Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where'd the heat go?

After this January I won't be back in Seattle until just before leaving for Alaska, so I wanted to get out on the boat for a few days to test out all the systems, make sure everything worked properly, and see if there were any more changes I wanted to make.  So I headed up Tuesday morning and planned to stay on the boat until Friday.  The weather forecast wasn't great.  The forecast called for winds of 15-25 knots most of the week and there was a gale warning (25-35 knots) all day Tuesday.

When I got up to the marina on Tuesday morning it was blustery but not too bad.  I loaded up the boat and headed out for Sucia Island thinking that traveling northwest would put the wind and seas behind me.  It did, and while the trip to Sucia wasn't smooth, it wasn't too bad either.  Here's a video of the conditions, taken from the iPad shooting through the front center window.

The view aft while heading to Sucia

A combination stove and heater is installed on the boat and has worked reasonably well for the last three and a half years.  It's made by a Scandinavian company called Wallas and burns diesel fuel.  It's efficient and very useful in the winter since it keeps the cabin warm and dry.

This is the model I have.  Lid open for cooking and down for heating.

As soon as I got to the boat on Tuesday I fired up the Wallas.  It started and ran like normal.  After about an hour, it "flamed out," which isn't all that uncommon in windy and rough conditions.  Basically, if the wind blows too strongly into the exhaust vent, the exhaust backs up into the boat.  It's stinky and unpleasant and all the windows and the door must be opened to air out the cabin.  After airing out the cabin, I tried to restart the Wallas, but it wasn't running properly.  Lots of smoke, both inside and out, and it never really warmed up.

When I got to Sucia I called Scan Marine, the American importer of Wallas products.  Their expert wasn't in that day and while the man on the phone tried to help, the Wallas simply wouldn't work.  I spent the rest of the day and well into the night disassembling and reassembling the Wallas.  I pulled out the glow plug, removed the fuel wick, and took out the temperature probe.  I cleaned them all and reinstalled them to no avail.  By the time I was done tearing it apart and putting it back together (twice), the stove smoked like crazy, leaked diesel out of the bottom, and didn't produce much heat, but the control panel still indicated it was working properly.  Very frustrating!

With no heat to warm and dry the cabin and no stove to cook dinner with, I didn't have the most pleasant night.  Add in 30+ knots of wind that swept through the anchorage from a different direction than forecast  and it's no surprise that I was awake and underway as soon as it was light enough in the morning.  I headed straight back to Anacortes, pulled the Wallas from the boat, and drove it down to Scan Marine in Seattle for repair.

Soot around the heater exhaust

Scan Marine said that despite having put only 300 hours on the stove, it was heavily sooted inside and the glow plug was shorted out.  They sandblasted the internal components down to bare metal, replaced the glow plug, and gave the unit a clean bill of health.  To their credit, the work was performed in 24 hours.  Total cost was $235.

We haven't been able to determine why the Wallas sooted up so quickly.  Scan Marine sold me a wind deflector to hopefully keep wind from blowing the flame out and blowing the exhaust into the cabin.  Apparently repeated episodes of this can lead to premature sooting and failure.  The exhaust hose routing may also need adjustment to ensure that water cannot collect inside and impede the flow of exhaust gas.  Finally, they suggested that a window always be open a bit when operating the Wallas to ensure that adequate fresh air is available for combustion.

I'll head back up to the boat tomorrow to reinstall and test the Wallas.  I'm now debating whether or not to keep the Wallas or sell it and replace it with a Webasto or Espar diesel furnace and an alcohol stove.  I've often heard that boat is really just an acronym for break out another thousand (dollars) and this seems to be holding true...oh well, I guess that's the price we pay for being on the water.

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