We’re Diesel Mechanics Now!

Preparations for the splash were in full swing. After 9 months at the boatyard, we finally wanted to be done. Therefore, nothing, but nothing at all should stop us. But we faced complications with our engine.

Known problems

We had helped launch several boats before and knew from experience that two things in particular could cause problems: leaking thru hulls and disobedient engines. With the former, we couldn’t do much more than order new thru hulls and fast cure sealant, just in case. For the latter, we wanted to do an engine test on the hard. We had always shied away from that, because the engine was still a kind of black box for us. You supply it with water, oil and diesel, turn the key, then water and exhaust gases come out the back and the propeller turns. Could be easy, right? But it just had to be done. After all, we didn’t want to be stuck in the slings and not be able to take off just because – because what, actually?

Holding hands

As Rob and Sarah’s departure with SV Mapache was delayed (they had to wait for spare parts for their freshly overhauled engine), we asked Rob to help us with the engine check. He had completely disassembled and reassembled his engine, so he was the perfect man for the job. Soon after, the time had come. We filled two big barrels with water and got a hose so that the water cooling of the engine could do its magic. Actually, we could have run the engine from our internal water tank. The new sea cock has two inlets: one for fresh water and one for raw water. But our engine needs about 10 gallons (about 40 litres) of water per minute, so our 42 gallons don’t really go very far.

We are ready

Before we started the test, we strenghtened ourselves with apple fritters from Candy Cake, which Rob had brought for our peace of mind, or maybe just because they’re the best in town. Afterwards Sarah and Doug posted themselves down by the barrels to secure the water supply. David took over the key, I was down by the engine and Rob stood with us in the cockpit. I was quite nervous because a major problem with the engine could delay the launch by weeks or even months.

Top or flop?

When David turned the key, the engine immediately started and purred. And we cheered. But it was too easy to be true: a short time later, the engine simply stopped. With diesel engines, there is usually only one reason for this: no diesel. This can be due to clogged filters, closed taps, air in the system or empty tanks, among other things. So, we filled both tanks with 5 gallons of diesel each (about 20 litres), checked all the taps to see if they were really open, and checked the filters. Then we had to bleed the engine. David already had experience with this, because on the trip to Peñasco the Milagros crew had already had to do the whole procedure once.

The air must come out

We consulted the engine manual and opened all the bleed screws, one by one. Somehow, we couldn’t find one of them, and although we sprayed WD40 into the air filter as a starting aid, the engine wouldn’t start. There was air in the diesel system and we couldn’t get it out. After a few hours of unsuccessful attempts, we gave up and treated ourselves to tacos. Also, another new problem appeared: the threads for the bleed screw on the aluminium cover of the diesel injection pump were stripped. It is actually a banjo bolt, i.e., 2 bolts inside each other, the smaller of the two being used for venting. However, judging by the condition of the threads, the larger of the two was always (more often) used in the past, which eventually led to the threads now being stripped.

Different possibilities

As the injection pump is the heart of the engine, pumping diesel at high pressure into the injectors, a solid solution was needed. We started looking at different possibilities, researching on the internet and finding spare parts mainly in England, as our engine itself is English. I was a little annoyed that I had ordered a complete set of gaskets for the engine in England only a few days ago and they were already on their way. But well.

Three options on the short list

  1. Press the bleeding screw into the hole with Quick Steel, a two-component epoxy putty, and tighten it there for good. Since it is a banjo screw, the smaller, inner screw would still be able to move. But this would have been a temporary solution, simply to allow Milagros to splash and properly address the problem later.
  2. Order a new cover and replace it. This would have taken 1 – 4 weeks, depending on where you ordered it, and would have cost about 120$.
  3. Have the entire injection pump removed and rebuilt. This would have taken at least 4 weeks and cost about 400$.

Hive mind

With the help of the hive mind (a running gag in the boatyard, you ask the “collective memory” for advice), some discussions and an unexpected surprise, we decided on option 2. As luck would have it, we found a complete injection pump in the depths of our spare parts storage. Together with a YouTube video of a beardy Australian tractor mechanic, we took this pump apart for practice. And we came to the conclusion that it should be possible to remove and re-install this cover. We skilfully ignored the seals and the advice not to tamper with it ourselves.

Viva Mexico

Before we ordered the new cover from England, we asked our friend Lionel from the Caterpillar shop if he could get one too. 3 days later we had a new cover including seals for 30$ in our hands. Viva Mexico! David removed the old cover, then we disassembled it into its individual parts and mounted them all on the new, freshly sprayed white cover. And then I mounted the new cover.

Cover on

Of course, it was not as easy as with the practice model – both attaching and removing the cover. The biggest challenge was to hook the big spring inside into the right hole. And not losing the small pin and its spring, and, if possible, not letting any dirt or foreign objects fall into the pump. And all this overhead and with the wrong hand. The little pin with the spring did indeed come loose – we found the spring right away in the bilge, but not the pin. So, we just took the pin from the old pump and postponed the search for the pin until later. In the end, the cover was on after all.

Almost successful

Before we tested the engine again, this time together with Mat, we ran the diesel from both tanks through the filters to get any air out. But even after several bleeds, the engine wouldn’t start. Finally, we found the last bleed screw and with the help of starter spray the engine finally started. Unfortunately, our water barrel idea didn’t work, so we ran it over our internal water tank for a few minutes. Yay! But unfortunately, we had a new problem: a leak at the compression fitting of a diesel line at one of the injectors. But the solution to this problem was to be a problem of future Milagros. At least the engine ran!

Hello gooseneck

After three long months of waiting, we finally received word that our new gooseneck had been shipped. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle was on its way to us. When we held it in our hands, it was clear that the manufacturer had screwed up – again! The new piece was as long as it was supposed to be wide and the other way round. Once again, it was not what we wanted. However, after getting some professional advice, we decided to fit the gooseneck as it was and make the boat fit once again, rather than the other way round. At least we got the money back. But we would have preferred to have had a gooseneck that actually fits.

3 times longer

The installation took 3 days. We had to drill 26 holes, tap threads into the holes and insert metal threads called helicoils. Unfortunately, the helicoils we had didn’t fit and the insertion tool also gave up the ghost. So, we had to order new matching helicoils and a new tool to Lukeville at the US border. The next day we drove there with Doug and crossed the border into the USA for the first time since the travel ban was lifted on 8 November. The entry procedure took an eternity, and the border official – who was still learning the ropes – stapled the visa directly onto the first page of our passports. But our mission was successful, and the very next day we were able to assemble the gooseneck and put the boom back up.


There was also some carpentry work on the schedule. I built wooden boxes for our new storage space under the galley and David painted them white. Also, the bottom of one of the sliding doors in the engine room was splintered and needed a new piece of wood, which we had made at a carpentry shop around the corner. Smoothly working through the to-do list was fun.


Together with Marga from Dogfish Boatworks we did a pre-splash check and inspected Milagros from bow to stern. We found a few things that needed tweaking later, but Milagros was now ready for launching. One of the things we did while waiting for a suitable weather window was to paint our name on the wall in the Cruisers Lounge. They say that if you don’t do that, you’ll have problems when splashing. And we didn’t want to risk that under any circumstances. So, we got a projector and David painted our logo on the wall. With black Totalboat paint, haha.

Comet observation

We also took the unique opportunity to observe comet Leonard. The last time it passed the earth was 80’000 years ago and the next time it will do so in about 70’000 years. Armed with binoculars, we went to the beach and searched the evening sky to the west. It should be visible on the right above the horizon in the extension of the axis of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. And indeed, we saw the greenish flashing comet slowly moving across the sky. A true ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. And we were so ready to leave the boatyard by water – once and for all!

All these successes lead to a huge beer thirst! Click on the button below to offer us a cold one! Also, you can become a monthly supporter on Patreon if you want to. Many thanks!

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