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.

 

 

Critique, evaluation, curation and rejection

The original focus of this blog was supposed to be sailing and sailboat repair projects, but not yet being full-time cruisers (and due to the fact that it hasn’t stopped raining in Houston for almost two months), Mary and I often end up distracted with our other hobbies, so I hope you don’t mind the tangential topics.

I have a tendency to push Mary out of her comfort zone with ideas like “sailing close hauled” or “creating boat cooking videos,” and she does the same to me — this time with photography.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures. I bought my first camera, a rectangular 110 point and shoot, with S&H Green Stamps when I was in elementary school. In middle school my parents sent me to photography day camp, and by high school I had my own Canon AE-1 Program, which I carried through college and into my first years as a newspaper reporter — right up until I finally joined the digital revolution. Then, about three years ago I got interested in historical cameras and started shooting with an assortment of TLRs and vintage rangefinders.

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Long story short, I’ve invested lots of time and money in cameras, lenses, film, tripods, bags, memory cards, batteries, etc. through the years, so Mary decided it was finally time for me to have a show.

I’ve never done the gallery thing. I have no idea how this really works, but Mary had already started contacting various galleries and cafes in the Kemah area to see if they would hang and sell my prints.

One small catch. I had no prints.

With an impending meeting last Sunday I had to really sit down, go back through all the terabytes of photos I’ve shot over the past few years, really critique myself, decide which photos were worth printing, and create a portfolio to show the galleries. That meant taking what I considered to be my very best work and opening myself up to having it rejected.

It was a very stressful exercise. The old saying goes, “You are your own worst critic,” but criticism from other people can sting much more.

Here’s a gallery of the photos I selected if you want to check it out.

I decided to go with a sailing theme, put in my print order, and tried not to grind my teeth while I waited for them to arrive.

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Mpix and Mpix Pro have started offering prints on Kodak Metallic Paper for just a dollar more than the regular prints, and wow, they really pop. I highly recommend it.

Now, a very long time ago I had attempted to do my own matting and framing, so I still had an old box of mats in the garage and a mat cutter in the attic. After picking up some foam core and a test frame at Hobby Lobby, I spent an evening attempting to mount, mat and frame one of the prints.

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My mounting and matting weren’t too bad, but when I actually examined the Hobby Lobby frame, it had two big nicks in the wood and a scratch in the glass — which was definitely not UV or glare resistant. When I factored in the cost of the supplies even with sub-par frames and the fact that it took me almost two hours just to finish one print, I decided it wasn’t worth it to do it myself.  I have too many other projects that need my attention.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and Mary, being the great manager/agent that she is, advised me to “dress artsy and seem interesting.”

We met with Roberto, the owner of Cerise Crepes, a new European-style cafe. Roberto was great, he told us about all his hopes for the restaurant and his vision of an art show with local painters and photographers as well as how he wanted to start a French club in the area. Plus, the crepes and the coffee were delicious.

There were only two problems. The first was that Cerise Crepes is located in Spring on the north side of Houston, not anywhere near the ocean. (My agent said she knew the cafe wasn’t located in our target region, but that she really likes crepes.) The second problem tied into the first, being that with the cafe located in Spring, Roberto wasn’t really interested in sailboat pictures.

I suggested that perhaps his customers would have more interest in some of my travel photos from Paris, Rome, London and Rio, so I packed up my display and made my way home where I spent another two or three hours going back through the terabytes of archived files, trying to find new worthy photographs. If I had thought the first time through this exercise was stressful, it was nothing compared to having to throw out all my favorite photos and then pick again.

Here is the new gallery I put together for Cerise Crepes if you want to check it out.

Mary has another meeting scheduled for me in Kemah next weekend, so hopefully that one will go better. If not, at least I did take a few steps out of my comfort zone, and if nothing else, Mary might end up with a wall of really nice prints at the house.

And here’s an ending note from my agent, who swears to me that a 90% cut is industry standard: If you’d like to book Fred for a shoot or order any of his outstanding fine art prints online, just visit www.fredfacker.com.