Friday, April 7, 2017

Steering Pedestal Rebuild.. and Razor Clams

A year ago in the Sea of Cortez we were concerned about a strange squeaking sound in our pedestal steering.  We turned the wheel.  We listened.  We sprayed lubricant.  Is it the rudder bearing?  Or is it the steering gear? 

In the crossing from Cabo to Hawaii the autopilot did most of the steering so we didn't notice the stiffness in the wheel but as soon as we started hand steering into Radio Bay I knew something was not right.

I sprayed some lubricant where the shaft exits the pedestal just in front of the steering wheel and the difficult turning of the wheel eased somewhat.  We worried about it on the crossing from Hawaii to Alaska. In Ketchikan not only was the steering very stiff but the autopilot switch malfunctioned.  We were not able to switch from helm mode to auto mode.  That meant that we could not point the boat in the direction we wanted to go and just engage the autopilot.  We had to engage the autopilot and then watch the boat do a 180 degree turn and a crazy dance, get its preferred heading, then allow us to slowly correct until we were pointing in the right direction.  This worked fine except in narrow channels (almost the entire inland passage).  So there was no end to steering concerns on our long but beautiful trip south from Alaska to Olympia.

Now in Olympia, last month I sent the autopilot to Alpha Marine and 200 dollars later we could "point and shoot" our course.  Two weeks ago I decided to finally tackle the stiff steering issue.  

Doing a little web research, I determined that I probably have a Yacht Specialties wheel, pedestal, and quadrant on Traveler.  Yacht Specialties is no longer in business.  Edison Marine is the big marine steering systems provider now.  While they stock some common parts they could not help me with my unit.  They did give me a nice quote for replacing the old system:  $2800.00!

1)      #336-5-211S – Classic pedestal with 1” straight wheel shaft - $1,575.00
2)      #77201 – Chain & wire kit with connecting hardware - $357.00
3)      #776AL-6AL – Crossed wire idler - $401.0
4)      #816ST-45 – Engine control - $409.00
5)      #646-4 HEX – Aluminum pedestal mounting bolts Qty. 4 @ $17.00 each -$68.00
I decided that it was worth my time to try to fix it myself so I set about disassembling the steering system.  ....Boring Warning!!!  The rest of this blog entry contains little of interest to normal people.  And there are lots of pictures of the same thing... over and over.  You might just want to skip down to the music video and enjoy that. 

Here we go.  The compass came off easily. 

The compass base was not so easy.  one of the four slot headed screws would not budge.  PB Blaster didn't help.  Three days later after trying everything in the book I took great pleasure cutting the top off the stainless steel screw with my dremmel tool.

That night Connie had a gig at Cascadia Grill in Olympia.  Michael Olson joined her on percussion. I drank wine.
Mambo Italiano performed by Cool Breeze and Zen

The next day:  Compass base off, I used a vice grip to remove the stripped screw.  The next four screws came out after swimming in a little PB Blaster overnight. 

I figured out how to remove the throttle and shift controls and the second layer of the pedestal "layer cake" came off.   Don't lose those little parts! I set the stainless pedestal guard aside and disassembled the useless steering brake system. Now I can see the gear and steering shaft. 

After staring at this assembly and prodding and poking about I  could not figure out how to pull the shaft.  I called Hans at Osprey Marine and he dropped by the next day.  Where you'd expect a set screw was a flat pin pressed into the shaft.  No way to get THAT out!  Hans's advice, "Drill it out!"  

I took his advice and carefully drilled out the plug using a bit slightly smaller than the hole. Soon I had the gear moving on the shaft.  Next I needed to remove the chain. 

After clearing out the aft lazarette, I lowered myself down there behind the quadrant and removed the eye bolt holding one of the steering cables to the quadrant.  Back up top, I lifted the chain and held it up above the gear with a couple of stiff wires.  Turning the wheel, I was pleased that the steering was still very stiff.  That told me the problem was indeed in the pedestal and not in the rudder bearings.  Better a pedestal repair than a haul out to replace rudder bearings.
You can see the old Delrin bushing trying to escape

I found myself wide awake that night wondering just how I was going to pull that shaft out of the pedestal unit.  After a few hours of tossing and turning I mapped it out in my mind how I could do it with cheap parts from the hardware store.  Then I slept like a baby.  The next day I bought a 12 inch long 2 inch diameter pipe, a section of threaded pipe the same thread size as the wheel stem,  a couple of bolts and a big washer.   Follow the sequence.....

After putting this together I danced with glee as the shaft slowly moved aft as I tightened the nut.  Soon the shaft was out showing me just how saturated the two old Delrin bushings were.  

I carried the assembly to Capital Machine and we had a great time drawing things on paper and thinking about how to fashion some UHMW plastic sleeve bushings and re-drill a new set screw.  I left it there with those good folks to do their magic.


The next day we had a visit from our friend Don who brought us fresh razor clams from the coast.
How to cook them up?  Now that's a project I can get into.

Dredge in flour
  Dip in an egg/milk mixture

Press with lightly seasoned breading
Fry up quick and hot in coconut oil

Back to the other project....
Nice new UHMW plastic bushings

A few days and 200 dollars later I had everything ready to assemble.  After placing the two new bushings, I pushed in the shaft, threading it through the gear.  When I went to insert the key that keeps the gear from turning on the shaft it didn't have enough room to slide in. 
With a grinder, I shortened the key a quarter inch and got it fitted. 
After dropping the set screw through the pedestal and retrieving it from the bilge I tightened that up and tried turning the wheel.  There was too much friction.  The tolerance was too close.
Collar with the set screw hole is just a bit too tight on the gray bushing.

Removing the shaft and parts, I used a grinder to take a smidgen off the rear bushing.  On reassembly, the wheel turned effortlessly.   Connie and I had removed some of the ceiling boards from the cabin and they were taking up room in the cockpit making it a little crowded for me to work.  As the rain was dumping down, I had to keep everything in the boat. Now that it was time to re-attach the steering cable I had to clear out the rear lazarette AND the starboard cockpit locker and stack all that junk in the cockpit.  It's getting crowded in here.

Connie got into the starboard cockpit locker and I got in the lazarette.  She held the cable to the turning pulley while I attached it to the steering quadrant. What seemed like hours later, I had everything stowed back in its place and was able to test the steering.  Yes, the rudder turns.  Yes the shifter shifts. Yes the throttle makes the engine go zoom.  

But wait.  Something looks wrong.  
I forgot to put on the stainless pedestal guard.

I'm much faster with the disassembly the second time around.  Soon I had everything back in place.  Yes, the rudder turns. Yes the shifter shifts. Yes the throttle makes the engine go zoom. 

The last little bit was to replace the wooden cocktail table.  Finished!   Now we need a little sunshine, a cold beer, and a light lunch of razor clams in the cockpit of the worthy vessel Traveler.

Thanks for staying with me on this one.

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