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Old 08-12-2021, 08:43 AM
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Is the atomic 4 reliable? Long read.

In the past few years I heard more comments on the atomic 4 engine that were complimentary rather than derogatory. Comments like "you can't kill those things". I think this forum is a huge part of that shift. Of course there are the diesel lovers that will switch out engines from gas to diesel power when they purchase. It is because of that some of us are lucky to have not only spare parts, but spare engines, in good working order. But what about reliability?

Well, I would say that generally my atomic 4 didn't have much responsibility in the 14 years I've had one. It had to get me off the dock, back on the dock, and occasionally motor a few hours at most. This year was different, it had to step up ...and it did. Not only did it step up but I had full confidence in it even in bad weather and seas. It did not fail or miss a beat.

We took the boat on a 15 day, different spot every day, except a few layovers for weather. We took the boat from Halifax NS, up the Eastern Shore to the Bra Dor Lakes in Cape Breton. The weather was just awful on the coast but weather in the Bra Dor Lakes was wonderful. On the coast all but 2 days were thick fog, swells and wind was unkind. The wind was either 5 knots or 20 to 30 kts, in the wrong direction. The trip up and back that coast would dishearten any sailor. My wife said "this sucks"...and she was right.

The total length of the trip was 450 nm (833 km or 514 miles). We planned our legs in 40 to 50 nautical mile increments with alternate places to anchor if something came up. The atomic 4 ran 8 to 10 hours straight on legs of the journey both up and back the coast. We had to motor sail with the main the whole way, both directions and the weather witch was seldom on his game.

On the coast, at the worst times, we motored head long into up to 3 meter seas and 25+ kts when the forecast called for dropping seas and wind. After 5 hours we drove out of it and seas continued to roll but did abate. That was my roughest day on the back end of the boat. By that time I'd picked an alternate and committed to it just because rough weather is hard on one guy running the boat. My wife and son didn't get sea sick or anything, but I was done though. They would have been content to carry on to Liscomb but we didn't cover enough ground in the blow so I knew it would be too long a day for me. Other days we had slow rolling seas on the quarter or astern and only 2 days did we have what I'd call anything close to calm seas. I think I had one hour of sailing off the coast of Canso NS where I had the main and jib up and no engine in use...that was short lived for an hour later the wind was howling and full throttle into it. Oh, did I mention the 0 to 1/4 mile visibility for days on end? I have a radar, Raytheon 20xx that was operational only at 2 nm. Set range at 6 nm and it would drain the battery despite the 100 amp alternator charging off the engine. Also had AIS, so we were good there.

The Bra Dor Lakes were gorgeous and sailing them a treat, no fog, no swell, and sunny skies for the most part. Our time in there is what made this whole trip worth it. That make you forget the bad actually...us humans are like that.

I ran the Atomic 4 generally 8 hours a day, some days up to 12, on the coast. Traveled 450 nautical miles total (833.4 kms or 518 miles).
Engine hours used all with the main sail up. Total use: 90.1 hours.
Total fuel used. 58.5 US gallons.
Fuel economy was .65 gallons per hour on average. We burned less fuel going to the Lakes (15 gallons) than on the return (27 gallons).
Return trip we had 2 bad weather days beating through waves 2 and 3 meter seas sucking fuel to do it.
We used 16 gallons of fuel in the Bra Dor Lakes and one of those days was bow first into 35 kt winds. If the wind was too light we motor sailed.

*** I think I have Odyssey's engine tuned in pretty good and the numbers on fuel consumption are nice to see. HOWEVER, when pushing into 20+ knts on the nose the fuel consumption was pretty close to 1 gallon per hour. Had to have it throttled up or the boat would stop.

I use 15w40 oil and added oil twice. Those were after the days heading bow into 20+ knots of wind motor sailing with wind and seas on the nose. Otherwise, for days on end didn't have to add oil. I keep the oil level, on my particular boat, about 1/4 inch above the full mark on the dip stick. After those full throttle beating into seas days she'd be down to the full mark...took less than a pint of oil to put her back to where I had it.

I brought grease and at the end of each day twisted my grease cap on the raw water pump. A few days I ran in excess of 10 hours and when I saw I'd be a while shut down, checked oil and twisted the grease cap. Never had to add oil while enroute. Once anchored I wrote down my engine hours, mileage from the chartplotter, filled the fuel tank and recorded what I put in it. I carried 4 full Jerry Cans as there is only one place on that coast to haul up to a dock and get gas. I didn't need to do that on the way there but did on the way back because I burned a bit more fuel in two different blows.

Never experience one problem with the boat or the engine. During those storms that popped up I knew how hard I was pushing and thought "I hope I don't have a coil failure"...nothing happened, she forged forward driving water. Both boat and engine performed flawlessly. If I was to do it again I'd be more careful of my weight. We took stuff we never used. Once home after 2 weeks we took about 200 lbs of food of the boat we didn't eat and probably had no intentions of eating. I had 800 lbs of water on the boat when we left the docks both directions. 4 Jerry Cans of fuel was nice, but we made the trip one way on less than a tank of fuel. Less than a tank of fuel used in the lakes, and more than a tank of fuel on the way back. I'd keep the fuel aboard.

It was a decent run for the engine and real confidence builder. I wish the winds had been more in favor of sailing but they were not. We were not the only ones who put up with bad weather. Others were heading to the same destination. Some turned back and went home, some had breakdowns, and some of us made it without issue. Talked to one guy who left the same time we did and got into the blow that came out of nowhere. He couldn't keep his Irwin 32 with a Yanmar 2GM moving in the seas and headed back.

On the ocean, fog, rain and wind not one Mayday call. Once in the Bra Dor Lakes 2 Maydays within days. One loss of life from sea doo, 7 abandoned a powerboat after it caught fire...all 7 were recovered.

I am fortunate to have redundant nav systems on the boat, AIS transponder and radar. Without the radar and AIS it would be a brave soul that would do that day after day. I often wonder how the old guys ever did it, no wonder so many were lost at sea.
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"Odyssey"
1976 C&C 30 MKI

The pessimist complains about the wind.
The optimist expects it to change.
The realist adjusts the sails.
...Sir William Arthur Ward.

Last edited by Mo; 08-12-2021 at 10:20 AM.
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Old 08-12-2021, 11:55 AM
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Atomic 4s once WERE the standard engine, worked well, and knowledgeable mechanics for it easy to find.

Then the engines started getting old and both parts plus knowledge were hard to find. These were the dark days of the A4 when all a marine mechanic would do with one is replace it with a diesel. Your choices were essentially an old poorly maintained A4 or a newish diesel.

Now thanks largely to Moyer with an able assist from Indigo, parts and knowledge exist again. On top of that, a lot of diesels are now old enough to be on their last legs and some of them are totally unsupported.
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Old 08-12-2021, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by joe_db View Post
On top of that, a lot of diesels are now old enough to be on their last legs and some of them are totally unsupported.
Exactly Joe. It's not a week or two week wait for engine parts for a new diesel. Very few dealers stock items and they have to be ordered and shipped. Everything from injectors, mixing elbows and pumps have the engines down for weeks. I met a guy on this trip that was still waiting for a starter for a Yanmar. He was up in age as well as his wife, the trip being spent on a marina dock waiting for a starter to show up by courier....and being promised "you might get it today, it's been sent".

That all said, I am so impressed with how this engine of mine ran when I needed it. I knew it was there for the asking because I keep up on it and keep it simple.
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"Odyssey"
1976 C&C 30 MKI

The pessimist complains about the wind.
The optimist expects it to change.
The realist adjusts the sails.
...Sir William Arthur Ward.
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Old 08-12-2021, 02:11 PM
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I want to second the reliability of a well-maintained A4. Shortly after purchase, we replaced our badly maintained A4 with a rebuilt short block from MMI in 2010. Since then, we’ve put almost 2000 hrs and over 8000 nm on her, including a DelMarVa circumnavigation and two trips down the Atlantic ICW to Florida, the Bahamas, and back. The failures have almost all been in peripheral systems, mostly pumps. Specifically, over ten years:
*TWO failed facet pumps due to “stuck ball”
*Failed carb float with one chamber partially filled with gas
*Failed raw water pump bearing
*Leaky HX due to failed braze at the raw water connection
*Leaky coolant pump due to failed seal

and that’s it. Only one of these caused a delay of three days as we waited for a new pump to make its way to Coinjock, NC. (Now I carry a spare pump and a rebuild kit)
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Old 08-12-2021, 09:06 PM
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Great story Mo. I'll jump in and say I have an original 1966 early model A4 never rebuilt and runs great here in Chicago. I have had the boat 45 yrs with no major problems. Had starter/alternator rebuilt, carb cleaned multiple times, check point/ timing regularly, had new stand pipe exhaust made and CHANGE THE OIL RELIGIOUSLY TWICE A SEASON - MID SEASON AND PRIOR TO WINTER LAYOUT. I purchased a "rebuilt" A4 30yrs ago thinking I would need it one day - still stored in the crate. Can't imagine using any other engine.
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Old 08-13-2021, 10:12 AM
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Awesome

Hey Mo,
I like hearing that. As most of you know I've had Margarita almost a year now and have done a good bit of maintenance on the engine. When I got the boat a bunch of my friends told me that I had a money pit in the A4. So, the first few months I was very apprehensive every time we went out. Not any more, she has been incredible. I had a long motoring day (8 hours) returning from getting a bottom job and was really impressed. I shall defend my A4 to the death!!!

P.S. I'm thinking about going to the electronic ignition this winter.
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Old 08-13-2021, 12:12 PM
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The "money pit" description is quite accurate if you are paying for all work. Mechanics that know A4s are few and far between, the rest won't touch them or will charge big bucks to make it worse.
THAT is the weakness of them, if you expect to have someone do all your mechanical work a current production diesel is a better bet.
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Old 08-13-2021, 12:33 PM
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You are absolutely correct Jo. I even mentioned to a buddy the other day that an A4 is not for young folks. Most of them can barely put gas in a car. My 15 year old included (I know, I'm a failure as a dad). I grew up building motorcycle and car engines in the 70's, so I'm good with it.
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Old 08-14-2021, 04:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bayou Sailor View Post
You are absolutely correct Jo. I even mentioned to a buddy the other day that an A4 is not for young folks. Most of them can barely put gas in a car. My 15 year old included (I know, I'm a failure as a dad). I grew up building motorcycle and car engines in the 70's, so I'm good with it.
"

I have a few young fellas around that I help with engines. I do have a couple of rules though. If they don't listen to me and are party to their own demise they are on their own...a few learned that lesson.
1. Deep six the T stat both raw and antifreeze cooled.
2. Winterize with automobile antifreeze.
3. Pay attention to raw water pump grease.
4. Resistor on coil.
5. New Cap, rotor button, plugs and wires every few years. (Rust on cap screws is the main reason for this one...if it is corroded on there and I can't get it off we are done.)
6. Remove plugs end of year and lubricate the top end.
7. If I tell you your exhaust is configured wrong, don't call me for valve problems.

We have more and more A4's working around here these days. People listen, young and old, for these computer wizards this is easy stuff. They need a socket set, a pipe wrench set, a wiring kit with sealed joiners an tester, a box end wrench set...if they can figure out a computer they can figure out this. The problem is that mom and dad took care of the maintenance in their lives...guess what...now it's on them.
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"Odyssey"
1976 C&C 30 MKI

The pessimist complains about the wind.
The optimist expects it to change.
The realist adjusts the sails.
...Sir William Arthur Ward.
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Old 09-24-2021, 09:08 PM
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Are the Atomic 4 reliable...?? When I purchased my C&C 33 it came with the Atomic 4.

Bringing home my sailboat to its new home we need to travel 79 nautical miles,
even through all the safety checks were run thru... She heated up and stalled after 15 mins after leaving the marina and she continued that behaviour 3 more times on the way home.

Overheating continued even after changing out all the impellers... She was hauled out and everything was checked below... was this overheating due to a plugged thru hull that raw water entered.... That wasn't the problem.

A call was made to Moyer marine... explored and cleaned every nook and cranny of the engine looking for broken impeller parts, nothing found.

Checked the thermostat... that wasn't the issue.

Now on the haul out it was discovered she was over propped and struggled for a cruising speed 3 knots with a freshly painted bottom... The heating issue continued for the second season.

Then Covid hit and the Canada/ US border closed to any travel... I just got her back after 20 months of sitting idle.... After talking to Don Moyer he suggested that I bypass the heat exchanger and see how the engine performs...

Now this is the good part of my story... I bypassed the exchanger and went to a direct raw water cooling. Don assured me by doing so won't hurt the engine. Low and behold after a bad start up and it stalled 15 secs after turning over and smoked like crazy. I pulled my plugs cleaned them and re-gapped them put them back in and started it up again... She turned over and started and didn't overheat anymore.

Needed the engine to run to the lift dock pulled her out cleaned her bottoms and replaced the oversized prop with a fixed three blade RT 12x7 Campbell Sailer.

Here it gets even better... I needed to take her 39 nautical miles to report into Canada Customs and immediately leave to her new home.

With the bypass of the heat exchanger, clean bottom and new prop... Now I can cruise 5.9 kts cruise at 2,300 rpm... Max rpm 2,800 while under way.

I'll be honest I've been tinkering with this engine for almost 2 years before Covid hit, sat waiting for 20 month to get back to it... and it restarted with old gas that was 24 months in the tank.

I tell you all this so you understand... Yes the Atomic 4 is reliable, even if there are parts that fail... ie: heat exchanger, fouled plugs because the engine could not come up to cruising rpms due to an oversized prop.

Take care of you engine and she'll always be there for you... Atomic 4's are reliable and easy to maintain. I don't ever want to change to diesel.

Happy sailings to you.
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Old 09-25-2021, 10:30 AM
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Plenty of boats with diesels have clogged heat exchangers, wrong props, fuel pump problems, and so on. As you found out, most of the problems most of us have are not inside the engine itself, gas or diesel.
If I swap out for a diesel it would be for more power and more range, not because the A4 doesn't work
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Old 09-26-2021, 11:12 AM
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Piling on here

Just want to add my two cents.

One reason for my radio silence here - my A4 has been extremely reliable. Due largely to the great insights and counsel that I have received over the years from Don and Ken, and of course from others across this fantastic community.

The boat had clearly been used as a floating cocktail lounge for some time by the previous owner. And so the PO had fallen behind on engine maintenance. But with the help of this forum and a good buddy, this novice was able to tune the engine back into shape. Where she has delivered reliable performance for years.

I too keep things simple. Years ago, I purchased an electronic ignition from Moyer, but still yet to install it....

Per Don's advice, I still rely on my original Holley t-stat after I test it every year before launch.

My A4 remains Raw Water Cooled, so I religiously flush and backflush it at the start of every season. Strictly fresh water, so I think the risk / reward tradeoff is in my favor on this one. For now anyway.

KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Words for me to live by....

My A4 won't last forever. But I consider myself way ahead. Years ago, the local shipyard insisted that I swap out for a diesel. With plenty of help from this lot, I was able to bring the A4 back. And have therefore been the beneficiary of many good times on the water over the subsequent years.

Much thanks to all of you!
Brian
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Old 09-27-2021, 03:04 PM
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Fired right up after 2 years on the hard

To jump in on what others are saying about reliability of the A4...

Because of border closures I was away from my Canada-based C&C27 / A4 for two years.

Today I finally got to the boat club. After a needed battery charge... she pretty much fired right up. Only a small delay because I had the throttle in idle - operator error - no fault of the A4.

Nice to see Mo and many of the regulars still are on the Afourian site.
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Old 09-29-2021, 12:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Orion C&C 33 View Post
With the bypass of the heat exchanger, clean bottom and new prop... Now I can cruise 5.9 kts cruise at 2,300 rpm... Max rpm 2,800 while under way.
What speed are you getting at 2800 RPM? That is impressive, I don't think I can get past maybe 2400 with my Indigo prop.
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Old 09-29-2021, 08:32 PM
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Nice to see Mo and many of the regulars still are on the Afourian site.
Steve, We are still here! Welcome back!
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"Twice Around" - '77 Catalina 30, #511 with original A-4 & MMI manifold.
She is even happier with fresh paint on the topsides!

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