Fixing Amneris: Diesel Engine, Battery and Ignition Work for a Novice Engineer

On the last day of March we left Amneris to be towed back to her home berth, in need of some tender loving care after a fuel pipe rupture and the knock-on problems that this created. Now, it was time for me to head to Falmouth to deal with the repairs.

engine

May 23 to May 30 2019

It’s been more than a month since Amneris was towed home,  and in that time I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what needs doing to get her in seaworthy shape again. There are four main tasks in hand, almost all of them connected with the engine.

Priority is to get hold of a new leak-off pipe, which I will have to get made to order as our Volvo MD5A engine, although in great shape overall, is rather old. This means that if something does go and it’s not an everyday consumable such as a filter, the parts are likely to be obsolete. Before coming out I found one on Ebay but it was used, and the owner wanted GBP 150 for it. No, thank you.

Then there’s the question of the ignition switch. It probably still works but the broken key rendered the mechanism impossible. And finally, with no way of recharging them underway with no engine, the batteries need replacing.

Unconnected with engine trouble is the leaky head. Again, this is an old model so it’s difficult to find replacement parts. We had a new gasket made in Poland for almost no money,  so I can try that. Ultimately, it doesn’t work, and the silicon option doesn’t prevent (clean) water dripping out for several minutes after each flush either. I can order in some dedicated repair tape for next time, but for now it’ll have to be enough to mop up each time. I’ve added the head to the list of things to be replaced on next haul out.

I’ve heard many good things about a company called Armada, based in Falmouth, who are reputed to be able to rebuild any pipe you care to bring them. My information is good, and after a long walk and a couple of hours wait in a café round the corner, I’ve got a new leak-off pipe for Amneris for just GBP 10.

It’s a day’s work to get this done. The next day, I’m off in search of a new ignition switch. This isn’t such a specialised part, but it still needs to fit into the space on the engine control panel, and in the end I’m off to Plymouth to source the part at Marine Bazaar.

Done, and done. So, batteries. These prove more complicated to obtain than they should be, mainly because of their size. The battery compartment is tiny, and none of the local garages have what I need right now. They can order in, but that will take time and I need to at least get the engine working before I go back to Kraków. In the end it’s Trago Mills in Falmouth to the rescue (and the Water Taxi to help me carry the batteries back to Amneris).

Now comes the tough part. I have all the bits I need but I’m not a natural DIY person and I’ve never done more than glance at a 12v battery installation in my life. In order to ascend this steep learning curve, I’m going to need more than my toolbox. It’s going to require YouTube, and Nigel Calder’s Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual.

It takes all day, but finally the leak-off pipe, the batteries and the ignition switch are more or less in place. I say more or less because the ignition switch doesn’t quite fit and I need a washer for the inside of the panel to hold it firmly in place. Naturally, I’ve got every size of washer imaginable – except the one I require. Nevertheless, I’m finally in a position to test things out before I go shopping again. It’s the moment of truth. I turn the key, careful not to dislodge wires in the free-hanging switch, pull the cold start lever and… nothing.

Disappointment wells, and I text Aleksandra to inform her of my failure. Being of a more practical turn of mind she reminds me of the cause of  all these problems: a split leak-off pipe, fuel in the bilges… “might be a good idea to put some diesel in the tank”, she suggests.

Yes! It works! Am unique mechanical genius today! Just in time too, as the sun is beginning to set.

The next day I’m in the local Chandlery Macsalvors of Penryn, where they are able to supply me with the washer I need. I fit the ignition switch into place, which involves disconnecting the wires and redoing them. At this point, yesterday’s mechanical genius abandons me, but I don’t fully understand this until I’m on the bus back to the airport later. The engine still starts, all seems to be well, but on the journey home I realise that I’ve rewired from the wrong starting position.

Still, at least I know what’s wrong this time, and thankfully our friend Joshua will be able to put it right for me before our next visit. He’s also agreed to cast an eye over the battery installation and leak-off pipe, just in case. On top of that, there’s a problem that I didn’t know about until the new batteries were in place: all of the electrics (GPS, radio, cabin and nav lights, etc.) except the instrument panel turn on as expected. This can probably be solved quite easily, within seconds of someone who actually knows what they are doing looking at the batteries…

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