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2009 Week 19 in Review

Breaking down the party

I spent the first part of the week finishing the big M4 Party. Volunteers and I worked around the clock to clean up and return all the stuff, following the amazing show. Thanks to all those who helped this year!

If you want to be involved in the next M4 party, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the crew.

M4 Factory Party

Preparing for Illinois

I talked two weeks ago about how I’d been talking with the Indian Grave Pump House in Illinois about installing re-babbitted main bearings in their Fairbanks-Morse engines. I ended Week 17 hearing “we’re waiting for the bearings to come back from the shop,” and by this week they were back to “hurry hurry hurry,” so I’m getting ready to go to Illinois again.

I picked up more lapping compound (a big 5lb bucket this time), and cleaned up the shop. This time, the trip is indefinitely long, so I had to be sure the bills are paid and the chickens have feed. It’ll probably be two or three weeks, so stay tuned for blogs from the Midwest.

Business as usual

OTM Inc got audited by the insurance company. Lame.

Elliott Bay Tugboat Races

On Saturday, OTM Inc went to the tugboat races on Elliott Bay aboard the Maris Pearl. It was a great day for racing, and we had a blast:

Tugboat Races on the Maris Pearl

We also saw the Fearless out in fine form:

Western Towboat tug Fearless at the Elliott Bay Tugboat Races

Tugboat Night!

We had another session of Tugboat Night aboard the Arthur Foss. The next session is June 13, so we’ll see you there!

Labor versus Capital

There’s been lots of talk about our ideas of labor changing these days, but I want to know if our ideas of efficiency will change. I think it might have to.

Let’s say we give billions to the auto industry so that they can keep people employed. We as tax payers will pay them to make cars, but then no one wants to buy them. Did it work? No but if we give billions to an auto industry that makes cars by hand, using hand tools. And turn out less cars people keep their jobs.

By the same token, if we give billions to highway improvement, it will be under the banner of creating jobs and employing people. It sounds like a good idea, but I’m worried that what will happen when the government starts awarding contracts. If the lowest bidder is the company that wants to buy a big automatic highway re-paving machine that was made in China and can be driven by one person, then did the plan work? I say that it didn’t, if the original plan was to create jobs (unless we’re counting off-shore manufacturing jobs).

I’m worried that billions will go to replace old diesels for no reason except to keep the Chinese who build Caterpillars employed for another day. Ultimately the money earmarked for a cleaner and better running fleet should be spent to have engineers and mechanics replace the rings and injectors. A billion dollars can service a lot of engines and keep people employed right here – plus it will help protect the environment by both cutting emissions and preventing new engines to be shipped around the world and old engines to be shipped to the scrappers.

Really, if we clean up the engines that are already in use, the benefits will be compounded. We’ll have cleaner air, more work with less capital investment, a better life for mid-level educated folks, and no artificially-created demand for the new products. All the equipment serviced will already be in demand due to the fact that someone owns it.

So, government folks, please stop creating meaningless capital investment and buy labor, instead. There are millions of ways to improve the world with out making anything.

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2009 Week 18 in Review

M4 Factory Party

Every year, OTM Inc drops everything to help with the annual M4 party. This year, it was held in the loading dock of the Big Building in South Seattle.

I spent most of the week preparing for the party. I even borrowed a bucket truck to hang lights, projectors, and rig the aerialist rope:

setting up for the M4 Factory party

The party itself went great: we had a big crowd and it was a lot of fun. We took tons of pictures that are slowly getting uploaded to the party’s Flickr pool here. Here’s a quick preview:

band Titanium Sporkestra at the M4 Factory Party

All the performers were great, from the graffiti artists to the burlesque dancers, and OTM Inc wants to thank everyone for being a part of it.

dancer Fuscia Foxx at the M4 Factory Party

No Smoking

OTM Inc has heard a rumor that the EPA will start to fine noncompliant diesel exhaust-emitting boat operators. To verify, we made some calls.

The EPA said existing diesels are not required to comply with the new requirements – except in some cases, such as when the engines are large, polluting way more than others, and have a certified technology that will significantly reduce emissions available for the type of engines.

This means the there are only a few engines that are effected, but the most notable is the Washington State Ferry System. They’re still running some EMD two cycle engines that can be modified to run cleaner. If they can be modified, then the requirement may be in effect.

Most of the changes to the rules are for new engines, so this is a battle for the manufactures.

Voluntary compliance is a nice thing though. There are a few things to consider for owners trying to reduce their emissions.

First, how does the EPA test exhaust? Apparently, there are lots of ways to figure out the exact chemical breakdown of an engine’s exhaust, but the most important test to pass in the one that measures Particulate Material Density by opacity. This is a scientific visual test, where the engine runs at full rated speed to produce 100% rated horsepower. Then, without much relative wind, the inspector (engineer) looks at the exhaust and determines the percentage of light that passes through the plume. Black as night is 100%, dark haze is 50%, and a vapor trail is 0%. Most trucks on the road are allowed a score of 40%.

Second, smoke can signal that something is wrong with your engine. The concerned owner and engineer should take immediate action if they see smoke, as it is more than just a signal. Smoke will carbon up the valves, causing more leaking, and then more smoke, and so on until the power is reduced to nothing and the engine stops. This is why one of the ten diesel commandments for engineers is “Never let thy engine smoke, else thou shalt suffer thine owner’s wrath.”

Third, the best way to prevent smoke is to physically clean your engine inside and out, replace the piston rings regularly, and service the injectors regularly. A diesel is a diesel, and the only thing that can be done to clean up its emissions in any circumstance is to add more clean air, squish the air better, and mist in the fuel better. Servicing rings valves and injectors regularly will get any engine closer to the sought-after vapor trail.

The EPA requires some engines to do more: specifically implement something that the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act calls “Certified technology,” which is available at a relatively low cost through government programs. Certified Technology (CT) is some product that the EPA has tested and can prove creates a significant reduction in emissions. CT is hard to create and no company is going to attempt it unless it is profitable. It helps that the technology is required and a large number of the engines are in use, but if designing the technology will not be profitable, then there are grants available to help an “emerging technology” becomes a “certified technology”.

OTM Inc is currently preparing its own application for a grant to pay for the R & D to design a Certified Technology kit for the remaining Washingtons. This kit will include step-by-step instructions on how to service the rings, valves and injectors. We hope that this emerging technology (about to begin clinical trials this June on the Arthur Foss) will be quickly recognized by the EPA as a certified technology.

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2009 Week 14 in Review

We started this week by cleaning the shop really well, since I was headed out of town. I also tied up loose ends on the Arthur Foss and gathered parts for the Maris Pearl.

Tug for sale

The tug Earnest is for sale here in Seattle. It’s a great tug, 91 feet long and built in 1942. It used to have a 600-HP Atlas-Imperial just like the one owned by the Florida Flywheelers. It’s been re-powered with a 1,125 Caterpillar D-399 engine, but it’s still a good boat. Contact me if you or a friend is interested.

Enterprise R-Models for sale

We’ve heard that there’s two 8,000 horsepower Enterprise Model-R diesels for sale in Maryland. They’re part of a genset and that was supposed to power an island, but apparently the deal fell through. We’ve heard that these two were the last off the Enterprise manufacturing line, so we hope someone grabs them. Contact OTM Inc if you’re interested.


I just found out that an old neighbor of mine is a descendant of the guy who invented the Metal Marine Pilot, which was later turned into a Wood Freeman Autopilot. Huh.

Public Trust

We at OTM Inc have recently heard of a tugboat collection getting pushed around by the government.

Steve is a tugboat guy in Waterford, New York. He’s a little reckless, a little eccentric, and very passionate about what he does, which is to collect old tugboats. I can see you rolling your eyes out there, but if the tugboat collection is doing okay and not harming anyone, why bother him?

Well, the New York State Canal Corporation is apparently planning to remove Steve and his vessels from “their” waterways by systematically attacking him with court orders, restraining orders, fines, and the other non-violent weapons available to bureaucracies. The Canal Corporation is a state-owned operation designed to manage the public trust that owns the canal and river systems in New York. According to Steve, they recently changed the state law to say “no living on boats in the canals.” We at OTM Inc have not looked up the law, but find it unlikely that they made it that general; instead, we speculate that they changed the state law to read something like “no living on a barge called Pennsylvania No. 399 within 100 yards of Lock E-2.”

Anyway, Steve continued living on his boat, so the Canal Corporation had him arrested and issued a restraining order to keep him off the boats. Interestingly, the Canal Corporation then assumed care of the boats, until they can safely acquire title to them through the doctrine of adverse possession. I think we all can guess where they’ll end up after the Canal Corporation has title to them.

Steve is planning to strike back by accusing the Canal Corporation of “interfering with the safe operation of a vessel” and “forcefully taking control of a manned vessel.” Both of these are federal offenses and typically taken very seriously.

While researching this article, OTM Inc tried tirelessly to contact an official with the Canal Corporation, but received no response to any of the voicemails or messages left with the secretary. I can only assume that they are uninterested in making a statement at this time.

While I understand the need to put some vessels out of their misery, and that there are some situations in which a boat collector must be saved from himself, setting a bureaucratic precedent like this is disturbing. The idea that the same entity that obtains the restraining order can gain control of the vessel through taking care of it in the owner’s court-ordered absence is pretty scary, and a scenario I don’t want to see played out.

At the same time, there are some boat projects that really are hopeless and should be shut down before they end up costing a lot of taxpayer money to clean up. These projects are the one that linger for decades, with lots of time and energy and love and hope and money all wasted in the end because the project was hopeless from the start.

From my perspective, it comes down to how to define what projects are “hopeless.” Who gets to make the call on that? What’s their training? Who trained them? Are they licensed, and who licensed them?

Even more, are there any objective criteria or scale that this person or persons can use to judge boat projects as a potential success or failure at the beginning? Someday, I will assemble an interdisciplinary panel of experts in a variety of related fields, including psychologists, psychiatrists, economists, curators, drum circle hippies, demographers, maritime attorneys, navel architects, ship captains, surveyors, and boat repair specialists. This team will develop just such a scale to judge boat projects on, so that we can stop wasting years of hope and work only to lose it all to scrappers or government agencies. No old boat project should be judged without such a panel – one that includes both boat people and realists.

Until then, Old Tacoma Marine Inc will offer unbiased mediation services to assist parties with resolving such disputes.

Old Tacoma Marine Inc goes to Mexico

See you next week!

Old Tacoma Marine Inc goes to Mexico

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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 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 9 in Review

OTM Inc did a lot of work with the Northwest Seaport this week – both hammering and teaching. But first:

Control head for the Maris Pearl!

I did a little bit of getting ready for working on the Maris Pearl next week. Jay’s got a laundry list of little things that need to be checked up on in the engine room. He is super-organized and has it all in an online database.

I didn’t start hammering this week, but I did finally purchase the “new” control head for the main. As you may recall, Rick on the Red Cloud had a spare control head that’s perfect for the Maris Pearl. This week I picked it up and brought it to the shop, but I didn’t get a close look at it yet (just close enough to see that it’s missing some parts). I’ll take it apart and clean it and figure out what work it needs, but it isn’t going on the boat this year, anyway.

Reinstalling the Arthur Foss‘s throw-out bearing

I’ve started getting stuff together to reinstall the Arthur Foss‘s throw-out bearing. I would have gotten more done this week, except that I had to get ready for the Engineer for a Day program:

High School Engineer for a Day

Every February, I run a session of Engineer for a Day for the Ballard Maritime Academy. It’s a four-hour field trip that gives the kids a chance to start the Arthur Foss and the Duwamish, and learn about steam on the Virginia V. I wrote about it last year here and here. It’s a really neat class that I look forward to, even though getting ready for it is a lot of work.

I checked in with the instructors at the end of last week. Gary said that he was all ready for the Virginia V steam lecture, but Grant had a potential hot date on Friday and backed out of teaching on the Duwamish. Instead, he volunteered our friend Dave, who Grant and I went to diesel school with a bunch of years ago. Dave has spent decades on the water and has done a fair amount of teaching, but he was hard-pressed to learn the admittedly crusty systems on the Duwamish well enough to teach them to high-schoolers – plus, it was his vacation. He helped me get the boat ready for the class, including the first start-ups since last year’s air-compressor rebuild, but backed out of the actual teaching part.

After some negotiation, we got Grant back and the class went smoothly. We got all the preparation done just on time, with the latest version of the startup checklists finished minutes before the kids arrived. They all seemed like they had a good time and learned a lot.

When the class was over and the kids heading back to Ballard, we all met up with Dave at the Zoo to share a pitcher or two.

Grant writing with the Virginia V

While I was getting the boats ready for the Engineer for a Day class, Doug from the Virginia V saw the lights on and came over to talk. We don’t currently do engine demonstrations on the V-5, since getting up live steam would double the cost of the course, but both Doug and I want to change that. It happened that the V-5 was in the process of applying for a grant to get live steam up, and they asked for OTM Inc’s help. We met up with a couple of the board and staff members and talked about ways to make the grant work, and helped out with the writing. Now, it’s the usual waiting game to find out if they got the grant, but I think they’ve got a good chance.

A rant about safety

While working on the Duwamish with Dave, I found that old crusty boats don’t easily gain people’s confidence. Safety is always a factor, all around us, in everything we do, but one man’s safe is another’s hazard. Some people dismiss the old boats, saying “that’s old and unsafe; we should replace it,” while at the same time other people say “they don’t build them like they used too.” I think that both statements are flawed, since not many of the enforcers bother to understand the systems on old boats and therefore overlook things or crack down on something much lower on the list. Many inspectors have their pet issues, like writing up the hydraulic leak next to a pile of asbestos on the deck. Meanwhile, people don’t think about how they’re a bazillion times more likely to get maimed or die in a car accident than they are to get hurt in an old boat, but that’s another rant.

Where is the line between maintaining safety and preserving a boat more-or-less “as-is”? This is an issue that we must deal with every day on the old boats. It’s a judgment call that owners, insurance inspectors, and local agencies – not to mention the engineers – have a hard time making. Nothing is entirely safe, not even doing the best you can do with the resources you have is enough to ensure some old systems are relatively safe.

What is relatively safe, and who can make that call? Many organizations are out there to help with safety, including OSHA, WISHA, the USCG, Underwriters Laboratory, and your parents – but no one wants to invite them over because of the fines and nagging that accompany their recommendations.

That often leaves it up to the engineers, who do what they can. I can’t help but think that there must be a better way, so I’ve come up with a few recommendations. I can’t guarantee these as ensuring safety on the old boats but it’s a start:

  • keep the boat clean
  • keep as many systems operational as possible, and exercise all functioning systems regularly
  • retain engineers who have many years of experience on that particular boat
  • constantly work to keep communication open between owners, captains, and engineers

If all that is working, then I recommend carefully inviting regulatory agencies to the boat to help find ways to up the safety, but without ending programs or breaking the bank. Then make a timeline to accomplish these tasks, get them done, and invite the agencies back to make more recommendations. I know it’s scary for those on the line, but another set of eyes can really help increase safety on these old boats

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2008 Week 49 in review

Inspecting the Olympic

This week, OTM visited the Olympic, a 200-foot decommissioned Washington State Ferry with an eight-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine. It’s currently tied up at the ferry graveyard in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, as it has been since the mid-1990s. It’s starting to show:

retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

We were asked to inspect the engine room systems to evaluate whether the engines were still operational. Apparently, the boat is currently owned by a non-profit foundation that sells boats at a profit to fund scholarships and other worthy causes, and they have a buyer lined up on the condition that the engine works and she can be re-commissioned. We started the process with some background research. As usual, the Evergreen Fleet proved invaluable, as did the venerable Ferryboat Book.

The MV Olympic was built in Baltimore in 1938 as the Gov. Harry W. Nice, with a riveted steel hull and a direct-reversing Fairbanks-Morse engine rated for 1,400 horsepower at 300 RPM. She and sister ship Gov. Herbert R. O’Conor worked the Kent Island-Sandy Point Bay route across the Chesapeake Bay. In 1952, the route was replaced by the Bay Bridge and the two ferries were sold to the Washington State Ferry system. Renamed Olympic and Rhododendron, the ferries went into service in 1954 to work the Clinton route. In 1969, the Kulshan started on the Clinton route, and the Olympic became the overflow boat. In 1974, she was moved to the Port Townsend-Keystone route, but when the new Issaquah-class ferries took over the route in 1979, the Olympic was scheduled for retirement.

In 1983, the Rhododendron was mothballed, but the Olympic kept running despite Coast Guard concerns over operating a single-engine ferry (following an engine shut-down that left her drifting in the Sound for three hours before engineers brought it back online). She was moved to lower-traffic routes (mainly the Point Defiance run) and scheduled for refurbishment with the Rhododendron, but cost over-runs on her sister ship meant that the Olympic was mothballed in 1993. She was surplused and auctioned off in 1997, and has been in Eagle Harbor since.

I don’t think that the boat’s been touched since she was mothballed the second time – she even has newspapers from her last cruise laying in the lounge:

passenger deck of the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

More importantly, she still has the original Fairbanks-Morse diesel, an eight-cylinder with a 16″ bore and 20″ stroke:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

The only major problem that I found is that the main diesel-powered air-compressor is missing. This is really the key to the boat, as, like almost any boat powered by a heavy-duty diesel, the Olympic needs compressed air to power nearly all of its major systems, including the generators and main engine. It still has two electric air-compressors, but they require 120 volts DC electricity to run, which in turn can be supplied by one or both diesel generators, but these each need compressed air to start. Oi.

As far as I can tell, everything else is in decent condition and looked like it had been well-maintained during its working career, but without that main air compressor we couldn’t turn it on and tell for sure. Anyone getting the boat back to operational condition will be fighting corrosion every step of the way, and that every valve will need to be exercised and every pump will need to be freed up before putting the systems back online. It also means the new crew will need to do a lot of cleaning to make it possible to work in the spaces:

Engineer's office in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

After the trip, I put together a list of recommendations for the organization and any potential buyers. Most importantly, I told them to change one of the small air compressor motors to AC power and a voltage that can be provided at the dock, in order to let them exercise the machinery and demonstrate that the main engine runs (or doesn’t run, whichever the case may be). Both DC air compressors look like they’re fine, so just switching out the motor should be pretty easy:

AC air compressor in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

Here’s the total process that I recommended:

  • clean the vessel, giving it at least a once-over
  • change the air compressor motor
  • start the auxiliary generators
  • put systems on line and test
  • install switches for steering and jury rig manual wheel; test steering
  • blow down main engine; bleed fuel lines; repair oil filter
  • tow the vessel out and test-run the main engine
  • re-assess the condition and determine the next steps

This would be a great project, since the Olympic is a great boat in very good condition, considering that it’s been basically untouched at the dock for over ten years. It’s also pretty historically significant as an example of state-run ferries from the 1930s to 1970s, since most of the other ferries of this era have been re-powered, scrapped, or otherwise lost. I hope that the potential new owners get as excited about the project as I am, and that they call me in as a specialist to help re-commission the boat. Stay tuned (I hope)…

Work continues on the Catalyst

I spent the rest of the week on Catalyst, continuing to file and sand the oil hole ridges off the crankshaft. I feel like I’ve been sanding forever, and I’ve still got some left.

The rod bearings also came back from Everett Engineering, freshly babbitted and looking good. I inspected them again and found two things. First, one of the check valve balls was rusty and sort of pitted. These check valves are in the top half of each rod bearing, right against a hollow tube that runs up through the rod itself to the wrist pin. This keeps the rod full of oil after shut-down, so that oil gets up to the wrist pin as soon as pressure comes up. Since balls for the check valves are cheap, I bought new ones for all six bearings and put them in.

Second, some of the peel packs, which are a set of shims stuck together with solder that fit between each half of each bearing set, were replaced with plain shims. This isn’t really a big deal, except that I like peel packs better. I might get new ones, but I haven’t had the time to look into yet.

We also decided to send some of the cam followers and wrist pins to be flame-sprayed. In preparation, I stripped the followers and sent the wrist pin bushings to Asco to be honed down. The bushings (which are made of brass) wear down unevenly during normal operation, so it’s important to get them straight and round before the wrist pins are fit in. Honing is done with a specialized tool made up of three or four stones (they’re sort of leg-shaped) that push against the outside of the bushing and grind a small amount of material off while they turn.

I sent the wrist pin bushings off while they were still in the rods:

Connecting rods on their way to be honed

OTM’s tips for getting your heavy-duty through the economic crisis

All owners of heavy-duty engines are going to feel some pain from the current tough economic times, but OTM has some easy tips to help your engine (and your boat) survive the recession.

Get to know your boat, and want to get to know your boat. This will not only save money, it will make cruising safer and more pleasant. Get a flash light and get under the deck plates.

Clean the whole boat – especially the engine. I cannot overemphasize the importance of cleaning. This simple task addresses nearly all problems with the engine or other systems. If cleaning doesn’t actually solve the problem, it at least will keep the problem from getting worse – plus it makes it much easier to find and note problems so they can be addressed before they get worse. I have heard customers say “I haven’t wiped down the engine for a while so you [the mechanic] can find the leaks easier,” but I then have to spend the whole day cleaning the engine in order to find the leaks. This adds to the bill. It’s also just easier to work in a clean engine room, so the mechanic will be more efficient and productive than in a dirty engine room.

Simplify. In all situations, it’s important to just keep it simple. Good examples include:

  • selling the crane and using davits and block and tackle instead. It looks more elegant and is not much more work (and you hardly ever lower the boats, anyway)
  • removing the hydraulics in a small boat, because you don’t need them. Hydraulic systems are very powerful and few small boats need that kind of extreme power
  • forget about the second radar unit, and clean the windows in the wheel house instead
  • insist on smaller systems. Try to install “normal” systems: no one thinks a whiz-bang radar-guided autopilot is impressive unless the rest of the boat operates flawlessly, is used often, and has demonstrated a need for the device

Focus on need. Often the neatest-looking boats are that way because of how the owners meet their needs simply. I mention often how I like the “lived in” feeling of any structure that is well worn in. Another example is a small line attached to a door and frame to keep it from opening too far and slamming, which is a simple and elegant solution. A megayacht outfitter will try to get you to spend $2,500 on a mechanism to accomplish the same task, which needs to be greased monthly and rattles at full speed.

Break down jobs. See the trees in the forest and make a list with four-hour tasks. Don’t put things on the list like “rebuild engine”. It’s okay to cruise with broken parts as long as you know your limitations. Break the jobs into manageable pieces, and do some now and others next year.

Stay busy. If laziness sets in, the complacent attitude will sink the boat. Stay on task, look at the list, and keep making forward progress – even if it’s slow.

If you follow these tips, you’ll both keep your engine in good shape without spending too much money, and get greater satisfaction out of being proud of the work put into your boat.

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