I had a long day on Sunday, since the Catalyst was scheduled to come in at the beginning of the week – and we took two days off to sail the schooner Zodiac from Bellingham to Seattle.
Sailing on the Zodiac
I first sailed on the Zodiac in 1997, after helping during a winter yard work period. I still remember shackling blocks to the mast while hanging from the spreaders by my knees, looking down at the Fremontians waiting for the bridge to close. Since then, I’ve gone aboard often to visit but not to sail – until this week. The folks who run the Zodiac put out an all-hands call to maritime heritage people in the Seattle area to help bring the boat from Bellingham (her summer port) to Seattle (her winter port). With diesel prices so high, they try to sail as much of that trip as possible, and to sail they need a lot of extra hands, since the Zodiac is the largest working sailboat on the West Coast, with the largest single sail on the West Coast, which is raised by hand:
Our trip this week was much less work than when I sailed in 1997, since we were guests. It’s been a while since I’ve gone boating without responsibilities, and it was very nice. Lia and I stood mini watches at the helm and bow, then just hung around on deck or in the salon. When it was time to hoist a sail or something, a crew member would give us direction and we’d pitch in with the other passengers. The crew has been chartering all summer so they treat us freeloaders with the same velvet gloves as the summer’s paying guests, but with a relaxed end-of-the-season style.
Monday started as a perfect day for sailing, with clear skies and a cold, stiff breeze. We sailed for about 8 hours until the wind died, and I must admit that the quiet sounds of the boat creaking under sail sounds nicer than even the rumble of an Atlas-Imperial. We anchored at port Townsend for the night and a few of us passengers went ashore to get a spectacular view of the schooner as the sun set:
Tuesday, in contrast, was foggy, cold, and windless. We got underway at about 9am, but since there was no wind and the current was against us, and we wanted to make it through Seattle’s drawbridges before they closed at 4 pm, we motoring the rest of the way. The tireless crew took the opportunity to start un-bending the sails and folding them up for the winter. We got to Seattle and made it through the locks in time to fuel up at Ballard Oil before the bridges closed. Spencer, who is owner Warren’s grandson, was working the dock. Spencer took the Engineer for a Day class that the Ballard Maritime Academy kids attended last year, so it was good to see him and ask how it was going. After we fueled up, we went the last stretch through the ship canal and Fremont to the Metro docks right next to Northlake Shipyard, where the boat stays for the winter.
The Zodiac was built in 1924 for the Johnson family (of the Johnson & Johnson Company fame) as a heavy-duty sailing yacht. She originally had a six-cylinder Atlas-Imperial with a 10 ½ inch bore, and competed in some of the grand trans-Atlantic sailing races of the 1920s. After the Depression, the boat was sold to the San Francisco Bay Bar Pilots, who used her to pick up and drop off pilots until the early 1970s (she was actually the last schooner working as a pilot boat, since she was very fast and maneuverable and stable). After a few years at the dock, Karl Mehrer, captain of another former-bar-pilot-schooner, the Adventuress, acquired the boat and brought her up to Seattle. She’s been cruising the San Juans as a charter boat and a platform for educational programs since the early 1990s, while being continually “restored” during winter maintenance seasons.
Like many of the boats I enjoy cruising on, the thing that comes to mind when I step aboard the Zodiac is the comfort, which comes from an amazing attention to detail on the part of the crew. I wrote about this back in Week 28, and then later in Week 31 how it’s impossible to create that kind of comfort without running the boat a lot. The Zodiac has decades of people working her, all tinkering and making adjustments and repairs. Sure, this means that there are some scratches in the sole and the doorways have some dings in them, but when I need to look behind the rudder quadrant there’s a working flashlight hanging up next to the hatch, the key to the ship’s clock is hanging next to it, the frying pan is over the stove, the silverware is next to the fridge, and the light switch next to the door. The Zodiac is full of these kind of efficiencies that can only be developed over time, but are what make a boat run smoothly and feel like home. Even thought her original engine (an Atlas-Imperial) was removed long ago, I still think she’s one of the most comfortable boats around. I encourage everyone to take a trip on board next summer.
Work begins on the Catalyst
I stepped off the Zodiac and went straight to the Catalyst, which arrived in Seattle Monday night for some major winter engine work. I got to the boat and removed all the jewelry (the push rods and rocker arms and things that stick out of the cylinder), and loosened the nuts for the exhaust manifold:
Then I took off the heavy exhaust manifold (which almost squashed me), the cylinder heads, the pistons, and the rod bearings:
During this process, I noticed that all the rod bearings were cracked up and will need to be re-poured. This isn’t really a surprise, since we already knew that number six bearing was pretty cracked up (remember back in Week 36, when I took apart number six rod bearing and found that it was just intact enough to get us home?). I also suspected that number two would be bad, since I got inconsistent readings when I bumped it back in September (also Week 36), and it’s not uncommon for several bearings to be bad if one is.
Cracked up rod bearings are usually caused by one or a combination of three things:
Badly poured bearing, in which the babbitt alloy didn’t adhere to the bearing shell (typically cast iron, or sometimes forged steel). A badly-poured bearing might look good, but if you put any kind of load on it the babbitt move around and crack up quickly, since it’s not actually attached to the shell. Since bearings are easy to pour correctly using improved modern techniques, it’s pretty unlikely that this is what happened.
Overloading and lugging, in which the engine is operated too hard at a lower RPM. This creates higher firing pressures and puts much more stress on the rod bearings than normal.
Out-of-round journal, in which the journal (the shiny part of the crankshaft that the bearing grabs onto) gets worn down and oval or egg-shaped. The journal is supposed to be perfectly round with a fillet (a “concave easing of an interior corner of a part used to reduce stress concentration”) on either side, so that the rod bearing moves smoothly around it. If the journal is old and has been hammered on for a long time, it can flatten out on top and develop uneven wear. If you put a newly-poured bearing onto a worn-down journal, they don’t fit together smoothly and the friction can break the oil film between them. Once the oil film is broken, the babbitt gets damaged really quickly.
This is what happened with the Westward several years ago. She was cracking bearings every year, and someone finally realized that the crankshaft was worn down and egg-shaped. When the owner decided to fix it, he hired Dan, who worked with Wilson Machine Works to machine the crankshaft in place. Wilson developed a fancy tool that is bolted onto the rod foot while the piston rides in the cylinder with no rings, which aligns everything in the right place relative to the cylinder. The engine is then barred forward so that the journal moves through the cutting surface, taking a thin shaving off with each rotation. Dan actually saved some of the shavings:
They would get the tool set up and in place, bar the engine forward to take a bit off, then measure the shape of the journal, then take another bit off, then measure it, and so on, until each journal was round again. Since they had to bar the engine over so much, they hooked up a five-horse air motor onto the same belt-drive system that the alternator and the hydraulic pump use. This moved the crankshaft around without having to crank on it with a lever every time they needed it to move. Even then, Dan says that it took a full week of work (although half of that was spent cleaning up barely-measurable tapers with emery cloth). The hardest part of the whole process was making each journal the same size, so that the rod bearings are interchangeable, but they managed it and the Westward has stopped cracking up bearings.
There’s one other factor that affects older diesels like Washingtons and Atlases: the babbitt is poured thicker. According to Dan, this is a holdover from the steam days. Babbitt is a very soft alloy, and a thick layer of it will move around a bit under a big shock load. A steam engine doesn’t create a big shock load, so when they started building diesel engines they didn’t really think about the difference. The shock load on a diesel is much higher, though, and the force moves thick babbitt around enough that it cracks easier. Incidentally, bearings on “modern” diesels use a very, very thin layer of babbitt on a much harder shell (usually steel or brass) to prevent the cracking.
With the Catalyst, the bearings are probably cracked up mostly due to the overloading, with maybe some out-of-round journals (the old-style thick babbitt just means that they’re more prone to cracking up than modern bearings, rather than being a single cause).
Whatever the cause, fixing the bearings is pretty straightforward. I brought them all up to Everett Engineering Inc, the shop that did the Arthur Foss‘s throw-out bearing way back in Week Seven.
I know that I am one of the worst critics of boat owners and am very cynical in my recommendations for how owners should take care of their boats. Now, I need to brace myself for the same abuse – most likely from more than my conscience. That’s right – I bought a tugboat and have become an Owner! I’m trying to do so in a responsible way and within my means. This means that: a) the boat is small, b) I have two other partners in on it, and c) we plan to work the boat to pay for its expenses. Hopefully, we’ll make it work out.
It’s a neat little wooden tug, except that it has a 671 Jimmy. I hate Jimmies, but I will try to make the best of this one (until we start producing new Washingtons, at least…). I’m going to paint the engine white just out of spite and add more sound-proofing as a start.