When Jill and I decided to install a new engine, sail drive and transmission in Yahtzee, we had a lot to think about and plan for. Obviously, overall cost is a factor for a project of this magnitude, as is where to put the boat to do the work. Another large consideration, which can hinge on the first two, is who actually does all the necessary jobs during each phase.
To get a baseline on how much a full install of a Beta 50 with sail drive would cost, I got a quote for $7,000. That didn’t seem exorbitant for the amount of work that needed to be done, but I decided early on that I wanted to tackle the job mostly by myself and with some help from a mechanic. My overall goal was to learn as much about the new engine and its systems as possible, which would allow me to better troubleshoot and work on it later in remote areas. With that said, here are 5 lessons I learned from re-powering Yahtzee.
1. If you’re doing most of the work yourself, take time and have a good mechanic.
First off, I had some serious nerves running before and at various stages during this tremendous undertaking. Installing a new engine was by far the largest project I’d completed on a sailboat and it ended up being mostly in line with my expectations. From my experience, two things helped immensely: I gave it lots of time and I had a seriously good mechanic to go to for guidance.
Time is something that we always seem to underestimate on any boat project, so I made sure to build in plenty here and not to rush in the sake of merely getting things done. I knew unexpected things were going to pop up (see below), that I’d have more to do than just an engine install, and that I couldn’t realistically spend 8-hours working every day. My initial thought was that everything would take me six weekends of full-time work with part-time work done in between. I’m happy to say that my estimate was spot on, with the last weekend (Nov. 3-4) predictably being the most busy.
Another factor in my time equation was that the mechanic I was working with was a very busy guy. He simply didn’t have a lot of time to give, making moments with him crucial. While many folks that re-power choose to enlist a serious amount of help from a mechanic, mine was minimal. But when I needed him for guidance or in key phases of the process, he was there. In the end, from the initial transmission diagnosis way back in March to now, I used 15 hours of his help at $100 per hour. Speaking of help…
2. Be willing to accept help from family and friends:
Going into this major project I knew I would be working by myself the vast majority of the time, Jill would be working or hanging out with the boys, well-intentioned friends would be busy and the aforementioned mechanic had little time to give. That said, I was grateful to have Jill’s assistance beyond watching the boys. She helped clean the engine compartment, take apart the old transmission, get the new engine down below and even drop it into place, among many other things. The mechanic even remarked with an approving chuckle, “How many people can say they installed a new engine with their wife?” Me, I guess.
Along with Jill, my dad swooped in from Michigan to provide a massive amount of help that I’m very thankful for. With my ribs in sorry shape, he took over the engine compartment refurbish and knocked it out. Scraping, sanding and installing new sound insulation was a huge undertaking and it turned out beautifully. It was also great to work alongside him. We make a good team and the amount of work he took off my plate so I could concentrate on other things was huge. I truly couldn’t I have done it without either of them.
3. If the boat is your home, secure good housing:
Yes, taking an engine out of your boat and putting a new one in, plus all the associated projects, would definitely be possible while living aboard on the hard, but it would be difficult. And with a young family, it would be even harder, and potentially unsafe. When we started planning the project we never gave living aboard a realistic thought.
We’d anticipated renting a cabin in Seward while the boat was on the hard and then on in to winter, but we were fortunate to have a boat offered to us to live aboard while we did the re-power. When our friends that own the Garcia Exploration 45 Arctic Monkey moved off for the winter, we moved on. (HUGE thank you to Zetty and Lou Morgan!!!). Coincidentally, it was exactly two years after Jill and I delivered Arctic Monkey from Maine to Maryland. If you would have told me then that we’d be living on the boat in Alaska while re-powering Yahtzee I would have thought you were crazy. Alas, it all worked out and we had a warm space to live while at the same time being close to Yahtzee for the many ongoing projects. Win, win.
4. Expect the unexpected:
The majority of sailors I know would get this point without being told, and I certainly came into the re-power knowing some unexpected things were likely to crop up along the way. The trouble is, it’s hard to know in advance what they’ll be and once they are discovered, you have to roll with the issues and figure them out as quickly as possible.
Our biggest unexpected during the process was that the collar for the new sail drive didn’t match the old collar. The bolt holes didn’t line up and the fiberglass housing wasn’t a perfect fit. Not good. With guidance from our mechanic and help from Catalyst Marine Engineering in Seward, we had a 1/2-inch thick aluminum spacer fabricated that fit the old and new. But the unexpected didn’t stop there.
When the new spacer and sail drive where fully installed, the engine was lined up and Yahtzee was dropped in the water, there was a small leak at the aft edge between the aluminum ring and the fiberglass. Again, not good. We put Yahtzee back on the hardstands, took everything apart and found that a section of 5200 hadn’t fully setup, which left a small void for water to find a way out. Awesome.
We scraped away the sealant and realized that the problem was that it had been too cold and therefore didn’t harden fully. For the next round, I built a tent under the sail drive and shot heat up into the bottom of the collar for 24 hours and put an electric space heater above. This worked and when the 5200 was rock solid we dropped the boat back in the water with no leaks!!
5. Prepare for parts and projects galore:
This is another point that kind of goes without saying, but if your re-power is going to be a do-it-yourself project like mine was, then there are going to be more parts and projects than you bargained for. What helped me keep everything organized was to think about each system of the new engine and map out what it would need to be fully complete: Wiring, throttle and gear cables, cockpit control panel and gear shifter, raw water and exhaust, lubricants, fuel lines and filters, and more. Each system needs specific parts, some of which could be repurposed from the old engine and others came with the new engine. And yet others needed to be purchased, and sourcing those, especially here in rural Alaska, wasn’t always easy.
The other thing to consider is that with the boat on the hard, there are going to be a bunch of other projects to get done as well. During the first week or so out of the water I didn’t even touch the engine. With unseasonably gorgeous weather, I waxed the hull, prepped and painted the bottom and worked on several other miscellaneous projects that could only be done with the boat out of the water. Overall it was a lot to keep track of, but I didn’t miss a single thing that I wanted to get done on my list.
PRO TIP: Stay healthy
Falling down the companionway and seriously hurting my ribs was clearly not something I planned on. Before it happened, I had even talked to the boys about how dangerous having the boat on the hard can be and that you have to be careful with nearly everything you do. Accidents can and do happen, and I’m fortunate mine wasn’t worse, but it did throw a serious set of challenges into nearly every project I did from that point on. Lesson learned.
If you have any questions about re-powering, feel free to leave them in the comments.