Prop problems, lessons in alignment, and disappearing stern tubes (in Harpswell, Maine)

There are so many things we’ve learned and lessons we’ve lived through in this whole prop / engine mount / engine aligning / stern tube / stuffing box / dripless saga, that I don’t even know where to start. Even the cliff-notes version ends up being a chapter book. Suffice to start with, “aligning a sailboat engine is a task that appears simple on the outside, but actually has tentacles into many, many, many other aspects of the entire propulsion system”. And, “don’t trust the prop experts”.

Let’s start at the beginning. Aligning an engine.

In theory, you’re trying to get the shaft coupler to perfectly match up with the transmission on the back of the engine. In our case, this means you’re laying upside down underneath the cockpit floor, with your feet approximately 8″ above your head, absolutely zero wiggle room, and three mounts that you get to move up and down and up and down and up and down in a desperate attempt to get your engine ‘aligned’.

If you’re me, this also means learning (the hard way) that “aligning an engine” is not just about getting these things parallel to one another. Being in line is EQUALLY (if not more) important. Cue toast example of engine alignment:

how to align a sailboat engine - toast eample

The toast examples are how I personally killed our first set of engine mounts. Turns out that if you get things perfectly parallel, but not at all lined up, your rubber mounts just disintegrate. And you’re left trying to source new engine mounts, again, in Mexico, again, which really means relying on seriously generous friends to pack engine mounts into their carry-on for you, again! Fun, I tell ya šŸ™‚

Anyways, after we got the second set of mounts and the second round of engine aligning done (on our honeymoon – spring of 2013), the propulsion system was pretty happy. We were never fast (3.8 knots seems to be our most common motoring speed), but we were happy.

Until last summer. When we sucked some seaweed into our prop, overheated our stern tube to the point of a mini-fire, and ended up doing a surprise refit in Rockland. Surprise!

This was also when we decided, “screw it! if we’re doing a refit, let’s DO A REFIT!” We started with a new “Lasdrop” shaft seal (to replace the stuffing box that had completely seized when the whole setup overheated), and we decided to upgrade with a new prop shaft, new prop coupler, and new prop. We gave AccuTech the marine propeller company, our old prop, old shaft, and old coupler, and they sold us new gear. We installed it all, and it looked great:

accutech prop

It was big! It was shiny! It was so much better suited to our boat! It was going to make us so much faster!

It hit the boat.

Literally, in forward gear at any moderate amount of RPMs, the prop would hit the aperture.

(Side note: Don’t even get me started… Yes, in hindsight it’s obvious that it’s too big, and yes, maybe we the non-prop-experts should have known that this prop was too big… but we didn’t spec this prop. We just followed AccuTech’s advice, bought the prop and shaft and coupler that they recommended, and installed the damn thing. Do you think they offered any sympathy when we called to complain about this absolutely not right prop setup they’d sold us? Nope. Instead they got downright cranky and we completely gave up trying to reason with them. I always love when emails end with, “our lawyers will be in touch” — it strikes such a confident, classy note).

I digress.

This whole prop saga ended our cruising season last summer. We plunked Brio into her winter slip, hunkered down for our first winter in Maine, and pondered what to do about our brand new prop. AccuTech’s suggestion had been to install a shaft saver, to push the prop an inch further back. We tried numerous shaft savers (bright orange donut-looking things that somehow all range from $250-$350), but none gave us enough clearance off the aperture without also exposing a lot of unsupported shaft.

What all this installing and un-installing of drive savers DID reveal to us though, was that our stern tube had been slowly but surely getting worn away by our prop shaft. Yep, you heard me, we had another propulsion-related problem. This is a horrible picture, but if you’ve been staring at your stern tube lately you might appreciate it:

stern tube worn down by prop shaft

The arrow is pointing to what used to be our stern tube. The Lasdrop shaft seal is supposed to slide over that and be tensioned with a couple of hose clamps, but we were having a heck of a time getting it tight enough to not leak. NO WONDER!!

(Side note: If you’re not a boater but you’ve somehow found yourself lost in the depths of the internet reading about our stern tube, a) I’m sorry for you, and b) you should know that this tube thing we’re pointing at leads directly to the ocean, so the shaft seal is literally the only thing that is stopping the boat from sinking. Except in our case, where the shaft seal actually wasn’t stopping our boat from sinking, so we were sinking. At the dock. Very laissez-faire-like.)

So here we were again, early-August in Maine, faced with a prop that was too big and a stern tube that wasn’t there at all. What to do? Did we ignore the problem, hope the bilge pump would run and the prop would eventually wear itself down to a reasonable size? Decide to just spend our summer at the dock and deal with it all next summer? Or bite the bullet and swallow the irony and go for another August haul-out, hoping to maybe save some small part of the sailing season…

Hauled out at Finestkind in Harpswell, Maine

I guess you already know which answer we picked šŸ™‚

But don’t worry, the story doesn’t end there! See, to get any kind of access to the stern tube (other than the upside-down access previously mentioned), we realized we were going to have to remove our engine. In land-life, this is kind of like deciding you might have to remove your roof*. But, you know, just temporarily while you get access to the parts you’re really working on.

So we took the engine out.

(*This was actually not the horrible experience I’d feared it might be. With a giant beam and a chain-fall, we took the engine out and put it back in a total of three round trips on this haulout alone, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, if needed)

Removing the engine from a small sailboat

With the engine out, we had EXCELLENT access to the stern tube. We were able to cut back that flimsy bit of stern tube (to get to the nice solid bit), order a larger Lasdrop to fit that size of stern tube (cuz nothing fixes boat problems like cold, hard, cash) and get the engine back in and on new mounts.

Cue engine alignment!

While I still don’t really know how to align an engine, I definitely know multiple ways not to.

We put the engine back in, and started the three-mount game. Up on one, down on the other. Down in the front, up in the back. Toast?

When push came to shove, we realized that we just weren’t getting it. No matter what, we were out by about 1/8″, and in feeler gauge world? That’s too much. I fought it, Jon insisted, and in the end we accepted that it just wasn’t good enough and we needed to find a way to shift the whole engine to port just a smidge.

Engine mounts on the stringers without the engine

So we bit the bullet, took the engine out again, scratched our heads for a while, realized that the engine mount HOLES needed to be shifted over about 1/4″ to give us any kind of wiggle room, cut a chunk out of one of the engine stringers (hard block of wood) to give us more clearance off the engine block, filled the old stringer holes with epoxy and wood, drilled new holes, re-mounted the engine mounts (shifted to port 1/4″), and RE-ALIGNED THE DAMN ENGINE AGAIN.

And this time?

It was toast, ten out of ten.

***

Just to keep life interesting, we also used this haul-out to remove and clean our stove (omg we should do that more often), remove and clean our aluminum fuel tank (omg it had a hole in it), remove our table (omg we may be taking this minimalist thing a little too far, but we no longer have a table), scrape-sand-paint the bottom (omg we’ve owned the boat long enough that Jon had to sand down the bottom again), replace all of our fuel lines and fittings, replace our engine starter approximately 2 hours before they launched us, and, oh yes, install a new prop.

Aluminum fuel tank repair

O-M-G, we literally bought another new prop. NOT from AccuTech this time šŸ˜›

This time we bought a Campbell Sailer’s Prop, from the company in BC, and so far — we LOVE it. To be fair, we never really got to see what the other prop could do for us propulsion-wise (since it obviously couldn’t get up to full RPMs), but the Campbell Sailer’s Prop absolutely gives us better propulsion, has less drag sailing, and seems to give us good maneuverability in the marina (you know that’s important to me — gotta focus to hit those pilings!).

It doesn’t *look* like it would go fast…

Campbell Sailer Prop vs Chesapeake regular prop

…But a super quick test of max RPMs gave us 5.7 knots. We won’t run the engine at max revs, but it was nice to know our boat might actually be capable of motoring at 6 knots if we ever needed it to.

Full props (hehehe) go to Jon, for shouldering the absolute brunt of this boat-load of work while also balancing his business and our summer fun… somehow we managed a five-week haulout without going broke, going mad, or giving up on Brio… and I think I’m getting downright mediocre at aligning engines!

That’s a success in my books šŸ™‚

LMK

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Visits (Vancouver, BC)

Have you EVER met someone from Vancouver, Washington? I’m sure there are many fine people who live in Vancouver, WA but I have to tell you I find it CRAZY how often I’ll tell people I’m from Vancouver and their first question will be “Canada or Washington?”. What are the odds it’s Washington?!?! (Although I just googled it and apparently it’s the 4th largest city in Washington State, so maybe I’m being touchy) šŸ˜‰

Those West Coast sunsets

Anyways!

We had an amazing visit to Vancouver. It feels like the more I go back, the more I appreciate Vancouver for the natural beauty that it is. I get the appeal of mountains (REAL mountains) and West coast sunsets in a whole new way.

Jess swimming with Grouse Mountain in the background

But also the more I go back, the more that I realize how much I live in Maine now. I moved to Maine, and I really, really like it here.

Portland, especially, is the perfect combination of a charming city perched on the edge of fantastic bays and islands and cruising, with a legal liveaboard marina right in the heart of it all (which is a serious challenge in Vancouver), tons of bright sunny days and afternoon breezes, all the city-living perks of restaurants and coffee shops and weekend festivals but without the big-city traffic, a job I truly love, and a healthy dose of winter blizzards to make sure we don’t get too complacent in our old age šŸ™‚

West coast sunsets are pretty hard to beat

Given all of that, the only hard part that remains is being away from family and friends. I love my family something fierce, let me tell you that. I don’t know if it’s because we spent 7 years living on Synchronicity or because of Jess’ accident or our DNA or some combination of all the above, but we’re a pretty awesome family unit, and I’m not ashamed to say it šŸ™‚ So living on opposite coasts causes me a pretty great deal of stress, and I’m still trying to figure it out.

This is what I’ve learned so far…

  1. Visits to Vancouver should be more than 10 days but less than 21. One week is not nearly enough time to feel like I had a real visit, but more than two-ish weeks and it starts to feel hard to get back into a groove in Maine.Ā Sailing under the Lion's Gate Bridge in Vancouver
  2. Working on East Coast hours works amazingly well. Yes, it means starting at 5:30 am, but it also means being off by 2ish without taking any precious, precious vacation days šŸ™‚ Since Jess trains every day (she’s a professional athlete on the BC wheelchair rugby team) and mom and dad are at work too, this seems to work for everyone. I am SERIOUSLY grateful to work for a company that is okay with remote work — it facilitates my deepest life needs in the best possible way. In Ganges
  3. Quality over quantity — although there’s some pretty good quantity too. If I look back at the last 12 months, I’ve spent 8 weeks in Vancouver. That’s two whole months of dedicated visiting! It doesn’t always feel like enough — I miss Sunday night dinners and easy afternoon coffees, but I think the quality of time makes up for some of the missing quantity. I’m going to misquote Bumfuzzle a little on this, since I think he put it nicely:
    “Over time, I think, our lifestyle has actually afforded us more time with our families than had we stayed put in Chicago. Iā€™m sure there is no way we would have seen each other as much had we slipped into the grind, even if [visits] would have been cheaper and easier.”Love these two so so much
  4. Memories matter most. Kind of related to the point above, but I find that visits where we go out of the way to make memories — concerts, sailing trips, spontaneous ocean swims, blo-bar hairdos, BBQ’s, sleepovers, drinks on the beach — are the ones that we remember forever. Bonus points if there are a million photo-taking opportunities included.

We did a good job of following the rules this trip, and I have the memories (and photos!!!) to prove it šŸ™‚

Mary Kruger - Synchronicity

2016-07-15 20.58.35 Birthday cake onboardĀ Ā  Beaching in Kits with JessĀ Ā  At the Old Dominion Kenny Chesney concert with Jess Jess loves creampuffs Ā  Sister pics with a random in the background Blo bar results Ā  Jess just hanging out in Synchy Boom funĀ  Sisters Jess just hanging out in Synchy - climbing the stairs!

Thanks for the visit, Vancouver!!

LMK šŸ™‚

The Mythical Maine Swimming Hole (in “The Basin”)

I think I’ve been swimming in Maine a grand total of 3 times to date, and one of those times was a 10-second dip to confirm that our brand new prop was, indeed, too big for our boat, and was, indeed, trying to tear a chunk of our hull.

So when Jon mentioned that people really liked “The Basin” because of its warm swimming waters, I was… highly skeptical, to put it nicely šŸ™‚

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But we wanted to go somewhere new for our spectacular Canada Day / 4th of July extra-long-long-weekend, so The Basin it was.

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A gorgeous downwind sail reminded us of how fun sailing can be…

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And an absolute idyllic, land-locked anchorage reminded us of how much we like being out on the hook…

2016-07-03 07.45.00Ā  2016-07-03 07.58.55

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Drinking coffee at anchor might be my most favourite activity in the ENTIRE world…

2016-07-03 08.02.00

Oh and this was the debut of our new flexible solar panel (below) — so now we can actually see over our dodger when we’re docking, anchoring, or just generally driving around.

Personally I felt like being able to see exactly what’s in front of you might take some of the surprise and fun out of maneuvering a small, hard-to-maneuver sailboat, but Jon convinced me to give it a go…

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And she does look kind of nice with the cleaner lines…

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AND, surprise of all surprises — we got in the water and SWAM.

And not just a 10-second dip either! No, no, no, instead we discovered an additional fun aspect of the newly-made outboard throne — it floats! Since it’s stuffed with 4 adult lifejackets, it even floats quite nicely!

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It was heaven.

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And with a boisterous bash back to Portland, the whole long-long-weekend was complete!

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I think we’ll be back to The Basin soon!

LMK šŸ™‚

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