Upgrading my Universal/Westerbeke Heat Exchanger: The dumbest repair I’ve ever made

This is a tale of folly and failure. My lack of research and trust in manufacturers led me down a long path of woe.

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The Universal 5424 in our 1982 O’day 34 was overheating. The 3-cylinder diesel motor was rated to run at 2800 RPM. However, if we pushed it past 1900 RPM, the temp needle began rising and never stopped.

Decades ago, Universal/Westerbeke admitted that the 2″ diameter heat exchanger was too small for the 5424 and the M-25 and recommended upgrading to a 3″ heat exchanger. Despite our engine allegedly being rebuilt in 2008, that never happened.

At the very beginning of this debacle, a friend said I should just buy a cheap generic 3″ heat exchanger with screw-in bungs, so I could size them to my hoses and just do a quick swap. I decided against that because I wanted to keep the engine as OEM as possible with an “official” upgraded part, and I thought finding the barbed bronze bungs might be a pain. Oh, how foolish I was.

Catalina Direct had factory style replacements heat exchangers starting at $500, but I wasn’t ready to pay that much, so I searched eBay. One seller claimed he had a 3″ Universal heat exchanger. It looked very similar to the one I had. I made an offer at $150 (plus $20 shipping), and he accepted! I probably should have paid more attention to the last line in his auction that said, “measurements are not exact.”

A few days later the eBay exchanger arrived. It did look very much like the one on my boat — because it was the exact same 2″ diameter heat exchanger mounted on the back of my motor.

I contacted the eBay seller, and after a photo with a measuring tape showing that he had definitely listed this part incorrectly, he agreed to refund my money. Unfortunately, I had to spend another $20 to ship it back.

Before the project even started, I was down $40.

I browsed the Universal/Westerbeke options on Catalina Direct, and they all had the same hose inlets/outlets listed. I took that to mean they were standard sizes that would be the same as the heat exchanger I was removing. That was a terrible assumption.

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Approximately $550 later, I had this 3″ x 17″ behemoth that didn’t share a single intake or outlet size with my old unit. In fact, despite being the “factory” upgrade, some of the outlets didn’t even point the correct direction.

I slowly began the process of adapting the hose sizes and directions to make it fit.

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Why have four hoses and eight leak points when you can have 15 adapter pieces, nine hose sections and 63 leak points?

The worst part of it all was the 7/8″ raw water intake port. My oberdorfer pump had a 1/2″ barb and hose coming off of it. I found a 3/4″ barb, but a 3/4″ hose will not fit on the 7/8″ intake — even if you boil the hose first. There are no 7/8″ fittings available ANYWHERE.

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I ended up running the 1/2″ hose to a 3/4″ adapter and then triple clamping the 7/8″ hose onto that to keep it from leaking. However, since the soft 7/8″ inlet got slightly out of round as the heat exchanger was being moved around for three weekends, the 7/8″ hose doesn’t make a perfect seal on it, and I’ve now got an ever-so-slight drip of sea water leaking into my bilge for the rest of my life.

Another $500 in adapters and hoses later, I finally had the entire coolant system put back together.

Since I had to drain all the coolant anyway, I decided to replace my thermostat.

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That was an easy process, but you have to special order the molded hose that connects the thermostat housing to the water pump. Be aware of this fact ahead of time because if you’re not, you have to put the project on hold for another week while you wait on that hose to show up.

Once I finally got it all back together, I fired up the engine, and it promptly overheated.

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Yes, I had an airlock. I did not know that after filling the coolant system, you must remove the bolt in the top of the thermostat housing and then pour more coolant in there to remove the air pocket.

After overheating the engine twice dealing with the airlock, I finally got it running. We ran it in the slip long enough to verify the thermostat was opening correctly, and that she wouldn’t overheat anymore.

It took three weekends and about $1200 after the expense of the heat exchanger, hoses, adapters, clamps, thermostat, and impeller, but we can finally push into the wind at 2200 RPM without overheating.

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Our last time out in that type of wind we were running at 2 – 2.5 knots. Making trips down to Galveston in a strong headwind were completely out of the question. Now we should be able to plan trips at an average speed of at least 4 knots no matter what the weather is like.

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We still don’t have one of those speed demon sailboats that can motor at 6.5 knots, but four is twice as nice as two. However, if I could do this project again, I definitely wouldn’t be so freaking dumb.

Don’t be like me. Get the generic heat exchanger and screw in the barbs that fit your existing hoses. You can even get 90-degree nozzles and twist them to the exact direction required.

I’m going to apologize now to any future captain of Gimme Shelter. Projects like this are the reason people hate previous owners.

 

 

Repairing a cabin dome light with LEDs

I think we can all agree that the easiest way to convert your boat lights to LED is to just stick one of these adapter bulbs in the socket.

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However, not long after a recent “conversion” one of my dome lights quit again. I pulled out the multi-meter to see if I was getting power to the socket, and I found this.

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One of the contacts was missing. After 33 years the spring-loaded plastic bottom of the socket had become too brittle and finally snapped. While my dome lights aren’t particularly pretty, they at least all match. I was faced with either repairing this one or replacing it with a new style light that wouldn’t look like the others and would require me to drill new mounting holes.

Instead of replacing the socket I decided to just wire an array of LEDs to the switch. Since I wanted it done that afternoon, my only option was West Marine.

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The Dr. LED dome light conversion kit came with two sets of pigtails, one with bare wires on the ends and the other with a double bayonet connector. That seemed a bit unnecessary because anyone attempting this who didn’t need the bayonet could have just clipped it off and used the wires, but I guess they have to justify charging $30 for LEDs somehow.

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I turned off the 12-volt power, removed the light fixture from the ceiling, clipped the old wires, and removed the broken socket.

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Yep, it’s still broken.

I then connected the positive leads to the switch and the negative lead to ground. Then I plugged the pigtail into the LED array.

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Time to turn the 12 volt breaker back on and test the setup.

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The LED Conversion kit comes with two pieces of double-sided foam tape to stick the array into the dome. I only used one. I guess the other one is there in case you mess up.

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Then I just had to re-attach the lens and screw the fixture back into the cabin top.

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Theoretically I should never have to mess with this light again. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Running from the storm aboard a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 41 DS

Last weekend it was supposed to be another scorcher and Mary was suffering from a fever and sore throat. We were planning to skip the marina altogether and spend Saturday on the couch watching Netflix — but then the phone rang.

Texas Coast Yachts was having a demo event and wanted to know if we’d like to go sailing on a brand new Jeanneau 41. Suddenly Mary perked up, downed some ibuprofen, and we were headed for Kemah.

Texas Coast Yachts is the Jeanneau, NEEL Trimarans, and most importantly to Mary, the Fountaine Pajot Catamaran dealership in our area.

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While they didn’t have any new FPs to demo, Captain Michael Clark was kind enough to invite us to try out this gorgeous 2015 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey DS 41.

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The DS stands for Deck Salon, and the big difference between the DS models and the regular Jeanneau Sun Odysseys is this fantastic aft cabin.

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In the 41 you have a nice big bed that you can get in and out of without climbing over your spouse, as well as a sitting area and plenty of storage. There’s a pass-through on each side of the companionway with a master bathroom to port.

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Thanks to the big windows the boat is very bright inside. It’s very nicely laid out.

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All those windows might keep the air-conditioner running full-time in the Houston summer, but if you can afford a brand new Jeanneau, you probably don’t fuss over the electric bill.

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The V-berth has a nice bed and head as well, so the layout is great for two couples — or maybe just one couple that can’t stand being around each other.

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The breakers are located in a panel above the nav station. There’s no key required to start up the Yanmar, you just switch on the circuit, and the diesel starts with a push of a button at the helm.

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The 360 Docking bow thruster made getting in and out of the slip a piece of cake, and the 40hp Yanmar sail drive pushed her up to hull speed with no problem.

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Captain Mike brought us out of the marina and then handed me the wheel while he showed us how to unfurl the main and the jib.

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The main sheet system has no traveler. Instead it’s set up, so that the main can be adjusted from either side of the cockpit to enable you to control it from both helms.

A line of dark clouds was visible on the horizon just as we set the sail, and it was only minutes before Captain Mike was explaining that the blue dots on the sails were suggested reefing points as we furled some sail back in.

Mary, although excited to be sailing on a new boat, still wasn’t feeling well. Add to that the fact that our GPS was reading 7.5 knots SOG as the boat was heeling more and more with every gust, and she was not happy. Yes, we had reefed, but it wasn’t doing much to slow us down when the wind was gusting past 30 knots.

As the lightning flashes started getting closer and water starting spraying over the cockpit, Mary snapped one photo of me (and her finger) before a gust heeled us over far enough to knock everyone’s phones and sunglasses off the cockpit table.

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We’d been out for less than 20 minutes, but it was time to get the sails down and get back to the marina before things got really bad. I kicked the engine back on, we furled the sails and headed in. Motoring downwind we were surfing waves in the channel and still had an apparent wind of 21 knots behind us.

I was sure that sailing a nice big monohull would convince Mary we didn’t need a catamaran, but I think the weather sabotaged me. I never even got her to take the wheel.

Personally, I was impressed with the way the boat handled. The dual rudders made it very responsive and easier to control than our smaller O’day 34. It also did a much better job of pushing through the waves. I’m still not completely sold on the idea of a roller-furling main, but it was easy to use, and we still had plenty of power and control with it reefed.

We made it back to marina and backed into the slip just as the dark clouds swallowed the sky over us.

Special thanks to Texas Coast Yachts and Captain Michael Clark for the chance to sail on such a nice boat.