Old Fogies with Old Engines…
The title of this column isn’t a code phrase for geriatric sexual performance—really, is your mind that much in the gutter? Instead, it is an essay about old diesel marine auxiliaries. My new boat (well, new to me but built in 1981) has a FOUR-154 Perkins in it.
At first, I didn’t recognize it. But I couldn’t locate the engine anywhere, and so eventually took a pickaxe to that mountain of rust under the cockpit … and oil started to ooze out.
“I think I found the engine!” I screamed happily to my wife, Carolyn.
She dashed over, bent down, and gazed into the oozing hole in the rust. “Excellent!” she giggled while opening her purse and taking out a fistful of hundred dollar bills.
“… wait!” I shouted—but too late. She’d already begun stuffing the hundred dollar bills into the Black Hole.
“… let’s get started,” she grinned evilly. “This engine obviously has an appetite for Vitamin C notes—why pretend otherwise?”
My wife calls hundred dollar bills Vitamin C-notes. She thinks this cutesy way of speaking will confuse me—and I won’t know she is spending real money.
Here’s the (terrifying) reality in a nutshell: Perkins Engines run forever, sort of.
They are not nervous engines like the Yammers. Yammers shake themselves to death—like berserk sewing machines on crystal meth. And the
Vulvus—well, they only work in Scandinavia. Westerbeaks are sort of like the United Nations—their various mismatched parts can’t seem to agree on anything (except to be expensive).
But these Perkins diesels are true English Bulldogs. Once they sink their teeth into an owner’s wallet—they never let go!
One thing I do like about the Perkins is that they look and sound like a diesel should.
Mine looks like it was designed by Rudolph himself—way, way, way back-in-the-day.
And their sound is perfect. Most diesel mechanics (well, the male ones) will start to get aroused within seconds of hearing one—I kid you not.
Masters and Johnson used them during various 1960 sex experiments—but only on extra Y chromosome male subjects with grease under their fingernails.
Yammers might, perhaps, titillate an Asian—but leave most red-blooded Americans cold.
Don’t get me wrong. Yammers have won. They are lighter and more powerful and have better PR. Yammers are tomorrow, and Perkins small boat auxiliaries are yesterday. Sad, but true.
… no longer can you buy Winston Churchill to power your heavy displacement sailboat—you have to get a bilge full of yamming Japanese instead.
Carolyn and I have considered calling our engine the OOZER. It does not spray oil or water out of any identifiable place … just oozes it out through some invisible pores in the engine block.
We haven’t purchased this many diapers since our daughter was a baby.
Yeah. That’s right. Our elderly engine wears diapers—just like our aging parents do! Listen up, investors—companies which manufacture absorbent fabric squares with trade names like Diesel Depends are an excellent hedge against inflation!
I am often asked, “Does your engine burn oil?”
How would I know—since the oil leaks out almost as fast as I pour it in?
Once a long-haired mechanic asked me, “… does it smoke?”
“Not in Malaysia,” I shot back, “because the penalty there for ganja possession is death!”
… besides, why would he want to pry into our personal affairs like that?
… who does he think he is, Mark Zuckerberg?
There are good points to our Perkin’s current performance—sure! For instance, if I don’t want to see the vessel following in my wake—I just increase my throttle 100 RPM or so, and that vessel is gone.
Yes, if I’m in a bad mood and feeling particularly evil—I can increase my RPM another 200 revs in a winding river—and watch said craft run hard aground on my radar.
They say that fog-on-the-water muffles sounds. I am not so sure. All I know is; I hear a lot of coughing behind me on the Intracoastal Waterway.
The good news is that I don’t have to remove the old oil when I do an oil change. I just pour in six quarts of new oil—say, every hour or so.
I love the factory wiring on my FOUR-154. It is thick as a fur-coated copper pipe. The Brits must have purchased the electrical wire directly from Edison—that’s the vintage, for sure.
Did you ever notice the Perkins logo with the circles and squares? That means, ‘an all-around square deal!’
I like that.
Carolyn and I now have his-and-her tattoos of that logo on the cheeks of our … well, never-mind!
I like the air cleaner on a Perkins—which filters out all airborne particles bigger than, say, a brick.
Components are sturdy—for instance, my current starter motor weights more than my previous boat’s entire engine-with-trany!
All this is yesterday, of course. They haven’t made these FOUR-154 engines in many years. Thus, when I purchased my boat and was told “… the parts for that engine are widely available on the Internet” I didn’t realize that meant, “… fat chance, Fatty!”
The rarity of the suddenly-precious parts mean that all FOUR-154 parts are now in the hands of greedy collectors—who will gladly kill for a high-pressure fuel line.
These folks aren’t in the game because they like boaters or Perkins—they are the worst sort of mercenaries.
Recently, a corroded valve cover to a FOUR-154 was auctioned off at Sotheby’s—and sold to a Japanese investor.
A few of the big art collectors are starting to ‘get into’ FOUR-154 parts—one seller had a Picasso painting, a 1922 Porsche, and a heat exchanger cap for sale.
“How much,” I inquired.
“One million,” he said.
“…for the Picasso?”
“…for either of the three!” he grinned.
The best part about Perkins engines is their robustness. When I asked one mechanic for advice on cold-weather starting, he suggested stuffing a can of ether down its air cleaner.
“… you mean I should shoot a brief spray of Starting Fluid into the air intake, right?”
“Hey,” he responded breezily, “if the starter motor is strong it will suck in the entire can—which will eventually come out your exhaust pipe neatly compacted.”
That’s nice to know—for instance, if the ship’s cat has been causing problems.
Modern marine diesels, of course, have electronic fuel-pumps-with-computers to monitor fuel flow molecule-by-molecule. This takes into account engine temp, RPM, manifold pressure, the owner’s Zodiac sign …
… not so, the ancient Perkins. Have you ever seen an old WWI movie of a bare-chested stoker shoveling coal into the boiler of a ship? Well, the fuel pump orifice on the Perkins is about the same size as that hole.
There’s no tolerance on a Perkins that a yardstick can’t measure.
Sure, the new Yammers speak of liters-per-hour—but a real macho Perkin’s man deals in far more interesting units, like gallons-per-yard-traveled.
… basically, if you want to have enough fuel to get to the next fuel dock—you will have to convert your water tanks AND your bilges to fuel storage as well.
Why would anyone in their right mind keep a 30+ year old Perkins marine auxiliary?
Well, power is one reason.
These horses are bigger than the Yammer horses. It ain’t a numbers game with Perkins. They don’t glue on a bigger raw water pump and duct-tape on a turbo—and then claim the engine is twice as powerful.
… bigger engines equal more horsepower—that’s how it was done in the good-old-days.
My heavy displacement 43-foot ketch swings a HUGE prop via a 3-to-1 reduction gear—and resolutely throws herself to windward against giant seas. (Yes, it is a Max prop; otherwise I’d never be able to claw to windward.)
… when I heard that Meryl Streep was starring in the movie IRON LADY, I briefly wondered if the flick was about my Perkins.
The amazing thing is, while it is punching my vessel through those huge seas, it appears—at least in the engine room—as if the engine is doing nothing. If you couldn’t hear that it was purring, you’d think it was shut off. It does not vibrate or hop or shake or jump.
It is ‘all go, and no show!’
Okay! I am having homo-erotic urges for a 500 pound hunk of British Steel. I know; I know … I’m not supposed to admit stuff like that.
But I do.
I’m infatuated to my core—by my 154!
Editor’s note: when last seen, Cap’n Fatty was in Grenada and attempting to bolt up a smaller FOUR-107 to the transom of his nine-foot Apex inflatable.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 52 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing The Horizon: The Life And Times Of A Modern Sea Gypsy and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, Sail: How To Inexpensively and Safely Buy, Outfit, and Sail a Small Vessel Around the World is out now. Visit: