Our Riser/Elbow Saga (Part 1): Oops … UPS Did It Again!

The telling of this tale.  Where to begin?  This was quite possibly one of the most frustrating boat projects Phillip and I have ever taken on.  And, this comes from a couple who has re-rigged their boat (switching from rod rigging to wire) and replaced the portlights (which was way worse than the rigging) …

While those projects were infuriating at times, I don’t think they came with quite as many punches to the gut.  Not quite the emotional roller coaster that this one launched us on.  Followers, it’s time to share.  I give you …

Our Riser/Elbow Saga (Part 1): Oops … UPS Did It Again!

August, 2021:

B.O.A.T.  “Broke Or About To” I think the saying goes.  This applies equally to new boats, as well as old … IF … you don’t keep up with the maintenance.  (And sometimes even when you do.  It is a boat, right?).   The same was true with our Outbound 46.  A 2015, it had only been built six years prior, but it still had several maintenance issues we were aware of going in.  Minor things that were openly discussed during our purchase negotiations, but still items we needed to deal with and most of which our former owner, Jim, even offered to help us with over the summer. Jim was truly top notch in that regard. We got a heck of a draw with our former owner.  A few of the items required we haul the boat to tackle, so we scheduled a haul-out at Bert Jabin Yacht Yard (known locally as “Jabin’s”) in Annapolis August 2, 2021.  And, for us as I’m sure it is the same with many cruisers, once you decide to haul the boat to do “a few things,” you’ve just given the proverbial mouse a cookie.  The list grew.  These were our main items:

8.2.21 – 8.13.21 SHIPYARD LIST

  1. Rebuild the Auto Prop (one blade was sticking a bit, not spinning quite as freely)
  2. Repair the Speedo valve (to stop the geyser it created when taking out the transducer)
  3. Bottom job, buff, and spruce up boot stripe and hull
  4. Unseize manual bilge pump seacock in port lazarette
  5. Replace Spurs (crab pod) cutter on prop
  6. Replace prop anode
  7. Replace (or clean out) the galley drain hose (that was occasionally clogging)
  8. Repair/rebuild the Yanmar riser and elbow

During our survey/sea-trial in Annapolis in March, 2021, both our surveyor, Robert (“Bobby”) Noyce, and Steve D’Antonio, who we hired to conduct a pre-purchase inspection (highly recommended), both found the seizing wire on the wrap around our riser/elbow on our 4JH80 Yanmar engine was rusted and needed to be removed and inspected to determine whether the elbow was leaking and needed to be replaced. 

Excerpt from Robert Noyce’s Survey for Ubiquitous

Yanmar recommends you replace the riser/elbow on their 4JH80 every 500 hours or two years (whichever comes sooner), which did seem pretty extreme.  But, in an effort to be prudent boat owners, Phillip and I pulled the riser/elbow on our Yanmar when we were hauled out so we could inspect it, determine if it was corroded or leaking, and, if so, have a new one fabricated by a skilled marine fabricator who came highly recommended to us through the Outbound community.

August 3, 2021 – We Haul and Send the Old Elbow to the Fabricator

Once removed, we found the riser/elbow wrap was highly corroded and indicated a likely leak at the weld where the tubes were joined. 

We sent the old, corroded elbow to a skilled fabricator in Norfolk, VA for inspection and, we presumed, necessary fabrication of a new riser/elbow we could install on the boat to have her running good as new.  Our fabricator advised the turn-around on a newly fabricated riser/elbow would likely run a week or two so we were hopeful we could get the new one back and slapped on the boat before our splash date of August 13, 2021.  [Insert fingers crossed emoji here].

While he worked, we had plenty of other projects to distract us:

Rebuilding of the Auto Prop (with exceptional help from Roderick at King Propulsion and Jim in his Severn House Boatworks workshop! : )

Re-painting the bottom, buffing out our hull, fixing our Speedo valve, unseizing our bilge pump seacock, installing our prop cutter, and a dozen other little things by Greg with Annapolis Boat Service

I will say the one thing I did conquer myself was unclogging the galley drain hose.  Turns out it was just clogged with oil and gunk so we didn’t have to snake a new hose in.  Whew! 

August 13, 2021 – We Splash Back Engineless

Unfortunately, our fabricator—being in very high demand in Norfolk—had a client emergency come up in August that he had to devote his time to and he wasn’t able to turn our newly-fabricated elbow/riser around in two weeks as we had hoped.  That was an impressive prospect to begin with, so Phillip and I weren’t too disheartened.  He did send us some fun pictures of the progress he was making in the interim which was exciting.  The new riser/elbow sure was shiny!

Not wanting to spend more costly days on the hard waiting for a riser/elbow that wasn’t critical for the splash, we decided to drop the boat without a working engine and have the team at Jabin’s tow us safely back to our slip, which was just across the way in Back Creek.  They were exceptional, too, in their white-gloved, ginger delivery of our boat safely into her slip.  Can’t say enough good things about Roddy, Nacho, and all the guys there.

September 10, 2021 – We Receive the New and Old Elbows Back from Our Fabricator

What a day!  After a month not running, sitting in her slip, our beautiful new Outbound was finally going to be turned over, revved up, and ready for the races.  We even had a fun raft-up planned with our former owners, Jim and Ann, who were sailing a friend’s Beneteau at the time, Moltobene, and owners of another outbound (Hull No. 7, Serendipitous), Peter and Patty, out at Shaw Bay on the east side of the Chesapeake.  I first introduced these fabulous new friends—Jim, Ann, Peter, and Patty in our Fourth of July blog.  The raft-up was going to be the perfect way to celebrate our hard work on the hard and our newly commissioned riser/elbow.  Everything was falling right into place until … it wasn’t. 

When we tried to install the newly-fabricated riser/elbow, with the help of David from Bay Shore Marine/Diversified, also at Jabin’s, it was just a smidge off.  A smidge!?  Unfortunately, the work space in our old engine room on our Niagara 35 really puts our new engine room to shame.  Where we used to have pretty decent 360-degree access to our Westerbeke (I could literally sit crossed-legged behind the engine and work), on the Outbound … well.  It’s super tight quarters, likely a computer designed space, where every component on the engine fits within millimeters of space. 

And, the riser/elbow on the Yanmar in our Outbound is not one you can just order online from Yanmar.  It’s custom fabricated to fit in our computer-generated tight engine room.  And, without being able to lay his hands on the space, using only our old riser/elbow as a guide, our fabricator got it within centimeters.  But, the angle of the downward tube (that’s what Annie called it) was just a little tight and would not allow the air handler to bolt back on the engine.  David and Phillip wrangled and wrestled and tried to make it work but we had to face the bad news.  Our weekend raft-up on UbiQ was a bust.  At least we thought that was the extent of our bad news. 

We marked the spot where the new riser/elbow needed to be bent just slightly and shipped it back (from Annapolis) to our fabricator (in Norfolk) overnight on September 10th.  Feeling terrible, although he shouldn’t have—our fabricator had graciously offered his entire weekend to fix the problem, bend the new riser/elbow, and ship it back to us, overnight as well, on Monday.  He was exceptionally devoted to us on this project. 

September 10, 2021: We Ship the Old and New Elbows Back to Our Fabricator for Modification

Everything went remarkably smoothly.  (Especially considering we were still able to join the raft-up, albeit not rafted on our boat, but Peter and Patty were super gracious to invite us to join them aboard Serendipitous for the weekend out at Shaw Bay with Moltobene, and we had a blast!) 

Our fabricator called us on Saturday morning to let us know the new and old riser/elbows had arrived at his shop in Norfolk, VA and he set immediately to work.  He was able to bend the new riser/elbow to more closely match the old one and was prepared on Sunday evening to ship them both back to us first thing on Monday when UPS opened.  So, it seemed like the “slight bend” issue was just a minor setback.  “Just a weekend.  No big deal,” Phillip and I said, remaining cheerful.  Little did we know …

September 13, 2021: Our Fabricator Ships the Old and New(ly Bent) Elbows Back to Us

September 14, 2021, Phillip and I are waiting eagerly to hear from our local UPS location in Annapolis that a package had arrived at our box.  The newly bent riser/elbow was scheduled to arrive via overnight shipping on the 14th, and we were eager to see her fit beautifully so we could finally turn the engine over—snow six weeks after we had removed the old riser/elbow—and, hopefully, just in time for our planned offshore cruise.  One of the primary reasons Phillip and I bought the Outbound was for her offshore performance and we had yet to even take her out of Chesapeake Bay since we got her.  For this reason, we had planned to take a little ten-day excursion out into the Atlantic, make a loop, and come back into the C&D Canal for our first offshore shakedown on the boat before—what we were planning at the time—our two-week trip to the Bermudas and the Caribbean for the winter.  Our calendars were miraculously cleared for two weeks in the last half of September to do it.  All we needed was the riser/elbow back from our fabricator to make it happen. 

Nearing late afternoon on September 14th, however, we received no notification from UPS.  Not a beep, not a ding on our phones.  Nothing.  We finally decided to just stop by the store in hopes of finding a big box from our fabricator sitting there waiting for us.  When I gave the guy at the desk the tracking number, his first response worried me.  “This wasn’t sent overnight.  It was sent UPS ground.”  That didn’t sound right.  Our fabricator had shipped it overnight.  He told us he even talked to the supervisor guy at his location to be sure it was sent overnight.  He was adamant about it.  But, by some weird UPS glitch it had been sent ground, which meant it likely would not arrive for a couple of days.  “Just a couple of days.  No big deal,” Phillip and I said.  We’ll just head offshore a little later than we had planned.  Little did we know …

September 14-18, 2021: The Package Suffers a “Sortation Delay”

That’s what the UPS tracking site told us.  We had already called the UPS folks probably 10 times by now, trying to figure out what the status of the package was and we were told, time and again, “By 10 am tomorrow the website will show the newest information.  We can’t tell you anything before that time.”  Well, 10am came, and the “new information” was the package had suffered a “sortation delay.”  No one could really tell us what that meant.  Other than, the package was somewhere (either on a truck or in a building somewhere, they would not tell us where) between Richmond and Norfolk, VA, and that it could not be properly sorted to be sent to Annapolis. 

This “sortation delay” continued to show day after day after day on the UPS tracking website.  Phillip and I emailed.  We called.  We waited on hold.  We shouted to “SPEAK TO A HUMAN!”  We both knew our tracking number by heart.  We recited it in our sleep.  After all this trouble, I should have had it tattooed on my arm.  (Yes, I can still recite it to this day – I did not have to look this up: K2519996757).  To say UPS was sympathetic would be a stretch.  We begged to speak to supervisors.  We told them each day our package was delayed it cost us to stay in a hotel or AirBnB (as we could not stay aboard the boat where she was docked at the time, so each day we could not leave the dock and live aboard cost us lodging).  We told UPS it was a custom part that could not be replaced.  We implored and pleaded and tried not to shout (to the people – the robots got earfuls).  We were in UPS purgatory, or some version of shipping hell. 

I begged the UPS people to just tell me where, physically, the package was.  Norfolk was just a few hours’ drive from Annapolis.  I would have been more than thrilled to rent a car and haul my happy ass over there to pick it up, without a complaint even.  But, I guess UPS has been bombarded before by angry customers.  They had wised up and would not divulge the location of the package, no matter how many times I asked, begged, cried. 

September 19, 2021: UPS Assigns an Investigation Team

Phillip and I were excited, at first.  An investigation team.  Like trackers.  They were going to find our box.  “It’s not like it’s a little envelope,” one of our good friends said who was following our tragic tale in real time.  “It wouldn’t just slip between the seats.”  And, he was right (nod to you, Stephen).  This was like a 2- by 3-foot box!  It weighed 15 pounds!  And it was just sitting somewhere.  Suffering a “sortation delay.”  All the while, mine and Phillip’s plan to go offshore was melting away like a dream when you wake up and can’t recall the details.  We knew that wasn’t happening anymore.  UPS had **cked us on that one.  But, at least we had an investigation team!  They were going to find it.  “It’ll just come two weeks later.  No big deal,” we told ourselves. 

But, on day two of UPS’s alleged “investigation,” during one of my ten daily calls to UPS—“Tracking number K2519996757” I said strictly from memory—the gal (likely working in a cubicle somewhere overseas) said something that slapped me in the face.  “After the investigation, they’ll send you a form and you can submit a claim.”  Send me a form?  A claim?  But I need my package?  There was something in the way she had said “after the investigation.”  All of a sudden it sounded like a formality.  Just a box to be checked.  “An investigation.”  Even though I’d spent another 20 minutes of waiting and shouting “SPEAK TO A HUMAN,” just to reach her, I hung up.  For some reason, I just knew then that it was over.  They weren’t really looking for our package.  What had I been thinking?  Investigation … Pssh!  It was laughable.  Somewhere deep in a little dark crevice of my heart I just knew …

September 22, 2021: UPS LOST OUR PACKAGE

And this package did not contain just the new riser that we had fabricated.  It contained the old one, too.  The only piece of metal we had in the world at the time that actually fit in the weird, quirky space that made our engine run.  We had lost both in one foul blow from UPS. Lost.  I still couldn’t half believe it.  How do you seriously lose a big package like that?  Just lose it!?

Now, Phillip and I just had a gaping hole in our engine room, one from the heat exchanger to the exhaust hose that ran out the back where a custom riser/elbow was supposed to fit.  All we had was empty air, no template to work from, and a shallow one-sentence email from UPS advising us they had lost our package and that we could file a claim for the “cost of the item lost.” The cost?!  We were livid.  Money couldn’t fill the hole in our engine room and make the Yanmar turn over.  It had cost us two weeks of lodging.  A lost offshore opportunity.  Maybe even …

It was then that the paralyzing thought struck us …

September, 2021: Winter Is Coming and Our Boat Isn’t Going Anywhere

The thought of our new boat, our beautiful offshore champion, our island-bound luxury home, sitting in freezing Annapolis for the winter was just … sickening.  Phillip and I needed solutions.  Hell, we needed a miracle.  We asked our fabricator if he could make a new one from scratch.  “I’m sorry, I’m having cataract surgery,” he told us.  Of course you are!  We called Collection Yachts (who now owns Outbound Yachts) to see if they could ship us a replacement from the yard in China, where our boat was built.  “The yard is closed for a week.  It’s Chinese holiday.”  Of course it is!  We called and begged multiple marine vendors in Annapolis.  “It’s boat show time.  We’re booked for months,” they scoffed.  Of course you are!  It was getting laughable at this point.  Except there wasn’t anything funny about the thought of our new badass boat getting hauled back out and sitting sadly up on jacks, wrapped and frigid, for months.   That’s when I got desperate. 

It was time to run around with cookies. 

Stay tuned to find out how this riser/elbow saga wraps!  (Teaser, there may be a brand new Outbound involved … just sayin … ).

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