Back in La Cruz (and the rebuild of our Perkins 4.108)

Posted:  July 15, 2023
👁 2850   10

Here We Go Again

For us, it was like being back in the trenches; Chris head down into our bilge, covered in oil and diesel while swearing like a sailor… which I suppose was appropriate. It was our first day back in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle after limping our way from Isla Isabel where our Perkins 4.108 suddenly decided it didn’t want to be an engine anymore and instead became nothing more but a very expensive piece of ballast.

We had only been gone a week, but a majority of the boats in the anchorage had sailed off either to French Polynesia or sought shelter in a summer anchorage or marina, “safe” from the upcoming hurricanes. We had anchored under sail next to our friends aboard SV Sitka, a Cheoy Lee Offshore 41’ we lovingly refer to as Avocet’s sister/cousin given the boats’ alikeness yet stark differences. Right back where we had started, but with a massive reminder in the form of a broken diesel engine that we had in fact gone, saw, and failed to conquer. 

Our first evening after we set the hook was spent enjoying the town carnival which had started right as we were leaving for Isla Isabel. I didn’t get to see Judas Burn on Easter, but Max and Karen assured me it was a let down this year which only sort-of eased my FOMO. Kenna’s parents were still visiting, so it was wonderful to meet the people responsible for raising one of my favorite humans. Despite the fact that she and I had only just met a month prior, it didn’t take long to realize that she was definitely going to be a friend for the long haul. We walked around town playing carnival games, eating tacos and playing dice at the Green Tomato bar, which we had entirely to ourselves. “Nickel and dime works every time” Max said as he desperately tried to roll a worthy amount. Oh how we missed our people. The silver lining of our engine debacle was that we had more time to spend and memories to make with our newfound familia. 

Jumping In

The Fatty Knees 8' Dinghy fully loaded

Fatty fully loaded

“This is going to be worth writing about ” Chris said as he looked quizzically into our engine compartment. The cabin sole was splayed open revealing our blue Perkins engine, nicknamed  “Ann Perkins”  by us, as true fans of Parks and Rec. The first day of our engine overhaul was spent trying to figure out how exactly we would get the 600 pound  hunk of English steel out of the cabin sole. Since we were unsure of what our future held, we decided to tackle a brunt of this project on the hook to avoid costly marina fees, and were doing our best to keep things mellow and positive even when the daily thermal winds came up and turned the boat into a bucking bronco. After tinkering around with the engine, Chris wiped his oily hands off his pants and said “alright, ill be back” before braving the chop and taking off, shorebound, in the dinghy. 

After about an hour, my phone rang with a photo of my beloved displayed on the screen. “La Cruzian’s are immensely nicer than Californians,” Chris said over the phone. I could barely hear him between the sound of our two stroke outboard and the wind. “But anyways, I need your help. I’m pulling up right now.” I closed my laptop and carefully made my way out of the boat, stepping gently over each stringer trying to avoid the oily rags and diesel soaked diapers. I wish I had a photo to help reinforce the sight of Chris pulling up to the boat with a solid 12′ long, 6×6” timber that was more than the length of our 8’ Fatty Knees. Despite the weight, the Fatty still had an impressive amount of freeboard left. 

We always started our day with the morning cruisers net on Channel 22; listening to the news, the events, who has what for trade or for sale. Despite the few boats that remained in the anchorage, the net was still busy with chit chat and a wealth of knowledge leading to us connecting with Richard from SV Sourdough who was kind enough to lend us his chain hoist for the engine. He is also a Perkins owner, so understood the struggle and was invested in our project and how we would fair pulling the engine at anchor.

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With the wood beam secure between our galley and head portlight (after some modification, of course) we affixed the chain hoist and began to raise the block. Luckily, it was the mellow part of the day before the thermal winds and our pals Jay and Kenna volunteered to help stabilize the engine which was crucial in such a tight space. But, before we could lift the engine, we had to remove the drive plate that was seized to the input shaft of the transmission. But, it would not budge. So instead of the two popping apart, Chris had to break the drive plate in half then cut the remaining collar that was seized to the splined input shaft of the transmission. 

It was out, and we were left with a big, gross, oily pit where she once sat. We often joked that we had touched every inch of our boat except the engine compartment and bilge since it was 6’ deep and a pain to access (especially around the engine) but had decided it would be addressed when we hauled out in the summer. Boats have a funny way of telling you when you need to work on something, and don’t really care about your predetermined plans. Avocet wanted us to make her dark spots shine, so we took advantage of the situation and got to work… Well, Chris did anyway. 

Jay and Kenna helping us stabilize the Perkins 4.108

Jay and Kenna helping us stabilize the engine

Before commencing with the beautification of the engine compartment, Chris dismantled the engine piece by piece and discovered that the culprit of our issue was once again the injection fuel pump. If you remember, we had a runaway incident in November while in transit from Monterey to Morro Bay California, and had the pump rebuilt by a certified and “reputable” shop in Fresno. After a month and two rebuild tries (that should have been our first red flag) the pump was “ready” to be reinstalled and we were on our way south. If you follow the blog, you know how the rest of that story goes. Disappointed is an understatement, but at least the Perkins could be rebuilt. Not all was lost! This time we ordered a BRAND NEW pump from Trans Atlantic Diesels (which we thought would remedy our problems) and decided to continue with rebuilding everything from the head to the gaskets.

Glorious, Glorious, Sanding

Careful prep work in the bilge

Careful prep work

As it turns out, Tyvek suits are impossible to find in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and the surrounding areas, so if you are planning on getting down and dirty while sailing mainland I highly recommend you pack a supply because Chris had to grind fiberglass without one. Dexter would have been impressed with his prep work; not a single surface went uncovered or untapped to ensure the fiberglass dust (or as I call it, itch glitter) remained contained. Chris closed himself into his own snowglobe of fiberglass while I retreated to SV Lusty where I enjoyed the AC and quiet work environment, leaving Chris to execute his master plan. 

“Yah he’s still alive in there” our friend Ethan from SV Eyoni said in our group chat. He was sitting in our cockpit with a cold one, weaving a new wrap and turks head on our wheel-spoke after we expressed how we would love his craftsmanship aboard Avocet. The thought of Ethan weaving away while Chris tediously grinded fiberglass inside was such a contrasting image, but I was glad to have confirmation my determined boat boy was alive and kicking. When Chris had finished, Ethan sent us a photo of the aftermath and it was itchy. Luckily for Chris, after years of building fishing boats, working in the boatyard and all the fiberglass projects in between he Chris doesn’t get itchy from fiberglass like normal people  do (which sounds like a blessing but is actually a really, really bad thing). Even though he did his best to protect himself using his full face respirator, and Carhartt pants he clearly fell short at the long sleeve shirt and glove department.

Interior of SV Avocet

Project Zone

In the spirit of doing boatwork in exotic places, our usual paint go-to, Tile-clad, was unavailable throughout the Banderas Bay so we had to search high and low for the next best thing which of course was a brand we had never heard of. The paint we ended up getting was called PPG semi gloss white, 2 part epoxy paint, supplied by Comex which is a store you can find basically every 15 feet in Mexico – or at least, the Banderas Bay. Anticipating the need to vacate Avocet due to questionable VOC levels (that would surely be outlawed in our home state of California) our pals Dee Dee and Brent from SV Scuba Ninja offered us their apartment, leaving us a key and “no pressure” sentiment. If we needed it, it was ours for the week. It was just another reason why we were thankful to be back in La Cruz to handle our latest unforeseen hurdle. 

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Thanks to Chris’s careful prep work, the fiberglass dust was promptly cleaned and you would have never known a massive sanding project had taken place. With a clean slate and materials at the ready we got to painting the engine compartment and bilge a crisp and clean bright white. Then, after a whole day of painting, we could finally say we had officially touched every single inch of Avocet, inside and out. 

Birthday Break and Good Bye’s

With the paint on and engine rebuild well on its way, we put a pause on the progress and came up for air to celebrate our dear friend Maxson’s birthday. His wife, Karen, had a whole day of fun planned at the pool we had visited a few weeks prior before Chris and I attempted to sail away. This time we added some newcomers to the mix, including the crew of SV Discovery and Brooke from SV AkhLut. 

After spending the whole day poolside with pals we packed up and headed to the Green Tomato bar where we sang, danced, drank and partied until we decided to relocate to SV Lusty. That is when we learned you can fit up to 9 adults in Lusty’s aft cabin bed where the AC blew the strongest. It was the best birthday party we have ever attended, and it lasted through the early hours of the following day. Although it was exhausting to have so much fun, it was a much needed break from engine headaches and a wonderful way to bring everyone together for one last hoorah before the “big scatter” when a majority of the people in the photo on your right sailed south and west. But don’t worry, the fun times didn’t stop… and neither did the engine work. But first, we had to say a very emotional farewell. 

In 2018 when we first bought Avocet, there were not many Cheoy Lee owners on social media. One of the very few was Jason, who was quick to reach out and offer any insight on the vessel we had just bought since he had owned Sitka for about a year already. We thanked him for his offering, and made a light hearted promise of maybe sharing an anchorage someday… and five years later we made good on that promise. Little did we know, he and his girlfriend Kenna would become two of our best friends to have ever crossed our path. When we tried to leave La Cruz the first time, it was emotional, but after returning and making even more memories it just added to the difficult feelings associated with sailing separate ways. But this time, we were not the ones leaving. 

With our engine still out of commission (and place) we had to watch our beloved Jay and Kenna sail north into the Sea of Cortez where Sitka would call home for the summer. Before they left in the early hours of the morning, we had one last supper together at Hule with Karen (Max was still recovering from his birthday). Then, once full of pizza and limonada mineral, we slowly walked back to Avocet where Kenna gave Cleo one last good snuggle, followed by she and I hugging and sobbing. I have found that this is the hardest part of this lifestyle: making amazing friends, then sailing separate ways. 

SV Avocet and SV Sitka

Despite the fear in their eyes I can assure you they love us too

Party On, La Cruz

Once recovered from Max’s birthday bash, we got right back into engine work. However, even with our engine smack dab in the middle of our salon and blown apart across the cabin, we made sure to come up for air and enjoy the world around us – which isn’t hard when you’re “stuck” in a town like La Cruz with friends like Max and Karen! It was truly serendipitous that our engine rebuild coincided with “La Cruz Days” – 9 days of partying to celebrate the town of La Cruz’s patron Saint. The first night featured a parade with horses, motorcycles, “Realeza,” dancing, beer, candy tossed to the crowds and the most insane display of fireworks I have ever seen. 

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The town square was alive with familiar, and fresh faces, but the stark realization that a majority of the cruisers, gringos, had sailed away. Curtis, our friend, a realtor and bartender at the Ballena Blanca, mentioned that the party was not only in commemoration of the town itself, but also to celebrate that the town had returned to the locals. A sentiment I understood entirely being born and raised in a place like Santa Cruz, California, where localism is an essential part of the very fabric that makes up the town. After a whole night of partying, we made our way back to Avocet that quietly awaited us in the west side of the marina, far enough away from the party to be absent of people, but close enough to hear the various bands from the square. 

The sound of mortars went twice a day; 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. In the evening it was to signify the beginning of mass that coincided with the sound of church bells but in the early hours of the morning it was to tell everyone in the town square to go home. Mexicans take parties very seriously, and even though the town square gets trashed during the nightly festivities you would never know what debauchery had occurred by the following morning. It was like a cleaning SWAT team came in and took out the trash, scrubbed the streets and made sure all those who lingered made their way home… or somewhere other than there. It was truly an impressive operation, and the town Mayor was there throughout the entire week, looking absolutely exhausted by the end. 

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The early morning explosives helped us get out of bed in a timely manner, inspiring us to jump into engine work early. We removed half our table to make room for our engine. Luckily with Avocet’s layout, the engine didn’t get in the way of our daily life; it just cluttered one specific area of the cabin. With the engine in an open area Chris was able to dig in and assess what the heck was going on, soon realizing just what we were in for. Despite learning the culprit of our issues was (once again) the high pressure fuel pump, it was in our best interest to do a FULL diagnosis on the engine which included: removing the bell housing, flywheel, adapter plate, rear main seal, timing cover, timing gears, timing plate, and at that point the last thing to do was remove the sump to investigate the lower end. With the sump removed Chris took out the oil pump, main bearing cap, and connecting rod cap for a plastigage test to assess the condition of our main bearings, crankshaft and connecting rod bearings.

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I know – sounds like a mouthful. To sum up the above: the engine was in pieces, and Chris was determined to put it back together, better than ever before. After Chris’s thorough investigation he felt confident in bringing our engine back to life – it would just take a little patience, and a whole lot of third party induced frustration. But I’ll save that story for later 😉 



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