Repairs, Failures, And The Domino Affect

I am thoroughly convinced that most, maybe not all, major breakdowns and failures on a boat start with just one small thing and then the dominoes fall until you have a major if not catastrophic situation. OK, our situation did not become catastrophic, but it became much more than it started out to be, and it became very expensive. It all started innocently enough one very hot, sticky day about three weeks ago when it was necessary to clean the air conditioner sea strainer. The waters here in Factory Creek are very silty and full of all manor of stuff. The strainers requires cleaning at least every two weeks. The AC system was shut down and the seacock closed to keep the water out for what should have only taken a few minutes. The strainer was removed and the bowl and screen sat on the dock for cleaning. When I turned on the water hose, somehow the nozzle came off and the stream of water hit the strainer basket and blew it overboard into the water and it sank immediately. So this meant an hour and a half running around to the marine supply stores to find a replacement screen. Once a replacement was found the strainer was reassembled and the seacock opened. No water would come through the seacock to the strainer.

Now I would like to take a moment here to rant just a bit. Plastic thru-hulls and valves have absolutely no place on a boat in my opinion. You can call them Marlon or a host of other names but to me they are plastic, cheap, break, and especially have no place in the bottom of a boat, especially under water. One of the previous owner had installed a Marlon ball valve for the air conditioner pick up and we had planned on changing it on the next haul out. But right now this piece of crap had closed and although the handle turned, the ball valve inside did not and the valve was stuck in the shut position. Did I add that it was hot and sticky? The heat index for the day was in the hundreds and the humidity was as high as it could be without raining. By this time the temperature inside the boat had risen to 97 degrees and the sweat was pouring off my body. Plus I knew that if Susan came home with no air conditioning, my life may be severely shortened. Hauling the boat immediately was not an option. Besides, it was stuck in the closed position.

Our raw water strainer for the engine has a hose fitting and a valve on top to allow for winterizing in colder climates. This was not ideal but with a bit of engineering I might at least get water flowing to the AC pump as a temporary measure. Putting together bits and pieces and some hose, I was able to make this work and the AC was once again running. But the boat did have to be hauled to replace the broken valve. I drove to the nearest and only haul out yard in our area and they were full with no place to haul us out at the time. So we made arrangements for the first of the following week to haul and do the repairs. I am not one to waste a haul out for simply replacing a valve so we planned to install a dripless packing system while the boat was out. Although this was on my list of things to do, we had not planned to do it so soon. As luck would have it, the time to get the dripless system shipped stretched into another week. Our jury rigged AC water system kept going, but barely.

Once the parts arrived and space cleared in the yard we drove the boat the three miles or so and hauled out. The 28 year old prop shaft in the boat had a lot of rust spots and was very pitted over the areas we could see. I had often wondered what the areas we could not see looked like. Since the shaft had to be loosened and pulled back to install the dripless system, I ask them to pull it all the way out so I could inspect it. To no real surprise, we found the shaft to be even worse than feared. A section had actually looked like it had dissolved the shaft to the point where the 1 1/2 shaft diameter was only about an inch. Sections where we found deep indentations and groves, I could stick a flat screwdriver into about half way through the shaft. This could have been a disaster and most assuredly would have failed in the very near future. So we ordered a replacement shaft.

While waiting for the shaft we took the time to compound the hull, since it was looking pretty dull. We also raised the waterline a couple of inches, which we are used to having to do as liveaboards. We decided that since we were replacing the shaft it would be prudent to also replace the cutlass bearing. It was showing signs of wear, even though only slight. The prop and cutlass bearing tube which had been epoxy coated at our last haul out, received a fresh coat of bottom paint. This had held up well in the eight months since our last haul out. We do plan to install a generator in the coming months so we had a seacock installed for the raw water inlet for the genset. As I said, we really hate to waste a haul out.

The new shaft arrived, matched to our coupler which we had shipped to the shaft folks to match up. The thru-hulls had been installed in the mean time and the installation of the new shaft and the dripless packing system only took a day. Everything went smoothly and once back in the water we had no leaks and the dripless worked as advertised. The boat was returned to our slip in much better condition than it left and our wallet was much lighter also. This is our third experience with the folks at Marsh Harbor Boat Works in Beaufort, SC and we can not say enough good things about these folks. They accommodated us in every way they possibly could, expedited everything within their power and gave us what we considered excellent prices for the materials and work done. Over the past two decades, we have dealt with many marinas up and down the coast and we consider Marsh Harbor one of the best. If in the area and in need of repairs, don't hesitate to contact them.

As you can see, the domino affect was putting it mildly. All of this started as a result of cleaning the air conditioner strainer. We are thankful the prop shaft issue was caught now under these conditions rather than in some other very different situation. We are firm believers that nothing happens by accident and there are no coincidences. After a short break we will be on to the next repairs.


  1. Learning from the "Domino Effect" and anticipating my first haul out. Where did you order the shaft from? Did you give them the shaft specifics and they built it to your spec? Or did you ship them the coupler and shaft?

  2. I am sorry but I can't remember that name of the shop that sent us the new shaft. But I did get their info from Bob Smith at American Diesel. They only needed the shaft diameter and length and the type of taper, which is a standard. When you replace a shaft, always order the coupler with the shaft. They are matched correctly and trying to reuse the old coupler can lead to expensive problems. Hope this helps some. Chuck

  3. I've been a lurker for a few months since buying a MT44 needing total restoration. How did you mount the new shaft seal? It looks like you reversed the gland on the stuffing box, gasketed it and attached the hose of the new shaft seal to the now reversed gland. Any insight would be appreciated. Mike

    1. Mike, That is exactly what we did when adding the new dripless. The bellows is attached to the original flange. If that won't work, the only other option is to have a new flange fabricated. Good luck with the restoration. Chuck


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