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There comes a time when a cruiser’s “battlefield” repair skills are no longer up to the task of dealing with a problem and professional help must be sought. We had pretty much reached that point with our port engine.

Background? It wouldn’t start. In fact, it had started and then stalled but then wouldn’t start again.

What did I do prior to reaching the seek-help stage?

  • Changed the spark plugs
  • Checked Racor pre-filter
  • Used alternate fuel line to rule out air leak in feeder lines
  • Swapped fuel pump with starboard engine
  • Removed carburetor and cleaned it

All of that and still no love. Sigh.

Our friend Kirk came over the next day and even though I had changed both of the plugs, he checked and felt that we were getting no spark. As any mechanic will tell you, you need fuel, spark and air to make an engine run. While I was assuming that fuel was the culprit, he felt that it was spark that we were lacking. If that were so, seeking help was required even more.

When Rebecca and I were in Basseterre the other day, walking along the docks at Port Zante Marina, I saw 4 guys having a conversation at the back of a boat. A couple were sitting in a skiff with a big Yamaha engine on it. I stopped to ask them if they knew anyone who could fix Yamaha outboards. One answered “yeah, this guy,” pointing to his friend. After a brief conversation, I took down the guy’s name, Alfie, and number, and made plans to hook up with him in two days.

In my recent post about hashing, I talked about making friends. One of the people that we met at the hash is named David and he owns Indigo Yachts here in St. Kitts. There are a number of sleek looking day charter cats in operation on the island and it’s David’s company that builds them. David had told me that if I needed anything on the island to just give him a call. Wanting to hear his opinion of who we should speak to, immediately after leaving the guys on the dock, I called him and explained our engine woes. Without hesitation he said “the guy you want to speak to is named Alfie…

Working under the assumption that there is only one mechanic named Alfie in the area, I now felt more confident that we were going to be in good hands.

Eagle, one of the cats from Indigo Yachts.

Yesterday, we moved our boat back to Basseterre from White House Bay. We have come to realize just how poorly our boat maneuvers with only one engine. With the port engine not working, making a tight turn to starboard was extremely tough. Because of this lack of maneuverability, we opted to anchor outside of the main harbor, on the east side of the cruise ship dock. While this made for a longer ride to pick up Alfie initially, unbeknownst to us, we were actually anchoring much closer to his shop. This would pay dividends as we had to run back to his shop several times to pick up tools.

As soon as Alfie began troubleshooting the engine, I could tell that he was no amatuer. He shared with us that he had travelled to Trinidad to go to school to learn his trade and that frequently he has even more work on the island than he can handle.

Upon confirming that yes, we were not getting any spark from the plugs, he set about testing other pieces of the engine. When he suggested that the stator might be bad, news that might have made less-prepared cruisers cry, we surprised him by breaking out a brand new stator from our spares kit. In addition to that, we also had a brand new CDI unit, the computer which controls the electrical functions in the engine. There are spares which, having been recommended by our old friend Jeff, we have been carrying with us since before we left Florida. While I’m not super happy with having to use them, I’m also glad we didn’t spend all that money for nothing either.

  • Note: Stator: $266.66 US, CDI: $218.78 US

Alfie proceeded to swap both of those parts and while he did so, I paid very close attention. The most difficult part of the entire job was dealing with the engine in the close confines of the engine well. Once the electrical parts were substituted, the engine fired up as it should, almost. Unfortunately, there now appeared to be a fuel issue. Various bits of troubleshooting continued from this point, ultimately requiring Alfie to remove the carb and check it himself. After cleaning it seemingly no more thoroughly than I did, he replaced it and all was well. Apparently there must have been some minute obstruction in the idle jet as, prior to his service, the engine would run at high revs but not at idle. Now it works as it should.

While I hate to spend money on a job that I could do myself, and in fact, I won’t, in this case I justify the very fair fee that Alfie charged us for his service as a learning expense. I watched what he did very closely and in the future, were I armed with the proper tools and parts, I just might be able to duplicate the process myself. Might.

Huge thanks to Alfie for his assistance yesterday. He’s a very cool guy and if you need an engine pro on St. Kitts, he is most definitely your man. Thanks also to David from Indigo Yachts for his help in organizing the repair. We really appreciate the support.

Doesn’t everyone fix their engine with a hammer?

A brand new CDI unit…

…and a brand new stator.

Success. After enjoying a nice cold celebratory beer, Alfie had to rush off to another job!

17 Comments

  1. Nice to hear a happy ending. Let’s hear it for spares and cool mechanics! I still think I should ditch reading and math and history for Zach and just send him to mechanics school. 😉

    • There is truth in that last statement! I went to a technical high school but amongst the kids I hung out with, it wasn’t cool to take shop classes. Only the “dumb” kids took classes like auto mechanics, welding, machine shop, etc. How DUMB was that??? The guys who acquired skills in those trades are likely making big bucks now and the “smart” kids have to rely upon them to save their butts. I would kill to go back in time and take a completely different set of high school classes than I did.

      • I had a similar discussion with my mechanic who I trust so much that I make the hour long return trip to our old neighbourhood to see him. He is mid-50’s and we discussed “if we had to do it all over” what career would we choose. I said plumber, electrician or mechanic, all jobs that cannot be outsourced overseas. Yes you could get squeezed by those skills immigrating into your country but the demand for services will always be there because flushing loos, shiny lighting and autos are not going away soon. My mechanic agreed except for the mechanic part. His take is that over the last 10 years autos have changed so much that it is getting harder to stay current on technology. Plumbing and Electrical technology has not seen the same levels of technological leaps. When he retires in Canada he is returning to his native Barbados where his auto skills will be good for another 10-15 years.

  2. Good Job – those idle jets can be troublesome at times. I prefer the B-12 Chemtool spray cleaner when working on a carb. Additionally, and without fail, I ALWAYS add Sta-Bil @ 1-oz per 3 gals and Seafoam or B-12 Chemtool Liquid @ 1-oz per gal. Same treatment for 2-cycle engines also.
    It may drive up the avg cost/gal but I like to avoid cussing as much as possible if I can.

    I had an outboard about drive me plum crazy one time that I just couldn’t get my arms around as to the issue. Nothing appeared wrong, BUT, no dice on it starting or firing. Finally, an inline fuse I had previously checked to insure it was not blown ended up being the culprit. The fuse was fine, it was the minor bit of corrosion within the fuse holder that needed a gentle cleaning. That solved it – whowouldhavethunk. I cussed enough to make a sailor proud over that one.

    • Sounds like that fuse issue would be tough to track down. A challenge with living down here is that specific brands of certain items are hard/impossible to get. Carb cleaner? We buy what they have available. Seafoam? We use that too and now buy whatever cans we find on the shelves that we come across. I think we may have just run out. 🙁

      • As a minimum I would use Sta-Bil if you can obtain it. If possible, use up 80%-90% of the fuel load before re-fueling so you’re not just topping off an 80%- 90% tank of old fuel with just a bit of fresh fuel.
        I realize that worry about fuel for completing a passage, etc. is nothing to sneeze at, just that if motoring around on some short hauls and then anchoring/mooring for X weeks, it may be beneficial to allow the tank(s)/engine(s) to have as much fresh fuel as possible. Obviously, you would have to know where/what & when fuel is available to suit any schedule.

        You already know this stuff with your experience, just tossing it out there anyway.

  3. Mike, PLEASE! – that is not a ‘hammer’ that Alfie is using. It is a Birmingham screwdriver.

    🙂

    Mike

    (P.S. – I used to work in Birmingham and it is almost true!)

  4. Very good! I too was surprised to read you had the spare CDI & stator.
    When it comes to engine problems I learned on motorcycles and there are 4 parts:
    1. fuel / air
    2. ignition (spark)
    3. compression
    4. timing

    Safe voyages,
    Ben
    sloop Chick-a-pea
    C-250 wk #364
    Crystal River, FL

  5. Excellent post. Did you check to see which part was the culprit? Given the expense, it would be nice to know if one could go back in the spares bin.

    I agree with you on the school thing. I was one of those smart kids (ended up an engineer), but because my dad was the electronics teacher, I took four years of electronics and half a year of auto where a tore an inline four down to the piston rings and put it back together again.Very glad I learned some great life skills in those courses. My only regret was not learning how to weld.

  6. Ok, everyone wants to know, bottom line, how much? lol

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