June 7, 2013.
Sorry that I've been remiss in writing but between work at work and working on the boat there hasn't been too much time for anything else. Oh, and speaking of work, I'm back to being a mechanic again. Its a little sooner than I figured but the shorter hours are a blessing with so much to do on our boat.
We've been following the trials and tribulations of a couple of internet friends as they grind their way through preparing to cruise. Between the mechanical failures and their battles with various rain water leaks its been very much like recounting our own past.
Their cruising boat is the largest sailing vessel on a small mid western lake. The boat will soon be loaded onto a truck and driven overland to a point on the eastern seaboard where she will get her first taste of saltwater. This week they had a mechanical failure that we've suffered through at least 3 times. It was weird how blase we've become when it comes to this particular failure. They're still in the “OMG, it broke” part of the cruising boat relationship while we've graduated to the “ oh that, not again” phase.
When the coupling shaft bolts break it can be pretty traumatic. In a standard drive train its not that big a deal unless you're in a sticky spot. In a boat with a V-drive its a giant pain in the ass no matter where you are.
The first time ours let go we were in the Hawk Channel a few miles from Marathon, Fl. We had just started the engine as the wind went light and we were in the midst of a massive field of crab pot floats. All 4 of our coupling bolts sheared off and I only had 2 more onboard. I put the 2 new acceptable bolts into place and we very slowly sailed right up to the bridge before motoring gingerly through at 1000 RPM's. We had our friends on s/v Freedom close at hand to give us an emergency tow in case it was needed but we ghosted into the harbor, picked up a mooring and set about a more serious repair.
The second time we were better prepared but found ourselves in a very remote area. It was our first trip to the Ragged Island chain in the Bahamas. We entered the anchorage at Flamingo Cay once again in the company of the Freedom's. As we slowly motored in towards the anchorage the coupling bolts sheared and we coasted to a stop a couple of hundred yards short of the cays protection. I had a complete set of new bolts and after installing them we pulled the hook and motored into the anchorage proper.
After this second failure I did some research and bought the best bolts I could find. I figured that shoddy bolts were failing and better bolts would be the solution. So once we were back in the states I bought some new bolts and installed them.
The third time the bolts sheared we were motoring south on the Chesapeake Bay. We were a few miles north of Norfolk with no appreciable wind. The water was 70 feet deep so anchoring was not an option. We pulled out the genoa and “sailed” at about a half a knot southward. I was sure that since we had the extraordinary bolts in place we must have snagged a crab pot and the props sudden stop had sheared the bolts. So following this line of thinking somebody was going to have to go over the side and clear the propeller. I soon had a line tied around my chest to keep me with the boat as I slipped into the water.
The first thing I remember noticing is how clear the water was down near the mouth of the Chesapeake. My second thought was how the hell I was going to get back onboard if the wind suddenly piped up. The waters clarity revealed to me that there was in fact nothing binding the prop shaft. The bolts had just inexplicably failed again. An underway repair was once again made and we continued on.
The alignment had always checked out as good so I had always considered the broken bolts to be the issue but in a safe anchorage after a thorough examination I found what I think was the real culprit. The female threads for the bolts were located in the flange on the transmission. I found them to be “bell mouthed”. The threads were plenty solid enough to get a proper torque on but there was enough play to allow lateral movement under strain. I changed out the flange and (knocking wood now) the problem has been solved.
The past is the past and we survived it and I'm sure they will as well. I still remember the first time it failed on us and how traumatic it was and looking back it just seems like soooo long ago. Enough for tonight, its raining and I have to go check for new leaks...
Until next time you can read about 2 couples that I've been following as they get ready to cut their respective docklines at s/v Honey Rider and s/v Kintala .