Silence of the Engines


The Westerbeke 4-107 had been through three owners by the time I got it. It had plenty of hours on it, and somewhere along the way it had spent time with a lot of water on it, and maybe in it. It had been given bad fuel more than once. It leaked here and there. It was a very needy engine, and I wasn’t able to provide for it, either mechanically or financially.

I ran it for three years, detesting it more every day, and fantasizing about a brand-new engine that I could coddle with perfect fuel and lots of air and new filters and regular oil changes and all that. But it went the other way-I finally gave the remains of the Westerbeke to a diesel mechanic in exchange for his last bill, and for his agreement to wrest it out of my boat, which was also my home at that point.

I went without it for about four more years, and life was simpler, quieter, and generally better than before. To get in and out of harbor when there was no wind I used a long sculling oar that I made out of stairway rail dowel sleeved in PVC pipe, with a big plastic blade bolted in a notch at the end. It worked pretty well-I could get the boat up to about a knot, maybe a bit more, if there was no head current.

Even so, I wouldn’t advocate an engineless way of life if you have a choice in the matter, and live in a place where the wind is fickle. The main problem is that you often can’t get places on time. Sometimes it’s not a matter of hours, but of days. This just doesn’t work well for spouses, friends, and employers. There are also times when you wish you could get out of the way of ship traffic a bit faster. And there’s often no way to predict just when you’re going to have an adventure, or find out something new about the boat or the wind or the current. Sometimes these adventures and learning experiences come at inconvenient times. But they do arrive, without fail, much more often than they do if you have a working engine.

Eventually I sold the boat to a guy who didn’t mind that it had no engine. He sailed it from Connecticut to Florida like that.

The reaction to the “Diesel Mechanics’ Forum” feature that we ran in the February 1 issue reminded me of how worked up people can get about diesel matters. Seems as if it’s “My Diesel, Right or Wrong,” or more like my reaction: “Well Brutus, You’ve Let Me Down for the Last Time.” The fact is, if a diesel engine is well-installed and in good shape when you get it, and you maintain it with due dread for what will happen if you don’t, it will treat you well enough, and will allow you to go in pretty much any direction at a predictable speed. Come on-how boring is that?

Speaking of heresy, I figure the Riprap column this month (page 20) will annoy some people, and make others roll their eyes, as if this debate cannot be won (which is true). Some will find kindred thoughts in it; others will tell us to stick with gear testing and leave the hand-wringing out of it. The piece was originated last year by contributing editor Chris Robbins as a long letter from the field; then, because I so completely agreed with what he was saying, I got involved, too. Call it a collaboration.

Next time you visit the website (, please take a couple of minutes to fill out either or both of the owners’ surveys we have posted there. One is an electronic version of the boat owner’s survey we bind into an issue every few years. Responses there form a big part of our Used Boat Surveys. The other is about 12-volt refrigeration. If you have a 12-volt system installed, we’d like to know of your experiences with it, so that we can make a feature with a bunch of real-world notes within.

-Doug Logan

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.


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