Monday, August 23, 2010

Northern Lights on a Southern Boat

We should have known that a Northern Lights Generator would never work out on a boat named Australis. The Northern Lights engine is actually a IHI Shibaura tractor engine (E673-C). We were going to have to ship a replacement from Taiwan. Americans (NL) get the Japanese to do their manufacturing (IHI Shibaura), and the Japanese do their manufacturing in China (Taiwan). NL just marinizes them in Seattle, stamps the Lugger name on them, and marries them with the electrical half (probably imported as well). Incidentally, the history of this name game, and a little bit about engine model number decyphering can be found on the online version of a passagemaker magazine article.

  We went with the expensive NL brand, hoping we'd never have to do this again, throwing out a working 20 yr old Kubota generator. Unfortunately, the NL engineering quality hasn't rubbed off on their dealers/installers. That was the source of our problem, in the end, a poor installation that allowed salt water to splash back into the cylinders and slowly kill it after 400 hours of run time and a few months of sit time now and then in rolly conditions.

 The exhaust hose was too long from the muffler up to the peak of the riser loop (chimney)--two feet taller and 3 feet longer than recommended by NL. And the small plastic Vetus muffler couldn't handle the volume of water in the hose after shutdown.

 The Northern Lights dealer that modified my existing exhaust setup for the install was CC Marine, in Marina Del Rey, CA, owned by Carl Meentzen. With us half way around the world, all the pictures and phone calls in the world won't convince him that he made a mistake, so make sure you check up on him for this design flaw if you ever have him install a genset for you.

The "warranty" service from Northern Lights was non-existent, and the only advice the service manager at their headquarters could offer was to parrot back my diagnosis of the lengthy exhaust hose. They were just telling me what I wanted to hear and whatever would get me to stop bugging them about warranty support for their dealers and customers.

Carl has been equally unwilling to stand behind his work or the NL product he sells. It seems that he feels that 400 hours of runtime on a generator is enough time for operator error, poor maintenance, and manufacturer faults to creep in and it's no longer his problem at that point. I agree that some users coudl abuse an engine and kill it in that amount of time, but ours was immaculately maintained, changing the oil much sooner than the recommended 100 hours. We were on our 6th oil change when it failed.

I'll provide more details on 3rd party oil filters, fuel filters, and other parts for the Lugger in future blogs. But we may swap it out for a Perkins, if it is available locally and can get here more quickly than the Lugger/Shibaura from Taiwan. Northern Lights can't even tell me when their Lugger engine would ship if I ordered it! With airfreight shipping, customs, and tax the NL price tag comes the $7K. The Perkins is $5.5K, without local shipping, which will probably be $1K. So the price is a wash between the two, and the only deciding factor is if I want to support NL any more and whether they can get their act together with the cross-pacific timezone difference between their dealers and the headquarters. I'm playing the relay game every night at 2 am to connect the messages from the two parties to each other all the while paying them a premium for the convenience of being a "one-stop-shop" for my generator needs.

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