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Posted on Mar 19, 2015 | 5 comments

Perkins 4.108 Oil Change from Hell

After hours in this position, I could barely stand up!

After hours in this position, I could barely stand up!

As part of the preparations for our upcoming cruise to the Abacos, I wanted to square away a few things in the engine room. First and foremost was to do the routine maintenance including changing the oil, oil filter, and fuel filters. I also wanted to add an hour meter to aid in keeping up on these critical maintenance tasks. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Once the work began, however, it was anything but. Since the last oil change was my first on my new engine, I had hired a mechanic to show me the ropes. He had an issue with his oil extractor fitting down the dipstick tube and recommended I purchase one with a smaller tube. So, thinking I am prepared, with my narrow tubed oil extractor, I begin to suck the oil out of the pan. Unfortunately, the dipstick is located in a high spot of the oil pan and does not allow for the full extraction of the oil… it actually only allows around 1 quart to be exact. Not to be deterred, I located the actual oil drain plug and began awkwardly loosening the bolt while laying on my stomach with my hand behind my back (ok, not really, but if you’ve ever tried to work UNDER a boat engine, you understand the predicament).

Two rolls of paper towels were sacrificed to the cause...

Two rolls of paper towels were sacrificed to the cause…

The plug came freely the first few turns and then essentially stopped. I fished out Michele’s old makeup mirror and held it under the engine to see what was impeding my progress to find out that the drain plug’s flange was rubbing against a bolt that holds the transmission to the engine block. After much finagling and squirming and consternation, the drain plug was freed and then the flange ground down to a more reasonable circumference that will allow it to freely be removed and replaced in the future. A drain plug gasket also ensures that the pesky oil seepage from the never-before-removed plug is now a thing of the past.

Thinking the worst is behind me, I unscrewed the old Sierra brand oil filter and lovingly tightened on my shiny new top-of-the-line-for-eight-times-the-price Napa Gold filter and refilled the oil reservoir with Delo 15w-40. Side note: there is much discussion online on which weight of oil and which brand to use etc… I went with the recommendation in the official Perkins service manual.

Thinking I am done, I fired up the engine and checked my exhaust first for flow (a habit) and then watched for oil pressure. I hadn’t refilled the rather large oil filter, so I knew it might take a few seconds to fill the filter and then pressurize the oil system so I wasn’t worried when I saw 0PSI to begin with. Around the 30 second mark I became worried, however. I soon realized that no oil was flowing and killed the engine.

The first thing I checked was for proper oil level in the reservoir and found that, indeed, it was full. I then moved on to checking for leaks around the oil filter or any hoses and found that everything looked as normal. Perplexed, I fired up the engine again to the same results after 60 seconds… Even more worried now, I disconnected the oil line feeding the remote oil cooler and had Michele crank the engine. Oil immediately squirted out of the line, to my relief.

The oil sender looked quite corroded so we figured that must be the problem.

The oil sender looked quite corroded so we figured that must be the problem.

It was now appearing as though the oil was, in fact, flowing through the engine properly but I was getting an incorrect reading on my gauge or the oil pressure sender. A gaze at my sender let me know that it had likely given up the goose and a quick run to the boat bits store rectified that and the old oil gauge.

Fully expecting my issue to be resolved, I fired up the engine to 0PSI oil pressure yet again. Truly perplexed, I took a break from hands on work and began researching. Unfortunately there are an enormous amount of Perkins 4.108 variations, so this task is made significantly more difficult. My engine has also been customized with a remote oil filter kit (larger filter capacity) and oil cooler.

I tinkered around, tried different oil filters, different oil filter brands, etc all to no avail. Eventually I put the old filter back on out of curiosity and the pressure immediately went to normal! I couldn’t believe this… why would the old filter work and the Fram and Napa Gold filters not? Thinking it is a filter density issue, I researched the Sierra micron rating and found that it was in the same ballpark as my other two brands…

Totally dumbfounded, I ran the issue by my father and his immediate response was, “is the oil flowing in the correct direction through the filter?” I hadn’t thought about this despite having tried several other fixes. I swapped my oil supply and return lines on the side of the block and put my Fram filter back on. Immediately upon firing up the engine my normal oil pressure returned! The oil had been running through the filter backwards! The older Sierra filter from the previous owner worked with this scenario because it didn’t have an internal check valve to prevent it from draining while the engine is off. Both my Fram and Napa Gold filters had this valve, with a side effect of only allowing the oil to flow in one direction.

So, several hours and a full day after beginning, my pre-trip engine maintenance is completed. Oil is flowing in the correct direction and all is right with the world.

Hopefully the knowledge gained and changes made to the drain plug (and oil flow) will make future oil changes take significantly less time than the significant investment this process took.

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Posted on Sep 7, 2014 | 0 comments

Power at Sea: Part 1

Michele and I are very fortunate to have a plethora of electronic gadgets on our boat. We have a hydraulic autopilot, 4KW HD radar, two vhf radios, 7 inch touchscreen multifunction device (chartplotter), microwave, TV, water pumps, bilge pumps, etc… you get the point. All of these gadgets, both essential and superfluous, take up a surprising amount of electricity. We estimate that our electrical usage while at anchor will be approximately 110-125 amp hours a day. While at sea it will be higher due to the autopilot and radar being active for the majority of the time while sailing. While this is a lot of electrical demand, it is by no means insurmountable with today’s technology.

In this part of the series I will focus on the sizing and selection of our system. The first step in sizing the system was to ascertain what our actual daily usage will be both at anchor and at sea. There are several useful calculators online that give reasonably accurate estimates, but we wanted to go a bit further. We decided to install a digital battery monitor that tells us the percentage charged, amp hours used, amp hours available, current amps, voltage, and historical data so we can know precisely how much electricity remains in our batteries at any given time. The Victron Energy BMV-702 meets all of these needs in a very easy to install and professional looking package.

Most battery monitors utilize a high amperage shunt that is installed between the batteries and load/generation in an electrical system. The shunt is then wired to the battery monitor. With the BMV-702 it is as simple as running a computer network cable (included!) from the shunt to the battery monitor.

Battery Monitor Shunt

The 50mV shunt I installed for the battery monitor

The next step in the installation of the monitor is to decide where to mount the unit itself. We had a 1970’s era voltage meter that no longer worked taking up a large space in our electrical panel area. After removing the old Danforth meter we had a serious hole left in the bulkhead, however…

battery-monitor-hole

Modern battery monitor size vs 70’s era voltage meter

Thankfully my dad was able to fabricate a black lexan panel that matched our existing panels quite nicely.

BMV-702 installed with new panel

BMV-702 installed with new panel

With the new monitor installed and running, we were able to accurately determine our actual electrical usage averages 90 Ah a day. Granted we are at dock right now so our usage is different than it will be while at anchor, but we now have a very good estimate to size our system with. We decided to add a buffer of 33% to account for increased inverter usage and other possibilities.

To meet all of this electrical demand, many people choose to install and utilize a diesel generator to meet their electrical demands while cruising. This is an acceptable choice for day sailing, hopping between marinas, etc that can quickly become expensive if used as the main source of power for a vessel. The maintenance and fuel for a generator can quickly meet or exceed the maintenance costs of the main engine on a cruising sailboat.

We decided to go with a hybrid setup that utilizes both solar and wind power sources simultaneously. This has the benefit of high power generation while also diversifying the source of power… on rainy days we will generate less solar power, but most likely more wind power. We also will have as a last resort backup our engine alternator that can charge the batteries to nearly full in a few hours. The next part of this series will showcase our solar panel, charge controller, and custom solar panel mount installation.

 

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Posted on Nov 6, 2013 | 0 comments

Scuba Instructor!

beach sunset pcb

Nothing beats a Panama City Beach sunset with a campfire on the beach.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to cross off a pretty big item off of our To-Do List. I am now certified as a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor! This was a big goal of mine, personally. Ever since I became a certified diver a few years ago I wanted to become an instructor someday. Scuba diving is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever done… and now I have the skills and credentials to enable others to enjoy the sport while making a little money as well.

After becoming CPR and First Aid instructors (a prerequisite for becoming a scuba instructor through PADI), Kyle and I went to Emerald Coast Scuba in Destin, FL for our PADI IDC (instructor development course). We met some great people there including the Course Director Anna and her Staff Instructors Chris, Kelly, Ray, and Stewart. I admit I was quite nervous going into the IDC and especially IE (instructor examination) but the staff made the entire experience very enjoyable and rewarding.

Kyle and I with our certificates at Vortex Springs

Kyle and I with our certificates at Vortex Springs

Being a PADI Instructor as well as a CPR/First Aid instructor will allow Michele and I to have a source of supplemental income that is still super fun at the same time. Our plan at the moment is to hopefully team up with dive shops along the way, especially during the offseason for cruising (i.e. hurricane season), and help with their overflow students and trips. This isn’t income that we are counting on, but diversifying our income stream is an important part of attaining the financial freedom that we are seeking… if we have a bad rental month/season/year and the stock market tanks at the same time, we will still have other options for replenishing the kitty.

If you are in the vicinity and would like to become a certified diver or are already certified and would like to take your skills to the next level, send me an email! I plan on keeping my classes either private or semi-private (two groups max) so you will get the attention new and continuing education divers need and deserve.

Right before the open water portion of our exams started, when everyone was the most stressed, we were entertained by a man we dubbed “the crazy Russian guy” that was over-excited about Kelly’s remote control drone. I’ve attached the video that the Russian guy made about the UAV… its pretty hilarious. (Note: Kelly is not, in fact, a member of the KGB…at least as far as I know.)

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Posted on Mar 27, 2013 | 1 comment

McMansions and Land Yachts

Our first step was selling both of our Saab 9-3s

Our first step was selling both of our Saab 9-3s

When we talk with people about cruising the first question people usually ask us, after getting over their disbelief, is “How are you going to pay for it?” In the spirit of tax season, we’ve decided to do a short mini-series in April devoted to finances, both for cruising and anyone trying to get a little more bang for their buck.

 

Have you ever looked at someone in a luxury motorized throne (ok, imported luxury vehicle) and thought, “Wow, sweet ride! I wish I was wealthy enough to have one.” Okay probably not in those words… but the reality (according to the authors of The Millionaire Next Door, two PhDs with over 20 years of research on the subject) is that most people living in affluent neighborhoods and driving luxury vehicles actually don’t have very much wealth. Sure they can afford the payments on their McMansions and land yachts, but many of them are living paycheck to paycheck. They are constantly teetering on the edge of financial ruin, saving less than a few percent (if at all!). Sadly, retirement is only a pipe dream to many people from all levels of the tax bracket. They think about in abstract terms, hopefully they’ll have enough to retire at some distant point in the future… definitely not something attainable in the near term.

However, with the right approach retirement is not only attainable, it’s attainable in a relatively short amount of time. Michele and I are recently followers of Mr. Money Mustache, who retired a few years ago at age 30. He explains it best:

Mr. Money Mustache’s advice? Almost all of [the life is hard and expensive excuse] is nonsense: Your current middle-class life is an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness, and by learning to see the truth in this statement, you will easily be able to cut your expenses in half – leaving you saving half of your income. Or two thirds, or more. Sound like a fantasy? Not to readers of this blog.

What happens when you can save more of your income? As it turns out, spending much less than you earn this is the way to get rich. The ONLY way. And the effects are surprising: if you can save 50% of your take-home pay starting at age 20, you’ll be wealthy enough to retire by age 37. If you already save some assets now, you’re even closer than that. If you can save 75%, your working career is only 7 years.

But how can you save so much?

The bottom line is this: by focusing on happiness itself, you can lead a much better life than those who focus on convenience, luxury, and following the lead of the financially illiterate herd that is the TV-ad-absorbing Middle Class of the United States today (and most of the other rich countries). Happiness comes from many sources, but none of these sources involve car or purse upgrades. No matter what the herd or the TV set tells you, this is the truth. Far from being a social outcast, this new perspective will make you a hero among your friends. This is not a fringe activity anymore – millions of people are fixing their lives these days. And the earlier you can accept it, the sooner you will be rich.

It is not an easy journey to begin, but it is a path that leads to what I call time freedom. Time freedom doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a beach somewhere doing nothing all day, every day. It simply means having the freedom to spend your time the way you wish. Michele and I have been blessed with a great starting point on our journey. We were able to very quickly build and capitalize on equity in our first home. We’ve been able to turn that into a portfolio of rental homes (we close on our third next week!) and traditional investments. These properties and other investments will provide a decent income when we retire. More importantly, we’re learning to live on much less than our current income while maintaining an extremely high quality of life, which is precisely what we are expecting to continue doing when we go cruising.

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Posted on Dec 5, 2012 | 0 comments

We sold our house… now what?

Last Thursday Michele and I received the call that we had both hoped would come, but had nearly given up on… a legitimate offer on our house. The offer was over 9% less than our asking price but at least we had some action! Let me back up a bit… We had grown disheartened at the numerous showings, followed by exceptionally minimal second showings, followed by a complete lack of offers. “The street is too busy,” “loved the house,” “buyer showed interest,” “great kitchen!” were all followed by a noted lack of action on the buyers’ parts. With that in mind, you’ll understand why we were excited to get any offer (even one that was almost 10% lower than asking price). We had talked about the price and had settled on 93% as our lowest acceptable price, definitely in range for this buyer. Our goal was 97%, however. After a few tense rounds of negotiation we were able to come through with our exact goal… right on the dollar.

We now are faced with weeks of inspections, tests, and (hopefully not) the possibility of more negotiations over any requested repairs. Our house is in exceptionally good condition so any requested repairs are most likely nit-picky (that doesn’t sound biased, does it?). Thankfully we were able to get the buyer to agree that no repairs would be made as a result of these inspections.

We looked at each other once the last counteroffer was accepted and Michele said what we were both thinking, “Now what?” We had been focused so much on getting our house sold that we hadn’t thought about the actual possibility of it selling. Crazy, I know. Now we are at a cross roads. We can find an acceptable apartment for a couple hundred dollars less than we were spending on our house, providing a decent boost to our future cruising kitty. We can also purchase a “starter/rental” house and spend almost nothing, we’re talking less than a normal car payment here, per month. The second option saves money over time but is also the riskier option. We would have the opportunity of renting the house after we are done with it, or selling it and (hopefully) making a profit. There is, of course, that nagging possibility that it wouldn’t sell or sell for less than we bought it for. Either way the bottom line is we are making progress.

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