Thursday, September 4, 2014


When we bought Salt Whistle, we were convinced that the engine would just need a little bit of work.  We managed to get in two decent sails (one to Great Lameshur Bay on the south side of St. John, and the other with our friends Lauren and Alex to Hawksnest Bay on the north side), but the engine got worse and worse.

Amy and Skeeter sailing

Lauren and Amy at Hawksnest

Skeeter and Alex sailing to Hawksnest

Not having a reliable engine is stressful, I don’t care what the macho sailors say (“It’s a sailboat….why do you need a motor!?”).  There are times that there is no wind, the wind is not in your favor, or you have to maneuver in tight spots.  No motor might be okay for a small sailboat, but not a 42′ boat that doubles as our home.  We’d prefer NOT to end up on the rocks, thank you.

We live in the Virgin Islands, so finding parts and finding a mechanic who knew our engine was not easy.  After about a year of struggling to find the correct parts for our old 1985 Volvo Penta MD30A (parts are obsolete…finding them meant days of research, dozens of phone calls, and majorly inflated prices) and paying mechanics who weren’t able to pin point or fix our issues, we decided to give up.

Figuring out what to do with the old engine was another challenge.  Lots of boaters would say, “Those Volvo Pentas are great engines,” but when it came down to it, we struggled to even GIVE it away.  We posted on sailing forums, on Craigslist, and in Facebook groups for months with no real leads.  We even joked about “accidentally” dropping it overboard.  Finally, our friend Rick told us about a guy called “Kiwi” who has lived aboard his boat since the 70’s and is a tinkerer who is constantly fixing and selling boats.  And we finally had a taker.  Kiwi agreed to help us with the removal of our thousand pound engine if he could have it.

It ended up being a two day process.  This was our first experience in engine removal, but Kiwi had done it countless times so it was nice to have his expertise and extensive tool set on hand.  Hopefully this is the last time we have to remove our boat’s engine, but we did learn a thing or two in the process that will end up being useful.

This is how we did it:

STEP 1 – Disconnect and drain the hydraulic steering fluid lines.

Disconnecting steering fluid lines in engine room

Draining hydraulic steering fluid into containers

Access to hydraulic steering fluid lines under bunk in aft cabin

STEP 2 – Disconnect transmission cable from gear box

Disconnecting transmission cable from gear box

STEP 3 – Disconnect throttle cable from throttle linkage

Throttle cable

Disconnecting throttle cable

STEP 4 – Disconnect alternator


Disconnecting alternator

STEP 5 – Unscrew cockpit floor and prop it up for light and accessibility

Unscrew cockpit floor

Prop up cockpit floor to let light into engine room

STEP 6 – Disconnect wiring harness from engine block

Disconnect wiring harness from engine block

STEP 7 – Cut exhaust hose free with hack saw

Cutting exhaust hose free with a hack saw

STEP 8 – Disconnect prop shaft from engine

Holding prop shaft with pipe wrench

Unscrewing bolts that hold coupling between prop shaft and transmission

STEP 9 – Cut dry riser pipe for exhaust with grinder and cutting wheel

Cutting dry riser pipe for exhaust with grinder and cutting wheel

Sparks flew, but I had the fire extinguisher ready just in case

STEP 10 – Move floor and pedestal completely out of the way

Move cockpit floor and pedestal completely out of the way

Direct access to engine room through cockpit floor

STEP 11 – Attach shackles and lines to engine in preparation to lift

Securing shackles and ropes to engine

Securing shackles and ropes to engine

Attaching chain lift hook onto ropes

STEP 12 – Support boom and attach chain lift

We used the topping lift, the main halyard, and the secondary halyard to support the boom

Securing chain lift to boom

STEP 13 – Carefully lift engine using chain lift and guide through cockpit floor opening

Guiding the engine through the cockpit floor

Barely fit. Needed to be turned to make it through.

STEP 14 – Guide engine to starboard side of boat and set down

Easing the engine down on the bench. The chain lift was out of chain and it just barely made it to the bench.

We put down plywood and an old rug to protect our boat.

STEP 15 – Raise the boom to lift engine over rail

STEP 16 – Lower engine down into Kiwi’s work dinghy

Carefully swinging the boom over and trying to ease the topping lift and the halyards evenly

Oh crap! The topping lift snapped. Near heart attack…luckily the two halyards still held.

Gently setting the engine down on plywood in Kiwi’s work dinghy

The engine made it safely out of our boat and is heading to a new home

STEP 17 – Degrease, de-rust, and paint in preparation for our new engine!

The engine room is empty!

Ready to clean, degrease, de-rust, and paint

This was quite an accomplishment for us!  We didn’t burn our boat down in the process, and we didn’t sink...two fears that had been running through my mind.  We are excited to be making forward progress toward our cruising dream!!!
Thank you to Rick, Kiwi, and Andrew for helping make our boat 1000 pounds lighter!

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