Sunday, December 28, 2014

Afloat and Adrift

Yes we’re afloat.  We are fat and happy. It was a real kick for us to get everything ready then see this huge machine come take our home in its arms and carry it down the gravel yard, thru the gate, across the street, thru another gate and down to the water.  First they came to put the slings underneath.  Then they lifted us a few inches just off the big wood blocks under the keel.  I had twenty minutes to sand and paint those parts of the keel that I couldn’t get to when it was resting on the ground. Then she trundled on down to the salt water and got baptized. 
Traveler on the move once again. Marina Seca Guaymas.

Anyway, we splashed last Friday then did a test run of the new engine and tranny.  Omar adjusted the alignment a couple of times and we’ve got it pretty well tuned in now.  There is a slight vibration at the cutlass bearing but the engine is balanced perfectly. We’ll do another shake down outing tomorrow and if all goes well we will be on our way south.

A little bit this way, a little that.
 Alignment of the engine is tested with a feeler gage, a series of precise little metal gages that allows you to measure how well the shaft is lined up with the engine.  You turn the prop shaft and “feel” any differences as you turn.  If it binds on one side or the other then you loosen up the motor mounts and shift the engine slightly until the measurements are the same, port and starboard.  Same thing for the top and bottom, just raise or lower the mounts.  We adjusted it in the yard, then adjusted it in the water, then took the boat out for a 2 hour test run.  This morning, after the engine had cooled and the boat had settled herself in the water (with a big sigh, I might add) Omar adjusted the alignment twice more until it all measured perfect.
Sanding the keel where she had sat for 7 months.

But (there is always a “but”) there is that little vibration at the cutlass bearing where the shaft exits the hull.  It could be that the prop shaft is ever so slightly warped or that the new propeller is slightly out of balance.  We’ll keep an eye on that and if it gets worse then we’ll haul out and check the propeller and shaft and bearing. 

Another little thing that could be a little off is the propeller size.  The engine is supposed to develop 35 horsepower at 2800 RPM.  However she won’t go faster than 2500 RPM with the new prop.  Perhaps the blades are a little bit too large and the engine just can’t push it to the maximum speed.  At 2500 RPM we were going 7 knots and Connie was waterskiing off the back so it’s plenty fast for us.  But in a perfect world the engine would be able to reach its maximum recommended RPMs.  Maybe someday we will pull the propeller and have the blades reduced in size by an inch.

Omar showed up with the zincs just in time.
Aside from these two small concerns, the engine, tranny and prop are beautiful and shiny, and the boat drives like a dream.  It even backs up better than it used to do.  With the old left handed prop she pulled hard to starboard.  The new right handed prop pulls a little to port but not really very much.  I was able to back her out of the ways and into the bay about 400 yards in a straight line!

Would you trust this tire?
We are anchored just off the Fonatur marina in downtown Guaymas waiting on a Norther to blow herself out.  Most likely we’ll head across the Sea of Cortez on Monday.  In the meantime we are being social, provisioning the boat, and getting used to life on the water again.  Sure feels good.

Tina, Shane, Anne, Connie.  Good friends in the yard.

I just did the final reckoning on what we’ve spent on this repower and our 7 months in the yard and I immediately had to take a stiff drink of rum.  Gabriel’s yard there at Marina Seca Guaymas turned out to be a wonderful place to get work done and to leave the boat for the summer.  The people are friendly, both the yard crew and the fellow boaters.  The accommodations are sparse but the price is right.  You are changed $150 for the Travelift to pull your boat out of the water and get set up on stands in the yard.  Another $150 gets you back in the water.  We got a power wash for $50 so we didn’t have to scrub the hull too much before we painted it.  The boat storage costs $124 a month (for a 42 ft boat) to sit in the yard.  We can live aboard and use water, electricity and the restrooms for an extra $5 a day.  When I added it up, we spent $1400 for seven months on the hard, 37 days of which we were living there.  That averages out to a very reasonable $200 per month.

The final reckoning on the repower does not paint such a rosy picture but I do know of others who have spent a lot more to get their engine replaced.

Beta 43 engine complete and shipped to Veracruz           $9183
Import and transportation fees $2000    (I don’t know why this was so much. It was all pretty confusing)
Mechanic and fabrication costs for the install      $3000      (Of course we had some unexpected items)
Fiberglass work to rebuild the engine beds          $750     (Not anticipated)
New ZF 15M Transmission           $1400            (My bad)
New right hand propeller             $650          (Brass ain’t cheap)
                Total costs to repower with new engine, tranny, and propeller $16,983 USD

Connie, Jose, Omar, Scott and sexy new dinghy chaps.
What we’ve learned is that life on a cruising boat is fraught with the unexpected.  Most of the folks we’ve encountered out here have learned that you just take it in stride, don’t expect your plans to ever execute on the timeline you had in mind, and just live for the moment.  Sure we enjoy the beautiful anchorages and the little seaside towns we visit when cruising but we also enjoy the time in the yard or at the marina.  We’ve made lots of friends in the yard.  Everyone is working on their projects and yet have plenty of time to visit and compare notes on other people’s projects.  I think this last stint in the yard has helped me quite a bit as I’ve seen everything under the sun that can go wrong with a boat and I’ve seen how you fix it when it breaks.

Outside the wind is howling.  Connie is making pico de gallo.  Omar is at home practicing on his new ukulele.  I’m thinking about taking the dinghy into town so I can wander around trying to find a Pacifico beer store where I can refill those five empty Ballena bottles we have aboard. 
Monkey don't like no empty beer bottles.

And so I stepped on deck just now to gage the wind and waves so I could decide about going ashore or not and heard some whooping and hollering.  There, not 300 yards away was a panga with some young people aboard.  They were yelling, looking right at me.  The boat appeared to be drifting south across the windy, choppy bay. The Norther was still with us.  I looked hard, gestured with my arms as a question, then pointed at them and pointed at me.  They waved as if to say, “Come!”

As boats leave the yard the stands are gathered together in the back lot.
I dropped my head down below and told Connie I was going to check out this panga full of kids then jumped into the dinghy, put my life jacket on, and headed over there, the chop breaking over the bow and the wind whipping my jacket.  When I arrived I found four boys, early teens, in tee shirts and jeans in a 22 foot panga with no outboard motor, no oars, no life jackets… nothing.  It appeared that they had hijacked a panga from the beach and let it loose to drift downwind in the stiff breeze.  On the north shore where they must have started it was pretty calm but as they drifted south the fetch brought up a stiff chop and they were at the mercy of the wind and waves.  In a couple of miles drifting south they would have eventually run up on the rocks at the end of the bay but that might have taken them a couple of hours and it would be dark and cold by then.  They could have hurt themselves or drowned trying to get ashore.

I tried to take them in tow, fixing a bridle to my stern but the big panga had no steering and it kept tracking off to one side or the other slewing my small dinghy off course.  I tried getting back on the rear quarter of the boat with the dinghy and pushing alongside but that kept turning us, again with no rudder on the panga to hold her straight.  Alongside now, I got all four boys into the dinghy and told them to just let the panga go.  Let her drift.  The ring leader of the group refused to let the panga go.  He was a scrawny little guy but you could tell he was a tough little nut.  I soon gave up trying to get them to let the boat drift off. 

Gabriel raises boats AND sheep!
Let’s try something else. I had the guys in the bow of the dinghy hold the bow of the panga and I backed into the wind and waves.  Towing the boat this way worked just fine but we didn’t make much headway backing into the wind and waves.  By this time the sun was down and the wind and waves were not slacking off.  Water was coming in over the transom and we were all getting soaked.  So I changed course and headed across the wind toward the nearest shore.  They weren’t too happy about this as they hoped to get the panga back to where they stole it to begin with.

Sideways to the wind we made better progress.  On board Traveler, Connie was following me with the binoculars and worrying about the wind, waves, and approaching darkness.  Should she up anchor and come after us or get on the VHF radio and call for help?  She chose to wait and watch.  On shore I spied two police vehicles with their lights on.  Connie later told me that the officers were standing on the malecon watching the dinghy and the panga.  Finally we approached the shore and saw a group of fishing boats moored bow and stern.  I headed that way.  So did the police.  By the time we arrived the two police cars were there and a small group of men had gathered on the rocky shoreline.  The boys looked pretty worried at this point and the ring leader boy was shivering.  It was time for everyone to get to a warm, dry place. 

Photo by Ann on Galivant

I towed the panga so it would lie next to another panga that was moored in the water.  The two hulls touched and I told the kids to get out of the dinghy and onto their boat.  They did so, and started to hussle across the other boats towards shore.  I shouted at them, then gestured for them to tie the stolen panga to the moored panga.  They did so and I pushed myself off.  A man on shore yelled out to me “Gracias, Gracias” and I headed back toward Traveler, pushing through the darkening seas.  Halfway across the bay a harbor police boat crossed paths with me, arriving a little late.   Connie was waiting with a helping hand up, some hot soup, and a brow full of concern for my safety.  We laughed, hauled the dinghy up the side of the boat then retired below.  Crazy kids!  Imagine the scenes that were unfolding in four different households as these young boys tried to explain their way out of this one!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

43 milimeters

Again, like on the previous post, I must warn you about the technical aspects of this post.  Many might find it boring beyond belief.

Perkins 4-108, victim of ineptitude
In the sweltering heat of June in Guaymas we considered our options for a re-power. The Perkins diesel was dead, its crankshaft cracked.  Omar had removed it from the boat and we had a huge gaping hole under the galley floorboards.  What kind of engine should we buy?  The Yanmar brand is a reliable choice with a good support network in Mexico and the states.  We could purchase one new for about 12k USD.  We knew two fellow boaters who had re-powered with a Beta for less money so I looked into that option. The Beta company takes the reliable Kubota diesel engine from Japan and makes the necessary changes to it for installation in a boat.  Ordering it directly from Beta in Gloucester UK would save us a thousand dollars over a U.S. distributor so I took that route.  9k later we had struck a deal.

Pretty on the outside, flawed on the inside
Andrew Growcoot, the company CEO, sent me a measuring template and I set about measuring the motor mounts and prop shaft location.  From my boat documentation I found the transmission identified as a Hurth HBW360.  I PRESUMED that when Rafael replaced the transmission he replaced it with the same model so that’s the model transmission I told Beta to use to determine if the engine would fit and to design the custom motor mounts. Andrew assured me that the HBW360 would be a good match for the Beta 43.  I now know that Rafael used a ZF10M transmission because they don’t make the HBW360 anymore. Three months later when Omar lowered the new engine into the bilge and started taking measurements he found that the engine did not fit properly and the motor mounts were a couple of inches off.  In addition, the dampener plate had a 32 tooth spline instead of the 9 tooth spline and would not fit. 

Just like I learned back in my computer programming years, if garbage goes in then garbage comes out.
Simple measurements, right?

I also knew we had some issues with the forward port side motor mount.  There was some rust under the mount and it had come loose when we started having engine problems.  Omar had the yard fiberglass man, Francisco, dig into the stringers under the engine to chase out the rust.  Just under the fiberglass long steel plates were embedded into the stringers.  On careful inspection, not only had the forward port side plates rusted but all four mount locations were compromised.  Francisco spent many costly hours digging out the rusty iron.  He dug down all the way into the wood stringer until he was at a solid and dry surface.  Then be built it back up with a stainless steel plate and multiple layers of fiberglass.  Omar’s measurements showed that the stringers were too high anyway so the result was that the engine could sit a little bit lower than before.

The custom feet I ordered worked for the front two motor mounts but the rears came nowhere close to fitting.  Omar tossed those and had two more custom made at the local machine shop.  The rear bell housing on the engine was too wide to fit between the stringers so Omar removed it from the engine and had the machine shop shave off a half inch in width. Finally the engine was on its mounts and everything lined up as it should.  Why were there so many problems?  Why? Because I told Beta the wrong Transmission!  Garbage in, garbage out.
HBW360 with 105mm
The old HBW360 had a drop of 105mm between the crankshaft and the prop shaft.  The ZF10M has a 62mm drop.  The difference of 43mm threw off all the calculations for the custom feet as Andrew figured the engine was sitting higher up above the mounts than it really was.

Once I figured out that I had a different transmission I shared that knowledge with Andrew at Beta and his reply was, “You need a bigger transmission.”  What!  How could it be that the Perkins 4-108, rated at 50 HP was fine with the transmission but the new Beta at 43 HP needed a more robust unit?  Here is the reply from Beta:
ZF10M with 62mm

The Perkins 4.108 developed 50 HP at 4,000 RPM and at 2,800 only developed 36 HP.

The Beta 43 develops 43 HP at 2,800.  

The Perkins developed 75 ft lbs of torque at 2,200 whereas the Beta 43 develops 95 ft lbs of torque at between 1,600 and 2,000 RPM.

The Perkins is 108 whereas the Beta 43 is 122

Experience has shown that the ZF10M cannot handle the torque of the Beta 43 for very long.

Well, there you have it. The good news is that the new Beta will have quite a bit more pep than the old Perkins.  The bad news is that my assumption about my transmission caused a cascading set of events that cost quite a bit of time, materials, and dollars.  Granted, if I’d reported the correct transmission, the Beta guys would have insisted that I order a different transmission from the get go.  But poor Omar… had to deal with an engine that wouldn’t fit, rusty mounts, and dumb old me.

If you, like me, are wondering what torque vs horsepower means, then join the club.  Being a tech guy, I googled it.  One horsepower is how much umph one horse can pull, or push.  Can that stallion pull that wagon up the hill or not?  On a boat, having horsepower is good but having a lot of torque is even better.  Once the  horsepower gets the boat to speed it’s the torque that keeps it there.  My old Newport 27 didn’t have much torque.  When you slammed into a big wave the engine would slow down and take a little while to get the boat back up to speed.  With more torque, the engine would keep on trucking at the same RPM.  Our new Beta should be able to bash into a heavy sea with more staying power than the old Perkins. She’s got more torque, more guts! Clear as mud now?

We ordered a beefier transmission, delivered to Phoenix.  Connie and I drove the Dolphin back up to the states, sold the Dolphin for some much needed cash, then took the Tufesa bus back down to Guaymas, carrying a new ZF15M tranny along as baggage.

Back in the yard life had gone on as before.  A few boats came into the yard and many more had left.  The weather was exceptional and the yard was a beehive of activity as boaters scrambled to finish up their projects so they could “splash” their boats and sail south.  It’s a very social time in the yard with everyone visiting and discussing the various fixes going on.  Transmission replacements, keel work, welding, cutlass bearing replacements, painting, fiber glassing, all sorts of work was happening.  Doug has a great way of putting it, “The great thing about this yard is that you can always find someone who has a worse problem than you have.”

Snug in the bowels of the bilge

We are in the last throws of our repairs now.  Omar will finish the engine alignment maybe tomorrow and we’ll see what he thinks our solution should be for a rudder stop.  After that, we should be ready to launch.  Meanwhile, Connie and I are ticking off our to-do list of little things that are much easier done out of the water than in the water.

And hey, if you are here in the boatyard, drop on by later this afternoon and we'll have cocktails while we tell each other horror stories about repairs gone rogue and projects that developed a life of their own.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Repower or Rebuild?

I give my apologies to the non-technical types, the dreamers and romantics who just want a good story.  The next two posts are a little technical in nature and so may not appeal to you.  Read on anyway.  You might learn something. 
Marina Seca Guaymas - A great place to haul out.

Last year we limped into Mazatlan with a transmission that slipped in and out of gear and an engine that was blowing soot out of the air intake.  We consulted Bob Buchanan at Total Yacht Works, a man who was well recommended in those parts.  He listened to the engine and tranny, held his hand over the air intake as I gunned then engine, then gave me his opinion.  The valve train in the top of the engine had positive air pressure that resulted in oil being blown out the breather cap. The top end is supposed to have a slight vacuum instead. Typically this is caused by bad rings that allow crankcase air to slip by the pistons, thus pressurizing the top end. 

Bob had his partner Rafael take his gauges to the boat and do a compression check.  This confirmed that we had something serious wrong with the piston or rings. We pulled the boat out of the water, pulled the engine out of the boat, and Rafael dissembled it to find the problem.  It turned out not to be bad rings, but instead a cracked piston!

Now this was a serious problem.  If the engine had been driven a little harder it would have come apart and we’d have thrown a rod through the crankcase, stopping the engine instantly.  Lucky was the day we stopped at the Fonatur Marina and talked to Bob.  Or was it not so lucky?

Our decision now was simple:  Repower or Rebuild.

Rafael assured us the he could rebuild the old Perkins 4-108.  It would cost in the neighborhood of four to six thousand USD.  Bob said he could order a new diesel engine and outfit us with a new Yanmar or Beta for about twelve thousand give or take a few thousand dollars.  We chose the rebuild.  We chose wrong. 
Out comes the old Perkins

Six thousand dollars later plus other refits such as a new transmission, prop shaft, cutlass bearing, and drip-less stuffing box we were ready to splash the boat.  We also had the hull ground down and re-glassed to help cure the blister problem.  Also the rudder was pulled and the upper bearing replaced. I flew down from Seattle in July to put her in the water. When the travel lift lowered her into the estuary I tried the starter and it just grinded and grinded.  The engine would not start.  Rafael came aboard and sprayed some starter fluid into the air intake and she kicked right off.  I backed her out of the ways and brought her around to the slip at Marina Mazatlan where she would lie for the rest of the summer.  The next morning I tried to start the engine and again she would not go.  Rafael came over and again used the starter fluid to get her going.  When I left for the airport I told Bob that I’d see him in October and we’d have to figure out why the engine was not starting.

Three months later Connie and I arrived back in Mazatlan to find that Bob and Rafael were split up, each taking half of the business.  Bob came aboard and brought an older man with him, a diesel mechanic, who adjusted the timing on the injector pump.  When the old gentleman was done the engine started up instantly, just as it should.  At that time Bob was pretty critical of Rafael’s work and Connie and I wondered just how well our engine had been reassembled.  But we hoped for the best and soon left the harbor heading south for the cruising season.  

Later we heard that Bob and Rafael had more heated discussions that led to some legal problems and Bob ended up abandoning his business and high tailing it out of town, headed across the ocean to Hawaii.  This news did not bode well for us.  Nor was it good news for the other folks who had work done at Total Yacht Works that spring and summer.  So Total Yacht Works went belly up, the owner disappeared.  Rafael started up his own business next door and Bob's other workers took over the original space and now call themselves Active Marine.  These guys are doing well and do a great job with painting and fiberglass work.

We enjoyed our cruising season on the Pacific coast of Mexico last year. For those of you who read our blog, you know that we made it all the way down to Zihuatanjo then back up into the Sea of Cortez.   In May our Perkins 4-108 failed with only 120 hours on the rebuild. The problem started out with a motor mount coming loose and the engine vibrating.  That quickly morphed into a loud clacking noise and a broken crankshaft.  We heard of three other boats that had Rafael rebuild their engines that season and all three failed as well in a similar fashion.  

I look back on that decision.  Repower or rebuild.  I made the wrong choice.  My advice to anyone now is that before you choose to rebuild an engine, make darn sure that the mechanic knows what he is doing and can give you references from happy customers.  Make sure the business is a stable one and that the warranty will stand.  

Here it is a year later and Traveler is in the yard with its new Beta 43 installed, waiting for a new transmission to arrive.  The Beta cost us around nine thousand. The customs, freight, and install will be another three K.  That’s about twelve thousand USD and what I should have spent a year ago if I’d had more sense.  Live and learn. 

Out next post will be about the challenges we faced putting a new engine into our dear boat Traveler and how one small detail can set up a series of cascading events.