'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

Moving on and fixing things.


By Keith
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. That’s fact. And it’s a fact we’ve been learning in spades these last few weeks. In all, we’ve been “sailing” with no clear plan or ability to plan since October 4th. That’s 7 weeks of limbo by my reckoning, and I’m a man that likes a plan. Even if it’s a tentative plan, subject to change, I still like to have a set of parameters in life, a way to say “If not plan A, then plan B, if not plan B then plan C…”

But one thing that is clear is that we’re going to be a lot later in our southerly goals than we ever expected. Thanksgiving in Georgia? Hardly. Christmas in Sarasota? Maybe.

For nearly two weeks we’ve been docked in a slip in Charleston, South Carolina, waiting for appointments and surgery to repair – for the second time — the detached retina that’s been rather plaguing me since October 1st in Ocean City Maryland. Yesterday we finally received the news from the surgeon that everything in the eye looks good, the knitting has commenced, and we’re free to continue our travels. With a few caveats – when we’re ready.

But of course we haven’t been completely idle during this waiting time. We’ve been doing boat repairs! Remember that definition of “Cruising” I mentioned a while back? It goes “Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places.”

Yeah that…

So our propeller came loose. Not all at once, and not to the extent that it, like, fell off, but still, it gives a whole new meaning to the term “having a screw loose”. That’s a big screw.

It became a fascinating process of elimination, actually, though I did have some other things on my mind while trying to figure it out. And it was an excellent example of how a string of seemingly unrelated events can all be tied together.

Way back in March of 2014 when we bought Sionna, I took the prop off while the boat was still stored in a shed, replaced some seals in the drive system to correct an oil leak, polished and painted the prop, and then put it all together again. At the time I had a hard time getting the prop to go on the shaft properly. Somehow the key that mates it to the shaft kept getting in the way, making it hard to slide the prop into place. Eventually I managed it though, with much pushing, grunting, and tentative tappings of a soft hammer.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward to August 18th, 2016. Nicki and I have just departed Rockland on this cruise, and just south of Owls Head in the Mussel Ridge Channel we snag a lobster pot line on the prop as we’re sailing by. The prop isn’t turning, so it doesn’t wrap around it, but Sionna – under full sail and only 150 feet from the rock piles of Maine – is suddenly dragging 200 pounds of lobster traps along the ocean floor – and being pulled down onto the rocks…

We can’t start the engine because there’s a line caught on the prop. We can’t drop the sails because they are the only thing keeping us off the rocks. We can’t free the line because the tension of the drag is keeping it well below the surface…

So we continue sailing – very slowly – and dragging that mess for over 500 feet, until we’re past the rocks and can head into the wind and drop sail. Now Nicki can reach down with the boat hook, snag the trap line and cut it (I’m sorry, Mr. Lobsterman, but we are saving our home here!) and free us from the trap. Whew!

But not the end of the story. Later that day the wind drops and we start the engine,and I’m immediately aware of a vibration that wasn’t there before. It’s subtle, Nicki doesn’t detect it, but I know. Something’s changed.

Fast forward a couple months. Sionna has traveled over 1000 miles since Maine, and much of it has been motoring. That new vibration has stayed with us, but gotten no worse, until we pass the Shallotte inlet, in southeastern North Carolina. There we nearly run aground on a shoal created by Hurricane Matthew, and in the process of avoiding same, the engine is shifted into reverse rather more abruptly than one would prefer. The vibration changes…

The lubricating oil for the prop shaft starts to change color, turning dark, and when the engine is in gear I can feel a distinct vibration there, but I can’t isolate the source…

So here we were, stuck at the dock in warm Charleston, and I’m seeing divers working on various boats around the marina… …a lightbulb comes on.

The first diver looks her over and declares that he can’t see anything out of alignment, finds nothing obviously loose. Hmm…. I disassemble the drive train enough to isolate just the prop and its 24” shaft, and from inside the boat, turn the shaft – and hear a distinct “clunk” from the prop outside: “Aha!

Diver number two takes all of 5 seconds to confirm what I know. “Yup, your prop’s loose!” And we’ve lucked out in the diver department – this is the fellow who services all those fancy Sport-fisherman boats that we see out here, the ones that are driven by gung-ho but clueless boaters who run aground a lot and beat the tar out of their engines. Our diver knows a lot about keeping props on the boat.

So he hands me the propeller, and I spend an hour cleaning it off, sanding it smooth and re coating it with anti-fouling paint. Later that afternoon he comes back to reinstall it, and immediately says he’s found a problem. The key – which keeps the prop from spinning freely on the shaft – is too long, and is interfering with the nut what holds the whole thing together. Another “Aha! moment.

Remember earlier I mentioned I’d had trouble getting the prop to go back on the shaft because the key was interfering? Hmm…

Out comes the hacksaw, and in 2 minutes the key is 5/16”” shorter, the prop slides onto the shaft about ¼” farther than before, and the diver declares “That’s more like it!”

Is it really fixed? Well we’ll see. Certainly the test-run here – tied to the dock – reveals no vibration that I can detect, so that’s hopeful. We’ll know more after we’ve put a few more miles under the keel. Fingers crossed and with hope abounding, we’ll be departing Charleston on Saturday, most likely.

In closing I’ll leave you with the picture that Nicki took yesterday. I gather it’s my best side. Boat projects in exotic places? My sweet Aunt! But the surgeon did tell me to keep my face pointed down toward the floor…

Author: s/v sionna

Living the dream in 32'. We left Maine on August 18th, 2016, and have gradually worked our way south until we felt warm enough. After spending the summer in Maine, working to replenish the cruising kitty, and rehabilitating an old house. we’re headed back on the boat, bringing Sionna back home to northern waters. Follow our blog here!

6 thoughts on “Moving on and fixing things.

  1. Why are there so many diver number ones in this world? Oh well.

    As for that last photo – lead by example, I say! As for it being your best side… is that your own conclusion, or did Nicki tell you that?

    Hang in there, chums!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been round an round on trying to get the prop right on our triangle. Do you know your transmission gear ratio and your prop pitch and diameter? I’d be curious what your running.


    • Our boat was re-engined in 1994, and I assume re-propped at the same time. From the picture you’ll note we have a “cruise” prop, the type often seen on motorsailers. It does slow our pure sailing speed slightly, I suspect, but gives very good economy and thrust when motoring and motor-sailing – and we’ve been doing a lot of the latter on the ICW!
      That said, the specs:
      Engine – yanmar 3gm30f, 24 horsepower at 3200 rpm.
      Transmission – Kanzaki KM3P (stock from Yanmar) Sorry I can’t read the ratio with this eye. 2.7:1 comes to mind but not sure. Google would tell you.
      Prop is 17″ x 10″ pitch. Paddle blades mean its at least twice the surface area of a standard prop, which changes the pressure distribution and cavitations resistance significantly.
      All that said, any good prop shop should be able to match and tune a prop for your system. What issues are you having?


  3. Sorry to hear about the prop. She blew the key out of there in South Addison, and Jonesport shipyard machined that bronze shim (the old one was plastic!) but I’m surprised that they put a too-long key in there…

    I guess we never stressed the system, putting on an average 60 hours/year. I do enjoy your blogs.

    Fair winds, eh?



    • Thanks Gordon! The diver did remark on the shim, “perfect fit”, he said. I think the key was just a hair too long, really, but shortening it made the install nearly foolproof. Anyway she ran smooth today so we’re happy, and we’re finally away from the city, which makes us ecstatic!


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