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2008 Week 40 in review

A reader question about Enterprises

Reader Saúl emailed me for some Enterprise information:

Would you know where I can find an image of the logo placed by Enterprise Engines & Foundry on the armor parts they created during WWII? I am trying to update this list.

I won’t be taking an Enterprise apart until January, so if any of you know the answer, jump right in! Comment here, email Saúl, or contact me. It’s a great project, so I hope that a fellow reader can help Saúl out.

A Big Thank-you to Brian for helping the Arthur Foss program

This week, a reader responded to the wish list I posted for the class I’ll be leading on the Arthur Foss. Brian brought us an 18-to-1 torque multiplier on a long-term loan, and will bring by some lubricating oil soon. This is a huge help to me and to Northwest Seaport – plus, Brian signed up to take the Diesel Engine Theory class.

We still need participants and funding for the class, so please be like Brian and get involved and help where you can!

An update on the Duwamish

I’ve mostly finished re-assembling the air compressor, and now I just have some valve work left. I hope to wrap up this project soon — and maybe post some pictures next week.

An update from the David B

I met with Jeffrey and Christine of the David B (the last boat with a Washington-Estep diesel). I gave them a framed color copy of the “engine card” that Washington Iron Works kept records on for their engine:

David B's manufacturer card from Washington Iron Works

Every Washington engine produced has a card, so we can send you a copy of one that interests you for $25 each. We need the engine number or other identifying information and a few months to make the copy. Comment here or contact us to order your engine card today.

Back to Jeffrey and Christine and the David B. They, like many others, have lugging problems due to the wrong-sized propeller and parasitic load. They’re planning to flatten out their wheel this year, and also have me work on perfecting the power train to get the rated engine RPM and 600 degrees on the pyrometers. That is as fast as you can go (remember my discussion of optimizing running speed from a couple months ago?). I’ll also be helping them with some bearing issues this January.

Gaskets for Big Swan

We sent two annealed copper head gaskets and a complete set of rubber grommets to the Big Swan Drainage in Winchester, Illinois. Engineer Kenny manages the drainage company, which uses two giant engines to pump the water out of corn fields and up in to a river that is higher than the fields. The Atlas-Imperial drives a big pump that moves up to 60,000 gallons of water per minute. The other engine, a Cat, can move about 70,000 gallons.

The Atlas, one of my favorite engines in the world, runs great, but there are some water leaks coming from the heads. A water leak is not a terrible thing, but, if left to leak, more problems develop. Changing the grommets is not too tough a job, so it’s a good idea to take things apart to clean and reseal often. This helps prevent small problems from becoming big problems, and removes some of the mystery that can build up if the engine is just left alone. So, as all the old-timers often remind me, “take it apart and fix it!” It sounds like Kenny is planning to do just that.

Boat for sale: Cape Scott

We found another neat boat for sale on the Internet: the Cape Scott, a WWII Navy transport built by Fulton Shipyard in California, which is now a fish packer in Vancouver BC. It’s powered by an Enterprise DMG-6 (like the Briana Marin) and all the gear for fish packing:

fish packer Cape Scott, powered by an Enterprise DMG-6 diesel engine, for sale in Vancouver, BC

I hope a business-minded person buys the boat, since a boat earning a living keeps an engine in good condition. While the operating budget may get cut down in response to economic pressures, engine maintenance rarely gets cut on a working boat, since the engine is the most important thing on it. If the Cape Scott becomes a pleasure boat, I worry that the engine won’t get as much attention as it would if it kept fishing (unless a heavy-duty enthusiast buys it).

The broker is asking $95,000 and has put some basic information on their website, but I have some questions that brokers usually don’t answer: how does it run? How is the hull? How much fish can it haul? What condition are the tanks in? How well does the RSW system operate? When was its last contract for fish packing? If anyone reading knows anything about the Cape Scott, comment here and let us know!

Heavy-duty “for sale” listings

Speaking of which, we’ve launched a new feature of the Old Tacoma Marine Inc website: a Boats for Sale listing. I have a lot of people interested in buying a boat powered by a heavy-duty diesel who call to ask which ones are for sale, so this will be a comprehensive list that will help us get the information out to help the boats change hands quicker. This will be a free service for now, because unwanted boats are bad for my business.

Up now are the Briana Marin (Enterprise DMG-6), the Cape Scott (Enterprise DMG-6), the Oswell Foss (Enterprise DMG-6), the Portola (Winton), the Quail (Atlas 6HM763), and the Ready (Atlas 6HM2124). If you know of other heavy-duty boats for sale, let me know and I’ll get it up.

Off-topic reminder

To all of Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s American readers, remember to vote this November 4th. This is a crucial time for America, and we need to choose the best team to lead our nation.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is a set of two air-powered engine controls manufactured by Westinghouse:

 set of two air-powered engine controls manufactured by Westinghouse, for a direct-reversing diesel engine

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2008 Week 34 in Review

Here’s this week’s cruising schedule aboard Catalyst, from Juneau to Petersburg:

Sunday, August 17 – Juneau to Limestone Inlet: kayak paddle in river, salmon in river and along shore (rainy)
Monday, August 18 – Limestone Inlet to Ford’s Terror: meet Ranger Tim, Kayak Ford’s Terror, brown bear in creek (foggy)
Tuesday, August 19 – Ford’s Terror to Wood Spit: hike Ford’s Terror highlands, Dawes Glacier, seals, whales (hazy sun)
Wednesday, August 20 Wood Spit to Donkey Bay: great whale show, paddle Donkey Bay, 1000’s of salmon in creek (sunny)
Thursday, August 21 – Donkey Bay to Brothers Islands: forest walk, kayak paddle w/ eagle, sea lions & whales, meet Westward & Fred
Friday, August 22 – Brothers Islands to Scenery Cove: see lighthouse, visit Norio, glacier walk, slide show (windy night and rough water)
Saturday, August 23 – Scenery Cove to Petersburg: last run, pack and prepare to return to what passes for civilization (but isn’t)

Here’s the crew:

And here’re the passengers:

This week, I saw Ranger Tim. I first met him in 2000 while on the Westward. We picked him up on the way to Fords Terror and chatted for a few hours. I love seeing all the Southeast Alaska people I worked with nine years ago, especially since they’ve now taken on a cartoonish personality in my mind.

I paddled up Fords Terror again (the glacier was great), picked up more crabs, and met up with whale researcher Fred Sharpe. I also took some video of the Catalyst, which I’ll post once I figure out how to get it out of my camera. For now, here’s a picture of Bairds Glacier:

Westward Rendezvous

We rafted up with the Westward on Thursday, on its return from a 20,483-mile journey around the Pacific:


We’ve been getting updates on their progress for the past year or two that they’ve been out, so it was great to see them all again. They anchored at the Brothers Islands to rendezvous with us for a potluck dinner. The Westward looks great after all those miles, and owner Hugh was still the life of the party. I’ll write a much more detailed account of the meet-up once I have a few minutes to myself, since it was a highlight of the trip. Stay tuned!

Business as usual
I removed the exhaust valve from cylinders one and two, just to continue cleaning them up. Of course they were bad, so I put in spares. I also noticed the oil psi going down over time, and it’s time for an oil change if we continue changing based on time and not on sample results. The oil smells a little diesel-y and with all the overloading fuel, it could be soaking down past the piston or an external leak, and making its way into the crankpit. I will change it in Petersburg for sure and take a sample for the lab.

A good home for the Ready?

Word is spreading about the neat old tug Ready, which is for sale only to a good owner. The boat needs to be hauled out for some hull repair, and the new owner needs the guts to maintain, insure and operate a tug with a direct reversing Atlas-Imperial diesel.

Problems on the Velero IV?

I’ve heard that the Velero is having some timing problems these days. She’s a fish packer and research boat that’s powered by the biggest Atlas diesel still running. Owner Irv does a great job not only keeping the boat looking good, but also finding jobs to keep her employed full time. As I always say, the best way to maintain and preserve an engine is to give it some real work to do.

The Velero‘s engine was extensively modified in the 1950s with a second camshaft, Bosch fuel pumps, and injectors to increase its horsepower and efficiency. The work was done by the same guy who added the Bosch fuel pump to the Portola down in Seal Beach. The new port-side camshaft has something like a dog clutch with a precise gap, so when going into reverse, the second camshaft’s timing changes. The bolts holding the spring-loaded detent for the “gaped dog clutch” and the timing sprocket both broke. Fatigue, maybe, but the system is a one-of-a-kind. Irv may not be able to do much more than replace them and watch them more closely. I really wish I could do more than troubleshoot over the phone right now, but hopefully I’ll be there during winter maintenance for a closer look.

Lost Heavy-duties

Dirk sent us some pictures from his own collection of the Broughton Straits, a 100-foot tug that he piloted to Port Townsend in 1978:


Dirk recalled that the Broughton Straits was powered by a six- or eight-cylinder Washington diesel that made about 300 horsepower, and he remembered that “it had a large turbo but I was told the turbo had be ‘deactivated’ and wasn’t spinning any more.” He also remembered that it had a Fairbanks-Morse gen set. He sent several pictures that he’d taken in 1978, including this one:

We’ve gone through the Washington Iron Works records that we have, and found the engine card. Engine 7624 was ordered on October 17th, 1947 by the Straits Towing & Salvage Co of Vancouver, BC through the Vancouver Machinery Depot.

According to the card, the engine was a model 6-160 (same as the Donald R) with six cylinders at 12 ¾” by 16″. These models got between 375 and 400 horsepower at 327 to 360 rpm. The Broughton Straits‘ record shows it rated at 375 horsepower, with direct reverse and no clutch.

The card also shows the tug’s original name as Stan Point, but as with many of the records, that name was crossed out and the new name written beside. The folks at Washington Iron Works made a lot of notes on this record card as they did maintenance and repairs through the years. We’ve uploaded a copy of it here, and the reverse side with some testing notations here. Dan also marked an “O” for “operational” on his master list of Washington engines, so he’s clearly familiar with the tug and I’ll ask him about it when I get back to Seattle.

Dirk heard that the Broughton Straits was later taken down to San Francisco a few years after he brought it to Port Townsend. He visited the Bay Area in 1994 and saw a mostly-sunken derelict that folks told him was the same tug. Another great old boat with a great old engine lost.

California readers, has anyone seen this derelict tug? We’ll send an Old Tacoma Marine Inc t-shirt to anyone who sends us good photos.

Dirk also sent us an interesting picture of an old Atlas-Imperial diesel:

This was taken in 1978 at the north end of Lake Union, probably in one of those lots off Northlake facing the I-5 bridge, just after it was “bulldozed off to the side of the property.” Dirk says he still has its control station.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop are six (6) DRG-AR Series Field Configurable Limit Alarm Modules:

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2008 Week 33 in Review

Here’s this week’s cruising schedule aboard Catalyst, from Petersburg to Juneau:

Sunday, Aug. 10 – Petersburg to Scenery Cove: Depart Petersburg, Hike Baird glacier (cloudy)
Monday, Aug. 11 – Scenery Cove to Donkey Bay: Bubble netting whales, Kayak Donkey Bay Estuary, meet Norio (rain)
Tuesday, Aug. 12 – Donkey Bay to Windham Bay: Brother’s Beach walk, explore Windham Bay gold mine, find gold (rain)
Wednesday, Aug. 13 – Windham Bay to Ford’s Terror: Fishing and Kayaking at Windham, Orcas, Set crab pots (rain)
Thursday, Aug. 14 – Ford’s Terror to Ford’s Terror: incredible glacier day, narrows paddle, uplands walk, skiff rides (no rain!?)
Friday, Aug. 15 – Ford’s Terror to Limestone Inlet: whales, crab vortex, salmon in river, beach walk, slide show (sunny & calm)
Saturday, Aug. 16 – Limestone Inlet to Juneau: pack and return to what passes for civilization (but is really a hollow illusion)

Here’s the crew:

And here’re the passengers:

We explored a mine, watched whales bubble-net feeding, played some good pranks, and “ate Alaska.” Good times.

MV Catalyst from shore

Eating Alaska

Like a lot of the charter boats in southeast Alaska, food is a big part of cruising on the Catalyst. Chef Anne Catherine and others whip up amazing meals for passengers and crew. It would be easy to sit back and let Anne Catherine do all the work, but I like to encourage the passengers to do some good collecting and foraging, too. I call this “eating Alaska.”

There is a lot of wild food in Alaska there for the taking (with the appropriate permits, of course), from blueberries to halibut to Dungeness crab. We get passengers with all different experience levels, so some of them I just hand a trap, and others I really teach how to fish. We eat some of it right off the beach or grill it on the fantail, but sometimes it’s fun to make something a little fancier, like sushi.

On this trip, we had a big sushi party in the Catalyst‘s mess:

making sushi from fresh-caught Alaska seafood, aboard the MV Catalyst

We had Sakhalin sole and smoked salmon and limpets and shrimp, veggies and bull kelp, plus wasabi and nori and omelet and tofu and seasoned rice. We made lots of different kinds and had a lot of fun. We made miso, too, for the full experience:

fresh sushi from fresh-caught Alaskan seafood, aboard the MV Catalyst

Eating Alaska is definitely one of my favorite parts about shipping out.

Business as usual

I got some good work in on the engine this week: I adjusted the clutch, changed all the pyrometers for better gages, and worked on the valves in cylinder three. While underway, I kept hearing an intermittent sticking-valve sound coming from number three cylinder head. When I pulled its valve cages, the exhaust valve was in bad shape so I pulled it out. I’ve been looking at it, and the part that worries me is the stem damage:

closeup of one of the CATALYST's exhaust valves

The face can be cleaned up, but the stem damage might condemn the valve. After I pulled out the valve, I cleaned everything, installed a spare valve in the cage, performed the kerplunk test, ran it a few minutes, and then tightened it a little more.

We’re also still overloading the engine a bit. The Catalyst‘s propeller is oversized for her engine, making the engine work too hard. The new pyrometers are showing that the exhaust temperatures are well over 700 degrees at cruising speed (Dan recommends 600 degrees for a caged un-cooled valve). I started reining in the running practices and am making a list for Bill of the options for making the engine run better:

  • re-pitch the prop
  • add a keel cooler, which would eliminate the need for the seawater pump
  • reduce electrical load and add a 12-volt charger to replace the 12-volt alternator
  • remove hydraulic controls and steering, which would remove a large parasitic load
  • re-ring pistons, grind valves, service injectors, a tune-up that would increase the power available

The Washington manual states in several places not to overload the engine, but acknowledges the tendency to do so since a heavy-duty is very forgiving and can easily carry large loads. This is often difficult to explain to captains because the size of the engine compared to the available horsepower dose not equate to those used to size modern engines. It’s easy to assume that parasitic loads on the engine don’t make a difference, but, in fact, parasitic loads (using the engine’s power to run more than just the propeller) can drain lots of power and make the engine overload pretty easily.

On Catalyst, there’s six parasitic loads that draw 1 to 3 horsepower each: the fresh water pump, the seawater pump, the 12-volt alternator, the 24-volt alternator, the hydraulic pump, and the clutch-in hydraulic pump, which all run on a jack shaft and belts. All together, these take a big bite out of the 120 horsepower that the engine produces when it runs at 450 rpm. Now that we’ve reduced the cruising speed down to 350 rpm, we’ve gotten the average pyro reading down to 600 degrees, which is much better for the engine.

A lesson in applied physics

Confused by all that? Let us consider the power produced by a diesel engine curve and the power required for hull-speed curve.

Diesel engines are designed to run at a certain speed. Re-engineering them by machining or by imagination is never a good idea. The recommended running speed that allows the engine to produce the most horsepower with the least engine wear is the speed at which:

  • the pistons reach their designed feet-per-minute
  • the firing pressures are just below the limit
  • the exhaust temperatures are just below their limit

If you try to cruise at above or below that recommended speed, you will probably “lug” or overload the engine, because you’ll be trying to get it to run faster or with a heavier load than it’s designed to. This causes high firing pressure, soot build-up, burned valves, and actually wears all parts on the engine much more quickly than at recommended running speed.

One of the easiest ways to overload an engine is to try to make the boat go faster than it’s designed to. Boats are designed to cruise at a designated speed at which the boat goes as fast as it can without pushing too much water with the bow. This follows a specific formula, in which hull speed is equal to the square root of the length of the hull at the water line. A displacement hull can’t exceed the speed determined by that equation without severely straining the engine and getting really, really inefficient. There are a lot of other factors involved in the potential speed of a boat, but the two main ones are hull and engine and until those are properly balanced the other ones aren’t a big deal.

Anyway, as a boat accelerates, it needs more and more power to maintain its speed. Let’s say our boat uses 65 horsepower to go 7 knots per hour, 80 horsepower to go 7.5 knots, 100 horsepower to go 8 knots, 125 horsepower to go 8.5 knots, and 175 horsepower to go 9 knots, and hull speed is 9.5 using 250+ horsepower to maintain that speed. The horsepower required keeps going up because it has to push more water in front of it.

Now, it’s important (except for tugs – we’ll talk about that later) to have the engine operating at peak performance at the speed the boat is designed for. This is not necessarily hull speed, although it can be. I recommend cruising at a speed less than hull speed to save fuel, ideally just before the horsepower-required curve starts to climb quickly. In our example boat, I would say that 8.5 is a good cruising speed, because to go just one knot faster you need to burn twice as much fuel and use twice as much horsepower.

Why are tugs excluded from this? They are designed differently than cruising vessels – they’re built to tow much more than their own weight, which changes the relationship between hull and engine. For those of you with tugs, you may never reach your engine’s full power even cruising at hull speed. Some tugs used as yachts re-pitch their wheels to get a little more speed, but it’s pretty scary to idle at 6 knots. Tugs should be opened up often to warm up the engine a bit, but you don’t need to worry about overloading. Once in a while, just for fun, you can put the bow against a sturdy pier and rev it up to so that the engine actually works for a while.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

We’re open for business even while I’m in Alaska! The Old Tacoma Marine Inc inventory has been moved to a remote off-site location for easier shipping and processing:

This week’s object for sale is a Cleveland Air Shifter:

Cleveland air shifter, on sale at Old Tacoma Marine Inc's eBay store

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2008 Week 32 in Review

The Catalyst is sticking to her Wilderness Discoveries cruises this August, running seven-day, six-night trips that “provide the best of Southeast Alaska.” Each trip is one way from Juneau to Petersburg, or from Petersburg back to Juneau, touring through some of the most beautiful and rugged land in the world. The boat has been booked solid all summer, with ten to twelve passengers each trip.

This week was a Juneau to Petersburg trip:

Sunday, August 3 – Juneau to Limestone Inlet: first paddle, fishing boats in Inlet, lots of fish in river (overcast)
Monday, August 4 – Limestone Inlet to Ford’s Terror: hike up Ford’s Terror, paddle narrows, skiff to head of inlet (cloudy)
Tuesday, August 5 – Ford’s Terror to Wood Spit: skiff to head of inlet, glacier hike, bear in stream, fishing, set crab pots (sunny)
Wednesday, August 6 – Wood Spit to Brother’s Island: swimming, fishing (not catching), skiff ride to sea lions (sunny)
Thursday, August 7 – Brothers Island to Portage Bay: meet Norio, whale watching, fishing x2 (w/catching!), (cloud then sun)
Friday, August 8 – Portage Bay to Scenery Cove: paddle in Portage Bay, skiff and hike to Baird Glacier, slide show (fog/sun)
Saturday, August 9 – Scenery Cove to Petersburg: pack, last run together (this year), return to “civilization” (heavy rain)

Here’s the crew:

And here’re the passengers:

I began my “eat Alaska” campaign that I am known for, in which I enthusiastically harvest whatever I can for meals like salmon, halibut, bull kelp, limpets, blueberries, crab, and shrimps. I also kayaked in some of my favorite places, like Fords Terror, named after a navy guy who spent six hours trapped in its tidal surges back in 1899. The passage is part of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness area, and is an amazing place:


We also had a few very sunny days to watching the glacier calve huge pieces of ice, see whales up close, and take a very short swim call with all the guests. I was very torn over which pictures to post in this blog, but you can see lots more at Lia’s online album or the official Catalyst slideshow. Check it out for some amazing pictures of Alaska at its best – and me doing silly things.

Characters of Southeast Alaska

Part of the fun of cruising Southeast is running into some of the regular characters of the area. We met up with Norio Matsumoto, an amazing whale and nature photographer. His online portfolio is here, and is well worth a look.

We also met up with Doug Leen when we got to Petersburg. He owns the Katahdin, a beautiful old tug powered by a six-cylinder Washington:

Washington Iron Works diesel engine in the tugboat Katahdin

The boat is beautifully restored, but the paint has been taking a beating from the Petersburg winters. Doug ran the engine for a show a few months ago, but he hasn’t taken her out for a cruise recently. He did take us to his house, right across the channel from town. We got the grand tour of what I think is the most amazing property: about 10 acres with lots of waterfront and many old buildings restored by Doug and Martina. Thanks for showing us around, Doug – and it was great to see the Katahdin again.

Business as usual

Catalyst‘s Washington diesel (awarded the “best geared six-cylinder” at the Classic Workboat Show last October) sounds great, though I noticed that at the “normal” cruising speed, the pyrometers read well off the 550 degree gauge. Bill has been working to cure the overload problems that Catalyst has had for years, but I don’t think we’ve sat and really thought these changes through. I’ll install new pyrometers soon, keep learning more on the subject, and stay hard at work — when I’m not oiling:

Oiling the MV Catalyst's 1932 Washington Iron Works diesel engine

The expansion tank also spit out some water, but the temperatures were okay. I think that maybe air was allowed to go from the air compressor into the water system. I just rebuilt the air compressor and replaced the gasket with asbestos, but maybe it requires a sandwich gasket with a copper ring. This might the problem, since the only thing different was that the air compressor was running hard. It settled down when I unloaded it.

One of the things that I like about shipping out as engineer for a while is that I have time to monitor and adjust an engine and really see what’s going on with it when it’s warmed up and at full speed. When I’m working to fix something on the dock or in my shop, I have to just get the job done by the time the boat leaves, and don’t usually get to watch it run for a while. I hope that by September, I’ve had time to make a lot of little adjustments to get it running perfectly.

Missing Lynden

I missed the Puget Sound Antique Tractor & Machinery Association‘s annual show in Lynden, Washington, since it was the day before we left town and I just couldn’t squeeze it in. I was really hoping to go but this call out caused such a shake-up that I could not find the time.

Several spies (thanks, spies) say it was the same great show that the PSATMA is known for (see pictures from last year here. They report that the Atlas-Imperial was running well, but the Washington had its injectors removed. There was also rumor of a bad rod bearing. I’ll try to learn more when I get back – they’re great engines and the PSATMA is doing great things with them.

Trends in luxury and disposable income

Did I miss the window for classy old diesel engines being luxury items?

I’ve heard that Model-T Fords have gone down in value because the new generation of “renewed youth” wants the GTOs, mustangs, and Harleys that were cool when they were kids. Now that they have the disposable income to make “luxury” purchases, they’re buying muscle cars and telling their mechanics to make them “just like 1967.” I’m worried about how everything else is thrown out the window in favor of the childhood fantasy of driving a muscle car with the wind in your hair. What about the classic yachts from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s? What about all the other neat old stuff that the Beach Boys never sang about?

At least there’s a bit of hope for the next generation. Theodore Tugboat and World’s Deadliest Catch are at least getting old workboats on TV for future midlife-crisis children. Maybe 40 years from now, we’ll see characters in the Sopranos or Sex in the City buying converted tugs and big old engines, rather than cigarette boats and handbags.

This may be Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s next big project, so stay tuned.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is an air intake manifold for a two-cylinder Washington Iron Works diesel engine:

air intake manifold for two-cylinder Washington Iron Works diesel engine

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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 30 in Review

Work on the Sobre las Olas

I spent all this week in Los Angeles, working on the Sobre las Olas (her name means “over the waves”), a beautiful fantail yacht:

All the pieces I shipped to California arrived, but I had a nasty surprise at the airport. Since when are you allowed only one check-in bag? At least all of the boxes were under 50 pounds, but the “extra” baggage charges nearly killed me.

Once on the boat, I removed the remaining relief valves and chased all the threads to be sure that all the parts will fit and are interchangeable (since it’s not a “spare part” unless it’ll fit anywhere you need it). I found that there is one set of relief valve and “tee” that are not interchangeable and must remain together, but other than that they all fit well.

In addition to the valves, I worked on the expansion tanks. The sight tubes were hard to see, so I swapped their locations. This would have been easy, except that several fittings on the tanks broke and I had to spend a lot of time trying to remove the broken fittings.

After the expansion tanks, I then installed the new water collection manifold, finished the cooling water plumbing, installed temperature gauges to each engine, and installed an air bleed line in the uphill side of the water collection manifolds.

I also did a lot of cleaning and painting. The Sobre is going to be featured in a boat show and I want the engine room and the two 6HM464 Atlas-Imperial diesels to look as nice as possible for invited guests:

The Portola for sale

I visited the Portola last week while in California. She’s also a classic fantail yacht (built in 1929), and is in perfect condition thanks to Rick, the owner’s son-in-law. He’s been working on it for about 25 years and knows it inside and out.

This week, she was hauled out at the Gambol Boatyard in Long Beach to replace some mildly compromised planks and perform the routine cleaning, painting, and re-zincing that all boats should have done yearly.

Charlie, the owner, has had the boat for most of his life and said he feels married to it, but he’s not using it much anymore. He feels that it’s time to find another good owner. Anyone looking for an elegant yacht should take a look at the Portola. It’s a comfortable, classy yacht, its original and historically significant Winton diesel runs great, and it has the parts and support to keep it running along time.

classic yacht PORTOLA, cruising in California

They’ve got a great website with lots more pictures here.

Bonus: mention this blog when purchasing the boat and receive a free Old Tacoma Marine Inc polo shirt to wear while yachting.

A visit to the Ready

I also took the opportunity to visit the Ready, a great tug in Long Beach powered with a 400 horsepower Atlas-Imperial diesel:

The new owner realized that the boat may be too much for him and may be looking for a buyer. If you’re interested in a project boat with an Atlas-Imperial, contact me.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is a handmade piece of maritime sculpture:

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2008 Week 29 in Review

An update from the Duwamish

The Worthington Company (1-800-892-6189) does not have any parts for the fireboat Duwamish‘s air compressor. They do stock a lot of parts for old air compressors, but this one is very old and rare. We’ve decided that the best option is to make new valves. One should be made with a grade 8, half-inch washer, machined and lapped. The other should be made with a small piece of sheet metal the same thickness as the original, lapped perfectly flat.

Preparing for the Sobre las Olas job
The Sobre Las Olas‘s cylinder relief valves were sent up to me last week so that I can overhaul them in my shop. First, I tested a few with a high-pressure nitrogen tank to see what pressure they were set to open at. Many of them were actually over-tightened, some of them leaked, and some were completely plugged with soot. I disassembled them all down to the component parts and started cleaning:

I also found that the Sobre has used two different types of relief valves, the old style with a big bell and a brass adjusting screw, and the newer model that’s much smaller and has an exposed spring. Machining and lapping the old style way too much work; since there’s no guide, I would have had to make something that would fit in the body (in contrast, the new valves have a guide about an inch above the seat). Luckily, Dan had nine of the newer style in the shop, so I chose to overhaul them instead. This also makes all the Sobre‘s valves the same style and therefore interchangeable. As with all the engines I work on, I try to make all the parts the same so that the spares really are spares.

Even using the newer style, the valves were still tough to seal. The seats were all very wide and had lots of pitting. Most required me to narrow the seat by using a five-eighths reamer with a straight end. I ran that down to bring the top down, then I used a tapered reamer to widen the opening. I did this until all the pitting was gone. A few took machining to create the 90-degree edge for the valve to seat in. After that, I lapped them all, set the spring pressure to an opening pressure of close to 800 psi, tested them using nitrogen, and finally set the spring again for exactly 800.

The good ones held to 800, then make a “chatter” sound as the pressure is increased over 800. The bad ones leaked or gradually opened at 800, making a “squish” sound. I spent hours fussing with them until they were all tight and most chattered. Some were still a little squishy, but much better than they had been. I also grabbed a new water collection manifold from Dan’s shed. In the middle of the night before we left, Lia and I nailed together some crates and packed everything up:


I flew out at 0730. I’ll write about the trip next week.

Responsible boat brokerage

I don’t plan on ever owning a boat bigger than my yacht (a 10′ aluminum skiff), but if I did, and then I wanted to sell it, I’d pick my broker carefully. He or she would need experience, knowledge, and a realistic view of ownership to find a buyer capable of taking care of the boat, and the patience to resist a quick easy sell to the first person willing to sign the forms.

From what I’m seeing these days, though, this selectiveness would really limit my choice of broker. A service that should be o honestly match a buyer with a seller to smoothly transfer ownership of a boat seems increasingly hard to find.

In my experience, many brokers take the easy way of selling a boat: they find a sucker who will eat up the vision of gloriously standing at the helm of their very own yacht, which only needs “a little” repair to make that cruise to Baja. Of course, we all know how these stories end (or you should, if you’ve been reading this blog).

Now, I’m all for suckers getting what they’re due (is there a better way to learn than to screw up and have to fix it?), but not when it’s at the expense of the boat and of my reputation. With brokers who just sell this dream, anyone who is asked to survey or repair the boat becomes the enemy. The broker will just keep weaving a dishonest dream of “oh, she’s in great condition – and a bargain!” and the proud new owner will get mad at any mechanic or shipwright who breaks the hard truth to them. Those of us in the marine repair business are the ones who have to crush the dreams of proud new owners, while the brokers walk away with the cash and find more suckers.

If you’re looking to buy a boat, you start being a responsible boat owner before you even step into the broker’s office. You should research what it takes to maintain a boat (old, new, wooden, steel, whatever) and figure out how much you will really be able to do on it. You should figure out the price of moorage, insurance, fuel, and maintenance to determine how much boat you can handle, and then you should start shopping. Talk with other boat owners, get invited on a cruise, and ask to come down and see the boat during it’s annual dry dock period (yes, that means that a boat should get dry-docked every year — not just when you can afford it).

Once you’re ready to buy and are talking with brokers, insist on an independent survey of any boat you’re interested in. Use specialized surveyors for each part of the boat (one for the hull, another for the engine, and another for the rig) to get an informed report on the boat’s condition. Question the surveyors—read the books and take the classes to learn enough to tell when someone’s being honest and when someone’s trying to sell you extra work.

My goal and Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s goal is to increase awareness of the superior comfort, reliability, and efficiency of boats with heavy-duty diesels, so that the boats they power are maintained and the owners feel good about their investment. This ultimately keeps me employed, and saves neat old boats from being scrapped or broken just because they were built before 1950. Bad deals or boats sold to those without the poise, guts, or means to take care of them destroys the boats, the engines, and my profession.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is an Enterprise valve:

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