Engine Update: Rebuild the Westerbeke

December 2014: Heading to the Florida Keys from where our boat was stored, we woke up one morning to find that our engine wouldn’t start. After checking the simple things — which yielded nothing — we sailed off the anchor and continued to Marathon and Boot Key Harbor. It was slow, as there wasn’t much wind, but we got here with the help of our dinghy outboard. If you missed it, you can read more about our trip down here and about using the dinghy motor here.

We arrived at Boot Key Harbor on December 18 — a week before Christmas. Since then, we’ve done more troubleshooting ourselves while waiting for mechanics to be free, and we’ve had three mechanics work on it and test various things. Several others have been consulted by phone, and numerous TBG readers have offered suggestions (many thanks to all!).

A quick summary is that battery power is good, fuel flow is good, air is good, the exhaust manifold is not blocked (and the engine wouldn’t start even with it removed), glow plugs are good and there was no water in the engine from trying to start it. There’s no timing belt (it’s gear-driven). No broken crankshaft, etc. It wasn’t overheating or making any strange noises.

We discovered that two of three injectors were bad (and they have been rebuilt), and the engine has low compression in one cylinder, even lower in the second, and almost none in the third (there are only three . . . ).

The verdict is in: she needs a ring job, which is basically a rebuild of the engine. And yes, it’s possible that once the engine is out and opened up, we’ll decide to do a full rebuild.

This is not a small job, hence the reason for getting multiple opinions. As Dave said, if it were a medical procedure, we’d get a second opinion. Ditto for the engine.


That’s the $64 million question.

We bought the boat last April and had a survey done. The surveyor found no problems with the engine, and as it was only 4 years old with 350 hours on it, we didn’t have a separate engine survey done (yeah, 20/20 hindsight). One real selling point was that a previous owner repowered the boat in 2010.

We stored the boat over the summer, then did some work on her this fall and put her in the water. She started right up and ran well for 40 hours, then just refused to start the next morning — about 12 hours after she’d been running.

Numerous people have commented that you don’t just lose compression overnight. Rings just don’t stick overnight.

We know.

Except that’s what seemed to happen.

The mechanics are leaning towards the theory that it’s been running for a while with the bad injectors spraying fuel down the cylinder walls, which in turn carboned up the rings. And for some reason, they all stuck at the same time.

Hence the need for a ring job . . . and once they get the engine torn apart, it may turn into a total rebuild.

The good news is that one of the mechanics is a cruiser who was a Weterbeke mechanic in his pre-cruising days. He and Dave are going to do the rebuild right in the cockpit — one advantage of a large cockpit. And as one FB reader noted, at least the engine isn’t in the middle of the companionway.

Today is Day 3 of the rebuild, and Dave is finishing up the prep work to pull the engine (getting everything disconnected, parts removed so the “core” will fit through the opening, and all fluids drained). I’m posting photos each day on The Boat Galley’s Facebook page, so if you want to see what’s happening, please check there (and “Like” the page to get updates in your FB).

Yes, this was a total surprise to us. No, we’re not happy about it but we’re in a good, safe place with plenty of services and people to help us out. The weather is nice. It’s not a medical crisis. It’s cruising: fixing your boat in exotic places.

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  • Larry Whited
    Posted at 05 January 2015 Reply

    I had the same thing happen. Pin-hole in the head gasket let in small amount of sea water into one cylinder which glazed the cylinder. Mechanic poured some sort of glaze breaker in and soaked it for two days, Then replaced the head gasket. Compression back to normal. Runs great.

  • Gerald Hemming
    Posted at 05 January 2015 Reply

    How many hours on the clock? I hope its a lot, mine has 2200 since last rebuild 1996. I hope it lasts for ever. But it won’t! :e

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 06 January 2015 Reply

      Just under 400 . . . and only 4-1/2 years since a previous owner put the engine in.

  • Colin Mombourquette
    Posted at 05 January 2015 Reply

    Pity that happened to such a young engine. However, looking on the bright side, participating in a rebuild in the cockpit will be a great experience.

  • John Brethauer
    Posted at 05 January 2015 Reply

    I know your getting way to much advice right now and I apologize for giving more, but think about pulling the head first before pulling the whole motor (unless you’re already to that point). Check head gasket and valves. Best of luck and take lots of pictures and keep us up to date. We’ll look you up at the Seattle boat show. My wife is excited to meet you in person.

    S/V Bella Nave

  • Linda von Bose
    Posted at 06 January 2015 Reply

    are you sure it isn’t the whackerbike?

  • Kristine Henson
    Posted at 06 January 2015 Reply

    Sorry this sounds like a real drag. I used to own a 10-1 compression racing car- and used a moly lube in the oil. The engine had an oil leak ( no fault of the lube ) and it TOTALLY ran out of oil while my friend was driving……. the only thing that saved it was the moly treatment, which plated onto the metal. I looked at the heads later, and part of a piston ring was WELDED to the top of a piston. But never seized up !!!!! I think I am going to use the same stuff in my Gem…..https://www.fcpeuro.com/products/lubro-moly-engine-oil-additive-lm2020?gclid=Cj0KEQiAiamlBRCgj83PiYm6–gBEiQArnojD4wmwUVeTPR6LYi6r6cmDNzb5er81HhcDziuCqpwk6YaAvrM8P8HAQ

  • Linda von Bose
    Posted at 06 January 2015 Reply

    or the whiskeybonk?

  • Kristi Cilles
    Posted at 06 January 2015 Reply

    Here’s my two cents. My late brother in law, David worked for Columbus Diesel Supply in Columbus, Ohio for many years, and was considered by some in the diesel world, to be a savant of diesel mechanics and trouble shooting. It just recently came to mind a story told by a former dock mate of mine, and a long time acquaintance of my bro in law. Dock mate bought a disabled Gultstar 63, and limped it up to Ohio via the ditch, and proceeded to make necessary fiberglass repairs to the hull. Once the boat was finished, and put back into the water, the engine ran roughly, then stopped working completely. After dock mate had several mechanics unsuccessfully diagnose the problem, My bro in law pointed out one simple, but overlooked issue. The engine was exposed to hours of cleaning, sanding and dust, and airborne particles, causing the fuel injectors to clog and seize up. I may be wrong, and probably am, but it’s worth a shot. Cheers!!

  • Darlene Burnett Price
    Posted at 06 January 2015 Reply

    Good news, you are in the Keys!

  • Arch
    Posted at 02 December 2016 Reply

    Exact same thing happened to my Westerbeke generator at 1,200 hrs. Ran one day, wouldn’t start the next. Diagnosis is low to no compression. No known cause. Good luck with yours. Arch

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 02 December 2016 Reply

      We had to replace piston rings and rod bearings, injector pump rebuilt and two new injectors. Piston rings were carboned into the piston where they would not move. Good luck with yours!

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