Tag Archives: catastrophic failure

2008 Week 53 in review

Important winter warning

Now that winter is here, Old Tacoma Marine Inc reminds you to winterize your engine room! Use anti-freeze in your cooling system, turn on a heater in the engine room, and make sure to run the engines occasionally, even if you don’t leave the dock. These are very important precautions to keep your boat and its old engine safe during the winter.

Just last week, one of our favorite boats severely cracked some large castings in the Pacific Northwest’s cold snap and blizzards. We are very sad to hear about the damage and feel that we need to get out the word that the brittle cast iron easily cracks if the coolant freezes. Drain and pickle if the engine will be left for long periods of time, but using antifreeze, a block heater, and occasionally running the engine is the most effective to prevent freezing and cracking.

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week, I’ve continued work on fitting the main bearings into the engine. During the initial fitting, I used bluing and scrapers to get them to about the right shape; now I’m using lapping compound, which is a very fine grit, to get the perfect. This shows me exactly where the bearings and the journals actually touch so that I can scrape down any places that aren’t quite right.

Part of this process is using a squisher tool to hold the bearing in place while I work. This is two pieces of aluminum that push the bottom half of the bearing down into the saddle:

bearing squisher tool on the MV Catalyst

Once the squisher tool is installed, I put the bearing in, put the lapping compound into the bearing, crank the engine around, take the bearing out, clean off the lapping compound, and look at the pattern of scratches that lapping compound left on the babbitt. If the scratches are in just a few areas, that shows me where to start scraping to get it to the right fit so that I can test it again. If there’s scratches all over the bearing, I know it’s getting good contact and is ready to go.

Once I know the bearing is getting good contact with the crankshaft, I need to test how high it is – how far up it’s pushing the crankshaft. If one bearing is holding the crankshaft up higher than the others, then the crankshaft will bend. This shows up when I do a strain test to determine how far apart the throws are. If the strain test shows that the bearing is too high, I roll it out, scrape it down, re-fit it with lapping compound to make sure that the contact is still good, and do the strain test again.

Continually rolling the engine over by hand to test the bearings like this is a work out. I only have three main bearings to test, but it takes a long time to get them just right. At least as I go, the bearings start to fit better and barring the engine over gets easier.

More information on the Olympic

I forgot to mention back in Week 49 that the ferry Olympic‘s main air compressor was surplussed and sold on eBay a few months ago. Nick just sent me an email with the link to the expired eBay listing with information about it. Since eBay eventually deletes old listings, here’s a screencap rather than a link:

eBay listing for an air compressor from the ferry Olympic

It’d sure be nice to get it back for the boat.

Happy New Years!

We’ll be spending the night of the 31st on the Skillful to watch the fireworks on the Space Needle. I hope that everyone reading has similarly fun plans!

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2008 Week 23 in Review

Searching for an Atlas-Imperial

We received an email from California last week about the possibility of finding an old heavy-duty for an old boat. Cary from Vallejo California recently bought a 1928 fishboat, “in pretty good original shape.” As a diesel mechanic and boat guy, Cary’s fixing her up for cruising and family fishing and wants to replace her modern Detroit with a period engine, maybe an Atlas-Imperial diesel. We’ve posted his full story on the Discussion Board here.

I think an Atlas-Imperial would be perfect, and recommend a 65 to 85 horsepower, three or four cylinder, maybe just like the Arro’s. Does anyone know of one out there that could re-power Cary’s boat? Comment here, or contact me.

A Spare Injector for the David B

Early this week, I threw together a spare injector for the David B. The boat doesn’t currently have any spare injectors, so we’d been planning to make several spares when we overhauled the three existing injectors this fall. Jeffrey just decided he wanted one onboard for the summer cruising season (good call).

I pulled out the spare injector parts for a Washington of that size, which were from an engine with the early pressure-balanced injectors, rather than the spring-balanced or Bosch injectors that later engines used (incidentally, the only remaining engine that I know of with pressure-balanced injectors is in the Kodiak Maritime Museum).

Anyway, I got out all the spare parts we had and put together the best injector I could without machine work. I can put two more together with some machining, but that will have to wait until fall. Here’s an in-progress shot of injector parts on my workbench:


After I got it together, I set up the injector to barely hold at 4,000 psi, then made two full compressing turns on the spring adjusting screw per the Washington Iron Works instruction manual. By now, I have set up all the injectors for three of the four boats that use the spring-balanced injectors (the Arthur Foss and Catalyst are the two others; I haven’t yet seen the San Juan) and can set spring tension in my sleep. I shipped the injector up to Juneau and went back to work on the fireboat’s air compressors (they’re coming along; more next week).

Update on the Lightship #83

We finished up a draft lumber bid request for Northwest Seaport and its lightship, and now we’re just waiting for comments.

It’s exciting to see how much thought and effort is going into laying the lightship’s deck right. I’m looking forward to walking around on it in a few years.

Enterprise in the Basement?

We recently got a call about someone pulling an Enterprise that used to power a gen set out of a building. We’re definitely wondering how they’re going to get it out – and what they’re going to do with it next.

If anyone knows more about this, contact us.

Songhee Sale?

We’ve heard that the Songhee (powered by an Atlas-Imperial) was sold to a new owner — but then the deal fell through. What happened? Comment here if you can add to the story.

Minor Catastrophe on the Union Jack

The charter boat Union Jack experienced a calamity this week: one of their pistons seized while the boat was underway, forcing them to a screeching halt. The cause is unknown, and they don’t have a lot of time to figure it out since every moment they spend at the dock is eating away at their charter time. They need to get it fixed ASAP, and many folks are recommending that they pull the liner to have it honed.

This is such a huge job that we at The Shop think that they should attempt to do some of that honing in place. Unlike most heavy-duties, Union engines have overhead cams, which make pulling the liners really, really messy (which is a messy job even without the overhead cam).

We hope that they manage to fix it soon, and that we hear about how they fixed it.

Major Catastrophe on the John Cobb

We heard this week that the NOAA research boat John N Cobb suffered a catastrophic engine failure.

According to the crew, they were cruising along doing their research when the boat suddenly started jumping up and down and making a lot of noise and losing RPM, the way it does when a gillnet or a line gets wrapped around the propeller. We’ve heard that the engineer then ran down to the engine room and realized that most of the noise was coming from the engine. He shut it down, the noises stopped, and they were towed into port.

Inspection later revealed this:

a broken crankshaft

Non-engine folks, see that ragged gray crack on the lower left side? That is a clean break through the crankshaft under number one cylinder, and that is about the worst thing that could happen to an engine.

Without knowing more than what we’ve heard through the old engine grapevine, this is probably it for the John Cobb’s Fairbanks. If we were still in the middle of World War II, the folks over at NOAA could just call up the factory, order a new crank, get a guaranteed install, and call it as good as new. It’s about sixty years too late for that, though, and even if you could get a perfect new crank it’d be foolish to install it in the engine without knowing what caused the break in the first place.

Why did it happen? We at Old Tacoma Marine Inc can’t even begin to tell without seeing the engine for ourselves and doing a lot of detailed inspection. We do know that both NOAA and the Cobb’s contracted mechanics have taken good care of the boat throughout its lifetime, as shown by engine logs and service records.

Until we hear more from NOAA and other folks in the know, all we can do is speculate. We’ve set up a thread on our discussion board for you all to share your theories here.

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2008 Week 22 in Review

Back to Business

I started this week with a lot of catching up in the office and at the shop. This meant billing, several trips each to the bank, Kinkos, and the post office.

I also spent several hours on the phone, including straightening out the mess I got into with AT&T for using my new phone in Canada. I can tell you all cell phone companies are jerks, but if you really hold them down you might get someone on the line who is really helpful. It can be entertaining.

I stalled the person who first took my call with all sorts of inane questions. He would tell me there wasn’t anything he could do and then ask “is there anything I help with, sir?” and I’d ask another question to keep him on the line. I also insisted that I want the same top-quality service that Tom Cruise gets (though this guy said they treat all their customers with the same respect) and I guess they wrote it down in my file. After stalling for another half-hour, they handed me off to someone who finally straightened it all out (and told me that all their customers receive the same great service).

The trouble all started because after ten years of abuse I just switched from Sprint to AT&T (to use my new iPhone). New customers are treated like untrustworthy criminals for 90 days, but I got around that by hanging on and had about $700 in “roaming charges” knocked off my statement.

Lightship Lumber Planning

I finally started the real work on writing the bid request for the Lightship #83 deck lumber. Brian Johnson of Ocean Bay Marine Inc and I took measurements and discussed quality requirements for the deck lumber. We also took some samples:


We need over 10,000 board feet of planking, plus nib planking, coverboards, marginboards, carlins, and winch pads.

We should have a draft to Northwest Seaport for review by next Wednesday.

Work on the fireboat Duwamish

Also this week, I disassembled the aft air compressor in the fireboat Duwamish. From looking at the make, I think that the aft air compressor was installed with the Cooper-Bessemers and the forward one was replaced more recently. After inspecting it, I don’t think that the replacement is able to produce the 600 psi required for the Duwamish’s high-pressure system. I’m going look in to repairing the damaged one, which has been stored on deck under a rain cover, but it looks like it’ll be a lot of work.

An interesting thing about the original air compressors is that they’re mostly brass, and may have been the same make of air compressor used to start the stainless steel Clevelands in minesweepers. These engines use the same high-pressure settings that the Cooper-Bessemers in the fireboat use, so it’d make sense that they have the same kind of compressors.

If anyone has any information about air compressors like those used in minesweepers, contact me, or write about it on the discussion board.

Old Tugboats Changing Hands

Craig stopped by for a tour of South Lake Union last week. He’s got some neat stories of large-bore Sulzers and crossing oceans on container ships. He is still looking for his dream steel tugboat with a heavy-duty to cruise the Sound with. Comment here with your recommendations.

I also learned that Skip bought another old tug: a Miki tug named the Galene down in Portland, powered by a 1,200 horsepower Superior. This sounds like a gigantic project and I hope he can handle it.

A Visit from Captain Jake

Captain Jake, currently of the San Diego Maritime Museum’s Californian, stopped by for a tour of South Lake Union. I sailed with him back in ‘96 on the Lady Washington. He’s still driving tall ships and has recently taken over the steam yacht Medea for the San Diego Maritime Museum. I showed him around the Arthur Foss and the fireboat Duwamish, and he rattled off a bunch of heavy-duty powered boats in southern California (with gossip). I’ll have to follow that information up now that I’m done with the Pearl.

New York Planning

I made some plans for the New York trip later this month. We’ll be visiting three fireboats (including the two powered by Enterprises that posted about here), South Street Seaport, and hopefully Staten Island and some of the cool boats over there.

July work on the Sobre las Olas

I’ve re-scheduled a trip to LA this July for some more work on the Sobre Las Olas, the Atlas-powered fantail yacht. The Sobre’s mechanic John got most of the snifters and all of the blow-down valves off of the two engines, and he’s going to send them up for me to overhaul in my shop. I’ll bring them down with me to reinstall. I’m looking forward to seeing the guys and the boat this summer.

International Retired Tugboat Association Party

On Saturday night, we attended the International Retired Tugboat Association party in Everett. Most of the party was onboard the Olmstead, a 95-foot retired Navy tug of the same class as the Maris Pearl and the Red Cloud. I took a picture of the hold, which I uploaded here.

Lia and I arrived just in time to take a ride on a 60-foot tug (I can’t remember its name) for a cruise on the Snohomish River, followed by drinks, snacks, and tugboat stories. We passed by many neat old tugs, one of which I know very well: the Island Champion.

tugboat Island Champion, powered by a Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine, in Everett

The Island Champion is a classic 100-foot wooden tug from 1944 with a (6)33f14 Fairbanks-Morse main. Hilbert and Jeanne, the proud owners, have had lots of work done in the last few years on the engine, the deck, and the hull, but unfortunately the boat spent one tide exchange under the Snohomish Slough.

Here’s the sad story:

Last spring, I was helping Hilbert move the boat back to her very inconvenient moorage, where she regularly sits in the mud (the Snohomish River has lots of space for old tugs to tie up, but it’s a tidal estuary and I wouldn’t call the moorage great). When arriving at the dock a little late on the tide, we decided to turn the boat around and quickly learned that we couldn’t rely on the prop-walk when we’re in such shallow water (the wheel is too close to the bottom). This made turning around very difficult and after using up all the air and failing to pivot the boat with the bow in the bank, we thought we’d better get back to the dock even if we were pointed the wrong way. While backing up to the dock, the boat got hung up on something – maybe a root ball. Even with the Fairbanks wound up at 350 rmp (50 over max rated) we couldn’t get the boat loose. A bystander took a video of our fruitless efforts from the riverbank that’s on YouTube here.

We put all ashore except for Hilbert and I. I called Global Dive and Salvage, who I worked for back in ‘98 and ‘99. Hilbert and I prepared the boat for listing over and hoped that she’d float again on the next tide.

Then the Global guys arrived with trucks and boats and big pumps. We got the pumps off the trucks and into the small boats and got to the Island Champion just as the tide came up over her decks. Before we could get the pumps installed, the water started flooding in through the salon doors and galley doors and completely filled the engine room. By the time we had the pumps set up, it was too late to make any progress against the tide and we shifted our efforts to containing the fuel and oil. We anchored an oil containment boom and plugged the fuel tank vents, trying to keep petroleum out of the river:

the tugboat ISLAND CHAMPION, aground in the mud in Everett Slough

Later that night, we saw fuel begin to appear in the containment boom and found that the base of the fuel tank vent was completely rusted away. The Global Dive crew and I worked through the night to soak up the fuel with pads. I don’t know how many piles of soaked pads we bagged up, taped closed, and hauled up the dock.

the ISLAND CHAMPION, while aground in Everett Slough

Around 7 AM, divers showed up to seal the tug up and pump out all the tanks and the engine room. That’s when I left, totally exhausted. The Island Champion was raised on the next tide and delivered to the Everett Shipyard to be cleaned out.

Since then, Hilbert and Jeanne have been working very hard to put the boat back together and have had lots of good work done. I wouldn’t say that the incident helped the vessel, but in a way it’s boosted the progress: they’ve had to work a lot faster to keep up with repairs and maintenance on the Island Champion. I look forward to seeing her cruise again soon.

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