Wednesday, December 23, 2015

End of an era -- On to diesel power

After eight years of coaxing our old twin Chrysler Crowns along, we have finally made the decision to repower with diesel.  The Crowns are 6-cylinder, flat-head gasoline engines from the 1950s.  They have served us well (OK, pretty well), but it's time for them to go.  In their place will be brand new 80hp Yanmar diesels.  The work will be done at the Shipwright's Coop in Port Townsend, beginning the last week in January.  I'll do some of the work myself, and the guys from the Coop will do the "heavy lifting".
Our 2 new Yanmars waiting in Port Townsend.
The choice of new diesels for pleasure craft is pretty limited now, owing to recent air-pollution standards.  Gone are the days of simple, straight-forward, mechanical fuel injection in the U.S.  The only new engines available are those with electronic injection, which makes them overly expensive and unnecessarily complicated in my opinion.  I would much rather be able to troubleshoot a balky engine myself, which I can do with mechanical injection, than have to take the boat to a dealer for diagnostics, which is required with electronic injection.  But as I said, we have no choice if we wish to install new engines.  And what would be the point of installing used ones?

Volvo was another engine we considered.  I am told they are good engines, but support from the U.S. distributor is reportedly not as good as with Yanmar, and prices are about the same.  Engines from other manufacturers, including Perkins, Cummins, and John Deere, either were no longer sold in the U.S., were not available in the horsepower range we required, or were physically too large.  So we're going with Yanmar.  We had a 2-cylinder Yanmar in our Tartan-31 sailboat, and it gave us great service.  We had no problems whatsoever during our eight years of ownership, and I'm sure these will be the same. 

I swore when we owned the sailboat that I would never have a gasoline inboard engine, but as I explained in the first post of this blog, we decided Compadre was the boat for us, and gasoline is what we got.  The Crowns were rebuilt just before we bought the boat, and only had 11 hours on them.  They're about ready to turn over 1200 hours, but the engines themselves are very rugged and have a lot of life left in them.  The problem has been all the ancillary equipment (carburetors, fuel pumps, distributors, coils, etc.)

Compadre's Twin Chrysler Crowns
Fuel pumps have been particularly annoying.  They are not original, of course, since the engines are at least 60 years old.  These are after-market pumps, more-or-less the same as the originals, but with some short cuts.  It's the short cuts that give you fits when you are miles from home and suddenly an engine stops.  They have failed so many times that whenever an engine stops, Cindy asks "is the fuel pump pin in place?"  That would be the steel pin about which the pump arm rotates.  In the original pumps it was held in place by 2 retaining clips, but in the modern replacement it is simply pressed in in the pump body with the hope that is will stay (it doesn't).  After a few hours it works loose and backs out of the pump body until it looses contact with the pump arm, and everything comes to a halt.  I've tried various fixes, but the best one is simply to span the pump pin with a small c-clamp, thus keeping it from moving.  Not elegant, but fool proof.  We've cruised for two years with that c-clamp in place and had no further problems.

We've had no end of trouble with carburetors.  But to be fair, at least some of the problems are more the result of  modern gasoline formulation than the carbs themselves.  Modern gas is more volatile than it was when these carbs were designed, which poses a particular problem when you try to restart the engines after they've run for an hour or so.  If you are lucky, they'll start right back up.  More likely than not, however, one will refuse to start until the engine cools down, which is a real problem if you have shut down the engines at the fuel dock or in the Ballard Locks and now want to get under way again.  Too many times we've had to limp away on one engine, hoping that we could get back to where we needed to go.

And the carburetor on the port engine is simply not right.  It floods every once in a while for no apparent reason, but invariably it's when we are about to leave on an outing with guests aboard -- just refuses to fire, large amounts of fuel coming out the exhaust, and nothing you can do except pull the thing off and tear it down.  I've had both carbs rebuilt professionally, and was assured both were OK.  But they're not.

So all of this will soon be in the past.  The Yanmars will be more reliable, more economical, and much safer.  So why did it take so long to come to this decision?  In a word... money.  This project will cost nearly as much as we paid for Compadre back in 2007.  But we knew the gas engines would eventually have to go, so better to replace them now and get some use out of them than to wait until we are thinking about selling and have future owners reap all the benefits.  Such is the nature of classic boat ownership.

One knows going in, or should know, that the purchase price of these classic boats is low for a reason:  Much of the long-term expense of ownership is out in the future somewhere, unlike a new fiberglass boat where most of the expense is up front.  I will have much more to say about this in a future post, as it is perhaps the most important thing to understand about classic boat ownership.  Classics are not more expensive to own than new fiberglass boats -- the expenses just come at different times.

It will be interesting to see how the engine swap affects Compadre's performance.  With the Crowns we cruise comfortably at 8 kts with the engines running at only 1500 rpm.  At that point they are putting out about 60 hp each, according to the power curves published in the Chrysler maintenance manual.  The Yanmars are rated at 80 hp at about 2800 rpm if I remember correctly.  The torque curves are different, of course, with the Chryslers reaching max torque at a much lower rpm than the Yanmars.  So we'll have to see.  I'm sure we'll have to do some prop adjustment to get things right.

However it works out, we are not likely to match Compadre's performance when she was new.  She was originally equipped with twin 6-cylinder Lathrop Mystic engines, which were enormous by today's standards.  They weighed in at 1700 lbs!  That compares with 800 lbs for the Crowns, and 500 lbs for the Yanmars.  The Lathrops were quite sophisticated for their time, with two spark plugs per cylinder.  They were rated at 100 hp at 1800 rpm.  The Lathrop engines were options offered by Stephens Brothers; the standard engines were Scripps model F-6, 100 hp.

6-cylinder Lathrop "Mystic" engine, from 1929 Lathrop catalog.
In any event, Compadre's original performance must have been impressive.  Advertisements from Stephens Bros for their 43-ft cruisers claimed maximum speeds of "18 to 25 miles per hour", which surely was overstated for a displacement hull of this length.  We have no written documentation of her performance, but in this early photo of her in the San Joaquin Delta she clearly was moving right along.
Early photo of Compadre in the Delta.  Possibly sea trials in April 1929.
 Notice how far the bow is out of the water and the size of the wake.  Now compare this with a recent  photo of Compadre running at 8 kts.
Underway at 8 knots in Brentood Bay, B.C.
There's no doubt she was moving that day in the Delta.  I only wish I knew the details!  We'll be posting details of the repowering project after it gets started.  Be sure to check back.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

On the Way to Covered Moorage

When we first purchased Compadre we hoped to keep her in a non-covered slip, under a full canvas cover.  Of course, we knew covered moorage was the preferred approach.  While covered moorage is readily available on the Seattle side of Puget Sound, it is pretty rare on the west side where we live.  After a couple seasons, however, we realized that canvas was not a practical long-term strategy.  While the canvas kept most of the weather off, and using it gave us great flexibility in choosing moorage locations, enough chafe and other damage occurred each winter to keep us busy with minor repairs well into Spring when we should have been cruising.  And ventilation was an issue, especially in the summer.  On sunny days with the cover in place, which was most of the time, the temperature inside the boat exceeded 100 deg F.  Big temperature swings are not good for wooden boats, as the seams open up due to the constant expansion/contraction of the wood.  We decided covered moorage was not just a luxury; it was essential if we were to be good stewards.

But what to do?  After a brief stint sub-leasing a boat shed from a friend whose boat was in Seattle for repairs, we spent about 6 months in covered moorage at Salmon Bay Marina along the Seattle Ship Canal, just inside the locks.  It was inconvenient, but we enjoyed having a "vacation" home in Seattle.   But it was also much more expensive than we could justify over the long term.  We simply had to find a less expensive alternative.

Fortunately some good friends at Bremerton Yacht Club told us that boat sheds were coming available there because many long-time members were moving on to other activities.  The economics were surprisingly attractive, even considering yacht club dues and initiation fee.  Before long we were members and eligible to purchase a shed if and when one became available.  There was, if fact, a shed available immediately.  The price was right, but there was one problem -- it was barely wide enough for Compadre to squeeze in without fenders and it was 12 ft too short.  What to do?  We could continue paying top dollar in Seattle and hope that a better shed came along, but how long would that take?  We might burn through a lot of moorage money waiting for a shed that fit.  And we knew there was keen competition for larger sheds, and with no seniority we knew we might wait a long time before we were the successful bidders.  So we decided to go ahead with the small shed (a "bird in the hand...").

But how could we us a shed both too narrow and too short?  Expansion was the answer.  During the course of Compadre's travels searching for the right marina, I met some fellows who were experienced in building and repairing boat sheds.  As my good friend Ken Meyer of the Classic Yacht Association says, "It's amazing what you can do with a telephone call and a check book."  Before long they were at work adding 2 ft to the width and 12 ft to the length.

Work began with splitting the shed right down the middle.  The old decking and framing in the front were cut, and temporary framing put in place. Then the front was gradually pried apart.
Spitting front of the shed.
After the front was spread sufficiently, a new truss was fitted at the ridge line, and work moved inward to the next frame station.  More spreading inside, and another new ridge truss fitted and spliced into the existing rafters.  And so on for all eight original frame stations. 
New ridge truss in place
Next came the 12-ft extension.  New upright "frame" pairs were assembled on the work float inside the shed, then muscled into place and joined at the ridge. 
Right half of new frame is moved into place
This would have been tricky enough on dry land, but try it from a tippy, floating platform.  On scaffolding.  I hoped they had good insurance!
Left half in place
And so it went with the second frame station, which gave us 50 ft of overall length.  Roof framing soon followed, along with new corrugated steel and clear plastic roof panels.  Some new steel siding, and we where done.
Home at last!

Although we spent far more to expand the shed than we will ever recover when we sell, we feel it was the right decision given the alternatives.  Even though we own the shed, we still have to rent the slip from the club.  But with the cost of moorage at the club being less than a third of what we were paying in Seattle, our improvements will pay for themselves in just a few years. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Not a Show Queen

Lest anyone think that Compadre is a "show queen", housed in a comfortable boat shed until she ventures out for the occasional wooden boat show, I thought I might post a few pictures of us enjoying one of our favorite cruising areas, the South Sound.  In later posts we'll take you along on future cruises, but to get started I'll post some pictures from past cruises to give you a sense of what we've experienced.

Approaching Tacoma Narrows
The south part of Puget Sound is a broad area of islands and interconnected waterways, with many comfortable spots to anchor and enjoy the scenery.  But unlike the more popular San Juan and Gulf Islands to the north, South Sound is delightfully uncrowded in summer, and almost deserted the rest of the year.  As I mention in the "About this Blog" page, it is possible to go for hours down there without seeing another boat.  While there are a few small marinas scattered throughout the area, the city of Olympia offers the only real chance for shopping or a restaurant meal.  Instead, the attraction here is peace, quiet, and beautiful scenery.

One of our favorite spots, and the one where you are likely to encounter at least a few other boats, is Jarrel Cove.  Located in a very sheltered bay indenting Harstine Island, Jarrel Cove is the site of an excellent marine state park as well as a small
At anchor in Jarrel Cove
commercial marina with a fuel dock and store.  It's a delightful place to anchor for a day or two, and when we visited in September this year, Compadre was the only boat moored at the park.

Other favorite spots include Eagle and McMicken Islands.  These tiny islands are both state parks, and offer a few mooring buoys and the opportunity to go ashore and explore.  But there isn't a lot exploring to be done, as the islands are just a few acres in size; a few minute's walk takes you
McMicken Island and Mt. Rainier
completely around (provided that the tide is out of course). And did I mention Mount Rainier?  If the weather is clear, and often it is in the summer, the views of Mt.  Rainier are spectacular from almost anywhere in the South Sound.  The views from  McMicken and Eagle Islands are particularly impressive.

As members of Bremerton Yacht Club we enjoy many privileges, one of which is our our outstation at Oro Bay on Anderson Island.  Facilities include a nice dock with electrical power and a picnic shelter onshore.  It's a great place to tie up for a couple days and visit with other club members.  But  
At the dock in Oro Bay.
it is not uncommon to be there by ourselves, with perhaps a Herron or a few Kingfishers for company. 

At anchor -- Oro Bay
 A collection of Compadre cruising pictures would not be complete without a view from the wheelhouse.  Cindy is an avid gardener and flower lover, and when we're onboard we're rarely
Underway on a calm, South Sound morning.
without flowers in the wheelhouse to brighten the day.

Regardless of whether we're cruising in South Sound or farther north, we are always aware that Compadre is a special sight for those onshore or on the water.  We're sometimes annoyed that boats seem to be "aiming" for us when we're underway, and some boats will come quite close before turning away on a safe heading.  They mean no harm of course -- they only wish to have a closer look.  We can't fault them for that!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How did this happen anyway?

Where does one start a blog?  Where else but at the beginning?  So here we go...

I'm often asked how two otherwise normal retired people, one of whom was a life-long sail-boater, ended up owning an old wooden power cruiser?  To most folks this might seem a crazy thing to do; after all, there are many opportunities to go boating without taking on the challenges of a boat nearly 80 years old.  But as I explain in the "About this blog" page, classic boat ownership is not at all crazy and can be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy and preserve a part of our maritime heritage.

It all started innocently enough with a Friday afternoon trip across Puget Sound on the Bainbridge Island ferry, normally not an unusual event for those of us living on the island.   As we were leaving the terminal in Seattle, Cindy and I noticed a long parade of boats in Elliot Bay, along with the local fire boat spouting huge streams of water -- obviously some sort of event.  As the parade got closer we realized these were all old, classic motor yachts, perhaps 20 or 30 of them.  And some looked old indeed, with plumb bows and very vertical lines.  Others clearly were more modern, but none newer than the 1950s. 
Bell Street Boat Parade

We had no way of knowing at the time that we had stumbled upon the largest gathering of classic motor yachts on the West Coast, and perhaps the largest anywhere:  The annual Bell Street Classic Rendezvous sponsored by the Classic Yacht Association.  After reading about the Rendezvous in the newspaper the next morning, we were on our way back across the Sound on the ferry for a visit.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

It turns out the boats we saw the day before were but a sampling of the ones in the Rendezvous.  There they were in Bell Harbor Marina!  In fact that was all there was in the marina that day -- more than 50 classic cruisers in all, and some dating from the 1920s.
Bell Street Rendezvous
We quickly learned that admission to this event was free to the public and than many of the boats were open for tours.  How could we resist?  We occasionally had seen boats like this in the past, but never so many in one place, and rarely in such good condition.  It didn't take long before we were talking to the owners, asking the obvious questions:  How did you get involved in this? And what does it take to own one of these?  As I mentioned on our website,, Cindy and I had been thinking about alternatives to our 31ft sailboat, but were having trouble envisioning ourselves in a modern fiberglass cruising trawler, the cruising boat of choice here in the Northwest.  We also learned that this Rendezvous was one of many held each year by the Classic Yacht Association (CYA).

We had such a great time that day that we decided we would attend another classic rendezvous if the chance came along.  Well, after visiting the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival later that summer, we were hooked.  We soon learned that these boats were relatively inexpensive to purchase, and that we probably could find a nice one for not much more than our sailboat was worth.  Off to talk to the yacht broker!  For the better part of a year we watched the listings for just the right boat:   Around 40ft overall, so we had room to take another couple cruising if we wished, and one with a single diesel engine (safe and economical).  And if possible we'd like a Stephens, which we knew was a quality builder. Well, a few boats came and went, but none were just right.  In May, 2007 we finally found several Stephens down in the San Francisco Bay Area, and arranged to see them.  From the listings none sounded just right, but we thought it would be useful to see them for future reference if nothing else.

As expected, one boat was in poor repair, and two other had other issues that disqualified them.  But there was still a boat up on the Napa River that still sounded interesting.  Except it had twin gasoline engines.  I had said many times I would never own a boat with inboard gasoline engines -- just too dangerous.  As it turned out, Compadre was just too nice a boat to turn down, gasoline engines or not.  Everything we were looking for; we would just learn to live with gasoline onboard.
Napa Valley Marina - May 2007:  Could this be the one?
In a few days we had finalized the deal and arranged for a survey.  Having never owned a wooden boat, let alone an old one, we didn't quite know what to expect.  Would she pass the survey?  What would the "to do" list look like (we knew there would be a list; just were hoping for nothing too dire).
Hauled out for the survey
As it turned out, the surveyor was a good one (selecting one is always a risk in an unfamiliar area), and he and I spent the entire day going from stem to stern.  In the end his list of "recommended" items totaled 52.  Being an experienced boat owner, just not a wooden boat owner, I knew that many of his listed items were easily fixed and were not serious.  In fact he thought Compadre was in remarkably good shape for her age, and with proper maintenance should give us many years of good service.  The last eight years have proven him correct -- we've had several medium-sized repair projects, but little more than we expected from the survey (more about those in later posts).

So that was it.  Done!  All we had to do was arrange for truck transport to Seattle and we would be classic boaters.  No problem... we had transported our sailboat from Chicago to Houston, and then later out to Seattle, so we know the drill.  Fortunately another classic Stephens owner in the Bay Area recommended an excellent trucker, and we were off. 
Arrival in Seattle
The trip to Seattle and launching went as planned.  And the sale of our sailboat was quick and easy.  We were classic boat owners, and off on a new adventure!
In we go -- Seattle 2007