Engines And Trying To Move Forward

Emily and I were excited we had our new boat with a bit more space. Our old boat, Phenix, an 1972 Islander 37, was still in the marina. We had prepared her to be sold over the last month leading up to January 2020. Emily had spoken with a broker, which we would need as we lived 6 hours away. The broker was set to meet me the next day to sign the contract and go over the boat. To prepare I went to Phenix to check everything. 

I looked over the boat we had so many good memories in. Like all old boats there are always some imperfections, but I had spent the last year before buying our new boat adding lots of things we wanted since we had planned to go cruising in her, but by a fortunate chain of events we had found our dream boat at a price we could afford. The one thing I hadn’t done in a long time is start the engine. I never had an issue with this engine so was not worried. I put the keys in, hit the glow plugs for a minute, and turned the key. Clunk! What! Maybe the battery is dead? I checked. 12 volts. No, the battery is good. Oh, No! No! No! No! I tried again and again, but there was no moving it. After looking it over it was obvious it was seized. Now what to do?

This was January 2020. I spent several trips down to the boat looking at this engine and trying to find a way to unseize it. I read everything I could find online about how to get the job done without taking it apart. First suggestion, use ATF transmission fluid. No success. Use penetrating oil. Nothing. My hopes for a quick and painless solution faded with each failed attempt. Time was passing quick and no solutions were coming. Then Covid struck in March and my ability to work on the engine stopped with lock down. 

For the next 4 months Emily and I were stuck at work. Each month the marina bill added to the cost of maintaining the boat we no longer in need of. Each month was another chance for something to go wrong as boat like to do (I sometimes think they take offense to abandonment). In June we finally could break free from work and begin on the engine again. 

For the next few trips I tried taking the head off to get at the problem. I used a breaker bar on the drive shaft. I tried using the starter. I even tried hammer with a block of wood on the piston in an attempt to break it free, but no luck. Since every time I made the trip to the boat I only had a day or two to work on it, I knew this was going to take a year to complete without another approach. In September we pulled the engine out and brought it home. At least I could now chip away at the process everyday.

It took me a couple of weeks to get to it. I finally dug into it and began stripping it down. I had specifically bought an engine puller and engine stand for this. The engine stand proved to be exceptional at speeding up the stripping down process. I had it down to the block in a day, but to remove the drive shaft I needed to get the frozen piston out and it was not coming out easily.

After several attempts and soaking the cylinder in metal rescue I took it out to the front of the house. I set up some 2x6s to protect the metal as I forced the piston out. I took a block of wood and with the block upright began using a 10 pound sledge to hammer at the piston. It still wasn’t moving as it seemed there was not enough force being transferred to the piston. I wasn’t worried about damaging the piston as it was going to have to be replaced anyway. I dug into my tool bag and found the biggest socket. I placed it in the center of the piston and gave it a good whack. To my surprize the thing moved. I smacked it again and it moved again! Perfect! Now to turn it over and pound it out. I left it upright sprayed some deep creep into it to soak overnight hoping in the morning the deep creep would have worked some magic and it would slide out.

The morning was cold. Fall was coming to the mountains, but this cold would not help me push the piston out. I went back into the house and found my propane torch. After setting the flame to the block for several minutes on both sides of the block it felt warm enough to start hammering. I started with a block of wood which I could get passed the drive shaft, but once again it seemed the wood was not transferring enough force. I found an old bar that would fit down into block, passed the drive shaft and into the cup of the piston. I began hammering with stops every few to add some more heat to the block. Eventually the piston started moving. After a few of these movements I noticed below that it was driving out the cylinder sleeve with the piston. I did not mind as long as the piston came out. It took awhile, but I finally had the piston out.

After a good inspection of the piston I could see just how badly the thing was in there. Every ring was frozen in place. Now I had a direction to take and I could see an end to this project and maybe, just maybe we could get Phenix sold to a new owner. 

Currently I am waiting on parts form Westerbeke. It seems in this process of transitioning not just from the mountains to our boat, but even from one boat to another unexpected challenges can come up. I wouldn’t have wanted to take an engine apart this far and maybe this is the universe forcing me to learn a skill before I need it most. Now that I have done this I am not so intimidated by the process. I guess all things happen for a reason.


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