We got towed into the harbour in Mazatlan 14 months ago now. You can read our story here- Sea Shepherd to the Rescue- Stranded in the Sea of Cortez. To sum it up in a quick nutshell, our engine died about 7 hours of La Paz while we were in a channel. We ended up getting towed over 200 nautical miles to Mazatlan by the angels of the ocean, Sea Shepherd. We immediately started troubleshooting our engine. We were recommended a local mechanic who came onboard and suggested we pull the injectors and get them serviced. We went for it, and when the injectors came back from the shop and were re-installed, the engine was worse with a loud knocking sound. Great. So, we decided to try the next mechanic that was recommended to us and he helped us to get the injectors re-calibrated to solve the knocking and at least get us back to square one. After months and months of working with our mechanic, we had nothing but issues trying to track down the source of the problem. The engine would only run for 15-20 minutes before it would lose power and die.
Here is pretty much everything we did, not necessarily in this order: We ran the engine out of a bucket- the problem persisted. We replaced all hoses in the fuel system. We checked the tank vent to ensure it wasn’t clogged. We checked the pick up tube to make sure it wasn’t clogged and pressure tested it. We pulled several samples of fuel from our diesel tank to confirm that it was not dirty or contaminated with water. We replaced the fuel shut off valve as we had heard that on our boat they are a known problem. We changed both fuel filters- twice. We found a tiny weep on the back of our Racor housing unit, so we replaced it. We replaced the fuel lift pump…..twice as we thought perhaps one of them was damaged. We checked our exhaust elbow to see if it was clogged- it was not. (While we had it off we also cleaned the heat exchanger and flushed the cooling system out as well as replaced our fresh water pump as it was quite corroded) The problem STILL persisted. Bloom’s engine would not stay running for more than 20 minutes before she would lose power and die.
At this point, we decided to get some fresh eyes onboard and brought a new mechanic in- Rafa with Mazatlan Yachts Services. He thoroughly inspected and tested our engine and after lots of investigation, we concluded that the problem must be the injector pump so we replaced it. That wasn’t it. Rafa even brought Volvo Penta specialists for us in from Puerto Vallarta to see if they could help find the problem. We pulled the timing housing off to inspect the governor and didn’t find any major issues. We inspected our idler gear on the oil pump and noticed that it had way too much play in it so we concluded that it was the issue. We ordered anew one and Rafa installed it for us- still no love.
As we started discussing the ‘repower’ word, Rafa wasn’t ready to give up. He bled the lines while the engine was running and smelled the bleed cloth. He believed he could smell a hint of gasoline on it. He took another fuel sample and asked a couple of nearby boat workers. They thought they could smell gasoline too. Hmmmm, this was getting interesting. Next we got a fresh supply of clean diesel (not from our tank this time!) and ran the engine out of a bucket after thoroughly flushing the potentially-contaminated fuel out of our system. She ran beautifully for well over the usual 20 minutes. No decrease in power, she ran perfectly. WOW. We couldn’t believe that after all this time, Bloom didn’t even have an engine issue- she had a FUEL issue! Yikes.
How the heck did gasoline get in our fuel tank you are wondering? Well, to be honest, so are we. We always fill our tanks out of jerry cans so that we can run the fuel through a Baja filter before it enters our tank (yes, we do catch a lot of water and crud!) Gasoline does not get caught in a Baja filter though. Just before we left La Paz, we topped our tank up with the two jerry cans of diesel that we’d bought while in Puerto Escondido. We will never know if the diesel was contaminated with gasoline or if the fuel attendant accidentally added some gasoline but we are sure this was the source of the contamination.
There was enough gasoline mixed in with the diesel in our tank to cause what we thought were fuel pressure issues. Thank goodness there was not enough gasoline in our diesel tank to cause our engine to explode. We were extremely lucky, even though we got stuck in Mazatlan for so long! That said, we have learned more about our engine during that 14 months than ever before. We like to think of it as our year-long intensive, hands-on diesel course in Mazatlan!
The other wonderful side affect of our engine trouble chasing journey is that we really got to know Mazatlan and all that it has to offer. It has found a place in our hearts and is one of our favourite cities in Mexico! We now consider ourselves ‘Mazatlecos’ and will be leaving behind friends and our ‘familia de Mexico’ when we leave.
We are hoping that our experience will help prevent this issue happening to other cruisers- please be careful when filling your tank or your jerry cans and if you have issues with your engine, check your fuel first!
We would like to give a HUGE shout out to Rafa with Mazatlan Yachts Services for never giving up on us and perservering until he helped us find the problem. He is a wonderful mechanic- highly skilled with great communication and very fair pricing. If you need your engine serviced he will take great care of you!