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Com-Pac 23 to Com-Pac 23D Conversion

Following the experience in the inlet and my intention to keep the boat for a while, it was clear that I needed to lose the outboard and install a diesel engine in the CP-23.

From everything I had read, a conversion provided several benefits, with only two downsides. First, the downsides. Of course, there would be the cost of an engine and installation. Second, the engine could no longer be easily removed for repair or replacement. The benefits included improving the sailing characteristics of the boat by removing the outboard hanging off the stern and installing an engine down low to change the center of gravity. Motoring would be less dependent on wave height and period, as any hobby-horsing of the boat would not result in propeller cavitation and over-revving, which slows the boat and potentially damages the engine. There could be no impact on the motor from waves in a following sea. Finally, the simplicity of a diesel to maintain and reliability and efficiency of operation were appealing.

So, the hunt for a diesel engine began. First, research of current new models was undertaken. There are only two feasible possibilities. Com-Pac installs Yanmar 2YM15 engines in new CP-23s and Pilothouses. The Beta Marine 14 is about the same size and footprint. Both are 14hp. Either would fit in the aft area of the cabin, behind the steps. Although a bit pricey, both were on the list of possibilities.

Research on feasible used engines yielded many possibilities including:

Yanmar 1GM, 1GM10
Universal M2, M2-12
Westerbeke 12D-2
Vetus M2.13

Used engines obviously have much lower prices, but determining condition would be difficult, even if the engine ran. Not knowing much about how an engine was used or maintained makes purchasing it somewhat a roll of the dice it would seem. A conversation with a diesel technician and with Keith Scott resulted in the same conclusion: if an engine will run, it’s fixable. Diesels almost never die from use, they are murdered from misuse and neglect.

The Fall months passed, and I occasionally thought about the conversion. Available used engines on the usual sites were perused every now and then, and I had price lists for the new engines that I had looked at and I contemplate the best course of action.

Then one day, a Yanmar 1GM10 appeared on the Craigslist site I was browsing. The engine was at an automotive salvage yard. And the price was very low. I was just a bit skeptical, but a call was made, and I planned to visit the place. It would be easy to find, I was told, as I was to look for the airplanes at the entrance. Sure enough, I rounded a curve and sitting on top of junked box trucks were airplanes! And hundreds of cars, trucks, buses, a Learjet, and a damaged Hunter 28 hull. At the very back, a pen contained a dozen or so pet goats. The place had it all. The owner had purchased the damaged Hunter for $100 on a local online auction site. He told me the boat was on the hard, so he un-stepped the mast, removed the rudder and steering pedestal, unbolted and removed the keel, then dragged the hull onto a rollback wrecker to transport to his yard. The value to him was the lead in the keel, and he was trying to sell the pedestal, mast and boom, engine and running gear for what he could get.

The engine was out of the boat and we were able to get it to run for just a few seconds. It looked great. It was complete with good paint and no rust. I asked about the running gear, the shaft and prop, and was told that he would sell that with the engine as well. It was tempting, but I had no idea how to even start on a conversion, and wondered what I would do if the engine was bad. I told the owner I would get back with him in a day or so. On the way home I called Keith Scott. I asked Keith what he thought, and if he would work with me on the conversion of my boat from outboard to inboard power. He said he would, and that I could help as much as I wanted, and that would bring down the cost. He also shared that the engine price was exceptionally good. I called the salvage yard and told the owner that I would be back the next day to get the engine and would pay the asking price.

As I drove to pick up the engine the owner of the salvage yard called and asked if earlier in the morning I offered to buy the engine online. I told him I had not and he shared that he had it listed on E-Bay for twice what I agreed to pay, and someone had offered to pay that amount, all he had to do was accept. Wow, I thought, It was too good of a deal to be true. I told the owner that since he had the commitment from the other person, and it was a lot more, I understood. His response was that I had already agreed to purchase the engine, so he would sell it to me for our agreed upon price. Man, that was close, I said out loud after the call ended. The business ethics of the owner were striking and refreshing.

Once the diesel was in my possession, I could not wait to see if it would run for more than just a few seconds. With a bit of fuel in a jug, a battery from another boat, and a bucket for the water, I finally got the engine to run. It seemed to run well, but starting it required the use of starting fluid, not a good thing to do with a diesel.

See the engine run.

I pulled the boat after New Years, and delivered it and the engine to The Sailboat Company. Keith was interested in seeing and assessing the engine. We began to plan the work needed to be done on the boat for the removal of the outboard bracket and the installation of the diesel. It was the dead of winter when we started the project. The engine assessment determined that the cause of the starting difficulty was that the valves were over-tightened. The head was removed, and it was found that the exhaust valve was severely pitted and required replacement. The injector looked okay, but in the process of removing the head and injector, the injection chamber looked suspicious, and the needle in the injector wasn’t operating as it should. The head was sent out for machining, parts were ordered, and installed. Soon, I was helping put everything back together and setting the valve clearances. The engine then started easily and ran as it should.

In the cabin, the steps and connected woodwork had to be removed to gain access to the bilge for the engine beds to be installed. I was able to unscrew the woodwork from the bulkheads, jack up the deck from down below, and remove the entire assembly in one piece. I was skeptical to say the least, but it worked beautifully. With the steps out of the boat, the engine beds that were sourced from Com-Pac were installed at the proper angle. Then work began to cut a hole in the back of the keel to locate a shaft log. It was a bit disconcerting to see such a hole in the bottom of my boat!

The new shaft log was inserted into the hole in the boat. Placing a mockup of the engine and coupler on the beds, the shaft log was inserted and roughly aligned. Then, the engine was lowered into the boat..

Once installed, the engine and shaft were connected and aligned. Then the whole area was glassed. After barrier coating and bottom painting, the cutless bearing holder, cutless bearing, shaft, zinc and propeller were assembled.

After that, engine controls were located in the cockpit and connected to the engine. Next, plumbing for the bilge pump, raw water intake, fuel and exhaust lines were installed. Finally, the electrical work was completed. After everything was connected and secured, re-installing the steps was in order. Work on the transom to fill and gel coat the holes left from the removal of the outboard bracket completed a successful project that presented few surprises. Or so it seemed.

After four months of steady (but not hurried) effort, the conversion was done. Although this was clearly a first for me, Keith Scott has completed many such conversions. I learned a great deal about the diesel and my boat through the process. Now, all that remained was the sea trial to test everything. With great anticipation (at least on my part) Keith and I took the boat to a ramp on the New River. The boat was launched. The engine started, and idled smoothly, warming up while the truck and trailer were parked. No fuel or water leaks. No strange sounds. So far, so good. I put the engine in reverse and backed away from the ramp. Then put it in forward and motored down the river and back. All was well on my good little ship! At a nearby marina, I secured the boat in a slip. The plan was to come back and test some more at a later time, and then trailer the boat back home.

Upon the return to the boat, everything seemed as it should for the final sea trial. The mast was not stepped, so I was only motoring. Leaving the slip, I was happy, and the boat was happy. I motored a mile or so down the river, adjusting the speed up and down to see how things were working. At one point, I slowed quickly after running at full speed. After idling for just a bit, I gave the boat full throttle. Boat speed did not increase, nothing happened except the engine raced!! What in the world could have happened? I wondered. Quickly going below, I opened the access to the engine to see that THE SHAFT WAS GONE! Water was pouring into the bilge from the packing gland. I found a rag and stuffed it into the hole, slowing the water flow. Meanwhile, thankfully, the bilge pump was working.

Back in the cockpit, I called SeaTow. They said, sure, they could help, but because of my location it would be two to three hours before they could arrive. Hmm, I said, Let me call you back in a bit. Surveying the water, there were a few boats out, but none near me. What to do? Anchor? Wave my arms frantically? Signal distress with the horn? Yell? Just then a boat came near enough that I could wave them over. They came alongside and graciously agreed to tow me back to the ramp. There are Good Samaritans in the world, especially on the water. During the tow I called and talked with Keith about the situation and told him I would be returning to his shop shortly.

Once at the ramp, I hopped off the boat. I had been thinking during the tow that probably when I backed out of the slip the shaft was pulled aft in the coupler, worked out further when I slowed so quickly, and then spun out completely when I went to full throttle. And now I had lost the shaft and prop. That was going to cost plenty to replace, but at least the boat did not sink in the process. Hustling to the truck, I just wanted to get the boat back on the trailer. The boat went on the trailer easy enough, and I pulled up the ramp into the parking lot. Climbing out of the truck and walking toward the boat, I saw a propeller blade resting against the leading edge of the rudder with the bitter end of the shaft barely left in the cutless bearing. With relief, I pushed the shaft back into the boat, and set off to The Sailboat Company and the waiting Keith Scott.

Upon inspection, the shaft had left its coupling, which was still attached to the engine. The coupling was a split coupling design, which is much preferred over a solid coupling for ease of shaft insertion and removal. It just removed itself without me knowing! The coupler had been bored a bit oversized, which was the cause of the problem, even with set screws. A new un-bored coupling solved the problem. As a belt-and-suspenders approach, a hose clamp was put on the shaft just forward of the packing gland. In the event the shaft ever slipped again, the hose clamp would keep it in the boat. Problem solved, the boat was trailered back to Topsail Beach, launched and motored wonderfully and uneventfully to its slip.

It was time to plan some sailing adventures and cruising on my newly converted Com-Pac 23D.