Sea water pump failure

This ‘tale of woe’ has nothing to do with the Southerly but has several lessons which can be drawn from the salutary experience and I hope that by recounting the story, others will be better able to deal with any similar problems should they arise.

In the late 1990’s, I decided that it was time to sell my Parker 31 and move up in size and move to the sun. I focussed on the Jeanneau 44 ‘Sun Magic’ as it ‘ticked the boxes’ for my next phase of sailing. Having viewed several examples of this model, I was rather taken with an ex-charter yacht in Majorca which had been substantially re-fitted by a marina yard and was quite tidy with new sails among other things. They had (apparently) rebuilt the 50hp Perkins engine and I found this reassuring.

On my first extended cruise I was heading back from Sardinia in November…!.. Having been stuck there waiting for a break in the relentless gales, we had just left Menorca when the engine note changed and it was clear that the sea water cooling supply to the engine had failed. Ruling out the impeller, it became evident that the water pump shaft, which was driven direct from the engine cam shaft via a slotted keyway, was not turning. With nearly 100 miles to go to our marina berth in Mallorca and with crew booked on flights back to the UK the following day, there was some pressure. The wind had completely failed and some of the crew were struggling to cope as we wallowed in the uncomfortable swell left over from the storms. We were going nowhere and it was imperative that we found some way to get the engine ‘up and running’. A bit of lateral thinking and improvisation got us underway as we utilised the electric bilge pump, diverted using various connections, gaffer tape and jubilee clips to take a sea water supply from the engine sea cock direct into the heat exchanger. Switching the bilge pump on, the Heath Robinson ‘lash up’ held together all the way back to the marina and only fell apart as we went astern into our berth.

The yard (that had rebuilt the engine) replaced the pump and it was put down (wrongly as it transpired) to ‘one of those things’.

The next time the pump failed, we were just off the entrance to Barcelona Harbour with fortunately a downwind run to the end of our dock. We ghosted down under poles as I worked out how best to achieve a satisfactory berthing under engine. Having full fresh water tanks, I instructed my young son to turn on all the hot water taps down below and I started the engine at the end of the dock. The fresh cold water running through the calorifier cooled the loop through the engine allowing us sufficient time to berth.

The first lesson here is that one should always look behind any failure to establish a cause. In this case, the engine rebuild exercise had not used the recommended alignment tool to ensure that the rotation of the cam shaft was concentric with the water pump and they were not. Every turn moved the tongue and slot backwards and forwards against one another and the result, after a time, was that the tongue was worn into a pin which no longer rotated with the groove.

Purchasing an alignment tool from Perkins, we aligned the pump and cam shaft and kept the reconditioned old pump as a spare that was never subsequently needed in the 13 years that I kept the yacht.

The other lesson which is easily acknowledged but far more difficult to implement is not to make tight travel deadlines. I know that we have all heard this before but far better to have a leisurely day or two in hand than force a passage through inclement weather and unforeseen failures. I feel for charterers who have deadlines to keep!

One thought on “Sea water pump failure

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  1. Analyse; analyse; analyse: Lateral thinking wins again!
    Worthy of a place in the Yachting Press!

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