Shipyard Project No. 4: Repair of Rotten Engine Stringer

And you thought you were going to get to paint the engine today.  Silly you!  I thought I would give you guys a flavor of just how frustrating some of these boat projects can often be.  If Phillip and I could just wake up, list one thing we wanted to accomplish on the boat that day, and actually be able to do it—just by sheer will—we’d be some might happy boat-owners.  But, no matter your will power or persistence, what you are able to get done each day on the boat is dictated entirely by what the boat has in store for you.  What’s hiding inside that project?  Maybe it’s hidden deck rot.  Maybe it’s a thirty-year bolt that’s bonded for life.  Maybe it’s a piece that breaks upon removal.  A bad design.  Faulty wiring.  Failing parts.  Only the boat knows.  And she will only tell you once you roll up your sleeves and get your hands in there.

Get in there people!

Our goal that particular day was to do exactly what you all said you wanted to see: start the engine paint project.  All that stood in the way of that lofty goal was aligning the engine first.  Typically that’s not too bad of a job. A couple of hours turning bolts and checking with feeler gauges.  “No problem,” we thought.  “We’ll be painting by noon.”

The boat had other plans.  This was one of those surprise projects we hadn’t planned for.  Projects beget projects …

You see, it’s not often a boat owner aligns his engine.  I would imagine some never find the need to do it during the course of their ownership. But, anytime you remove the prop and re-insert it, you have to realign the engine to within the tiniest thousands of degrees.  To be such a rugged, hearty engine, it does have a delicate side.  Or so I’m learning.

I’ll be honest I did not know at first what this is.  Do you?

It is an engine mount. And, while that title seems totally self-explanatory (“Ahh, they’re used to mount the engine to the boat”) I still did not know precisely what they did.  Turns out, they are adjustable.  These are precisely how you align the engine. You adjust the engine mounts with many tedious quarter turns to align the engine so the prop has a perfect straight shot to the transmission.  As many of you have noticed from our photos, some crazy nut put our engine in backwards. And, don’t worry, I’ve heard all the jokes: “You can only go forward in reverse!”  They are rather funny, but with this set-up we have two engine mounts on the forward side of the engine—one on starboard and one on port—and a single engine mount in the center of the cradle on the aft side of the engine.

You can see the engine mount here on starboard in the far left corner of the photo:

In the back, we have a cradle that supports the engine with a mount in the center:

I’ll bet you can imagine engine mounts that have been sitting undisturbed for some time don’t like it when you start shoving a wrench around their neck and trying to twist them. They respond like Oscar the Grouch. Much like the one stubborn bolt on our steering quadrant, we had one engine mount that simply would not let go. And, of course!  (Because this is how the Boat Gods show they really love you!) Luckily we had engine mount replacements for the two forward mounts, which were still serviceable but pretty far gone, the one mount we did not have a replacement for was the one that was giving us trouble.  The Aft Grouch!

Shane with Perdido Sailor tried many times to get her to budge, but she was bonded for good.  So, we were forced to order a new mount from Westerbeke (which put us behind another four days on aligning the engine).  Now, are you starting to feel me on the boat project frustration?  But we were trying to keep the optimism.

“No problem,” we thought.  “Just a small delay.”  But, when Shane started to remove the engine from the stringers and raise it up on blocks so we could install the new mounts when we had all three, this happened:

Another rotten stringer!  I mean … 

Shane was actually reluctant to tell me because he knew what we had gone through the last time we found rotten stringers on our boat.  I guess if you want to ever consider yourself lucky when you’re facing what may seem like a very bad boat problem, take comfort in that moment knowing if you ever face that problem again, you’ll know exactly how to solve it.  The easiest project to do on the boat is one you’ve done before.  Because you already know all the mistakes not to make this time around!  When Shane asked me if I wanted him and his guys to get on the rotten engine stringer repair, I said: “Nope.  I’ve got this one.”

As many of you may recall, back in 2015, Phillip and I discovered the stringers under our mast step had been rotting for some time.  Enough so that the mast was crushing its way down into the boat with a visible bump showing in the stringer just under the mast step.  This is what launched our extensive “Hard Times on the Hard” season of footage in the shipyard when we spent three months on the hill repairing our rotten stringers, replacing the rigging, and doing about a thousand other things while we were there.  That stay at the yard is what easily prepared us for this comparatively short period on the hill (only 4.5 weeks this time, as opposed to 3 months back in 2016).

Russ with Perdido Sailor and I worked side-by-side for a solid week carving all of the rot out of our stringers under the mast, cleaning and smoothing the work area, creating thick way-overbuilt coosa-board fillers and laying down 163 (yes, 163!) pieces of glass into the backbone of our boat.  She’s now stronger than ever.  If any of you have not yet seen that project, I put together a great montage video below for Brandon showcasing the repairs, or you can watch the detailed videos (Part One and Part Two) I created for our YouTube channel, or scroll through the photos below.

   

That was a … monster job. But one that we tackled alongside the guys at the yard.  And, Phillip and I learned a great deal about structural repairs and fiberglass work while we did it.  While it was definitely not fun or cheap, it was undeniably necessary to repair the boat and highly educational.  And, it has started to pay for itself over time.  Because you know who handled the repair of this rotten stringer portion under our engine?

Yours Truly.

While the guys at the yard were great to set me up with the right tools and supervision, it turned out to be a project I could totally handle on my own.  (Which to be honest, just felt pretty fucking cool.)  Once I started digging into the stringer, I found it, thankfully, was not rotted the entire way through—just a portion which, no surprise, laid right underneath our raw water pump.

 

Before we replaced our Sherwood pump with a Johnson a couple of years back, we had battled leaks from our raw water pump and rebuilt and replaced that Sherwood several times with still no luck.  We put the Johnson pump in in 2017 and haven’t had a drop down there since.  But, Sherwood had already done his damage.  However, I was pleased to find it was just a small portion of the stringer.

I will say, just like our stringers under the mast step, these stringers under the engine were not glassed on top.  This just baffles me.  So, the vertical surface where water will probably sit and where bolts will likely be drilled into—that area—you’re not going to glass.  Just the sides and leave the top as fresh, exposed wood?  While I love our boat and most of the design features, these stringers left un-sealed and exposed on the top was just not a good idea.  But, c’est la vie.  I’ve said my peace.  It is what it is.  We had rot. I had to fix it.

I showed the boys at the yard the amount of damaged wood I was able to pick and scrape away and I recommended I then cut a square portion out that we could replace with coosa inserts (much like we had done with the rotten stringers under our mast) and glass them in to build the stringer back up.  Once I got the okay, I was set to work.

The hardest part of this job (and it was a very uncomfortable four-or-so hours for me squished and sweaty down in the engine room) was cutting out the square notch. There is just not a lot of room down there and the configuration forces some very hard angles of your body and wrists in order to accomplish square cuts.  Plus, that marine plywood (when it is not compromised by rot) is some pretty dense stuff.  It took a while with a Ryobi handheld blade and an air blade saw to get it knocked out, but I did it!

 

 

I then made templates (beginning first with construction paper) for the coosa inserts.  I made Phillip cut the coosa (as payment for my services down in the engine room ; ) and they ended up being a very nice fit.

 

Our first step (again, much like we did with the mast step stringer inserts) was to “butter them up” as Brandon says, and glass them into place.

The next day I floated some of the gaps with 610 for a nice flush fit.

Then Brandon had the good idea to make a batch of resin and use a syringe to inject it down where the fiberglass walls of our stringers had started to pull away from the wood and then clamp them back to the wood for rigidity.  This is the port stringer, which did not have rot, but we still needed to glue the fiberglass walls back into place:

Brandon also recommended we then lay a sheet of glass over everything over to seal it all up, allowing no more water intrusion.

I will say I got some props from the boys at the yard for handling this one on my own (and on my own time, so my own dime).  I was quite pleased, as well, with how it turned out.

Shane helped us to cut and lay glass on the other stringer as well, just for added measure.

It truly is amazing he fits down there, but I can’t tell you how many times he went up and down the ladder and squeezed himself down there to do hours upon hours of work.  “Think small thoughts,” he was say, jokingly, as he made his way down.

And, very much Brandon-style, Brandon recommended (while we already in there glassing) to go ahead and add two extra supports on the front of the engine near the transmission to help keep Westie extra secure.  Do any of you know what these support beams are called?

Gussets!

I was learning something new everyday.  And, the “rounded corners” you make with resin and 406 (because fiberglass does not like 90-degree angles) are called fillets.  I’ll spare you the crazy conversation Shane and I had him trying to explain to me how to make fillets for the gussets.  I was a lost cause at first, but the boys stuck with me and dumbed things down a bit so I could pick up what they were putting down and *voila!*  It was totally worth it!

We also painted the entire area around and under the engine, including the stringers, so everything would be pristine for the re-mount.  I knew a fresh coat of Bilgekote grey would make the perfect back-drop for our bright-and-shiny Westie-red!

Next up, we paint that puppy!  Who’s excited?!

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4 Responses to Shipyard Project No. 4: Repair of Rotten Engine Stringer

  1. Jw says:

    Annie,
    You make it look easy! Great job!

  2. Chris Varvarosky says:

    You asked, what do you call the brace that is at a right angle to the engine stringer? I would call it a gusset.
    I want to thank you for your videos, without them I wouldn’t have know what a Niagara 35 was and wouldn’t have even considered buying one. My wife and I are currently in Dunkirk N.Y. on our way to the Erie canal in our Niagara 35. We hope to get to Ft Pierce Florida then to the Bahamas this winter. We have had one spirited sail so far, 30kts dead down wind in Lake Erie chop. The boat handled great,with just a little headsail rolled out, and auto could keep up. I have been posting updates to facebook.

  3. Pingback: Shipyard Project No. 5: Re-Painting and Re-Insulating the Engine | Have Wind Will Travel

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