Perkins Engine Rebuild Article
16 June 2013 | Singapore: Keppel Bay Marina
We report this with joy: for the first time in nearly 5 months, we were able to start our "new" 36 year old Perkins 2-436 engine and leave the dock for sea trials. It all started on January 9th: loaded with provisions and friend on board at the start of our annual pilgrimage 550 miles up the Malacca Straits to Phuket, Thailand. Or rather, it didn't start. VHF in hand to call the marina staff to slip the lines..... tried engine start: no clicks, no coughs, Silence.
We started with the obvious: wiring? fuel? batteries? Then the starter motor came off for inspection, with still no fault evident. Four hours into our dockside angst we called a mechanic for phone support. He suggested that we remove the injectors and see what we could find inside. Ouch - sea water in number four cylinder. Then we knew it was serious. Our mechanic arrived the next day and decreed the head had to come off. Poor boat. Poor us.
The villain was the exhaust manifold. It was found to be corroded and leaking seawater - into the cylinders. It took us several days to absorb the fact that we had a catastrophic engine failure on our hands.
The cylinders were seized in the block (despite the engine having started several days prior). We soaked them with ATF for days, hoping to free them but they wouldn't budge. So the engine block had to come out. Transmission and everything off and facing the prospect of a $2,000 tow to the boatyard. Fortunately Keppel Bay Marina allowed us to tow the boat alongside the restaurant pontoon early one morning where we'd arranged a crane to do the engine lift. On the Cal 3-46 sailboat, the engine is not directly underneath the cockpit access opening so we had to build a scaffold below decks first, move the engine to the extreme port side under the opening and then attach the belts and tackle for the crane lift. The crane driver was excellent and the donk came out with a half inch to spare on each side of the access lid.
Concurrent with this work was a ton of research on engine rebuilds and of course, re-powering. We would have done the latter except that Perkins no longer makes the 85 hp 4-236. The next model down (65 hp) would not have had the grunt we needed to push that full length hull painlessly through a strong opposing current or rough sea, and the next model up wouldn't physically fit into the engine room. We looked at Volvo and Yanmar but both have right turning props: ours if a lefty so a re-power with them would have meant a complete new drive train, propeller and different holes in the bottom of the boat, necessitating a haul-out as well.
Our problems weren't over. The engine was now in several different locations: the head at the re-grinder, the block and transmission at our mechanic's shop and various other bits on the boat itself. We were dealing with Multico, Perkins' S.E. Asia agent for parts, and North American Boat Services for mechanical support. Without going into detail, Multico screwed up. Despite being given the correct engine serial number, the replacement parts they ordered and implanted were wrong, with some expensive consequences. We had already purchased most of the parts kit ourselves: cylinder linings, pistons, rings, connecting rods, camshaft bearings, head rebuild kit, new exhaust manifold, transmission rebuild kit, new engine mounts etc. We escalated the issue to Perkins worldwide who sent their Asia Pacific Vice President to meet with us. Issues were documented, expectations made clear and Multico, under the authority of Perkins, came good by re-assembling the engine with all proper parts.
We also replaced all inaccessible parts that come into view while the engine is out, including having a new exhaust elbow fabricated.
A big fillip for us was seeing the whole shebang running under test at Multico's premises. After the successful test bed run, the whole thing had to be unbolted, transferred back to the dock, crane arranged and short block engine lowered back in, moved into position on the new mounts and head, wiring & plumbing woven back together again.
At the same time, we had our transmission rebuilt: Borg Warner velvet drive 71 C. We had excellent parts support from Jim at Federal Marine. He is knowledgeable and knows his transmissions!
We're not too proud to say we both shed some tears through all this: Dreamcatcher's heart torn out and our cruising season totally shot, it has been a depressing and anxious 5 months. The work hasn't stopped yet: our genset needs to be re-installed along with a new hot water heater. It took a lot longer than we thought, but we did have several high priority personal interruptions during the process that took us away from the task. But now, Dreamcatcher has what is essentially a totally new rebuilt engine (all 1100 pounds of her) which we are required to run in for 50 hours up front of a complete fluid change, settings review and tappet adjustments. All up the cost to us has been around $12.5K including crane, our mechanic's time, parts and a multitude of sundry expenses. Our take-away from this was that:
- It takes twice as long and is twice as disruptive as you think it should be.
- replace or at least pressure test your exhaust manifold every 5 years.
- consider installing a fresh water valve system so the engine can be flushed with fresh water after use.
- The Perky is still a great engine, and Perkins is an excellent company to deal with.
- get the best mechanic possible, whether you can afford him or not. Ours - Jeff of North American Boat Services in Singapore - was great.
- don't discount help from your sister ship community: S/V Molly J and S/V Liberty, both Cal's, offered invaluable suggestions, photos and sympathy during the process.
We look forward to starting our cruising season in August, this time on the other side of Malaysia!
The photo is of Henry and Jeff, our mechanic, handling the re-entry of the donk into Dreamcatcher's port side.
================================================= About Dreamcatcher: she is a Cal 3-46 GRP sailing ketch, originally built and registered in California. She is 36 years old and this engine failure occurred around the 5,000 hour point. She participated in the Baja Ha Ha in 2003 and has since sailed across the Pacific to Australia, and ultimately to her home base in Singapore. She sails regularly throughout Asia. Cal boat and/or Perkins owners are welcome to contact us for further details on the engine rebuild and challenges thereof: Email firstname.lastname@example.org