Tag Archives: events

2009 Week 10 in Review

Work starts on the Maris Pearl

I started working on the Maris Pearl this week, starting at the top of Jay’s checklist. I serviced two of the generators; changed the oil filters, and looked at the belts and impellers. This is all really basic maintenance – just like what you get when you go to Grease Monkey, but it’s important to keep on top of. Next up will be working on the bilge pumps and oily water separators.

Wawona moves

The Northwest Seaport moved its old lumber schooner Wawona on Wednesday. I won’t go into all the emotions and relationships that I’ve had with the Wawona over the years, but its departure from South Lake Union was a very moving event.

The city, which was the driving factor behind the move, hired Global Dive & Salvage to stabilize it for the move, and they in turn subcontracted with Western Towboat to do the actual pulling to Lake Union Dry-Dock Company, where the boat will be taken apart. There’s been a lot of speculation in the old boat community about whether or not the boat is stuck in the mud (it’s not) or will break up during a tow, and a lot of blah blah blah from people who don’t know what they’re talking about (read the comments on these articles for a taste).

Anyway, after a lot of delays, the move was finally scheduled for 8 am on Wednesday. There was a press conference (with coffee) at 7:30 AM, where the Seaport’s press guy and president spoke for all the news cameras in Seattle. The Western tugs Wasp and Flyer showed up right at 8, stuck a hook-line right into the chain bobstay, and pulled the boat out, just like that. Ric, as usual, made the process look easy, and the Wawona went out into the waterway just like did hundreds of times before it became a museum boat.

I won’t say that I was unhappy to see the boat go, but I do want to defend myself from all the people pointing their fingers and saying that I wanted it to go to the scrapper because I hated it, and I just didn’t understand that they loved the boat.

Well, a boat that I did love went to the scrapper, and old tug in Kingston, New York called the K Whittlesey. It was powered by an old Rathbun-Jones diesel – the last in the country. I don’t know much about these engines except that they were later bought out by Ingersoll-Rand, but the K Whittlesey‘s was giant – way bigger than the Arthur Foss‘s Washingtion on the same size tug, with at least a 20-inch bore.

Just like the Wawona, the K Whittlesey became a local eyesore. A town eccentric raised it from the canal with the usual idea that “if you raise it, they will come,” and then got mad at the world for not following through with the second part of the plan – that is, when everyone gives him lots and lots of money for an old boat museum. There’s a news article on Zwire that talks more about the owners’ dream of a floating tugboat museum.

I was really sad to hear that the K Whittlesey was finally scrapped. I remind myself, though, that during its few years tied up in Kingston, a bunch of people got to see it. From the news conference, the Northwest Seaport seems to feel the same way about the Wawona: it’s sad that she’s gone, but wasn’t she great during those years that people got to see her?

CWB benefit auction

Saturday was this year’s auction benefiting the Center for Wooden Boats, and OTM Inc attended in style. It was a great party – they had the Armory all dressed up with spinnakers hung from the overhead, and a fair number of people dressed up in the Gilligan’s Island theme. We sat at the Northwest Seaport table and had a good time.

Center for Wooden Boats annual auction

What I love about the CWB auction is how many of the boat people donate items that only other boat people would love. Deputy director Jake donated his yearly Lake Union tugboat trips, when he uses the Mighty Isswat to pull floats around the lake for romantic dinner cruises and photography. Jensen Boatworks also donated a haul-out (painting and washing not included), and all the local big sailboats donated a cruise or two. There was also artwork and canoe vacations and wine-tasting – something for everyone. It was good to see the community come together like that, especially considering how nervous everyone is about money these days.

Drink like a sailor party

Later Saturday, we shanghaied a pile of sailors from the CWB auction and immediately put them to work drinking heavily at the “Drink Like a Sailor” party at Jenny and Kate’s. The party was a great time, and afterwards we oozed back to the boat like jellyfish stuck on the beach at low tide.

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2009 Week 6 in Review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week at OTM Inc, we overhauled the Catalyst‘s injectors. This process includes striping the injector down, inspecting all the parts, lapping the valve with very fine compound, inspecting the seat, cleaning out the tip, reassembling with new or good used packing, flushing the injector after each part is installed, checking holes with low psi test fluid, setting the spring to barely hold 4,000 psi of test fluid, taking two full turns on the spring screw, checking for leaks, then installing Dan’s patented Washington torque-method spring-tester to make a last very fine adjustment to the spring pressure. I didn’t manage to take pictures of the process this time, but here’s a picture of when I adjusted the injectors last year:

One of the Catalyst's injectors in the Washington injector test stand

I set all the injectors to 30 foot-pounds using Dan’s test stand setup. This equates to just a little tighter than the operation manual recommends, but more importantly they’re all exactly the same.

We also overhauled the Catalyst‘s snifter valves. These little valves are different from the Atlas equivalent, since they only have one valve for both manual-opening and pressure-opening. On the Washingtons, a lever pulls the valve off the seat, compressing the spring that holds its valves closed while running. The Atlas one has the pressure release separate from the manual valve.

I also made shims for under the rods to control piston height, though I needed some help from Ballard Sheet Metal.

Tugboat Party at South Lake Union

The Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society held this month’s meeting at South Lake Union on Sunday. Instead of the usual dinner-and-a-speaker, they had five old classic tugs come to South Lake Union for the public to step aboard and tour. In addition to the Arthur Foss, the Freemont Tugs Dixie and Blueberry, the Henrietta Foss, and the Elmore came down to blow their horns.

The event was in celebration of a new photo book Tugboats on Puget Sound, written by local historians Chuck Fowler and Captain Mark Freeman. The authors gave a nice talk about some of the photos they put in their book, but really everyone was down for the tugs. The Society had a record turnout – more than 275 people came for the lecture, many of whom came aboard the tugs on the wharf.

I was aboard the Arthur Foss, running the engines and making people smile. I saw a lot of old familiar faces, including Robin Patterson, Dee Meeks, and Tim Beaver from Global. Dan even came down – though he said that he deliberately missed the lunch.

We also finally got some good pictures of the Elmore up:

Atlas-Imperial diesel engine in the tugboat ELMORE

The Elmore is a really neat old boat. It was built in 1890 with a steam engine, then in 1921 it was repowered with the very first Washington-Estep diesel engine that rolled off the assembly line. It burned through that one in a decade or two, and the owners upgraded to a new Washington – then the same thing happened again and they put a third Washington into the boat.

Sometime in the 1960s, they pulled out the latest Washington and put a nasty high-speed Cat into it. The Meeks bought her in 1990, and then the Cat’s crankshaft broke. The Meeks, wonderful people that they are, pulled the Cat and all its systems out and had Dan install a 4HM763 Atlas-Imperial in the Elmore:

Atlas-Imperial diesel engine in the Tugboat Elmore, courtesy Old Tacoma Marine Inc

The Meeks are really great people who take good care of the boat and its engine. This weekend, they were out with their US Coast Guard Auxiliary crew, getting people into the engine room and talking about the boat. My only regret is that we didn’t manage to film the Atlas running – the timing didn’t quite work out. Next time!

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2008 Week 47 in Review

Maritime networking at Brunch

I occasionally host brunch for 200 or so of my closest friends. Lots of maritime folks came to last Sunday’s brunch. Brian the shipwright, Grant the captain of the Thea Foss, Diana the maritime museum specialist, Kim of Jack Tar Magazine, Jake from the CWB, and many more showed up for hash browns, bloody marys, and the bonfire out back. It was a lot of work, but it was good to see so many folks having a good time.

Moving the Skillful

Later in the week, we moved the Skillful, the little tug that I bought back in Week 44. It’s been moored at Pacific Fishermen, but we don’t want to wear out our welcome anywhere so we’re going to move it around occasionally.

We took it for a cruise through the ship canal and into Lake Union. The throttle control in the wheelhouse is busted, so we cruised at idle the entire way (except when I manually throttled it up for some quick donuts in the canal), but it’s a great little boat:

tugboat Skillful, underway on Lake Union

We rafted it up to the Arthur Foss, in a short-term agreement with Northwest Seaport. I love it – it looks so tiny!

tugboat Skillful, moored between the museum ships ARTHUR FOSS and Lightship #83 at Lake Union Park in Seattle, Washington

Continuing work on the Catalyst

I wrote last week about how three of the main bearings are bad and need to be re-babbitted; one of them is ripple-y and two of them are all cracked up, including one of the small ones that sits beside the air compressor bay. I brought these up to Everett Engineering Inc last week, but they’re still too swamped to get them done when I need them! They were going to send them to Utah again, but I sent them to St. Louis Bearing in Wilmington, California. I’ve worked with them before and want to throw work their way whenever possible.

We’re asking St. Louis Bearing for an extra step in this work. Since all of the main bearings are worn down a bit, we are going to have the three newly-poured bearings machined down a little, to keep the crank sitting straight and in the same place. If we had the newly-poured bearings machined to the original specifications, the crankshaft would get lifted up at those places and bend slightly, since the bearings that haven’t been newly poured would be a little lower. The extra machining will get us close to the shape we need, and then we’ll fit them exactly with a little hand-scraping. This will hopefully save me the hours and hours of hand-scraping that I did back in Week 36. Stay tuned to see how well it works.

After getting the bearings sent out, I started cleaning pistons. It’s a dirty job: first, I put them into a custom cradle that I built at the shop, which supports it while I push out the wrist pin. One side of the wrist pin is bigger than the other, so I have to push it out just so with a lot of pressure. I want the piston really well-supported while I do this, since the pressure could crack it otherwise. Once the piston is all disassembled, I put all the parts into the hot tank for a few hours, then washed them in the sink. I removed the piston rings by prying the ends out slightly, wrapping the ends with rags, and pulling on the rags to open the ring just enough to slide it up and off the piston. I broke one ring that was stuck pretty bad, and noticed lots of wear on a few others, so I ordered 12 new rings from Safety Seal in Texas. I’ll replace the top two compression rings on each piston with a new ring, which should get here in about two weeks.

Later in the week, I measured the ring gap of each ring by pushing them into a cylinder one at a time. I jammed feeler gauges, pieces of metal that are a determined thickness, into the ring gap. If it was loose in the gap, I went the next size up, until I got a light drag when I jammed it in. Then, I read the thickness of that gauge, marked it in the book, and marked it onto the ring:

measuring the ring gap on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

The ring gap tells me two things: how big the gap is, since too much can give you blow-by and make the engine run inefficiently, and how worn the ring is. As a ring wears down, it expands against the cylinder wall and the gap gets bigger. I can compare the ring gap of the used ring to that of a new ring and determine how much the used ring has worn.

Then, I started checking the sizes of the cylinders relative to each other by putting one ring into each one and measuring its ring gap. I found that there’s a seventeen-thousandths variation between the cylinders. This is sort of medium for variance between cylinders; I’ll have to pick the biggest rings for the biggest cylinder and so on, but it’s not that big a deal.

The last spare pressure-balanced Washington injector?

We’ve got a pressure-balanced injector for a Washington Iron Works engine here in the shop:

pressure-balanced fuel injector for a Washington Iron Works diesel engine, at the shop

Ed Ehler (local maritime guy with a finger in every pot) found it while going through his junk pile and gave it to Dan. Washington stopped manufacturing the pressure-balanced injector type around 1928, after they started making the far-superior spring-balanced injectors, and the only engine that we know of that still has the pressure-balanced type is at the Kodiak Maritime Museum.

Dan’s talking about how he’s going to strip it for parts, but I’m trying to convince him to keep it intact because it’s the only spare pressure-balanced injector left that we know of. It’ll probably end up cannibalized to make a spare injector for the David B or the San Juan, since many of the parts used in the pressure-balanced injectors are the same as in the spring-balanced ones. The David B already has two spare injectors and we haven’t heard from the San Juan for a while, so maybe I can still convince Dan to keep the pressure-balanced one. We’ll see.

Pacific Marine Expo and Winners of the OTM Inc Sticker Contest!

I went to the Pacific Marine Expo on Friday to check in with the greater maritime industry. I saw some folks who I don’t see anywhere else, handed out cards for Jack Tar Magazine’s Sexy Women of Maritime Calendar (coming this December; ordering details on the website soon), and decided that I need a booth there next year.

After the show, we headed to the Central Saloon to judge entries in the 2008 Old Tacoma Marine Inc Sticker Contest:

judging the Old Tacoma Marine Inc 2008 Sticker Contest at the Central Saloon in Seattle

The competition was stiff, the pictures were great, and the nachos were many, but we finally selected our winners.

Thanks to all those who contributed! The winners have been notified – congratulations to those who won! Stay tuned for details about the 2009 OTM Inc Sticker Contest!

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2008 Week 37 in Review

This week on Catalyst, we continued our cruise down the Canadian Inside Passage, heading for home:

Sunday, September 7 – Bishop Bay to Mussel Inlet: skiff into Mussel River, watch Brown Bears (sunny with fog patches)
Monday, September 8 – Mussel Inlet to Hochstader Cove: kayak paddle at Hochstader, wander through islands (overcast then sunny)
Tuesday, September 9 – Hochstader Cove to Schooner Cove: engine problems (repaired), beach walk at Schooner Cove (sunny)
Wednesday, September 10 – Schooner Cove to Village Island: Cross Queen Charolette Strait, explore old village on Village Island (sunny)
Thursday, September 11 – Village Island to Shoal Bay: Through Greene Point Rapids, forest walk at Blind Channel Resort,(sunny)
Friday, September 12 – Shoal Bay to Copeland Islands: Through Dent and Yaculta Rapids, kayak Squirrel Cove, Sunset at anchor (sunny)
Saturday, September 13 – Copeland Islands to Montague Harbour: early start, cross Georgia Strait, enter Gulf Islands, slide show (sunny)

We had the same passengers and crew as last week, since it’s an extra-long 12-day cruise.

We did a lot of running this week. The boat had to be slowed down more and more, and we’re sort of crawling to the finish. It’s embarrassing, and I know the engine would continue to run if we were going faster, but slowing down when there are problems is one of the easiest things to do to save the expensive parts of the engine. Sometimes it’s hard being responsible.

We also stopped to bowl at Butedale again:

bowling at Butedale, off the MV Catalyst

A squeak?!?

While underway, I started to hear a squeak coming from number six. I’m already worried about the bearing, but I couldn’t locate the sound. I had looked for about three minutes when the RPM started to drop. I immediately called the captain to alert him to an emergency shutdown, then went on deck to help get the boat to a safe anchorage, since we were in a cluster of islands – not a good position to just drift. I jumped into the skiff and pushed the boat about 75 yards down the passage, where we anchored for an hour while I worked on the engine.

I let things cool for a bit, then removed the covers. I used our infrared temperature gauge to check number six’s bearings. It was fine – I even bumped it and found no change from the last time. I did find that the piston was hot and dry, with some scoring in the liner. I immediately looked at the Manzell and found that the clamp that goes to the pushrod had slipped, which meant the Manzell wasn’t pumping. After heavily oiling and cranking the engine over, we started up and continued on our way at an even more reduced speed, always checking on the Manzell.

Visiting the Teal

We saw a pretty boat: the 1927 research boat Teal:

former research boat Teal, formerly powered by a Washington Iron Works diesel engine

It was powered by a Washington until the late nineties. I’ve heard that it was damaged beyond repair, so they replaced it. Bummer.

New Washington Line

Speaking of Washingtons, I have a challenge. The Washington Iron Works diesel engine is in my opinion the most beautiful diesel engine in the world. They are efficient, elegant, reliable, and provide a smooth, steady power source for all kinds of boats. They’re also just neat. My clients who have Washingtons love them, and I know there’re several people in the old boat community who would repower their tug or yacht with a Washington if it were available.

These are just some of the reasons behind one of my crazy ideas: I want to start building Washington diesels again. That’s right: I want to build brand-new diesels following a 1920s design. Everything else has gone through a retro-revival (cars, clothes, houses… even avocado-colored blenders), so let’s celebrate the past with new retro diesels.

It sounds complicated, but like any job it just needs to be broken into manageable pieces. First, we’d pick an engine to replicate and reverse-engineer how it was made. This would be a lot of measuring and scratching our heads and looking at original plans and blueprints. We’d get up close with a magnifying glass to figure out where the different parts are, call in experts, and look at old pictures of the Washington Iron Works assembly floor. After that, it’s pretty easy: we’d make the patterns we need for the castings (literally, the cast-iron parts), cast the parts and machine them to spec, assemble them, oil everything, and then run the brand-new engine.

As for choosing an engine, we should start small. Replicating the Arthur Foss‘s big cylinders first off would be too much of a project to start with, even if hearing an eight-cylinder 18″x24″ Washington is one of my dreams. Washington Iron Works made a lot of different engine models, but their smallest size were the “10” models. The Catalyst‘s engine is the only one we know of left of that size. It’s a 6-10 , with six cylinders, an eight-inch bore, and a ten-inch stroke. It’s a good candidate to start the new line with for a couple of reasons. First, owner Bill has several of the patterns needed to cast new parts (including the cylinder head patterns, which are one of the most complicated to make). Second, it’s a beauty of an engine, reliable and comfortable and kept in near-perfect condition:

Washington Iron Works diesel engine aboard the MV Catalyst

How much would creating an all-new Washington cost? Here’s my estimate:

Reverse engineering: $10,000
Patterns for head: $0 *
Other patterns: ** $170,000
Casting parts from the patterns: $80,000
machining the parts: $150,000
babbitting the bearings: $35,000
fitting and assembling everything: $50,000
running and testing $5,000
total: $500,000

* Bill already has the patterns for the cylinder heads, so we don’t need to make them (please Bill, please can we use them, please please please?)
** Other patterns: cylinder block, bed plate, rod, piston, rod bearing, main bearing, cap, rocker, shaft mount, injector rocker, valve rocker, thrust bearing, gear drum, oil pump body, fuel pump body, oil pump rocker compressor, cylinder compressor, head compressor, rod compressor, piston compressor, strap… plus maybe a few more

I think that it’d be pretty reasonable for someone or some organization to put $500,000 into creating a new Washington line. Museums, collectors, and people with tugboat yachts would all be interested in replica heavy-duty engines to power their classic boats – just look at how much people are willing to pay for a new replica kitchen stoves.

Bear in mind, too, that after the first new Washington is put together, costs will go way down for each individual engine. You can use the same patterns, you won’t have to reverse-engineer the construction, and the rest of the figures will have less “trial and error” time included. I can’t speculate too much on the economies of scale that would be involved with such an undertaking, but the single biggest cost is the reusable patterns.

I want to get the first of the new Washingtons online by the Catalyst‘s centennial – 2032. We can easily beat that deadline, though, if the funding comes up sooner, so contact Old Tacoma Marine Inc if you’re interested in helping fund the new line. All contributions will be tax-deductible once we find a non-profit partner.

What do you think? I’ve been sitting on this idea for a long time, and I’m going to keep figuring out how to make it happen.

Heavy-duties at Olympia Harbor Days

I wasn’t able to make it to Olympia for Harbor Days and the tugboat races this year, but one of Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s investigative reporters attended and took this great video of the Newt‘s Atlas-Imperial diesel engine:

That’s Eric, who’s also just known as “Newt” sometimes, showing off the Atlas-Imperial to Dirk and Andy. Newt and her owners came in fourth at the races – not too bad.

Photo contest delayed

Speaking of Harbor Days, readers paying close attention will notice that we haven’t announced a winner for the Old Tacoma Marine Inc Summer Sticker Contest yet.

We’ve postponed the contest deadline until November 21st, and will be announcing a winner at the Central Saloon right after checking out the Pacific Marine Expo (register now to avoid exorbitant ticket prices). Remember to Contact me for your own Old Tacoma Marine Inc propeller stickers so you can participate!

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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 27 in review

An update from the John N Cobb

We hear that NOAA has decided to tow the John N Cobb back to Seattle before decommissioning the boat. This may give the engineers and mechanics a chance to determine the problem. All of us at the shop think the vibration dampener should be the first suspect component.

An update from the fireboat Duwamish

Work continues on the fireboat’s air compressor, but progress was interrupted by the Wooden Boat Show…

32nd Annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival

The Wooden Boat Festival, the big annual show put on by the Center for Wooden Boat, took place on July 4th, 5th, and 6th this year. It took over all of South Lake Union, between the boats on the docks and the booths on the grass. It was great to see all these people gathering to celebrate the old boats.

I ran the Washington in the Arthur Foss for the whole weekend. We kept almost the entire boat open to the public so that they could look around and get a feel for the boat:

Visitors to the ARTHUR FOSS's engine room

The engine really sounded great at 60 rpm, so I just left it there most of the time. The hiss of the air-starts and the rhythm of it going were enough to draw people into the engine room and then the sight of all the rockers going up and down kept some there for hours. Some danced, some talked shop, and some were literally brought to tears by the heartbeat-like thumping. At 60 rpm, you can hear and pick out each firing stroke of each cylinder. On top of that, there are hundreds of other interesting syncopated sounds coming from all over the 70-ton engine, like the whoosh of intake and exhaust, the squeak of the manzels, and a low rumble that you can feel rather than hear.

About three thousand people visited the tug during the show, and many said the engine was the neatest thing they saw all day. I would have to agree.

Old Tacoma Marine.com was represented well at the show by some very cute girls handing out our famous propeller stickers. Don’t forget about the photo contest!

Last but not least, the Excaliber (the former Langston Hughes that we talked about back in Week 21) and the Arthur were reunited at the dock for the festival:

tugboats Excaliber and Arthur Foss, at the dock together during the 2008 Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival

The Excalibur was built in 1908, but the crew is much younger and eagerly participated in the show with snappy matching red shirts. Salty captain Andrea, who is tougher than French nails, spent hours on the Arthur while the Washington was running. The Excalibur was also re-powered to a Washington in the 1930s, but it was replaced with a high-speed diesel in the 1950s – to Andrea’s lasting sadness. She’s now looking for an old heavy-duty of her own. I would love to see one — an enterprise, maybe — being lowered right through the galley in to the engine room someday.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this 1950s-era Henschel General Alarm Switch:

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