Winter Projects – Part III

A 31 year-old boat is going to have some issues.  This one is hidden, like the others I’ve chronicled lately, and you wouldn’t know there was a potential problem unless you looked around in those places you can’t see easily.  Okay, here’s the photo, and the challenge is to identify what you’re looking at before you read on:

Got it?  You’re looking at the rudder stock brace and bearing plates.  See a problem here?  That’s what 31 years of living under the cockpit sole will do to 3/8″ mild steel channel stock.  Beneath where the bearing plates enclose the shaft you see a large U-shaped opening.  This opening was probably not much bigger than the shaft diameter when the boat was built.  With all that material missing, rusted, and compromised, the strength of the bracket is greatly lessened.  Here are a few more photos to help you see how it’s attached to the boat.

Looking down on the bracket, you can see how the bearing plates are mounted.  These plates are relatively new, as I replaced them two years ago.  The old ones were also mild steel, and were in terrible condition.  I had the new bearing plates made of stainless.

Here you can see how and where the channel stock is mounted to the sole of the cockpit.  Those three pairs of bolts you see in the upper middle part of the photo hold the channel stock to the sole – well, sort of:  Actually, what really holds it there (I think) is 3M 5200.  When I replaced the bearing plates two years ago, I was really trying to remove the whole bracket for replacement.  I didn’t have the right tools or enough time to do it, so I settled for replacing the bearings.  Having had several years to think about how to do this, I’m now pretty certain I need the proprietary de-bonding compound for 5200, and Fein-style vibrating tool with a chisel fitting attached, and a pry-bar.

Here’s the end view.  Most of this metal is gone.  I think it’s still safe, but it’s just a matter of time before a brisk sail in strong winds and lots of weather helm distort the bracket due to the lateral pressure exerted.  Or more likely, the structure will just rust into powder which will induce a lot of slop in the helm.

Here’s a photo of why it rusted on the end, but the rest of the bracket is in good shape.  Any water that falls on the surface where the rudder stock exits the deck passes right down the shaft.  I don’t know how to seal this.  The way it was installed makes me believe that it was never intended to be drip-proof.  As the water leaks through, the first place it falls is onto the rudder bracket below.

How to fix:  I’m going to acquire 3/8″ stainless channel stock.  Machine the cuts (shaft relief, bolt holes)  myself, re-bed in 5200 (I don’t envision ever needing to take it off again) and bolt back in place.

I’ll feel a lot better about it when it’s been replaced.

  1. I have the same problem on my 27.
    What type of shaft bearing did you use.
    I need to replace the upper, middle and lower bearings

    • Hi Doug,

      I don’t remember exactly what the upper bearing looks like, but there is not much substance to it. It’s held in place at deck level by a plastic bowl-type affair, and only serves as a (poor) seal against water intrusion. It’s covered at the deck by a Beckson plastic access hatch with a hole drilled in the middle for the shaft.

      As I mentioned above, the bearing plates at the bracket were mild steel which I replaced with 3/8″ stainless plate.

      The lower bearing at the bottom of the shaft and adjacent to the rudder is a synthetic material – probably delrin. I have had this off when I repaired the rudder strapping (gudgeon) a couple of years ago. I should have replaced it then, but didn’t for some reason – I think I just wasn’t sure where to get a replacement, and wound up putting the old one back on out of convenience. Now I know I can source it at a place like MacMaster-Carr-com.


  2. Jan Sopoci said:


    Did you have to open up a new access hole to be able to get at it? From your photos, it looks fairly accessible.

    • Hi Jan,

      The access is pretty straightforward. Just climb into the starboard cockpit locker and head south. Doing work down there will be another story. The difficulty will be getting my body into a position where I can actually work with both hands.


  3. Mine looks exactly the same, only with the wheel steering quadrant on mine to further complicate things and get in the way…

    • Norm, I am so glad I don’t have a wheel for that very reason. I’m sure I would enjoy steering with a wheel, but it would be another mechanical system to inspect and maintain.


  4. My 82 W27 does not look anything like that. As I recall it has a fiberglass cone coming out of the deck up to a bearing the rudder shaft sits in. I could not get my girth back there and if this were me I would consider swinging the engine out and dropping it in cabin. Then fuel tank. It is not really that hard to unplug the water, electrical and fuel. Shaft coupling was probably hardest part…just getting back there. I did it when I replaced my fuel tank. Then you could do the work, paint the engine room and inspect your motor mounts. Now I need to go inspect mine! Good luck!

    • Watkins must have changed the arrangement for that year model. Mine has the cone also, but no bearing. No stuffing box either. It must rise far enough above the waterline to not need one.

      I’ll have to re-align the engine anyway, so swinging it out on the cabin sole wouldn’t be too onerous. However, I’d have to uncouple the shaft, which means contortions anyway. I’m not sure which method would actually save me bodily wear and tear.


  5. As I recall the fiberglass cone comes all the way up to the steering quadrant for the helm…I am curious now to see how it is configured.

    If you don’t replace or move the engine mounts it should not need realigning. Might be a good time to put in one of those flexible flanges. I used to stand on my head down there to adjust the packing box. I put in a dripless shaft seal about six years ago. Best thing I ever did, but that has to be done on the hard. My 2 cents….one trip down to disconnect the flange, many trips down to repair the rudder…… If you decide to pull the engine, put a two by four over the cabin hatch, attach a boom vang to a bar to use as a fulcrum. Pick up the engine with the fulcrum and pull it up and out. Terry Hunsicker did that on his W27. I used the boom vang straight to the engine and had to pull it out from an angle. Ugh! The engine is only about 250 pounds. Did you install the new one yourself?


  6. Both the drive saver (flexible flange) and dripless stuffing box are beyond my budget this year. I did not install the engine myself – I was a working stiff back then, and had more money than time. The installer said there wasn’t enough room for a dripless box. I took his word for it. Actually, the drive saver would reduce the amount of room available for a dripless stuffing box by as much as an inch, perhaps. That’s okay – I’ve never hit an object with the prop, though I’ve wrapped a crab pot warp around the shaft, and another time I lost track of a line overboard, wrapping it around the shaft. I don’t really mind adjusting the stuffing box, as it’s only a couple times a year – I can tolerate that. It would be nice to eliminate the water in the bilge, but I don’t see that as a possibility with the amount of space required for a dripless box.

  7. I get rainwater in my bilge. A considerable amount after a big rain and not sure where that much is coming from. One of my projects is to inspect the scupper hoses. It also may be running backwards from the lazzerette covers.

    • John, I get rainwater too. I think all those leaks are very hard to eliminate on a 30+ year-old boat. I know I get some water in through the anchor hawse, and more through a few leaks at the lifeline stanchions. That is another project for another time, and involves a great deal of work. I may just peck away at it, as I have to access then unbolt every stanchion to rebed, and some to fix soft core in the deck beneath. Also, a lot of rainwater goes right down the rudder shaft. There is just no way to seal the present configuration. It’s something to research for an improvement.

  8. I find a few brown streaks coming in from the toe rail….there are only about a “thousand” possible screws here that could be leaking. Also mine collected water between the toe rail and the cockpit. There is a dip there and possibly a design error. I cut a single section of toe rail out for a drain on each side. I’ve always meant to play with a water hose and try to identify where the rain water was coming from…..starting with the cockpit and working my way up but I never got around to it…..maybe next spring.

  9. You’re right about the “thousand possible screws. . .” The whole hull-deck joint is a possible source, but I expect most of the leaks come from the stanchion bases. They get stressed from grabbing, and seal begins to leak finally. After 30 years, there isn’t much flex left in the 5200.

    Your boat is probably similar inside – I need to cut access relief out of the hull liner to reach the stanchion bolts. Once done, I would trim out the raw fiberglass edge with a wood molding of some sort. Or perhaps just replace the removed glass with a removable wood panel finished bright.

    I thread a micro-fiber rag through my toe rail slot, which wicks away the water from that low spot near the cockpit – this wasn’t my idea. I stole it from some else, but it works well.


  10. Visited Dream Date last night. The fiberglass cone holding the rudder shaft comes half-way up the engine compartment. A bushing sets on top of that and then the steering quadrant. Also the fiberglass around the stuffing box is considerably different. Between engine, hoses, cables, fuel tank and darkness it would have been hard to take a picture. Although our boats look the same on topside and cabin, I think they must have made some modifications in the stern between 81-82. If you are ever down in Norfolk let me know and we can meet at the boat and compare notes. Nobody hauls out in winter. We may have a light skim of ice at the most.

    • Thanks John. I’d love to visit you and your boat! We’ll be down close to there some time this winter. I want to do a site visit to the rendezvous marina in Kilmarnack, so we will be in your neck of the woods.

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