Tranny Troubles: Out with the old, in with the new

Outbound and nearing the end of the Seward breakwater, we needed to get the mainsail up quick. With a 15-knot southerly breeze on the nose and a building chop, Yahtzee limped  along at under two knots, yearning to get out of the channel and into open water.

When the main was up, we fell off onto starboard tack away from shore and our nerves abated. The engine went off in quick order and the jib got unfurled with a snap. Yahtzee’s boatspeed was soon up and we tucked in the first tack of many while beating down the western shoreline of Resurrection Bay. Such has been life aboard Yahtzee these days. Without the ability to fully power the boat with our engine we’ve been sailing everywhere, waiting for breeze and taking what we get — as a sailboat should, really. But we know we can’t do that forever.

Yahtzee sails upwind on Resurrection Bay. (Photo courtesy of Devon Bradley from SV Blown Away.)

Which leads me to this: our transmission troubles have led us to the decision to re-power Yahtzee. A big, expensive task, to be sure, but one that is necessary for a whole lot of reasons.

When we took a thorough dive into our ailing tranny back in the spring, my usual optimism quickly faded. It was ultimately decided that in order to properly diagnose and fix the transmission and sail drive, we’d have to pull the boat out of the water and then take the entire unit apart from the engine and out of the boat. From there a mechanic could rebuild it … maybe. As one would imagine, that option would not be cheap. And in all actuality, could very likely be the same price as a new sail drive.

From there I steered the conversation towards our engine. Old Blue is 34-years-old and has been a problem several times since we’ve owned the boat. Its efficiency has been waning in recent years too and when talk of a rebuild entered the overall picture, my thoughts turned in a different direction. Time to re-power.

Putting a new engine in the boat has been something I’ve been thinking about and researching for a couple years. The bottom line is that we want to own and cruise Yahtzee for years to come, so re-powering would become inevitable anyway as miles passed our keel and the engine hours stacked up.

Essentially, we’re choosing to stop throwing money at engine and transmission problems every year or two. Also, we’re paying for peace-of-mind instead of constantly worrying about what’s going to fail next on the engine and how much it’s going to cost. Which is something that has been in the back of my mind while cruising in such remote places the past few years.

Ooo la la, Beta 50.

As I write this, a new Beta 50 with sail drive is being assemble for Yahtzee in North Carolina. It will soon find its way west to Seattle before getting on a ship to Alaska. My plan is to get the old engine out and the engine compartment refurbished early this fall. And then we’ll get going on putting our new power plant in when we move into another cabin for the winter here in Seward. It’s a huge undertaking, but one that will make our boat better in the long run. And that’s really what it’s all about.

6 thoughts on “Tranny Troubles: Out with the old, in with the new

  1. Repowering is always a hard decision and a lot of money, time and effort. I went through a full repower in my previous sailboat which had an engine about the vintage of yours, and ended up with a beautiful new, quieter, more efficient Volvo. Not only did I feel far more secure with the new engine, but because of the newer technology I had far more information about the performance of it as well.

    The biggest pitfalls on my repower had to do with the engine mounts and prop. Getting the new engine to sit perfectly in a 30+ year old engine room was very challenging. I ended up having professionals help me with that part of the work, as well as the shaft alignment and choice of props. We went through three different props before we found the right combo.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Steve! Beta is trying to match the fit based on images and measurements from our current engine, but I know it’s not an exact science. We’ll see how it goes!

    1. Hi Craig, One of the biggest reasons is that I’ve had friends re-power with Beta and their experiences with installation and now running them have been extremely positive. The advice and customer service we’ve received so far from Access Marine in Seattle has been great. And after looking at the Volvo and Yanmar options, I felt like the Beta 50 with saildrive was the best engine from a DIY standpoint for our boat. I’m not planning to install it all by myself, but I want to do as much as possible. Lastly, parts for the Beta can be obtained world-wide, and many of them can be sourced from auto parts stores.

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