Slip Away

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Riviera Beach, Florida - New Engine Installation - June-July 2007

By the time we reached Florida, we had lived aboard Slip Away for five years and actively cruised on her for the past three years.  We had traveled over 7,500 nautical miles, and the engine provided assistance when there wasn't enough wind to sail or we wanted to get to our destination faster than the wind would take us.  Slip Away's 30-year-old Chrysler Nissan diesel was very dependable until our arrival in Key West in May.  Then, it appeared to decide that it no longer wanted to participate on our voyage.  Although it was an unpleasant surprise, the silver lining is that at least the engine waited until we got to the U.S. and didn't quit on us in some remote area of Central America.   

The Final Days of our Old Engine

On our passage from Isla Mujeres, Mexico, to Key West, Florida, we had light headwinds, so we motored 50 of the 65 hours we were underway, and the engine ran fine.  A few days after arriving Key West, we were caught by surprise when the engine would not start.  Of course, it wouldn't start when we most needed it - it was 5 a.m., a squall was blowing through the anchorage, another boat's anchor was dragging, and it appeared we were in its path.  Fortunately, the dragging boat passed by without hitting Slip Away, but our blood pressure went up quite a few points during this adventure. 

Rich learned a lot about mechanics as a kid growing up on a farm and working on tractors, and when he got old enough to drive, he was into cars and their engines.  He's pretty good at troubleshooting diesel engine problems, although he's still learning about some of the intricacies associated with marine vs. land engines.  After our engine wouldn't start in Key West, Rich spent the morning trying to figure out what was wrong, and he eventually got it started with starting fluid (ether).  He wasn't able to figure out why it didn't start, but once started, it seemed to run fine. 


Slip Away's 30-year-old Chrysler Nissan diesel

We left Key West the next morning because forecasts were calling for unsettled weather in the next few days.  Winds were blowing from the north (the direction we wanted to go), so we motored up the Hawk Channel to Miami, stopping and anchoring two nights along the way.  We spent a couple of days in Miami, and the weather continued to be unfavorable for us to sail up the outside, so we then motored a couple of days up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to North Palm Beach, where we were meeting friends for Memorial Day weekend.  During our travels from Key West to North Palm Beach, if the engine was cold, it was difficult to start.  If it was warm, it started with no problem.  Once started, it appeared to run fine.

When we got to North Palm Beach, we decided to call a mechanic to come look at it.  After starting the engine (again with ether), and then letting it run a little while, Mike the mechanic checked the oil and found water in it.  Rich had previously checked the oil, but he checked it when the engine was cold and didn't see the water because it had settled to a level below where the dip stick reached. 

Our first thought was that the problem was probably a blown head gasket, but when Mike dissembled the head, there was no evidence of that.  So, Mike took the engine head, oil cooler and expansion tank to machine shops.  The oil cooler and expansion tank checked out fine, and we waited two weeks to get an answer from the machine shop on the engine head.  The engine head was severely warped (.013); we were told that anything over .003 is unacceptable.  The shop also told us that there were no holes or cracks in the head, so they weren't 100% certain that the water in the oil was coming from the head.  Although a crack in the engine block was unlikely, there was no determination as to where the water was entering the oil.  The severe warping on the engine head was a mystery to us.  The engine never overheated for us, and we believe the prior owner took good care of it.  We're not sure if it was abused earlier in its life, or if perhaps the head bolts were not properly torqued when the engine was built. 

Decisions, Decisions ...

At this point, we had two options.  We could spend a lot of money trying to fix our 30-year-old Chrysler-Nissan, but its problem was still not identified.  Although it had low hours, Chrysler-Nissan engines are not commonly used in marine applications (they are used extensively in forklifts and irrigation systems), and the marinized parts are often expensive and sometimes hard to get.  Installing a new engine would cost more money, but we would choose a Yanmar, which is a purpose-built marine engine with worldwide distribution.  We know other cruisers who have Yanmar engines, and they are very happy with them.  Since we would like to continue cruising for the foreseeable future, we decided to bite the bullet and put in a new engine.

The company Mike worked for had already broached the subject of a new engine with us, but they weren't tops on our list for that job.  Although we liked Mike and thought he was capable, we had a few issues with his employer and heard negative feedback about the company from other sources.  This job was too important and expensive to use a vendor whom we didn't trust.  (We have since then also questioned Mike's competence.  While our new engine was being installed, we were telling our re-power vendor about our old engine's symptoms which led us to the decision to install a new engine.  The re-power vendor suggested that our old engine's exhaust elbow may have gone bad, and salt water may have backed up into the engine.  That possibility was never raised by Mike or the company he worked for.  We don't know if they ever checked to find out if the water in the oil was salt or fresh, and we didn't know enough to question that.)

While awaiting news from the machine shop on our head, and anticipating the possibility that we might have to re-power, Rich got in touch with the Florida distributor for Yanmar engines.  The distributor recommended a couple of companies for re-powering, but both were located further north in Florida.  He highly recommended Marine Pro in Cocoa, Florida, which is one of their top re-power dealers (  Unfortunately, Cocoa is 100 miles north of Palm Beach, and now that our old engine was dissembled, we had no power at all to get us up there. 

We called TowBoat U.S. and asked how much they would charge to tow us up to Cocoa - $4,800.  Ouch - not an option!  Marine Pro said they normally travel as far south as Ft. Pierce, which is only about 50 miles north of Palm Beach.  TowBoat U.S.'s charge to tow us to Ft. Pierce - $2,400.  Still too expensive.  We seriously considered towing Slip Away to Ft. Pierce via the ICW with our dinghy, but we were concerned about currents near bridges and inlets (and now that we've traveled that area, we found that was a valid concern).  We called everyone we knew in South Florida asking if they knew anyone with a ski boat or runabout who would be willing to tow us to Ft. Pierce, but we came up with nothing.  We also thought about trying to sail Slip Away to Cocoa, but we didn't feel we could depend on the wind, and there's a lot of shallow water between Palm Beach and there. 

In the end, Marine Pro agreed to come to Palm Beach to do our re-power.  It helped that they work in the Cracker Boy Boat Yard in Ft. Pierce, and Cracker Boy also has a yard in Riviera Beach.  TowBoat U.S.'s charge to tow us from Old Port Cove Marina to Cracker Boy's Riviera Beach boatyard (about 6 miles) was still expensive, but at least it was no longer in the range of four figures. 

Out with the Old and In with the New

On Saturday morning (June 16), we were towed to the Cracker Boy Boatyard and hauled out.  We spent the weekend getting ready for Marine Pro to come and take out our old engine.  Slip Away's cockpit sole had already been cut out when the previous owner installed the Northern Lights generator, so that made the job much easier.  On Tuesday (June 19), Bret and Colin (mechanics from Marine Pro) came to Slip Away and pulled out and and hauled away our old engine.  (It took them less than two hours to get our old engine out!)  They took our old engine back to their shop, where they used a jig and our old engine's mounts to fit the new engine to our stringers.  They also rebuilt our transmission and fabricated a new bracket for our alternator.

TowBoat US prepares to tow Slip Away


Opening up cockpit sole


Removing Slip Away's old engine

While we waited for our new engine, we had plenty of boat chores to keep us busy.  An empty engine room gave Rich lots of space to do plumbing and electrical work and paint the bilges.   He also did some repair work on the rudder, installed a new depth transducer and speed transducer and other electronics and replaced our battery charger, which stopped working while we were in the yard.  Jan kept busy with cleaning, painting, varnishing, sewing and writing projects, as well as trying to manage the budget with this unexpected expense.  We crossed off a number of items which had been sitting on our "to-do" list for a long time.  Living on the boat in the boatyard in South Florida in the summer wasn't very pleasant, so we also took a couple of weekend road trips to escape the heat. 

Marine Pro told us they can install a new engine as quickly as ten days to two weeks.  They said they couldn't do ours that fast, but they thought they could have it done in two to three weeks.  That timeframe was fine for us, and we felt we even had a one to two week cushion beyond that if needed.  In the end, we found that, like most marine vendors, Marine Pro overstated how quickly they would get the job done.  It took six weeks to get our new engine installed, and "next week" was starting to sound a lot like Mexico's "maņana".  We got frustrated and were concerned not only about getting deeper into hurricane season but also about plans we had to travel to Canada in August.  We finally called the distributor who recommended Marine Pro, and he put a call into them and gently encouraged them to get the job done.  Fortunately, by that point, the fit and modification work on our new engine was recently completed, so it was ready to be installed, and a few days later, they showed up at Slip Away to get started.

Slip Away's engine room painted and plumbed
and awaiting an engine


Bret & Frank from Marine Pro
with Slip Away's new engine


Rich enjoying a bird's eye view of the installation
activity in Slip Away's engine room

Marine Pro told us that when they came back to install the engine, they would do it in two days, but this time they erred on the good side, and it only took about a day and a half.  Bret (Marine Pro's main re-power mechanic) and Frank (Marine Pro's owner) showed up on Thursday, July 26, and the two of them worked a full day on the engine installation.  Bret returned at about 1:30 on Friday afternoon, Slip Away went back in the water at 2 p.m., and by 4:30, our sea trial was completed. 

On Saturday morning, we left Riviera Beach on Slip Away for a motor trip up the Intracoastal Waterway.  It was so nice to be back in the water, and the new engine ran great!  We stopped and anchored north of Vero Beach on Saturday night, and we arrived Cocoa on Sunday afternoon.  Around noon on Monday, Bret from Marine Pro came by Slip Away to check the engine and take care of some final details.  The following Wednesday, we left Port Canaveral headed for Virginia. 

Although we were frustrated with the delays, we have no complaints about the work Marine Pro did for us.  The quality of work was excellent.  Our new engine was a big financial investment, and we're glad we used a company who really understands the business of re-powering.

Here are some more photos:

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TowBoat U.S. towing us to Riviera Beach with a squall in the foreground.

Rich working on opening Slip Away's cockpit sole through which we would remove the old engine and install the new one.

The boatyard crane in place to pull out our old engine.

Putting the old engine on a trailer to take it to Marine Pro's shop.

Removing the old transmission.

Rich peering down into our empty engine room.

Colin strapping in Slip Away's old engine and transmission for the ride to Marine Pro's shop.

Rich bidding good-bye to our old engine.

An empty engine room in need of some attention.

New water heater tank and plumbing installed.

Painted engine room ready for the new engine.

We were really happy to see this truck and trailer pull into the boatyard!

There she is! - Slip Away's new Yanmar engine in Marine Pro's truck.

Slip Away's rebuilt tranmission on its way into the boat.

New engine ready to be hoisted by the crane.

Frank (Marine Pro's owner) with the new engine as it is lowered by the crane.

Frank and Bret guiding Slip Away's new engine into place.

Lowering the new engine through the opening in the cockpit sole.

Frank and Bret in Slip Away's engine room busily installing the new Yanmar.

New engine in place in Slip Away.