This project has only just begun! Stick with us to see how a sailboat engine comes out, gets rebuilt and put back into an aging sailboat.

The 120HP Ford-Lehman workhorse of an engine in our 1977 Aleutian 51 Ketch seized just off Catalina Island, Ca several weeks ago, unable to be restarted and requiring in a very long tow back to San Diego.  As a result, we were hoping to have the mechanics from VB Engineering find something relatively minor wrong when they started diagnosis, but it wasn’t to be.  After initial diagnosis, the hard fact of the matter was that the engine would have to come out for the mechanics to truly tell us the problem and start the fix.  This was easier said than done, as our engine is a V-Drive, set deep into a Taiwan built engine room with more than four feet of bilge underneath the engine and a solid cockpit + fiberglass doghouse above.  There was NO easy way to get this engine out.  However….the guys from VB Engineering have a strong reputation for problem solving hard cases just like this…and they did.  Here’s where we started:

Engine still in the engine room. But, as many pieces were taken off at our slip as possible and nothing was cut open yet.
Here’s our ladderwell and wall, before demo.

In order to cut the woodwork open perfectly and then have the ability to put it all back together, I could think of no other company I wanted except the Yacht Docktor.  The skilled craftmen at the Yacht Docktor do yacht interiors and fine woodwork….and they’re the best.  With a shop in Point Loma near most boatyards and GREAT customer service…we’ve used them on multiple projects and I was glad to spend the money to get the best.  Funny, once they heard we needed help getting a piece of bulkhead cut to get our engine out since we wanted to make it to Baja Ha-Ha 2019….the wood was cut within two days and we were off and running on getting our engine out.  Here’s Rudy with the Yacht Docktor cutting our bulkhead open:

Cutting open the bulkhead/wall
Inside of the wall inside the engine room.
Rudy pulling the wall off.
Look, a big hole in our engine room!
Engine Room, looking in from where the steps used to be, with the engine still in there.

Then, it was time for the crew to come in and move the engine into our salon, while we were still in the slip:

Look Ma, we have a new coffee table with drink holders.

Then once the engine was in the salon, Tulum was towed to the boatyard to wait on her turn for the crane to pluck the engine out of the boat.

Tulum waiting on crane time.
While waiting, the VB crew prepped the cockpit and ladder well area, doing a great job. After all was done, there was nearly NO damage to the cockpit.

Once it came time for crane time, things picked up speed.  First, we were towed around a very large catamaran (Profligate) to be put in place for the crane to reach us.  Once there, we made sure nothing else would be broken against the high haul out dock and VB mechanics crew used the crane scaffolding to pull the engine out of the boat….in less than 2 hours.

Even as the crane was moving, we knew our new antenna arch was going to be too close, so the crew had to attach another line to maneuver Tulum into a slightly different position to protect the arch. If you’re in this situation, remember its YOUR boat and your responsibility to say something as needed.
The crane eased this piece of scaffolding/metal frame into the cockpit and the VB Crew used it to get the engine out of the boat.

Engine coming out attached to the crane end.
Our engine, finally out of the boat.
Our engine, ready for rebuild and the clock running (4-weeks?).

VB Engineering is one of the best mechanical firms in San Diego and we have every confidence in the rebuild of our engine, on time and on budget.  The owner gave us a timeframe of approx 4 weeks for the rebuild (engine out of the boat).  This should put us toward late September to get it rebuilt and then a week or so to get the engine back in the boat.  Once in the boat, we’ll need to make sure everything has gone back together correctly and give the boat several quality sea trials before we leave the San Diego area.  If this takes us past our Baja Ha-Ha dates…we’ll accept that for the sake of safety, but we’d much prefer to leave with Baja Ha-Ha 2019.  

We have no sponsor or outside financial support except anything we might get from Patreon.  We have one sponsor who allows us to test products for them and we really, really appreciate their support, but we’d LOVE your support as well.  Check out our Patreon site to feed Quincy or buy me a beer as we go through this engine rebuild.  No, we didn’t expect all this to happen…but we’re moving through it as best we can with all the things we have going on.  Please keep following us and check out our Pinterest, Patreon and small YouTube sites- 

Here’s the link to the story and pictures of the trip which we seized our engine on: Will We Make the Ha-Ha?





3 Responses

  1. Hi Chad, hi Michelle
    My name is José ( and my wife is Ana. We live in Lisbon, Portugal and have a boat like your TULUM V, a 1980 Aleutian 51 Ketch called OLD LADY.
    I found your beautiful site with very interesting things about Aleutian 51.
    I became very interested when I found out that you solved a problem that we now face: how to remove the engine from the motor house.
    Reading your blog and seeing the pictures I can understand how you did it, but still have one question: how did you manage to bring it from the engine room to the saloon? I see you cut the stairs to gain access, but the engine is very heavy. How did you move it to the saloon?
    As we cannot send photos to your site, if you would like to see what our OLD LADY looks like, please follow this link..

  2. Jose and Ana:

    So sorry it took so long to get back to you, we just got to La Paz BCS Mexico. We’re hauled out getting the bottom done, extra opening portholes in the galley, new chainplates for the rigging and all new standing rigging for the boat.
    Your boat is so pretty, wow….great job on it. For the engine, the mechanics rigged a tri-pod in the salon and upstairs in the cockpit and wenched the engine out using that. I can send pics to your email if you need them.

    Also, we have the original plans for our boat digitized and on the website if you look them up in some of any old posts from 2018. Also, just so you know, not all Aleutians are ketch’s….there are only 11 of them in the world and I have contact with at least 5 owners…you’re # 5.
    So happy to hear from you, please follow our site as we have lots of Aleutian info and we’re out actively cruising right now in Mexico. Maybe we’ll come see you in Spain in 2023?


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