Box Of Goodies
Planning a cruise this summer to someplace far, far away?
Take along an old-fashioned (or new-fashioned) cruise kit.
I am going to tell on myself a little bit here, if only to make a point. Several months ago, while I was running around my boat like a maniac one morning, trying to get stuff ready to depart for a four-day cruise my wife and I’d been planning for months, I made a small, dumb, potentially catastrophic mistake. I cranked the main engine, a very forgiving old diesel that typically gets plenty of care and deference from me, without first opening the appropriate seacock.
My excuse for this unconscionable behavior is lamer than heck—I just plain forgot! What with all the assorted preparations bearing down, the deplorable tardiness of my arrival at the marina that morning (due to pressing but unrelated issues), and the gloomy angst I was feeling because of this tardiness (which was inconveniencing my wife as well as the folks on the other two boats that were joining us for the trip), I simply lost it momentarily and fired up the ol’ Super Lehman with nary a whiff of due process.
For some bizarre reason, the sad series of events that ensued produced a benign outcome, at least in view of the tragedy that might have occurred. Since my engine seemed to be operating normally, at least at first, and because I had a small but critical electronics issue to address on the flying bridge, I pulled yet another goofy stunt and went immediately topside instead of venturing to the stern to make sure bursts of cooling water were shooting out the exhaust port. Thank goodness the haunting absence of splashing sounds caught my attention just three waypoints into the route I was in the midst of creating. “Yikes,” I yelped, scrambling for the engine shutdown button.
Sorting things out didn’t take long once I’d hit the engine room. The seacock was an easy fix—I merely whooshed open the valve. Then I played a hunch, and after ratcheting loose a few cap screws from the covering plate of the Lehman’s raw-water pump with a socket wrench, extracted the big rubber impeller inside—it was fried to a crisp! “Well,” I sighed, “at least I’ve got a trusty cruise kit salted away in the lazarette.”
Cruise kit? Because the concept may be unfamiliar to some—only in recent years has it undergone a semi-renaissance among cruising folk—a brief explanation may be necessary. Years ago, in the early 1950s, most recreational boats built in America had American-made gasoline engines, virtually all of them marinized (or not so marinized) versions of their automotive cousins. These powerplants were generally lighter and more powerful than the diesels Europe favored at the time. And, being comparatively simple by today’s standards, they were also fairly amenable to owner-operator repair and maintenance. Moreover, parts were easy to get.
The next decade brought a paradigm shift of sorts. Engines primarily from England, a growing number of them marine versions of industrial diesel products, became economically attractive to builders like Grand Banks, Marine Trader, Kadey-Krogen, and others, with manufacturing facilities in the Far East but big-time markets in the United States. Diesel Fuel For Sale signs sprouted like weeds at American marinas. But spare parts quickly became an issue. Although some manufacturers stocked reasonable inventories stateside, shipments via the mail, particularly to remote places, tended to be expensive and frustratingly slow.
The cruise kit addressed the problem. Legend has it that one of the very first came from a big leaguer that’s now defunct, British-based manufacturer Lehman Power. According to Brian Smith of American Diesel Corporation, which continues to offer both new Lehman-like engines and spare parts and service advice on older models, it consisted of a fairly simple, savvily prioritized, for-sale-as-an-option box of engine-specific spares.
The idea caught on. Cruisers both stateside and abroad immediately grasped that the cruise kit was not only valuable from a parts-availability standpoint but also from the standpoint of seafaring safety, especially when long cruising distances were involved.
Some builders began standardizing the kits for issue with their new boats, and also adding non-engine-related equipment such as spares kits for propane stoves, MSDs, freshwater pumps, both interior and running lights, components for refrigeration systems, and even touch-up paints and gelcoat repair kits.
Currently, cruise kits are in the midst of a sporty little comeback. After fading from the scene during the ‘80s and early ‘90s, perhaps in part due to the increasing reliability (and complexity) of marine engines in general, they were revitalized by the passagemaking craze that continues to chug sedately along today. Indeed, established companies like American Diesel Corporation, Cummins, Caterpillar, John Deere, and others are presently offering optional engine-specific packages that typically cost between $300 and $2,000, depending on how comprehensive a customer wants to get. Simple kits usually include fuel, oil, and air filters; impellers; engine zincs; alternator belts; and maybe a thermostat. More expensive versions are typically customized per application and may add coolant hoses, engine paint, gaskets galore, extra pumps, sensors, injectors, and perhaps even an extra starter motor.
Just a couple of years ago, a retired Navy submariner who’s also into long-distance recreational cruising started a company that takes the idea further still. More to the point, Wheelhouse Technologies will sell you a precisely boxed assortment of custom, plastic-wrapped, clearly labeled, failure-rate-prioritized spares for your entire boat these days, whether you’re planning a short, low-budget coastal trip or a big-dollar, ocean-crossing extravaganza. The former costs about $300 and includes fuel and oil filters, appropriate gaskets, an extra air filter, a raw-water impeller, a rocker-arm cover gasket, and some other odds and sods. The latter will likely cost a small fortune, literally, and include a spare or spares for virtually every piece of equipment you’ve got onboard, from MSD rebuild components to repair materials for your countertops.
“We’ve got circumnavigators out there right now with as much as $50,000 worth of our stuff onboard,” says Wheelhouse founder Barry Kallandar, “and we also have boats out there with only the basic coastal package—a lot depends on budget, the cruising venue, and, of course, the owner’s comfortability with the level of risk he or she may encounter.”
And oh, by the way. My very own, old-fashioned but well-stocked “Coastal Cruise Kit” from Lehman Power genuinely saved my butt on that frantic morning several months ago. After hauling the 12"x12"x27" 50-pound rectangular plywood box of goodies from the laz and briefly rummaging through its bulging, clearly labeled, plastic-wrapped contents, I was gratified to discover three good-to-go, raw-water impellers, each in its own labeled cardboard box shipped all the way from Great Britian.
What a big-time find! Without having to shop around town for a seriously rarefied part or, more likely, wait a few days for a delivery from American Diesel, I simply extracted a brand-new glisteningly black impeller from its box, along with a new gasket for the covering plate for my Lehman’s raw-water pump, and speedily installed the lovely little jewel! In less than an hour, I was back in business.
And lemme tell ya. Everybody was exceptionally happy with the way things turned out, not least of all yours truly!
American Diesel Corporation (804) 435-3107
Wheelhouse Technologies (978) 562-5211
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.