Look Ma, No Engine!

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The engine (green) already in the truck bed, here comes the generator on the crane to join it.

If you’ve followed this blog you will know that the generator – a Westerbeke 6.0 kw diesel – has been the bane of my existence almost since the day we left cruising.  If there was one “do-over” for this whole experience, it would have been to yank this stupid, leaky, deteriorating hunk of recalcitrant scrap iron and copper out and replace it with something new that just…worked right.

The Westerbeast does not live alone in the engine room- next to it is its larger cousin, the primary auxiliary power plant.  As an aside – it is called the ‘auxiliary’ power because Evenstar is a sailboat and it is not her primary means of propulsion.  This engine is a Volvo Penta TAMD41 H-A, which translates to a 145 H.P. six cylinder turbocharged diesel engine.  Its a fair bit bigger than the generator, which rates about 17 HP.

When Hallberg-Rassy builds a boat they do a very good thing.  They build the hull, attach the deck, then they put all the machinery in the boat through the holes in the deck.  This means that in theory at least everything inside the boat can come out without damaging any of the boat’s construction.  A cheaper and easier construction technique is to build the hull, put the machinery in, THEN seal the deck.  But that leaves you with needing a Sawzall to get your engine or generator out if it ever needs a serious overhaul or replacement.

Hallberg-Rassy made the excellent decision to make the floor of the cockpit the ceiling of the engine room and to make the floor easily removed.  Therefore the engine guys could get in there with a crane to lift out the two engines.

Engine Work

We made the decision that since we were opening the cockpit floor to replace the generator and hiring a crane, why not take the time to yank out the Auxiliary at the same time and give it a good once over.  It is quite impossible to do a complete inspection in situ in the engine room, one just can not get a good look underneath and around the back.  After 17 years it was high time to get a close look and to pre-emptively seek out and correct any more major problems before they surprise us when we are someplace where you can’t get help or parts.

Unlike the generator, the Auxiliary engine is not being replaced, it is just getting a careful going over.  It is being completely checked for rust, wear, leaks, damage, worn engine mounts and any worn hoses or connections.  It will be repainted and reinstalled looking almost like a new engine.  More importantly we will have confidence that this engine should run for some time without major problems after we’ve taken some preventative maintenance like this.

To date we’ve turned up two problems – the oil pan under the engine is rusted and the cutlass bearing on the propeller shaft is once again worn out.  The engine guys found us a used stainless steel oil pan; replacing it with the engine out is easy.  If we waited until it finished rusting through in a couple more years we’d have to lift the engine again anyway to replace it, and who knows where we’d be?  The cutlass bearing is a lot easier to replace this than it was the last time we did it.  Since the engine is out the propeller shaft can just be pulled forward to access the bearing.  The rudder is happily left alone this time.

New Generator

This is a big one.  Changing a generator is a major investment in the boat and not to be taken lightly.  Back in the U.S. the yard that was trying to fix our generator tried to convince us to replace it.  In truth it was the right thing to do and we should have done it.  In practice though we were just starting out, we hadn’t sold out house, and we were a bit nervous to make this sort of call.  Additionally it turns out the yard in question quoted us the completely wrong generator – wrong size, wrong voltage and frequency, and the final project would have come in a fair amount higher than their already staggering estimates.  Given the dollar’s comparative strength today we’re spending roughly the same amount or a bit less and getting a better generator out of the deal.

Fast forward a couple of years and we’ve now flushed some good money on this bad generator, with new oil coolers, stators, and so on.  And it is still unreliable.  It is eating water pumps like there is no tomorrow (rebuild kit – around $200 U.S., using one every other month now) and leaking water and oil.  And the stator again seems to be winding down for another failure as it is laboring to produce full load.  So enough is enough.

The New Generator

So do we go with another Westerbeke?  Well, I owned one for years and I wasn’t impressed.  Parts are mad expensive (that $200 water pump rebuild kit?  Almost $500 in Tahiti if you don’t import it yourself).  The layout of the generator leaves a bit to be desired.  For example the water pump that we are continually rebuilding is installed on the far side of the generator, facing backwards.  So to change the impeller in the pump – a routine every 100 hours or so maintenance task – you must lay over the generator while hanging upside down and doing your best to work by feel.  Kathy can do this more easily than me since her arms are smaller and her hands and fingers much slimmer to work in this awkward space.

So we looked around and decide to go with a Northern Lights M773LW3, which is a 7.0 KW 220V/50Hz generator.  It is a bit more powerful than the old Westerbeke, but that’s not why we’re selecting it – we don’t need the power.  It is also more fuel efficient, not a whole lot larger, and much more intelligently designed than the comparably replaced competitor from Westerbeke.  It is slightly more expensive, partly because it is larger, but over the long-term we expect parts costs to be lower and the maintenance much easier.

Introducing the M773LW3!  The astute observer will note the water pump right there in the front of the engine where you can reach it.  What a concept.

So I am really, really looking forward to the day a few weeks from now when it is time to charge the batteries.  All I have to do is push the button and check the oil.  No water leaks, oil leaks, odd smoke, weird smells, weird noises or strange vibrations.  Just quiet, efficient power.

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  1. Robert says:

    Wow looks like you have been busy. Thought you went home or something when the blogs stopped. I am jealous of your travels.

    1. B.J. says:

      No, we didn’t go home. I just got lazy and disorganized about the blog updates…

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