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 albatross 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 upgraded 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? (Later: we donated it to Cecil Community College which is just starting up a marine engine program. Nice folks.)

Westerbeke coming out

Electrical Panel

The old panel was 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.

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.

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 later discovered that iPhones won't charge unless the data lines are held at 2.5 volts, so added resistors to make Apple happy.

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" solid 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.


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.

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:

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.


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. We need an "insert" to make up the difference. I made a male mold of the insert. 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

To make the insert I started with two coats of gel coat 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 vulnerable 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.


Panel pre-varnish. The white bit is the fiberglass insert made on the mold.


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 ensure a perfect fit. To do this one puts a thin layer of machinist's bluing over the prop/shaft interface. When dry, lapping compound is spread around the bluing and the prop slipped onto the shaft. I rotated the prop a dozen times and removed it. Where the bluing 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 ensure 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, and 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 minimize 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.

Engine in place. It's a pretty little thing!

The muffler is now installed under the fuel tank and right over the rubber hose of the stuffing box. I glassed in a shelf to hold it in place.

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.

Beta's installation instructions are excellent. As the engine is so low the instructions mandate using an anti-siphon valve in the raw water line before the injection elbow, which was easy to install. They also require that the fuel return line loops below the lowest part of the tank for reasons that I don't understand, but I've complied with that requirement.

Bleeding the air from the fuel system was remarkably easy. Shockingly so. To do the same on the old Westerbeke was an exercise in madness.

Aligning the engine with the prop shaft was also 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.

So, the engine is in and ready to go. I ticked the start button for a fraction of a second and the alarms came on, the lights lit up, and the voltmeter registered. We're ready to go back into the water, but the yard is backed up and boats are behind us. The travelift won't be able to get to us till those are launched.

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 in the below-decks handrails 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.

But now (September, 2020) I decided to make new handrails for below-decks. I fear the big bungs won't be perfect and may be unsightly.

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"-wide teak so butt-joined two smaller pieces using West G/Flex epoxy to glue the two pieces. That is advertised as being ideal for teak, which is pretty unfriendly to most glues. Marybeth is varnishing this piece, too. Her glass shop is packed with varnishing projects. (Later: The coaming is installed and the varnish is stunning).

July 30 Update

It certainly has been an "interesting" time. The coronavirus caused the marina to shut down during the week. We're only allowed down there Friday to Sunday. I think that's a wise move, but it has slowed things down.

Then, in June, I had a detached retina. For six weeks I was only allowed to sit quietly on the couch, so nothing got done on the boat. That restriction was lifted in late July, so we had the marina launch us. The engine started instantly and runs great! Alas, there's a leak where the stuffing box hose goes over the shaft log. I'll have to pull the engine to get to the fitting to make repairs. We'll probably be on land for a couple of weeks.

August 10 Update

I pulled the engine and removed the stuffing box. Though the hose is 4.5" long, exactly the length of the original hose, measurements showed that the stern tube touches the bronze stuffing box, leaving little room for things to bounce around a little as the engine vibrates. I noticed that the Beta jumps around more than the Westerbeke, probably because it has 3 cylinders rather than 4. So I replaced that hose with an 11" length, which will also make the box a bit easier to adjust. This is the Buck Algonquin hose, which is specially designed for this application.

Marybeth continues varnishing on deck, and I reinstalled the stuffing box, prop shaft and engine. The boat is ready to go back in the water, and I've instructed the marina to do so at their convenience.

October Update

Marybeth and I decided to give the new engine a decent workout, so went sailing for two weeks. We hit a number of Chesapeake Bay ports and had a wonderful time. The engine performed flawlessly.

March 2021 Update

I greatly enjoy working on boats, and so continue to make improvements. Given that the boat is old, and that I've lost three masts in my sailing career, I pulled a few chainplates to inspect them. Of the first four two were bad and one questionable. So I've made all new chainplates from 316 stainless and am installing them.


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