Last Week Was Not a High Point: Still No Engine, More Breakdowns, Almost Out of Water

By Rich

Like the “vacation week” I tried to take during our cruise last year, last week was a “character builder” for me when it comes to the live-aboard lifestyle. We continue to wait for the part needed to get our main engine operational again, which could take three weeks to arrive from Japan – although the actual delivery time is a total unknown since the mechanic sent the pump to a rebuilding shop, who ordered the part from a distributor, who ordered the part from Yanmar. So chock up the arrival time on that part – and the continuation of our cruise – to “?????.” Note to Yanmar: you suck for not offering this pump for sale anymore. There are tons of us out here with this engine!

In the meantime we have been on the mooring and taking advantage of Newport, but last week things took a turn downhill on the mechanical side. Unless we want to be towed to a VERY expensive Newport slip, we are 100% dependent on the generator for power. And with water running low early in the week, I planned to commission the water maker, which also relies 100% on the generator and will dramatically increase it’s scheduled runtimes. On Monday the generator started to stall during the evening charge. By Tuesday morning it was becoming so unreliable that I shut it down to investigate the problem – easily ruling out clogged fuel filters since I had recently replaced both. I traced the issue to a dead fuel lift pump – a part that, luckily, I found was in stock at the local NAPA, which meant a shore crew could be sent in to fetch it and I was able to install it after work. Problem solved, but not without some stress and very good luck that this pump was in stock because it is also used on old carbureted cars. Since they had two in stock, we bought both to have a spare onboard.

Wednesday our water situation was becoming pretty critical so I decided to re commission the water maker, which was still winterized. After following all of the prescribed procedures, I fired it up only to have it immediately issue a high pressure warning and automatically shut down. Not good! Not being experienced with water makers, I did not know the cause of a “high concentrate pressure warning” and began emailing more experienced cruising friends (thank you Angela and Glenn!), but simple explanations eluded all of us.

What everyone did agree on was that readings over 900 psi were definitely bad.

A screen shot of the situation right before the alarm shut down the system.

Thursday morning I called the technical support number for Dometic, and, incredibly, got a call back an hour and a half later from a fantastic technical support guy called Kevin.

Kevin kicks ass. He is The Man.

He was quickly able to trace the problem to a failed valve that, if removed, could be re assembled without the need for additional parts. Kevin sent me a video of the (highly complex) process to fix it, and I was flattered to find that he was genuinely stunned when I watched it and said I’d get a start pulling out the valve and call him if I had questions. It was evident that he was familiar with this problem and that 99% of customers blanched at the prospect of removing and re assembling the valve on their own.

The valve taken apart. The silver cam-shaped object at the bottom of the photo is held on to the motor axle with two set screws that can simply back out, causing the computer to loose all control over the valve. This is a truly awful design that Dometic has updated on newer models. The problem could easily recur on ours.
The cam shown being placed back on the axle (not at the correct height here – I fastened it flush with the end of the axle for the repair). If the set screws loosen again, we will have the same failure and I will legit throw a temper tantrum.

It took literally the entire day between work phone calls but I was able to get the pump out, dis assemble it, and re install the cam. I fired up the water maker and learned that the membranes were undamaged by the over pressure and performed well. Kevin was so impressed that on our last call of the day (there were several!) he asked if I would come work for them.

I patted myself on the back, made 70 gallons of water, then we shut everything down and went to celebrate by having drinks on a friend’s catamaran. The catamaran was almost new, but we spent the whole evening sharing stories of both boats’ various breakdowns and fixes. Living aboard a boat has big emotional highs and big lows, and multiple critical failures occurring simultaneously with no main engine working definitely falls under the latter.

2 thoughts on “Last Week Was Not a High Point: Still No Engine, More Breakdowns, Almost Out of Water

  1. Newport is an expensive place to have big problems. We keep our H54 Acadia at Hinckley in Portsmouth just north of Newport. Can’t say enough good things about them. Very best of luck to you in getting back in operation. Supply chain issues are having a negative impact on everything

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