May 21, 2002 - Mike the Mechanic works on the Atomic 4


1. Replaced galvanized lag screws holding the engine mounts with stainless ones.

2. Aligned motor with shaft.

3. Adjust transmission gear shift so that neutral is when lever is at top center, vertical. Adjust throttle. Instructed me on proper use of A4 transmission in reverse gear (see instructions instructions for operating the Atomic 4 transmission below)

4. Grounded the tank to the engine, for spark prevention.

5. Removed two plastic in-line fuel filters and replaced with one metal one (plastic filters are risky on boats, they can melt and spill fuel that collects inside the boat...) . Told me the inline filters were redundant and unnecessary with the Raycor there. Checked the the filters, one plastic fuel filter had collected a lot of debris, an indication of a possibly dirty fuel tank.

6. Drained Raycor fuel filter and water separator bowl. A little water had been collected. May indicate need to drain/clean fuel tank.

7. Performed a general safety check on electrical and fuel connections before we transport the boat to Alameda Marina (a two hour trip), where I will start working on it, right next to Svendsens chandlery and boat yard.

8. Deficiencies left for me to correct on my own to save money: connect blower hoses, replace exhaust hose, install a screen on the cooling intake hose.

9. Instructions before taking the boat to Alameda and for the near future:

  1. Re-install the engine room door and seal to reduce air supply in case of fire. Get a new fire extinguisher.
  2. Run at idle, in gear, at the dock for one hour. Drain the Raycor filter bowl and inspect for debris and/or water. If it looks clean, it's okay to take the boat to Alameda. If not, get tank professionally cleaned, and replace the filters.
  3. Drive to Alameda.
  4. After we have run the engine an additional 5 hours total time, call Mike to have him torque the head bolts on the new gasket.

General Recommendations:

  1. Install a fresh water flushing system and run it for 5 minutes after each use. Cost: under $100.
  2. Buy a "Top Gun" oil extractor for oil changes, around $60.
  3. Replace the exhaust hose as preventative maintenance because it's showing bulging. It's okay to drive it to Alameda thought and do it there.
  4. Reattach the blower hoses. Replace broken plastic flanges with SS steel ones.
  5. Install an in-line strainer on the raw water intake.
  6. Install a t-valve for fresh water flushing after use (I asked him about installing a fresh water exhaust from Moyer Marine. Mike wasn't enthusiastic about it)
  7. Grease O-ring on gas filler cap with lithium to prevent sea water incursion.
  8. Keep gas tank full to reduce condensation.
  9. Get spare parts kit: impeller for water pump, 2 Raycor filters, quart of oil. Change filters once a year (with light use), clean and drain every month to monitor any potential problems.
  10. Keep an eye on the transmission seal leak - a few drops occassionally is okay, a constant leak of any significance will require pulling the engine to replace the seal (an expensive repair, ugh!) Use an oil-absorbing pad to catch any drips. The leak may have been caused by the mis-alingment, and if I'm lucky, the alignment may ameliorate the leak.
  11. Install only marine grade, spark protected equipment on the boat to prevent fires and explosions.
  12. Install a carbon monoxide detector per ABYC codes
  13. Install an "explosive fumes" detector per ABYC codes. Cost: aournd $100-150.
  14. Install an automatic fire extinguisher that senses heat in engine compartment per ABYC code. Measure the cubic feet of engine room, and buy the correct size. $120-$800, depending on size. Keep all doors to engine room closed so that oxygen to support a fire is limited. Alternatively, install a small door through which to use a fire extingusher, per ABYC codes. I think I'll spring for an automatic fire extinguisher.
  15. Call Mike to re-torque the head bolts after we have put an additional 5 hours on the newly rebuilt engine. Dont' wait until the "recommended" 20 hours. He's seen a few gaskets blow before 20 hours. This rebuilt engine has a newer type gasket material, and can be re-torqued after a few hours of running time.

Mike Lord, the mechanic, worked about 4 hours, very effiiciently. The bill, at $78/hour, for 4 hours plus 1/2 hour driving time was about $350. Mike's not the cheapest mechanic around on an hourly basis, but he's so efficient that he's less expensive when it's all said and done. And with engines, an ounce of prevention is worth several pounds of cure!

Today Mike Lord, a mechanic with 25 years experience on Atomic 4's, came out to address several problems noted during the survey. Most of the problems involve the re-installation of the newly rebuilt engine, not serious engine problems. Never-the-less, it was a real relief to me when Mike told me at the end of the afternoon that we had a really good engine. Mike said a good rebuild job, including new head, bearings, machining to tolerances and engine removal and re-installation, was about $4500. The price of a new head alone is about $500.

To his credit, our surveyor, Peter Minkwitz, recommended having a mechanic inspect the engine BEFORE buying it (not after, like I did), since it's such a huge expense if you need to do any significant work or to repower. But it was difficult to arrange before the survey and haulout. I took a leap of faith that the rebuild job was gonna be okay.

The previous owner had finished rebuilding and re-installing the engine just a week before selling it. The PO installed a brand new head, new gaskets, boiled the block to remove salts and rust, fluxed it to check for cracks, turned the crank, installed an ignition sensor, installed new motor mounts and generally done a fine job rebuilding the engine. It purrs like a contented cat.

Unfotunately, the PO. didn't do a great job of reinstalling the engine. At the survey, we noted that there was one engine mount bolt missing, and others were not tightened down. The motor was not properly aligned with the prop shaft -- it was WAY out of line. There was a small leak in the transmission seal, perhaps caused by the mis-alignment. Grounding wires were missing.

Mike arrived promptly and got right to work. He immediately noticed that the engine mounts were not locked down, and told me it was a good thing I called him before running the engine for any length of time. He told me I would have ruined the tranny if I had run it that way.

Mike then noticed that the new adjustable motor mounts were not the same size as the original installation -- and gave me quite a fright when he said he might not be able to get the engine aligned because they were taller than the OEM equipment. That might mean lifting the engine to replace them, which would be a very expensive proposition, at $78/hours. But he said "Let's give it a try"

Mike also noticed that the p.o. had used mild galvanized steel lag screws to install the motor mounts into the boat. He sent me off to the chandlery to get eight 3/8" x2" SS lag screws, lock washers and flat washers. While I was gone, he got to work on other details (like removing the plastic fuel filters the po had installed. Metal is required)

Armed with new lag screws for the motor mounts, Mike got to work. He loosened all the bolts and started replacing them. When he got to the one with the missing bolt, we discovered why it was missing -- it was broken off, not actually missing! Mike managed to loosen the motor mount and turn it enough so that he could drill a new hole and get the 8th lag screw installed.

Then he started to adjust the alignment of the engine. The goal was to get the two sides of the coupling between the prop shaft and the tranny perfectly parallel, or at least within four thousandths of an inch. Mike used a crowbar to push the engine sideways on the mounts, to get it in alignment from side to side, and the nuts on the motor mounts to get it in alignment vertically.

I found it hard to believe that you use a crowbar to make adjustments that are measured at the other end in thousands of an inch. But after less than 30 minutes, Mike announced it was done. The feeler guages told him it was within 2 thousandth of an inch of parallel.

Mike noted a tiny oil leak at the transmission seal, like the surveyor had. He said it didn't appear significant, and that the "smart money" would live with it and keep an eye on it. Fixing it means pulling the engine out complete, a very expensive task. He also said that the leak had likely been caused (or made worse), by the mis-alignment of the engine when it was re-installed. He recommended an oil-absorption pad underneath to keep our bilge clean.

In Mike's opinion, the previous owner had done a thorough and thoughtful job of rebuilding the engine, but his lack of experience with marine engines showed in the way he re-installed it.

Then Mike got to work on adjusting the transmission linkage. He first had to spend 20 minutes to wrestle out a rusted cotter pin holding a rusty clevis pin in place because some lazy bum had used a mild steel cotter pin instead of stainless!!! . Then he spent another 15-20 minutes adjusting the gear and throttle linkage so there's a "stop" at top center. If had been so out of adjustment that we just barely had a reverse gear before.

Instructions for Using the Atomic4 transmission

After adjusting the tranny, Mike took five minutes to explain to me how it's designed and how to use it properly. Mike advised me that we should avoid running the engine in reverse for any length of time. He said the tranny wasn't designed for it. It doesn't truly engage positively in reverse gear. We should just give it a short burst of power in reverse to get some sternway, then shift back into neutral and steer. Short bursts of power in reverse are all that's needed, holding the gear shift in reverse with pressure (use your foot to hold it in reverse, then kick it up vertical to coast on our sternway, he advised). He pointed out to me that the tranny "groans" (grinds?) softly in reverse. Mike empasized that that is normal for the transmission.

By the end of the afternoon, I was impressed -- Mike really knew what he was doing. His 25 years of experience working on Atomics was evident. It takes most guys 3-5 hours to loosen everything and do an engine alignment. Mike replaced the motor mount lag screws, installed a new one to replace the broken one, replaced the fuel filters, checked all the electrical and fuel connections, cleaned the filters, installed a ground wire, adjusted a rusted, frozen tranny and throttle linkage, and instructed me -- all in under 4 hours.

Mike's got my business from now on!

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