Making the bed for an engine
The back story – Some readers may remember that we had a problem with “Morgane’s” engine bed while we were in the Chilean channels on our way north ( I wrote about it in this post ). The repair that I made then had held for the rest of journey to Valdivia; but one of the reasons for staying in Valdivia over the winter had been to make a proper repair. Repair is rather a poor way to describe what we had to do; rip it all out and start again is what we really had to do.
Then while we were busy it seemed sensible to change the propeller shaft which was showing signs of serious crevice corrosion and had a slight wobble; it had been welded up and straightened in Stanley, by Mike Mckay, but was never going to be as good as new.
And then there was the issue of the propeller. The propeller fitted to “Morgane” when I bought her seemed to be a bit oversized and/or had too much pitch. I decided to investigate sourcing a new propeller and while making sure that I had all the correct specifications of the gearbox and suchlike discovered that the gearbox was running in reverse i.e. the propeller fitter was a lefty when we actually needed a right-handed prop. The gear ratio on this gearbox is very similar in ahead and astern so it wouldn’t have made much difference to performance and the engine manufacturers were of the opinion that “if it has worked like that for this long then it will probably continue to work”. However we decided to straighten everything out and fit a new propeller too.
Wow – didn’t budget for all that, but peace of mind comes at a price.
When we arrived in Valdivia in April we asked around for leads on who might be able to change the engine mounts and provide a new propeller shaft and had a company recommended to us who were the “best in town”; and actually I think the only outfit in town, other than Alwoplast (who very professional and are too busy making boats to want our fiddly little job; but they did help us out with lots of other things). We obtained a quote from the said company and the owner came to look at the job. He seemed to be a competent and fair chap and agreed to do the work when we hauled out in the spring.
Therefore on my arrival back from South Africa we immediately booked a one week slot to haul out at the Club de Yates Valdivia slip in Valdivia. This was arranged for a few weeks later at the end of September ; it was at this time that I discovered the arse about face gearbox/prop issue.
Time to look for a new propeller – We chased around the likely places in Valdivia asking about new propellers. The best bet in town was an old chap who cast them in his foundry, which was great place to visit, but his 100 year old designs (he appeared to be slightly older than that!) didn’t inspire confidence. Paula called every likely place in Chile but they were all expensive and with long lead times so in desperation we went to call on Don Ronnie at Alwoplast for advice. Alwoplast recommend and fit Flexofold propellers; which are very nice but also very expensive, and offered to give us a quote for one and ship it in from Denmark for us.
I have no experience with folding props and have shied away from them in the past due their alleged poor performance astern. Going astern against the wind, is a very necessary thing in the southern Chilean channels. However with some long trade wind passages ahead of us; the modern design of the Flexofold props and their very decent showing in some propeller tests that we found online; we decided that if the price was right we would order one. We knew that we could only afford a two bladed Flexofold which would give a performance disadvantage in a chop and slower acceleration but should still give us the same top speed when compared to three bladed prop. In any case a correctly sized and pitched propeller should give us an improvement on what we had.
Alwoplast’s quote was very reasonable so we ordered a prop and crossed everything that it would be shipped, arrive in Chile, clear customs and be delivered to Valdivia before the end of our one week slot on the slip.
Propeller problem potentially solved it was time to get ready for the slip; buy anti-fouling paint (only one brand available and black was 30% cheaper than any other colour so black it was); remove the old fuel tank ready to fit the new one made from a beer keg and remove various bits of the furniture around the engine area that had not already been removed during the cockpit job; buy paint for the new engine mount, bilges and to make good the inevitable collateral damage; and arrange for our friends Wietze and Janneke from “Anna Caroline” to help us move “Morgane” and slip her.
Due to a bad forecast our slipping day was moved ahead a day to a Saturday (at no extra cost to us). After motoring up the river to Valdivia we picked up a couple of extra tyre fenders from the marina staff, parked on the cradle and were hauled out without any fuss. I got straight to work with a pressure washer and cleaned off the minimal growth on the bottom, and removed the anodes, etc.. As there was already another boat on the, single track railway type, slip that was occupying the level section at the top of the track “Morgane” was sitting on the sloped section of track and that meant that as were living aboard we had to adapt to life at an angle and for a few days.
Monday arrived and the guys arrived to measure up the old engine bed and lift out the engine; or so we thought. They made their measurements and buggered off telling us to have the engine out before they came back after lunch! That wasn’t the deal but as we were to learn deals didn’t mean much to this lot. OK no problem we got to work unbolted everything rigged up some hoists with our running backstay tackles and borrowed a small chain block from the guys in the marina and with Wietze’s help hauled the engine into the middle of the saloon.
The contractors turned up after lunch with a gas axe and without the protective covers that they had said that they would bring to protect the stuff that they were not chopping. We fought a running battle while they chopped out the old engine bed spraying water on smouldering spots and removing bits of woodwork that we had not considered to be in danger. By the end of the afternoon the old engine bed was in pieces and smouldering on the ground. The good part of that day was when I got a message from Don Ronnie that the new propeller had arrived so to escape from the boat before I strangled two men with their gas axe hoses I jumped on the bus to Estancilla to get my grubby hands on the nice new shiny bronze.
The rest of the week is a bit of a blur but suffice to say that it was a battle with the contractor every step of the way. The crux of the battle occurred when the welder had trouble welding the new inboard end onto the stern tube. They had done a very fair job of aligning the new end but then made a right balls-up of the welding and pulled it off axis, and the bottom of the weld looked distinctly porous – not something that you want in the walls of a stern tube ! We couldn’t contact the owner of the company that evening so I left a message and emailed him a photo of the wonky fitting saying that it wasn’t acceptable as it was and that it would have to be sorted. He arrived the next morning (well he arrived after Paula went off on the warpath to find him) saying that our boat was a piece of shit and questioning my understanding of geometry – he lived through that; just.
Piece of shit the boat may be but it definitely wasn’t his place to say so! I told him that I wasn’t in the mood to argue with him but we were going inside the boat and were going to find a solution to the problem. He tried all the old shady contractor tricks but I just told him that I had been in engineering of some sort my whole life and to cut the bullshit and just to work honestly as he was charging us a fee that deserved a very honest job. He insisted that the welding was fine so I countered by insisted on a pressure test. The pressure test showed that the weld bore more than a passing resemblance to Swiss cheese. I think at that point I won some respect from the contractors and things went somewhat more smoothly from then onwards.
There was a final sting in the tail on the last day when it turned out that they had supplied a one-inch shaft despite checking several times with us whether we wanted 25mm or one-inch. Naturally when they tried to fit one inch into 25mm (the gearbox coupling) it wouldn’t go! Some last minute lathe work was required to fix that one, but we got the job done by Friday evening as scheduled.
I won’t detail all the other minor battles that had to be fought and won but at least the engine was now sitting on good stiff bed, almost properly aligned, attached to a straight propeller shaft that had a nice new propeller that turned the correct way mounted on the end of it. While all that had been happening Paula and I had touched up the underwater paint and put on two coats of the new ‘black’ anti-fouling paint, touched up the topsides, replaced the anodes etc. and we were ready to go back into the water.
Launch day came and we had the help of Wietze and Janneke once again to help us. There was a bit of breeze blowing right up the slip so that was going to test the new propellers ability to generate way astern right off the bat. The marina crew slowly lowered us down the ramp while I monitored the stern tube and shaft seal for leaks and when all was well fired up the engine. Everything seemed fine; the engine wasn’t bouncing around at idle like it used to so that was result! I shifted into astern and put on a few revs and some prop-wash appeared so the folding prop was at least unfolding and generating thrust, result! We singled up the ropes and cast off; I gunned the engine astern against the breeze and we backed nicely out of the slip between the bows of the boats moored stern-too each side with their bows and protruding anchors lining the sides of the marina like teeth waiting to bite down and punish any mistake.
Once clear of the docks and pleased with the performance astern, definitely not a tug propeller but good enough, I went ahead and pointed the bow downriver. We were pleased with the new performance, the engine runs much smoother than before, we can take the revs higher without the engine threatening to jump overboard and best of all is that at the top end of the cruising rpm range we were approaching hull speed of seven and bit knots – that had never happened before!
Parked up once more in our familiar berth at marina Estancilla we had several more weeks of work ahead of us to put the interior of “Morgane” back together, install the new fuel tank, fuel transfer system and a host of other ‘little’ jobs.
Definitely a good read. Almost got my kids to school late by trying to read it all in one sitting. Sounds like quite the experience, but with a good end result. Nice looking prop.
Very interesting and entertaining Chris, I always enjoy reading about your exploits, keep up the good ( and interesting) work.