Sailing the Atlantic, Cruising the Caribbean - Avalon of Arne

Preparing for the Voyage

By Phaon Reid

The Engine and Mechanicals

Avalon's engine is a Watermota Sea Panther. This beast is a 4-cylinder diesel, of 1600 cc capacity, supposedly developing around 28-32 horsepower, depending on who you believe. It is a conversion of the Ford "Kent" crossflow petrol engine, as used in some early Ford Escorts and Cortinas.

We would guess that our engine dates back to some time in the late seventies, so it must be about twenty years old. As it is a lot bigger than Avalon's original (petrol) engine, an engine box has been built just inside the main hatch to house it. This serves as a seat which can be used at either the chart table or the galley. It has a removable lid for routine maintenance, and the whole thing can be taken off to give all-round access to the engine.

We have never really been great fans of this engine, so it's probably a good thing that we both like sailing. It's not that the engine won't start, or that it breaks down. It normally runs on request, and is economical, but it would never propel the boat at much over five knots, even in calm conditions. Sarah, in the 22' Mai-Ling with a 4 horsepower outboard, could often go faster than Avalon. Given any headwind or sea, progress would be slow in the extreme, and use of sails in conjunction with the motor would be advisable. We never really knew whether the motor was to blame, or whether something else was the problem, such as a wrongly-pitched propellor.

One of the problems with the engine was that it smoked - not from the exhaust, but somehow from the engine itself. This was achieved without consuming any significant amount of oil. When the engine was running this was not a major problem, since the smoke was sucked back through the air filter, but when it stopped, smoke would ooze out from orifices all around the engine compartment.

The main problem that we knew of was with the gearbox. This was slipping in forward gear, and there was no adjustment left on the clutch. We were told that the gearbox needed reconditioning. We asked a local firm of Marine Engineers in Poole to do the job for us, so they took the gearbox out and sent it to Watermota for rebuilding.

Although the gearbox was returned a couple of weeks later, it took literally months for it to be fitted. During this process they decided that the engine had to be rewired and, without consulting us they had this done, at our expense, by a firm that we knew to be incompetent. Of course, the electrics then didn't work, and it took another month to get them sorted.

When, finally, everything was in place (including our new rudder) we came down looking forward to a pleasant weekend's sailing. We started the engine, cast off, and reversed out. Fine so far. I then tried to put the engine in forward. It wouldn't go. We had to fend off from the boats astern, and then motor backwards into a free berth. I'm normally a calm person, but I was livid. I grew even more furious when I discovered that NO OIL had been put in the reconditioned box. I stormed over to the Engineers shop and shouted at them, loudly and at length. They weren't very apologetic, claiming that it was a stuck cable (which I knew, and could prove, that it wasn't). Anyway, they promised to have the thing working the following weekend and, amazingly, they did.

The full extent of their incompetence only became obvious in Spain, some months later, when it nearly lost us the boat. But that's another story.

Thank God people like that don't fix aeroplanes.

We took a number of engine spares with us for the trip, and the majority of these were used. The parts we took included the following:

A starter motor was on our original list, but they were so expensive that we didn't buy one. Fortunately we didn't need it.

We also took a very comprehensive toolkit, including socket set, open ended and ring spanners, wrenches, allen keys, soldering iron, blowtorch, multimeter, screwdrivers, saws, knives, electric drill and the rest. It was used a great deal, and not only by us. This included a virtually complete engine rebuild in Barbados, since which the engine has worked as never before. But more of that later...