Call For a Tow

When the Rug is Pulled During the Dance THE UNPLANNED RE-POWER JOB

By Tom Neale, 1/10/2008


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Yanmar is lowered through companionway
The first few days of 2007 passed with no flooded bilges, no backed up heads, no fires in the galley and no groundings when the tide was ebbing. I thought it was looking like a pretty good year. I thought wrong.

While January was still fresh and promising good voyages, we left our Christmas harbor and began heading farther south. The boat was running perfectly, the weather was beautiful and getting warmer, and I thought, “Life is good on “Chez Nous.” I should learn — never put mouth on it. A few days later, while in the beautiful Indian River Basin of Florida, our motor started blowing billows of white steam from the exhaust and dramatically overheating. Just before that I had noticed bubbles in the fresh water coolant collection tank — a bad, bad sign. We drifted to a safe spot to anchor off the ICW, helpless except to sail which doesn’t work without wind. Normally I fix whatever is broke. After the engine cooled down, I was able to tell that fresh water was getting into the pistons through a blown gasket, cracked head or block, or something else. I couldn’t fix this at anchor. We were helpless, out on the water on a passage, far from home base, and possibly in need of a repower.

This is bad enough when you have time to make a leisurely decision that this is something you must do eventually, plan for it, shop around in home territory, and do it at your convenience. But this was like having a rug pulled out from under me with no warning, breaking both legs in the process. Helplessness doesn’t begin to describe it. It may happen to you some day. If it does, maybe our experience will make it easier for you.

The cell phone was my first tool. It enabled me to do what is perhaps the most important thing needed if you find yourself in this situation: research. If I had been where there was no cell phone coverage, I think the expense of a satellite phone or several nights at a marina with good communications would have been worth it—so important is this phase.

Marine Pro removing old engine

I called around, talking to several Perkins repair people that I knew, and got the same bad news. They said that on this model (a very old model) there often occurred a crack in the fresh water cooled cast aluminum exhaust manifold at the forward end. The manifold alone cost over $8,000, when you could find one. Although the motor was otherwise running very well and could be repaired, it made no sense to us to do this, considering the miles we put on it each year and the far off places and sometimes dangerous seas in which we often find ourselves. So how do you go about an emergency repower job while on a cruise?

I called the local TowboatUS operator, Kevin Miller of Absolute Marine Towing & Salvage, Inc (321 951 7955). I told him my problem and that I needed a tow, but also explained that I couldn’t give him a destination until I found someone acceptable to me to do the job. He gave me good information about several possibilities and said to call him when I was ready. I next started calling and interviewing.

I decided on Marine Pro of Cocoa, Florida (321 636 8950, ). I based my decision on several things. The owner, Frank Monachello, was willing to spend some time discussing my problem. I’ve worked on diesels for a long time and I could tell that he wasn’t blowing smoke and that he knew his business very well. Also, he understood the difference between losing an engine while enroute and losing one while hanging around at a home base. And he was not only familiar with the Perkins, he knew about Yanmars and regularly sold and installed them. I felt I wanted a Yanmar because of the reports I’ve been hearing about them from many quarters over the years. Also, it was clear that his company had depth—that it was not just a one or two person show. He told me he could get people to me right away.

Next I had to choose a yard. Many in that area charge a significant fee to allow outside people to work in the yard. This may be fine if the yard has a high degree of expertise regarding the specific problem, but often that isn’t the case. Lots of people can do a repower job, and make a mess of the situation. It’s important to ask about this, because many yards won’t tell you about their policy until you’ve had your tow and you’re, in a sense, trapped there.

Several people whom I’d called had told me good things about the Eau Gallie Boatworks in Melbourne, FL, (321 254 1766). I called and spoke with Finnbarr P. Murphy, the proprietor. I could tell that he was busy, but he took the time to discuss the problem and his response was, “we can make it happen, whatever you need.” And he had no problem with Marine Pro coming in. (I wrote about this yard and my experience there in an earlier column (#75) entitled “The Boutique Boatyard”.)

Researching for an Unexpected Repower

1. Always keep in the back of your mind that someday, you may need an emergency repower. Over the years, listen to others to try to determine what other engines may work for you. Talk to those who’ve had repowers, both planned and emergency. Remember the issues discussed above in this regard.

2. Use the internet to help confirm what you hear about yards, repower specialists, engines and other issues. While a good and helpful web site is hardly the last word about the company, it is certainly one indicator of their depth, and this is important. 3. Some companies will send out a mechanic to dismantle your

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Marc Eiler, VP and Service Manager of Marine Pro arrived right away. I observed closely. I could tell that he also knew his business. He listened to my description of symptoms, told me the likely possibilities (which were consistent with what I’d learned from my research) and started removing the components that would tell the story. He worked fast, brought all the tools he needed from the truck (no shipyard shuffle here, when they walk back and forth constantly because they “forgot something”). He took care to not make a mess and to protect other parts of the boat. These traits were shown by the other Marine Pro employees who were later on the job. It wasn’t long before the earlier theories were confirmed.

The closest Yanmar distributor was Mastry Engine Center (727 522-9471, ) in St. Petersburg, right across the Florida Peninsula. I’d known of them for years and had heard many good reports about them, so I’d already called them during the research phase and knew that they had what I would need in stock. My experience with them during the operation was squarely in line with the good reputation I’d heard reported over the years.

But then I found that much more research was needed, which I couldn’t do. I didn’t have the type of expertise that these issues required. Few do. There’s much more to it than taking out an old engine and putting in a new. Issues include first of all whether you can actually get the old one out without what amounts to lighting off a stick of dynamite, the type of and reduction of the transmission, prop size and pitch, whether the new engine will fit on the old mount (a potentially expensive proposition if it won’t), displacement and hull shape of the boat, performance characteristics and clearance of the prop from the hull (a larger prop may be too close).

Mark pressure tests Perkins manifold

I’ve seen many mechanics and yards with people who’ll hum and haw and scratch, saying things like, “well, I dunno…maybe but we’ll have to see.” These people simply said, “we’ll do it,” and they did. We could have taken days to cut out the center cockpit floor and redo all the cables and wiring, but they said they’d get it up the companionway, one way or another. Their ingenuity was a pleasure to watch.

They quickly removed Perkins components that both decreased the size and lightened the load. These components included the head, transmission, bell housing, and manifolds. Many will say things like “Oh, it’s going to take several days to dismantle this engine.” It usually takes just a few hours if the mechanics know their business and there are no weird glitches. And when it came time to remove the block, they had chain hoists available to lift it up. They placed it on boards which they’d greased with mechanic’s hand soap, and they slid it along the boards to be base of the companionway—and this was a very heavy 6 cylinder engine. We then hauled it up and swung it out onto their cart on the dock with our boom and their chain hoist. Marine Pro had me place extra lines on the boom and made an aluminum sleeve to protect the boom and its track. What others would moan about for days, they did in a few hours, because they knew their business and did it all the time. (You can buy this motor for parts or rebuild from Marine Pro. Contact them directly or contact me.)

Perkins is dismantled piece by piece

Getting the new Yanmar in was done essentially in the same manner, but it was easier because the engine was lighter and smaller (although with around 40 additional HP.) Much more expertise was required after setting it on the mounts. (We used the same mounts because they had planned it that way, with engine choice and the same type of transmission). Next came wiring harness hookups, control panel gauges, exhaust changes and other operations where experience paid off. Bret Parker, their Treasurer and Repower Manager, did much of this. Frank Monachello was often on scene, involved with both the “how to do it” and the “doing it.”

Next came the sea trial. Bret was aboard and, although we thought the engine was great, he said that another inch of prop was needed. If you buy a new prop they will give you a repitch if they do a repower—so difficult is it to get the precisely correct pitch. This made the boat perform even better.

I hope that this never happens to you. But if it does, the bottom line from what we learned is that spending the time to research the problem and finding the right people are the two most important things to do. This may mean the loss of a few days, but it’ll be worth it.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale