Tag Archives: field trips

2009 Week 21 in Review

This week, OTM Inc is still in Illinois, fitting bearings.

Still scraping bearings

Last week, three of us started scraping the re-babbitted bearings into the Fairbanks-Morse diesels in Illinois. We got everything set up and started barring the engine over so that the lapping compound could do its trick, but it was really painful. The bearings don’t fit very well yet, so it’s really hard to turn the engine over and we were dying. Keith went home on Friday vowing to invent a turning tool that would make it easier. I took pictures of the one I saw in Oblong and sent it to him, but he apparently came up with a couple different designs over the weekend.

He brought one in on Monday and spent all morning adjusting it. I didn’t pay close attention, since I was still working on the bearings, but finally I heard the “clang, clang, clang” of the the pawls riding on the flywheel as it turns. Sweet!

It turns out that Keith used an electric motor coupled with a gear box with something like thirty-to-one reduction. It’s also a ninety-degree gear, so the output shaft is on the side. He also hooked up a board and some wheels to give it leverage, and stretched two giant V-belts over the flywheel. Brilliant! It works really well and sped things way up:

Turning tool custom made for a Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine at the Indian Grave pumphouse in Illinois

The three of us got into a good rhythm: Keith and Nathan would set in the bearings on Engine Two, then lap them while I scraped bearings for Engine Three. Then, we would switch, so that Keith and Nathan were setting in the bearings that I’d just scraped. We we cruised through alota bearings, but we’ve got a lot of fitting to do before we’re done.

More old Fairbanks-Morses

Over the weekend, I went down to St. Louis to pick up the next set of bearings. This time, I stopped at Keith’s house in Carlinville to drop off the outer “race,” or rod bushing. Unlike other heavy duties I work on, Fairbanks-Morse diesels use needle bearings between the piston and the piston pin. Lamar ordered new outer races made for Engine Three, which Keith will be installing at his shop.

While in Carlinville, we just happened to stop in during the tractor show. I got to see another Fairbanks diesel, this time a (2) 32E14 two-cylinder:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel in Carlinville, Illinois

Then on Sunday, I visited the Le Sueur Pioneer Power Show grounds, where there’s a (4) 32E12 that drives a generator. Their building was closed, though, so I had to look through the window. Lame. They’ve got some small pictures of it posted on their website here, though.

Anyway, these things are everywhere out here! I love seeing all these great old diesels. We’re trying to get them all up on the website so you can see them, too. I’ll be in Illinois for a while longer, so if anyone reading knows of another heavy-duty to see, let me know.

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2009 Week 12 in Review

This week, OTM stopped by the old ferry Skansonia to photograph its Fairbanks-Morse diesels. Maintenance guy John was happy to show us the engine room and let us poke around two great old mains:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines on the retired ferry Skansonia

Steven at the Evergreen Fleet has a nice history of the Skansonia that he’s posted here. Here’s a summary:

The Skansonia was built in 1929 by the Skansie Brother shipyard for the Washington Navigation Company. She and sister ship Defiance transported passengers and automobiles on the Tacoma to Gig Harbor route. In 1940, when the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened, the Skansonia took over a Tacoma to Vashon Island Route – until “Galloping Gertie” crashed into Puget Sound a few months later!

The Skansonia went back to work on the Tacoma to Gig Harbor Route until 1950, when the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened. The new Washington State Ferry system bought her in 1951 and put her on the Vashon Island to Point Defiance run until 1967, when the Hiyu took over the route. The ferry system used her as an overflow boat in the summer of 1969, then tied her up in Eagle Harbor. They sold her in 1971, and in the mid-1980s she was turned in to a banquet facility and moored at the north end of Lake Union for years.

John led us down into the engine room and just like on the Olympic (back in 2008 Week 48), I felt like I went back in time, with the last engineer’s coffee cup still sitting by the dangling remains of the telegraph. Except for being used for storage, the belowdecks space had been hardly touched since the boat was retired. Someone had removed most of the access panels from the two main Fairbanks-Morse diesels, but other than that they looked completely untouched — right down to spare parts on the shelf:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine in the ferry Skansonia

We took a lot more pictures of the boat that are uploaded to the Flickr site here. They’re definitely worth browsing through.

Now normally, I am a hopeful engine restorer. I see running potential in any engine that is mostly complete, and the Skansonia‘s engines are great examples of “mostly complete.” With a lot of work, they could run again, but I don’t advocate for it in this particular situation. The banquet-ferry business works and the boat won’t run again, so parting out the mains would be okay. The boat is beautiful and I have actually attended a few weddings there. It works really well as a venue, and the owners have showcased a lot of the boat’s history in the main galleries. Plus, the Skansonia has the one most important thing for anything in the world to survive: it provides a service that is valued enough to support itself. It’s a shame that this service doesn’t include running the engines, but having a business that supports it is a wonderful thing for the old gal.

Thanks for the tour, John!

The Arthur Foss turns again!

I finished putting Arthur Foss‘s clutch together. After I reinstalled the linkages on the throw-out bearing, I spend some time adjusting the clutch to get the right snap. This is the final motion that the clutch makes as the linkages go over center with some tension and the crowder collar runs into the clutch housing. If it’s well-adjusted, the linkages retain the tension and keep the clutch “in.” I spent a few hours adjusting it, then turned the engine over on compressed air to test it.

Here’s a video of it:

After it looked really good, we tightened up the dock lines and ran the propeller for the first time in about eight years. It was great! I can’t wait until we get under way again, but there’s still some work that needs doing before then.

World premier of the Westward movie

Right after running the Arthur, I went around the corner the see the John Sabella documentary about the Westward. Hugh and Teresa brought the boat down and moored it at Lake Union Park for the event, and tons of people came – including three generations of owners.

They showed the movie itself on a big projection screen in the Armory. My favorite part was, of course, the part about Westward‘s Atlas-Imperial. They have a great segment of engineer John oiling in high speed. Check it out:

The boat has had the best career any vessel could ask for and she’s not finished yet. The website has more information on the documentary, including how to order it for yourself.

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2009 Week 11 in Review

Work continues on the Maris Pearl

We started this week at Old Tacoma Marine Inc by finishing up the service on the Maris Pearl‘s generators. Jay’s got more work lined up for me next week, though.

Field trip to the Washington State History Research Center

Later in the week, OTM Inc went to Tacoma to sort through the Washington Iron Works company collection at the Washington State History Research Center (remember back in Week 7 that we volunteered to put the collection in order). Diana and I put in two whole days organizing glass plate negatives from 1890 to 1924 or so. We took each negative out of its original paper file folder, found its original number, wrote its unique sequential catalog number on an acid-free paper sleeve, looked up the information in the original company catalog and wrote that on the sleeve, looked at the negative to make sure that the information matched the image, entered the number and the information into the computer, put the negative in the sleeve, and put it in order with the rest. This ensures eternal safe keeping and makes sure that the right information stays with each negative.

Diana as the museologist set up a system and continually streamlined the operation to process as many negatives as possible during our allotted time in Tacoma. She’s done a lot of museum cataloging and set up a whole system of sorted piles so that each negative passed back and forth across the work table three or four times. By the end of the day, we could both tell a skidder engine from a loader engine (which are apparently easier to tell apart than embroidery motifs from Golden Triangle cultures):

sorting glass-plate negatives at the Washington State History Research Center

The most fascinating discoveries were plans and photos of the first Washington-Estep diesel, which went into the tug Elmore. It was beautiful and had interesting parts that I haven’t seen on any other engine, like two injectors set at an angle in each cylinder head. It also had an intermediate head that gave the firing chamber a very round shape, which maximized the fuel combustion. Designer Adrian Estep was clearly a fanatic about efficiency and had the drafting department, the pattern shop, the foundry and the machine shop all at his disposal. It seems to me he intended to build “the perfect engine,” and no one was going to stop him. None of the later Washingtons that I’m familiar with have those two angled injectors or the intermediate head, though, so I wonder what happened. Maybe we’ll find out next time.

Unfortunately, we had to stop just as we were getting to 1924, just before Washington Iron Works started putting out its diesel line. We probably processed about a third of the collection over those two days, but the good stuff will have to wait until next time, which will be when we find funding to continue.

Programs on the Arthur Foss

On Saturday, I helped Northwest Seaport run a session of Tugboat Night on the Arthur Foss. Sadly, we had to cancel the earlier Engineer for a Day program because of low participation, but next time I’ll advertise more to make sure we can run it.

Tugboat Night went really well, though, and I feel like we caught up on a few maintenance items. We serviced the batteries and the air compressor, and did a little cleaning – not to mention exercising all the equipment. We ran both generators and the main engine, and turned the rudder back and forth to work the steering system.

Make sure you come to the next Tugboat Night, on April 11!

Limited-availability Winton parts

I’ve heard rumors that the Circle Line 11 and the Circle Line 15 are slated for demo, and their Winton diesels will likely be scrapped… unless folks from the tug Luna or the lightship Ambrose can use them. I hear through the waterfront telephone that neither organization can find the resources to get the parts. This is the sad truth about owning and old diesel engine: it actually takes a lot of effort (both time and money) to get spare parts even if they are selling at scrap value.

Keeping the past relevant

Historians have an up-hill battle to keep the past relevant to the masses. People and culture are growing at a rate too fast to look back, but looking back to see where we came from is as important as looking forward to see where we’re going.

Looking back is my business. I spend a lot of my time hammering on old engines, but I have to spend an equal amount of time trying to explain why it’s worth keeping the old heavy-duty diesels running. With records broken every day, new ideas shot down by newer ideas, and innovation trumping tradition, it’s easy to ask “why bother?” Why spend a lifetime taking care of a dwindling handful of old junk that society says are worth more as scrap than as artifacts? These are questions that I share with museums and other institutions that are struggling to reach out to six billion people to try to make some kind of difference in the world.

When I was working in Alaska on the Mist Cove, I went with Ted the Chef to the Sitka Historical Society and Museum, which had a native “halibut hook” on display:

a Tlingit halibut hook from the Burke Museum's ethnology collection

I had seen them in tourist shops and museums and never cared, but Ted the Chef pointed to it and said that these hooks are designed to catch the perfect-sized halibut. He said that the Tlingits and Haida traditionally targeted the 30-pounders because they taste better, are easier to manage, and were most likely males. These folks realized that fewer male fish were required to keep a healthy fishery alive, so they let the females grow old and hatch more fish every year.

All through that summer, Ted the Chef and I had constantly tasted and judged fish caught on the Mist Cove. We agreed that a 30-pound halibut tastes better than any other size, even though everyone wants to catch a 300-pound fish and get their picture taken with it. Well, the next week Ted and I made a halibut hook (though I used a nail instead of a piece of bone) and tried it out. It took a few tries, but I did land a nice twelve-pounder and it was delicious.

Now, I do like museums, but my fishing trip with Ted the Chef taught me more about halibut hooks than looking at a hundred hooks in a museum. Using an artifact (or at least a replica) really helps you understand its significance, especially if it’s something as finely and carefully designed as a halibut hook or a heavy-duty diesel. I think that experiences like this are really the best way to interact with historic artifacts, but not everyone can go fishing with Ted or turn over a heavy-duty with me. What can I do, and what can museums do, to reach out to everyone else and share how significant history is?

It takes a personal connection like this to make any kind of artifact relevant and interesting, but there are so many distractions that get in the way of making that attachment. I wish fewer kids and adults were content sitting in their basement playing Grand Theft Auto and more were interested in venturing outside to a museum or an old boat. I’m finding that the internet is a good way to reach some of these people with some of this connection. A video on YouTube, a picture on Flickr, a paragraph on this blog – they all help bring some of the relevance to the “general public” out there living their lives without looking back. Still, it’s hard to make a real connection over the internet, just like it’s hard to make a real connection through a glass display case.

Readers, what are your thoughts? This is a big topic to take on, and this won’t be the last you hear of it.

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2009 Week 7 in Review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week at OTM Inc, we double-checked the Catalyst‘s main caps, just to make sure they weren’t too tight. The main caps are the top half of the main bearing, and on Washington Iron Works engines, they sit right on top of the crankshaft. During normal operation, the caps never actually touch the crankshaft, since all the weight is going down. They still need to be cranked down tightly to hold the lubricating oil in; if the main caps are too loose, oil will squirt out. Since low oil pressure was one of the things we were hoping to resolve during this year’s winter maintenance project, we tightened the main caps down to the manufacturer’s specs, which are a lot tighter than they were at the start of the project. I had to add a shim in one and scrape two others, but then they were all perfect.

I also installed the shims I made last week under the foot of the rods, which raise the pistons right to where they’re supposed to be. I used the measurements I got last week from squishing the lead balls, and shimmed each one.

That really completed this year’s winter maintenance. We ran the engine at the dock for a day, then took the Catalyst for a quick sea trial around Portage Bay. Everything worked really well, so I helped deliver it to Friday Harbor. I spent the entire trip in the engine room, checking settings and tinkering. We varied the load on the engine as much as we could while underway, revving it up and slowing it down to help seat the piston rings. They really don’t seat well at an idle or throttled up; you have to vary it to get them seated right.

We’re still working to resolve the low oil pressure, but the engine is running way better overall. It has noticeably more power underway, and the exhaust temperatures were easy to even out. Catalyst is looking good and Bill’s taking great care of her.

A little work on the Velero IV

Irv from the Velero IV stopped by the shop this week. He doesn’t want to do any overhauls on its Atlas this year, but he did want Dan to service the air valves. Going through the air valves is a bare minimum job, but it’s really important to do it yearly for a boat that gets that much usage as the Velero IV.

Why? Well, you’ll learn why real quick if you miss a start and plow right through a dock. You rely a lot on those little valves.

A visit to the Washington State History Archives

This week, we also went down to Tacoma to view portions of the Washington Iron Works collection at the Washington State History Research Center:

researching at the Washington State History Research Center in Tacoma

They hold most of the company’s records, including the original engine cards and several hundred photographs. About half of the photos are of old logging equipment, but there are a lot of pictures of the diesel line, too – in the boats, on the factory floor, in pieces, all sorts of pictures.

We had been hoping to get copies of some of the key photographs in the collection, but they haven’t been sorted or organized since they came into the museum and the archivist couldn’t find them in a reasonable amount of time. So, OTM Inc volunteered its time to the public benefit and agreed to come down and organize the photo collection sometime in March. Stay tuned!

Rebuilding an Atlas-Imperial-Lanova Generator?

While we were in Tacoma, we met with Eric, who recently purchased an old genset powered by a one-cylinder Atlas-Imperial-Lanova engine. It needs some work before it’ll run, but the castings on the head are classically Atlas:

cylinder head from an Atlas-Lanova generator set

Eric bought the genset from someone with a garage full of old generators. He’s hoping to get it into running condition and use it as auxiliary power for his house. I think this is a great goal, but I made sure he knew that it was going to be a lot of work and if he just wanted a generator, he should really just go buy one. He seemed pretty interested in the novelty of using a historic generator, though, and I can’t really argue with that.

I told him that the best way to start working on it would be to disassemble the unit, start cleaning it, and make an inventory of what’s missing. It definitely needs a new piston and rod, and I’ll look through our spare parts inventory to see if we have anything suitable. I don’t know much about the Lanova line, though.

Readers, anyone out there with experience with the Atlas-Imperial-Lanovas? Anyone have parts? Eric’s genset is a five-horsepower engine coupled to a 1LN29 generator that gets 1800 rpm. Its serial number is 100357. Contact me with information, and I’ll pass it along to Eric.

Update on the John N Cobb

The Lake Union Park Working Group got an update on the John N Cobb this week. As you remember, the Cobb broke the crankshaft in its Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine this past June (back in Week 23). NOAA towed the boat back in July (Week 27) and decommissioned her in August, and has been deciding what to do with her since.

The working group had Larry Johnson the surveyor come down and talk about the boat, which just got added to the National Register of Historic Places. They also had her last CO speak to the group about what NOAA’s planning on doing with the boat. According to Lieutenant Chad Cary, they’re giving the Cobb to the Seattle Maritime Academy, my old alma matter.

They’re still deciding how to deal with the broken crank, though. Lt Cary said they were going to look at installing a new crankshaft, and then look into replacement engines. He says they’re seriously considering putting in a high-power engine with a big reduction gear, so that the academy kids can get their 1000 hp+ time in on the boat, but I think that’d be a big mistake.

An old Enterprise, though… well, that’d be a good engine for the Cobb. I’ll get in touch with Dick the SMA instructor and see if he has any other news.

Incidentally, the presentation ended with a video of the Cobb underway and in the engine room… courtesy OTM Inc! The video is here and we’re delighted to see that it’s helping get the word out.

New on the Web

Speaking of Enterprise, we just re-built the Enterprise section of the website to use the sorting tables debuted on the Washington Iron Works section a few weeks ago. View the new page here, and tell us what you think! Next up: Atlas.

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2008 Week 41 in review

An update on the Duwamish

The air compressor rebuild on the Duwamish is finally nearing completion. This week, I made two valves, and I hope to finish up the work next week.

An update on the Shenandoah

The Harbor History Museum that now owns the Atlas-Imperial I used to work on at Bates also owns the Shenandoah, a local purse seiner. They just moved it into its new display building and the News Tribune reported on it here.

A few months ago, they were considering putting the Atlas into the Shenndoah, since it’s an appropriate engine for that time and purpose, but the news article didn’t talk about that. Maybe it’s time for a visit to Gig Harbor…

A visit to Commercial Sales in Fife

On Wednesday, we stopped by Commercial Sales. Owner Paul Jensen collects all manner of marine and industrial stuff, from engines and machinery to books and memorabilia. They’ve got a showroom that looks like my favorite kind of museum, with all sorts of old neat stuff set up. I didn’t have my camera with me, but the (incomplete) inventory lists on their website may give you an idea of how much stuff they have.

I also know that Paul has an Enterprise or three in the back lot, which I want to get a look at on a day when I have more time.

A visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum

On Thursday, I headed down to Astoria and the Columbia River Maritime Museum. They have two Atlas-Imperial diesel engines: one on display in the museum’s entrance, and one in the lightship Columbia, tied up outside.

The engine in the entrance is a classic three-cylinder, 75 horsepower Atlas from the fishboat (maybe a seiner?) Argo, which was built in 1928:

Atlas-Imperial Diesel Engine at the Columbia River Maritime Museum

It was donated to the museum by a James Scarborough, and is all painted up and prominently displayed for everyone who walks inside. I really like the way it’s front and center in the museum, but the display has a few problems.

First, there’s some stuff that is inaccurate about how it would have looked as a working engine. The things that I’ve noticed are that the governor handle, the water jumpers on the air compressor and the trust bearing, and the cooling water circulator pump are gone; and the hinge on the sector gear side of the handle is broken off. There’re also a few parts that are painted instead of being left bare and lubricated, specifically the spare injector tip and the pump plungers, like in this photo:

Painted pump plunger on an Atlas-Imperial diesel engine at the Columbia River Maritime Museum

Now, I know I’m one of about five people who notices things like this, but museums strive towards accurately representing the objects they collect and exhibit, and to me it’s the details that make accuracy.

Second, as I was looking at the display I heard an old guy tell his wife that he thought it was a steam engine. There was a little sign at the corner of the display that had two sentences about how it was a diesel engine removed from a fishboat, but I saw a lot of people just stop to look at the engine and not notice the sign. Now, I don’t need a big sign that says “DIESEL,” but I think that the difference between steam and diesel engines is pretty important for explaining how maritime industry changed in the 1920s and ’30s.

Third, the engine is currently displayed in front of a blank wall in classic white-box gallery style:

Atlas-Imperial Diesel Engine at the Columbia River Maritime Museum

It even has a little tombstone label off to the right side. This kind of a display is great to show off paintings or sculpture, but engines are part of a much larger system. I would really like to see the Atlas put into more of a thematic display, maybe using a life-sized picture of an engine room or something to put it in context. Maybe it should even have a statue of an engineer with an oil can, just to show some of the differences between the old heavy-duties and the modern high-speeds.

Now, to be fair, I’ve been corresponding with curator David at the museum, and he’s interested in talking about some of the things I’ve brought up here. My trips to Astoria keep happening when he’s out of the office, though, so we haven’t had an in-person meeting yet. Next time, maybe.

The museum also has the Lightship WAL 604 Columbia:

Lightship WAL 604 COLUMBIA, at the Columbia River Maritime Museum

It’s powered with a 550 horsepower direct-reversible Atlas-Imperial. I was really disappointed that the engine room is completely inaccessible, though. If I stood on my tip-toes and leaned over, I could just see a corner of the Atlas through an engine room window, but it was locked up tight and I couldn’t find anyone with a key (I asked the guy taking tickets and then called a few people). This is unfortunate, since it’s one of only a couple hundred Atlas-Imperials in the world and no one can see it. I hope at some point the museum will have the chance to incorporate the engine room into their lightship tour, because it represents a large part of the job of any ship.

Overall, though, I had a great time at the museum. This is the second time I’ve visited and I really think they are doing well (they have lots of visitors). I only point out this picky stuff because it’s my job and I think that they will benefit from the suggestions.

A cameo by the Ready

Also in Astoria, I saw the movie Get Smart at the Colombian (they serve beer upstairs!). In the middle of the movie, the characters are suddenly on the Ready, the tug in Long Beach (it’s for sale). It was great, and I hope to see more old tugs in the movies.

The Tugboat Bar

When we got to Portland, we went to the Tugboat Brewing Company, just because it had a tugboat on its sign. When we inside, though, we found that they brew OTM beer!

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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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