Monday, January 04, 2010

Resurrecting the diesel

In July 2009, we invested a meager $1000 into a long-neglected, often-flooded 27’ sailboat. The Starwind was Wellcraft’s sleek and speedy sloop that was only produced for two years during the company’s brief foray into sailboats.

From Starwind 27

Ours came rigged for racing with quite the assortment of spinnaker poles and sails. However, even if the halyards, sheets and all the other running rigging hadn’t been completely rotten, it’s a bit hard to sail out of a marina. These small yachts came equipped with a Westerbeke 10Two inboard diesel. These little marine diesels are generally expected to run forever. The catch is, ours hadn’t run in at least as long as the previous owners had the boat, which according to the title was more than seven years ago.

From Starwind 27

From Starwind 27

We knew enough to at least change the fluids before attempting to turn it over. The fuel system was full of diesel that had grown algae and turned to charcoal. We had to pull the fuel tank and boil it out. The transmission was full of water and gunk. The blackness of the oil in the motor was quite impressive. The guy at the yacht service shop also suggested we change the seawater impeller. He said that even if there were still blades on the old one, after sitting seven years it would most likely disintegrate with a few minutes. That was definitely a good call as the old impeller had no fins at all.

From Starwind 27

$250 in filters, fluid and impellers later, we put the key into the ignition for the first time. At least we attempted to put the key into the ignition. Apparently the control panel had filled with water and the ignition had frozen up. It took ten minutes with the WD-40 just to get the key into the ignition and turning it was an impossible dream. While we put in an order for a new ignition switch we resorted to hotwiring the boat, which resulted in nothing but a very disappointing click.

In the meantime, we got a letter from the marina letting us now that our lease was ending and if we chose to renew, our rates were jumping $110 a month. Suddenly there was some urgency to having a running motor as we needed to leave the marina by January 31.

I pulled the starter to find it seized. It was at this point we realized how expensive parts for these diesels can be. A new starter listed at $1,080. That was more than we paid for the boat. In fact, it still seems rather ridiculous since an entirely new Westerbeke with transmission was only $6,000. However, it made it clear that I had to make the starter work. Some WD-40 and a screwdriver got it spinning without too much trouble, but with the bendix frozen in place it still wouldn’t engage the flywheel. It took two weeks of penetrating oil and various attempts at breaking it loose without breaking it before I finally rented a gear puller that did the job. Once free, I cleaned and lubed the mechanisms and put the unit back together.

From Starwind 27

While my brain was working out the starter issue I took the time to go through a few more systems to evaluate whether we even had a chance of starting the little red devil or if I was beating my head against the wall. That’s when I opened the freshwater cooling system for the first time to find this.

From Starwind 27

Yes, that is the thermostat inlet filled three-fourths of the way up with some kind of white, flaky crud. I then pulled the water pump to find a rusty, muddy, mucky mess.

From Starwind 27

I scraped, cleaned and flushed every water passage I could find and scrubbed the water pump until it was rust free. Draining the coolant from the block normally requires opening a petcock on the side similar to what you’d find at the bottom of a radiator. However, this time it actually required the removal of the petcock and the repeated stabbing of a screwdriver into the hole to encourage the black mud to ever-so-slowly plop out, one clump at a time. Eventually, it turned into runny mud and then finally into a brown water flow. I flushed and back-flushed it for the better part of an hour.

Then I finally put it all back together with the working starter and ignition switch.



Unfortunately, my battery, which had been doing nothing but lights and bilge pump duty wasn’t up to the task of starting a motor. While the fuel pump makes noise, the water pump is clean, and the impeller has blades, we still don’t know if any of these systems are actually working. Next weekend I’ll return with a battery charger, and we’ll see what happens.
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