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.

Universal5424

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.

heatexchanger01

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.

heatexchanger03

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.

heatexchanger02

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.

thermostat

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.

heatexchanger06

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.

heatexchanger04

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.

heatexchanger05

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.

 

 

Advertisements

Chasing leaks

ChasingLeaks01

I was in my favorite seat in the boat when I thought I felt something on my head. I looked up just in time to feel a very cold drip down my neck.

Last year we had replaced the two large cabin windows, but it was time to chase leaks again. This time we had water coming through the handrails on the ceiling, so we swore we’d actually commit a nice weekend or two for repairs rather than just sailing around while our boat continued to leak.

I wasn’t excited about dealing with all the wood plugs that were hiding the screws, but there was nothing to do except start drilling.

chasingleaks03

Our rails were through-bolted from the inside of the cabin to the rails on the cabin top with the screw heads inside and the nuts outside.

chasingleaks02

Unfortunately after 35 years, most of these screws didn’t want to budge. We managed to break about half of them loose, but then I had to deal with the tedious process of drilling the heads of the other half.

plug

After much longer than expected, we finally managed to get the rails loose.

chasingleaks08

I made a trip to West Marine for new hardware, but of course the screws weren’t a standard length, so I had to buy longer ones. Meanwhile Mary was sanding the rails to clean them up. When I got back we gooped up the holes and started bolting everything back together.

chasingleaks09

In retrospect I wish I had taken the time to paint the black spacers while the rail was off, but it never crossed my mind until we had it back on the boat.

The interior rails had the screw heads, so it was easy to get those holes plugged and leveled. We then rubbed the rail with teak oil, and it was looking pretty good.

chasingleaks12

On the exterior I had to grind the extra length off all the screws, which wasn’t as terrible a job as I thought it would be. It took about 30 minutes to get all of the screws cut down. Then I started tapping in plugs.

ChasingLeaks05

This was my first time to use plugs, so it wasn’t a flawless operation. I chiseled them down and then sanded them level, but I had two or three that split wrong or came apart and had to be redone.

Finally, I got it all sanded smooth and added another layer of teak oil.

ChasingLeaks07

You would think that would have been enough leak fixing for the year, but we also finally tackled the broken opening port in the V-berth. When we bought the boat fit came with a tupperware container under that window to catch the water. A year ago we bought a replacement window. I guess after four years it was finally time to do something about it.

chasingleaks13

The new window was the same size, but the interior screw holes weren’t in the same places, and the exterior trim had no holes at all.

ChasingLeaks04

There was a long debate whether or not to drill holes in the new trim to make it match the old trim rings, but it was finally decided to mount it with sealant only the way we had mounted the fixed ports. If we really need it to match we can always glue screw heads on the trim.

On top of all that work, Mary also sanded and oiled the companionway as a bonus project.

chasingleaks10

The good news is we’ve got no leaks from the re-bedded rails or the new window.

chasingleaks14

The bad news is that our mast is leaking again. Guess we’ll tackle that next year because I need to do some sailing.

 

 

 

So how’s that music thing working out?

xmasparty

You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

A Sacrifice to the Sun god – replacing the Sunbrella on our jib

Since I have been exiled to life indoors while my face heals up, I’ve decided to put the time to good use and work on finishing our Sunbrella transformation.  So far we’ve replaced the sail cover, the bimini, and all of the small canvas items on the boat with new marine blue Sunbrella.   Only the jib Sunbrella and the dodger remain a moldy pacific blue.

13613557_10206755634517798_2630705517226618583_o

Sailrite has an excellent video describing the step-by-step process of adding sunbrella to your jib, but I wanted to add some little tricks I found along the way as well.

The first thing we did was spend several DAYS, not hours, removing the old sunbrella.   After breaking my seam ripper I got frustrated and googled “best seam ripper ever.”  This is when I learned that for ripping seams on heavy canvas an X-Acto knife works wonders.  This really sped up the process for us.

Once I had removed all the old Sunbrella, I started to cut the new panels of Sunbrella with a hot knife to prevent fraying.  I didn’t want to spend the extra money on the Sailrite hot knife, but I found this one at Hobby Lobby that worked very well. It also doubles as a wood and leather burner, and it has all kinds of stamp type attachments.  Pretty cool.  After using my coupon, it was only $13.

SailRepair01

If you’re installing panels onto a new sail, see the Sailrite video for exact measurements of panels, but if you’re re-covering a sail, it’s easier to use the old panels as a pattern.

SailRepair02

We set my sewing machine on the floor to keep the sail flat. This is really important when it comes to connecting the panels together.  There were a couple areas along the foot, where towards the end of the project I got tired and sloppy.  Just a small mistake can make for some very obvious bunching when the sail is up.  Next weekend I will be taking it all back down, seem ripping those seems and flattening it out.

If I was to do it again I would have done a lot more pinning.

All in all the finished product is not too bad.  It needs a bit of adjusting, like all of my projects so far, but at least it matches the rest of the canvas.

SailRepair03

Just for reference, the estimated cost for this project from one of our local sail lofts was $650. Although we did have to spend every evening for a week ripping stitches, our total out-of-pocket cost for the project was under $200.

The Houston 48-Hour Film Project

48Hour_02

I was out sailing one Sunday afternoon when I got a call from my friend Will LeBlanc at Casablanca Productions. He had decided to sponsor a team for the Houston 48 Hour Film Festival and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing/directing the project.

Mary was already occupied skippering Antares in the GBCA Women’s Regatta that weekend, and it sounded like a fun challenge. I recruited our marina neighbor TJ, the captain of Folie a Deux, and we both signed on for the project.

The way the 48 Hour Film Festival works is that on a given Friday at 7 p.m. your team captain draws two film genres out of a hat. Whether it be western, musical, mystery or comedy, your film must be one of the two genres drawn. We ended up with the choices “superhero movie” or “coming of age story.”

After the genre drawing, all of the teams are then given three mandatory elements to be included in the film. Houston’s 2016 mandatory elements were a character named either Elena or Ethan Shell employed as a landscape designer, a flashlight, and the line of dialogue, “What time is it?”

48Hour_01

To be eligible for an award in the competition, you have to write, cast, shoot, edit and score your 4-7 minute film and have it turned in with all signed releases for actors, locations and music by 7 p.m. Sunday night — exactly 48 hours later.

As soon as we had the requirements, we set to work imagining our characters, outlining a plot, and then filling in actions and dialogue. With printed scripts in hand, we called it quits around midnight Friday.

Saturday started early as we met all of our actors and began rehearsal readings. We started filming around 10 a.m.

48Hour_03

There were a few stressful moments throughout the day. We couldn’t find a child actor for a scene that we absolutely couldn’t write out. Then TJ set his entire head on fire the first time he shot a fireball out of his hand. However, it all worked out. By 9 p.m. we were wrapped.

Special thanks to Jive Bar & Lounge who let us film both inside and outside the bar on extremely short notice.

Once we were wrapped, I grabbed the video files and headed back to my house to start editing. I worked from about 10 p.m. – 2 a.m., slept for a while, then continued editing from 6 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. I made it back to the Casablanca studio by 10 a.m. with a complete rough cut for Will to review. The rest of the day was spent adding music, sound effects, tweaking edits, and trying to fix our audio.

Around 6 p.m. Will took the final video and all the paperwork into town to submit our entry before the 7 p.m. deadline.

I’m very proud to present you with “Supers Anon,” co-written and directed by yours truly.

Supers Anon from Wilfred LeBlanc on Vimeo.

We made it to the August 16 “Best of Houston” showing where we were presented with an honorable mention for Best Newcomer to the festival.

48Hour_04

Although Will and I both make corporate videos and conduct video interviews on a regular basis, there were many lessons learned in making a “movie” with so many actors in such a constrained time. If you ever get the chance to participate in a local 48 Hour Film Festival, I highly recommend it. The weekend was exhausting, but I learned so much, met a bunch of great people, and I had a blast.

A big thank you to Will for inviting me to be a part of the project, and thank you to everyone who participated in our film.

 

 

Kemah Friday Night Fireworks are Back

This year the Kemah Boardwalk is putting on an incredible fireworks display every Friday evening in June and July, as well as Monday, July 4. I took a break from playing guitar on the dock to snap a few photos this week.

The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and is visible from almost everywhere in the Clear Lake area. From Watergate Marina we get a nice view over Clear Lake Shores.

Remaining 2016 dates for fireworks are June 24, July 1, 4, 8,15,22 and 29.

Hopefully we’ll get to anchor out in the bay to watch them soon.

Sunday on the Bay

We tried something new last weekend. For the first time we loaded up all of Mary’s sewing stuff, and we set up a tent at the monthly Galveston Market near the strand.

SaturdayNoFunDay

Unfortunately, weather wasn’t too great, and we didn’t have much traffic. We did manage to break even on the purchase of the tent and tables and even made a few dollars to put towards our annual WordPress renewal fees, but if we were having to pay ourselves, it would be far less than minimum wage. Now there are a few more bags and business cards out there in wild, so hopefully that will spur more online business for Mary. However, I think we both decided that sitting in a tent for seven hours isn’t our thing.

Thankfully the weather cleared up Sunday, so we had a few friends join us and got off the dock for a few hours.

SundayFunday01

I have no idea what race/practice was going on, but there was a line of J boats going back and forth. It was quite interesting to see. I wish we’d been in the right place when they all turned around and popped their spinnakers. It would have made an amazing photo.

SundayFunday02

There weren’t many boats out at Redfish Island. Our buddy Tony brought his inflatable SUP and impressively paddled his way to the island against 17 knot winds.

SundayFunday03

None of the rest of us were brave enough to try it as we were all pretty sure we’d be swimming our way back to the boat.

SundayFunday04

Eventually we had to weigh anchor and head back to civilization. I envy those who can cruise with no schedule, but for now it’s back to the office for me and back to sewing bags for Mary.

Folie a Deux: Another boat saved!

Here’s a little story about the madness of two people. When we moved Gimme Shelter to Watergate Marina three years ago, we ended up sharing a slip beside a rundown O’day 25 in need of some serious elbow grease and TLC.

NewSlip

After almost a year on the market, the owner finally donated her to Boat Angels, and we thought that would be the last we ever heard of that vessel.

Then came along these two crazies, TJ and Kayla, who decided it was a great idea to buy a sailboat on eBay for $900 — much like my brother and myself who decided it was a great idea to buy a derelict flooded sailboat for $1000. I liked them right away.

SunsetCruise04

They quickly discovered that there is no such thing as a cheap boat as they tackled a rotten floor, quirky electrical system, and an outboard that just wouldn’t run. However, they persevered.

Eight months later we were honored to be invited, along with our friends Kelly and Jennifer of MV Celtic Cross, upon the maiden voyage of the now running and aptly named SV Folie à Deux.

Folie_a_Deaux_01

The outboard purred like a kitten as we motored out of the marina.

Folie_a_Deaux_03

Various projects and high winds had kept us all at the dock Saturday morning, so there were smiles all around once we were out on the water.

Once we made it across the lake, Mary and Kayla dropped anchor, and TJ broke out some champagne to celebrate the event.

Folie_a_Deaux_05

I think we’re even starting to convince the motor boaters that it’s time to trade up to a sailboat.

Folie_a_Deaux_07

As Folie à Deux doesn’t have working running lights yet, we had to hurry back in before dark, but a great time was had by all.

Congratulations TJ and Kayla, your sailing adventures are about to begin!

Folie_a_Deaux_04

 

Hanging out at the sail loft

2016regatta08

At the end of 2015 we decided it was time for a new mainsail. As you may remember, we did some exhaustive research on the topic.

After talking with all of the sail makers we finally decided to go with Banks Sails, both because they matched the 10% seasonal discount all the other companies were offering  and because they are the only sail loft still doing all the cutting and sewing right here in Kemah.

Trent, Keith and Chris at Banks invited us to watch them cut out and sew our sail, but unfortunately that happened the same week as Mary’s accident, so we had to take a raincheck. However, we finally got a chance to visit and watch them working on some other projects.

BanksSailsKemah04

Trent showed us how each sail is designed on the computer. The design is then split into panels, which are plotted onto a roll of sail cloth in a pattern that will minimize waste.

BanksSailsKemah03

The seams are marked and the panels are cut out on the big machine at the back of the loft.

BanksSailsKemah02

Then the pieces get stitched together. The entire floor of of the loft is raised to table height and the sailmakers sit in pits, which are the actual floor of the building.

We had one tiny issue with our new main. During our second time out, the slug on the clew popped out of the track.

Rigged_Sail

By the time we got back to the boat the next weekend, Banks had already replaced the slug with a larger one and added a velcro loop just as an extra precaution.

It feels good to support a local business, and we’ve been so happy with their service, they’re now helping us design a new stack pack and bimini for Gimme Shelter.

BanksSailsKemah01

Banks will be at the Southwest International Boat Show at South Shore Harbor March 17 – 20, so stop by and ask  Trent his trim secrets. There’s a rumor that if he’s on your boat during a rum race, you’re guaranteed to win.

2016 Icicle #3: A little bit rainy

The forecast said the thunderstorms wouldn’t start until 3 p.m., but the rain came early Saturday.

12583626_10101604716756862_656878856_n

The first leg of Icicle #3 had us close-hauled in 13 knots of wind, so we tried reefing in the jib to drop it from a 130 to a 100 to see if we could point a little higher this week. We made good speed and had a more neutral helm, but we still couldn’t point as high as most of the fleet.

It probably didn’t help that just before we started the race the slug on the back of the mainsail jumped out of the track on the boom, and we had to do some quick rigging with an extra line to tie it back down. I guess we’re going to have to put a larger slug on there.

Rigged_Sail

The wind then shifted to right off the mark during the second leg, which sent everyone tacking. I saw a couple boats choose to make about 10 short tacks instead of 3 or 4 long ones, and we caught up to a few of them.

12400760_10153869916838518_2288156096919022139_n

The last leg shifted back and forth between a broad reach and a run and got quite rainy. I wish I had a photo of all four crew members and the dog huddling under a leaky dodger.

12576123_10101604717031312_1566008282_n

Judging by the time between lightning flashes and the thunder, it was never THAT close to us, but it was still a little unnerving when it would light up the sky.

12571387_10101604716766842_1771444153_n

Based on performance in the first two races, our PHRF got shifted from 180 to 186, which moved out start time from 11:56 to 11:55. However, due to the mainsail issue we didn’t get started until 11:59. We finished at 2:16 with three boats behind us, which might be the best finish we’ve had so far. More importantly, we didn’t break anything, but we will have to work on the main. I’m also going to have to replace the halyards soon as they’re stretching and chalky, but my budget says we’re going to have to wait a few months on that.

Thank you to Brian, Matt, Shari and Tony for crewing, and special thanks to Shari for bringing kolaches and pulling her phone out in the rain to take a few photos for the blog this week.