Dismantling, removing and replacing a cutter’s main diesel engine is a job requiring teamwork, logistical coordination and planning under the best of circumstances. Replacing both engines at once doubles the complexity. Doing an unscheduled dual engine swap is a unique challenge the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Edisto and engineers from Sector San Diego recently tackled.During patrols in late 2011, concerns were raised about the reliability of the cutter’s aging engines and the decision was made to replace both, said Chief Petty Officer Jon Prince, Edisto’s engineering petty officer. With just a week to prepare, members of Sector San Diego’s naval engineering department began working out the particulars of how the project could be accomplished. They located two replacement engines, one at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore and the other at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, Calif. Pier space where the work could be performed was located at Naval Base San Diego and the services of a rigging team and crane operators were reserved. A special bracket to attach the engines to the crane for hoisting was also shipped to San Diego from the Surface Forces Logistics Center in Baltimore. “The hardest part is the unknown,” said Chief Warrant Officer Tracy Wade, a naval engineer at sector. “The big thing is this was an unscheduled change, so you just hope everything gets here in time.” The pieces were nearly in place, however engine stands could not be found in time, so railroad ties were cut to size for the old engines to rest on after removal. The Edisto was relocated to Naval Base San Diego and a flurry of work began.
“At any given time there were up to a dozen people working on separate things to achieve the same goal,” said Prince. “We had to ensure that everything was labeled and accounted for. This plant had to go back together in the end, and there are a lot of hiding places on board for bags full bolts.”
Each 16-cylinder engine was drained of fluid, disconnected from piping and wiring, separated from the reduction gears that connect them to the propeller shafts, and loosened from the mounts that held them to the engine room floor. Many of the 1,000 bolts holding the soft patch, removable sections of the cutter’s deck and superstructure, were removed in preparation for the project. The remaining bolts were removed and the soft patch was craned off, allowing access to the engine room. Navy riggers assisted with attaching the 10-ton engines to the crane cable and maneuvering them out of the tight quarters of the engine room. Once the old engines were removed, the whole process was reversed. The new engines were lowered in from the pier and coaxed into position with pry bars. A specialist was brought in to help with the painstaking alignment process, ensuring the engines lined up precisely with the propeller shafts.
After 24 days of labor, all the bolts, pipes and wiring were back in place and the Edisto’s engines came to life for the first time. An initial billow of smoke from the new engines alarmed some bystanders on base, said Prince. Everything was functioning properly, though, and after sea trials Edisto was declared fully mission capable once again. “Having a dependable propulsion plant that will bring my crew home safely has alleviated a lot of stress and allowed us all to focus on mission execution that much more,” said Lt. Phillip Baxa, commanding officer of the Edisto. Since Baxa assumed command in June 2011, the “Lucky Eddie” has been involved in several high-profile rescue cases, including being the first surface asset on scene when a Marine Corps F-18 jet went down off the coast of Mexico. They were also part of counter-drug operations that prevented nearly two tons of marijuana from reaching U.S. shores.