Sailboat Projects

One of my boat neighbors installed 1000 watts of solar panels over the fly bridge of his Marine Trader trawler, and gave me the the stainless steel frame of his old bimini. I have great marina neighbors!

My old aluminum frame is a wiggly, bent mess that has been repaired at least twice. I left it up in a windy rain storm once, and it broke the long sections in two separate places. Photo below. . .

I sleeved the broken places with smaller diameter tubing, securing with screws and nylocks.

So it has been functional, if ugly. This was the opportune time for a new frame, because our old bimini canvas is wearing out in several spots where the boom chafes across it.

I had to take the new frame completely apart to configure it to fit our cockpit. I needed to cut about 15 inches off of the longest legs to fit under the boom, and then visualize what I wanted the frame to do in order to put it back together. My old frame had three bows, two of which were attached to the main longest frame member.  The new frame had five bows, so I needed to figure out how that was going to work.

I realized that I had enough material to stretch a larger piece of canvas over the new frame. This is a welcome change. I will actually get more coverage over the companion way and over the stern. More shade is better! Using all five bows but in a slightly different configuration, I’ve mounted it back on the boat. You can see from the photo below, that there is actually a bow aft of the backstay. The new canvas will need a zippered section to go around the backstay, as will the bimini cover.

Like my old frame, the whole structure is supported by the longest section.

I am so fortunate to have a talented wife. . .  She will do the sewing, bless her!

Have a seat.  This will be a controversial post.

So, can you successfully cut a propeller down to size on your own? Would you dare even try? I’ve done it twice now, and it worked great, but there are limitations. . .

First, why would I, or anyone for that matter, do this? Because my goal in sailing is to make it as reasonably affordable as possible, and I’m convinced that a lot of work done by “professionals” in the marine industry can be done just as well, and much less expensively by me.

So a couple of years ago my prop and shaft fell victim to a vicious crab pot line attack. Neither survived. They now reside somewhere on the bottom of Herring Bay. All through the winter that followed, I searched for a used prop that would match what I needed. No joy. I finally bit the bullet and purchased a new 3-bladed prop. My old prop was a 2-blade, and I’d always wanted to try the 3-blade.

Turns out, I hated the 3-blade. It needed to be reduced in pitch, and that would have improved it’s performance under power, but nothing would improve it’s performance under sail. It was like dragging a bucket behind. For a boat that’s as heavy and slow as a Watkins 27, that’s just not going to work.

I began the search again this winter, and again found nothing in the used offerings that would suit. I finally bought a prop that was too long, with a pitch that was one inch too shallow. I would cut it down myself, and it would be a grand experiment! After all, I only paid $95 for it instead of $350+ that a new one would cost.

Why did I think I could get away with this? I’m not a propeller technician.

Well, you see, I’ve done it once before, and it was crazy successful. When I repowered Cay of Sea 13 years ago, I needed a new prop then too. The old original prop spun up too far, by 500 RPM, and it had lost too much zinc to have the pitch adjusted (this makes them brittle). When I went looking for props I found out how expensive they are, so I turned to the used market. I happened to find one that was slightly too long – about .5″ at the corners. I cut off the corners so that it wouldn’t hit the bottom of the hull on every half revolution. It turned out to be the perfect match. I could develop all the RPM in the specs (slightly too much, actually) and nearly achieve hull speed.

So this time I was able to find a 15″x12″ right hand prop with one inch shaft, and I thought I would try again. After all, I needed a 13″x13″ rh 1″. So, if I cut an inch off of either side. . . perhaps the pitch would allow it to spin up too far, but I could always get it repitched next winter when I haul again. On the other hand, because the dimensions of the prop were larger over all (larger hub, broader blades, and longer blades) I might get away with only trimming the ends, having the broader blade size compensate in area for the slimmer pitch.

This is the old prop that I trimmed.

New three blade prop I hated.

New prop. Sorry for the bad photo – I forgot to get a good pic before launch.

What follows is an illustration of what I did to trim down to size.

Not the actual prop – I found this image on line. Note the pink color – this indicates loss of zinc. This prop would be pretty brittle.

This is a very crude photo, but it might illustrate what I did – in part. I carefully measured from the middle of the hub to the end of the blade on each side and marked it, then double checked by measuring back from the end of the blades. Making sure I was removing the same amount of material from each side, I used a cut-off wheel with my Dremel and trimmed the ends of the blades. I used my stationary sander to round over the corners and relieve the edges (thin them down to match the rest of the prop edges).

After making sure everything was smooth and even, and rechecking for balance, I installed the prop and crossed my fingers.

So how did it work?

I was really wasn’t confident that I had got it right – I fully expected the prop to need repitching, but hoped to get away with it for this season. However, I my hopes were fulfilled beyond my most optimistic expectation. The prop spins up to exactly 3600 rpm – specified in the engine manual as developing max horsepower – and achieved what I was led to expect from the prop size calculator on regarding boat speed. It actually performs better under power than the prop I lost – that one allowed the engine to over-rev slightly (to 3800 rpm).

So, the limitations are, as alluded to above, that 1) you cannot change the pitch of the prop at home. This takes specialized equipment (torches, measuring tools, bending jigs) that the average diy guy doesn’t have at his disposal. I would think that the balancing of the prop would also be a critical component of changing pitch. 2) you cannot easily change the inside diameter for receiving the shaft. In fact, I don’t know if you can actually go smaller that original, but I do know that the shaft opening can be resized larger.  Again, specialized equipment, etc.  Add to that, the shaft hole is tapered with a key slot cut into it – who can do that at home without a machine shop?

Finally, selection of your not-quite-perfect prop is critical. I think more that two inches oversized wouldn’t work well. I think you would lose too much blade surface area, and be left with too much hub. Also, I would think you would be limited to props that were designed with symmetrical blades – where each blade has the same shape top to bottom. Some blades are elliptical, and I think that shape would be difficult to replicate in a shorter profile.

So there you go.  Tell me what you think? Would you be brave or foolish enough to do this yourself, like me?

For all my years sailing I’ve used a hand-held GPS – when I had a GPS. For a very long time, I just used the tried and true method of paper charts, compass (fixed and hand bearing), dividers/parallel rule, and speed estimate or mechanical speedo.

I’ve had two different hand-held GPSs  (well, three actually . . . I sat on one in rough weather and broke it).  Of course, the hand-helds work fine. They give accurate position and speed over ground, and the ones I’ve had included a graphic screen with rudimentary charts on board – you can see your position on a map. The map, however, is small and it’s difficult to read. Additionally, manipulating the curser can be slow and cumbersome.

I was given an older Raymarine GPS 435. This obviously is not a state-of-the-art instrument, but it is quite an improvement from the tiny screen I’ve been looking at for so long. In fact, the manual I downloaded is dated 2004, so it’s quite a few years mature.

So the first thing to do was to find out if it actually worked. I took it to the boat and attached the power leads (red and black) to pos. and neg. terminals, respectively. No joy. I was disappointed, but then decided there was nothing to lose by reversing the leads – black to pos, red to neg. And it powered up! Now, I just have to ask. . . who does this, and why? Why would you make red the ground lead? The only answer I can imagine is that it’s a product of the UK, and they just do things differently there. Regardless, the unit powers up. Now I need an antenna. On a trip to Florida last fall I stopped at Sailors’ Exchange in St. Augustine (salvage boat parts store ) and found a Raymarine passive antenna for $25. Perfect. A couple weeks ago I began the installation.

First decision: Where to install? Do I want a bulkhead mount? That means it stays out in the weather all the time. Then I remembered – when I first bought Cay of Sea she sported an ancient Loran unit that didn’t work. I removed it, but saved the bracket upon which it was mounted. The bracket was mounted in turn on a piece of teak stock that was attached to the bulkhead with a pintle and gudgeon – a swing mount. I dug through my old boat parts and found it! After a quick sanding and application of varnish, it was ready to go.

That was easy. . .  The hard part was wiring, but only because I had to chase the wiring from the fuse panel, and the antenna coax from the stern rail. Fun time in the cockpit locker. Emptied most of the locker contents and replaced it with myself, then wriggled back to the stern. Fortunately the coax was within easy reach, and all I had to do was support it with zip ties to existing screws. The unit is installed on the opposite side of the boat with respect to the cable runs (of course!), so a partial dismembering of the interior joinery was required to fish the cables underneath the bridge deck area over to the starboard side. After cutting a small relief in the top of one trim panel, I was able to pass both cables through with minimal destruction.

Making the electrical connections was a bit more challenging, but only because my test light was faulty (c’mon, I repaired it with duct tape two years ago!). Not being able to get a consistent signal with the test light, I broke out the multimeter and found the hot side of the circuit breaker. After crimping a few wire fittings and attaching them to the right contacts, and I had power. But before buttoning everything up, I powered up the GPS just to make sure.

From a scrap piece of teak, I fashioned a mounting disk for the antenna. I attached the disk to a dowel which I inserted into a piece of pvc pipe zip-tied to the stern rail. The cable passed through portside passive engine room vent.

The final installation looks like this:

Now, when life approaches normal again and Maryland DNR lets us begin boating (post-covid-19), we can enjoy sailing and using the “new” instrument.

A number of years ago the original forward hatch risers (made mostly of plastic) gave up on Cay of Sea. After repairing them several times, I gave up on them, and acquired a powerboat-styled windshield bracket to hold open the hatch. It worked fine, and is still in good shape, as it’s make of bronze – that stuff never wears out, it seems. It wasn’t an optimal fix, however. In fact, there were two annoyances with it. First, its limited travel didn’t allow the hatch to open much past an angle 45 degrees from the closed position.  Second, its binding bar extended into the cabin when closed by any degree, which means it also extended into my forehead a number of times (too many to recount, actually). Why I put up with it as long as I did . . . there are just some things I don’t understand about myself. Regardless, I found a genuine hatch riser at Bacon’s Sails (another second-hand part) and it was far past time to retire the bronze head banger.

Here’s a photo of the wretched thing. Very sturdy. Very unyielding.

Here are a couple of photos of the real hatch riser I just installed.

As you can see, there is nothing protruding into the cabin, and the binding rod is telescopic – that is, sliding in on itself. Although not shown here, it also will support the hatch at a 90 degree angle from the deck. Significant improvement with regards to funneling breeze down below. It’s also sturdy stainless steel, so I have no worries about plastic parts breaking from age and UV damage.

I now approach the vee berth absurdly gleeful at the prospect of not sustaining a head injury.

Ah yes – the signs of Spring. Warmer temperatures, copious rain, budding leaves, crocuses, trees leafing out, and people in boat yards getting ready for the boating season.

Scuffed and sanded – all that sanding dust is in my shop vac now.

I love the smell of anti-fouling paint in the Spring time!

Some of the keen-eyed among you might notice a change of color for the bottom paint this year. This is as a result of deep research and scientific investigation. Following my deep look into bottom paint color, I went to the store and got blue, because they didn’t have the same red color that I really wanted. Oh well. . .

I launch this Tuesday, then begin the other ritual of Spring – cleaning the boat so we can standing being on board. Four months of winter storage and closed-upped-ness affords the perfect environment for the growth of mold and mildew. That must be eradicated before any cruising can take place.

I also have a slate of projects for this year. Some new-to-me items that have come into my possession for installation include a hardshell case for our Lifesling MOB system, and an older GPS chartplotter. That, combined with the usual round of re-varnishing and cleaning should keep me busy while the virus keeps us all at home. Luckily, COVID-19 doesn’t affect sailing or cruising, since we don’t normally come in close contact with anyone else while doing so. Come to think of it, that is often one of the main attractions of cruising!

I’m waiting for parts to reassemble my engine.  Not major parts, just gaskets, O-rings, seals – that sort of stuff. But I really can’t put it back together and stick it back into the hole without these essential, though minor, parts.

Meanwhile. . . I need to varnish stuff. So that’s what I’m doing. Not a lot of effort involved, just patience. The first item needs a bit of introduction. I built an anchor platform about 8 years ago, and used red oak, which has proven to be very strong. I’ve had trouble keeping a good, protective finish on it, though. The first finish I used was epoxy underneath 4-5 coats of varnish. Seems like this should have been good, but it failed much sooner than I thought it should have. I refinished it after several years and used only varnish, but didn’t religiously recoat twice a year, and didn’t consistently fix the nicks and flaws that inevitably gathered on its surface, due to the nature of its use. Finally this past winter, as the finish completely failed where the roller axle is mounted, that glued-up block of oak split, doubtless due to water intrusion and the freeze-thaw cycles.

              This is the original design

And here’s a photo of the winter’s damage:

If you look carefully just above the top of the roller, you can see a large crack in the wood, which runs right to the place where the axle is mounted.

So here’s my solution. I have acquired a cost-free stainless anchor roller (thanks again to the free-cycle bins at the near by marina), and it looks like it will work perfectly mounted on the anchor platform. I cut off the damaged old roller and mounting, and relieved all the edges.

I’ve drilled the mounting holes for the new roller plate, and today I finished the final coat of vanish. 5 in all.

And this is (roughly) how the new roller will mount onto the old platform.

All my varnish items here on one table getting “the business.”

I think what has struck me most about this whole varnish routine this spring is how much bugs seem to love vanish. I think wet, sticky varnish is a bug magnet.



My “new” engine has been installed for 12 years now. Doesn’t seem possible! I’ve accumulated about 1000 hours of run time, and it’s time to do some regular things to it. The urgency of this has conveniently been occasioned by a persistent oil leak. I just haven’t been able to find it. I cleaned the oil in the bilge from its leaking after haul out last fall. Thought I had found the leak to be a simple dip stick ajar in the hole. But a test run of the new propeller has proved that the leak is still there. After looking up and down, far and near, and all over the engine, I have come up with nothing. . . until today (I think).  Actually, I didn’t come up with it, my neighbor the professional boat service tech noticed it. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . .

Being unable to find the leak, I determined that it must be the rear main seal, and to service that, the engine had to come off the beds and on to the cabin sole. I disconnected the engine on Monday. Today I moved it on to the cabin sole, separated the engine and transmission, removed the clutch plate and flywheel – – and found no oil leak. There was a little oily (almost dry) dust from the clutch at the bottom of the bell housing. No oil. I found a little more oil around a couple of banjo fittings that attach an oil transport tube that runs port to starboard. Didn’t seem like enough oil, though. Finally, my neighbor Mike came home from work and came over to check my progress. He was looking around the engine, and pointed out (among other items of service that needed doing) that my oil breather line had come loose from the intake. That’s a line that vents positive crankcase pressure from the valve cover. Ah. . . I’m betting that’s the source. Those things can spew oil everywhere, and that would certainly account for the amount of oil (and the location) that I’ve found in the bilge. It hasn’t been lots of oil, but enough to leave me with a black, grimy bilge. I am so relieved!

So while the engine is on the sole, I’ll do a few more things that are harder to do with it installed: I’ll completely service the cooling system, and boil out the heat exchanger. I’ve got a new exhaust elbow to install – it’s time. These things have a limited life span, and it’s best to be ahead of a breakdown in this case. I’ll also adjust the valves and get a new seal for the valve cover (of course). And. . . I’m going to put a couple hose clamps on that breather line!

Sorry about lack of photos this time. I’ll catch up on images tomorrow.

So I’m done for now. All that remains is to launch, then begin the regular spring rounds of cleaning, varnishing, cleaning, rearranging, cleaning, sail installation, cleaning. . .  you get the idea.

Prop and Shaft – installation is finished with minimum of drama and back pain. Shaft and coupling went back together easily, and I’m satisfied with the fit and security of all the connections. When I uninstalled the engine six years ago for engine bed repair, I reassembled the coupling with waterproof grease. That was a good decision, as now the coupling comes apart with no struggle, and the bolts turn easily – no horrible corrosion to deal with. Reassembly this time was done with the same grease, all went smoothly.  Mating the shaft with the coupling and key can be difficult, but with the grease it slides right together with no problem. The shaft is then secured with the provided set screw perpendicular to the shaft, and the split coupling receiver that tightens the collar with bolts and nuts. I then checked the play in the cutlass bearing (can’t really do that without attaching the shaft to engine) – there was none, which is a good thing, because replacing that would have been a struggle.

This is an older photo of the coupling, but in it you can see the collar bolt holes and the set screw hole.

New Prop – I mated the prop to the shaft taper with lapping compound, which is done by working the wheel left and right on the shaft until it feels seated. I cleaned up the surfaces, then applied grease again, fit the key into the key way, and spun the shaft nuts into place, tightening them down with the same wrenches I use to adjust the stuffing box. That done, I installed a new split pin. Next item was to apply Lanocote to the prop. This is my first time using it, and it’s interesting stuff. Made primarily of lanolin and something else that’s really viscous and sticky, you have to heat up the surface of the prop apply it. I used a heat gun on the (50-degree day) I applied it. I also had to heat up the container of Lanocote to get it soft enough to apply. It cures/cools quickly, so I had to keep heating up the prop and the Lanocote until all the surface was covered. It leaves a pretty thick, tacky surface on the prop which prevents (discourages?) barnacle growth. I also fitted a new shaft zinc.

New three blade wheel installed.

Finally, I washed and waxed the topsides, shear and boot stripes. I made a new cleaning discovery: Purple Power (degreaser sold by Walmart and other outlets) does an amazing job of removing marks and even diesel soot from the top sides. I like it better than using On-and-Off, which is an acid-based remover of some sort. It seems less toxic to skin (though I still used gloves), and certainly doesn’t smell as bad. Maybe it didn’t remove the soot quite as quickly, but was certainly effective.

Shiny, clean topsides

I began the interior clean up, but stopped as I didn’t have a ready water source, or easy access to storage of the boat cover, and other bulky items which are on board temporarily (extra tools, heater, etc.). All of that can come off when the boat is pier-side and ladders aren’t involved. For now, the interior is a disaster area, probably qualifying for government resources.

I hate this stage of the spring recommissioning. What a mess.

I guess the post title is a misnomer. It’s more like spring projects. I haven’t done too much this winter, although I have poked around the engine compartment a good bit, and I determined a couple things related to the cooling pumps on my 2gm20f.

First, my neighbor, who is a certified boat tech, had led me to believe that both pumps were on the way out. My inspection seems to indicate otherwise. His opinion is based on the presence of weeping evidence from the weep hole on the bottom side of each pulley assembly. I, on the other hand, have done a more thorough inspection. Having removed the raw water pump, I determined that there is no problem with the pump. I can see very little evidence of leaking, and the bearing has absolutely no play in it. I carefully inspected the coolant circulation pump as well.  Again, I seen no evidence of leakage, and the bearing is in great shape. So I’m not replacing these pumps. Never had a cooling problem, never lost any appreciable amount of coolant.

Sometimes the “experts” are wrong. To be fair, he works on boats that cost deep into six figures, owned by people who never blink about the cost of maintenance or repairs. If there is a hint of trouble, just replace it. I don’t have the financial luxury of replacing stuff just because there might be evidence of a problem discovered by a 90 second inspection. I’m not replacing those pumps.

Second, I haven’t found my oil leak yet. There has been no dripping oil since I’ve hauled the boat, but of course, the engine hasn’t run during that time either. If it’s a main seal, it likely won’t drip without having the engine running. I’ll have to wait and see on that one. If I need to, I can pull the engine out off the beds while it’s in the water and change the seal then. Only takes about a day or so to do that.

Third, I’ve decided to reuse my old prop shaft that I replaced in 2016 (linked here ). I read up about the reason prop shafts are replaced (should have done this 3 years ago instead of just assuming). Doesn’t seem to be much risk of shearing the shaft at a place where there is pitting. The main problem with the corrosion is that the un-smooth finish can disturb seals and shorten the life of cutlass bearings. I definitely haven’t had that problem. So back in it goes. Yesterday I cleaned up the shaft, inspected the coupling and packing nut, and got it all ready to install. I’ll probably do that tomorrow, as we’ve got a stretch of nice weather ahead of us.

Reassembled shaft and coupling. I was concerned that the coupling would need to be replaced because the key had been sheared. It was fine after a little dressing with a file.

The high-quality Buck Algonquin shaft log hose is still in perfect condition.

Cleaned up stuffing box and hose reassembled.

And here’s the assembly ready to go into the boat. Of course, the coupling has to come off the shaft and be slotted through the shaft log, then coupling reattached to the end of the shaft. Not sure where those black bands came from. A glitch in the photo upload, I guess.

The prop – I still have the old prop from before I repowered 12 years ago. If I recall correctly, it allowed the engine to rev 400-600 rpm too high. I got another prop second-hand, that was amazingly close to the right dimensions, and brought the rpms into an acceptable range. Of course, that prop is now somewhere on the bottom of the bay. So I’ve been researching props a good bit. I’ve used the prop calculator on a number of times, sometimes with differing results (I could have sworn I entered in all the correct information each time. . .). I visited with a prop expert near me, and learned some interesting things. First, it is impossible to cover all the variables for calculating a prop simply by using an online tool like that.  You can get near the ball park.  Notice I didn’t say in the ball park, I said near. Second, having a base line from which to calculate a prop size is pretty important, and I have that with the old prop. Seems like I can get pretty close to the right size and pitch by knowing the error margin of the old prop. Fortunately, this shop ( has prop on consignment for a very good price. This is a three-blade wheel, vs the two-blade wheel I had before. Definitely not going to do any racing now, but I’m eager to see how the new prop performs compared to the old. He said it would be better balanced (less vibration) just by virtue of being a three-blade wheel.

And that’s it for now.  I’ll keep you posted.

Although I haven’t posted in a while, I thought some of you would like an update, and a current-status report.

My last sail of the year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I was sailing alone. 5 miles out into the bay I came about for the return leg, and apparently snagged a crab pot warp with my rudder.  After sailing slowly for a while, I attempted to clear the line from my rudder, but instead managed to foul the prop with a “thunk.”  After that I had no drive to the prop. Later inspection revealed that I had lost the prop and shaft when the coupling/shaft key sheared.  Although there are many more details to relate (things I’d be happier to forget), I got towed into my boat yard travel lift slip by TowBoatUS and I was very fortunate that my friend the manager was still there. He lifted the boat out immediately so there was no more danger of sinking through an empty shaft log (I had stuffed a rag into the hole), and there she sat for the Thanksgiving weekend. I had to have her moved on Monday to a boatyard next door (the yard I’ve been using for 12 years has changed their haul-out policy as a result of a change in ownership). There was no problem though, and the move was made smoothly.

Now I’m in the position of again replacing the prop shaft – the one I lost was only two years old.  In addition, I need to find a prop that will work – easier said than done, if you don’t want to also pledge you first-born as part of the purchase price. Sailboat props are absurdly expensive if you buy them new. I’ll be looking for used.  Fortunately, I still have the old shaft which I can use as a template for the machinist.

I’ve also been leaking oil – not much, but enough to make a mess. This started before I lost the prop shaft.  I haven’t found the leak, but think it could be the rear main seal.  It’s hard to tell because there is no leak while the engine isn’t running. On the other hand, I discovered the dip stick partially out of the hole when I was looking for the problem – oil could have easily been splashed past the place where the stick normally seals against the block. Just not sure. . .  Wish I could find out, because now would be the perfect time to replace that seal, but it’s not something I want to do unless I’m reasonably sure that it’s the source of the leak.

I also need to replace both cooling pumps – raw water and circulator – I know for sure they are leaking – have been for years. Now’s the time.

So I’m looking forward to some quality time crouched in front of my engine this winter-spring. Nobody ever said owning a sailboat was cheap, and I’m here to verify that fact. More posts and photos to come.


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