Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Repower or Rebuild?

I give my apologies to the non-technical types, the dreamers and romantics who just want a good story.  The next two posts are a little technical in nature and so may not appeal to you.  Read on anyway.  You might learn something. 
Marina Seca Guaymas - A great place to haul out.

Last year we limped into Mazatlan with a transmission that slipped in and out of gear and an engine that was blowing soot out of the air intake.  We consulted Bob Buchanan at Total Yacht Works, a man who was well recommended in those parts.  He listened to the engine and tranny, held his hand over the air intake as I gunned then engine, then gave me his opinion.  The valve train in the top of the engine had positive air pressure that resulted in oil being blown out the breather cap. The top end is supposed to have a slight vacuum instead. Typically this is caused by bad rings that allow crankcase air to slip by the pistons, thus pressurizing the top end. 

Bob had his partner Rafael take his gauges to the boat and do a compression check.  This confirmed that we had something serious wrong with the piston or rings. We pulled the boat out of the water, pulled the engine out of the boat, and Rafael dissembled it to find the problem.  It turned out not to be bad rings, but instead a cracked piston!

Now this was a serious problem.  If the engine had been driven a little harder it would have come apart and we’d have thrown a rod through the crankcase, stopping the engine instantly.  Lucky was the day we stopped at the Fonatur Marina and talked to Bob.  Or was it not so lucky?

Our decision now was simple:  Repower or Rebuild.

Rafael assured us the he could rebuild the old Perkins 4-108.  It would cost in the neighborhood of four to six thousand USD.  Bob said he could order a new diesel engine and outfit us with a new Yanmar or Beta for about twelve thousand give or take a few thousand dollars.  We chose the rebuild.  We chose wrong. 
Out comes the old Perkins

Six thousand dollars later plus other refits such as a new transmission, prop shaft, cutlass bearing, and drip-less stuffing box we were ready to splash the boat.  We also had the hull ground down and re-glassed to help cure the blister problem.  Also the rudder was pulled and the upper bearing replaced. I flew down from Seattle in July to put her in the water. When the travel lift lowered her into the estuary I tried the starter and it just grinded and grinded.  The engine would not start.  Rafael came aboard and sprayed some starter fluid into the air intake and she kicked right off.  I backed her out of the ways and brought her around to the slip at Marina Mazatlan where she would lie for the rest of the summer.  The next morning I tried to start the engine and again she would not go.  Rafael came over and again used the starter fluid to get her going.  When I left for the airport I told Bob that I’d see him in October and we’d have to figure out why the engine was not starting.

Three months later Connie and I arrived back in Mazatlan to find that Bob and Rafael were split up, each taking half of the business.  Bob came aboard and brought an older man with him, a diesel mechanic, who adjusted the timing on the injector pump.  When the old gentleman was done the engine started up instantly, just as it should.  At that time Bob was pretty critical of Rafael’s work and Connie and I wondered just how well our engine had been reassembled.  But we hoped for the best and soon left the harbor heading south for the cruising season.  

Later we heard that Bob and Rafael had more heated discussions that led to some legal problems and Bob ended up abandoning his business and high tailing it out of town, headed across the ocean to Hawaii.  This news did not bode well for us.  Nor was it good news for the other folks who had work done at Total Yacht Works that spring and summer.  So Total Yacht Works went belly up, the owner disappeared.  Rafael started up his own business next door and Bob's other workers took over the original space and now call themselves Active Marine.  These guys are doing well and do a great job with painting and fiberglass work.

We enjoyed our cruising season on the Pacific coast of Mexico last year. For those of you who read our blog, you know that we made it all the way down to Zihuatanjo then back up into the Sea of Cortez.   In May our Perkins 4-108 failed with only 120 hours on the rebuild. The problem started out with a motor mount coming loose and the engine vibrating.  That quickly morphed into a loud clacking noise and a broken crankshaft.  We heard of three other boats that had Rafael rebuild their engines that season and all three failed as well in a similar fashion.  

I look back on that decision.  Repower or rebuild.  I made the wrong choice.  My advice to anyone now is that before you choose to rebuild an engine, make darn sure that the mechanic knows what he is doing and can give you references from happy customers.  Make sure the business is a stable one and that the warranty will stand.  

Here it is a year later and Traveler is in the yard with its new Beta 43 installed, waiting for a new transmission to arrive.  The Beta cost us around nine thousand. The customs, freight, and install will be another three K.  That’s about twelve thousand USD and what I should have spent a year ago if I’d had more sense.  Live and learn. 

Out next post will be about the challenges we faced putting a new engine into our dear boat Traveler and how one small detail can set up a series of cascading events.


  1. That's 5 "rebuilt" Perkins from Total Yacht last year that didn't survive that I know of.

  2. S/V PassMeBy a Pearson 40
    Where did you get a Beta for 9K?