I should’ve seen it coming. After all, when you go on a significant trip with an almost 70-year-old boat on its original, albeit rebuilt engine, you know you will have fun.
To be honest, I probably could have avoided the issues, but after two months of working on the boat I just wanted to get out and enjoy her for a change. She hadn’t given us too many problems so I thought I had things in hand. The fuel system problems I was sure I had beaten by replacing the tank and fuel lines and rebuilding the carb.
There were other potential trouble spots of course, but sometimes you just have to head out anyway and trust to providence and your own wits to get you there. Sometimes it works, some times it doesn’t. I’ve become pretty cocksure about my abilities to pull my chestnuts out of the fire when shit goes sideways, and it only just occurred to me that I might have gotten a little too complacent in that regard.
It’s one thing when you’ve done everything you can think of to plan ahead and take care of everything beforehand, knowing that stuff will still probably go sideways; it’s quite another when you just go more or less unprepared and trust to luck, no matter how good you are in a crisis.
Things started to go wrong right out of the marina. Within 10 minutes of passing the breakwater the engine stalled. Once I restarted her she refused to idle. Oh god, not this problem again. What the hell, I just rebuilt the carb and replaced the fuel system; how could this still be happening?
Peanut has to idle as that’s my usual cruising speed. Without current I can get 4.5 knots out of her at 800 RPM, and she’s fairly thrifty that way. It’s only a 283 Chev V8, but once you start opening the throttle the gas disappears ridiculously fast.
I’ve gotten pretty good at tearing down the carb on the fly, and within ten minutes I had her apart and blown out the idle jets with a can of WD-40. I slapped her back together again and everything worked as it should. But my faith had been broken, and I was anxious that it would happen again. Which it did, 30 minutes later. God damn it.
But this time I thought I would try blowing out the idle jets through the idle mixture screws; that way I wouldn’t have to take the whole carb apart. Surprisingly enough it worked, and we were soon on our way again. Of course an hour later it died yet again.
What the hell. We had taken her out a number of times since the new tank and carb rebuild without a problem; why this now? The only difference was that while working on rebuilding the fuel system I had temporarily installed a see-through inline fuel filter just before the carb, so I could watch the fuel going into it. I had just removed that filter as a 10-micron cartridge filter already cleans the gas as soon as it leaves the fuel tank. But having no other ideas, I took that inline filter and put it back on. I cleaned the idle jets out again, and she started right up. After that, I no longer had idle problems.
This made no sense to me. The only thing between the main cartridge filter and the carburetor is the fuel pump. All I can think of is there is corrosion in the fuel pump that is breaking loose and getting into the carb. Once I stuck that little filter in the system after the pump, the idle jets stopped being plugged.
Little filter saving the day again.
We were up early the next morning to catch the flood north. When you’re cruising at 4.5 knots, you need to use all the help nature can give you. We were planning on making Silva bay on Gabriola Island that day, and it was over 30 miles away. We were also going to be confronting an ebb tide come noon, and so we would be holed up for a couple of hours waiting for it to turn back to a flood.
It was a fairly rough ride north in Trincomali Channel, as we had a good stiff heading breeze opposing the tide. Lots of water was coming over the bow, even at such a slow speed. At one point I scared the bejeesus out of my landlubber buddy by suddenly yanking the lower helm over and heading her towards the rocks. He had forgotten there was a second wheel below and he thought something and pranged in the steering gear. The ensuing shrieking sounded very much like a cat caught in a fan belt.
We reached Clam Bay and pulled out to wait for the tide. It was warm and sunny and anchored out of the wind, and we both had naps. Once I awoke however, I started getting busy. When I replaced the one tank, I had disconnected the second one, and it was still half full of fuel. That’s almost $100 worth of gas. I decided to tap the second tank back into the fuel system, before the fuel filter. Although as old as the rest of the boat, that tank hadn’t given us any trouble, so I thought connecting it up again wouldn’t pose a problem.
Once the tide had returned to flood we headed out of the anchorage and almost immediately the engine died. It was like it was out of fuel. We opened the engine cover and the clear filter showed that plenty of fuel was reaching the carb. But she was idling like crap and opening her up resulted in a stall. I fiddled with hoses, I banged on the carb in case the float valves were stuck, but still no power. Once again we were dead in the water. Now I was the one sounding like a cat caught in a fan belt.
Here we were confronted by yet another weird anomaly: we had fuel, but she wouldn’t run. Then I took a closer look at the gas bubbling into the filter. It looked odd. Salad dressing odd. I pulled the filter and drained it into a bowl, where it immediately separated into two pretty much equal components. Half of the gas coming in was water. My extra tank had a crapload of water in it.
I put the filter back on again, and clamped the fuel line from the old tank closed with a vice grips. We started her up and sure enough, after swallowing her last dose of gas and water the engine started to smooth out and began running normally again. I’d obviously have to do something about that water before I could use the fuel out of the old tank. Without further issues we arrived at Silva Bay and both of us followed a good snort of whiskey to bed.
The next day, I was very much pumped to be crossing the Strait of Georgia in Peanut, a new milestone. Another friend was going to join us in the marina near noon, and I wanted to get things fixed up; I didn’t want any more of the previous kind of debacles to hit us miles from shore. I drained gas out of the tank into a bucket (the boat being very old, the fuel line comes out the bottom not the top, as has been required by law for many years), and was amazed at how much water and crap came out. Fortunately the two fluids immediately separated and it was a simple matter to suck out the water with a syringe and throw the clean gas back into the tank. I did this a couple of times until gas was coming out uncontaminated, after which I took the brazen if not foolish step of connecting it back into my fragile fuel system.
One other thing I wanted to take care of was a loose alternator/water pump drive belt. It was really loose, and I could see it flapping like crazy when the engine was running. Problem was that the mounting bolts were very rusty. I was able to loosen the adjuster bolt, but the pivot bolt, a big, fat, ugly monstrosity, was frozen solid and I couldn’t get it to loosen at all. So in order to move the alternator to tighten the belt, I had to pound on it with a hammer. While this did take up the slack eventually, I was of two minds as to whether it was now too tight. In my experience it’s hard to overtighten these things, and they are often too loose, so I figured it was good enough.
My buddy finally showed up and we headed out across the Strait.
It was a perfect day for a crossing; little wind and ridiculously smooth seas for a waterway usual tortured by winds. Peanut burbled along without mishap, and the hours and miles calmly slipped away.
Fine day for crossing the Strait of Georgia
Once we were off Point Grey however, the wind started to pick up, the chop began slamming into us, and all aboard were glad our journey was almost over. At that point my buddy commented on a strange noise he heard. We all listened and didn’t hear anything; oh well, back to telling dirty jokes.
Not soon after however, we were all surprised by a sudden geyser that erupted beside the helm. We all looked over and brown muck was spewing in a 4-foot-high fountain out of a small hole in a brass filler cap off of Peanut’s narrow deck. What we were looking at it was rusty coolant; that was her coolant reservoir filler. I shot a look to her temperature gauge, and sure enough she was overheating. Shut ‘er down!
Her overtemp alarm hadn’t gone off. So that was yet another component not working. But why had it overheated? I’m sure you can guess. A little exploration revealed, naturally enough, that the belt I had tightened had since snapped. No alternator, no water pump.
Here we were, a mile or so out in the Strait, with a dead engine, and of course no spare belt. I knew I should have had one aboard, but in the complex symphony of restoring this boat, that was simply one chord not played.
Well, we had to do something. In the old days they used to say that pantyhose can work as a temporary fix for a broken fan belt, but alas, I had given up wearing women’s clothes and had none aboard. But I did have some 14-gauge wire, and I carefully strung it around the water pump and crankshaft pulleys. If we kept her RPMS really, really low, perhaps it would hold. We fired her up. It flopped maniacally, but it held. For now. We knew we were on borrowed time, and so we immediately headed for False Creek.
Redneck drive belt.
Anxiously we wove our way through freighters and the host of anchored derelicts just outside False Creek. That’s when the wire finally let go. We had about one mile left to go, and it bailed on us. Figgers. We had two choices then: throw out the hook and make another wire drive belt, or find another way to cool the engine. That’s when it occurred to me that one of the guys could probably use my drill to spin the water pump pulley.
We didn’t quit the engine when my ersatz belt flew off, and the temp began rising again. I knew we had lost a lot of coolant earlier, and the cooling system was marginal. But I got my bud to start spinning the water pump with the drill and was relieved when I saw the temperature needle immediately fall.
False Creek was utterly packed with vessels of all kinds: sailboats, powerboats, kayaks, paddleboards, water taxis, dinner cruise boats. All moving here and there at the same time. Through this mayhem we inched.
But soon the temperature began rising again; we had lost too much coolant and the drill couldn’t spin the pump fast enough. The geyser began again. We had to drop the hook now. The anchorage was also insanely crowded but I found a tiny corner where we would probably have swinging room, and we tossed out the hook and shut of the engine off. We three stood morosely in the cockpit listening to the tick tick tick of hot iron cooling down, and the gurgle and bubble of boiling coolant, the sound reminiscent of a strong curry in a tender and offended belly.
But against all odds, we had made it, and prepared for a weekend of debauchery, freed from feminine clutches and domestic oppression. We had arrived in downtown Vancouver and we determined to make the most of the long weekend.
Peanut in the big city
We soon discovered a problem with our anchorage, which was that we were a long way from the dinghy dock. Our so-called tender is a tiny plastic two-man toy, and getting all of us back and forth was somewhat of a chore. So the next day we hoisted the anchor, and without a functioning cooling system we made our cautious way closer to the dinghy dock. But here it was even more crowded, and skippers shot us evil looks for our audacity in trying to worm our way into a space where there obviously was no space at all.
But I did find a very tight spot hard up against shore. The engine started making unhappy noises again so we had no other options. The anchor went overboard again, and we all went ashore.
At anchor in False Creek
The bros headed out for some wandering around Granville Island while I met up with my son and we went to Lordco to get a replacement belt. You’d think sourcing a belt for a 1957 Chev 283 wouldn’t be a problem, but I got a twit who’s only recourse was typing into an idiot computer, which offered nothing. But I had the old belt with me and he tried finding one close in size. New belt in hand we headed hopefully back to the boat. I tried roughly fitting the belt, and it didn’t look like it was anywhere near big enough, but we had to try. We had to break loose that frozen pivot bolt however, which was in a bloody awkward location. My son had to worm his way belowdecks like a pinworm finding a new home.
He’s a very strong athletic man, but twisted under there he didn’t have much leverage, and couldn’t budge the thing. I gave him a big wrench to hook over the end of the ratchet as an extension (gearheads will know what I’m talking about), and even then it wouldn’t budge. Eventually we figured out that I could just reach it with my foot through the engine hatch, and my standing on the wrench-ratchet combo, I could just make it move, with the crack-crack of a badly rusted nut.
After an interminable struggle with this thing we got it loose enough that I could try and slip the belt over the alternator pulley. No good; way too short. Sonofabitch. We were no further ahead and my son had to bail. But I had learned my lesson and gave him the second belt to also get a replacement (this engine has two belts, the second belt is for the salt water pump that runs cold salt water through the heat exchanger and cools the exhaust.) Off he went, not expected to be back until several hours later. I told him to buy at least 3 different sizes next time.
Later that day the wind changed direction, pushing me hard towards the shore. It looked like our anchor was dragging and those rocks were no more than two metres away in the gusts. We had to get Peanut out of there. I needed help, and so I texted the buds to come bail me out. While I waited for them I made a couple more wire belts again. Since my son had taken the salt water belt with him, I had to make that one too.
They arrived just as I finished and we started her up. Oh-oh. While the engine water pump spins very easily, the salt water pump has a great deal of resistance, and the wire belt was just slipping. Engine coolant was circulating, but not the cooling salt water, which ultimately removes the engine heat.
We didn’t have too far to go and it does take awhile to heat up a massive chunk of iron like that old engine, so I knew we had time to get further back into the creek where there was far more room. The problem was the two exhaust pipes that run half the length of the boat. With no cooling water pouring through, there was no muffling happening, and those pipes started getting hot.
Years of god knows what kinds of filth and corruption had built up in those big pipes, and now it started to burn. It was bad enough that we were making as much noise as ten Harleys gunning it all at the same time, but now noxious clouds of smoke started roiling out of Peanut’s ass.
That was the longest 500 metres of my life. Of course the shore was lined with hundreds of spectators and all eyes swivelled to watch this ear-splitting noxious spectacle sliding ashamed into the shadow of Science world. I had spent two months making her beautiful, and now she was making a sad spectacle of herself. Without a word we tossed her anchor overboard, tumbled into the dinghy and headed into town to get very drunk.
Later, under the cover of darkness, we made our way back to the boat, arms loaded with bottles of assorted libations. My bud’s girlfriend had joined us by then, pretty much breaking the covenant of a bro’s weekend, but since she was as cute as a pixie on a unicorn, we really didn’t mind. And as it soon turned out she could swear like a sailor and was totally unimpressed by our efforts to offend her, she was welcomed as one of our own.
Another night passed in a fog of booze and weed, and sometime in the wee hours I announced it was time to turn in. I offered the couple the double bed, but they refused, insisting on sleeping on the very tight single in the cockpit. I thought this was absurd; it was small even for one person, and I couldn’t image two people sleeping there. I tried to convince them to take the royalty suite, but girlfriend was having none of it. I can be a little slow when I’ve had a few.
Anyway, we at last got everything settled out and we made it into our bunks. It took me quite awhile to settle down however, and I was at last just about to fall asleep when I felt a new motion in Peanut, unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Like a short, sharp chop. I sat up in the dark, and that’s when I heard it: a thick, wet sound, like someone slapping steaks together. And a very subdued oh-oh-oh.
I couldn’t believe it. They were no more than 3 metres away on a tiny boat, the companionway hatch was open, and they were going at it like horny manatees. My jaw fell open. We’ve all seen this well-worn trope in cinema, but this is the first time I’d experienced it in real life, in such an obvious manner. An expletive from the other bunk told me that my bud, too long without a girl himself, was also aware of the nearby acrobatics.
I have no idea how long this went on. I just wanted to sleep, but somehow this was one of those things that are very hard to just…ignore. It would go quiet for a while, the rocking would stop and I’d start to drift off, when the dolphin slapping commenced again and the oh-so-cute oh-oh-OH wafted through the quiet night. My bud and I lay there in the dark, cursing them.
Eventually I did fall asleep, only to be awakened at some point by a fairly loud woman’s voice declaiming “No. No. No. No. I don’t understand why you even like it.“ At that point I grabbed my earplugs.
The next morning nothing was said, but she sure looked happy. We had run out of water and I just wanted to get ashore to grab a coffee. This roused the couple who followed me, while my other bud stayed aboard, almost certainly to watch porn on his laptop, the poor, lonely bastard.
After coffee and croissant I was somewhat in a better frame of mind, but the way she looked so damned grateful I found quite irritating and so headed back to bring Peanut to heel once and for all. I used all new mounting hardware for the alternator, and found that the largest belt out of 3 my son provided barely fit. But it did. I also replaced the salt water pump belt, keeping the old one for a spare. Everything was back together everything looked good, and so I went to start it. Nothing.
Now what? I checked and I had switched the main switch from house battery to start battery. I checked voltage on the battery: four volts. What the hell? Turns out that someone had wired the switch wrong, and even if you switch the boat to house battery, both batteries are still connected. We had just recently started using a 12V cooler as a fridge, and over the two days in Van it had drained both batteries.
Sigh. But at least I had an easy solution for this one, and called C-Tow for a boost. They arrived in an hour and first he handed me a portable battery pack. Neither of us had much hope, and of course it didn’t work. So then we went for a normal boost with battery cables. But since the distance between his battery and mine is pretty long, he had to use two cables clipped together. Still nothing. After a lot of screwing around we determined that one of his jumper cables cables was buggered. I couldn’t believe it, and by this point I was ready to start shooting and let God sort it out.
We then moved the boats around to get the smallest possible distance, and we were able to just get the batteries connected using the one cable. The starter turned over this time, but the engine wouldn’t start. It wasn’t turning over fast enough to pump gas into the carb. Then I remembered I had some starter fluid: I gave it a good shot, and after a hair-raising backfire she roared into life. Hooray!
Everything seemed to be working okay, and the amp gauge showed she was charging. But something was different: the spray out her exhaust was different somehow, and I was worried that something had happened to her salt water pump. But no, water was flowing nicely and her exhaust was only just warm. The engine ran nice and cool.
But holy god she was loud, louder even that what she used to be, which was more than loud enough. Headache-in-10-minutes loud. All I can think of is we had burned out junk out of her pipes that was giving some back pressure. Now she was wide open. Oh man, now I’m going to have to get some mufflers for sure.
I burned 25 bucks worth of fuel idling. That’s only like 3 ½ hours. But she ran fine, the filter kept her carb clean, the water was out of the old tank, her drive belts had all been replaced. I’ll change the overtemp sensor when I drain her cooling system this fall. I’ve already gone out and grabbed a replacement raw water pump impeller, which will forestall that likely problem. It’s all I can think of for now.
Life on the water
The guys have all left now, I’m so thankful this was a bro’s trip; Tracy would not have dealt with it well at all, bless her soul. But I thrive on this stuff; not crisis per se, but a chance for adventure, the unexpected, and the opportunity to be resourceful. And while I love my wife’s tender ministrations, I love being on my own out here, self reliant, self-determined and feeling completely free, bobbing at ease in front of Science World and coming and going as I please. The normal routine of ordinary domestic life is quite deadening to me, and now that I have Peanut I’m able to once again know the delights that only a water-borne life can offer.
BC Place at night
Cooling our heels at Granville Island market
Venus and an old moon over science world
As always there’s this book you can get that will change your life: