It’s Hard on the Hard

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My wife Shawna posted her view of the time we spent with S/V Deosil on the hard in Jacksonville. I thought I would chime in and give my perspective and knowledge of the situation.

First off, Shawna and my little girl Cadence had it the hardest during this 2 week ordeal – This I cannot deny. I was getting up in the morning at 6:00am to get myself to work in an air conditioned office setting while they sweated there asses off with no AC in a black hulled boat smack in the middle of a Florida summer. I would get up each morning, grab all my shower stuff and clothes then hop in our car and drive over to the marina where we had a slip. The amenities were much nicer there than at the boat yard. The boat yard would have been doable shower-wise, but the marina is a 5 star joint with excellent bathroom facilities and it was less than a 5 minute drive from the boat yard… Simple choice really.

We arrived at the service slip with no help. I really singled handled the whole docking thing because Shawna just stood there after not being able to get a line over the wood pylon upon entry. After noticing her “ineffectiveness” due to some type of brain fart, or call it what you will, I put the boat in neutral and jumped out of the center cockpit onto the 2ft wide finger pier and got some lines wrapped and wrangled the boat in. It was actually a good feeling knowing that I could have actually been the only one aboard the boat. At 24,000lbs it is not the easiest boat to push around but luckily the winds were nil and the current was slack – lucky timing. Well, I did plan the tide thing… shouldn’t every sailor?!

We lived at the service slip on the boat for the weekend waiting for our turn in the slings. On Monday I nervously went off to work while Shawna stayed at the boat with Cadence. The service guy there helped her get the boat to the lift area and things proceeded from there. The boat bottom had tons of growth due to the lack of bottom cleaning. This was by choice actually, what was the use of paying for the bottom to be cleaned when we knew we were going to be hauling the boat out so soon anyway?!

As for the repairs, we went into the haulout wanting, or should I say needing, a new cutless bearing and a coat of bottom paint. We also needed to free up 3 frozen bronze tapered seacocks that would not budge. I was not going to force them while in the water so we decided to wait until we were on dry land to really give them a go. They ended up being easy to free up. We just loosened up the nut on the side and tapped them a bit and then cranked on the arm… they opened right up. I took all the pieces from each sea cock and cleaned and greased them before reassembling hoping all the while that they would not leak once back in the water. It was the first thing we checked when the boat was splashed and not a drop of water was leaking from any of them. A very good thing.

So, regarding the cutless bearing. I had done a bunch of research on the internet as to what size bearing we would need for a 1973 Allied Mistress and also about the replacement procedure due to the fact that we have a full keel and most likely the rudder was going to have to be dropped to remove the shaft and bearing… Thrilling stuff, and yes, the rudder had to be dropped. I thought that they would do it while in the slings so that there would be vertical room to drop it. It ends up that while the boat was in the slings they measured carefully and then just blocked the boat up that much higher so that the rudder could be removed… genius… and I was so worried about it.

When the shaft was being pulled so that they could get at the bearing, the bearing ended up coming out with the shaft. It was completely bonded. The head guy at the yard had to take an air chisel to get the bearing off. One afternoon he rummaged through a box of parts and pulled out the bearing to show me and noted that it was very, very thin. He called it a “slimline” bearing that is commonly used for powerboats and as a matter of factly stated it had no worldly business being in, on, or even near my boat. It makes sense, whoever replaced it last time could not find a cutless that would fit so they resorted to using something that would “fit” but not really be ideal. The old cutless was actually spinning in the shaft log for god knows how long. The thought makes me squirm. The bearing walls were so thin that the set screws couldn’t get any purchase whatsoever… so spinning was inevitable.

Now, what to do about the situation. It was easy. The old salty boat guy at the yard made a Macgyveresque boring device out of hole saws and reversed pilot hole saws with rod and such and bored the shaft log out 1/4″ over so it could take a regular ol’ standard sized cutless bearing with a nice thick wall for set screws to bite into. Problem solved.

Since our shaft was out, the dripless gland that we had was inspected and showed signs of wear on the plates… It had functioned perfectly for the 400 mile trip from N. Myrtle Beach to Jacksonville but was in need of maintenance. It most likely would entail replacing the whole enchilada since the unit is mostly a consumable item anyway. Well, guess what?! We ended up replacing the old dripless with a standard stuffing box. There are many reasons for this and I was told about the differing levels of safety between the dripless (bellows) type vs the stuffing box type. Thing is, when a dripless gland fails and starts springing water it is a very difficult situation to deal with. If you do manage to get a wrap of some kind of material around it to slow the water ingress you will not be able to turn the shaft afterwards and it ends up leaving you with no propulsion and the need to get on the radio to TowBoat US (or SeaTow if that’s your flavor) if it didn’t end up putting your boat on the bottom of the ocean in the first place!

The stuffing box is very simple, tried an true, and can be repacked with just about anything if it came down to it. You may not stop the water completely but it will be slowed enough so that a bilge pump could handle the volume of water breaching your hull and the most important thing is that you can still spin the shaft and have propulsion. One just needs to get to the nearest haulout facility and deal with it. I am sure a flask of rum would help with that. So, this is the main reason (besides price) that I decided to revert back to the traditional stuffing box. We are now in Vero Beach after running the boat with the new stuffing box 200 miles from Jacksonville via ICW and it has been working great. I adjusted it once after using an infrared temperature gun on it and thought it was a bit high. Not a big deal being that it was new and the packing was new and it was for sure going to need some break in time, but I still loosened it up a little for good measure so that I got a little drip of water from it making sure to keep it cool. Shawna and I had a morning procedure for the bilge water where we would just drop a towel (it is now referred to as the “Stanky Ass Bilge Towel”) with a length of string tied to it so we could drop it into the little puddle and soak up the water. Worked a treat. One could let the water build up and let the bilge pump deal with it but I am just not that kind of person no matter how hard I try.

It also ends up that the rubber rudder shaft boot was pretty much shot also, so it was a good thing that they had to drop the rudder, Oh the things that get revealed! A coat of bottom paint was slapped on and S/V Deosil was ready. The boat was splashed, leaks were checked for and one was found at the stuffing box area where the rubber tube from the stuffing box connects to the shaft log. Reason being the shaft log had to be made larger to take the rubber boot dimension for the new stuffing box. They added wraps of fiberglass and epoxy around the log until they had the correct diameter and it was leaking from there. It seems there were some imperfections in the new fiberglass wrap and it was just enough to let water drip out from where it should not be dripping from. The service guy wrestled with it for a bit and then put some sealant on it that is commonly used for cast metal exhaust fittings where leakage commonly occurs. It fixed the problem, and the boat… well, she was good to go.

All in all it was a tough time on the hard but well worth it. We now knew we had the repairs done and did not have to worry about them anymore. The boat made it another 200 miles without issue and our adventures are back on track.