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2008 Week 39 in Review

Back to business-as-usual

This week, I’ve gotten back in the shop. I worked on cleaning up an engine control station that I picked up recently. It’s a neat find, perfect for a direct-reversing twin-screw boat. After I finish cleaning it up, I’ll post pictures and put it up on eBay – hopefully by next week.

I also worked on the Duwamish a bit – I checked the cylinder height with a standard gasket and it is too low. The piston goes up past the liner slightly, so next week I’ll put a thicker gasket under it. I’ve got to get this project wrapped up soon, though.

I also cleaned up the shop a bit, and caught up on news from the shop partners. Brian and his shipwright partners are all settled in, John moved out, Grant is moving into John’s old space, and we’re going to be looking for another shop partner soon. My space is right in the center of the shop, so I spend quite a lot of time BSing with everyone who works there. I call this an investment, rather than a waste of time. We may not talk about anything important, but this business requires a lot of social interaction. When I have a question, I can get answer much faster if I am all caught up on the news.

I also worked on taxes and other “business” things. Lame. Stuff like this takes the fun out of running a small business.

Sakarissa moves

We received the following email from Jerry, who works with the Amphibious Forces Memorial Museum, which is thinking about buying the Sakarissa (a WWII “Yard Tug,” sister ship to the Maris Pearl and the Red Cloud):

YTB-269 was built in Tacoma and commissioned 12 April 1944. She served in the Pacific assisting in the operation and transport of ABSD-1 (advance base sectional dry-dock). These large docks were capable of lifting a battleship and were used to repair ships in Eniwetok and Guam during and after the war. The ship returned home to San Francisco on August 22, 1946. She was used for assist duty for the USN until 1974 and was then transferred to MARAD at Suisan Bay tending to the needs of the mothball fleet there. The Sakarissa will join the growing fleet of historic vessels in the Portland/Vancouver WA area. She will become an educational resource attesting to the era when maritime services played a major role in the economy of the Northwest and of the labor that built ships and those few still working to preserve that history.

Jerry also sent a bunch of pictures of the tug, including this engine room shot:

Enterprise DMQ-8 diesel engine powering the ex-Navy tug SAKARISSA

This is the same engine built on the same contract as the Red Cloud and the Maris Pearl, but unlike those two it doesn’t have the clear camshaft view ports on the starboard side. Interesting.

Thanks for the update and the photos, Jerry – I hope that I can make it to the Sakarissa when I’m down in Oregon next month.

Footage from the Quail

Dirk and his friend were treated to a demonstration of the tugboat Quail‘s Atlas-Imperial diesel. Here’s a video of starting her up:

Thanks, Dirk!

What is “original?”

When you’re taking care of engines for which spare parts haven’t been manufactured for 50 years, things tend to get changed around a lot. While I try to stick to the original manufactures’ parts and process, I have had to stray sometimes. If I can’t keep the engine “original”, then the next most important thing is to document the changes that do happen. I’ve been keeping track of the changes I’ve made, but I need to start making better records of the process. I’m going to start a list of variances to the OEM (Original Engine Manufacturer) designs here and on the website. Over time, I hope to document all of the changes I’ve made – and all of the changes that other people have made and told me about.

Here’s a few to start off with:

On the Arthur Foss‘s Washington:

  • the fuel pressure regulator is an Atlas-Imperial fuel pressure regulator
  • numbers two through six cylinder heads are a newer style with two studs and a collar to hold the valve cages, instead of one big castellated nut around the cage
  • the new set of tappet guides have a zerk fitting or 1/8-inch pipe tapped hole in each

On the Catalyst‘s Washington:

  • the injector tips, while Washington-style on the outside, are Atlas-Imperial-style on the inside
  • the fuel pressure regulator has an atlas imperial seat and stem – inferior to the reversible Washington design
  • the new valves are one-piece (this is forgivable)
  • the valve cages have new noses and are not one piece any more
  • the guides are off the shelf (from MAN or something)
  • the rod bearing nuts are nylock and not “large profile”
  • the clutch guide pins are two piece
  • the pneumatic shifting has been replaced with hydraulic

On the Westward‘s Atlas-Imperial:

  • no Manzell

On the Thea Foss‘s Atlas-Imperials:

  • much of the engine room controls have been replaced or altered to allow better remote operation

On the Briana Marin‘s Enterprise:

  • the thrust bearing and carrying portion of the bed plate has been removed to make room for the gear

That’s it for now. Mechanics, owners, enthusiasts: do you know of any other changes to any other heavy-duty boat? Comment here and we’ll start putting together this record.

Autumn Programs at Northwest Seaport

Old Tacoma Marine Inc has a very good relationship with the Northwest Seaport and I try to help them out when I can. I’m of course most interested in the programs involving the Arthur Foss. I teach all the engine classes held aboard, and last year I not only directed (instigated) the Classic Workboat Show, but I was also the largest sponsor of time and money. Autumn is planning season for Northwest Seaport, so I’ve gotten more involved again by helping them plan next year’s programming and raise funds to make it all happen.

As a start, I went the Lake Union Park Working Group meeting, held every other Friday. All the groups with a stake at South Lake Union send representatives to discuss everything going on, from individual projects to giant joint programs. A major item on the agenda this week was planning joint programs for 2009, but we ended up pushing that back to the next meeting to give all the groups a little more time to recover from the summer. I’m going to meet with Northwest Seaport before that next meeting to commit to expanding the programming schedule just a little more, like we’ve done for the past few years.

I have a few programs that I try to put on every year with the Seaport and the Center for Wooden Boats: Engineer for a Day, Diesel Engine Theory, and the new Tugboat night. These are each engine-centric, mostly on the Arthur, but Engineer for a Day uses all four boats on the wharf (I wrote about it way way back in February). The biggest (and most expensive) single class is Diesel Engine Theory, which is our take-it-apart-and-fix-it class that we’re using to restore the Arthur‘s big Washington:

Diesel Engine Theory 2006 aboard the tugboat Arthur Foss

We’re planning out next year’s programs and finishing this year’s, and finding (as usual) that the main need for each class is participants and funding. For this year’s Diesel Engine Theory class (the only remaining 2008 program), we’ve already got two or three people signed up, and Northwest Seaport is already a third of the way towards raising the total cost of the program (thanks to a 4Culture Special Projects grant), but we really need to fill the class and get the other two-thirds of the money in hand before we start this year’s work.

Northwest Seaport’s staff and board are very busy, so I usually take on a lot of the behind-the-scenes program management. This includes advertising the class and fundraising, on top of the mechanic stuff I need to do to get ready (we really need to order rings soon). This work is essential, since without the organizing, advertising, fundraising, and paper trail, we are spinning our wheels as opposed to building something solid and sustainable that transcends the boat itself.

This gets back to one of my major philosophies. To lift up a boat (or a maritime organization) you need something bigger than that boat (or maritime organization). I think that the best “something bigger” is education. Engine room education is important (the YMTA can tell you why better than I can) and the Arthur Foss just happens to be the best platform for this type of training. She’s a really neat boat, owned by a museum that’s dedicated to keeping her around to teach the public about boats, and she’s moored in the middle of Seattle. The classes and programs we run aboard her for the benefit of the general public can lift the Arthur Foss up and make something more of her than just an old boat.

Of course, last year a program literally lifted the Arthur Foss right out of the water:

the tugboat Arthur Foss in dry-dock, October 2007

That was a great feeling.

Getting back to the upcoming Diesel Engine Theory course, we need behind-the-scenes funding to get it off the ground. If you can help out, contact me now.

The wish list as it stands for the upcoming Arthur Foss programming includes:

  • cash
  • diesel fuel and lubricating oils
  • program participants
  • time on a dry dock
  • (1) 18-to-one torque multiplier
  • volunteers to do behind the scenes work (advertising, fundraising, setup, etc) – sign up for one or more positions now!

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2008 Week 31 in Review

Sobre las Olas on display

I finished up most of the work on the Sobre las Olas just in time for the “Old-Fashioned Day in the Park” in Marina del rey. It’s a free annual event at Chace Park , right near where the Sobre is moored. Lots of different “vintage” clubs – yachts, cars, motorcycles, etc – come to the park with their neat old stuff for enthusiasts to drool over:

Leading up to the show, I had to split my time between getting the engines running well and making the engine room shine, but it all went well and we had a good time. The engine room tours were only for those who really wanted to see it, as the dangerous ladder, small spaces and running equipment kept the engine room off limits for the masses. I gave about a dozen tours that went really well – but it’s hard not to be dazzled by two beautiful Atlas-Imperial diesels running at the same time:

After the show, I finished up work on the Sobre, and ran the engines many times at the dock. Everything is working really well, the engines are holding water just fine, and I added some antifreeze and rust inhibitor.

an Update from the Maris Pearl

I heard from Jay on the Maris Pearl. The summer went great and the brothers islands were a favorite of course. Jay then single-handed the boat for some of the trip back down from Alaska to Seattle. I think that’s awesome, because I dream of doing that with some of the boats I’ve run. It sounds like a lot of fun.

An Update from the Briana Marin

Ron Lopez is in town, so everyone thinking about owning the perfect little tug boat can visit the Briana Marin in Ballard.

Surprise news from the Catalyst

After I got back to Seattle, I thought I could sleep in and get caught up on my paperwork, but I got a call from Bill on the Catalyst. His engineer was sick and he needed a relief for six weeks starting Saturday. It was a hard choice: spend August in my shop, or keep the prettiest Washington diesel clean and running while leading glacier tours on the side… plus, Lia’s already signed on as the naturalist and nature guide for the month.

I had to scramble to get everything in order before I flew out Saturday.

Off to Alaska!

We were ready by Saturday morning, but we missed our scheduled plane and had to catch the next one. We arrived in Juneau hungry. Since we knew that the captain would put us right to work once we got to the Catalyst, we stopped for lunch on the way and blamed our lateness on luggage problems. As predicted, we were rushed into meetings, training, cleaning, and preparing for the next trip without a pause for lunch.

By evening, we were very glad we ate the big lunch, but the sleep deprivation set in and we began making bad decisions like drinking and dancing in the Alaskan bar all night. We were very surprised by seeing some good friends we knew were up here but didn’t expect to cross paths with. We closed the bar and oozed back to the boat like jellyfish on the beach at low tide.

Memories of the Mist Cove

The Mist Cove, another charter boat, is moored next door to the Catalyst in Juneau. I dropped by for a visit and to check out her Cleveland diesels. The boat has a very nice engine room with lots of space, and the stainless steel engines shine. Her Clevelands are 1,200 horsepower two-cycle engines from 1955. I’ve heard that they’re only running one engine at a time to save fuel since they burn about 50 gallons an hour each at full. Whether or not that’s true, she’s still keeping her summer schedule of week-long cruises between Sitka and Juneau:

I spent three years working for The Boat Company as the Mist Cove‘s engineer, starting just after her first season out. The engine room was very cluttered and the boat, being brand new, lacked the attention to detail and comfort that I wrote about back in Week 28. One of my favorite projects was when I moved all sorts of equipment and gear away from the main engines. The Clevelands are historically significant and pretty interesting to look at, so I made them into showpieces and made the engine room look bigger and more inviting as a result. Now, you can roller skate around the engines, and every week, I polished every thing to give our twenty-four guests an amazing engine room tour.

I also reduced the electrical load so that an entire trip can be done without splitting the bus. This was a lot of work to gain no flickering lights with only one generator running at a time, but this continuing attention to detail is what makes a boat comfortable.

My three years aboard allowed me to fine-tune the engine room and all the boat’s systems. I felt like it was dialed in really well, until the boat had to be prepared for Costa Rica. Outfitting a boat purpose-built for Alaska charter work for a company who has 25+ years in giving a great Alaska vacation to operate in completely different waters was very difficult. We had to install air-conditioning and a third generator, which cost a fortune and created a lot of problems to work out. In the end, the Costa Rica program was cut after only one season. I’m glad to see her back in Alaska, an area she’s perfect for.

The tyranny of poorly-planned insurance requirements that are killing small businesses

Before I begin the Alaska trip, I need to get this off my chest.

My shop partner (an excellent shipwright who I’ve worked with for a long time) and I have discussed insurance many times this week under the rollup door. We determined that the insurance requirements are killing everyone—small business owners, yacht owners, and the workers in all maritime trades. We also decided that a small business is the best business model for maintaining yachts and workboats-turned-yachts. In addition to being self-sufficient, available when needed, and having a closer customer-to-contractor relationship than the big yards, the small businesses have cheaper rates. This is great for both the owners and the workers, but when it comes to insurance we get screwed. To make it worse, our customers have less money to pay us, because the insurance companies are screwing them, too. It’s a double whammy.

I really believe that insurance is the foundation to good financial well-being. I also believe in only insuring that which you have, so if you do not have anything, spend your money first on getting stuff worth insuring. Start with health insurance if you’re healthy and you are required to stay healthy to work. The self-employed already know that no one—corporation or yacht owner—cares about their health. Employees should understand the same is true for them no matter what “benefits” they get with a job. Everyone is responsible for themself and should get their own health insurance (and make sure to read the fine print! Adjust the options often to be sure cost of the benefits is fair).

As you acquire more stuff, you need more protection, which is when you should start insuring your stuff. Some small businesses choose to incorporate, so that their personal assets are protected from business decisions. This turns an “owner” into an officer and an employee (when Old Tacoma Marine Inc incorporated, I became the president as well as the lead mechanic, and I stopped being the owner). While this protects the people in the small business, it changes the insurance requirements. All employees must be insured by Labor and Industries, but state L & I will not insure anyone working on boats over 65 feet. Instead, a business must carry industrial insurance at the very high price of 25% of payroll. An employee making $48,000 per year in wages costs a small business an additional $12,000 per year in industrial insurance alone. It would cost even more, but the federal government subsidizes a small business pool that one underwriter carries, which lowers the premium down to the “reasonable level” of 25%, which is still very high for small businesses. (Incidentally, my rate as a mechanic is the same as those who work on nuclear submarines)

Now, I fully understand that boats can be dangerous, but I work mainly on yachts or charter boats—all with a much higher standard for safety than workboats. To me, the 65-foot insurance limit does a huge disservice to the contractors who work on them—especially small business. How does the length of the boat change the risk when you’re working dockside in the engine room? Furthermore, the premiums are also based on payroll. I would think that this means the higher-paid workers are more experienced and more careful, making then expensive to insure, but the way the regs are written it means that a higher-paid employee needs more insurance.

These regulations keep me and other small businesses from hiring any other employees. With the rates that I work at, I can’t afford to, even though the work is there and going unfinished!

A small business owner has still more woes, though. A normal wharf rat making $40,000 to $90,000 by working on old boats over 65 feet needs legal liability insurance in addition; to the industrial insurance discussed above. The minimum liability premium is $2,000 a year. Those on the $40,000 side feel that—ouch! This type of insurance is required for all types of businesses except sole proprietorship.

A final nail in the coffin for small businesses is that they’re required to hold shop space leases in most marinas and shipyards. These costs add up to way beyond the actual costs (labor, materials, tools), and cause a chain reaction that undermines the small-business model ideal for yacht maintenance:

• Some businesses insure themselves and others do not
• Those who do insure themselves are in a small pool, so their rates are high
• The insured can’t always compete with the uninsured rates, so they lose work
• The insured often can’t hire help, so they try to do the work alone, which causes more claims
• More claims from one-person businesses raise the rates
• It severely punishes those who try to follow the rules and leaves the others afraid for their lives

And these are just the issues for the wharf rats and contractors doing the work. Owners of old boats are also taking a beating across the board. Old boats are too often sold at a low price. This allows people to buy a boat way outside their means. Many new boat owners don’t realize the significant ongoing maintenance required to keep these boats going, and then seem surprised when the boat sinks (see Living the Tugboat Dream from Week 11). This information, which show old boats to be a major risk, is used by the insurance company to determine rates, which leads to an even greater downside.

Due to this statistical risk, many insurance companies will not consider underwriting an old wooden boat, regardless of its actual condition. This could turn off a potential buyer with everything it takes to maintain an old boat.

How do we beat the system and keep boat maintenance and ownership costs down? Well, it takes teamwork, but here’s what I think:

Owners: ask your workers to get insurance and show proof. This will increase the pool of insured workers, which will bring the price of labor down. Insist your workers keep good safety practices while on your boat (which will reduce claims), and pay the slightly higher price for your insured (and legal!) worker. Then, tell you congressional representatives to change the insurance requirements so pleasure boats and museum boats over 65 feet can be insured by the much more reasonable Labor and Industries program than the industrial insurance carriers. Last, be a safe boater, strive to meet Coast Guard requirements (even if not required), and constantly show your insurance company how safe you are by the classes you take and the systems you maintain.

Workers: get insurance. Learn the requirements, keep good records, and charge more for the peace of mind you offer the owner. If they do not want to pay for you to be insured, then don’t work for them. Also be safe and minimize claims. It is very important to be insured, as it protects what you have earned.

Last but not least, Insurance Companies: you are the enemy. Your need to provide quarterly dividends and show growth is what is killing us. That is why I want to use the government’s L & I program instead of the industrial insurance: it’s not-for-profit. You profit by breaking our backs, so don’t ever think that my pushing for compliance is to favor your “services.”

I urge all of you to contact your congressional representatives to ask them to change the L&I 65-foot limit to a boat designation (yacht, supply boat, charter boat), and allow more small businesses to utilize the government’s insurance programs that do not need to show growth and offer dividends.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is two El-o-matic Pneumatic Actuators for ¾” valves:

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2008 Week Eleven in Review

An update from the Maris Pearl

This week we pushed to get the Maris Pearl running again to move it back to Shilshole Marina. Once it was good to go, we took the time to change the oil in the main engine: all 250 gallons of it. We also changed out the oil filters and watched two painters begin work (they also helped take the boat back through the locks). It was another uneventful trip.

An update from the David B

We got call from Jeffrey on the David B, following their shipyard work. They replaced the stern bearing and had some pitch taken out of the prop, bringing the RPM up to 288 with pyrometers at 625 degrees with a speed of 7.9 knots (a 1 knot increase). I still want to see 325 at 600 degrees, but its better than it was. Good work, David B crew!

An update from the Velero IV

Irv from the Velero IV visited the shop the other day. He wanted my opinion on how he’s going to replace the steering mechanism. Currently, it has a worm drive and bull gear, but he wants to use hydraulic rams since they’re more reliable. I think that sounds great and I’m looking forward to hearing about the replacement process.

An update from Waimea

Research on the Sugar Mill Camp Museum’s Washington Iron Works engine in Waimea, Hawaii is progressing slowly but surely. Dan let us borrow the photographs that his wife Carol took when she visited in 1998 or so:

Washington-Estep diesel engine at the Waimea Sugar Mill Camp Museum in Hawaii

In addition to being great photographs of an old Washington Iron Works diesel engine (an Estep, even!), this gave us the serial number (it looks like 7182 but is really 7162). The serial number let us look up the original Washington Iron Works manufacturer card, which showed that it was purchased by the Kauai Fruit & Land Company in 1928 through the Perine Machinery Company of Seattle, then sold to the Waimea Garage & Electric Company in 1932. The company later bought two other Washington diesels (numbers 7410 and 7587; they must have liked them a lot.

This finally gave us an excuse to email Chris in Waimea again. She works at the Kauai Museum by day and with the fledgling Sugar Mill Camp Museum when she can. She told us that the engine had been sold by the Electric Company when they upgraded their equipment. We haven’t nailed down a date for this; they bought their last Washington diesel in 1945, so maybe this one replaced number 7162, or maybe they upgraded in the 1960s or 1970s to high speeds and got rid of all three Washingtons at once. I don’t know, but we’ll try to find out.

Anyway, Chris said that after the Electric Company sold number 7162, it went to the Kekaha Sugar Mill and powered the pumps used in the sugarcane irrigation ditches. It turns out that Kauai’s sugar cane industry relied on these irrigation ditches, which makes me wonder if Hawaii is full of old heavy-duties rusting away in the fields. Anyway, her cousin Mike rescued this engine after the Kekaha mill went under, and brought it to the Sugar Mill Camp Museum, which is located on the former Waimea Sugar Mill site. Chris says that she’ll send us a CD of photos, and it sounds like Mike might be interested in doing a little ground research for us.

This is especially exciting news for two reasons. First, the serial number confirms that this engine is the second-oldest remaining Washington Iron Works diesel engine (the oldest being the Kodiak Maritime Historical Society engine that Guy alerted us to). Second, from the pictures, it seems to be unusually complete. I don’t see anything missing, which is uncommon considering how engineers can behave like scavengers when it comes to old engines.

Stay tuned for future updates. This is a neat story that’s unfolding.

Atlas-Imperial 668 pistons available

John in Oakland, who works on the Lightship WLV-605 Relief, called with a neat discovery. He said that volunteers with the United States Lighthouse Society, which owns the vessel, are moving some of the spare parts around and found that they have more pistons than they will ever need. They’d like to sell some of the extras to free up storage space and maybe make a little cash for buying other needed parts. If anyone reading this has an Atlas-Imperial 668 and would like some spare pistons, comment here so we can forward the request, or just contact John on the Oakland lightship at (510) 272-0544.

Lightship WLV-605 Relief's Atlas-Imperial 626 model diesel engine, on Rudy & Alice's Lighthouse Page

Read the manual!

One of my on-again off-again customer is calling me regularly for free engine trouble advice. While I don’t mind talking shop, anyone working on the heavy-duties should read the engine’s manual over and over again so that you understand how it’s supposed to work. Also, keep the engine clean – really clean – so that leaks can be found and fixed quickly. Good gages and monitoring equipment are also worth the price to install them, since they let you know what’s going on inside (though remember that gauges are not always accurate).

Sometimes, an owner will want to throw money at the engine blind-folded. If they ask me to get involved, I will ask for gauge readings and symptoms before I do any work on the engine. Throwing money blindly into the engine isn’t criminal, but I want to see measurable results and this usually requires patience.

Living the tugboat dream

As I mentioned previously, OTM Inc is getting a lot of calls from people interested in old tugboats for sale in Seattle. I feel like I’m acting as a broker for boats powered by heavy-duty diesels, but I don’t mind because I like seeing these old boats go to good homes.

What I do mind is how many people don’t really realize what they’re getting into by buying an old tug to live on, fix up, and cruise around Puget Sound in. Boats are expensive. They require a lot of maintenance that is in addition to the repairs and overhauls and other fixes. Even boats in great condition need a lot of work. One of the best examples of this is the tugboat Newt. She is a beautiful home for Eric, Laura, and their two kids and is in great shape to the rest of us, all clean and cared for with lots of bright wood and a great Atlas-Imperial diesel. When Eric (who is a very talented guy) gets talking about the boat, though, he says that he feels that about half the work is “done.” I like hearing that, because it shows that he and Laura are responsible tugboat live-aboards who realize that an old boat will always need work.

Back to Old Tacoma Brokerage. I’ve been talking with two “clients” who worry me a little bit because I don’t think they realize what they’re getting into. First, a guy and his wife called me about buying an old tug to live aboard and be their ticket to joining the tugboat enthusiast club. We showed them the Briana Marin, a great tugboat powered by an Enterprise DMG-6 engine (and took pictures of the engine room while we were there):

Enterprise DMG-6 diesel engine in the tugboat Briana Marin

It’s about 65 feet long, very comfortable inside, and easy to maneuver with both a reverse gear (installed after a previous owner had some problems learning about direct-reverse) and a bow thruster. It was built as a tugboat-yacht, later used hard by a San Francisco lightering company, and then used as a yacht again by a doctor, then a scoundrel, then a local tugboat guy. A few years ago, the main coupling crapped out and the current owner put it up for sale rather than pay the very hefty repair sum.

During the tour and in later phone calls, I tried to scare impart to him the responsibilities of tugboat ownership, as I do all potential buyers. I described all the work that I think needs to be done on the Briana Marin, including replacing the main coupling which is priced at $25,000 plus installation fees. I was trying show that old boats need constant maintenance and repairs, and to get him to think long and hard about the responsibilities of boat ownership.

Apparently, he got the wrong message; he called on Friday asking what I think of a 108-foot steel tug with a Fairbanks-Morse opposed piston diesel. Holy crap, that’s almost twice as much boat as the Briana Marin! He reported that it’s in perfect condition, but I say that even a boat in perfect condition is a lot of work to maintain, since it still needs yearly dry-docking, painting, engine tune-ups, moorage, registration fees… I recommended that he buy a smaller boat and practice before moving up to that 108 foot tug. The Briana Marin, despite the work needed, would be a good tug to learn from, since she’s so maneuverable and not too big for two people to handle. Plus, she’s a pretty little boat:

Tugboat Briana Marin at the Ballard Mill Marina

Second, an upstate New York couple just moved to Seattle and are looking to buy an old boat to move into, fix up, and eventually cruise in. I call this plan “Living the Tugboat Dream.” They got my number from John Callahan in Kingston, New York, who’s the lead guy on the tugboat Chancellor. I like John a lot; he’s the organizer of the Waterford Tugboat Roundup in Waterford that is one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. Anyway, these two used to live in Kingston and hang out with the tugboat guys there, and mentioned to John that they were moving to Seattle and looking to buy a tug. Naturally, John passed on my number.

I met them at Hattie’s Hat in Ballard, then we went down to the Briana Marin as well. They liked the boat, but they’d already toured the J S Polhemus that’s currently at Ewing Street Mooring. The Polhemus is a neat old work tug that I don’t know much about except that it’s also got a nice Enterprise DMG-6 and is for sale by owner (an artist guy who decided that he didn’t want to be a tugboat guy). I don’t think that it’s a good choice for a first tugboat, though, since it needs a lot of work (unlike the Briana Marin, which other than the coupling doesn’t need very much right now work).

I gave these two the the same spiel that I’d given the earlier guy and his wife: boats need a lot of time and money to keep afloat, regardless of the purchase price. They said they knew, but that they are determined to make it work. This frankly worries me, since good intentions without money to back them up have sunk more than a few old boats. See, they’re sort of thirty-something Bohemian types from how they present themselves. She’s a leatherworker, he works with computers. I’m really afraid that they’re looking to buy and old tug and live aboard because they think it’s cheaper than buying a house in Seattle. While it is getting expensive to buy a house, it’s just as expensive to buy a boat. Rather than a mortgage, you’re paying moorage and dry-dock costs and mechanic fees – not to mention paint and oil and fuel, plus major restoration projects like repairing damage.

I know that I’m starting to sound like a broken record and like I’m trying to poop on the party, but people just don’t realize how much work it takes to keep a boat going until it’s gone and they’re deciding between hiring a salvage company so that they can claim the insurance payout, or just walking away.

Another problem I see is that boats don’t act like houses, and most people know more about houses than boats. If you leave a house alone for a few years while you’re living in it and saving the money for a remodel, chances are it’ll be fine. If you leave a boat alone for a few years while you’re living in it and saving the money to dry-dock it and repair the slow leak in the forward bilge compartment, chances are it’ll sink dockside. This illustrates what I call the “Work/Money Curve.” If you don’t keep up with maintenance and repairs and make progress, then the boat starts to fall behind and you need more and more work and money to bring it back. If the boat falls far enough behind, no amount of work or money will fix it and it’ll slip off the surface of the earth – or rather under the surface of the water – without anyone noticing:

An abandoned tugboat on the edge of Barnard Harbour.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being harsh and these folks really do have the means and the drive to make it work. I have seen some success stories, like the Newt and other tugs that their owners keep looking great through hard work rather than huge bank accounts. I’ve just seen a lot more that end up getting behind that curve and getting ruined. Does anyone reading have an old tugboat success story that they can share? Comment here, or better yet, post to the Tugboat Dream thread at Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s discussion board.

Anyway. I haven’t heard from anyone about either the Briana Marin or the Polhemus for a few days. I was hoping that they’d call me back so that I could show them some other tugs in the area, but they haven’t yet. The ball’s in their court.

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Filed under atlas-imperial, enterprise, tugboats, week in review