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.

 

 

Finally a restaurant in our marina! Opus Ocean Grille

For about three years now we’ve been promised a “coming soon” restaurant in our marina.  Last week the restaurant was finally open.  A sort of party on the bottom, business on top place that’s made to cater to both us boating riff raff, and people who come in dressed to the nines in formal clothing.

After a long day of sailing Saturday, us women folk decided that we had no interest in cooking or cleaning and demanded to try out the new restaurant. After tying up the boats and one slight accident that involved someone getting very wet and changing into jammies, we were off.

Half of us went over by dink and the first thing that we noticed is that there is no place at all for visiting boats — not even a little dinghy dock. There are no cleats on the main bulkhead. We ended up tying off to a ladder at the end of the fairway and climbing up.

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The restaurant has a very high class vibe right when you first walk in.  The lower level has a nice looking bar on one side and white linen tables on the other.  The upstairs has more tables.  Both levels have great patio seating.  The upstairs patio has couches and coffee tables for a more lounge feel.

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Even though the restaurant was fully booked they made room for our party of eight scraggly sailors. From the beginning the service was excellent. Our waiter informed us that in order to give the chefs and staff some practice all of the food for the night would be on the house. He gave us all a menu of 4 courses, with two choices for each course.

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Some of the menu options were: Filet Minon, Lobster tail, Ahi Tuni, Oysters, Lobster Bisque, Lemon Triffle, Key Lime Pie.  Absolutely everything was amazing.  The side salads were big enough to be a meal.

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We decided to pay back the generosity of the restaurant by ordering extra drinks.  The wine selection was great, and it came with a reall cool back-lit wine menu.

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All in all the evening was amazing.  The atmosphere of the place is just what you look for, and the food and service was great. It was a night we will definitely remember for a long long time.

https://www.facebook.com/OpusOceanGrille/

Thank you to Maverick Remodeling and Construction for some of the photos.

Rain Rain Go Away

Rain has been ruining all of our weekend plans for the past couple weeks. I’ll admit, there is nothing as enjoyable as laying around doing nothing while the rain pitter-patters on the top of the boat, but after a few weeks one does start to go crazy.

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On Halloween a combination of high tides and large amounts of rainfall led to the waters of Clear Lake climbing up over the bulkheads and clawing their way towards the pools and parking lots.

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The fixed piers were totally underwater, and the floating piers were above the bulkheads.

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We took a walk all the way around the marina during a lull, more to satisfy my curiosity than for the dogs.

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Most of the streets were full of water.

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But the boats in the shipyard still need a few more feet of water to float again.

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Overall we did get a few things done on the boat, but it was a damp lazy weekend.  Our boat is facing some serious leak issues that will need to be addressed immediately. Our mast is still leaking a little bit, although much improved. Multiple windows are leaking now, and our overhead hatch has started dripping, not from the lens Fred replaced last year, but from the actual bedding around the hatch itself. Unfortunately we can’t rip things out to start re-bedding them until we get some sun, and the forecast is predicting even more rain.

Quick haul and zinc check

At our old marina, we would burn through zincs on our prop shaft in a matter of weeks. In fact, we lost a propeller before we realized we had to change them every three months.

It’s been almost a year since we put new bottom paint on Gimme Shelter. I was feeling very guilty and neglectful that I hadn’t bothered to check her zincs the entire time, so we had her quick-hauled at South Texas Yacht Services for a cleaning.

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I was sure the sacrificial zinc anodes would be completely gone, and I was just praying that our shaft and prop would be ok.

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But lo and behold, both zincs were still there and in great shape! We had a bit of green slime all over the hull and some barnacle growth on the prop, but that was about it. The yard workers did a light pressure washing to clean everything up, and we were good to go.

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I was pleasantly surprised with our findings although a bit annoyed that I spent the money on the quick haul when we didn’t really need it. However, I’ll take a good surprise over a bad surprise any day.

Throwback Thursday – Marina shopping (Originally posted: Sept 9, 2013)

How do you know when it’s time to leave your marina?

(Italics=Mary, Normal=Freddie)

A slip at Marina Del Sol in Kemah, Texas came with my first boat when I purchased it four and a half years ago.

Imagine a long winding road through million dollar houses.  At the end of the road, Surprise!, there is a marina out of no where.  It is completely surrounded by large houses and the land surrounds it in almost a complete circle, forming a little secret protected whole. Every night you can sit on your dock with your friends and watch the most beautiful sunsets setting over the masts.  Cheerfully saying hello, as friend after friend walks to their boat, everyone stopping to tell you the latest marina happenings.

There is a never ending supply of boat advice, both expert and questionable.  The parade of characters that we have been blessed to have thrown upon us has made the adventure feel much more real.  I won’t mention any names but we all know who they are….all of them.  

Hurricane Ike had just come through the year before, so all the marinas had suffered some damage. The cock-eyed docks with mangled, missing piers were forgivable at the time. It also had the least expensive floating docks in the area. Plus, when I bought it the Seahorse was a dilapidated piece of crap that didn’t run, so it wasn’t like I had the choice of moving anywhere else.

The years went by and all the other marinas in the area repaired things and rebuilt their docks. But not Marina Del Sol. It filled up with silt while the bulkheads surrounding it continued to rot away. The cock-eyed docks just stayed cock-eyed. They didn’t even make an effort to remove the destroyed piers that twist down into the water. The story is, someone took the insurance money and ran.

The first year I asked if we would be getting some pool furniture since there was only one lounge chair and a very strange assortment of half-broken chairs around the pool. Management said, they’d put it on the list. I asked again every spring as more and more of the plastic chairs broke and the seating dwindled. Four years later, you have to bring camping chairs with you to the pool if you expect everyone in your group to be able to sit down.

It was my third year there when my boat was finally running well, and I was sailing every weekend that I realized with only a 4’11” draft, I was sitting on the bottom of the marina and couldn’t move from December 1 until the third week of March. We had a massive drought in Texas that year and there had been water rationing all summer, so I chalked it up to the drought. However, when I happened again the next year, I asked the marina if they were going to ever dredge. Like the pool furniture, it was “on the list,” but they just couldn’t afford it right now.

Then came my rates with the 27′ Starwind

Year 1: $185
Year 2: Suddenly they wanted $285. I said I was leaving and desperately tried to get my boat into a condition where I could be accepted at another marina. However, the week before I was set to leave, they offered a rate of $225. I decided to stay.
Year 3: I complained about the $225 rate and they lowered it to $200.
Year 4: They raised the $200 rate back up to $220, but I sold that boat and Mary brought in the O’day 34 at a rate of $200.
Year 4.5: The six month lease for the O’day is up and they asked for $250. We said no, so they came back with $215.

They supposedly charge by the length of your boat, not by the length of the slip. However, our friend with a 32′ Endeavour on the same pier is paying $225, a friend with a 32′ Allied Seawind is paying $165, and a friend with a 27′ fishing boat is paying $165. I have no idea how they are actually setting the pricing, and I feel like a sucker for ever paying above $200.  I can only imagine how low some people may be paying.  

Then there’s the bathrooms. They’ve never been clean, but lately, it’s really bad. Many mornings you wander in to find no toilet paper, no hand towels, and poop smeared on the wall or floor of the stall. For almost two months last year the ladies room only had a rope for a doorknob. Then for three weeks last month there were no lights in the men’s room. Then this morning Mary went to use the ladies room, and the doorknob came off in her hand.  It wouldn’t have been that bad, but I still couldn’t get in and I had to walk across the marina to go to the bathroom.  

I understand if you don’t have the budget to buy new furniture or dredge or rebuild the docks, but if you’ve got four people on staff, you can at least clean the bathrooms every morning.

Not that all of our experiences at Marina Del Sol have been bad. We’ve met many nice people there and made some great friends. However, the maintenance issues have come to a point where I refuse to spend another dollar at that place, and I’m definitely not going to spend another winter with our boat sitting in the mud.  It really hurts because all the people that live in the marina love it so much.  Everyone dreams of us all coming together to save the marina like in a ridiculous teen movie, but the reality of the situation is that would cost more money than anyone has.  It reminds me of when I hear people who think they can buy a boat for nothing and then fix it for nothing.  The reality of life is that when you want to fix something like a boat or a marina, you have to spend the money to do it correctly or you’re just going to end up underwater.  

Saturday morning we set out on a mission to find the perfect marina. But first we had to stop by the farmers market and have breakfast at Skippers.

But AFTER THAT, we set out to find the perfect marina.  AKA Marina Hunters (I was doing behind the scenes, reality tv interviews in my head the whole time.) 

First stop, Portofino.

Portofino is a dockominium. All the slips are privately owned and the community fees are controlled by a board of owners much like an HOA. It’s gated with gate codes and bathroom codes changing monthly. The upside, we’d be right at the Kemah bridge and could literally be sailing in 15 minutes. They also have a great pool on the Kemah channel where you can sit and watch the the boats go by. The downside, it was right at the Kemah bridge, which was really loud, and the slip we were looking at was on the ugly, less protected side.  This is our low range priced Marina.  Coming in at 250 Portofino was well under the Fackers budget.  I was honestly ready to sign when I left, I am learning to look at all the options and talk things out now.  We learned some things from boat shopping…

Next stop, Seabrook.

Seabrook is across the channel from Portofino. It also has a pool on the channel. Bigger shadier pool. It also has floating docks — some of which even have covered walkways. It seemed well maintained. There’s free wifi and a discount at the shipyard. The view on the side closer to Clear Lake was better, but the bridge traffic was still pretty loud. We also heard the road in and out floods in heavy rain. The only slip available there that fell within our budget was near the fuel dock, and had a narrow fairway. The slip we would have wanted there was $450.  The cheap slip was very far away from all the slips big enough for our friends.  It turns out normal marinas don’t just stick boats randomly on different sized docks, and its hard for a 34ft and a 40ft to be together.  

Next stop, Waterford.

This is a fancy marina. It’s gated. It had great restrooms, a small weight room and a sauna. We liked it, but the pool is actually owned by the adjoining restaurant, Sundance Grill. Therefore you cannot bring any food or drinks into the pool area. On the upside you have a waitress in the pool area bringing you drinks. On the downside, we are not wealthy enough to pay $400 a month in slip fees and also pay for poolside margaritas. Walking the dogs would have also been a nightmare because it’s a half mile of no dog signs before you get to the designated dog walking area. We decided we were not fancy enough.  It’s weird how rich people think.  This place was not the most expensive, nor did it have the best stuff.  Its just like all the snobby people decided to go there.  Weird.  “hey guys lets all get together and build a marina with no trees or breeze where everything costs a fortune, and then we’ll all get our hair done to go to the pool.”  Awesome. 

Final stop, Watergate.

Watergate got destroyed in Hurricane Ike, and they don’t deny that their boats basically got massacred by the storm surge. They’ve replaced all the old fixed docks with state-of-the-art floating docks, and you actually get a finger pier on both sides of your boat. No more messy docking, where I fall in the water!  You get a dockbox and free wifi as well as the use of two pools. They keep both the marina and the channel through Clear Lake dredged on a regular basis, and they built a bigger breakwater between the marina and the lake, so that hopefully when the next hurricane comes along, they will fare better.  A higher insurance policy is on the to do list.  We’ll still have a 30-minute trek across Clear Lake and out to the bridge to go sailing, but at least we’ll be able to make it any time of year.  I felt bad because I knew being closer to the bay was important to Freddie, but the noise at those two marinas by the bridge was really a deal breaker.  Watergate is quiet and has much more green space than most marinas. I could tell from the look in Mary’s eyes as soon as we walked through it, she was going to vote for Watergate.  I really love all the trees and park areas and long walking trails.  That is real relaxation for me.  

Every marina was a trade-off. Some places gave you quiet and a nice view. Some places gave you easy bay access. Some places gave you security. Some of them gave you safety from storms. None of them had the whole package, but Watergate checked the most boxes on our list and came in on the lower end of the price list we had gathered.

We signed a one-year lease and will be moving at the end of the month. We’ll miss sitting on the dock late into the night with our friends or stumbling off our boat and right onto our neighbor’s boat for coffee in the mornings, but change isn’t always a bad thing. Hopefully we’ll spend much more time meeting up with friends in the bay while sailing instead of being stuck in a dilapidated marina all winter.  We have high hopes of all the things we hope to accomplish in this next stage of our life, we’ll see how far that gets us.  

Saturday Morning Sunrise

For the first time in forever, we finally had a weekend of nothing but sun. Not that I mind the rain, but it was nice to be able to open all the hatches and just enjoy the spring air. I couldn’t resist getting up early Saturday morning to sip some coffee and watch the sunrise.

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Momma duck brought all the babies by to say, hello as they started their morning routine.

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And even this sleepy head got out of bed earlier than usual for a walk around the marina.

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Finally developed that last roll of film

From time to time I still carry around a 35mm film camera. In this case it was a Leica M4-2 with a 35mm Summilux and a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus 400.

It takes me a long time to finish an entire roll of film, so when I finally develop the negatives, it’s like opening a time capsule.

Here’s some scenes with friends (and dogs) on film from the past few months on boats and around the marina.

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Time to load a new roll …

Good luck charms, new slips, and the end of the icicle series

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Saturday marked the last race of the 2015 GBCA Cruzan Rum Icicle Series Regatta. I was able to crew four out of the five races this year, and although neither Hippokampus nor Antares placed, I had a great time. The next series doesn’t begin until May, so we should have plenty of weekends to get Gimme Shelter out on the water.

We were excited to hear from the office this week that a slip we’d had our eyes on along the western bulkhead near the pool was opening up. Maybe we’re lazy, but it’s really nice to be able to step out of the car and onto the dock. It’s also really nice not having to walk a maze of docks when the dog has to go out at 3 a.m., and it’s 30 degrees outside.

We’d gotten a spot on the bulkhead in the fall, but we were stuck in the corner, so getting out of the slip was a little tricky. We also had so much trash and debris collecting around us that I was worried it was going to clog the strainers.

Our new slip was about halfway down the pier, so I went to check it out Saturday morning. That’s when I found poor Bugs.

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So when you find a dead rabbit in your slip, is that a bad sign or is it considered good luck since there’s not one but FOUR lucky rabbits feet? Either way, we hoped he would float off by Sunday when we moved the boat.

Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated incident, one of our other neighbors bought a dozen pigmy rabbits at the 4H sale and slaughtered them on the back deck of his boat Saturday evening. I guess it’s not that much different than gutting fish, but I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness those bunnies getting clubbed.

It was just an all-around bad weekend for rabbits.

Sunday happened to be my birthday, and there was no better present than waking up to a sunny, 70-degree morning. We moved Gimme Shelter to her new slip, had some coffee with friends on the Tina Marie.

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I spent the afternoon shoveling horse manure for Mary’s vegetable garden. Don’t be surprised if you see some blogs from her about gardening very soon.

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Now it’s off to watch the Superbowl. Hope everyone has a good week.