Winter Projects: Removing a Westerbeke 21hp from a shrinkwrapped sailboat (in Portland, Maine)

“I hate sailing!”

Harbor Island, Muscongus Bay

It was far from the worst weather we’d seen, or the worst breakdown we’d faced. But somehow the combination of a grey blustery day and an alternator that had fallen off (Again. That makes three times, for anyone that’s keeping count) mixed with our overly high-hopes for our delayed “summer sail” (in October) had brought me to my tipping point.

Westerbeke 21 - broken alternator bracket, round III

Keeping a wary eye on the temperature gauge, Jon hopped inside and started spinning the crank shaft with his foot, preventing the engine from red-lining, while I tried to navigate us around the rocks and into our anchorage as far as possible. We drifted the last 50 feet under momentum alone, dropped the anchor, and surveyed our new surroundings. Middle of nowhere. Broken engine. Overcast skies. Now limited power. No cell signal. What else is new?

Rather than immediately troubleshoot the problem, we decided to make dinner and go to bed, and face it in the morning with a (hopefully) brighter disposition.


It’s not that we don’t like sailing. I’m just not a purist, by any stretch of the imagination. I like getting places! I like having power and heat and full confidence in our boat. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed having a 15hp outboard so much is that she’s literally saved our butts countless times; with the dinghy hip-tied and the outboard revving, we’ve navigated harbor entrances, entered foreign ports and executed complicated docking jobs. Engines are useful, y’all!

Harbor Island, Muscongus Bay - There are worse places to be stuck!

So why did this relatively minor breakdown feel so devastating? It’s ridiculous, but in the span of 24 hours I’d gone from feeling excited about our week-long Maine coast cruise, to desperately combing Yachtworld and emailing brokers, certain that the answer lay in a new boat.

As often happens with late-night Yachtworld searches, we found *the boat* — 41′ of aluminum lifting-keel glory, in meticulous condition and patiently awaiting new owners.

Who cares that she doesn’t have any cruising equipment — we can buy that!

Located in Holland? No problem!

Shipping quotes and finance details were just a few clicks away…


Repowering in the middle of winter in Maine... smart?

Maybe it’s just us, but this was not a new conversation. Should we buy a house / buy a bigger boat / have a family / go cruising / keep working… it’s like a ferris wheel that we ride over and over again and never quite manage to get off. As we explored the “buy a bigger boat” facet a little more, we started having some really good conversations…

“You assume that a new boat will continue to have all of the positive characteristics of Brio, but none of her negatives… be careful of what you take for granted,” one dear friend cautioned us. “What if this boat doesn’t sail well? What if she isn’t pretty? What if the complicated systems (*cough* lifting keels + aluminum hulls *cough*) leave you stranded just as often as that old Westerbeke does? Think long and hard before you jump, young grasshoppers.”

This was good advice.


As the quotes for shipping ($17k from Holland to Baltimore, just in case anyone wondered) and financing ($600/month! For 20 years…!) came in, we also started to really examine our motivations.

What was it about living on a bigger boat that appealed so much? Was it just vanity?

I mentioned co-workers who couldn’t believe the tiny size of our living space, and how I wanted to invite people over and have them say “wow, this boat is enormous!”

Jon reminded me that even if we lived on a 60′ catamaran, non-boaters would probably still look at our life and express shock that we could live in “such a small space” 😉


Stopping for a selfie inside the shrinkwrap

And as we looked at why we like this life in the first place — the freedom, the relative simplicity, the options, the possibility of an open horizon calling our names and a sparkling sea beckoning us further — somehow boat payments and insurance and trans-Atlantic-shipping-plans made much less sense.


DiMillos Marina - winter liveaboards in the early morning sunrise

Having successfully passed the “buy a bigger boat” stop on the ferris wheel, we moved on to the task at hand.

Was there something we could do to feel like we were still committed to Brio, but had more faith in her and were moving forward in our someday cruising plans? If we looked at the (few) times she’d left us stranded, was there a common theme?

(You know where this is going)

Disconnecting the wiring, plumbing, fuel lines and gauges in preparation for removing the engine


So we bought a new engine 🙂

Well, technically I told Jon that I’d try to sell our engine (in the middle of winter in Maine, still installed, and buried deeply inside our shrinkwrapped home), and if it sold we’d buy the Beta 25 that he’d been researching for months.

Our teepee lifting system for getting the Westerbeke onto the trolley

Repowering a sailboat engine - Westerbeke 21 to Beta 25 - Getting the engine up the ramp

Long story short, I posted the Westerbeke, a marina owner with a fleet of boats made an offer, and $1500 and some creative engine-wrangling later, the deal was done.


At this point, the Beta 25 has been ordered and we’ve paid our deposit. The new engine will cost us $10k by the time it’s actually in Brio. No one will mistake this for a wise investment (boats. are. never. good. investments!), but as we dream of our next adventures and all the lovely motoring we’ll do, we’re pretty damn excited 😉

Repowering a sailboat engine - loading the Westerbeke 21 into the truck bed with a giant beam



Winter Projects: Removing a Westerbeke 21hp from a shrinkwrapped sailboat (in Portland, Maine) — 2 Comments

  1. Congrats on the new motor. I have the same problem with my old westebeke. The alternator wobbles around making it impossible to keep the belt properly aligned and tensioned. The motor still runs good so I am going to try to fabricate my own bracket to solidly hold things in place.

    Vicky and I are living on BigBird. A 33 foot yellow trimaran birthed at South Port Marine. Yes it’s small at only about 100 square feet but find it quite comfortable. We especially appreciate the small space when the temperature drops as it is quite easily heated. I too dream about larger boats but living simply without owing money to a bank is what living aboard is all about to us.

    • That’s really interesting Jeff! Our first alternator fell off when the actual “ear” on the block broke. We tried to epoxy it back — that didn’t work at all. Had a custom mount made in Panama. It lasted til Florida. Broke again. Had a new stainless mount made — it lasted 2 years 🙂 Crazy part is that the stainless piece that broke didn’t even break at the hole or at a spot that makes sense — it was literally the middle of the bracket that snapped. SO annoying!!! We’re hoping the Beta 25 won’t have these issues 😛

      That’s awesome that you guys are in South Port – you must know Polynya then? We’ll have to have some winter coffees and compare liveaboard notes 🙂 Any plans for the warmer months?

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