Installing an engine

To the editor: Repowering our sailboat with little to no previous experience has been more than just financially advantageous. Sue and I purchased Chandrika, our Creekmore 34 in 2007, in Miami, for blue-water cruising at the ages of 32 and 28 respectively. With common sense and mental drive outweighing experience, we soon did just that.

The 1985 36-hp Volvo MD3b had problems including poor compression, over-heating, fractured mounts, and a leaking muffler, to name a few. We envisioned ourselves waiting for expensive parts overseas. A repower was in order.

Choosing the correct engine began with sizing. We chose a slightly smaller engine for increased fuel efficiency and a slightly increased workload on the engine, as the Volvo was commonly under-worked. Before purchasing we made sure it would fit, taking numerous measurements, understanding requirements above and below the engine beds. Will it fit through the companionway? Will major alterations to the engine beds be necessary? A little imagination and a lot of research goes far in preventing future headaches. We went with a Beta Marine 28-hp BD1005, a marinized Kubota tractor engine. A cost estimate of $9,000 in labor alone from an installation mechanic firmed up our desire to tackle it ourselves and learn in the process, a thread strongly woven throughout our voyaging experience. After removing the Volvo, the new engine was brought into the boat using a hired forklift. We connected a chain to the engine aft, while a come-along connected to the engine forward. This allowed us to tip the airborne engine vertical. After getting the engine aboard, we replaced the fork lift with a 6-inch by 6-inch beam across the companionway. This would eliminate having to pay for the forklift, allowing us to move the engine ourselves with a come-along for numerous test fits. A short nylon webbing loop at each designated eyebolt hanger prevented the taught chain from abrading vulnerable engine parts.

During test fit one, the transmission kept the feet off the beds, so we ground away part of the pre-existing fiberglass beds with a grinding wheel. Our hired consultant, whose time would total 12 hours, was present and so our frugality allowed fiberglass dust to coat Chandrika’s interior. Upon test two, we approximately aligned the engine (and straight transmission) to the correct position. Using a wooden dowel in place of a steel shaft, we had an inexpensive temporary shaft that was easy to write on. The light weight nature of a wooden dowel makes it easy to feel when it is centered and will not sag much from that position. Custom aft brackets provided from Beta Marine made the aft beds the correct elevation, but they needed to be extended farther forward. On top of a temporary mold of close-celled foam, we laid alternating layers of mat and woven roving soaked in polyester resin and hardener. We chose polyester resin to match Chandrika’s hull material. With aesthetics following function, as much as ever, this was a great first-time project in laying fiberglass.

The forward mounts needed to be built up 2.5 inches so we custom cut two pieces of white oak with a miter saw and set these in place with polyester resin mixed with hardener and thickened with high density, high strength filler. Alternating layers of mat and woven roving were laid on top, draped into the keel, onto the walls above and below to ensure good contact. Still, more refinements meant grinding down parts of the new bed to fit the peculiarities of the engine we failed to foresee. Many times throughout the entire process the engine was moved into position for a test fit. The aroma of polyester resin was intoxicating. Hot showers, air conditioning and a bed from a friend were a welcome alternative to setting up our tent outside Chandrika, our likely second choice.

We cleaned the engine compartment and painted it with a one part epoxy paint for fiberglass bilges. We chose white to brighten up the area and show potential future problems such as oil leaks or fuel leaks. With some cables now too short it was a great time to rewire the battery switches, allowing us to isolate our house batteries from our designated starter battery.

The old individual engine instruments in the cockpit were spaced wider than the new comprehensive engine control panel. By building a teak frame, essentially enlarging the control panel, no old holes needed filling. The wires from the control panel came harnessed into one male plug while all wires from the engine were harnessed into one female plug. Wiring was that simple.

The engine sat on the beds aligned horizontally, vertically, and matching the shaft angle, with the coupling temporarily on the wooden dowel. We then added the flexible coupling and measured the desired propeller shaft length, keeping just enough room for propeller removal. We needed a new propeller due to an opposite rotational direction, different gear ratios, and reduced horsepower. Few, if any, will repower without this added expense. Many will also replace the propeller shaft, as new engines are lighter and shorter. Beta Marine along with two independent propeller shops recommended an RH17x10. Space availability and recommended clearances dictated an RH16x11, with smaller diameter and increased pitch, as second choice from all three sources. This allowed for 1.5-inch clearance inside the 19-inch tall box cutout between Chandrika’s keel and keel mounted rudder. With our shaft length and propeller box dimensions, a custom shaft was manufactured. The new shaft was machined on the forward end to fit the coupling and key we had already purchased. It was also machined on the aft end for the new propeller and a space saving nut zinc. When calculating how far the shaft can protrude, while still allowing for propeller removal, we did not account for the two inches gained by removing the flexible coupling. We should have because it would allow the minimum one-inch space recommended from the cutlass bearing for a more common, and more effective, limited-clearance zinc.

It was to our good fortune that both the shifter and throttle cables were the correct lengths, requiring only minimal adjustments at their threaded ends.

We took one person’s recommendation to filter the fuel in the tank. With a small electric pump we circulated the fuel for hours, never really dirtying up the filter. Taking a look, however, revealed a half inch of black sludge at the bottom. Probably 25 years of sediment! With just a couple gallons in the tank and a sponge mop we scrubbed the deep, narrow tank in our keel, removing dark, dirty diesel. We did this repeatedly with clean diesel until the bottom shined. While filling the tank with diesel we noted fuel quantities at all graduations from empty to full.

The old raw water intake hose was 5/8-inch diameter and the new was half an inch, so new barb fittings on the raw water filter and thru-hull accompanied new hose throughout. Since the raw water exit from the heat exchanger already traveled through a siphon-break, we did not need to install one; although we did replace the hoses. Rusty and delaminating wet exhaust hoses were changed to fit with a new Vetus muffler. From the muffler new hose runs aft to a high point inside the lazarette, where a manual shut off valve was installed to protect the engine during rough following seas. About 30 inches below, the exhaust hose exits astern. A new fuel line and a new primary Racor fuel filter completed the package. We also carry enough hose to replace two of any given length of hose throughout the entire system. The chances of discovering a point of wear from the vibrating engine is far greater with new systems, no matter how secure the hoses are.

The stuffing box was freshly packed. The new propeller, cutlass bearing, and propeller nut zinc lay astern as Chandrika was placed back into the water. Another precise alignment with a feeler gauge verified that the solid fiberglass hull did not flex, distorting our engine alignment. We traced the location of the flexible feet and removed the engine once more.

Treating the forward engine beds like a cored deck, we drilled one-inch diameter holes, just through the bottom of the white oak, and filled them with a two part marine epoxy. We then drilled all eight 3/8-inch diameter holes, two for each flexible foot. After carefully maneuvering the 350-pound engine precisely into place we bolted it down. One final alignment check, like a wedding vow, gave us the okay to join the shaft to the engine with the flexible coupling.

As we bled the fuel lines and turned the key, multiple times, that one desired noise finally broke our ever-building tenuous silence. After letting the engine warm up we verified that maximum rpm under load met specs and was more than 85 percent of maximum rpm in neutral. This concluded that compression was good and we had correctly sized the propeller. We were relieved.

Now a few hairs did jump out of my head and Sue did come to tears once. Hands coated in polyester resin that will not dry and bits of fiberglass stinging our skin are memories we hold. Of greater value though are the many lessons we learned in those three weeks on the hard. For us there was no better way to get ready, get to know our boat, and know it was done right.

Graham Hopkins and Sue Schweinsberg are currently in the Solomon Islands aboard Chandrika, their Creekmore 34.

By Ocean Navigator