Earthrace: not a Happy National Biodiesel Day

Posted By on March 18, 2007

Earthrace StalledAlthough it would be better to celebrate “National Biodiesel Day” with good news from the Earthrace team, its not been a promising start for the biodiesel project. After significant hype, having prop problems followed by a cracked engine part are putting nails in the coffin for the crew attempting a world record biodiesel circumnavigation. The boat and crew are trying hard to get a replacement part so they can make reparis, but in reading the March 17th Captain’s (b)log and noting their ‘stalled position,’ the situation does not look good.

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. My dreams are shattered by an engine alarm that we know is bad news. I scurry out of bed and look at the controls. It’s showing low oil pressure on the starboard engine. We shut her down and clamber down to have a look. To our horror, there’s oil all over the engine and bilge. “It’s the head gasket,” Anthony says. “Oil is leaking all around the block.” I’m not convinced, as it just seems there’s oil everywhere. We refill the engine with oil and start her up. Oil pisses out a bolthole on the side of the engine. “What does that do”, I ask Anthony, pointing to the square box that the oil is coming from. “Not sure bro”.

The manuals are out and it turns out to be a heat exchanger that cools engine oil. We start to remove it, but the job just snowballs. To get the device off, we must first remove lots of other parts. The engine room is hot and loud, and the engine we’re working on continues to burn our hands for hours as we remove parts bit by bit. We’re continuing on with one engine so as not to lose too much time, but the motion makes even small jobs a mission. Eventually the device is off. It must be a blown gasket, although they both look fine. “Lets just put a thin layer of silicone over the gaskets to ensure they all seal,” says Anthony.

Two hours later and its all back together. We start her up and to our horror, the oil leak remains, and now there’s a water leak as well. The oil leak is not from the bolthole at all, but rather a hairline crack right next to the bolt. We’re gutted. All that work and lost time and we haven’t even fixed the leak.

We start calling ground crew with our sat phone to get new parts underway. Meanwhile Anthony comes up with a cunning plan. “We can sand the housing back while its still on the engine, then seal the crack with some JB Weld.” Well this is not something I know much about, so I just agree to do the sanding. A short while later and the 2-part epoxy is applied over the culprit crack, and we wait for it to set. We drag ourselves into bed and crash.

A few hours later and we start the engine. Now there’s just a small leak through a hole, rather than the full crack. A second batch of JB weld is applied, and an hour later a third. As the engine cools, it sucks in just enough of the epoxy to open a tiny hole, although it seems we’ll close it up eventually. Just not sure how long it’ll take. Meanwhile groundcrew have lined up a replacement part for us in Mexico.

Captain Pete Bethune


Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.