Spring Commissioning: or Diesel Gremlins

I have been down in the boat shed again getting the diesel in the boat ready for re-commissioning.
          There are only two parts of our boat that I really don’t enjoy working on, one is the diesel (he other, in case you were wondering, is bottom paint). When we bought the boat there were no spare parts for the motor and the fuel tank had problems. I took out the old fuel tank, removed and replaced the pre-fuel filter and water separator, corrected a problem with the tank vent, restored the throttle, shifter, and linkages to the engine. We replaced the prop shaft when we bought the boat, so I figured we were over the worst.
          I was mistaken.
         About four years into owning the boat the engine developed the habit of dying when at low revolutions. This meant that the diesel would give out in situations like approaching a mooring in a crowded harbor with a cross current. Even though this provided material for many entertaining stories of near misses, we decided we would fix the problem anyway.
I had two very good mechanics climb all over the motor, and they both told me the same thing; that there was nothing really wrong with the diesel, but that the wiring, rubber hoses, and gaskets were all just old. They recommended that we pull the motor and bring it back to company that provided it and have them recondition it.
            The actual removal of the engine was not too difficult. When we built the shed for the boat, I had planned with just such an eventuality in mind. A small electric winch slides on a track mounted overhead and centered on the main hatch. It has already earned its keep while moving the wood stove and other, heavy parts of the interior in and out of the boat. My real concern was that once I got everything unhooked from the motor that I would never get all the bits and pieces hooked up again in the correct places. My solution was to hang labels on many of the connecting items and then photograph the motor from every possible angle before I disconnected anything.

the BEFORE picture of the motor

See where everything goes?

             The other concern I had related to the engine once it was out of the boat. I did not want it to sit on its oil pan, or side, or, in fact on any part of the motor that might get bent, spindled, or mutilated. I also wanted to make moving the motor as easy as possible so that it would not get dropped in the process of shifting it to Marblehead, Massachusetts, where the reconditioning would be done. In this case, my solution was to build a simple cradle that I could bolt the motor to and that had four handles, or lifting points to make it easy to pick up and move around. I was able to disconnect the many linkages, wire harnesses, and hoses to the diesel, sling and lift the motor out of the boat using the electric winch, slide it over the cradle in the cockpit, and bolt it down to the cradle, by myself. When the time came, I was able, with the help of three other people, to pick up the cradle, move the motor with ease, and put it in the back of my truck.

The motor on it's cradle

the AFTER picture of the motor

               When the motor was re-furbished, the whole process was reversed. I had gone to great lengths to mark the right heights on the motor mounts, so that I would have an easier time with the basic alignment of the motor with the shaft when I re-installed it in the boat. I found my marks adjusted the motor mounts to the places I had marked, lowered the motor into place, and made final adjustments to get the mounts exactly the way they were before I removed the motor and hey presto: nowhere close. I did find that the photographs that I had taken of the motor before disassembly were invaluable when it came to reconnecting the various controls linkages and hoses, but even after considerable adjustments, I only got the most basic alignment done. Fortunately, I had already made an appointment with a mechanic to do the final alignment after the boat was back in the water.

Back in place

               So, as I execute the various mechanic’s yoga positions in our limited engine compartment, performing routine tasks of replacing filters, checking hoses, and replacing engine fluids preparation for staring up the diesel for the first time of the season, I comfort myself with the thought that at least this year we did not have to pull the motor…


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