Like Frogs in Boiling Water

April 30, 2013

Marsden Cove, NZ

By: Kerry

I’m sure plenty of boat owners can relate to the following conversation and course of events.

It’s the old ‘frog in boiling water’ scenario: things start out pretty cool in the pool, but the heat’s turned on, and it’s increased incrementally, inexorably, until all of a sudden, you realise the water’s boiling and it’s too late to hop out: you’re cooked.

It’s a process we’ve experienced in various guises over the last year, and the conversation goes something like this:

Us: ‘Our generator isn’t working – it was working just fine when we left the boat four months ago, but now it’s not. Can you fix it, please?”

Mechanic: “Oh, that’ll be the exhaust elbow – it always is, it’s my bread and butter. I’ll pull it off and sort it out.”

Us: “How much will that cost – we’d really like an indication before we start, so it doesn’t get out of hand.”

Mechanic: “$1500, tops.”

So Mechanic pulls generator apart, looks at exhaust elbow and pronounces it ‘f**ked’.

Mechanic: “I could spend a bunch of time cleaning it up, but you’d be better off getting a new one. That’d have to come from the US, though.”

For a country that supposedly has the highest per capita boat ownership on earth, it’s astounding that no-one seems to keep any inventory of spare parts, at least not for our boat – just about everything has to be shipped in from overseas and it always takes at least a week and costs a bomb.

So we wait for a week or so for the elbow to arrive. It’s installed and… nothing. Generator still won’t start.

Mechanic: “It must be the valves. I’ll pull the head off and we’ll get the valves machined and the injectors cleaned.

“I’ll have to send them down to Auckland. That’ll take a week, but they don’t look that bad, so I’m absolutely sure it’ll start then.”

So the head’s sent to Auckland, valves are machined but they’re pronounced ‘pretty f**ked’.

Mechanic: “Well, you’ve got about 70 per cent seal, but you’re better off getting a new set of valves, guides and seals.”

And the inevitable: “We’ll have to get them in from the US.”

Us: “How much will that cost?”

Mechanic: “I reckon about $4000.”

Of course, we have no choice at this point, so we groan and say, ‘go ahead’. But then Easter gets in the way and a week turns into two and then the new valves get put back in and… nothing.

So then Mechanic performs a compression test (probably should have been done at the outset) and declares, “It’s definitely a compression problem. The only solution is to pull the head off, pull the engine out, get it on the bench and pull the pistons out.”

At this point we baulk. We start to wonder if we’d be better off just buying a whole new generator. We get quotes, but a new one is about $9 000, on top of the $4 000 we’re already up for. We get a second opinion, but it’s inconclusive.

And then we realise: We’re cooked.

So we tell the mechanic to go ahead. He pulls the head off, declares the pistons ‘aren’t too bad’ (salt damage is the culprit, he says) but the rings are seized.

Guess what? They have to come in from the US.

So another week, more cost, and finally – after six weeks and a bill that’s equivalent to four fifths of a new generator – our generator is singing like a bird and charging like a rhino.

But we’re feeling like boiled frogs.

~~~ ><(((°>  ><(((°> ><(((°> ~~~

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