Voyager's 2019/2020 Refit

Voyager in Bermuda

Voyager at anchor in Bermuda

Over the last two decades we've put 4000 hours on our diesel engine in many trips to Bermuda, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, the Caribbean, and New England. But Voyager's 42-year old Westerbeke engine has become an albatros around my neck. It suffers from too many ills and I'm tired of working on it all of the time. For years I've been reluctant to run it above 1800 RPM, figuring it's now a collection of old parts flying in loose formation and fearing that stressing it may cause a major failure.

This page will be updated from time to time as the work progresses.

At the Newport Boat Show in September of 2019 Beta Marine offered us a 20% show discount on an engine. Though I had been interested in the Beta 30, they convinced me the 25 was more appropriate for the Seawind II we own. We ordered one for just under $11k. That includes an upgrade to the "CW" instrument panel (which has gauges for oil pressure, temperature and voltage), the 120-amp alternator instead of the standard 35A, custom mounts so we don't have to change the engine beds, a taller exhaust riser (needed for our boat where the engine is so low) and connections for a water heater.

The new engine is smaller than the old one, which means we'll need a new prop shaft. So I decided it was also time to replace the cutlass bearing and rebuild the stuffing box. And, with the engine compartment empty, this is a great time to rewire that area, which suffers from 42 years of changes, some made poorly. The electrical panel and its wiring is a complete mess. Some of the circuit breakers have failed, and new ones are not available. So a new panel made the list as well.

The Westerbeke 30 is a 550 pound beast. After removing the transmission to shorten the thing, I had the yard pull the engine using their crane. It doesn't fit out the companionway, so we had to tilt it forward-end down. Four of us were involved; the crane operator, two helpers (one did nothing other than inflate the bill), and me down below. It came out with only a tiny bit of damage to the below-decks varnish. Now it's sitting in our barn, and I'm not sure what I'll do with it. Part it out? Sell it intact?

Westerbeke coming out

Electrical Panel

The old panel is pretty conventional for the Seawind. It's a 24" x 13" bit of teak-faced plywood:

The thing has several failings even when brand new. The battery switch has several enormous (1/0) cables going to it, which makes opening the panel difficult at best. It's not hinged, so sort of just flops around when the screws are removed. Four decades of use means those screws no longer grab, so it, well, always flops around.

Everyone gets new electrical panels from Blue Seas, but these don't really match Voyager's needs. Front Panel Express ( is a company that will make custom panels. Their free CAD software is very easy to use. The most serious shortcoming is that there are no pre-defined items, like the hole pattern for the ubiquitous Blue Seas Series A circuit breakers. I designed that pattern and used the software's "group" feature to simply copy the pattern into 23 positions on the new panel.

One of the cool things about the CAD software is its immediate pricing. Add a hole and click on one icon to see the incremental price.

The new panel is 0.125" thick aluminum, drilled and cut to order, and cost $280. Added to that is $350 in circuit breakers, yielding a total cost about a third of a panel from Blue Seas, yet this matches Voyager's needs exactly. There are two unassigned sets of circuit breakers for future expansion. The words are engraved into the aluminum so will never wear off.

I blew it on the countersinks; all are too big. "Truss-head" screws from McMaster, instead of the screws that come with the circuit breakers, cover the goof perfectly.

A secondary panel provides access to 12 volts. I wanted USB connectors to charge various devices without using an inverter but did not want those on the main panel as connectors for phones et al are ephemeral. The main panel will last for decades, but I'm prepared to change the smaller one when USB becomes extinct. That cost $50 from Front Panel Express. It has two USBs (with power only, no data connections), a cigarette lighter connector, 120 volt outlet, and banana plugs for direct access to 12 volts to satisfy my always-quirky engineering whims. USB is a 5-volt standard, so I wired up a 7805 linear regulator (on a sizable heat sink as it could, worst case, dissipate 10 watts) to convert the boat's +12 to +5.

I made a new teak-faced plywood panel which holds the two aluminum panels and added the fuel gauge for the diesel tank, an amp-hour meter to monitor the batteries, and voltmeters for each bank and shore power. (The amp-hour meter is a Balmar SG200. It replaces our old LinkLite, which I always hated. Interestingly, the Balmar does not display amp-hours; instead it shows state of charge in percent, which is a lot more intuitive for non-EEs). A piece of 1/4" sold teak surrounds the plywood to hide the ply's ugly end grain.

The panel is hinged on the left side and swings out over the chart table.

Cutlass Bearing and Stuffing Box

The cutlass bearing was very worn. But the old one really didn't want to come out! I dug away all of the goo at the aft end of the cone around the prop shaft (it's some sort of putty) and removed three setscrews, one at 9 o'clock, one at 3 and the last around 11 o'clock. Pounding from inside the boat on a pipe in the shaft log with a small sledge did nothing. I made a puller from 2' of half-inch threaded rod with 10 washers on one end; those were locked in place with nuts. That didn't work even after dumping a whole can of freeze-mist in. I wound up cutting it out with a Sawzall.

The bearing is 1.5" in diameter and 4" long. To insert the new one I cooled it in dry ice for a couple of hours and then pounded it in with a hammer and block of wood.
Now the setscrews are covered with clay (to make future removal simple, though that probably won't be in my lifetime) and is covered in polyester resin mixed thickly with microballoons.

The stuffing box is 2.25" in diameter while the shaft log OD is 2". The hose is 4.5" long. I bought the 5 ply hose from Buck Algonquin (part number 80HO20012) which is specifically made for stuffing boxes, and four T-clamps. The former is a 12" piece which I cut down to 4.5", the latter are special hose clamps that can be really cranked down hard. The nuts are all oriented on the top of the box/hose assembly so dripping water won't collect on them and possibly cause corrosion. To get the 2" hose over the 2.25" box I heated the hose in boiling water and then muscled it in place, using screwdrivers to help flare out the end of the hose.

I've always hated the stuffing box wrench. It's quite difficult to get it to hold a setting. This is the wrench we have:

The knurled knob is so sloppy that the adjustable jaw flops around. The stuffing box locknut is 2.25" and the packing nut is about .125" smaller. I drilled a hole in the wrench for a bolt to permanently keep the thing set to 2.25"; the smaller packing nut can still be adjusted with the wrench set up this way.


After thinking about this a lot, I decided to remove all of the old wiring from the electrical panel. The other option is to rewire one wire at a time, but there's such a rat's nest of wiring behind the old panel that I doubt I could do a good job.

My goal is to simplify and neaten the wiring into a harness that goes to the panel. By simplify, I mean to mostly remove wires that go to the breakout box in the starboard cockpit locker. For instance, shore power goes there, then from there to a mains breaker on the old panel, then via individual breakers back to the breakout box and thence to the water heater, outlets and battery charger. Instead, now the shore power goes directly to the mains breaker on the panel, from there to the individual breakers, and thence to the three loads. 110 VAC is no longer in the breakout box.

The AC wiring is downright dangerous. Some was charred. The insulation just crumbles when touched. Here's where the cable goes to the shore power receptacle:

Yikes! And when we're in the slip the boat is always connected to shore power. All of the AC wiring is now replaced.

As mentioned, I rewired the breakout box. Here's a poor picture:

A plywood panel covers this, and just for fun I put a chart of Bermuda on that:


Water Heater and Batteries

The new engine weighs 300 pounds less than the Westerbeke, which will alter the boat's trim. I added two additional T-105 golf cart cells, which compensates for 140 pounds of that deficit.

Voyager has two battery banks. A pair of 6 volt golf cart cells is the "house" bank (220 amp-hours). This is the bank we always use, both for starting the engine and for daily needs. A smaller Group 27 (100 amp-hours) is always charged and never used. This is in case we run the house bank down. We would use it to start the engine to charge the house bank. In the 21 years I've owned Voyager this has never happened.

The new, additional T-105s are wired in parallel with those already on-board. That will give us 440 Ah capacity, which will double the time we can go without charging. It's ironic that adding these during the very expensive engine replacement will let us use the engine less.

By happy coincidence we had just replaced the house bank, so all the batteries are the same age.

Voyager had a water heater, but that was a rusty mess and I removed it 20 years ago. With the engine out it was possible to install a new unit. Filled with water, this adds another 60 pounds. A little figuring shows that 12 gallons of vodka will just make up the 300 pound difference in engine weights.

The water heater runs from shore power when we're in the slip. Under way, the engine's hot coolant circulates through a heat exchanger inside the unit.

New batteries and water heater.

Most of the boat's wiring is simple, though extensive. However, the battery wiring is a bit more complex. I have rethought all of this, and this drawing shows the new version of that wiring in schematic form, as well as how and where the connections are actually made.

Engine Instrument Panel

The Beta's instrument panel is considerably smaller than the Westerbeke's. The panel is in the cockpit so the on-watch sailor can monitor engine behavior. Alas, the hole in the cockpit is too big for the Beta's panel. I made a male mold of an insert that the new panel will live in, and that fills the gap. The mold was wood, coated with 4 layers of polyester resin. A mix of resin and microballoons made fillets to give the thing a pleasing shape. Sanded to 600 grit, then 7 coats of wax followed by two coats of mold release made it slippery.

The mold

Two coats of gel coat followed, then one coat of polyester resin. (To make things extra tricky, the gel coat I had on hand contains wax, which allows the gel to dry completely. But that requires sanding between coats. So I monitored each coat carefully, letting each just begin to set up before doing the next coat. The polyester resin is wax-free except for the last coat, which I added wax to).

A layup of fiberglass cloth, then three layers of fiberglass mat finished things off.

The new panel is inset 1.5".

The Beta panel is waterproof, but the sun may degrade the lettering, and its position makes it vulernable to careless kicks and other insults. So I made a cover from 1/4" plexiglass. A hole is needed to access the buttons, so water will get in. The bottom of the plexi is open for water to drain out.

Teak rails disguise the joint between the insert and the cockpit. As the insert is installed from the inside of the boat against the cockpit fiberglass a 1" rabbit all around the teak makes up for the 5/16" thickness of the cockpit's fiberglass. Alas, I blew it on the teak; it's a quarter inch too narrow, so made a bigger panel that fits correctly. And Marybeth had put 7 layers of varnish on the mistake!

Panel pre-varnish


The wiring behind the electrical panel was a horror that started when the boat was first built and amplified by 42 years of changes and repairs, often apparently by owners with more enthusiasm than competence.

It's a bit cleaner now.

(Note: The vertical panel is the old engine instrument panel, soon to be replaced. The loose red wire is for the tricolor light - I can't find the wire where it goes!)

I also replaced all of the DC wiring that runs all over the boat. The bundle of wiring running from port to starboard in the engine compartment must be 3" thick.


Our single-sideband radio (SSB) is a Yaesu FT-840 I bought 20 years ago. It's a ham radio (my callsign is N3ALO) that we use to get phone patches ashore when we're far out to sea, and to chat with our friends on Willow. Though it is a great radio in recent years it has been sick. I tore it apart and fixed a broken transmit connection and a number of bad switches. Bench tested here in my Finksburg lab it's now working fine.

Prop Shaft

The old prop shaft came out easily. It isn't in terrible shape, but has some deep pitting which I figured would wear the stuffing box packing quickly. So I had a new one made.

Pitting on old shaft

It's generally recommended that when replacing the shaft or the prop to mate the two on the bench and "lap" them with valve-grinding compound to insure a perfect fit. To do this one puts a thin layer of machinest's blueing over the prop/shaft interface. When dry, lapping compound is spread around the blueing and the prop slipped onto the shaft. I rotated the prop a dozen times and removed it. Where the blueing is ground away there's a perfect fit.

I installed the transmission coupling. The setscrew goes into a dimple machined into the shaft. My plan was to use stainless 0.041" wire to insure the setscrew wouldn't back out, but the screw didn't have a hole through the head. No problem; the drill press should make short work of this.

The bit dulled despite copious amounts of lubricating oil. Then another dulled, all without the tiniest indentation in the screw. It's grade 8, but must be hardened. A solid-carbide bit from McMaster-Carr, though, went through the screw in seconds.

After torquing the split-coupling bolts to 20 NM I wired the setscrew.

Since everything is apart I decided to be extra-careful and slipped a donut zinc on the shaft. Many do this in case the thing pulls loose from the coupling; the zinc prevents the prop and shaft from exiting the boat. That could be annoying is it might jam the rudder, and the 1.25" hole left behind would admit considerable amounts of water. Over-engineering a job is a professional hazard, so behind the zinc I slid two Oilite self-lubricating sintered thrust washers. My thinking is that if the worst happened the shaft might still be spinning if we're under sail. The washers will minimze friction and not destroy the stuffing box.

Engine! (Finally)

Here it is May, 2020 and this engine job, which started last year, finally gets to the engine. We lowered it onto a 2x8 and shoved it into position on the beds.

The muffler is now installed under the fuel tank and right over the rubber hose of the stuffing box. New six-foot control cables connect the throttle/shifter to the engine. The wiring is in though I now wish Beta let us specify the cable length; they supply one three meters long, which is about twice as long as needed so there's an ugly-ish coil of it behind the electrical panel. The engine is not nearly as tall as the old Westerbeke; I can crawl over it to (barely) reach the stuffing box. It's short enough that it is entirely over the drip pan, which will make changing transmission fluid cleaner.

Aligning the engine with the prop shaft was surprisingly easy, because I can reach over the engine to measure the couplings' spacing. The Westerbeke required working from a cockpit locker, which was really difficult for normal-sized human beings.

Varnish et al

The handrails on deck were worn to a fraction of their size and hadn't seen a spit of varnish in the years we've owned Voyager. So I made two new rails which Marybeth is now varnishing. They were fastened with 5" long screws that go through the deck and into nuts in the handrails below. I repeat: nuts, that are behind bungs. We plan to change this; we'll drive lags through the below-deck handrails into those on deck, so no bungs will be needed on top. We can complete all varnishing at home. The below-decks handrails will need bungs and final varnishing in place.

Allied did a poor job with those nuts. The holes are off-center. I drilled 3/4" holes with a Forstner bit after removing the nuts for new bungs. The old holes are filled with thickened epoxy. The 3/4" hole is big enough to admit a socket for the 1/4" lags we'll use. I'll then cut bungs for those holes. The job won't be perfect, but the off-center holes are biased to the cabin side, so won't be particularly visible.

The handrails have a slight curve so I steam-bent a bit of curve into the new ones.

The port coaming has a major split which admits water under the varnish. We removed that and are making a new one. I can't get 10" teak so will butt-join two smaller pieces with a spline, and will use West G/Flex epoxy to glue the two pieces. That is advertised as being ideal for teak, which is pretty unfriendly to most glues.


More updates to this page are on the way!

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