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20 January 2017

Back From The Brink | Hydrolocking Our Thornycroft Engine



There are certain things you never want to hear. Like when you're wiping crumbs off of your shirt and someone shrieks:

"Who ate the last chocolate chip cookie?"

Or when you hear your mother scream up the stairs using your full name:

"Mary Jane Thomas, get down here right this minute and explain the bruise on your little brother's forehead!"

Or when you start the engine on your sailboat and hear:

"Ka-thunk."

As soon as you hear that sound you feel sick to your stomach. That's because it's the unmistakable sound that occurs when your engine seizes. That can result when you hydrolock your engine. I don't know much about boats, but I do know one thing - hydrolocking your engine is never a good thing.

If you don't know much about boats, hydrolocking your engine means that water has gotten into your engine. If you want to get technical about it, water gets into the cylinders which causes your pistons to not be able to complete their rotation. This causes your engine to stop. It can also cause significant damage such as bent or broken rods, blown head gasket, cracked cylinders or cracked block. That kind of thing.

For those of you who aren't into the technical detail, I'll translate. It means that everything is [insert your favorite naughty word].

After your stomach starts to settle down a bit and you've had a very large gin and tonic to calm your nerves, you start to assess the damage this is going to do to your savings account. We're talking big numbers here, at least they're big numbers to us. Potentially something in the order of $10,000. 

Actually, we're probably talking something like $10,250. The extra $250 is for additional gin and chocolate chip cookies. These will be required if you have to repower your engine.

"Repower" sounds innocuous enough. Kind of like eating an energy bar when your stomach starts growling.

What it really means is that you have to buy a new engine. Not only is that expensive, it would be a huge setback to us in terms of our cruising plans.

Besides, I've kind of grown fond of our Thornycroft engine. Sure, he's a bit rough around the edges and snarls at you when you change his glow plugs, but he's got an eccentric quality to him that's kind of endearing.

[Note: Scott just read this and asked me why our engine is a boy. I told him it's because Thorny smells bad.]

Thorny, our eccentric British engine.

Because we didn't have our engine in gear at the time, we had a small glimmer of hope that there might not have been any damage and that Thorny would continue to be part of our crew.

Turns out that we were lucky, which is why this blog post is entitled "Back from the Brink" and not "Goodbye, Savings Account."

Some of you nerdy boatie people are dying to know how the whole hydrolocking thing happened. You're weird, by the way. Turns out I'm kind of weird too because I'm writing blog posts about hydrolocking engines. How did that happen?

It was our exhaust elbow. It gave up on life and water backed into the engine. Fortunately, a spare exhaust elbow, gasket and end cap had just arrived from the UK the day before, so we were able to change it out.

Brand new exhaust elbow imported from England.

We administered TLC to Thorny by removing the glow plugs and draining the water from the cylinders. Then we ended up changing the oil ten times. Luckily, there was only a bit of water in the oil. Thorny really didn't like all of the oil changes. It's kind of like forcing a five year old boy to take ten baths in a row after he's been playing in the mud all day long. There's a lot of whining and screaming going on.

Finally, we got the oil looking the way oil should look - brown, somewhat clear and quickly turning to black. Not the unpleasant gray quality it had when there was water in it.

After that ordeal, here's the sound you do want to hear as Thorny starts up:

"Purr."

We definitely hope we dodged a big bullet here and that Thorny continues to purr when we head off to the Bahamas.

Have you ever hear a noise that made you feel sick to your stomach? What bullets have you dodged?

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28 comments:

  1. Engines are definitely male! So glad you were able to sort this out.

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    1. We're glad we were able to sort it out too. Hopefully, Thorny continues to behave.

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  2. We had our exhaust system redone several years ago and for the same reason. We have two 454 engines in our boat. It would be terrible to have this happen to us. I'm glad you lucked out. Excellent.

    Have a fabulous day and I know you will. ☺

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    1. Yep, I guess at some point they need to be replaced. Boats do like their TLC.

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  3. Golly, I'm glad you guys got that sorted out quickly and relatively cheaply. If you don't make it to the Bahamas, we won't be able to mooch off your beer supply!!!! :-O

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    1. We'll keep a few spare beers in the fridge for you :-)

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  4. Dang I'm relieved for you! We've sung the exhaust elbow blues ourselves and understand completely how much gin and chocolate is necessary to get through those times. Whew! That's a big, big relief! Good old Thorny. Now, how about giving him a sweet name, something reflective of a cooperative personality. Our engine is named Hiram, after Mike's grandfather.

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    1. I love the name you gave your engine. Nice tribute to Mike's grandfather :-)

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  5. Glad it was a much cheaper fix! That would put a dent in anyone's savings.
    Boys do smell bad, especially teen boys who try to cover it up with Axe.

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  6. So happy that you hear the purr, and not from a feline either, though that might be less expensive. That feline sound of "ack, ack", makes me feel sick to my stomach. I haven't had to dodge any bullets, we always make sure our firearms are aimed in the correct direction.

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    1. What I always hated was stepping in a pile of cat hairballs in the middle of the night. That "ack,ack" sound is never a good sign.

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  7. How awful! You're so lucky you're organized and had already ordered that extra part and gotten gotten it. I've been through a lot, but I survived, and the only thing that upsets me now are awful things on the news, like the Paris terror attack or an unethical orange man saying mean things. My stomach literally gets nauseous.

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    1. I feel sick to my stomach when I watch the news. There's always something depressing :-(

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  8. So glad it didn't empty that savings account! We've lost 2 car engines and 1 transmission this year. I just sigh and pull through. Here's to wishing a long time of no more problems with it!

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    1. Yikes - sorry about your car trouble :-( That sure hits the budget hard.

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  9. The bullets we dodged are very similar to yours. Glad those days in the Wild West are over. :-) Yep, I recognize the feeling when some awful sound reaches one's ears. And then, sometimes, you do get lucky and I am very happy for you guys! TlC is what everything on the boat needs, especially the engine and especially if you only have one. We can't remember the many times we had to replace our exhaust elbows or have them welded, because the new kind Yanmar created (the kind that never needs replacement apparently) did not fit under our engine boards.... Happy motoring!

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    1. Exhaust elbows seem to be a source of trouble for many boater :-( Hopefully, we'll be able to do more sailing than motoring this year.

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  10. Yikes! Glad it all worked out and bravo for the perseverance with the oil changes. This post arrived just hours after Patrick and I were discussing what we need to do to get our engine back up and running for next season... I don't look forward to that lead-in-the-stomach sensation with every funny noise !

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    1. All the best getting your engine up and ready for next season. They do need a lot of care and attention :-)

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  11. I love reading all of your Thornycroft woes. It makes me feel better about ours! We have that same exhaust elbow on order. We have replaced ours twice now, the first time the cast iron rusted through when we were in the Bahamas. We had a spare, but I forgot to order the one connector piece (from the older style one) so we made it out of an old bilge pump handle, some bronze parts we got from neighboring boats and a whole lot of RTV. We said we would replace it as soon as we got to civilization - but alas we left it that way for 6 years without a problem. We put the new one on with the correct parts and it started leaking within months...GRRR. I think if we added up all of the parts we have replaced and rebuilt on our Thorneycroft we would be pretty close to a new one! Glad to hear it all worked out for you. Cheers!

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    1. We love knowing there are others out there who have the same Thornycroft woes :-) But scary knowing your new one leaked within months. Hope that doesn't happen to us.

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  12. Well, the technicalities of that are way above my head, but I'm glad you got it fixed! I get the same sort of feeling when the car engine makes unexpected noises. I drive cars for a long time (if they still go, it seems pointless replacing them to me) so I know exactly how they should sound! Thanks to Messrs Vauxhall and Volkswagen I've not had many problems in the last 25 years.

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    1. The technicalities are way above my head too :-) I'm with you in terms of driving old, reliable cars rather than spending money on a new one.

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  13. Phew! You must be so relieved! Everything about sailboats costs so much... I feel nervous knowing our little boat has a 35 year old engine, but it runs smoothly and has a reputation of a real work horse. I believe yours is also one of those good old time quality engines where you can do a lot of fixing yourself. Not so much with the new high-tech ones...

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    1. I can't even begin to tell you how relieved we are :-)

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  14. The only noise that I have heard that made me sick to my stomach was the sound I heard the night I woke up and Hurricane Andrew was upon us. We had safely evacuated our apartment that was in a flood zone off of downtown Miami and were in my fathers townhouse in Kendall and had been watching the news all night.
    At 3am the 'noise' woke me up. I had lived in this house for a number of years and had never heard anything like it (and hope never to again).
    Needless to say, we did not sleep after that.
    After the front upstairs window crashed in from a flying roof tile, we huddled downstairs in the living room until even the local news station quit broadcasting so their crew could evacuate to a 'safe room'.
    In the morning, after the storm had passed, I ventured to the upstairs bedroom to see sunlight coming from the closet. We had lost a good portion of our roof.
    But we had our lives.
    A bullet dodged indeed.

    - Lisa

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