Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Too Good to Be True

I’ve both found screaming deals and wasted time and money on Craigslist.  But, on balance, I have had a favorable experience. This deal…well, time will tell. 
Sojourn’s 13 horsepower, 1974 Volvo Penta MD7A is tired. She smokes when cold.  She doesn’t start without a can of assistance if the outside temperature is below 50.  Incidentally, I fearlessly bought her with two thoughts in mind.  First, that I can rebuild nearly anything.  Second, this is a hands on learning experience.  I didn’t fully appreciate the scope of the second.  The jury can decide which of those the cost of Volvo parts applies to most.
Video of Sojourn’s old MD7A
So, for the last couple of months, I’ve been monitoring Craigslist to get a feel for future repower possibilities. I wasn’t planning on acting before next winter, just getting a feel for the market and possibilities.  Then, to my surprise, a Beta14 showed up one morning at an attractive price.  I nearly sprained my pinky hitting send on my reply email! A few hours later, I was standing in front of it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I’m an engineer and a sailboat owner and it was shiny and red and beautiful!
The alleged story was that it was under powered for the 36 foot boat it had been installed in, which seemed at least logical.  After gathering a battery, a cable, a fuel line and discovering that the switch was corroded there was one glorious puff of black smoke and then musical, mechanical, diesel purring.
All of the fluids looked as one would expect in a brand new engine. I only had three reservations which, in the end, didn’t prevent me from buying it.  1. Was it stolen? 2. It had some unusual corrosion, at least to my amateur eyes. 3. Last, but not least, was it too good to be true?
On the first point, the transaction took place at a business with lots of employee and non employee onlookers, so I dismissed it.  On the second, I chalked up to salt air.  On the final, this is where it gets interesting.
I brought it home, fired it up and started going through it.  At first, it appeared it might even be a better deal than I thought.  I found the date of manufacture sticker.  10/10 – only 4 months old.  I also noticed that all of the paint was still on the pulley grooves.  I ran it until the thermostat opened.  The previously virgin looking oil turned a little milky.  I’ve seen this before in engines that don’t get fully warmed up often enough, so I wasn’t alarmed.  I changed it, brought it back up to temperature with no more milk.  I also noticed that the pulley grooves were now partially black – this motor didn’t have much time on it at all.
Next, I moved on to the electrical.  The alternator didn’t work. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  It only took me a minute to realize this picture was saying “gurgle gurgle gurgle.” I took it apart to find the conductors between the brushes, the regulator and the diodes were gone!  There were only rusty nubs where the conductors used to penetrate the substrates of the various components.
Experienced sailors no doubt have filled in the blanks.  Later, my friend Ben, an experienced sailor, confirmed the worst of the three scenarios running through my mind - the boat had sunk during or after repower.  He had in fact concluded that upon first inspection, but felt is was still a good deal and didn’t want to burst my bubble so he kept it to himself.
So, in answer to the third point, yes.  My fantastic craigslist find, in all likelihood, went down with a ship.  Time will tell if it turns out to be recovered treasure.

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