Escapade’s mid-life upgrade: the generator Part 1


November 1st, 2023



Written by

Richard Farrington

No comments
Generator removal 1
By Richard. Posted on November 1st, 2023 in Equipment.

We had three options for the generator:

1. Replace it with another Onan

2. Replace it with another make of generator

3. Refurbish the existing unit.

The nice people at Onan no longer make a 5.5Kw unit. They offer a 4Kw or a 6Kw. The 4Kw was available but would cost well over £12000 to purchase and install. The 6Kw would not be available until well into 2023 and would cost upwards of £16000.

There are other generators available, but the installation costs would be higher because we would need to remove all the existing equipment and cable runs, as well as potentially redesign the mountings in the generator space. Availability in the post-Covid, Ukraine-focused world was another key factor.

Refurbishment would involve purchasing a brand new Kubota engine (identical to the one in the boat), refurbishing (and possibly rewinding) the AC element. Total cost (including a 2 year warranty on the Kubota) would be around £8000. That price might go up if the AC element needs replacing…

I decided to go with Option 3.

The replacement Kubota engine arrived at Vasey Engineering at the beginning of October. Its basically the same lump of metal that is in the Onan generator, but Dave will need to move some of the key elements off the Onan and configure the Kubota to perform the same functions.

The next task was to remove the Onan from Escapade. We allowed a day for this – Dave doing the disconnecting bits and me worrying about getting the beast out of the ‘generator room’ – where I assume it has sat since 1999…

The plan was to disconnect the whole thing and try to remove it ashore in one go – still bolted to its plywood base. We reckon it weighed about 80 kilos, so in theory two men should be able to lift it. We lined the route out through the galley with decorators cardboard from Wickes and then placed some od carpet on the galley surfaces. Across the top of that we laid a piece of plywood; the plan was to slide the Beast sideways out of the generator room onto some short planks laid on the galley deck. Then lift it bodily onto the top of the freezer and slide it forwards on the piece of plywood.

The doors of the generator room came off very easily, thanks to some good design and installation from the team at Oyster all those years ago. The door frame was actually held in place by some wing nuts – somebody had thought carefully about how we were going to do this!

We unbolted the casing (which needs some repainting where the base has corroded) and had the whole thing ready to move in about an hour. We put some meter-long planks on the deck so that we could pretty much slide the thing off its mounting, across the sill of the doorway and onto them – we didn’t want to drop it on the floor and be unable to lift it again. It came out meekly. The steel frame under the plywood base remained in place – it looked like new!

Generator removal 2 1

Time for a cup of tea before the strenuous bit – lifting it onto the galley top. There was no other way to get it around the corner at the forward end of the galley and offer it up to the companionway. We had to slide it forward a bit to give us both enough room to lift it. After a bit of shuffling to get in the right position, we lifted it so that the weight was resting on the galley top and then slide it forward to the sink.

Generator removal 3 1

We then took the planks from the previous evolution and laid them across the gap between the sink and the engine box under the companionway. We removed the ladder and fixed a 1 tonne chain block and slings around the boom. We also placed a block and tackle (the boom preventer) onto the boom so that we had two lifting points for the generator when the time came.

We eased the planks under the generator (which was still bolted to its original plywood base) and slid it gingerly across the gap until most of the weight was on the engine box. Whilst I steadied it, Dave attached the chain block and we started to transfer the weight from the engine casing to the boom. The whole thing then hung from the boom – with a 10 degree ‘bows up’ aspect. We used carpet to line the companionway and those planks to lever the generator into position. We attached the block and tackle to the second lifting point, swung the generator around so that the widest bit came out of the companionway first (and didn’t foul on the sliding hatch). Then by carefully swapping the load between the chain hoist and the block and tackle – and sliding the redundant one a few inches towards the end of the boom each time – we gradually moved it upwards and aft through the companionway.

Generator removal 5 1

After a fairly focused ten minutes of sound seamanship skills which meant that neither of us had to use any strength at all, the generator was sitting in the cockpit.

Time for another cup of tea, then lift her up, swing the boom outboard and lower the generator directly into a trolley on the jetty. Those planks came in useful again, as we laid them on the top of the trolley so that the generator could slide off and into the back of Dave’s van.

Generator removal 8

The AC element then went off to a specialist firm near Salisbury who gave it a full overhaul and found no significant issues. The motor was dismantled in Daves workshop and the good bits (the new injectors, fuel pump, heat exchanger) bolted onto the Kubota. Once we got the AC bit back from Salisbury, Dave bolted the whole thing together and ran it up in the workshop before bringing it back to the boat. One issue emerged: the new engine had all the clever bits on the left hand side – whereas our access was from the right. Dave was able to swap most things over – in the end he had to reuse the cooling water pump off the original engine as it was the only way to get everything to fit.

The next decision would centre on how to reinstall the thing . We could either try and sling it all the way into the generator space, or dismantle it and reassemble it ‘in situ’…