Suck. Squeeze. Bang. Blow.

I flew all the way from San Francisco to Annapolis, Maryland (a long time to wear a face mask) for a 4-day hands-on class on diesel engines. My take away — Suck Squeeze Bang Blow!

I’ll also give you my thoughts on Knot a Day and give away two!

Why A Diesel Engine Class

I confess that although I consider myself a sailor, sometimes when there isn’t enough wind, I turn a key, push a button, and the boat rumbles. Magically, that rumbling somehow results in water squirting out of the exhaust (hopefully) and the boat moving (usually) when I move the throttle. And, oddly, to turn off the motor, I must press a button or pull a handle before I turn off the key — what’s up with that?

Well, as it turns out, the rumbling, grumbling, exhaust squirting, and actual ability to propel the boat does not all emanate from a unicorn puking rainbows under the cockpit (as I had hoped) but rather a relatively simple diesel engine. Truth be told, I knew what a diesel engine was, and very generally how it worked, but that won’t be enough when I’m 1000 miles from land and it quits on us. So, as part of the passage preparation training was in order.

Visiting Annapolis

Annapolis sits on the Chesapeake Bay, includes the U.S. Naval Academy, and is the home to one of the world’s largest boat shows. Overall, it is a charming little city that was a lot of fun to walk around. In addition to the nautical history, it has a surprising number of bars and restaurants to keep visitors entertained — and we were entertained. Oh, and the crab cakes . . . we mustn’t forget the crabcakes or one of my new favorite dive restaurants, Chik and Ruth’s!

Annapolis School of Seamanship

Annapolis School of Seamanship (“ASS”) is not a sailing school but rather a seamanship school. That is, they have boat handling in general, docking, and safety classes on the water, but nothing sailing specific. Unlike any other school I could find, they also have hands-on classes about marine diesel engines and marine electrical systems. Like most boaters, I can raise a sail and trim a sheet, but lack any real knowledge of marine diesel or electrical systems — or at least I did.

Due to COVID, ASS’s classroom is in an office building where students can spread out. The Marine Diesel I classes, which were days 1 and 2 of the diesel class were in the classroom with some hands-on stations to change fluids, impellers, and do some basic troubleshooting.

Marine diesel II, on days 3 and 4, was all hands-on in a much smaller garage.

On day 3, the six students broke into two teams of three and repaired a couple of different engines, suffering various common problems. With minimal guidance from the instructor, we managed the repairs, but it took a while.

On day 4, we again worked through repairing an engine with a whole host of problems and then had a lesson in adjusting the fuel injectors. Just removing the fuel injector cover made us all nervous at first, but we soon grew comfortable with the diesel’s innards.

The hands-on teaching method was fantastic if laborious. I highly recommend the class and ASS. Hopefully, I’ll return for the marine electrical class and report back if I do.

Why Suck Squeeze Bang and Blow?

Suck, squeeze, bang, blow is not only an eye-catching dirty-sounding phrase, it is also a helpful way to remember the four strokes of a four-stroke diesel engine, which most marine diesel engines are these days. This phrase, the exhaust’s color, and a few other clues are part of critically thinking about the diesel engine and fixing most problems. The animated image below demonstrates the four cycles and includes a gauge in the lower right to indicate the piston’s cycle.

Suck — stroke 1– The animation shows the piston moving down and blueish air being sucked into the cylinder. Note that the intake valve (on the right) is open to allow air in. Although the crankshaft at the very bottom is turning, it is not yet getting any energy from this piston. Other pistons are in their bang cycle and giving their energy to the crankshaft, which keeps this piston moving.

Squeeze — stroke 2 — The piston moves up, and all valves are closed. As the piston moves up, the color changes from blue to red, representing the heat caused by the air’s compression (and fuel which is injected at this point as a fine mist). This piston is still not contributing energy to the crankshaft.

Bang — stroke 3 — The piston is forced back down by igniting the fuel and air mixture. All valves remain closed so that the combustion’s energy forces the piston down, which pushes the crankshaft at the bottom. This is the stroke when this piston contributes its power to the crankshaft, and other cylinders are in their non-contributing strokes.

Blow — stroke 4 — The piston moves back up, but this time the exhaust valve (on the left) is open. As the piston moves up, it expels the burned fuel and air, making room for fresh air and fuel.

Book Review and Winners

As I mentioned in my last post, I was asked to review A Knot a Day by Nic Compton. I read through it and recommend it as a good reference source for an interesting variety of knots. I like the concept (though personally, I lack the discipline) of learning a knot a day. Even if you just want a resource on knots, A Knot a Day would be a good choice.

As mentioned in my last post, I was given the power to give away two copies of the book!

The two folks I selected did some good knot (or knot-related work) in response to my post. First up, Chris, who did a small monkey fist. Don’t worry Chris, that is a perfectly adequate monkey fist, probably looks bigger in person, and size is not everything!!

Next up is Kevin. His contribution wasn’t strictly a knot, but it was a whole lot of work done well and likely caused some hand cramps! Plus, there was one knot at the end!

Congrats guys. I’m sending your info to the publisher who will send you your books.

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