Chasing a Blown Impeller: Get Back Here Little Feller!

“The end of a mystery?” Yannick wrote me just a few short weeks ago. That’s a title that will catch anyone’s attention. And when I open the email what do I see?   Yannick’s grubby fingers clutching the culprit. Yannick has been after this guy since we first pointed his 46’ Soubise Freydis south toward the Gulf of Mexico on our way to sail across the Atlantic Ocean last year. Seriously, not two hours into the first day of our offshore voyage, May 29, 2016, the starboard engine on Yannick’s boat overheated and we had to shut her down to investigate. For those of you who watched our movie from the Atlantic-crossing, you’ll remember this little gem.  For those who haven’t seen it yet: Lord!  Clear your calendar tonight, grab some popcorn and carry-out on the way home and call it Movie Night!  Link to view here.

What we found when Yannick took the water pump off and disassembled it was a blown impeller.  The thing had launched several of its vanes.  (Or “impeller fingers” as I call them; it’s a good thing Phillip speaks Annie.)

Yeah, those guys.

By boiling the thermostat from Yannick’s starboard engine, we also found it was not opening completely, so Yannick dutifully replaced both the impeller and the thermostat and the engine then held temp fairly well.  However, the starboard engine continued to struggle at times to hold temp and it was not pumping as much raw water exhaust (“pissing” Annie called it) as Yannick would have liked.  And, apparently, that was still the status of the engine all the way up to a few weeks ago.

That’s when Yannick found the end of a mystery!

This little guy.  The culprit!  Do you know what that is?

That’s right.  An impeller finger!  Wedged in the output end of Yannick’s water pump, only detectable when he took the entire pump off to change the seals.

The lesson here?  When facing a blown impeller, your first instinct needs to be “Get back here little feller.”  Brandon with has warned us about this many times.  If you throw one or more impeller blades, do not put the engine back together until you’ve found every last piece.  Yannick did not know this blade had been stuck in the back end of his water pump for over a year restricting his raw water exhaust.  But, he extracted it this time and has reported he’s now thoroughly satisfied with his pisser!  : )

Nice work Captain Yannick!

Real-Life Example #2:

I swear it felt Phillip and I were attracting water pump issues that week.  The same week Yannick sent me that email, Phillip and I had another chance to chase down a little feller.  We headed out on a Friday afternoon, like we often do, sailing across Pensacola Bay over to Red Fish Point for a quiet, relaxing weekend on the hook.  Some anchorages around here are absolute party towns where everyone knows your name and everyone starts drinking at 10:00 a.m.  I can only do that for so long before I lose my voice and my dignity.  Phillip and I like to shake it up and spend some weekends in PartyVille (known as Ft. McRee) and other weekends at more secluded, quiet anchorages (like Red Fish Point or Big Sabine).  We’re lucky, Pensacola offers handfuls of both.  Some fantastic photos for you here from our exquisite sunset sail over to the anchorage

We arrived at dark, dropped the hook and were pleasantly surprised the next morning to find the masthead lights we had seen the night before were actually some very good cruising buddies of ours: Mike and Sherry on s/v Imagine, a 1981 Tartan 37’ that they have done a fabulous job restoring.  I did a tour of Mike and Sherry’s boat that you can view here:

After the end of a glorious weekend on the hook, Mike and Sherry weighed anchor early on Sunday morning to sail home but, unfortunately, did not make it very far.  Not thirty minutes after they had left, Phillip got a call from Mike:

“Uhhh … hey Phillip, I’m in the North cut and we had to cut the engine because it overheated.”

Good times.  Sometimes boats can drive you crazy.  Wait.  Scratch that.  Often times.  Thankfully, Mike had a very favorable east wind that, on Phillip’s suggestion, he used to sail his way back through the tight channel to our anchorage so we could help him dissect the overheating problem.  Phillip and Mike dug in and sure enough, found him again.

The culprit!

One of the blades on Mike’s impeller had wedged itself in his exhaust hose and impeded the flow.  So, say it with me now: If you’re facing a blown impeller, what do you say?

That’s right.  “Get back here little feller.”  You’ve got to locate and account for all of the missing impeller blades because you never know where one might wedge itself at a moment when you desperately need your engine.  While Phillip and I had been told this many times, our recent experiences with Yannick and Mike really brought the message home.  And, it’s always fun to learn a good lesson when it happens on someone else’s boat, right?  Thanks for the perfect exemplar Mike!

But, here’s the real kicker.  It’s as if our own gal was getting a little jealous of all the attention we were giving other folks’ raw water systems.

Real-Life Example #3

After getting Mike all buttoned up and running again, Phillip and I weighed anchor ourselves later that morning to motor home from Red Fish Point and—as if on cue—our water pump started leaking on the way home.

While we weren’t sure we had thrown an impeller blade (but I can assure if we had, we would chase that thing to high heaven!), we have experienced a water leak at this very spot several times before.  It’s at the weep hole between the two seals that prevent the oil side of the pump from leaking into the water side (and vice versa).  We’ve had to re-build our water pump twice due to a leak in this area, the last time was the day before we were planning to shove off for Cuba.  Phillip said, “Nuh-uh, Sherwood.  You ain’t stopping this show.”  Ha!

It’s not too difficult of a task, just one we were sick of repeating.  Phillip had researched and found this was a known issue on the Sherwood pump (a leak between the oil and water seals), which caused Westerbeke to start using Johnson raw water pumps instead.  Phillip had ordered one a while back that we were planning to bring with us to the Bahamas as a spare.  Well, it was now high time for that spare.  We decided to just go ahead and put the new one on in hopes of it lasting throughout the season (and hopefully longer) without issue and re-building the Sherwood to bring along as our spare.

Scraping off the old gasket is the hardest (and most curse-worthy) part.


Now, that’s a fine-looking impeller.  Always remember to coat it really well with glycerine on the first “dry” crank so you don’t throw a blade right out of the gate.

We also changed out the zinc (it was high time) while we were in there and cleaned out the heat exchanger as best we could.  She had a graveyard of old zincs knocking around in there!

Much better!  Good work Miner Annie!

Putting the new pump in (we painted it Westerbeke red to match!):

Replacing the pump isn’t too taxing of a chore, but you probably need to set aside an entire afternoon to do it. And that’s assuming everything goes as planned.  When, during a boat project, does everything fit, you always have the right tool or part and you’re able to start and finish the job on the same day?  If we learned anything during our three-month stint in the shipyard in the Spring of 2016 it’s that just about every project has its fair share of kinks.  During this water pump project, Phillip and I got a little kinky ourselves and ended up some very bad hoes!  Anytime we talk about hoses on the boat, it always reminds me of that brain-cell-suckingly stupid “Boats & Hoes!” Will Farrell video from Stepbrothers.

And, yes, I sing that out-loud every time we deal with any kind of hose on the boat.  Now, it’ll be stuck in your head.  You’re welcome. Phillip loves my musical contributions.

Phillip and I decided, since we were going to replace the water pump, we might as well replace the super-old hoses on it, too.  We call it the Mitch theory: “While you’re down there.”  But, what all-important lesson did we learn during this raw water project?


Just don’t.  They will bite, cut and maim you.  Look what they did to us!!


I got a good “doctoring” (as my Dad would say) from Phillip.

Those are some serious boat bites.  And, I promise you, none of these boat bite pics are in any way edited.  Now, how, you might ask did Phillip and I get so beat up just trying to wrestle some hose onto the new water pump?  Because we’re idiots, is the short answer.  And, we apparently need to go back to Caliper School.  Phillip and I accidentally got the wrong size hose and spent the better part of the day trying to fight 3/4” hoses onto 7/8” barbs.  Yeah, brilliant.  Turns out, hoes don’t like to be tortured.  Boy did they fight back!  I’m surprised we got those too-small hoses on as far as we did.  We should have realized something was off, but what did we do instead?  Kept fighting bad hoes!  Don’t let this happen to you, my friends.  Our boat bit me the hardest she ever has to make sure this lesson stuck for me.  I first got burned by the heat gun we were using to stretch the ridiculously too-small hoses, then the boat ripped my blister open while I was trying to fight them on.  But, after I saw the mark she left behind, I realized she what she was trying to show me:


Even when she bites me, I love that salty gal.  I don’t ever want to think what I would do without her.  It gives me heart burn.  What, too much?  Ha!

Two weeks healed!  I’m kind of digging it now.  It’s like the best boat bite ever.