The Repower Decision
Written by Tim Pratcshler - Team Verdict   
Sunday, 31 December 2006 19:27

Over the course of a little over a year, I have experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows that one can face as a boat owner.  As a person that loves to chase salmon and trout on the Great Lakes and also gets a thrill that comes from participating in tournaments, I had been searching for the perfect boat.  In September of 2005, I was speaking with a friend of mine that docks his boat in the same marina in Ludington, Michigan about my search for a boat that would meet my needs.  During that discussion he mentioned to me a boat that was slipped next to his that was for sale.  Before I knew it, I was sea trialing my newest acquisition, a 1988 Albemarle 275 Express Fisherman.  The boat measures 27’1” by 9’6”, displaces 9500 pounds before fuel, gear and crew and was powered by a pair of 1988 Volvo Penta 350 cubic inch (5.7 litre) carbureted motors each with an output of 260 horsepower at 4000 rpm’s. After a long winter of anticipation, and a great deal of work to rig the boat in the manner I wanted, I could not wait to get Verdict III launched on April 15, 2006. 

After a month of spending time getting her organized, spending time getting acclimated to my new rig, tweaking in all the electronics, and getting out for her maiden fish-catching adventure, we were off to South Haven for week of vacation leading up to our tournament team’s first event of the season.  During our second day of prefishing in South Haven we had set out to make a trip to some deeper water in search of steelhead.  About 15 minutes into our run, the starboard engine began to lose rpm’s and was making a noticeable knocking sound from engine compartment.  Without the required knowledge of engines, we shut down the engine and began fishing.  We nursed the boat the remainder of the week and through the South Haven tournament.  As it turned out, the engine problems we encountered that day lead us to the location that produced well enough for a second place finish in the tournament.  However, it was not clear what the cost of that finish really was. 

In the weeks after South Haven the problem with the motor was diagnosed as a broken valve which resulted in the ultimate failure of the engine, necessitating a replacement.  At the time of the diagnosis, the key consideration was to get the boat back up and running to ensure no more than one tournament was missed.  Based on our timeframe the only possible option was to opt for a remanufactured Volvo Penta power plant that was a direct, drop-in replacement for the original engine for the starboard side, with the expectation that the port engine would get rebuilt or get a remanufactured replacement in the fall.

Once the boat was back up and running with her new starboard engine, she ran like a top.  The break in period was relatively painless and was complete in time to avoid a second missed tournament.  However, misfortune would strike again on the second day of Frankfort GLPAA tournament in August.  On that particular morning we were planning to make the twenty or so mile run from Frankfort down to Manistee.  About five miles into our run the temperature suddenly began to climb.  Not wanting to cause any more damage, we again had to shut an engine down.  Fortunately, this failure was limited to a malfunctioning water pump, but a failure in a critical situation nonetheless.

The Thought Process

As the season came to a close, focus quickly shifted to what should be done with the engines in the boat.  Based on the issues encountered during the course of the season, there was no doubt that at minimum another remanufactured engine for the port side was needed to match the starboard motor, however, thoughts of more horsepower and improved speed began to enter into the equation.  Since there were only 70 hours on the engine that was installed in June and it came with a 2 year warranty, it had value on the used engine market so the only question became how much would a complete repower with new engines cost and what were the largest power plants that could reasonably fit below decks.

After doing an initial ballpark estimate of what two new engines would cost based on various internet pricing, the decision was made to move forward with a complete repower of the vessel.  The initial research into the different power options turned up many possible solutions from Crusader, Mercruiser and Volvo, however, I had no experience with any of the new fuel injected marine engines on the market.  I knew it was time to get some professionals involved in the process.

The Search for a Boatyard

There are a seemingly endless number of boatyards in the region that are fully capable of performing a repower, even with the unique jackshaft drivetrain Albemarle uses between the transmissions and outdrives.  The key considerations that factored into the decision as to who would perform the work included: expertise in completing the work, the proximity to my home port to ensure service if needed in the future, availability of different power options, and a price within my budget.

After looking into the various marine mechanics up and down the eastern Lake Michigan coastline and considering my past experiences with other service providers, I found a Ludington-based full boatyard (Johnson’s Supreme Marine) based on a very positive recommendation of a friend that had his Egg Harbor convertible repowered there a few seasons prior.  After inspecting the work on my friend’s boat and speaking at length with the individuals that would perform the work I was convinced I had found what I was looking for. 
Sorting through engine choices

Before choosing the boatyard I planned to work with, I had already identified three potential engine manufacturers, but was leaning toward Crusader marine engines based on positive experiences I had on a prior boat, along with the recommendations of others that have experienced reliable performance from their Crusaders.  However, based on the proposed cost of this project I owed it to myself to do the necessary due diligence to ensure I was making the right decision.  The boatyard I chose to deal with is an authorized dealer and certified mechanic for both Crusader and Mercruiser engines.  I scoured the Internet for reviews and any other information I could find about or comparing the products of the two companies and had lengthy discussions with the mechanic to get his thoughts on what would provide the best long term performance and reliability.  My decision came down to four different engine configurations, two from Crusader (the 5.7 liter and 6.0 liter multi-port fuel injected models) and two from Mercruiser (the 5.7 liter horizon and the 6.2 liter models) which all appeared to be capable of providing the performance I was seeking.  Ultimately I decided to only seriously consider the offerings by Crusader based on their more simple design and their longer warranty over the Mercruisers.

Once I had narrowed down my choices to the Crusader 5.7L and 6.0L engines, I was very fortunate to have an experienced mechanic with significant experience repowering boats working for me.  On paper, the two engine choices looked very similar other than a difference between an output of 330 horsepower for the 5.7L and 375 horsepower for the 6.0L, and my instinct told me that the 6.0L was the better option from a performance standpoint.  Despite the fact I was convinced that choosing the 6.0L engines was the clear choice, my mechanic was not so quickly convinced.  Since this process was being undertaken in the fall, there was still plenty of time to make a decision and at the request of the mechanic we postponed the decision until he could take precise measurements of the engine compartment, inspect the transmissions, drivetrain and outdrives, and research the specifications of these parts to ensure they were capable of withstanding the additional power that would be pushed through them.

The thorough examination of all these factors made the decision of which engines to use very simple.  Our original concern about finding engines to fit in the engine compartment focused on their height, however, after the measurements were taken the 6.0L engines raised an issue with their length.  The only way these powerplants could fit was to make significant modifications to the engine compartment including the forward bulkhead which provides structural rigidity.  These engines posed additional issues as well.  The manufacturers of both the transmissions and outdrives recommended that their respective products not push more than 350 horsepower through them, and the 6.0L engines are rated at 375 horsepower at 5000 rpms.

Alternatively, the 5.7L Crusaders would be an easy replacement utilizing the existing engine mounts and be able to bolt right to the transmissions.  They were within the normal operating ranges of both the transmissions and outdrives and would still provide an increase of 140 horsepower from the original engines they are to replace.  Based on this, they became the obvious choice.

Other considerations

Since the engines are being removed from the boat, it is also suggested that during this process a number of other items are serviced concurrently.  All of the water and gas lines will be inspected for degradation and replaced, the bilge will be cleaned, prepped and repainted with an epoxy paint, and the transmissions and outdrives are being pulled, inspected and serviced.  It is essential that all these systems are in top working order to minimize the potential failures… particularly when dealing with increased horsepower.

With the significant increase in horsepower that I will gain with the installation of new engines, I will also need new props for both outdrives.  Since I have Volvo Penta DuoProp (twin counter rotating props on each drive) outdrives, this is a significant portion of the overall cost of repowering.  Since I operate my boat in generally debris free, deep water areas, I chose stainless steel prop sets to provide less blade deflection under load.  The benefit will be a better hole shot and better efficiency.  When it comes time for the initial on water testing of the new engines, detailed speed and rpm information will be recorded and subsequently utilized to ensure that the proper pitched propellers are chosen.

Concluding Thoughts

The decision to repower a boat is something to approach in a methodical manner to ensure no stone is unturned and all potential issues are considered prior to moving forward.  An experienced professional can play a key role in identifying potential problems and identifying solutions.  Even though there is an additional cost inherent in using a professional, it is my experience that with their help and advice there is a significantly higher chance of a successful outcome.

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