to pull his hand out of the engine compartment super-quick.  The problem turns out to be the contact starter switch.  A $9 part at the local Auto Zone.  We re-install the old starter and return the unused new starter before picking up the contact switch.

Jeff has since admitted that he had been having problems with the switch for over a year; previously you had to push it just right to start the engine. It was making contact, just not enough to kick the starter over. Ah engine maintenance! Left alone, a simple $9 switch will wait to cause trouble only when it can create an adventure for you.

Owning a Boat: the Best of Days

photo of a sailboatThey say that the two best days a boat owner will ever know are the day he or she buys a boat…and the day it gets sold. For visitors to BoatTrader.com, there’s plenty of that buying and selling stuff going on here, so you may know a lot more about this than I do.

The reason I don’t know if the old saying is true is because, so far, more than a half century into my boating career, I have rarely done any selling. I just keep acquiring boats. At last count, I owned a share of two sailboats, a leaky rowing dinghy, two kayaks, and a Windsurfer. For me, the best day is always the day I launch one of the boats, and the second-best day is when I put it away for the season.

When one of our sailboats gets its antifouling paint wet and its mast put in place for the first time, I’m greeted by crisp spring winds. In the air is the promise of a season of adjusting my sails to the changing breezes of both local thermals and continental weather systems.

Nothing beats that first day. I’ve had a project list for months, and of course I haven’t checked off every item. Far from it. But the boat is afloat, and unlike the other lists that rule our lives, the boat list now seems manageable—and some items lose importance. Now that my boat is afloat, at least when I’m aboard it, the world begins at the bow and ends at the stern, and I’m on my way to a season of relaxed sailing with friends and family, punctuated by intense races with a skilled crewed.

My second favorite day comes at the end of the season. The air has the bittersweet taste of fall and that melancholy sense that our time on the water is ending way too fast. But there’s a chill in the wind, too, which makes me happy to park the sailboat on its trailer at last, or to hose out the kayak and turn it over for the winter. Then, when the gales of November come through, I will worry about how the furnace needs cleaning or the new insulation didn’t get installed; but I will know the boats are tucked away safely until my favorite day comes again.

The Dufour 325 By Dufour Yachts

The Dufour Yachts homepage features details on the Dufour 325.

According to Dufour Yachts…

The new Dufour 325 completes the Dufour range of comfortable cruisers from 30 to 53 feet: with a length only 32 feet, she offers an unusual lot of interior space for 6 people to live onboard and sail in full comfort.

Both available with steering wheel or a tiller, she is easy to be sailed and manoeuvred single handed. Standard she comes with a mainsail tackle on the roof, to liberate the full length cockpit seats. Fine tune trimming is possible with a track in the cockpit.

The Dufour 325 has quite a deep standard draft of 1.85 m, ideal for good performance, or she comes with a keel of 1.55 m, for shallower waters.

Source: Dufour Yachts