Over four months and four SBU’s later, (Standard Boat Unit = $1K), Elsa is mechanically whole once again! In hindsight, the process of trouble shooting, removing the gearbox at the dock proved to be both a blessing and a valuable education. The highlights are worth mentioning.
Wrangling the gearbox out was an education by itself – on how NOT to do it. I didn’t have a clue of our misdeeds until much later, and necessity is always the best teacher. We learned that “Obsolete” is not a Swedish term, especially when applied to items described as “Special Tool 8844XX.”
Finding Joe DeMers at Sound Marine (Connecticut) was a lifesaver. While it took three months to find and rebuild a gearbox for a 1970’s era Volvo Penta MD3B Diesel – he found one and delivered. And it seems to be working – for now.
A key learning for removing and installing the gearbox was to unbolt the rear motor mounts and loosen the fronts just enough to jack the back of the motor the 4″ needed to clear the prop shaft flange.
To do this, we shaped a 4×4″ post to fit exactly into the keel.
The post was fitted below the back of the motor. We then lifted the motor with a 2-ton hydraulic jack (O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, $19.99).
Assorted lumber was used as a wedge to hold the jack and post vertically. The string was used to rescue the jack from the bilge. It fell in only 23 times while we were getting situated. The rope was attached to the post through a 3/8″ hole – it was used to retrieve the post after installation. (Remember the post was pressed into place by a 500-pound motor.) We then fashioned a belly pan to fit below the gearbox – so we could set the gearbox on the pan, shim it up with towels until the tranny fit to the motor exactly, and then bolt the gearbox on at our leisure.
Taking the extra time for rigging saved hours of working on extended loads.
All of this work was done while lying prone on top of the motor. When the jacking started I was lifting both the 500-pound motor and my 200-pound self. (Jokes are too obvious here.) I have bruises on my chest corresponding to the tops of each of the cylinders. Only at the very end did I figure out that laying on a folded towel on top of the motor allowed me to be quite comfortable holding 80-pound objects at arms length. But we get there eventually. There was just enough clearance between the cockpit floor and the top of the motor for the two of us.
Finally, the gearbox is mounted and ready to lower into position.
Now – along the way, the education was not without lighter moments. I brought one of the “Extended Grippers” – one of those long sticks with fingers on the end used to retrieve wet golf balls and the like – which proved to be another life saver. Things retrieved from the bilge include reading glasses (twice), the oil breather cap, the throttle linkage clamp, two screwdrivers, a large crescent wrench, a small 3/8″ drive socket wrench, pretty much every piece of wood I’d used for the wedges, and a bunch of objects I had never seen before. Spoons, glassware, and some old wo od that had been down there for at least a decade.
Without the cooling system, shift linkage and throttle connected, the whole shebang looks like this. Note the bilge pump discharge is still in its original, least-possible-convenience location. The photo from on-high makes the spot look way more roomy than it really is.
Along the way, the cooling system was entirely rebuilt – some of the hoses and tubes re-routed for better flow and fewer parts. The MD3B is an odd duck in that the cooling water is sucked through the strainer and gearbox to the water pump, and then pumped through the thermostat and motor and discharged through the exhaust. Most of the exposed system is under vacuum while the engine is running. All the hoses were replaced.
We rebuilt the water pump, and bought another one (e-bay, $99) for a spare. We also bought an extra impeller kit and two gaskets to keep on-hand to ensure that the old one never breaks. Per our friends on S/V Spiritus, having a spare on-hand virtually guarantees that you will never need it.
I discovered that when you bump a disconnected prop shaft with a dripless stuffing box such that the shaft moves forward an inch, the entire ocean outside wants to join you inside the engine room. It took me a few minutes to figure out what had happened – in the meantime taking on a great deal of brackish water from the Hylebos Waterway. There is nothing quite like taking on water to get your undivided attention.
Finally realizing that the shaft had scooted forward, thereby losing the seal between the O-rings on the dripless seal and the rubber boot, my genius mind simply pushed the prop shaft to the stern an inch or so… and the deluge promptly stopped. It took much longer for my heart to leave my throat.
We repaired lots of little things in the engine room – there were safety pins used where cotter pins should go. Fluorescent lights were added. There was duct tape – the silver kind – holding an air intake breather together. That was fixed with an improvised swage with vice-grips. There were machine screws where caps screws go. Etc. All part of owning a boat with a past. Altogether it now looks somewhat better. Certainly cleaner and easier to work on.
Now the engine room is accessible for maintenance. And a big blessing is that I have now been into and out of the engine room at least a thousand times. It is now a second home – and a fine place to spend a rainy day. That lesson is priceless.
The oil was changed, new gear oil added to the new gearbox, the raw water strainer was cleaned, and a general wipe down completed. Bilge pump re-routed, cooling feed water routed under the gearbox and out of the way, and all vertical impediments to maintenance removed.
After all of this we finally fired the engine today, and after about thirty-seconds of throat-clearing, she sputtered and then ran beautifully for an hour. She needed an idle adjustment to idle evenly, but otherwise ran perfectly in forward and reverse (tied off to a stout dock by four lines).
Maybe it was optimism, maybe fewer rattling parts and less duct tape, maybe correct torque on motor mounts, but the ol’ Volvo Penta was noticeably quieter than she was when she was disassembled. Certainly the cooling water was flowing at higher volume from the exhaust. These seem like good signs.
Shift linkage is a bit stiff – the cable is looking tired as is the shift linkage itself – but at least we have a clean place to work. No leaks! A miracle! The tachometer is not functioning and the instrument cluster is more a cluster than instrument. But that is for another day.
While waiting for parts we have been working on our rigging, added some pin rails and ratlines, replaced our head-stay with a beautiful 3/8″ Hayne-terminated stainless, added a cruising jib by Doyle Sails’ Jim Kitchen, and look forward to bunch of upgrades in 2015.
Most importantly, a new ship-mate was added to the crew during the repair. Our first grandchild – Miles Edward – born December 22. I can imagine those new ratlines and bow sprit might be his future playground.
The REAL strategic question remains – do we buy another gearbox (a la S/V Spiritus) to stave off another tranny failure? OR, do we begin planning for the Beta/Yanmar replacement – without the word “obsolete” anywhere in the service manual?
Like childbirth, after hearing the engine run for a while, we forget how much pain it took to get there. The Volvo green isn’t SO ugly after all…