That’s what Brandon calls a bad install on a boat … one that must have been done by a lazy worker on a Friday afternoon. This was such a fun treat to come home to! To find one of my articles in SAIL Magazine. Love those guys. If you haven’t picked up a copy of SAIL Magazine’s January, 2019 issue, go snag you one and check out this piece covering the work we did last summer reinforcing the rudder post system on our Niagara 35 under the cockpit floor. Brandon, Shane, and the entire team at Perdido Sailor, as always, did a bang-up job and were a lot of fun to work and learn with (even when we were crammed for hours on end in the engine room!). Our rudder is now stronger than ever! You can read more nitty, gritty details (with photos for my boat project gurus!) here or watch the video here. But, let me know if you’ve seen the article! I don’t care how silly it may seem, I never tire of seeing my name in print! : ) Enjoy the piece! Heck, read it this afternoon!
And, I loved the pretty pink sail they featured on the cover of this issue! With two ladies rocking it out. Way to go Women Sailors! And, nice work with this issue SAIL Magazine!
Calling all boat project fanatics, this one’s for you! Boy, did we have a time trying to get our engine aligned. While Phillip and I knew we had some kind of issue going on with our prop shaft, the key that fits in the shaft (which was always coming out and we were hammering back in, brilliant plan!), and our coupling, we didn’t know it was quite as bad as it was.
Watch along as Brandon, Shane, and the great team at http://www.perdidosailor.com help us diagnose and solve many issues relating to our prop shaft and how it seats in the transmission. We had a machinist re-engineer our old coupling and make us a new one. We also re-bedded the strut and replaced the gutless bearing.
And, just as boat projects always do, the boat had a lot of extra hidden work in store for us in the form of a rotten engine stringer portion (under the raw water pump on starboard, no surprise) that we had to repair along the way. Fun, fun! Misery loves company! Give it a watch! More photos and write-up available at http://www.havewindwilltravel.com.
I hope you all have been enjoying these shipyard videos while Phillip and I were off galavanting across the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll have plenty to share from that adventure once we get our heads back on straight. It can be hard, at times, to transition from offshore sailors back to full-time lawyers/marketing gurus. But, the work is always worth it. In exchange for all of those photos and videos of us out sailing and traveling the globe, enjoy seeing us here all grimy and greasy wedged down in the engine room on our boat! You’re welcome! B.O.A.T., am I right? : )
Maybe they should change that B.O.A.T. saying to “bonded or about to.” The hardest part of our rudder drop was getting the stinking quadrant off! Heat, impact, cheater bars, nothing would work. So, the creative guys at Perdido Sailor had to come up with a different fix, and boy did they!
Ahoy crew! Shipyard Vid #2 coming at you, from Cascias, Portugal nonetheless! I put this video together a while back so you all would have something fun to watch while we were embarking on our second Atlantic-crossing helping deliver a new Lagoon across the pond from France to the USVIs! I know how you all LOVE boat project videos, so here’s another one for you from our interesting work at the shipyard this past summer.
While I wrote about this project several months back here, some of my followers love to see the video! This one’s for you! Phillip and I always enjoy working alongside the guys at the yard because we learn so much. They point out problems we didn’t even know we had and teach us fixes we didn’t even know were possible.
Watch here as we (finally!) get the quadrant off and make the necessary modifications to do that, check on our G-flexed keel seam from 2016, replace the cables for the throttle and shifter (because, according to Video Annie, they sounded like “Grandma’s panties coming down”), and shared some fun lighthearted joshing at the yard!
We hope you are all enjoying the shipyard videos and having a great time tracking us along while we are sailing back across the Atlantic Ocean. Follow on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/havewindwilltravel for real-time updates and locations via our Delorme!
Hey hey crew! As I write from La Rochelle, I have a confession to make. I’ve been saving a treat for you! I was holding this for when I knew we would likely be shoving offshore, so you all would have a fun video to watch as we struck out tomorrow into the notorious Bay of Biscay. We’re planning to head out tomorrow for either a short hop to a new port or a quick shakedown and turn-around. Either way, we’ll get water moving under the hull, learn a lot about the boat and crew’s capabilities and quirks, and hopefully make it to a new port in southern France or even Spain. The adventure begins! And, to celebrate the moment: a gift for you all! Your favorite, a (drumroll please) … SHIPYARD VIDEO! : )
I know how much you guys loooove our boat project/shipyard videos. Misery must love company, although I will say Phillip and I are far from miserable when we’re working on our boat. It beats sitting at a desk any day! While I wrote about this project previously (Shipyard Project #1: Reinforcing Our Rudder), this will be a very fun “catch-up” video for my folks who are strictly YouTube followers as these videos will bring you up to speed on all of the very cool work and upgrades we’ve been doing on our boat this past summer while Phillip and I attempt to complete our first Atlantic Circle this winter by helping some new friends deliver their new Lagoon 42 from La Rochelle, France to the BVIs. You’ll meet Kate and Cyrus with CruiseNautic soon, a very fun, adventurous pair. I guess you have to be to willingly hop on a small boat and sail across the Atlantic, am I right?
When we finish that voyage, Phillip and I will fly home to Pensacola, work for several months and then shove off on our baby girl, the beautiful Plaintiff’s Rest, to sail her as south as possible for hurricane season next year. Likely Grenada. We are not riding out another season in the corner pocket or the Gulf. It is horrendous to see what hurricanes can do.
I’ve got several more Shipyard Videos coming over the next few weeks so you all will have some fun things to watch while we are crossing the pond. Be sure to follow along on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/havewindwilltravel) where we will be posting via satellite through our Delorme. That way you can track us in real time across the Atlantic. Giddyup!
At first, we couldn’t really get our “heads” wrapped around it, but once the system started to make sense (a simple composting unit vented to the outside), and we realized all of the nasty things we were about to remove from the boat, Phillip and I were all for it! As you can imagine, we asked around to many, many boat owners about the pros and cons of going with a composting head, and the really far-fetched cons we heard came from boatowners who didn’t even have a composting head on their boat! Psssshhh …
From those owners who had swapped to a composting head (including Andy and Mia from 59-North), the only true con that was noted was the head is a bit taller and there is the occasional hard-over tack that might prevent urine from making it to the bin. “But, in the rare event that happens,” Mia told me, “you just straighten the boat up for a minute while you do your business, and that’s that.” Most owners with composting heads told us they were thoroughly pleased with the function and smell (which for most is non-existent, but even those who did not vent theirs told us the light mulch smell was far preferred over the previous smell of the holding tank and it’s many nasty hoses). And, I don’t think I’ve heard of a single boat owner with a composting head going back to a manual toilet and a holding tank, which should tell you a lot. In addition, many RV’ers raved about their composting heads, so helpful articles like this one from RV lifestyle helped to inform our decision as well.
While the install was a little tricky for us (mostly because we wanted to route the venting in a way that turned out very clean using the old channels that were designed for the propane water heater that was previously on the boat), it was really not that hard. I did most of it on my own with little oversight. Is it a stinky, shitty job? Yes. The removal, anyway. But, it’s no worse than changing out your holding tank hoses which has to be done every so-many years, and you can take great comfort in knowing that is the last time you will ever have to experience the pleasant feel of having your hands covered in your own … stuff! You’re welcome for that odorific memory. That was a fun day on Plaintiff’s Rest.
Phillip and I have also been using the new composting head on the hook after our install and we are thrilled with it. I will admit, the urine bin (we opted for the small one) is a bit small, only a gallon. And, it turns out, after an evening of wine, that’s about equivalent to Annie’s bladder. So, I do have to empty that bin a couple of times a day, but it’s like a 30-second chore, so no big deal. Regarding the “mulch,” we were told each coco brick lasts about 3-4 weeks with regular use. You can get five bricks for around $20 through Amazon. So, the cost is roughly $4-5/month. Each brick is about 8” long, 4” wide and 2-3” inches tall. So, a six-month supply likely fits in the size of a milk crate. I can assure a full year’s supply would be a mere fraction of the space our 25-gallon holding tank previously occupied.
A good friend and fellow captain and his wife (Russell and Lynn, hello!) who have used a composting head for years advised you soak one brick in one quart of fresh water overnight. It expands to about twice its size (roughly two gallons worth of material). Then you break it up into the composting bin and you’re set for about 3.5-4 weeks of use. When you notice the bin has roughly exceeded its halfway point (the crank inside is a good indicator), it’s time to dump!
Phillip and I chose the Airhead because it was the right aesthetic and size for our boat, and I cannot say enough nice things about the good folks at Airhead (particularly my buddy Geoff, shout out!) who answered my many, many, literally dozens of questions. They were very responsive and considerate (and complimentary of my install! Thanks for the kind words Geoff!). If you are on the fence about swapping to a composting head, feel free to send us any questions or hit up my buddy Geoff at Airhead, here is his email. While you are considering, it is helpful to think of the many benefits we have found (that I did not anticipate when we were merely considering it) from our swap to a composting head.
Pros of Swapping to a Composting Head
You no longer carry your shit along with you everywhere in a sloshing stinky tank under your bed (let’s just start there).
You remove an entire electrical system and thru-hull from the boat (the macerator for pumping overboard).
You gain space and better smell quality in all lockers that contained any element of your old system (the Y-valve, the macerator, the holding tank, and all the hoses).
You never have to go to the fuel dock again just to pump out.
You never have to pump out again. Yippee!
You don’t have to worry about an overflow, rupture, or leak from the holding tank.
You never again have to suffer through the smell of said overflow, rupture or leak from the holding tank.
You’ll never again have to change out the holding tank hoses or joker valve.
You’ll never again have to worry about or unclog a clogged head.
Most guests will refrain from use because it freaks them out. Yippee!
No more pumping after every donation. Whon-shee, whon-shee, whon-shee.
The whole boat smells so, so much better.
There’s less weight aboard. (For us this was particularly beneficial removing weight near the bow, where we work to counter-balance our heavy 200 feet of chain in the bow).
We never put salt water in our old head (as we heard it contributed to smell) so we now no longer have to keep a jug of fresh water in the head for pumping.
You’ll never again have to help … things … through the joker flap. Isn’t that fun?
With good aim, you’ll never again have to clean a shitty bowl. Ever. Yippee!
And, just in the pursuit of fairness, here are some of the cons we have heard about and/or experienced ourselves.
Cons of Swapping to a Composting Head
The head is a bit taller, so the “comfort factor” of having your feet lower can play a role (it does not for me, but seems to more for men).
You have to empty the urine bin often and should check it each time before you take a leak. It sucks when it overflows (yes, we’ve already done that).
Some people have told us they worry about violating some old boat regulation that requires you have a holding tank. In the U.S., a composting head is a USCG-sanctioned Type III marine sanitation device, so you’re fine here. With respect to other countries, as one follower said: “I would argue the composting head is a holding tank.” Smart guy. My lawyer brain would agree with that. We’ve never heard of anyone ever actually being cited or otherwise penalized under this alleged old regulation.
It may prove difficult to urinate on certain tacks. (But the simple fix for this I will call the “Mia Rule” above: straighten the boat out for a minute, do your business, get back on tack).
You have to find a place to dump your compost roughly once a month. While underway, you can throw it overboard anywhere outside three nautical miles from the nearest land. While ashore, you can (if you want the earth to get some use out of it) donate it to any garden, flowerbed, or natural earthy area, or otherwise safely dispose of it. Simply follow local regulations and good judgment when disposing anywhere.
So, let’s dig into this already as I want to share the full details or our install and hopefully dispel any erroneous myths you all my have about composting heads. If you may recall, this entire project emanated (ooh, great word) just as the smell did on our boat one morning when we inadvertently overflowed our holding tank. Good times.
Here is a link to that Facebook thread if you want to read everyone’s input on swapping to a composting head.
We were on our way back from the Bahamas and, after talking to many cruisers about it, primarily Russell and Lynn, we decided no more turd tank and we added it to our Post-Bahamas Boat Projects. But, simply deciding to explore the option does not make it possible on our boat. We do have a rather small area in our head. Our first obstacle in all of this was size. Was a composting head going to fit?
After researching all three major brands (C-head, Airhead, and Nature’s Head), we found the Airhead met our needs aesthetically and size-wise. The Airhead was a bit more stylish (I now know toilets can be stylish) than the C-head and was not quite as monstrous as the Nature’s Head. I sent these initial photos to the folks at Airhead asking their thoughts. Our main concern was our platform, which is approximately 12” aft, but it narrows down to only 4” going forward. The flat area we were working with was really rather small.
Geoff at Airhead got back to me immediately and asked for more information about our space back there. I did some more measuring and created this rough diagram for him.
Geoff, before he even knew we would be a customer, took the time to create a CAD drawing showing various configurations where he thought the Airhead, with the “hull shape” on the back (to match our slanted hull), would work.
These diagrams gave us confidence, but it was still a tough call to make because you cannot really tell whether the composting head is going to fit nicely in your head until you remove the old toilet. But, you don’t really want to remove the old toilet until you know … It was a bit of a Catch 22. But, we had a friend who owns a Catalina 28 (the one we helped deliver back in 2017) who had just made the decision to swap to a composting head and he let us “play around” with his (man, that sounds awful) by holding it up in our current space.
It looked do-able, so Phillip finally gave me the go. We ordered our Airhead to have it in time while we would be in the shipyard this past summer and could do the install. Annie’s first solo job when we hauled out was to remove the old head.
“I’m all over it!” Shipyard Annie said!
Thankfully, the old toilet was far easier to remove than I imagined. Day One at the shipyard, even after we hauled out, dropped the rudder and removed the engine exhaust elbow, there was still a couple of hours for Annie to get this beast off. I was thrilled to find it was only mounted with four bolts on the bottom plate and there is a hose that goes to the pump (to pull raw water into the bowl, which, like I said, we never did because we heard it contributed to smell).
And, while we, of course, pumped out entirely before we headed to the shipyard (and filled the tank with water and pumped out several times, like we always used to do when pumping out), but what we should have done was head out in the Gulf one day and run loads of water both through the toilet to the holding tank and from the holding tank out the macerator. That would have been the smart way to do it.
I never said we were smart. While the tank was as empty as we could get it, both the hose from the toilet to the tank and the tank to the macerator and out the thru-hull were not. Disconnecting the toilet from the holding tank hose and working with a Shop-Vac to “contain the spill” was not a fun day for Annie at the shipyard, but damn if I didn’t get it done!
Yes, I was that excited enough to dance with a toilet! It was a glorious day on Plaintiff’s Rest! To celebrate, I might need a little privacy … ; )
We’ll miss ya Jabsco … said no on ever!
The spot where the old toilet had been was stained a bit green from the rusting pump, but it cleaned up easily with the Magic Eraser. Thank you Mr. Clean!
This was the first time I could sit the new composting head in its resting place without the old head in the way and I was confident we were going to be able to make this work!
That was an exciting day, when I could finally set her in place and see that she fit! She fit! She fit! All of that worrying was done.
The Airhead was a little tall but not alarmingly so. I was excited to get the rest of the shitty stuff off the boat and continue with the install. Phillip and I spent a fun Saturday on the boat at the shipyard disconnecting the tank. Our holding tank (25 gallons) sits underneath, ironically, my side of the bed, on port under our vberth. Try to guess how many hoses were connected to the tank.
Five. Five stinky hoses: 1) intake from the head, 2) pump-out to the deck, 3) pump-out to the macerator, 4) overflow over the side of the boat, and 5) air ventilation up at the bow. Five hoses were pulled off the boat. And, I’ll spare you the details, but the one down to the thru-hull was the worst. Yuck. Nuff said. This here was a victorious moment on our boat!
The holding tank is gone! That’s a giant Annie “Whoo! Hoo!” right there. We also took off the macerator that day and all of the hoses. Many of our days at the shipyard looked like this. You eat when you can and work from sun up to sun down.
Alright, with all the crappy stuff gone, it was time to get back to the install. Our first step was to fill the old holes on the floor with a coosa insert (where the hose to the pump came through) and 610 in the others, so we would have a solid leak-free base for our new head.
Happy worker there! Phillip knows I love 610’ing things.
For the floor, I knew we were going to have to build a floor underneath it that would extend out to support the urine bin. Geoff at Airhead and other composting head owners had advised the bin could not hang off on its own, it needs floor support. I used construction paper first, then cardboard to make a template for Shane with Perdido Sailor at the shipyard to cut a nice, bevelled piece out of starboard.
Shane did a really nice job cutting the starboard. Brandon liked to call it our “potty platform.” Ha!
It was a perfect fit. Although we knew we (well, I mean, I, Phillip is banned from caulking) was going to have to caulk the seams to prevent water from coming in beneath the floor piece, but it didn’t need caulk for security. That thing was a perfect fit.
The next step was positioning the head exactly how we wanted it and mounting the brackets.
Then we could pull the protective paper off of our starboard and see what a nice clean look Shane had created for us.
Once the toilet was mounted, our next step was ventilation. This turned out to be the trickiest part of the install for us. Like I said, primarily because of the way we chose to run it (or hide it, I should say) in the old ventilation channel that was for the propane water heater that used to be on our boat. We removed the water heater when we got the boat to meet insurance requirements, and we’re happy to heat our water in the kettle when we want a nice toasty below-decks spa experience! Our water heater used to reside in what we call the “shower caddy,” a rather large (and very convenient) storage locker in our stand-up shower, which is just aft of the head.
The heater was vented through a tube along the shower wall up and out the top of the boat through the deck in what I called a “stove pipe.” A not very pretty metal contraption, that Phillip and I have both cut many a toe-on over the years, so we were happy to see it go! You can see it in the photo here. Say “Hi!” to Hanna Banana. And, yes, it was such a hideous rust-bomb we had a cover made for it to both cover it up and keep the occasional water we knew was getting into it.
We decided to replace it with a solar fan on top, which looks much better, and this would actually double-up on the ventilation, with two fans pulling the air out.
Unfortunately, when we pulled the old stovepipe off and started digging around we found a significant amount of deck rot where it had been leaking. We knew it had, and that was the reason we had the cover made, but we didn’t know what damage it had already done. But c’est la vie. If you find rot, you have to fix it and stop the leak. It made this project more tedious, but it felt good to catch a problem on the boat and remedy it before it got worse. And, remember, I love 610’ing!
We put a tube and a half in there. The rot extended back a good 3-4 inches on one side, 1-2 on the others. There was a lot of digging! But we got it filled in nicely and flushed up the seam and we were ready to install our new solar fan. We also chose the solar fan because it creates a watertight seal to the deck. Another biggie in the composting head install is a guarantee water will not be able to get into the system through the ventilation. If water gets in, it messes up the composting and can lead to … I’ll just say “swampy” results. So be sure you have a watertight seal for your ventilation to the outside, or build in a “p-trap” shape into your hose to make sure water cannot get into the composting system.
As I mentioned, our install was likely a bit more tedious than others because we wanted to route the ventilation system through old channels (so we would cut as few new holes as possible) and hide as much of the hose and ventilation system as possible. In most installs, you will simply choose a place out the side of the hull or through the deck where you want the ventilation to run, cut a hole for your fan cover and run the tube to the fan. Voila. Airhead has some great install videos on their website here.
Notice the very visible hose going up. It will then be connected to a fan they have mounted on the ceiling of the head where they cut through the deck and mounted a cover for the fan to vent out.
In ours, we planned to run the vent hose from the composting head through the bulkhead to the shower stall, under the shower bench (to hide the hose into the shower caddy, where we hid the fan as well), and then run through a decorative piece on the wall that previously funneled out our propane exhaust and served as a shelf in the shower for soaps, shampoo (well, not for Phillip ; ), razors, etc. This was our plan for running the ventilation:
The hose will then run up to the fan in the shower caddy.
I’m pointing to where I planned to install the insect screen. Airhead is adamant about this. The screen is needed to keep insects out. If those little buggies smell your “stuff” you are venting overboard, they’re going to be very attracted and try to find any way possible into the system. If insects get into your composting unit, well … good luck compadre. I hear it’s very smelly and must be dumped immediately and start again. You must keep the insects out. You cut the hose in an area that is easy to access and screw the male part on (the hose is self-threading which is handy) and glue the female end on.
You then check this occasionally to make sure the insect screen remains clean and clear, allowing airflow freely out but no buggies in! This was our plan, now all we had to do was implement it. Attaching the vent hose to the bowl was no big deal. Just a little PVC glue and a flap to keep the hose in place and an o-ring to contain the air. But, I’ll warn you do NOT spill that blue and purple wonder glue. It stains instantly!
I brought Shane in to cut the hole through the wall because … well, I probably don’t need to explain that. It’s a beautiful wooden bulkhead and hole saws are not my thing. I always spin out of control and make an absolute mess (yes, even after I realized you have to have a pilot drill on it). Out of the entire install, this was only the second time we brought in an expert, mainly just to make sure, aesthetically, we got the result we wanted: for both the hole through the wall and the floor plate.
I then ran the hose through to the shower caddy and began the fan install.
I did that one all on my own and I was quite proud of it. We even ran the wire through the old propane hose (for chafe protection) back to the battery bank under our galley floor and I wired it up. We put a fuse on it (as it will likely run for extended periods of time when we leave the boat) as well as, what I call “plug-and-play” connectors. It was either these or a switch so we can turn the fan off at some point when we want to. Say, when the head is empty and we will be leaving the boat for a few months. These connectors are tucked away in the locker so an easier plug-and-play install, rather than a pretty switch, was fine with me. This is the pic I sent Phillip when I first turned on the fan.
“This blows!” said Shipyard Annie.
The biggest monster we faced with this project was this guy!
Frankenstein! Thankfully, we probably won’t see him again for decades (I hope) as he will be fully hidden under this piece.
But, getting him to fit and stay put was an uphill battle. We tugged and wrestled that thing for weeks before we finally found an odd rubber PVC fitting at Home Depot that we beveled at the top to match the angle of the ceiling.
Then Brandon finally gave us the good idea to secure the weight of the PVC with zip ties. But, making sure this beast stayed put and in the exact right position for our decorative cover I can assure was not easy and took many days of cursing and sweating in the head. I’m not kidding. That’s what lead to my “Can you see evidence of Annie?” in the head post!
But, we got her done! Here is a video of me walking through the complete install:
Once installed, the Airhead folks recommend you do the “toilet paper” test to make sure the fan is in fact pulling air out of the system and overboard.
Check! It was really cool to finally finish the project and have the new head installed. We could tell instantly (even before using it) that the simplicity of it, omitting so many other systems (a manual pump, a macerator, a Y-valve, tanks, hoses, clogging flaps, etc.), was very appealing. It’s just one self-contained unit that vents overboard. That is all. Annnnd, it allowed me to clean and paint all of those lockers that used to be smelly and avoided at all costs. This is where our holding tank hose used to run forward to the vberth and where our Y-valve for pump out overboard or through the macerator was. Where this once was stinky and shunned, it’s now white and fresh as a spring daisy!
This locker that I’m painting (behind the head where we keep toiletries) was where the old overflow for the holding tank ran. We actually decided to change our sump box discharge from down the head sink to this fitting so it can now get pumped overboard and allow us to now close all sea-cocks (including the one for the head sink) when we leave the boat for extended periods. Again, this proved to be a better use of old channels leftover from obsolete systems. Win-win!
This was where the holding tank used to be. It’s quite a large locker. And where the smell used to emanate from this area anytime you simply lifted the vberth mattress, it’s now odor-free and slapped with two fresh coats of Bilgekote. I love Bilgekote.
We built a cover for the wash-down pump in there in case things we stow in that locker go to knocking about … because that never happens on a boat, right?
We’re excited to see what we can fit in there. Maybe the genoa? If not Stormy McDaniels, our storm sail, for sure. Maybe all of our paper towels and toilet paper? And, at the very least, a shit-ton (no pun intended) of coco bricks for our many seasons in the tropics! But now we will no longer be traveling with a turd tank and we’ll never have to pump out again. We’re stoked!
I hope you all have enjoyed the post about our swap to a composting head. We’ve only actually used it a couple of weekends on the boat but have been very pleased with the results so far. I will post an update as we get about six months or so in. But feel free to shoot many any questions you may have if you are considering making the swap, too.
And, for those who have already made the swap, inquiring minds want to know: What do you now keep in your now fresh and fragrant holding tank locker? Do tell!
This is it! The post you all have been waiting for. Now that the stringers under our engine are repaired, it was time to get Westie back in place and aligned so we could tackle one of the projects we were most excited about this year: PAINTING THE ENGINE!
Phillip and I have had Westerbeke-red visions dancing in our head for weeks. The thought of having a completely leak-free (or even just less-leaky-than-before) engine that would be bright, shiny red, ready to point the finger vigorously and immediately at any leak really pops our corn. Phillip and I were both super excited to get Westie assembled, all cleaned up, and ready for a few layers of sweet Westie red. And, as many of you have asked us about this process (this was probably the most commented-on post from our shipyard Facebook photos), we wanted to share with you all the process in case any of you are thinking of doing the same. To be honest, this paint job, while probably one of the most visibly-rewarding of our projects this summer, was by far one of the easiest.
First, let’s talk a little about why we wanted to re-paint the engine. While a fresh coat of paint would, as I mentioned above, greatly enhance our ability to spot and troubleshoot new leaks from the engine, I later learned this was not the primary goal. What were we really trying to accomplish in cleaning and painting our engine?
As Brandon with Perdido Sailor explained, the number one thing to really rob years of life from your engine is corrosion and decay from rust. Phillip and I were definitely seeing evidence of that in the layers of metal that could easily flake off of our engine, primarily on the backside where it is the greasiest and near the water pump where it suffers the most rust corrosion. This part on our engine, the cradle support on the back, had probably suffered the worst of the rust, so Brandon devised a good plan for us to take the rust head-on and prevent further decay.
Let’s talk a little about this product: POR 15 Industrial Rust Preventer
It’s a three-step process for cleaning metal, prepping it, then painting a rust-preventative coating on it, which chemically bonds to the metal, before the final paint. We special-ordered it from Amazon so we would receive it in time to apply to the cradle before it was time to re-assemble the engine.
That was the plan anyway. Phillip followed the instructions to a “T” using the cleaner, then the prep, then the POR paint, followed by Westie red. We also woke early and were at the shipyard before 6:00 a.m. that day to apply the POR before the humidity rose in the heat of the day. Living in humid, muggy Florida, this was one downside of the product:
POR-15 is cured and strengthened by exposure to moisture and will dry faster under extreme humidity, but moderate to dry atmospheric conditions are most desirable when applying this product, because extreme humidity may cause an immediate surface cure, trapping carbon dioxide gas below the surface. When this happens, bubbling may occur. Extreme humidity at the time of application may also interfere with proper adhesion of the POR-15 coating to metal because it’s almost impossible to keep metal dry under such conditions.
Yep, you read that right. If it’s applied in too humid of an environment, bubbling can occur. For us, bubbling certainly did occur.
Just a few scrapes with Brandon’s knife and both the red and the POR were flaking off back to pure metal.
We’ll have to call this attempt an epic fail.
But, we’re determined sailors. With reassembly of the engine scheduled for the next day, Shipyard Annie was sent in to try and remedy the damage to keep us on track. It was either spend the day stripping all of the paint off of this beast manually (including the areas of mega-bonded POR that did cure properly) or—Option B—whip out this toxic devilish serum for a chemical strip:
Have any of you ever used this product? I mean damn! It will peel the paint off your nails. That stuff was super intense. But, it was our quickest option. Phillip picked up a similar brand from the auto parts store and Annie set to it.
The minute I started slathering it onto our cradle, the paint started hissing and bubbling in violent (albeit futile) revolt!
It literally took me 12 coats of this acid with scraping in between to finally get the POR to let go. Everyone at the shipyard said it looked like a murder scene!
It was also a little painful too. Even through gloves, after multiple applications, the toxic aircraft paint remover began to make my hands feel cold at first, then they started in with a painful tingle. I was honestly worried I might be unknowingly inflicting permanent nerve damage on myself. I checked with the guys at the yard to be sure and they said it’s painful but temporary. So, my murdering continued and finally we were back to bare clean metal for another attempt at the POR.
Brandon helped supervise this time and we applied it initially in his air-conditioned, somewhat-enclosed shop area. (He has what I call “butcher freezer” plastic flaps that hang down, keeping the room cool for the guys but easy to come and go with tools, paints, whatever in your hands.)
Even with Brandon helping with the application we were still getting a little bubbling at the shipyard, so I took the pieces home to our fully-air-conditioned apartment for the final coat and the second time around resulted in a solid cure of the POR under the Westerbeke red.
That piece was easily the hardest part of this job. After the cradle was in place, and the engine reassembled (with a successful alignment check by Brandon and Shane), Phillip and I were finally given the go-ahead to paint. Say it with me: “Whoo Westie Hoo!”
Our first step was to clean the engine thoroughly with Zep. That is some awesome de-greasing stuff. Perfect for this situation. Simply spraying Zep on and rinsing alone took off the majority of our oil and grease for painting. This is the difference in the engine from merely dirty to clean.
We then scraped off any paint that was ready to jump ship. Our goal was to get as much bare metal as we could exposed so we could start fresh with primer coats there before the final red coat.
Our next step was prep. Shane with Perdido Sailor gave us a good tip to cover all of the hoses and wires and other fittings on the engine that we did not want painted with aluminum foil. It was nice because it was easy to work with and would wrap around pipes and fixtures and (for the most part) just hold itself there, which made the prep work much quicker, albeit still a good three hours. We were also careful to tape and cover caps, dipsticks, the throttle and shifter cables, the intake, etc. When we were done, we had an odd-looking foil monster in the engine room.
Then it was time to paint. A follower on Facebook captioned this photo Boat Project Magazine’s August Centerfold. I’ll take that! : )
On Brandon’s recommendation, we started with green zinc chromate on all areas that were bare metal (which were a good bit!). The fumes were pretty intense in the engine room so we donned a mask and goggles. A follower later recommended I probably should have thrown on a Tyvek suit for skin protection, which would probably have been much smarter. We’re told the chemicals in that zinc chromate are pretty harsh. If I start growing a third eyeball, I’ll let you all know. But, you can see the green areas in the photos below.
Outside near the Perdido Sailor shop, Phillip was also painting the heat exchanger before we put it back on as well.
The next step was a grey primer over the green zinc.
The fumes were pretty intense, particularly down in the engine room. But with a mask and goggles, the job wasn’t too bad.
Finally everything was ready for our favorite shade of red. And, I can’t tell you how many times this awesome scene from Kinky Boots was repeated at the yard when we were getting ready to start spraying the Westie red! I mean “Reeeeeeddddd” (with a hiss).
“Red is the color of sex! And fear. And danger. And signs that say “Do not enter.”
But, all of our signs say “Yes, indeed, do paint!” Let the Westie Red fly!
Now you see grey. Now you don’t!
Yeah baby! We were tickled red to pull the foil and tapes and drapes all finally away from the engine and admire her new coat. I dare say Westerbeke red and Bilgekote grey are my new favorite color-combo.
Westie sure does look good! Not only will we now be able to easily spot and trace all leaks of oil, water, or coolant, our engine also now has been given a few more years of rust-free health that we hope to continue. Brandon recommended after we run the engine for 5-6 hours once we’re back in the water, which will give it time to “burn the paint off,” that we then spray the whole engine down generously with anti-corrosion to continue with our rust-prevention plan. It will feel good to know we’re taking steps to proactively fight the rust down there.
But, one word on our prep, in case any of you are planning to paint your engines too. We did not prep near enough. While we did cover everything in the engine room that we did not want to be forever converted to Westerbeke red, and we did drape what I felt like were an exorbitant amount of sheets around the engine area, what we failed to do was successfully contain the red dust that fumigated from our engine room while we were painting, the entirety of which traveled all over the boat. Read that again.
All. Over. The. Boat.
Look at these photos here. I have circled the areas that are coated with a pink dust.
When we finally pulled all of the sheets and looked around, the entire boat, going forward to the bow, had a fine layer of pink dust on it. Thankfully—knock on a freaking jar of acetone—that stuff dries so quickly that by the time it was airborne and ready to drop, it was merely a powder that could be wiped off of the floors and acetoned off of the gelcoat.
Meaning, we did not permanently stain our entire boat pink for good. But, we should have done a much better job of somehow “caging” the entirety of the air around the engine room. Perhaps with more sheets taped over and above, or plastic drop cloths taped all around. I’m just pontificating here because we sure did not contain it enough. We probably should have had better ventilation to pull the “red air” directly out of the boat through a lazarette and draped and taped that exit hole as well. Thankfully, while we were able to remove the red by wiping the wooden floors with a wet rag and all of the gelcoat inside the entire boat with acetone, this did not make it an easy or quick job.
The fans, in particular, took a while to clean because they pulled so much “red air” through them.
You can see in this photo the red sheen on the gelcoat. Each section like this—particularly the sections that were textured like nonskid—took about 15 minutes to wipe clean. We turned twenty rags red just from wiping our boat down after our poor prep job for the engine paint.
The good news is, we had planned to wipe her down regardless—bow to stern—as we always do when we have all of the soft goods out. So, this wasn’t too much of a setback for us, but definitely an extra day of cleaning we added to our own list by not covering as much as we should have for the engine paint job. But, lesson learned for sure.
Our engine paint project, however, did not stop with painting our engine. We had planned from the start to also add bright LED lights in the engine room after we completed the painting and replace our old engine room insulation, for several reasons. One, our old insulation was all rag-tag, duct-taped-on in multiple colors and always falling apart, crumbling, and making a nasty black mess every time we accessed the engine.
We primarily wanted to remove it because it was filthy. And, two, we were sure in that crumbling condition it was not performing at its optimal heat-and-sound buffer capabilities. We also wanted to install engine room lights so we would have excellent visibility in the engine room without having to hold flashlights in our teeth. (Okay only Annie does that, not Phillip, but I would like to break the habit.) The entire goal with this mini-engine overhaul was to make our engine run better, cleaner, and better enable us to work on her, troubleshoot, spot leaks, and repair issues underway. So, cue the lights!
Phillip installed one on the front of this bulkhead over the engine, as well as on the back.
We also installed a third, larger one, that runs bow to stern, rather than athwartship, in the engine room itself behind the engine. Phillip was sure to install them all in a way that the “on” switch can be reached from our easiest access point, the front of the engine in the galley. I can’t show you the big one in the engine room, yet, because it will ruin the NASA insulation reveal. Savor the intrigue!
For the insulation, we ordered four boxes of big thick rolls of Soundown insulation from the internet along with their sealing tape, and this became an exclusive Annie project.
While some of the pieces were easy to template, others were not. These pieces under the sink were rather large, and mostly square, so I started there, with construction paper templates first, then cutting pieces out of the insulation.
This monster, though … I can’t tell you how many days at the shipyard I found (mostly legitimate) reasons to avoid starting on this wall. With all the wires and mounts and stuff, it seemed impossible to template. It was hard enough to rip the old insulation out of there, much less make a precise pattern to put new insulation in.
But, a project will never get done if you never start it. So, I bucked up one morning and set to it, first with construction paper taped together to (in hopes) make the entire piece out of one template. This was my awkward masterpiece.
I had no clue if it was actually going to squeeze in behind the small gap in the gadgets and wires I had created to work construction paper through, but Shane and I gave it a shot. His words as it slid into perfect position: “I’m going to lose my damn job!” : ) That was a really cool feeling for me. Never had I done that before, but I’m confident I can now lay down engine insulation with the best of them.
But, that was just the initial “mounting” (I will call it) of the insulation to the bulkhead with the 3M 77 adhesive spray. The tedious and very time consuming “seaming” of the insulation is what had me down in there for hours upon hours. Shane told us the trick to keeping this insulation in good shape is to prevent any water entry into the foam. You do this by tediously taping every exposed foam seam. This often takes layer upon layer of tape (much link shingles) to get the tape to push the foam down, wrap, and hold. Let’s just say I went through a lot of tape. We also secured the insulation with screws and fender washers, and I was tickled platinum pink with the results. Our engine room now looks like a NASA launch pad.
And, what do you see there? Our new 21” LED light in the engine room. Lighting up the insulation like a Christmas promenade. It is quite the dazzling display down there now. Westie feels like a show horse at the County Fair. I feel bad for any drop of oil that even thinks about inkling out of our engine. Like a prisoner trying to escape from Alcatraz, we’ll shine a spotlight on it so fast he’ll run back to where he came from and never come out again. There will be no leaks from this engine people. Nada.
Hope you all enjoyed the engine projects. Guess what’s next! Our swap to a composting Airhead. That became a bit more of a puzzling project than we had initially anticipated. Trust me, all of this weirdness will make sense soon!
What do you think I’m installing here? Give it a guess! And stay tuned!
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?
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?
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!
Many props to our prop for hanging in there with us for so long (even though we were blind to her suffering!). We’ve been battling this problem for several years now and simply did not know what the underlying problem was. We did not know the “key” to the issue was the fact that the key kept coming out. Here’s what we were dealing with:
Our prop shaft and coupler both have a matching notch that fits a key which helps the shaft sit tight in the coupler so it can be rotated smoothly by the transmission. You can see the key here.
Yes, the one with the red goop all over it. That’s Loc-tite, what we thought would be the answer to this problem. You see, this key kept coming out. Phillip and I are pretty diligent (we try to be, at least) about checking on our engine. We always check the oil, transmission fluid, and coolant levels before starting. And, if we are motoring for a significant number of hours while underway, we try to make a habit of pulling back the sink (which gives us access to our engine) and checking on Westie as he is motoring along hour after hour.
We look for oil or coolant leaks, water leaks, any loose parts, etc. And, during our trip down to Cuba and our fantastic sails back up along the coast to Pensacola in early 2017, we noticed this key kept coming out.
Often we would find it halfway out, spinning around like a wild tea-cup ride at Disney, as the shaft was spinning. Or, we would find it spit out about six inches forward of the transmission into the bilge. Phillip and I would start to wager bets as we would be trucking along under motor and heading down to check on the engine: “Do you think the key is halfway out by now, or already spat to the bilge?” (Most times it was already jettisoned by the time we checked.)
Phillip and I knew this key issue was a sign that some bigger problem was likely the cause and that there was something going on that wasn’t right with our coupler or shaft. We just did not know what. I can’t tell you how many times we located and re-Loc-tited that sucker back in place. Dozens, if not more.
While this little key popping out might seem like a minor problem, we were worried, if it continued or worsened, the transmission could potentially lose the ability to turn the shaft. That would be a huge problem. So, the key was legitimately discerning. Our first thought was to have a new key machined that stuck out a little further past the end of the shaft, with a hole drilled through it, that would allow us to run some seizing wire through it to prevent it from coming out. That would solve the problem, right?
If that was the root problem.
As we continued cruising, to the Bahamas this past season in 2017-2018, and watching further changes occur with our prop shaft, we soon learned it was not.
Our first discovery: There’s a set screw for the key!
I’ll just have to admit, we did not know that. For whatever reason, each time we were checking and re-hammering in this stupid little key, we just didn’t see it, or if we did, we did not know it was a set screw for the transmission key. So, “Aha!” Moment No. 1 was making this discovery, finding the set screw had indeed rattled itself far too loose, and re-tightening him down onto the key to hold it in place.
And, of course, we goobed that guy up with red Loc-tite, too. That seemed to be our solution for many boat problems at the time. “Just Loc-tite it. It’ll never come loose.” Right, cause that’s how it works on a boat. Nothing ever rattles. Nothing ever breaks free. At the time, we were using the same method with the three nuts on the back of our rudder post cap underneath the cockpit floor and you now know, from our rudder post reinforcement post, we have since come up with a better-than-Loc-tite solution there as well.
When the set screw, much like the key had, started to break free from its repeated Loc-tite baptisings and allowed the key to continue to spin out, we knew we were going to have to do something else when we hauled out in 2018. At the time, machining a new key was the best conceivable answer. And, in the meantime, we just continued our “locate and Loc-tite” drill to get us back from the Bahamas to Pensacola to really troubleshoot and solve this issue.
But, then something funny started happening. Not only did the key continue to drift forward and come out. Toward the end of our Bahamas voyage, the shaft itself began to move forward. Yes, the shaft. This is not the best angle, but in this photo it is sticking about an eighth to a quarter of an inch out.
This movement of the shaft itself (not just the key) prompted Phillip and I to inspect the coupler further. We found the set screws on the coupler had also rattled themselves a bit loose, so that the coupler did not have a good tight grip on the shaft. Phillip tightened these down. This was during out trip back up the west coast of Florida on our way back from the Bahamas. And, to get us back home to Pensacola so we could haul-out and investigate this further, for good measure I cinched them down with seizing wire.
At least I thought I did. Turns out I’m not the best cincher. Or maybe it would be seizer … I’m sure I’d make one helluva Ceaser! But, knowing what I now know about how to run seizing wire (which I just learned from the boys at the yard – thanks guys!) I know this is a total useless loop. Hell, that design probably helps both screws loosen one another …
Way to go Seizing Wire Annie. Thumbs down. But, I can confidently say my seizing skills have since improved after we got a custom lesson from the boys at the yard. This is why we love working with them. I’ll show you the trick when we get the coupler issue figured out.
Cue the haul-out!
When the boys at the yard got their hands on our boat, they noticed several things immediately that were adding to our issues with prop shaft movement. First, they could feel and, actually with their hands alone, re-create the forward and backward movement of our prop shaft inside the coupler. Again, not the best quality video, but it was sent to us from Shane at the yard and you can easily see the movement of the shaft in and out with just Brandon below pushing and pulling it.
This was their first cue that something far more serious was going on with our prop shaft than a loose set screw on the transmission key. The boys could also feel that the strut had a little play in it, as they could physically move it from side to side—just a hair, but hairs can make a mess out of things offshore. They recommended it would be best to remove, clean, and rebed the strut for a more secure fit to the boat and tighter hold on the prop shaft.
That was a fun morning I spent unbolting that guy. Can you find the Annie in this picture:
Thankfully, I will say, almost every single part of our boat is accessible. While it may be uncomfortable and require the talents of an inconceivable contortionist, it is reachable. We can access, remove, and repair just about any part of our boat, because it was designed to do just that—be accessed, removed if need be, repaired if need be, and otherwise worked on! It’s one of the very great features of our boat. I was happy to find our four strut bolts were (with just a smidge of boat yoga) rather easily accessible right behind Westie on the engine room floor.
The shipyard guys, when they disassembled the strut, also noticed our cutless bearing was worn out. While this surprised Phillip and I as we had replaced that cutless bearing only a few short years ago in 2014, if you consider the amount of play we had in our prop shaft, and the number of miles we put under our keel while that play was occurring, it made sense.
Lastly, when Brandon removed our coupler, he found the coupler itself was wallowed out with the movement of our shaft and it simply (tightened down its full capacity) could not get a good grip on the shaft.
When Brandon removed both the prop shaft and the coupler from the boat, he showed us the movement he could exert with his hands on the shaft. Brandon explained the coupler should slide on and have an absolute snug fit with no movement. He and Shane also said we were lucky the shaft was going forward. This happened when we were in forward gear because the propeller is trying to work itself forward through the water. If we had backed down hard enough in reverse, the prop would have been working to move itself backwards through the water and could have worked its way right out of the boat with the condition our coupler was in. Now, I have a new boat nightmare. Thanks boys.
Here is a video of Brandon showing us the movement in the coupler and having fun at my expense. You will be surprised by the play in our coupler. You can hear it audibly in the video. You’ll also enjoy Brandon’s response to my joking that he had “purchase discretion up to $800.” “Oh, it’s $799 then. $799!” Gotta love those guys at the yard.
So, with this revelation, we were in for a re-bedding of the strut, a new cutless bearing, and a new coupler. But, if we were going to replace the coupler, we wanted to re-engineer it so the coupler would not allow the key to come loose or the shaft to try to move forward again after the many more miles we plan to put on our boat. For this reason, Brandon hired a local machinist to create a cap that bolts onto the end of our coupler to hold the shaft in place. He kept a window hole in the cap so we could see the shaft and visibly confirm its location in the coupler. The machinist also included a threaded hole in the center that we could use to twist a bolt down to pop the shaft out if it had, for whatever reason, seized up in the coupler. Overall, it was a better, stronger design for our boat and eliminated all movement in our prop shaft. Here is the new coupler!
And, fun little lesson for all you boat project fanatics today. Notice Shane’s method for fastening seizing wire in the photo above. While everyone can do it differently, I definitely liked his idea of purposefully routing the wire in a way where one bolt’s attempt to unthread and turn to the left would result in a tug on the other bolt toward the right, and vice versa. Meaning, as the bolts try to loosen themselves they are, in fact, tightening one another. Thanks Shane!
Little things like this can make all the difference out there on a two-week passage where you are working all systems so hard twenty-four hours a day. Phillip and I know we will sleep better and have more peace of mind knowing this system, too—our prop shaft, the coupler, the cutless bearing, and the strut—have all been inspected, re-mounted, secured, or re-engineered to be stronger and more stable for our rough passages.
This is the reason Phillip and I decided to devote the time and money this summer to haul-out and do these “mission critical” repairs and upgrades as we have some big cruising plans this fall. And, some big destinations to announce! We can’t wait to share our plans with you (you know, the ones written in sand at low tide ; ). But, next up, we’ve got some more cool shipyard projects to share with you. Hope you all are enjoying our boat labor this summer! You get to pick next week’s topic. Because:
I can’t make heads …
… or tails of it!
Would you like to see our swap to the composting head or re-painting of our Westerbeke engine. You decide. Leave your vote in a comment below!
Maybe they should change that B.O.A.T. saying to “bonded or about to.” I’m sure many of you have faced this. One of the hardest parts of a boat project is the initial disassembly. Trying to get bolts that have been in place for thirty-plus years to budge. Or how about a stainless steel bolt in an aluminum piece? I know you’re cringing now. But, at least I can say we had access to our curmudgeon bolt. I had a follower post recently in order to get to bolts he needed to access to re-bed his strut, he had to remove two diesel tanks. Just to GET TO said belligerent bolts.
Shout-out to follower, Rob Miller, who tacked that job! Rob, you’re my hero. In our case, with access, albeit uncomfortable and tight, to our bolts, I’ll consider us on the lucky side. Here’s what we were dealing with. These are the components of our rudder/steering system:
The quadrant (which is in two half-circle pieces) mounts on the rudder post by fitting onto that slotted “keyway” mentioned in the diagram, and it is then bolted together, four bolts at the base, inserted in opposite directions, which thread into opposite piece of the quadrant. You can see here, the two bolt heads on port (your right) and the two holes that the shafts of the bolts on starboard are threaded into.
We knew in order to drop the rudder we were going to have to get these two quadrant pieces apart in order to remove the quadrant so the rudder post could be lowered. For this reason, Phillip had the idea to spray (well, I should say Phillip had the idea to send his bendy grease monkey down in the lazarette to spray) PB Blaster on the four bolts under the quadrant periodically for a few weeks before we hauled out hoping that would help loosen those suckers.
But, as many of you know, when you allow two different metals, here stainless steel and aluminum, to sit together for years upon years, the metals can undergo a chemical reaction and literally bond themselves together. When the boys at Perdio Sailor got in there, that is what they found. The bolts holding our quadrant to the rudder post had thoroughly seized.
With Brandon in the starboard lazarette (which stinks, that one is super tight and uncomfortable) and Shane in the port lazarette (which is a bit more spacious, but not as much for a 265-pound guy), the boys made several attempts to get the bolts to budge. First they tried manually.
Then with a cheater bar. Then with the impact driver.
Then with heat (lots and lots of heat) followed by the impact driver.
Thankfully, three of the bolts finally gave up the ghost with heat and impact and came out, but we had one last stubborn holdout on the port side. The boys continued to battle it with the impact driver, then heat, then impact, then cursing. Still nothing. More heat, more impact, more cursing. No movement. Shane finally dropped his wrench and said “I’m cutting it out.”
Breaking a Bonded Bolt
I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly know what “cut it out” meant, but watching the guys at the shipyard—who have to deal with obstacles like this every day—think through a problem and engineer a solution is the exact reason we like to haul-out with Brandon’s exceptional team and learn from their thought-processes.
Shane’s idea was to cut the bolt head off, so he could at least pull the two quadrant pieces apart and remove them from the boat.
Then he could try to drill into and perhaps extract the obstinate shaft or, if that would not work, he could drill the shaft out, enlarge all four holes slightly and either re-tap them for new bolts, or go with through-bolts instead. Shane chose the latter and we now have four bigger, stronger, more-secure bolts, locked down with Nylocs, holding our quadrant on the rudder post.
And, it was educational for Phillip and I to learn how the crew at Perdido Sailor work around, what might seem to us, an insurmountable obstacle. You’ll also notice Shane really cleaned and spruced up our thirty-three year-old quadrant.
Thirty-three … pssssh. That pretty gal would get carded in bars. “Can I see your ID Ma’am?” : )
Proof TefGel Works
In addition, to ensure this unwanted bonding did not happen again (because you never know, we might need to remove the quadrant again someday down the road), Phillip and I used TefGel during the reassembly to ensure, this time, the stainless steel bolts did not try to bond with the aluminum quadrant.
Our tiller arm served amazing proof of the power of TefGel to prevent different metals that are in contact from bonding over time. Phillip and I installed our below-decks hydraulic auto-pilot (which we lovingly call “Lord Nelson,” because it came from a Lord Nelson boat) back in 2016 when we were hauled out to repair our rotten stringers under the mast and replace the rigging. In order to remove the rudder from the boat, the tiller arm also had to be removed. This is the bronze tiller arm mounted above the quadrant.
And, although the arm had been in place for two years untouched, with TefGel in the mix, the stainless steel bolts that hold the bronze tiller arm on the rudder post easily unthreaded. Proof: TefGel works people. Use it!
Alright, one problem solved. What’s next? Alignment of our steering cables!
Re-Aligning Our Steering Cable Pulleys
When Brandon first crawled down into our lazarette to inspect the quadrant and steering system, he noticed immediately that the alignment of our steering cable pulleys to the quadrant was not ideal. (Even though the cables are off) can you see what Brandon saw in this photo?
The base of each steering cable pulley was about one-quarter to one-half inch lower than the “seat” (the center of the groove) in the quadrant for the cables.
This meant our cables had to travel uphill to fall into the seat of the quadrant. Not something you want them to have to do.
It should be a perfectly-aligned straight shot from the pulley right into the seat of the quadrant. All of these years, and I hadn’t noticed that.
Just another reason we love having professionals, like Brandon and his team, crawl all over our boat looking for potential issues. “Look in every locker! Check anything you want! Sure, wiggle it. See if it works.” I say that because we want the Perdido Sailor guys to find anything they can that needs to be fixed while we’re in the shipyard. And I stress “need” because there is a time and money factor; no boat is going to always be in 100% pristine condition. But, we want them to find problems while we’re in the yard, because that’s when we want to fix them—when he have great tools, supplies, and experts readily available to help and supervise, rather than finding the problem when we’re out there underway with less resources and knowledge to devote to it.
And, the joking and ribbing that goes on at the shipyard is just part of the fun. Here, Phillip had missed the measurement of the additional height we would need to be jacked up in order to drop our rudder by just a couple of inches, and the guys never let him forget it. If you don’t do it absolutely 100% perfect (because we all do that, all the time, right?), they’ll pick on you. But, the more they pick on you, the more they secretly like you. Shipyard Fact No. 64.
When Brandon saw the steering cable issue, he had the idea (since he knew we were dropping the rudder which would mean the quadrant would have to come off) to lower the quadrant just a bit to make it line up better with the pulleys. I immediately laughed when he said it. Just as a knee-jerk reaction, because I knew how very little room we have between the quadrant and the aft strut. How do I know this? Because I saw that tiny little space disappear one exhausting night in a beat-down underway when our rudder had tried to make a sneaky exit out of the boat.
That was a fun night. And, a fun little video for you here of our quadrant literally grinding its way into the aft strut that supports the post, why it happened and what we learned the very simple remedy was: tighten the cockpit nut that threads the shaft up higher into the boat.
But, lack of space between the quadrant and the aft strut in order to properly align the quadrant with our steering cable pulleys did not hinder Brandon either. I swear, they don’t see obstacles, they see solutions taking shape. And Brandon certainly had one here:
Cut it. Re-engineer it. Make it work better. You gotta love that guy.
Brandon had his main guy, Shane, modify the aft strut by cutting a nice even chunk out of it that would allow us to mount the quadrant back on the rudder post at a lower spot to make it align perfectly with our steering cable pulleys. Here is a video of Brandon checking Shane’s work after Shane and I reassembled the quadrant for inspection:
And, do you know what “get in there and square that up a bit” means? Another disassembly of the quadrant by Shane and I to finalize the cut and sand it out, then reassemble the quadrant and steering cables …. again … to make sure everything worked and operated perfectly. I’m telling you, by Day Two at the shipyard, I am quite confident I could disassemble and reassemble everything on the rudder post myself. What an awesome confident feeling!
But, it will all be worth it when our quadrant now has free space and no chance of making contact with the boat if it the cockpit rudder nut gets a little loose in heavy seas (although Phillip and I now know to check and occasionally tighten that nut), and our steering cables are no longer having to step up to fall into the seat of the quadrant. Now they are perfectly aligned. Little things like this I’m sure will add years of awesome cruising years to our beautiful boat. And, while we continue to learn the more we work on our boat, I know she still has many lessons to teach us. And, I know we’ll be ready to learn them, whether they occur at the yard or out in the big open blue. It’s a great big school out there!
I know some days will look like this …
But many others will look like this …
And I wouldn’t have it any other way! More shipyard projects to come. Next up. We’ll give props to the prop shaft by re-bedding the strut, replacing the cutlass bearing, and re-engineering a new coupler. Stay tuned!
Let’s talk about our rudder. While Phillip and I are quite pleased with the majority of the systems on our boat and their original design, this was one where—if we could have been there at the factory in Ontario when the Hinterhoeller crew was putting our boat together—we would have asked them to make a slight modification to this rudder design. Here are the components of our rudder:
It is a very sturdy, yet light-weight, high-performance rudder, with a keyway to grip the steering quadrant and a very hearty nut on the cockpit floor that turns and locks down with set screws to hold the rudder tight, the only issue we had had with it is where the rudder post penetrates the cockpit floor. If you can imagine how much pressure is put on our rudder when we are steering down waves in a gnarly sea state, that pressure is magnified at the fulcrum point where the rudder fits through the cockpit floor. And the only thing holding it firm there is a rudder post cap secured with three 1/4” bolts. Here is a photo of the rudder post cap with the nut and plastic bushing, followed by one (with the plastic bushing and nut removed) and the top of the rudder post dropped down a few inches during our rudder drop.
As many of you die-hard HaveWind followers might recall, we first noticed a problem with this rudder post design during our offshore beat to windward when we sailed to Cuba in 2016.
Yep. That’s the one. Try to imagine how much pressure is on the rudder in that photo and how much of that was being translated to those three little bolts on the cockpit floor. It was enough to cause our rudder post to start moving side to side, athwartship. Which, once we saw it, immediately caused Phillip and I to go upside down in the lazarettes trying to stop it.
This is what we found when we got down there:
Just three bolts (the third, on port, is concealed behind the rudder post) with initially only one washer and one nut on each. Adding the additional two is what Phillip and I were doing down in the lazarettes on our way to Cuba. And, while the additional nuts did stop the majority of the athwartship movement of the rudder post on the cockpit floor during that passage, you can see in the photo above where we have tightened them so much they are literally starting to crush the cockpit floor. This is what really worried us: such a small compromised area holding such a critical, heavy, and load-bearing component of our boat.
We knew when we got back from Cuba, we wanted to take some measures to reinforce this area before we sailed to the Bahamas. Our initial reinforcement plan—without having to drop the rudder—was to add large stainless steel flat fender washers to help spread the load of those three bolts. Our buddy Brandon with Perdido Sailor (with whom we usually haul-out) helped us grind the washers down to fit around the cap that sits in the cockpit floor.
Annie making an immaculate cardboard template of the area on the engine room ceiling around the rudder post.
We then used the template to make custom washers to fit around the bolts that go through the rudder post cap on the cockpit floor.
We knew this would be a temporary fix for the season, though, and that, when we got back from the Bahamas and hauled out the following year, we wanted to drop the rudder and really do this project right. And, we knew we would be hauling out again with Brandon at Perdido Sailor because his work is exceptional and he and his guys are willing to allow us to tackle projects there ourselves while they teach, supervise, and rightfully pick on us … that’s shipyard culture. In researching how we were going to accomplish our rudder reinforcement, I mentioned in my Post-Bahamas Projects blog what we discovered when we talked to some fellow Niagara 35 owners through the Niagara 35 Owners Facebook Group. We found one Niagara owner, who was had just finished crossing the Atlantic, and was in the Azores at the time, not wanting to haul out and drop the rudder at the time, decided to add a very substantial backing plate around the top of the rudder post to help reinforce and secure it.
I guess you could call this a topping plate, since he mounted his on top of the cockpit floor. After discussing this at length, Phillip and I decided we wanted to mount our plate underneath the cockpit floor for cosmetic reasons. Either way, top or bottom, we knew a large plate mounted around this hole would help spread the very heavy load of the rudder and help reinforce the cockpit floor. We got with our buddy Mike, who helped us configure the initial custom-washer-fix and who is a talented machinist (and owner of a beautiful 1981 Tartan 37 – boat tour HERE! – you’re welcome! : ), about making a plate for the underside of our cockpit floor. Say “Hey!” to Mike!
And this is the wonderful piece Mike made for us!
Look at that smile. I mean, who wouldn’t be grinning from ear to ear knowing they’re about to have a tough-as-nails rudder rig-up on the boat. Heck yeah!
After measuring underneath the cockpit floor and assessing the sufficient space we had down there (the closest item to the rudder post is our rudder indicator on the port side), we decided on the following fix:
An8 x 8” stainless steel 1/4” reinforcement plate
After playing around with the plate down below in the engine room, we found sitting it in a “diamond” fashion with one corner toward the bow, one to the stern, one to starboard and one to port, would allow the plate to sit centered on the hole and not touch any other instruments on the engine room ceiling near the rudder post. Like this:
You’ll notice those holes on the cockpit floor by the binnacle base. Those are for the rudder post stops. I was in the process of re-bedding them when the plate came. We do a thousand things when we’re on the hard!
Here is the design, after the center hole in the plate was cut, mocked-up on the top of the cockpit floor:
While this fix (i.e., drilling the three necessary bolt holes through this plate and mounting it underneath the cockpit floor) seems like a pretty easy fix, Brandon spotted another issue when we were dropping and disassembling the rudder.
Pssst: This is why we love this guy and always trust him with any boat repair.
When we pulled the rudder cap from the cockpit floor this was the hole we found that was cut for our rudder post.
Does that look perfectly round to you? Hardly. That’s an amateur Annie cut right there! Not something we expected to find on our blue-water Niagara, but, as the boys at the yard said, our rudder install must have been done on a Friday shift, before a long weekend. Humans are just that. Humans. Someone at the Hinterhoeller facility didn’t really take their time making this cut. But, even if it was round, Brandon also found it was about a half inch too wide for our rudder post cap. Meaning, not only was the cap itself only secured with three 1/4” bolts, it also was not supported in this hole with solid 360-degree contact all the way around.
“We’re gonna fix that,” Brandon said, and he ingeniously came up with the idea to mount the rudder cap upside down (from the engine room ceiling up through the cockpit floor), so it would reveal the gap we needed to fill on the cockpit floor. This photo really highlights, too, the poorly-cut hole and the gap that we wanted to fill.
Brandon then advised us to coat the cap with TefGel (that way the 610 would not stick to it) and fill that wayward-cut gap with 610. That is what I am doing here:
Annie’s got her gun!
We then waited for the 610 to firm up enough to hold its shape (about four hours), then popped the rudder cap out and now found our hole in the cockpit floor for the rudder cap was a nice, snug fit, way more supportive than what was there previously.
This way, as Shane with Perdido Sailor explained, the hole for the rudder post cap, along with the cap and reinforcement plate will all “operate as a system” to hold the rudder secure in the hole, even with the tremendous amounts of pressure that are put on it when we are offshore.
After we sanded our 610 filling and smoothed everything up, we then bedded the rudder cap down with butyl. Love that stuff!
We mounted the plate underneath the floor with our three bolts, using our custom washers from last year’s temporary fix and secured it all with locking nuts. This is the complete rudder reinforcement fix:
Pretty schnazzy huh? As Phillip said to me: “Aren’t you going to sleep better when we’re underway offshore knowing this bad boy is holding everything together?”
Yes, yes I am.
And, added bonus for you Phillip fans out there. I snuck a video of him explaining to a boat neighbor of ours (ironically both in the slip and then at the shipyard as well!) how we discovered this problem and our thought-process in designing the reinforcement. Enjoy!
Phillip and I are both very grateful for the help and guidance shared through the Niagara 35 Owners groups, particularly the input from Larry Dickie, as well as our buddy Mike for the machine work, and the hard-working shipyard repairmen at Perdido Sailor, who helped us engineer and accomplish this feat. We hope sharing this fix helps some of you analyze and upgrade your own rudder systems. As always, if you have any questions about what we did here or just want to talk about it more, feel free to comment or share! Happy sailing folks!
And, don’t worry … we’ve got plenty more project posts to come this summer. Here’s the (short) list! The ones with an “A” beside them are my babies!