Suddenly Sailing: The Great Haulout of 2018 - Part 2

Suddenly Sailing: The Great Haulout of 2018 - Part 2

So, it’s been quite a while since we hauled. We thought a month would be excessive. There was no way we could possibly need that long out of the water for our projects! Ha, how preposterous!

We could have been back in the water by now. Why aren’t we? The largest reason is that we decided to take on a few projects that we hadn’t originally planned on. We decided to install our new head while we were out of the water. It also turned out that our prop needed some love, and we decided to plate off some of our thru-hulls, too. None of those were planned for, initially. We’ve also had family visiting us and helping out, which has been great. There’s been other work going on, and I needed to take a short break to start doing some serious work on my mental health. And finally, we’ve made a significant logistical decision: We’re going to be heading out to try our luck at living at anchor, rather than renewing our moorage or seeking out a new marina. That is going to be a huge change for us, and if we’re able to do so successfully, it will open up many opportunities. We’re getting anxious to get back in the water, we’ve been working hard, and the end is in sight.

Below are some of the different projects that we’ve been tackling. There will be at least one more post about our haulout before it’s all said and done.

The Prop

Our boat has a three-bladed folding propeller. This nifty piece of machinery feathers the blades when the propeller isn’t being used to minimize drag. It’s very high-tech, and inside of its body are some precision-machined gears that control the mechanism. Ours is a Max-Prop classic. The standard maintenance involves cleaning it and greasing it at haul-out.  However, when we began cleaning it, it was apparent that the metal had begun to corrode in places. The sacrificial anode that protected the metal from corrosion had been completely eaten away. We had screwed up.

The local company that manufactures our dripless seal also services the props, so one of our first tasks was to remove the prop for servicing. As with most things, I’d never gone through the process of removing a prop, but fortunately, the manufacturer had excellent instructions for doing so. We learned that our gear puller was not up to the task, as it stripped itself out in the attempt. We went to a local auto store and bought a similar looking gear puller for a few dollars. This one also imploded when we attempted to use it. Finally, we invested in a larger puller, crossing our fingers that it would fit into the space between the prop shaft and the rudder. With almost no clearance to spare, we finally popped the last piece of the prop off and boxed it up for a trip to Lynnwood.

A propeller shaft with the propeller removed.

We felt awful about the damage that happened to our prop. It was entirely preventable, and we’d seen the prop when it went into the water last: a sleek and shiny piece of machinery, not brand new, but close. If we’d thought to send a diver down to replace the zinc last year, it would have come up in better shape. We made the trip up to Lynnwood and showed the prop to the folks at PYI, who assured us that they’d seen much worse, including props with holes eaten clear through the blades, and told us that they’d follow up with an estimate of the repair costs.

It turned out that the same person who had serviced the prop under the boat’s original owners years ago was still working there and able to service it again. He informed us over the phone a day or two later that he recognized his work on the internals of the device. The corrosion on the exterior was largely cosmetic, but the interior mechanisms were due for some work. The cone gear and some other components had developed too much play and needed replacement before they wore out the corresponding gears on the blades. However, we’d have never learned this if we hadn’t taken it in because of the superficial corrosion.

It was an expensive lesson, regardless. Reconditioning the prop cost more than $900 for parts and labor. However, there was a huge value in getting to meet and talk with an expert on the device. He showed us some tricks for reassembly and recommended a more intensive maintenance schedule, including diving periodically to regrease it, in addition to changing the zinc as often as every 6 months.

Once we’re back in the water, the prop will be getting properly pampered. And, all of the worn parts will live in the spares bin where they can be pulled out in case of an emergency. Reassembling the prop was quite a bit easier than removing it, though it is a detail-oriented process. The prop’s behavior can be adjusted by positioning the internal components, so it’s very important to reassemble it with everything aligned correctly.

The Dripless Seal

The dripless seal also needed a look. The prop shaft is coupled to the engine and runs through the stern tube to the outside of the hull, where the propeller attaches. The dripless seal prevents the water in the stern tube from entering the boat. In order to do this, a rubber bellows with a special carbon face is slid over the prop shaft and secured to the end of the stern tube using some very hefty hose clamps. Then, a steel rotor collar is slid down the prop shaft and pressed against the bellows’ carbon face. This ultra smooth surface and the compression of the bellows creates the seal that prevents water from leaking into the boat. There is a small vent hose that allows air to exit the bellows as well.

A view of the prop shaft where it attacheds to the engine. There are hoses in the foreground.
The dripless seal assembly, including where it attaches to the coupling.

This solution requires routine checkups, and even small scratches in either of the facing surfaces can cause the seal to fail.

Examining the parts in question, like many things on a boat, is not a simple task. The prop shaft has to be uncoupled from the engine and slid out so that there is enough room to remove the seal from the other end of the shaft. Mostly, this involved undoing a lot of bolts and pulling things apart at the bottom of the engine box. The flange that held the prop shaft was extremely tight, and it had to be coaxed off by wedging a blunt chisel and over-sized screwdriver into the slots on either side of it. Meanwhile, the Sir was on the outside of the boat, pulling the prop shaft out far enough so that I could slide the flange off. There was a bit of rust on the stern tube as well, which needed treatment.

A close-up of where the propshaft attaches and the dripless seal.
From top to bottom: the carbon face, steel rotor, prop flange, and flexible coupling

When we finally got it all apart, there was some small but noticeable pitting on the surface of the steel rotor. The carbon face, on the other hand, was in quite good shape. We brought everything up to PYI at the same time we were picking up the propeller, and they were able to reface the carbon to smooth out some of the minor imperfections and set us up with a new rotor.

Reassembling everything was more tricky, as we had to get the correct compression on the bellows and secure it back in place. Unfortunately, there was no “easy way” in the cramped engine box, just one of us forcing the bellows down while the other snugged up and screwed down the rotor’s set screws. It took a lot of force, but we also had to be extremely careful not to slip and bang the delicate parts on anything. Once the boat is back in the water, we’ll need to check that the seal is working correctly and “burp” it to allow water back into the seal.

The Head

Our old head was a Blake’s Lavac. It worked well, but wasn’t really ideal for our lifestyle. The Lavac had a series of hoses that allows for pumping waste into a holding tank, pumping it directly out into the water when you’re in an area that allows it, and of course, emptying out the holding tank at the waste-disposal stations found in most marinas. Blackthorn came equipped with a tiny, home-made fiberglass holding tank that was installed mostly to meet USCG requirements. We used the onboard head as little as possible, opting for the marina’s facilities whenever we were at a dock. The idea of storing raw sewage in our bilge doesn’t really appeal to us. Holding tanks are notoriously stinky, and when a hose breaks or the pump fails, the whole disgusting system needs to be opened up.

The boat's head. A short toilet is visible at the bottom. There are many hoses on the left side.
Blackthorn’s original Blake’s Lavac.

That’s why we were particularly interested in composting heads. These self-contained units separate off liquids from solids, allowing the solid waste to be mixed up with a fibrous compost material. This neutralizes the waste, which can then be disposed of in a variety of ways by simply carrying the container off of the boat. According to our research, we should need to empty ours about once a month. We decided to purchase a Nature’s Head for Blackthorn. These and the Air Head seem to be the most popular, and while there are some heated debates over which model is superior, they both looked like a feasible solution for us.

The empty waste compartment of a new composting toilet. It has a metal agitator bar that connects to a spider handle on the outside.
The remarkably simple inner-workings of the Nature’s Head.

We began by removing the Lavac. This was time consuming and a bit gross, but not particularly difficult. The Lavac itself was unbolted from its platform.  We sawed some slots into the platform board where hoses had been passed through so that the platform could be removed.  Numerous hoses had to be pulled off without allowing any residual scum or fetid seawater to spill into the boat. The manual vacuum pump was removed from the wall. We pulled up the floorboards and carefully extracted the old holding tank from the bilge. This was particularly obnoxious, as the tank was heavy and form-fit to the space. I accidentally smashed the Sir’s finger quite hard while removing it.

With the old head out of the way, we quickly realized that our new head was going to be extremely, uncomfortably tall. The old Lavac stood about a foot off the platform, while the new Nature’s Head towered at about 19 inches. Our old platform was also full of holes that hoses had run through.

After much debating and consulting with a few sources, we decided to build a new platform and lower it as much as we could. It could only be lowered an inch, but it was better than nothing. Additionally, we’d need to build a sort of step in front of the toilet, so that your feet wouldn’t be dangling while using it.

My father was visiting at the time, and he guided The Sir through many of the finer points of working with wood. I was a bit bogged down with work during this, but had some familiarity from my childhood at least.

The new platform and its supports were templated, cut out, fit into their places as a test, then pulled out, sanded, painted, and re-fit into the space. Unused holes from screws also needed to be filled in and painted over. We used bondo wood filler for the holes, which may well end up being a mistake. I suppose I’ll be blogging about it later if it comes back to bite us. Going was slow, and during this time, a large portion of our storage beneath the forward berth was unusable. This project, more than any other, made the boat a massively cluttered mess while it was underway. Each morning we’d spend a few minutes moving everything from the settees onto our bed so that we had somewhere to work, and each evening, we’d reverse the process so that we had somewhere to sleep.

The inside of a boat. Clutter and tools are  everywhere.
One of many disastrously cluttered days during haulout.

This was also my first time working with oil-based paints. They’re incredibly durable and cleanable, as well as mold and mildew resistant. This makes them ideal for applications on boats, but they’re also full of pretty nasty chemicals and slow to dry. Even getting a sample color-matched took a full 24 hours. We used Rodda’s Porsa-lite low-sheen finish for the project, and it came out quite nicely. For the step pieces, we used a 1 inch thick piece of sapele, stained with Zar’s Mocha oil-based stain and finished with Daly’s FloorFin, with the goal of coming somewhat close to matching the floorboards throughout the rest of the boat.

The updated head with step stained and installed.
Nearly finished! The only task remaining is a strip of wood to fill the gap between the new platform and back wall.

The Sir also took on the side-project of installing and designing some little shelves to utilize the space formerly occupied by the numerous hoses for the Lavac.

The platform took several days to complete, and much of that time was simply waiting for paint to dry. Work on the step began after the platform was completed, and similarly, it was a drawn-out process. Aside from building a new platform, we also needed to install the vent hose. We decided to run this up to the deck-fitting that had previously been used as a pump-out fitting. The main challenge with this was creating a top for the vent that would be protected from bugs and water, while fitting into the space. We purchased a vent cap through Gizmo Engineering, sized to fit the deck fitting, but it was too wide to actually fit in the space. In order to make this work, we purchased some PVC hose barbs and a section of flexible PVC hose, which we spray-painted in the hopes of providing some UV protection so that they would last longer. Tracking down the parts for this vent took much longer than the actual assembly.

The first attempt to install it ended up stripping out the threads that screwed into the deck fitting, and we had to disassemble and replace the damaged portion. One valuable lesson was that dipping flexible PVC into almost boiling water allows it to slide on and off of the hose barbs more easily.

A small assembly of PVC hoses. It fits tightly between the boat's toerail and a board.
The completed vent assembly.

The final part of the installation was wiring the tiny .07 amp fan into our electrical system. We ran this off of the lighting circuit, as there was already a convenient line running through the head.

All said and done, we’re both very happy with how the head installation came out. Time will be the ultimate test, but we learned a lot and created something that we think should serve us well in the future.


After removing the head, we had two seacocks that would no longer be used. Originally, we were planning to re-seat them, then attach hoses that would be capped off. They needed to be re-seated because they appeared to be seeping just slightly around the bases. Eventually, it would be nice to weld over the thru-hulls and remove them from the boat entirely. In our minds, the fewer holes below the waterline, the better. But, welding them wasn’t something that we wanted to tackle on this haulout.

Once the seacocks were removed, we began to consider just plating them off. If we could create plates to fit down over where the seacocks had attached, this would remove two potential points for leaks to develop.

The process of creating the plates was quite involved. Templates were created from cardboard based on the layout of the seacocks’ bolts. Then, these patterns were transferred to quarter-inch steel plate. A transfer punch was used to center each hole, then a pilot hole, and finally an appropriately sized drill bit was run through. Our angle grinder, which had been purchased for an earlier project but never used, allowed us to quickly cut out the plates from the piece of steel.

A piece of steel clamped to a table. There are some drilled holes and drawn lines. An angle grinder is sitting next to to it.
The new steel plates, with holes drilled, next to some supplies and one of the cardboard templates.

After this, the plates were coated with primer, then several layers of epoxy. A piece of rubber was cut out to sandwich between the plates and the thru-hull’s flange. Sleeves were added to protect the stainless bolts from touching the mild steel plates. On top of this, a generous layer of Sikaflex was applied before everything was bolted back together.

Two assemblies of painted metal plates, rubber, and bolts with washers and spacers.
The block-off plates, awaiting installation.
An epoxy-coated plate bolted to the top a thru-hull.
One of the newly installed plates.

The thru-hulls should be thoroughly blocked off, but you can believe  that we’ll be watching them extremely closely once we’re back in the  water.

One more thru-hull needed some attention. The Sir noticed a bit of  rust around the base of our raw-water intake. This thru-hull had a  Marelon seacock on it, which was disassembled. The rust was cleaned up  as best as possible, and we contacted Forespar for a new set of gaskets,  which they quickly sent along.

So as not to make this too lengthy, I’ll be following up with another post before too much longer. Thank you for taking the time to read through,  and I hope you found some useful tidbits! If you have any questions for  me, or just want to hang out with some cool folks, feel free to hop on  the Creaturista Discord server!