Sunday, August 4, 2019

The simple life can get complicated

French Polynesia 2015

In many ways, living on a boat can be much more peaceful than living on land. The classic shot of a cruising boat shows a scenic anchorage with no one else around. It's why many people dream of living on the water.

Lost and found. The contractor who made
our new bearing lost both the original and new
bearing for a few weeks, but they turned up
when the wrong customer gave them back.

We have had more than our share of picturesque backdrops and deserted beaches. The flip side of living on a boat is that a lot of usually ordinary activities become a lot harder. Grocery shopping might mean walking several miles to the store (if you can even find one). Laundry for us in a remote place is washing by hand in a bucket. Having to fix something that needs a part from overseas can be an exercise in wrangling bureaucratic red tape and waiting. Sometimes it seems like it would be better to just bang your head against a wall repeatedly--at least something would be happening. Our latest saga involves trying to fix our rudder and illustrates the potential perils of doing any boat project.

The main reason we pulled Perry out of the water here in Pangkor was to investigate and fix a slight amount of movement in the rudder. The cause ended up being a lower rudder bearing that had come unglued.  The planned repair seemed pretty straightforward and we thought we had everything sorted before we left for India and Nepal. In a nutshell, we ordered the special plastic for the bearing from a place in Penang and handed it over to a contractor who was to fabricate a new one.

When we got back from our land trip, everything started to go downhill. A closer inspection of the rudder post revealed it to be corroding from the inside out. To replace the post would be a much bigger project than we wanted, especially if the blade was destroyed in the process. From past experience, we know that due to the age of our boat, Privilege can provide no assistance. After spending some time trying to rationalize that it would be fine to just repair the rudder post, we bit the bullet and accepted that the safest option was to replace it. 

All the time Matt has spent eating fiberglass dust (i.e. grinding) apparently paid off. In a minor miracle, he was able to extract the shaft from the fiberglass blade while keeping the fiberglass mostly intact. 

The opened rudder.
Extracting the old rudder shaft.
Matt was even able to keep the top
fiberglass piece--around the rudder hole--intact.
That will make it much easier to put back together.
We took the extracted rudder shaft and fiberglass spade to a local foundry to have a new one fabricated. The owner said it would be no problem and promised us a quote by the following day. The whole job would take less than a week. We were amazed at how easy everything was progressing. Yes, this is the part of the story with the obvious foreshadowing of bad things to come.

The foundry called the next day to say that our stainless steel shaft, which has a diameter of 39 mm is not a standard size. The factory, which deals in inches (it's like being back in the U.S.), only has standard 1.5" or 1.75" diameter rods (38.1 mm or 44.5mm). Other places have 40 mm rods. But no one in the world seems to have 39 mm. If your eyes are starting to cross at this point (I feel you), feel free to skip to the end--the bottom line is that we can't get the rudder post we need without spending way more than it's worth.

You might think that a millimeter would not be that big of a deal. But when you are dealing with rudder posts, that pesky one-thousandths of a meter (the size of the tip of a pencil) makes a big difference. The existing bearings (one of which is still securely fiberglassed into the boat) as well as the channel that Matt so cleanly dug out of the fiberglass blade are meant to fit a post that is exactly 39 mm. Trying to get a 40 mm post to fit would mean potentially screwing up the angle of the rudder, which can change the way the boat was designed to operate.

The option of going to 38 mm would also mean messing around with the existing bearings and channel, as well as putting a weaker post into place. Privilege stopped using 39 mm posts shortly after our boat was built and went up to 49 mm. Going down to 38 mm doesn't seem like the best move.

The simple answer would be to machine down a 40 mm (or larger) post to 39 mm. And there are lots of local companies that can do that (including the foundry referenced above), but not for a rudder shaft that is over 7 feet long, like ours. 

The only places we have found that can do this are in the U.S. They are "reasonably" priced ($500 for a rod that would cost $150 off-the-shelf here) but it costs a gazillion dollars to ship here to Malaysia (okay, not that much but more than the rod costs). And believe me, the U.S. firms are almost as unexcited about doing this for us as we are about paying for it. Most of the companies that can do these jobs are used to dealing with companies with repeat jobs and big quantities.

Stay tuned to see if we have to spend the money to have the dumb hunk of steel sent to us halfway across the world (can you hear the gritting of my teeth in that sentence?). 


  1. Try finding a COMMERCIAL shipyard with a big lathe. It's pretty common work to turn down prop shaft etc for them.


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