Category Archives: Steering

It may not look like much right now…

but three layers of biaxial fiberglass/mat cloth, laid up with epoxy resin, is truly a thing of beauty.

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Everything is level and smooth, flush and even.  Next step, one more layer of biaxial, covering the entire bridge from end to end. Yes, it might fall along the range of overkill, but once I’m done this deck should be reasonably resistant to leaks, as well as missiles and/or the zombie apocolypse. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

As for those hole running along the sides of the bridge, I’ve cut access so I could pour in epoxy, filling the gap between the inner and outer walls of the bridge where it meets the deck — which was probably already completely sealed in previous steps, but then again, if you’re going to go with the overkill approach, you might as well go all out.  It was an interesting process involving a funnel and section of hose, but sorry, no pics. Whe I’ve saved the cutouts, which will be glassed back in place and faired out when all is done.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the boat, the new rudder bearing is securely in place. Progress moves forward.

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I know I haven’t been posting much these days. I’ve been a bit busy, between hurricane damage to the house, the marina where the boat is, and the marina where I’m working. But rest assured, work aboard the boat still continues, and I still continue to write.  Something has to give, and these days it seems it’s my online time….along with my sanity. But that’s another topic.

Getting our bearings at last!!!

They’re here! So shiny, so pretty! Our bright new Johnson Duramax cutless and rudder bearings!
Below: We had two of the cutless bearings machined to our specs, and ordered a third as a spare. Note the difference between original sleeve thickness and the machined thickness.

A tale of two bearings…

Technically, three bearings, and it begins with that original cutlass bearing. Looking back, that should have been the first sign that some unusual headaches would await us down the road. Back when we were buying Annabel Lee, the initial attempt at a sea-trial revealed a severely worn cutlass bearing, and the seller needed to replace that as one of the conditions of the sale. Simple enough? Apparently not, as days stretched into weeks and we were told the mechanic he’d hired to do the work was having difficulty locating a proper sized replacement. In truth, being that it was October and haul-out season was in full swing, we believed the delays were more a case of this job falling on the low end of the mechanic’s priorities, and being that it wasn’t our boat yet, things were out of our hands. Eventually a bearing turned up, I’m told, when the seller discovered he had a spare he’d completely forgotten about aboard. But the job was completed, the sea-trial and survey wrapped up, (including an inspection of the work by the surveyor, who completely overlooked the fact that the mechanic had installed the rudder tiller upside down, which led to another string of headaches, but that’s not today’s topic.) We’ve learned several lessons from that experience, including the realization that if no one could locate a bearing for a boat with a 1.75″ shaft, that might be a cause for consideration.

Move ahead a bit and we find ourselves working out various other mechanical kinks, including a stuffing box with a worn inner cutlass bearing (yes, they do exist) and numerous steering issues, including a rudder with (among other things) a bit too much play from a worn lower bearing. As with everything else on this boat it took some doing, (and thoughts of dynamite for more than one reason,) but ultimately we removed both the stuffing box and the rudder bearing with the innocent and simple intention of replacing both bearings… and that’s where things got interesting.

Let’s start with the rudder.

Yes, this is the rudder on a 32′ powerboat. But as with everything else on this miniature ship, it is overbuilt. The rudder blade itself measures 20″ wide by 34″ high, and if you take the shaft into consideration that brings the total length to 59″.  There’s even a removable deck plate in the cockpit that allows you to insert a manual ’emergency’ tiller onto the squared end, should the hydraulics fail. Details like this are among the reasons this boat, despite the work she needs, impressed me to begin with.

Tiller and upper assembly (with soda bottle to catch hydraulic fluid as we replaced the ram with blown seals.)

Rudder tube leading to lower bearing.

Above: Upper assembly removed.

Lower bearing housing coming out.

Above: Lower bearing housing removed.

Above: You might think there would be a set screw or two to keep the bearing from spinning, but there were none to be seen. Still, the bearing didn’t wouldn’t separate from the housing until we resorted to a hydraulic press.

Ultimately it turned out there was a set-screw concealed under layers of caulking/???, and not only was it hammered into place as not to EVER back out, but the head was also ground down. Two strong men and a whole lot of persuasion later and…

The tube is clear. And here’s the first bearing I’m trying to locate. It seems to be made of some hard composite.

And that brings us to the stuffing box.

The orange dust you see here is called ‘Phillybond’, a flexible stern tube sealant. It turns out that in addition to being bolted into the hull, the stuffing box was also threaded onto the stern tube, and sealed with Phillybond  epoxy as well.

Another view, to show just how deep this is set in.

First round with hydraulics only managed to remove the very much crudded-up collar that (theoretically) directs water around the shaft, but not the cutlass sleeve.

This was going to require a bit more pressure…

And victory at last!

But why was it so hard to remove the sleeve? Perhaps another hidden set screw, also hammered down and ground smooth then covered under years of age?

There it is. And here it is, the reputedly non-existent inner cutlass bearing.

And not surprisingly, this bearing is the same inner and outer dimension as the outer cutlass bearing. The inner diameter of 1.75″ is easy enough. It’s that outer dimension that makes things interesting. It’s 62 mm or 2.44″, a size we’ve discovered is harder to locate than you’d first imagine. And that’s where we are now, trying to track down two cutlass bearings with outer diameters of 62 mm.

We have a plan B and even a plan C, but ultimately the ideal would be plan A – replace these bearings apples to apples. Surely with all the trawlers and sailing craft coming out of Hong Kong during the seventies and eighties, ours can’t be the only boat built with bearings of these dimensions.

Update: presently we may have located a Duramax bearing with an outer diameter of 65 mm and an outer wall thick enough to be machined down to 62 mm. It’s a start but I’m still curious if there’s anything that starts out at a closer fit.

I knew it was possible…

…to repack the stuffing box WITHOUT sinking, despite Frank’s dire predictions.  In fact, I didn’t see it as nearly as dramatic as he did, then again, I suppose critical is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, we had repacked it earlier this spring, and it seems I was right, it was a bit too snug the first time, warmed up more than I liked, and the choice was made to switch from flax to synthetic with teflon. I was convince we could do this without short-hauling, and only a small bucket of water came through in the process. The bilge pump could have easily kept up, no sweat.

And now both rebuilt helm pumps and the ram have been swapped out for their new replacements, and all the hydraulics work perfectly, BUT the rudder still seems to hang up at one point, which, we suspect, is that bolt where the rudder sets into the skeg binding up.  At the time of the Great Keel Ordeal, nowhere around here had the correct style bolt for the purpose, and Frank voiced concern that the one we did use could cause problems. Only one way to be sure… high tide tomorrow we short haul.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that’s all it is, because if it isn’t we have no idea what it could be, and we won’t be moving much for the rest of the summer.  Ironically, had we realized we’d be short-hauling, we could have repacked the stuffing box then, and spared Frank some anxiety.

Steering issues and marine surveyors…

It must be July, as once again we rebuild the steering. In truth, more like replace. This goes back to last summer when the helm pumps and ram were failing, which goes back to the previous fall when, prior to our ownership, a mechanic, while replacing the cutlass bearing, reinstalled the rudder with the tiller arm upside down. This was done after the initial survey and days before we picked up the boat to move her from Salem to East Dennis in horrendous November seas. This was reportedly inspected by Rob Scanlan, CMS/MMS Master Marine Surveyor, both before and after the initial survey, but was clearly overlooked.

This was just one of many issues, such as our well documented keel problem Rob Scanlan failed to note in his initial survey, as he was supposed to inspect the cutlass replacement and was reportedly present while the skeg was removed. I would like to note Mr. Scanlan NEVER sent me a final, complete survey following the sea-trial, even after numerous polite requests, all made prior to our realizing any of these overlooked issues. This oversight allowed the tiller to overswing the rudder stops, which in turn left the ram cylinder completely misaligned and allowed it to move far beyond the proper 30 degree angle, causing it to alternately bleed hydraulic fluid and draw air into the lines. This lack of hydraulic fluid contributed to the ultimate failure of both helm pumps, as well as the hydraulic fluid ‘burping’ from the upper helm destroying the mastic bedding on the bridge deck, which in turn caused leaking into the cabin and damage to the interior joinery. Needless to say, it was one very costly, and potentially critical oversights.

When I consider the conditions we travelled through with steadily failing steering, I realize we were fortunate things hadn’t turned out worse. Far worse. We hired Mr. Scanlan, a “Certified and Accredited Master Marine Surveyor”, as an agent to inspect the boat thoroughly, a boat many hours from our home, and we paid for a full survey, not just the ‘insurance’ survey, knowing we’d be travelling a good distance in an unfamiliar boat late in the fall as the weather went from bad to worse, only to find oversights such as this.  Mr. Scanlan’s site was filled with glowing praise and testimonials, and it seems oddly surprising that his survey missed a number of critical points. It is unfortunate that Rob Scanlan never returned my calls or sent me a final survey, and it is unfortunate that ultimately I’m left wondering whose interests he was serving; the buyer, who he may likely never meet again, or the yacht broker with whom I’m sure he’s had past dealings with and will likely see again through his career.

So back to the present, as in last weekend. Frank knew last year’s rebuild of the old pumps and ram cylinder weren’t permanent fixes, but they carried us through the summer while we waited for the new parts to arrive. Maybe we’d get another season out of them. Maybe not. The bridge helm was starting to act up, so we decided to be safe and swap it out for the new one. I suggested if we were going to open the lines, we might as well just do it all and leave the old parts packed as spares. Of course, there were the usual issues of one or another random bolts that needed replacement, which ate up hours of running around looking for the right hardware. By Sunday night all was installed and the bleeding had begun, but it’s likely there’s still a bit of air to clear out. A good day or two of chop should do that.

Update: I have since discovered  a discussion on the Wooden Boat forum where another dis-satisfied customer with a boatload of problems states “beware of a surveyor named Rob Scanlan…” and “if I ever do get the survey I paid $1500 for, I will show that to anyone who wants to see it.”

And this little tidbit recently came to my attention and I found it rather interesting. I’ll let the article speak for itself:

Massachusetts resident Rob Scanlan advertised himself as an accredited marine surveyor, using the acronym “AMS” to the chagrin of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS), which alleged it owned the certification mark “AMS.”Odd, that wasn’t on Rob Scanlan’s resume.

SAMS sued Scanlan in Florida and a U.S. District Court there found Scanlan in default. SAMS then tried to enforce the judgment in Massachusetts before Judge George A. O’Toole Jr.

O’Toole held SAMS failed to provide proof of proper service in the Florida action. On the merits, Scanlan counterclaimed to cancel the “AMS” mark. O’Toole granted SAMS summary judgment on that issue since Scanlan failed to prove “AMS” was generic. Soc’y of Accredited Marine Surveyors, Inc. v. Scanlan, 2005 WL 670541 (D. Mass. 2005).

The bridge deck… It begins.

There are certain things that go hand in hand with owning a 32 year old boat. A certain sense of adventure, I suppose. Optimism is helpful as well. Determination.Perseverance.I’m sure anyone with an old boat has their share of stories, and please, I’d love to hear them. Pictures are an added bonus. If you’ve been there and done that, I and all those lurkers (yes, I know you’re out there!) who visit my niche on the web would appreciate knowing how you took on your specific projects. What obstacles did you encounter, how did you overcome them, what lessons did you learn? In sharing war stories, perhaps in the end we can save the next soul some misery. Which is why I’ve chosen to document the various endeavors we undertake aboard Annabel Lee.

And so another phase of work begins. Yet again our old Sable Wagon (AKA the Mars Rover) is earning its keep, this time bringing home sections of the bridge decking. But why is the decking being removed from the boat,you ask. (For bigger, higher resolution, and therefore scarier pictures, click here.)


First, let’s roll the clock back  to last summer. There’s our bridge. Look closely, see all the missing plugs over screws fastening it down. From what I’d been told, the former owner was very fond of his power sander. Evidence is all over the boat, where teak has been sanded clear down to the fasteners in many places. What had once been 1/2″ thick is now down to 1/4″ or less.


The sad fact is the decks look dismal from above,  and from below… well… here’s a few thousand words in photo form.


Leaks, leaks, and more leaks. Of course, this was aggravated by one or more run-ins of deck bedding versus hydraulic steering fluid.  We’re only too aware that the upper helm had more than once leaked, and in lowest spots of the bridge, (made even lower by years of zealous oversanding) the fluid ate through the bedding, through the bedding around the screws, and eventually, well,  see above and below.


Also, notice what resembles a hole concealed beneath the headliner. That’s just what it is. A nice big hole, where the cables run up to the radar mast. You can see the mast in the photo from last summer. The bedding around that mast had long since failed, and the hole and the leaks it created are one of the reasons we’ll be replacing that mast. We plan to set up a mast with a steadying sail, and the radar will be set on that mast, with all cables route properly as not to lead water into the cabin. But that’s another project.


Some plugs have managed to stay, but some with the aid of a pick they can be persuaded out. The bronze screws beneath, on the other hand…


…are another story. Some come agreeably. Some snap at the head. Some strip out. They’re almost like machine screws, not very long, and blunt-tipped, and they go only so deep into the very very thick fiberglass beneath. But here and there, some have been replaced with much longer stainless wood screws, and these go further, down into the teak coring beneath the glass. There is, in places, some delamination, but far as we can tell it seems very slight. I’m sure given more time it would have progressed.

000deck4And so here’s where we stand. The planks are coming up in reasonable order. The fiberglass subdecking will need to be cleaned, any delamination addressed, all screw holes (hundreds) drilled out and epoxied closed. And then, well, that’s to be determined. PlanA. My hope is we can salvage the original decking, I’ve seen it done, by epoxying it down to sheets of marine plywood, and refastening that to the subdecking. That’s how they do teak decking these days on new builds. No screws. Of course we’ll have to re-plug all the screw-holes in the teak, so in the end it would look identical to the original decking. It depends on how easily I can clean down the old bedding to prep the wood for epoxy.  Plan B. Frank’s looking into salvaged teak, which would be cut to size and epoxied down in the same manor as Plan A. Plan C. New teak. Less labor than A or B, more $$$s. Plan D. Flexi-teak or some simular product, but again, more $$$s.

One final note as we forge ahead. This is just the bridge. Eventually the cockpit, forward and side decks will all require the same attention.

And just when you think it’s safe to go back on the water…

The dogs have new life-vests, the weather’s superb, and my calendar’s clear of any obligations. So why is it that rather than sitting up burning the midnight oil writing away while anchored at Croton after an afternoon spent scrubbing the waterline and swimming under to inspect the prop, I’m instead at home, high and dry, surfing the web for information on repairing a Maxwell windlass. Yeah, well, I’d say it’s pretty obvious, and it yet again ties into that whole 31 year old slightly neglected boat equation. The engine’s running fine (knock on wood), the steering’s doing just what it’s supposed to, (knock that wood again), but it seems the windlass decided it was time for some attention. The motor seems to work, though the control circuit’s acting funky, and the whole system operates only in the ‘down’ direction. We could drop anchor, but that’s where it and 200 feet of chain would stay. Tomorrow we dissect and see what’s going on inside. With any luck, it’s something minor and repairable.