Boat Maintenance Boatyard

Boatyard Blues | The Encore

Monday, June 19, 2017S.V. CAMBRIA

Okay. It’s time to bite the bullet and write about what happened and why we’re (still) on the hardstand. It’s not an easy thing to do. The last place in the world we want to be is sitting in a boatyard – we just spent four weeks on the hard in October, after all. But it is what it is, so we might as well tell you all about it.

Here’s where I left the story in a previous blog post:

There’s one thing you can count on while sailing the Inside Passage and that’s debris in the water. David and I take this hazard very seriously – we’ve seen too many boats with holes in them not too. And despite the fact that we keep a keen eye out at all times, we’ve hit a log or two along the way.

After leaving Quartermaster Harbor, we made our way down to Tacoma Narrows where there’s a decent current flowing (0 to 5 knot range). It was close to slack tide, but the water was “active” and we could see a rip line ahead with some debris gathered along it. We had a clear path, though, and went through.

Then we heard a sound we hadn’t expected – bang! A direct hit to the prop. 

We put the motor in neutral and looked behind us, expecting to see a log pop up, but there was nothing there. Back in gear and moving forward, we felt a slight vibration from the engine but it seemed to settle down so we continued to Carr Inlet where we anchored off the home of some friends, thinking we’d dodged a bullet. But when David put the boat into reverse to set the anchor, we learned the truth: Cambria no longer had any rear propulsion and there was a “ticking” sound was coming from the prop – we were going to have to haulout.

These things always seem to happen on the weekend and, because it was a holiday, we had to wait until Tuesday to contact our insurance and a boatyard. We were closer to Tacoma, but Melissa from the blog “Little Cunning Plan” told me they didn’t allow live-aboards so David called Swantown Boat Works in Olympia – the yard that they would be hauling out in themselves the following week.

We had two choices: Wednesday or Friday morning. Not sure that we could make the earlier appointment, we chose the latter and slowly made our way to the work dock at the boatyard over the course of a couple of days.

The yard staff loaded Cambria into the sling and when she came out of the water, we discovered a surprise: The prop hadn’t been hit by a log after all. It was a heavy-duty lawn bag. 
The insurance surveyor came out that afternoon to assess the damage. She was really good and recommended a long-list of items to check. We were way ahead of her, but needed some tools first – most of which were still in storage. So, we put a list together of what we needed, rented a car, and drove up to Kingston to fetch it all.

Monday saw the arrival of Mike and Melissa aboard Galapagos. We’d been threatening to meet up for months and were finally getting our chance, albeit in a boatyard. But here’s something you may not have thought about (because we hadn’t): Buddy-boating in a yard makes the experience a lot more fun. You should try it. 

David got to work taking the prop apart (it’s a 3-bladed feathering MaxProp) and checking the shaft for damage. He spent several days going over everything and felt confident it was just as he’d left it seven months earlier when he’d gone over the driveline – replacing the engine mounts, coupling, dripless shaft seal, and cutlass bearing.

I’ll admit it. We were feeling pretty relieved, but we shouldn’t have been. The amount of torque the bag applied to the prop while it was spinning should have had us looking deeper for answers (i.e. involving the professionals), not running away from them. But we were too keen to get back in the water, and that’s when mistakes can happen.

The yard put us in the sling on Thursday and David tested the prop once Cambria was floating again. We had reverse propulsion back and everything seemed fine. So, we tied up to the work dock for the night and made plans to leave with the tide the following day.

At 10 o’clock the next morning, we dropped our lines and slowly motored up the channel. By 10:15 am, we heard a noise. It sounded like a work whistle coming from shore. I checked my watch. Tea time? That seemed a bit odd so I stuck my head outside the cockpit and the sound faded away. It wasn’t a whistle at all – it was the prop . . . singing! So we turned around and went back to the boatyard.

A few phone calls later, and we learned this meant it’s likely the prop was out of balance and it would need to be serviced. The shaft would also have to be pulled and inspected beyond what David was able to do with it in place. But we couldn’t haul out again until Monday (damn the busy season!).

Mike and Melissa came back in the water on Friday and joined us at the dock for a night or two, misery loves company after all. But come Monday we went our separate ways – us back into the yard, and them out to anchor. I’m sure our paths will cross again. At least I hope they do. They’re a lovely couple and we really enjoyed spending time together. If you ever see Galapagos on the water, do yourself a favour and say hello. You won’t regret it.

David went to work removing the prop and shaft. And guess what. The shaft was bent at the taper by 70,000th of an inch (about 1.1 mm). Bloody plastic bags!

We rented another car on Tuesday and drove up to Seattle to drop the prop and shaft off – one to be checked and serviced, the other to be straightened. But unfortunately, the shaft couldn’t be fixed and a new one had to be made, which Sound Propeller Services delivered on Friday (they don’t have a website but we can’t say enough good things about their customer service). We haven’t heard anything from the PropShop, Ltd. yet, but it’ll be interesting to learn what the issue there was.

So, that’s the story up until now, such as it is. We’re just hanging out on the hard (again), twiddling our thumbs and dreaming of the day we can go back in the water . . . hopefully for good!

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  1. Wow - this is scary -->> "we’ve seen too many boats with holes in them." I used to think I wanted to cruise up there, but now I'm not too sure. :-(

    Hope you get out of there soon.

    1. It's not the best way to end our PNW cruising experience (we really do have bad luck!), but I promise you the scenery makes up for all the time and energy spent on keeping a sharp eye on the water. You should definitely come!

    2. This can happen anywhere so don't let this stop you cruising up here, Ellen. We have great cruising grounds. Lots of cruisers have left the PNW only to return because they liked these cruising waters better than the ones they had sailed to. Come on up!

  2. Having just spent my first week on the hard (oddly enough also because of a little propeller/shaft/motor mount incident —albeit my own fault) I can now actually sympathize. It was truly worse than I had imagined. I think the only thing that saved us was Leslie had to fly to Toronto for a week so I got to bach it.

    As for keeping a watch out, I am continually surprised how cavalier people are in these waters. We sailed through a log infested tide line the other day that had me glad the engine was off...

  3. We, too, were glad to have a buddy boat in the yard! That does make the time go faster and we enjoyed hanging out with you guys. We'll still be in Gig Harbor at anchor until July 8. Come on by and stay here a couple of days! We'll save you a spot.

  4. What a terrible experience! How fun to meet other commiserators......but it's always sad when you're left alone in the boatyard and forced to look at other people's cheery facebook statuses.

  5. That's quite the story and the nightmare, Stephanie! Plastic bags are nasty, for the environment and for the props, apparently. Who would have guessed it could do substantial damage like this? Did you ever jump in the water after you first noticed the odd behavior of the prop? I'm wishing you both speedy solutions for the prop and shaft, so you can get back in the water as quickly as possible. Life in the boat yard is no fun! And, those darn holidays... :-)

  6. 70000th of an inch isn't 1.1mm. I'm wondering if you meant 70000th of a degree? 1/70000 is so small I'd be surprised the measuring device had that level of resolution.

    1. Hiya Patrick, This is David, the Skipper of the fine vessel Cambria in the flesh. Just browsing our blog, noticed your comments, and felt the need to respond and clarify for the benefit of any others who may happen on the information. (...and believe it or not writing to, or on a Blog is a first for me. So here goes ...)

      You are correct. However the distortion was not actually a 70,000th of an inch (1/70,000") but actually 70 one thousandths of an inch (70/1000"). Or, if you speak in shorthand, as I frequently do when I'm talking through an engineering issue, that becomes 70 thou., which unfortunately didn't translate too well into real, spoken English. Also, 70 thou is 1.778 mm - nearly 2 mm - or just a nudge over 1/16". From a "plastic bag" yet.

      To give you some background, for work requiring precision measurement I carry a small selection of standard machine shop/fitter's tools including a dial test gauge, a couple of micrometers, and analog vernier and digital calipers, all of which can measure down to 0.001" or less. Also a digital angle gauge which was a real find!. Because space, weight and "useful purpose aboard" are real considerations on a yacht, I would suspect that not too many cruisers carry this type of gear aboard. I've accumulated these for specific jobs through the years and, as an example, can no longer imagine trying to perform a decent, accurate engine alignment quickly and efficiently without them. I'll never forget (as in events such as these still haunt my dreams) how laborious and painstakingly slow the process to realign the motor was after replacing the mounts. What previously could take me two days or more to achieve I can now accomplish in three hours or so. And with considerably less swearing.
      Anyway, thanks for checking in with the blog. (And now that I've probably managed to put most of the readership to sleep by now, I'll sign this off).

      Cheers, David

  7. Nice write up David, you never know what the water is going to throw at you, nor the effect of a plastic bag wrapped around a prop. Thanks for sharing, great knowledge to build on as I head towards my adventure.

    1. Thanks, Roy. I (Stephanie) write all of the blogs and am always happy to hear our experiences (both good and bad) are helpful.