Category Archives: stuffing box

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.


So much for our theory about the stuffing box being pressed in. The come-along did nothing of the sort, and we decided to see what several rotations would do to budge the stuffing box. Despite being secured down to a gasket with four massive bolts and an abundance of Phillybond, which I’d best describe as day-glo orange MarineTex on steroids, it turns out the stuffing box was actually threaded onto the shaft tube! It took a massive custom-welded wrench, liberal application of WD-40 and 25 full rotations, each involving four repositions of said wrench, within the confines of the engine room to ultimately remove the stuffing box.

It’s moving!!!

And it’s OUT!

And why, you might ask, would we even embark on such a disturbing undertaking to begin with? To replace the inner cutlass bearing, buried deep within this stuffing box. An inner cutlass bearing? Yes. Never heard of that? You’re not alone. And while perhaps it may have been possible to access this particular bearing without removing the stuffing box, no one we spoke with could venture a guess as to how it was installed.

One very worn stern bearing…

The next step is to determine how this bearing is set in, removed and replaced, not to mention finding that replacement. The fun never ends!

The previous stuffing box struggles…

Acme Marine Repair Supplies?

The stuffing box is still within Annabel Lee. No efforts, banged knuckles or colorful language could persuade it otherwise.

It took some fine-tuning to make Really Big Wrench #2 fit properly but once it did Frank was able to turn the stuffing box, breaking it free from the bulkhead. So far, so good. Our next question — was it threaded on the stern tube or just pressed and bedded in — was answered when we found a gasket within the orange PhillyBond. I think it’s safe to say a gasket like that wouldn’t be present if it were threaded on. Unfortunately, without any means of apply pressure from behind our only option is to pull it from the bulkhead. That will require creating a bracket to mount on the stuffing box, a bracket we’ll mount to the motor mounts, and some turnbuckles to gradually increase the pull between while rotating the stuffing box back and forth within the bulkhead. More fabricating.

Sometimes we feel like Wile E. Coyote, constantly inventing our next solution. At least he had Acme. There are no tools built for this, or at least none we know of, (then again, dynamite might be an option!) no instruction manuals we can find, and the worst part is knowing we’ll have to put it all back together again when we’re done.

But at least it moves, and it it moves, that means it can come off. It’s just a matter of figuring how.

And now, in the sh*t you never think to check but should department… I give you the stern tube water intake.

(Missing picture, I’ll be updating these.)

We wanted to replace this plastic fitting on moral grounds. I strongly believe plastic like this has no place separating the inside of a boat from the water surrounding it. There is a reason bronze was created. Many reasons, in fact, and keeping the ocean out is high on that list. Anyhow, we removed it to facilitate stuffing box access and found it nearly plugged solid with some white substance… but what, and why? Closer inspection of the fitting itself revealed the problem. When this fitting was first installed someone applied a liberal amount of what I can imagine was Boatlife or a similar substance, with the intent of avoiding leaks. When the fitting was tightened down the sealant was displaced and formed a significant obstruction to water flow. It’s something to bear in mind when there’s an overheating problem, though fortunately in this case that hadn’t become an issue, and it’s definitely something to consider when installing fitting of this sort.

It most certainly didn’t leak, though.

Shipbuilders to the world for over a century…

That’s what it says on the Cheoy Lee web site, and through the weekend we gained a new appreciation for that statement. Since 1870 they’ve built a range of ships, tugs, and an assortment of yachts. Overbuilt is a more accurate term. The further we delve into our boat’s construction, removing the stuffing box and disassembling the steering, the more her shipyard lineage becomes apparent. Every book and article we find on stuffing boxes bear no resemblance to our specific stuffing box… until I found it! There it was… that one on the right! That’s our stuffing box. Then I scroll further down, only to see the image of an ocean liner. Oh-kay.

The steering is another curious situation. Again, nothing resembles the parts we’re dealing with, and there’s no manual to how it was assembled or how to take it apart. That is, if we can even get it apart. I’d swear this boat was built to break ice! Bit by bit we’re making cautious progress, learning more about our boat’s construction than we ever imagined. So for anyone treading this unfamiliar path, here’s what we’ve determined so far. The main steering housing is mounted to a massive block of solid teak, with the rudder and tiller removed.

With all bolts removed, it does NOT budge. It turns out the housing is threaded on, and with great effort is gradually turned counter-clockwise until it is unscrewed from the bronze pipe beneath.

The bronze pipe is then coaxed out the same way, leaving us with a cockpit full of parts. However….

The lower steering tube is bolted securely into the hull. We first removed the teak block, and discovered all four lag bolts were ever so slightly bent, a minor thing, but just enough to throw the main housing out of alignment with the lower housing. It’s likely this misalignment was just enough to result in last summer’s sticky steering. Whether the rudder or the bronze tube are bent remains to be determined. But it looks as though the main stress went to the weakest point, and that appears to be the lag bolts.

We removed the four carriage bolts, but no amount of persasion will separate this tube from the hull. We suspect there may be some 5200 at work here, and some research revealed a bit of assistance with a heat gun, combined with some gentle upward pressure and rotation may solve the problem. However, rotation is the problem, as no tools are large enough to grip the housing. This week Frank will be welding up some custom ‘wrenches’ to tackle this and the stuffing box base.

So here’s the sum of my weekend….

(Pic of truckload of boatparts has gone AWOL)

Funny thing is, when we bought this truck all those years ago, it was with the intent that it would tow something like a 23′ Steigercraft or the like. For several years it served as tow vehicle for Myra Lee. But never in my wildest imagination did I ever see it hauling parts like these.

WTF is that orange stuff???

That is the question of the day, (besides what did that guy do last night). It’s orange, and I mean BRIGHT orange.

So what is this stuff we’ve been scraping away? Turns out, it’s Phillybond Orange, a two component, epoxy paste, developed for sealing exposed edges on stern-tubes. Which is precisely what it’s doing, bonding the stuffing box to the stern-tube. And quite firmly sealed between them is the inner cutlass bearing. And by all appearances, that particular bearing is years past needing replacement, which brings us to why we’re trying to separate that brilliant orange bond.

Here’s the outer cutlass bearing and stern-tube. If you look real hard, you can almost see the engine from here. So what exactly is the stern tube constructed of? Yet another thing to ponder.

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.