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Beta blocker at heart of refit

The Beast with Four Cylinders

Terrible pun, I know, but when our new engine finally arrived yesterday, I thought "that's a very expensive block of cardboard". And so it has turned out to be, but only 10% more expensive than rebuilding the old Westerbeke W-52 it replaces, and with eight extra horses, much improved fuel economy, easier access, custom fittings like two grooved belt power take-offs, easily accessible fuel filters, built in oil change, a beefy ZF-25 hydraulic transmission, two alternators, a remote oil filter for ease of service, and all in a smaller, lighter package. Throw in the wildly appreciated Canadian dollar, and the beast was actually cheaper than the repair.

Let's review: When we last looked at the good ship Alchemy, she was buried behind other, some might say lesser, boats. Gutted, cold, with only intermittant power and the flap of cautionary tarping to keep her company, she awaited the spring.

 Note the still-uninstalled circular ports in the pilothouse. I actually had these thing dryfitted in November, but it got too cold for the two-part matching paint (Cream 92 or something) to kick, and here it is MAY and it is STILL too cold and rainy to get it going. The next three days are supposed to bring "less crappy" weather, but it's been brutal. The operation of getting my new engine aboard occurred in a three-hour window of dry between morning and evening rain.

This is Mark Bird of Boatman Nautical Services. He's the local Beta Marine rep and has been subject to my waffling and largely unsolicited questions regarding a new engine purchase for some time. He also is a member at my club. It took a fair bit of discussion to weigh the pros and cons of which model of Beta to get (once I had ruled out for various reasons other, more common engines), and further yakking to learn of and then to justify the various mods and extras I wanted. He was a great help in filling in the gaps of my knowledge, because it's not like what I ordered added significantly to the cost, but it did give me the flexibility going forward to have the ability to make plenty of power when I wanted to (meaning I don't foresee needing a separate genset), plus the ease of access and ease of acquiring spares that should make life easier on the engine servicing front. Above, Mark is sorting through the various bits and pieces that came with the engine, like the swanky instrument panel...

...and the various bits and pieces I will fit after the engine's in place, aligned and bolted down.

As we are some time from that, the engine, which has been "preserved" in a special oil coating on its interior surfaces, has to live somewhere, and that somewhere is my foredeck. I have to rehab and convert a keel tank to diesel, and make a thrust bearing for the AquaDrive, and paint the engine bay, and put in four water tanks before I go mucking with the engine. So up, up and away it went.

First, a look-see to grin in admiration and mechanical lust. Ain't that a beauty? Yes, indeed, it is.

Then, a check of the hydraulic transmission, a part I thought a better idea because of the four-bladed VariProp already purchased. Capt. Matt of Creeation has a similar set-up with an AutoProp and the "reversing" of feathering blades can wear on mechanical transmissions.

The club purchased a "Polecat", a hydraulic hook crane, from a Nova Scotia utility a few years back and it's been a real boon in hauling cradles into stacks, hoisting bigger masts onto boats, and now, placing a 300 kilo engine onto my deck like a baby's kiss.

Key to this is the club's commodore, Henry Piersig, who is a very precise and skilled individual about as far from the blazer-wearing, peaked-cap doffing yachtie as one can get. He worked the levers with skill and speed.

A problem fitting biggish shackles led first to a fix and then a resolution to fabricate larger eye straps on the lifting points of the block. It is a known fact going forward that I will lift and lower this block several dozen times before it is properly in place, and it's a small matter to make beefier places for the shackles to attach.

The block takes flight...

Despite a somewhat unfavourable angle, Henry came very close to nailing the placement on the first attempt.

And down it goes, to be taped shut, covered in three tarps, strapped, bungeed and roped snugly against the elements.

A job well done and thanks to Mark, Henry and Mark's helper Adam for competence and speed as we got this done in about one hour flat.

Now the pace quickens. I have some prep to get Valiente running, launched and masted, but once she's in her summer slip and Clive, my new boat partner, has the keys, I expect my sailing to become only an appendix to more or less continuous boat work. My accountant wants to have a word with me about that "continuous" aspect, as he feels I should be, you know, making a living, particularly as I'm still burning boat bucks like hippie patchouli. But we wet Alchemy's hull next spring 2012, powered or not, Mayan Apocalypse notwithstanding, and all my "land needed" jobs must be completed by then.

Good thing my arm's nearly healed. Time to reinjure it.


Hooks, lines, but no sinkers

Due to a history of being a self-help organization, my boat club remains somewhat unusual in our part of the world in that the membership launches and hauls out our own boats. While we rent the cranes, and big, complex, capable things they are, it's "all hands on deck" for the line-handling, the "pusher" jobs of keeping the hulls off the gritty concrete seawalls of the navigational channel into which half the boats either are lowered or raised, and even the safety concerns.

For those of you in sunnier, or at least not frost-prone, climates, almost everyone on the Great Lakes will put their vessels on dry land for five to six months of the year, as the weather is generally too nasty to sail recreationally. I myself have sailed on January 1 locally (on a steel boat quite able to crush a path through six inches of pan ice), and have sailed my own plastic boat as early as the first week of April and as late as the third week of November. But I like the wind and contend it makes the boat go, an apparently minority opinion. Also, thanks to the magic of climate change, one can increasingly find very pleasant, mild days well past the end of October, and really, wouldn't you rather be sailing? Just add more rum in the thermos of scalding coffee and tie down your tuque. What could be more Canadian?

This launch, as in previous years, I was driving the safety boat much of the time, with a primary job of hauling out people who might fall in (it's happened more than once and this water is 4-5C at the moment) and a secondary job of retrieving lost items, telling boat owners if they are getting water along with gouts of black smoke upon first starting their long-stilled diesel auxiliaries, and telling people that no, we could not give their engineless or dead-engined vessel a tow because we are supposed to be there if someone falls in, and with few members opting to wear a PFD while jumping on and off moving boats to handle crane slings, the odds are not particularly good that we will have an incident-free day. Also, the "crash boat" we use, oddly named Dragon Lady, makes a lousy tug, having only a few inches of keel and not much weight.

This is the boat that tows the other boats when they cannot move themselves. She's called Storm King, and dates, along with her Chevy engine, to sometime in the '50s. Patched, repatched, replated and rebored, she's been reborn more times than a naughty bodhisattva, and still plugs along at a steady five knots of torquey goodness. Steering impulsively, looking vaguely on fire and not overly clean, she's like the gin-soaked aunt at the wedding with the age-inappropriate stories about orgies in the '70s, and quite willing to show you her dents.

At one point, we had three dead engines in a row and a tow queue formed. It's a mercy the weather, if not particularly warm, was benign. I've done this job in 25 knots (the point where the crane operators call it a day) and it can be miserable, if a boon to the fibreglass repair industry.

Ah, the coppery blush of fresh anti-fouling! How soon will you be tarnished by ablation and lake goo!