• Nellie

Goodbye Ruby Red...

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

"Canst thou, O cruel! Say I love thee not, When I against myself thee partake? Do I not think on thee, when I forgot Am of myself, all tyrant, for thy sake? Who hateth thee that I do call my friend? On whom frown’st thou that I do fawn upon? Nay, if thou lour’st on me, do I not spend Revenge upon myself with present moan? What merit do I in myself respect, That is so proud thy service to despise, When all my best doth worship thy defect, Commanded by the motion of thine eyes? But , love, hate on, for now I know thy mind: Those that can see thou lovest, and I am blind." - Shakespeare

Ruby Red we did love, but she endangered us on a few occasions and caused a lot of mental turmoil. Ruby Red is what we call the inboard engine of Chilote. (Named that simply for the obvious red paint Chris applied to prevent rust and corrosion, but also began to seem so fitting for a termagant such as she) Ruby is a Universal Atomic 4.

The Atomic 4 is a four-cylinder, gasoline engine produced by the Universal Motor Company between 1949 and 1984. Over 40,000 of the engines were produced during that time. Most sailboats manufactured in that time came with one as its auxiliary. Ruby was a 30 horsepower. The Atomic 4 came from the design of an earlier Universal Motor Company design called the Utility Four, which was used extensively in World War II by the United States Navy and allies to power lifeboats. The Utility Four was replaced by the Atomic 4 in 1947. Starting in the early 1970s the Yanmar became very popular as an auxiliary power diesel engine for sailboats. As diesel engines continued to gain in popularity, the Universal Atomic Four gasoline engines continued to lose popularity. Some reasons are the fear of gasoline as a bomb & the Atomic 4 burns about twice as much fuel as a diesel will burn to go the same distance. They stopped being produced. Because of this, today major replacement parts – such as blocks, cams, and cranks are becoming rare and are salvaged from other engines. The future availability of major parts is influenced by the fact that the tooling to efficiently make these parts no longer exists. None of these were our issue with Ruby. We loved her. It became the issue of reliability. It should be noted that few, if any, marine engines are as reliable and maintenance-free as modern automobile engines. We were determined though to make her all that she could be. There is even a term for those of us longing to restore these antiques in all their glory, A-fourians.

In addition to all the necessary maintenance and upkeep preformed we replaced and upgraded over the years major components such as the raw water pump, stainless steel exhaust, the heat exchange manifold, zenith carburetor, alternator, numerous fuel pumps & ignition coils.

It seemed like every time we would get her running, something else would fail. Usually at times when we needed her. And yes, Chilote is a sailboat, leading some to think that you don’t need a motor at all. But that’s not true. Sometimes, as we know too well, there is no wind. Additionally crossing bars, getting in and around ports, and approaching anchorages is really only safe when you are in control with power. Being able to backup to really set your anchor in good is very helpful too.

We experienced many a dreadful problems, poured more money and labor into Ruby Red, fell in love with her again, and then her transmission failed. This was a problem. Not only would the reverse shifting cone & main drive bearing have to be machined (would probably be $2000!) but it would be pretty much impossible to do any kind of work on the transmission while mounted inside the boat, not for lack of trying because we did contort our body's in ways never before attempted, but on this model the transmission cannot be removed and in the back of the engine well of a 28 foot boat there is not a shred of space. We had enough. We had to move out of the port we were in and continue south. We had to do the smartest thing and that was put the cover back on the engine box and put an outboard on the transom. The first leg of that journey it was proven that it was a smart decision because of how much we needed an engine in the storm we got caught in and how well the outboard did preform. And boy as a rabbit let me tell you how much I prefer the little noise and vibration it produced compared to the roar and fumes of the Atomic 4.

So I guess that is when we officially broke up with Ruby. But she was still there…

We have enjoyed our time in Ensenada, nothing to fix, no real labor having to be done at all. Just waiting for our opportunity to continue south. We met our really great neighbor while on a dock here. A kind man who has treated us with respect from day one. He is our friend. He has a strong passion for restoring his Erickson. We respect him. His boat came with an Atomic 4. So the harsh truth is its only a matter of time that it will need parts. This is where Chris had an experience of a sudden and striking realization that while on this dock we could make it happen to remove this engine give it to someone who deserves it and would appreciate & know what to do with it (our neighbor has his own professional machine shop in Tijuana) Perfect! The question then arose, What can I give to you? It’s not like Chris hadn’t thought on the subject of when I get rid of Ruby…He was always lead to a practical solution. I say solution because there was a problem and that was to reballast the boat with similar weight in a similar location. When one yanks 330 lbs of iron out of Chilote it will alter the physics of the boat. The solution is water. For weight, and for achieving more time offshore. A water tank. That would be a fair trade Chris felt.

So it didn’t go perfectly of course but Chris, Jessie, and I all worked at disassembling the motor one piece at a time to get it down to as little weight as possible and our neighbor arranged a team of local brothers to get her out of the boat. Fixed the hole in the transom where the exhaust once was, Re-wired some things to be grounded, & epoxied the shaft as a temporary way to stop the drip and keep it from backing out of the log while underway.

So getting a water tank actually became the most difficult part of this endeavor. Absolutely none available in the San Diego area 35 gallons or less which was about the maximum dimensions that could fit in the space. From here to Tijuana locally its as if it was an obscure request, and shipping would be months from any source online. Our neighbor found what could maybe work, a 50 gallon agriculture type. Its measurements were just beyond what we could tell the space to be while the engine was in. It was tempting though because its capacity would allow us cross oceans. Our neighbor went ahead and went through the hassle of getting it across the border to see if it would work. It didn't. Bummer. We struggled to get it through the main opening and were able to push it only so far in. Just too big. So now we are trying to make something happen and we just aren't sure what its going to be yet, but it will be water, just maybe not plumbed into our system like we originally envisioned.


"The water understands Civilization well; It wets my foot, but prettily, It chills my life, but wittily, It is not disconcerted, It is not broken-hearted: Well used, it decketh joy,

Adorneth, doubleth joy: Ill used, it will destroy, In perfect time and measure

With a face of golden pleasure

Elegantly destroy."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


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