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Old 17-06-2020, 19:35   #1
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Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

I'm boat shopping on a budget with an eye toward doing the Great Loop (starting from here in Ontario) starting in late summer 2021. Given my modest budget and my desire to do some sailing in the Caribbean too, I'm leaning toward a sailboat rather than the trawler setup that so many people recommend.

My question: a boat that I'm seriously considering purchasing (Irwin 32, displacement 11,500) has an elderly Atomic 4. I've done all my research and understand the general consensus that everyone loves a diesel but that most people think a well-kept-up Atomic 4 is fine in most circumstances. (I've owned two boats: outboard Cat 27 and a C&C 30 with a Yanmar, but never used an A4.) However, the one caveat I've seen expressed about the A4 is that motoring over a long distance is not its strength -- and that would be the Great Loop in a nutshell.

Would I be foolish to rely on even a well-tended A4 to get me through the loop?
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Old 17-06-2020, 21:22   #2
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

Yes, you'd be foolish. No you may be not.

An A4 is a fantastic engine. Tens of thousands of them powered sailboats for decades. They're great, until they're not.

So lets say you have a perfect A4 - You could do the Great Loop just fine... You'd need to stop for fuel more often than a diesel, but other than that, they run for long times perfectly.

But on a budget, you wouldn't have a perfect A4. You'd have whatever you have. Of course, that'd be the same with an old diesel. What's better? Who knows. Elderly engines will die. That's the deal. Gas or diesel. So going out on the great loop with any kind of an old engine is tempting engine failure.

Any decent shadetree mechanic can fix an A4. It's a miniature flathead ford. (or 4 lawnmower engines mashed together). Suck, squeeze, bang, blow. Like all gas 4 cycle engines. BUT... marine mechanics don't (generally) know 40 year old engines. So you better be able to fix it yourself.

My boat has a very old A4 in it. Plenty of upgrades from Moyer Marine. I'll often motor for 6-10 hours to get to a destination in it. Not a huge problem if it dies because I'm in the pacific ocean - sails work too (although I may need to drift and wait). But in a river, engine failure may be much more exciting.

But an old diesel may be just as bad. Your boat, your call.

Moyer will sell you a NEW A4 for ~6K. You can't touch any diesel for that. (Oh, and gas boats blow up..... )
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Old 17-06-2020, 21:28   #3
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

Seems most of the boats that had them now have yanmars/betas/etc

Yet I don’t think anyone ever replaced a Yanmar or anything with a atomic.
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Old 17-06-2020, 21:29   #4
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

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Originally Posted by jeepbluetj View Post
Yes, you'd be foolish. No you may be not.

An A4 is a fantastic engine. Tens of thousands of them powered sailboats for decades. They're great, until they're not.

So lets say you have a perfect A4 - You could do the Great Loop just fine... You'd need to stop for fuel more often than a diesel, but other than that, they run for long times perfectly.

But on a budget, you wouldn't have a perfect A4. You'd have whatever you have. Of course, that'd be the same with an old diesel. What's better? Who knows. Elderly engines will die. That's the deal. Gas or diesel. So going out on the great loop with any kind of an old engine is tempting engine failure.

Any decent shadetree mechanic can fix an A4. It's a miniature flathead ford. (or 4 lawnmower engines mashed together). Suck, squeeze, bang, blow. Like all gas 4 cycle engines. BUT... marine mechanics don't (generally) know 40 year old engines. So you better be able to fix it yourself.

My boat has a very old A4 in it. Plenty of upgrades from Moyer Marine. I'll often motor for 6-10 hours to get to a destination in it. Not a huge problem if it dies because I'm in the pacific ocean - sails work too (although I may need to drift and wait). But in a river, engine failure may be much more exciting.

But an old diesel may be just as bad. Your boat, your call.

Moyer will sell you a NEW A4 for ~6K. You can't touch any diesel for that. (Oh, and gas boats blow up..... )

I’ve seen quite a few sailboat sized diesels for under 6k.
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Old 17-06-2020, 23:21   #5
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

One option is rebuild the engine you have and make sure all your pumps, etc., are in good condition. That's less than $6Gs.
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Old 18-06-2020, 00:15   #6
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

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One option is rebuild the engine you have and make sure all your pumps, etc., are in good condition. That's less than $6Gs.
Why polish a turd?

He’s going to have to pull it to do a proper rebuild, might as well just dump a yanmar in

https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw...anmar&_sacat=0
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Old 18-06-2020, 00:39   #7
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

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An A4 is a fantastic engine.
OK, I'll bite: exactly what is fantastic about them? They are an antique design, two main bearings (something outdesigned in the model A Ford in the twenties), a carb that drips for entertainment, usually supplied with a direct or near direct drive tranny, so that a tiny, inefficient prop is required... and all that is separate from the issues of poor efficiency and gasoline stored on board.

I had one in a previous boat, my very first inboard engine, and yes, it did ok for my casual, primarily week end sailing/racing purposes. But for a long motor trip, I'd sure rather have an equivalent powered diesel.

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Old 18-06-2020, 00:59   #8
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

Actually you'd probably be much happier powering with an Atomic 4. They are way quieter than a diesel and run with much less vibration. They are not as economical but not that much worse than a diesel as to seriously limit range.

The real question is how much faith do you have in the engines reliability. Hows the compression, oil pressure, cooling, etc?? Do you go down to the boat for a day sail without a great fear that the engine will give you issues??

Gas engines require more maintenance because of the ignition system and the relatively short tank life of gasoline. On the other hand, you might have some hope of fixing a malfunctioning gas engine with a very basic set of tools and a little experience.

Diesels tend to be very reliable till they aren't. When they aren't, there is not much you can do unless one of the ancillary systems like the water pump">raw water pump goes south. You aren't going to fix low compression or a malfunctioning high pressure injection pump without a bunch of money and a mess down below.

It's been many years since I had a boat with an A4. Granted that engine was new but didn't have an electronic ignition or any modern conveniences. Took the boat from Tampa to Norfolk without a hitch. Never gave me an issue till the boat sat for a year without proper engine layup and a valve stuck open. Did have to pull the head and tap the valve to loosen it up but R&R'ing the head was a simple affair that took a day. Incidentally, the engine still ran on 3 cylinders though not well.

Haven't had that great a reliability with new diesels. Have had a number of relatively major issues with low hour diesels and most required a mechanic because trouble shooting was beyond my ability and/or required special tools. Diesels are dead simple, as long as the cooling system works, there is fuel in the cylinder at the right amount and time, and compression they'll run. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can get in the way and almost all will require throwing money and some mechanical ability to fix.

So sure I'd go with an A4. Especially since most are raw water cooled so one less system to fail and assume the one you are looking at has been in fresh water most of its life. A sailboat could do much of the great loop without an engine if you have a little patience so the engine shouldn't be that taxed. You'll have to come to peace with the volatility of gasoline but always running the blower and a sensitive nose limits that problem.
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Old 18-06-2020, 03:01   #9
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

You can get a quality rebuilt A4 from Moyers Marine and trade in your old engine.

Pricing from $5400-$6900 which includes electronic ignition I believe and other perks

https://moyermarine.com/

https://moyermarine.com/rebuild-services/
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Old 18-06-2020, 03:05   #10
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

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Originally Posted by Jim Cate View Post
OK, I'll bite: exactly what is fantastic about them? They are an antique design, two main bearings (something outdesigned in the model A Ford in the twenties), a carb that drips for entertainment, usually supplied with a direct or near direct drive tranny, so that a tiny, inefficient prop is required... and all that is separate from the issues of poor efficiency and gasoline stored on board.

I had one in a previous boat, my very first inboard engine, and yes, it did ok for my casual, primarily week end sailing/racing purposes. But for a long motor trip, I'd sure rather have an equivalent powered diesel.

Jim
Thanks very much for this, Jim. I sail regularly on a friend's boat that has an old, poorly maintained A4 with a transmission problem - which I loathe. Also gas on a sailboat is one of my particular safety bugbears.

Just didn't want to squlech the OP, but OP, sorry, you'd be better off for long stretches of motoring to have a diesel engine of some flavour - in my humble opinion.

Good luck with the Great Loop!
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Old 18-06-2020, 03:38   #11
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

The Loop is about 6000 miles. You could easily motor 1000 hours. What are the chances an A4 makes it without a hitch? Would be better off with an outboard.
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Old 18-06-2020, 06:51   #12
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

The A4 is a bit primitive as gas engines go, but if it's a healthy example with freshwater cooling, I'd throw an electronic ignition setup on there and go for it. As long as you've got a reliable ignition system and a healthy fuel system, for the most part, gas marine engines just work. And they're pretty dirt simple.

I wouldn't hesitate to do the loop in my own boat with gas engines, although I'd probably give an A4 a little more attention and prep due to it being a more primitive, potentially finicky design.
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Old 18-06-2020, 07:45   #13
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

Don't let the gasoline deter you. A lot of people swear they would never have gas on their boat, but they're perfectly happy with their propane stove and grill. Propane is way worse than gasoline and requires more gadgets to bring the system up to code.
Yes the A4 is primitive, but that makes it really easy to work on. Shares some parts with small tractor engines so parts are available, not just from Moyer. Put an electronic ignition setup on it and it will be as reliable as any other engine. A bit thirstier but gas is usually a but cheaper than diesel so it works out.
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Old 18-06-2020, 08:04   #14
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

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Don't let the gasoline deter you. A lot of people swear they would never have gas on their boat, but they're perfectly happy with their propane stove and grill. Propane is way worse than gasoline and requires more gadgets to bring the system up to code.
Yes the A4 is primitive, but that makes it really easy to work on. Shares some parts with small tractor engines so parts are available, not just from Moyer. Put an electronic ignition setup on it and it will be as reliable as any other engine. A bit thirstier but gas is usually a but cheaper than diesel so it works out.
OP hasn't bought a boat yet. He's wondering how much of detriment an A4 would be? I could understand if someone already owned a boat with an A4 - just go, don't sell just to get a boat with a diesel. But for an older boat, purchase price premium for a diesel is slight. Go with diesel. Universal Diesels were no great shakes either, but an improvement over A4s.
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Old 18-06-2020, 08:24   #15
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Re: Atomic 4 for sailboat on the Great Loop?

There are several sections of the Great Loop where fuel stops are few with long distances between. The section on the Mississippi, on the Tombigbee, and crossing from Appalachicola to Clearwater, for sure. Since sailboats generally have rather small fuel tanks, you may have to carry extra gasoline in jerry cans on deck. Just another safety concern.
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