Motorsailer owner relates a happy repowering story

The recent letter regarding the pitfalls of repowering (Six repowering mistakes to avoid Issue 139, July/Aug. 2004) brought back memories of the things we did right when we repowered our 1974 Columbia 45 motorsailer.

When I bought the boat in 1990, it was powered with a 50-hp Chrysler-Nissan diesel. This engine was an earlier repower, as Columbia put either a Perkins 4-108 (standard) or a 4-236 (upgrade) into these boats. Before our maiden cruise, I had a good mechanic go over the engine. He cleaned, tuned and gave his okay to the quality of the engine. This was the first thing we did right.

On the trip the engine stopped at the Antioch Bridge next to the Bridge Marina Yacht Club in Antioch, Calif. We called the club on the radio, and several members responded, stating they were an hour away and would be glad to give us a tow into the club. We sailed in place against the wind and current until they arrived. These members gave us the key to the club and allowed us to stay until we determined the problem.

We found that when we tried to start the engine, the crankshaft pulley was doing lazy circles. A broken crankshaft for sure. We had the engine and transmission removed, and I started looking for a replacement engine. I scoured the want ads for a used engine, but I had lingering doubts about used engines.

After several months I decided to put in the engine that was designed for the boat. I found a new Perkins 4-236 with a transmission for $7,500. Perkins was a General Motors product at the time, and I liked the idea of having a huge international company stand behind the engine. That was the second thing we did right.

Although I’ve rebuilt engines in the past and probably have installed one myself, I hired David Walters of Walters Marine Service to install the engine. Walters was a highly qualified diesel mechanic. After he got started, I got a call from him: “Did you hit something?”

Not only was the crankshaft broken on the engine, but the crankcase was cracked, the propeller shaft was corkscrewed, and the propeller and strut were bent. The only element still functioning was the transmission. Walters suggested I file an insurance claim. The adjuster talked to Walters and also to the mechanic we had hired before we took the initial voyage, who confirmed the engine was in fine shape when we departed.

We never did find out what we hit, but pictures of a submerged deadhead in a later Latitude 38 magazine gave us a pretty good idea.

The third thing we did right was hiring a good mechanic instead of doing the work ourselves. The insurance company reimbursed us for the engine and installation, which, along with a new shaft and propeller came to about $15,000.

After the installation I noticed the alternator did not appear to be marine quality. I called the GM manager in Los Angeles who was a sailor, and he confirmed that I had accidentally been given a non-marine alternator. He replaced it no questions asked.

We took the newly repowered boat down the San Joaquin River. We powered into gusts of 30 knots, but the boat’s engine didn’t even notice the waves or the wind. The fourth thing we did right was getting an upgraded 85-hp engine instead of the standard 54-hp 4-108.

Although I appreciate the new computer-operated engines, I believe the fifth right thing we did was getting a mechanical diesel engine, instead of an electronically controlled engine.

Now, 13 years later, even after sitting at anchor for two months, the engine starts instantly, runs smoothly, and uses about five quarts of diesel per hour while moving our 15 tons at 7 knots. I wouldn’t trade this reliable and faithful engine for anything.

Douglas Drake lives in Sacramento, Calif., and often sails in San Francisco Bay.

By Ocean Navigator