Time to call in the professional.

After spending the previous weekend in Vermont, we had a three-day weekend of boat work awaiting us.  Amazingly the forecast was for great weather all three days, so we were looking forward to getting a lot done.  First on the priority list was to try to break the rudder stuffing box free.  After all, until that project is finished we can’t go in the water.

I had posted about our dilemma on the Bristol Sailboats Facebook page and received several good suggestions, so as we drove down to Shenny on Friday I was optimistic.  Jeff, not so much.  Maybe because he knew that he would be the one doing all of the grunt work!

The plan was to use a long piece of wood to lever the rudder up a few inches and hold it in position with several wood blocks.  Then we were going to sleeve a tube over the rudder shaft, set it on the flange of the stuffing box, and whale on the end of the tube with a sledgehammer.  By raising the rudder there would be a bit of extra space below the stuffing box, giving it room to break free and allowing us to take it out.

The day began with removing Pegu Club’s winter cover.  A sign that spring has truly arrived!  I always feel guilty about all of the plastic that’s going to be sitting in a landfill for thousands of years, but I pointed out to Jeff that at least we would only be covering her three more times before we cast off the lines!  Once that task was completed, it was time to tackle the stubborn stuffing box.

Raising the rudder proved surprisingly easy.  Unfortunately, it was the only successful thing about this project on that first day.  Despite repeated use of PB Blaster, a heat gun, and a sledgehammer, the stuffing box wasn’t moving.  Jeff had been using a tube of PVC with a block of wood on the end between the tube and the hammer, so we thought maybe between the PVC and the wood, not enough energy was being transmitted with each hammer blow.  Time to try a different material.

Home Depot didn’t have any iron pipes with 2″ id, but Johnson’s Hardware (an Ace store) in Groton came to the rescue.  As the first day wrapped up we were at Johnson’s buying 2 feet of cast iron pipe.  They also put threads in one end so we could put a cast iron cap on it.  This would give Jeff a solid surface on which to hammer the next day.

We supported the rudder with several blocks of wood from “Poppet World” as we call it – the area where Shenny keeps all of the members wood for their poppets (a New England term for boat stands).
IMG_0606 (1)
Jeff’s dew report for the day, written on Pegu Club.

Despite not making any progress on the stuffing box, Friday was not a total loss.  We had read last season that after you haul the boat out, if you completely disconnect AGM batteries that are fully charged they won’t discharge over the winter.  Although we were skeptical, Jeff wasn’t looking forward to carrying two 70+ pound batteries down the ladder and back to the house, so we decided to give it a try.

Now that the cover was off and the solar panel was exposed, it was time to see if we had made a very expensive mistake.  Putting the multimeter prongs onto the battery terminals, we were thrilled to see that it had worked!  They were still charged!  We hooked everything back up, and the solar panel controller showed a full state of charge.  Wow!  We turned on the lights just to be extra sure, and then gave each other a high five. Success!

Saturday morning we drove back down to Shenny, optimistic that our new cast iron pipe would do the trick on the frozen stuffing box.  After chatting with other members who were sympathetic to our plight, Jeff got to work hammering.  Our boat neighbor (also named Jeff) started singing “Working In A Coal Mine” by Devo and spirits were high.  While Jeff hammered, my plan was to wash and wax Pegu Club.

After a while Jeff thought he had some success, but it turned out that the rudder had simply slipped down because the wood had moved.  After propping it up again, the hammering, heat gun, and PB Blaster continued.  “Lord, I am so tired.  How long can this go on?  Workin’ in the coal mine goin’ down down, workin’ in the coal mine, oops about to slip down.”

By the time I had finished washing and was starting to wax the starboard side of Pegu Club, Jeff had decided that hammering on a pipe wasn’t going to work.  Although the stuffing box had moved down 1/4″, it wasn’t exactly “breaking free” and we were concerned that continuing to push it down would just mean that it would be that much harder to pull it up.  Maybe a puller would work.  We didn’t have a long enough puller, so Jeff drove to Johnson’s to see if he could make one out of parts while I continued to wax.

Unfortunately, while the homemade puller was a good idea it simply didn’t work.  Time to throw in the towel and call John Bayreuther.  John is a jack-of-all-trades marine repair guy who came highly recommended last year when we wanted someone to show us the basics of our engine.  We really liked him and had kept his number in our cell phone, figuring we’d need to use him again.  After Jeff explained the situation, John said he’d stop by Shenny the following week to take a look at it and give us a call.  At this point the day was over and I had finished waxing the starboard side, so we drove back home feeling a bit discouraged.

On Sunday we knew we wouldn’t be working on the stuffing box, so we figured we’d try to get something accomplished for the weekend.  We kicked off the day by putting more pipe foam in the mast to try to keep the wires in it from slapping.  Before last season we had put pipe foam up the bottom half of the mast, but we discovered to our dismay when we splashed that it hadn’t worked.  After listening to the annoying slap, slap, slap all season, we decided to take off the top of the mast this offseason and put in more foam until the two parts met in the middle.  We’re really hoping it will work this time.  If not we’ll have to haul out and try something different because our dock neighbors will hate us.  Too bad there isn’t a way to test it until she gets in the water.

In addition to (hopefully) fixing the wire slap problem, we ran our halyards externally.  Many people prefer to run them internally, but we found that it created more friction and we preferred being able to easily inspect the entire halyard (as opposed to just the part that we could see on the outside).  We didn’t have internal halyards with Little Bristol, so we knew that the claims that external halyards would be constantly slapping against the mast were overblown.  A post inquiring about it on Cruisers Forum had us thinking we would need to get a new mast cap that had the sheaves at a different angle, but when I told Chuck from Sound Rigging what we wanted to do, he said no new parts would be necessary.  Just re-route them.  Easy enough!

After finishing our mast work we spent the rest of the afternoon waxing the port side of Pegu Club – she looks fantastic!  We didn’t have enough time to wash and wax her before we splashed last season, so it was really nice to be able to give her some cosmetic TLC this spring.  I wasn’t sure we would be able to tell a difference given her age, but boy was I wrong.  The pictures don’t really do it justice, but you can definitely see it:



We were thrilled that it worked out so well.  After all, the one time we waxed Little Bristol you couldn’t tell a difference at all.  This was the first time I had waxed a boat, and I have to say that I liked it, just as I enjoyed sanding.  Jeff declared that I was weird – he’s probably right.  But, just like sanding, there was something about watching the surface transform as I worked that made it strangely satisfying.

As we drove home we were glad that we had been able to salvage the weekend somewhat, and even more glad that we were splashing a week later than is typical for us.  We need the extra time this season.  I’m a bit more mellow about the delay this year than I would have been in prior seasons.  I think it’s because I know that in three more years we’ll be living on her 24/7, so at this point what’s a one-week delay in kicking off the season?

3 years and 8 days to go!

5 thoughts on “Time to call in the professional.

  1. So not looking forward to this project. Did you guys also have to replace the upper and lower bearing on the prop shaft? (I think there are 2) I do’t recall you guys mentioning anything about that. Thanks for sharing all the detailed info!


    1. Hi Dennis – We ended up getting a new prop shaft when we replaced the engine. If you’re talking about the rudder shaft, we didn’t replace the bearings on that. It hasn’t seemed necessary so far. I’m glad that someone is finding the details helpful! 🙂 Kimberly


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