Tuesday, October 25, 2005

God, please tell my I don’t have to inspect the propeller shaft. The nasty jobs I have left to do on the Bristol seep into my mind occasionally and make me groan. The shaft is 15 years old, and inspected 10 years ago—it looked like new then. I could easily convince myself it still is fine and not galled or corroded. But I don’t plan to do a refit again for at least another 10 years so I need to inspect. It’s a nasty job entailing buttering up my chest with oil so I can squeeze into the engine compartment beside the Yanmar in order to reach the back of the engine and the flange that attaches the propeller to the transmission. Once there, waves of claustrophobia sneak up my spine as I work on my side, head down, arms out, trying to get the flange to separate.

The nastiest jobs on boat are not fiberglass related in my view. I will take the itching of fiberglass dust any day over engine work. In addition to needing to inspect the propeller shaft, I have at least one sort of questionable motor mount—I shutter even writing the words here. That means detaching all of them, putting the engine out of alignment to the shaft, raising it to get it off the mount—that takes a block and tackle to the boom above. Another nasty thankless job that doesn’t relate to sailing.

Least I give you the wrong impression of the auxiliary power in the Bristol, to its credit I should point out that I would never trade the Yanmar 3GM30F in the boat for any other kind of engine. The Yanmar is as reliable as a GM V-8. It starts instantly, never smokes, never soots up the stern, never leaks or smells of diesel, and is quiet and smooth. I just hate working on or around it.

The only non-engine job that was almost as bad as the two I’ve just listed was removing the rudder. Now there is a gut straining, cursing, groaning bit of a job I have done once and sits at the top of my list of “Jobs I Will Never Do Again”. The Bristol’s rudder is build like the Queen Mary’s. It’s solid fiberglass with a bronze webbing welded to the solid bronze rudderpost inside. It weighs about 80 or 90 pounds and sits on a 1-inch diameter bronze pintel at the rudder shoe. Its only weakness is that pintel should be stainless instead of bronze. The pintel will typically wear on the forward edge—from the weight of the rudder (it hangs “down” since the aft edge of the keel slants forward). The wear on the pintel creates play that is expressed in the tiller vibrating at speed. It’s probably nothing to ever worry about, but I like to have everything perfect on the boat and “new” if at all possible.

So I removed the rudder and replaced the pintel. That’s a fun little job: dig about a 4-ft hole under the stern—if you are lucky enough not to have your boat on pavement in the boat yard. Then cock the rudder full over to port and there is just enough room to lift it off the pintel—it’s quite a lift and slide the rudder down, maintaining the angle of the rudderpost until it is out. It lays on the ground like a dead tuna and the yard foreman looked at it and said I needed their fiberglass shop to design and build me a new one. As usual, he had no idea what he was talking about. I told him the rudder was stronger than anything he could build for me. He countered with, “It’s full of water”. I drilled some ¼” holes—all dry, all solid glass. He tried some more excuses before finally leaving. Then I rebuilt the stuffing box where the rudder post enters the hull. That’s a fun little project. Little being the operative word. You have to scoot headfirst down into the lazerette on the sloping hull to try to undo the 30-plus year old hose clamps and worry off the ancient hose. Eventually, with enough prayer, it all came loose. The stuffing box is identical to the one for the propeller shaft. I rebuilt it as I did the engine one using Teflon impregnated Drip-Free packing, a new hose and proper 316 stainless hose clamps. It should now outlive me. Then I rebuilt the cockpit sole bearing where the rudder post passes through the floor of the cockpit. I expected there to be play and the shaft to be worn at the bearing. Wrong on both counts. The bronze Bristol used is tough stuff and the rudder post showed no signs of any wear. The bearing was fine and I re-plated the housing in gunmetal gray nickel plating.

Installing the rudder was at least five times harder than dropping it. Somebody please kick me if I ever get a notion to drop it again.