Thursday, June 15, 2017

On the Hard Again: Getting It Straight - Background

This is going to be a long story.

The story starts in May of 2016 while en-route run from Sarasota to Hingham. During a routine engine check, I discovered black dust on the absorbent pad underneath the port side transmission coupling The pad was absolutely clean when we departed Sarasota.  This condition manifested itself after 1,421 NM and 200 hours of running since leaving Sarasota. My engines had just reached the 1,000 hour mark.

Port Coupling - Rubber dust on absorbent pad after 200 hours
 
Starboard coupling - no dust
Explanatory Note #1: My practice is to maintain clean absorbent pads underneath the engines and transmissions. This makes it very easy to spot a problem with the running gear, such as a fluid leak

According to Randy Ives, Outer Reef's Warranty Manager, the black rubber dust was coming from a bearing in the coupling and that eventually the coupling would need repair. He took the position that failure was not imminent and that I should address the problem when I came south in November.

Explanatory Note #2: According to Evolution Marine, the Evolution Flexible Shaft Coupling (EFSC) solves misalignment, absorbs and dampens shock loads and shaft vibrations, prolongs the life of machinery, and isolates metal-to-metal for quietness.

The EFSC is comprised of four major components: 1) a spool flange machined to bolt directly to the reduction flange; 2) a large circular rubber flex joint that's replaceable; 3) a split flange coupling for the shaft with pinch bolts, set bolts, and key-way; 4) a retainer cover that serves to protect the rubber flex joint, capture all bolts, and improve overall strength of the unit.

Meanwhile, at the completion of the May 2016 trip north, the Caterpillar C9 engines were ready for their 1,000 hour maintenance service. So, upon arrival in Hingham I put out quote requests to Milton Caterpillar and three other Cat AMDs (Authorized Marine Dealers). The 1,000 hour service involves, in addition to a normal oil/filter change, cleaning of the aftercoolers, heat exchangers, turbo chargers and a valve adjustment. This is a big deal (read as expensive - easily $10,000). Months go by an I get no response.

So I follow-up with the four perspective servicers. Milton Cat, the "big regional" Cat dealer was not interested in my project (and they will only work on engines - I have transmissions and generators that also need service - so I was really not interested in them). Two of the other Cat AMDs were too busy.  The third, Hansen Marine, took an interest in the project but they needed three tries to produce an estimate that closely reflected the 1,000 hour service tasks and required parts. They finally produced the "almost satisfactory" quote after I detailed the labor tasks and parts for them (using my Wheelhouse Technology Application).

Explanatory Note: Why, you ask, am I adamant that the servicer give me an estimate that lists all maintenance tasks and required parts? Simple. I want to ensure that the servicer can complete the job in one visit. I also want to shop for the best price. I do not think that is unreasonable.

Side Story: My son-in-law, Scott McBeth, runs a jet ski rental business at the Lighthouse Inn in West Dennis on Cape Cod. During his visit, which was just before my departure to Marblehead, he told me a story about getting ripped off on both parts and labor for a jet ski repair. Just for grins I decided to check Hansen's pricing on parts using my Wheelhouse Technology Maintenance Application. Oops. Hansen had overpriced about 15 parts to the tune of $600 as compared to Wheelhouse prices (which, by their own admission, are already marked up 10% over retail). So I bring the boat to Marblehead and the morning before starting the job, I bring the pricing "error" to Hansen's Service Manager's attention. Bad result. Tom calls back and says the owner, Bob Hansen, wont change the pricing. I get Bob on the phone and he gets defensive and belligerent (not to mention illogical about the reason for the overcharge). I don't like getting ripped off and Diana is shocked by Bob's reaction. We cancel the project.

Oops its September and I'm headed back to Florida on November 1 and I have no one to perform the 1,000 hour service. Back to the drawing boards. With a little help from Caterpillar I locate Guy Crudele, a Cat AMD located in Gloucester. Guy gets the parts and labor tasks right on the first quote and prices the parts at retail. Hallalujah!!!! Not only that, he completes the project on time and on budget. Hallalujah, Hallalujah!!!!

Meanwhile back to the Evolution Coupling Story. I made contact early on with Chris Murray at Soundown, the company that had acquired the Evolution Coupling business. After lengthy discussion, I decided to buy a new coupling ($2,700 - thank you) and have it installed when I returned to Florida. My logic for the new coupling was to swap out the "bad" one, have it rebuilt and keep it as a spare

So, upon arrival in Sarasota in November 2016, I immediately made arrangements to haul the boat and swap out the coupling. I chose Bayfront Yacht Yard, a division of Marina Jack, to address the coupling swap-out and bottom painting, which was definitely needed after three years.

Days before the scheduled haul-out a powerful northeast storm literally pushed the the water out of the ICW. Bayfront is located on Siesta Key and is accessed only from the ICW.  Bayfront, under normal circumstances, could only haul our boat at high tide and even then we would have only 6" of bottom clearance. Following the storm and for weeks thereafter (and in fact for the rest of the winter), Bayfront never saw even 5 feet at high tide (and even with a full moon). Good news, bad news. In this case they are both the same, We were unable to haul the boat, which turns out to be VERY GOOD NEWS as we would never have been able to launch it. In other words, Diana, Kodi and I would have been homeless for the winter.

Another Side Story: In anticipation of the haul-out, we rented a lovely 3 bedroom two bath home close to Siesta Key (and the boat) for 10 days using the HomeAway website. Unfortunately, we could not use it due to the water depths. So we lost $2,000. Again, good news. If the boat had stayed on the hard the financial loss would have been a $12,000 - $16,000 to rent a place for 4 months.

Back to the drawing boards. It took another two months to arrange a haul-out to address the coupling, bottom paint and other projects. This time I selected Embree Marine Services, a boat yard in St. Petersburg with a great reputation.


On Sunday, March 12, I cruised to the Harboridge Marina in St. Pertersburg with Phil Fuoco (a two time crew member - 2014) along with his wife Carol and two of their friends. It was a beautiful day for a cruise and we ended it with dinner at the St Petersburg Yacht Club.  The goal was to position the boat for an early Monday morning high tide haul out at Embree. After dinner, I drove my friends back to Sarasota and then drove back to St. Petersburg.

Approaching the channel that ends at Embree Marine Services
Early Monday morning, I pulled out of Harboridge and proceeded down a narrow channel to Embree. You can see by the photo of the Travelift that I arrived at high tide. Glitch. Due to the positioning of the boat on the Travelift (she was stern heavy), they needed to off load 300 gallons of fuel from the aft auxiliary tanks to enable them to lift the boat.


Arriving at Embree

The 63 was still in the water by the time we departed for Fort Lauderdale
Diana and I then took off for a two week "vacation" in Fort Lauderdale Florida. Our friends, Sophocles and Elena, generously gave us the use of their beautiful condominium with a spectacular 230 degree views that encompassed the city, the Atlantic and the ICW.

Jackson Towers, our home for two weeks
Houston, we have a problem. Ok, I admit that may be a bit more dramatic than necessary. On Friday morning, four days into the project I get a call from Chad Shakespeare, the Service Manager at Embree, informing me of a serious problem with the new coupling. It had a flange capable of receiving a 2.75 inch shaft. The shaft on the 63 is 2.5 inches. Oops.

I immediately informed Chris Murray at Soundown of the flange problem. Chris said "no problem," just have the yard remove the flange from the old coupling and install it on the new one. We did this and the project proceeded. Turns out it was not that simple.

Embree finished the projects on Thursday, March 22. Early Friday morning Diana and I drove 5 hours from Fort Lauderdale, stopped in Sarasota to pick up my friend, Jim Lampl, and drove to St. Petersburg arriving at around 12:00 PM. Jim and I departed at 2:00 PM after dealing with a few last minute issues. Our goal was to get back to Sarasota for a 7:00 PM dinner party with the Singers. We actually got there at 7;30 PM - lovely dinner party. OK, some days are a bit hectic.

Unfortunately, all was not well with the port engine running gear. Upon arrival at Sarasota I discovered that there was a leak at the shaft seal, which manifested itself on the clean absorbent pad that I had installed before leaving Embree.

I informed Chad that the shaft seal was leaking along with a couple of other minor issue. No problem says he and several days later, on April 10, his top technician, Randy Cornett, arrived at Marina Jack to address the issues. Randy had me "sea trial" the boat at the dock by putting the port engine in gear at idle speed. Sure enough, we saw water leaking at the seal and more importantly, perceptible motion at the power takeoff and shaft seal. Randy declared that the alignment was not successful. Randy and I contacted, discussed Randy's findings with Chad and we agreed on a date to haul the boat. BOY, DO I LIKE DEALING WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE INTEGRITY!!

Now the project get's more complicated. Chris Murray from Soundown was not happy with the flange swap-out and felt it may be contributing to the misalignment. So, he had Embree ship the old coupler back to Soundown so it could be rebuilt and have a 2.5 inch flange installed. Due to the fact that I was departing on May 1 for Hingham, Soundown expedited the rebuild and shipped the coupling to Embree overnight (read as very expensive). Just for the record, the new coupling, the rebuild and the shipping came to $5,181. Ouch!

Note: Chris also agreed, as part of the deal, to rebuild the new (now old) coupling once it was removed. The plan was tag it and store is as a "spare."

Guided Discovery "On The Hard Again"
On Tuesday, April 25, accompanied by Phil Fuco, I cruised to St. Petersburg to haul the boat at Embree. Upon arrival, Embree off loaded 300 gallons of fuel from the auxiliary tanks to facilitate the lift. Chad's team went to work, hauled the boat, swapped out the coupling, installed a new lip seal and, working in conjunction with Chris Murray, re-did the alignment. I returned on Thursday, April 28th to take possession of the boat.

Reader's Note: The following paragraph appears in the article "Decisions, Decisions and Still More Decisions."

"The boat was hauled on Tuesday, April 25, at Embree Marine Services to correct an alignment problem on the port engine. On that haul, Embree had removed 300 gallons of fuel from the auxiliary tanks to facilitate the lift. On my instructions, they returned all 300 gallons to the main tanks, which topped them off, and put the excess (31 gallons) in the auxiliary tanks. Therefore, I left St Petersburg Florida on Thursday, April 28 with 1,000 gallons in the main tanks. Upon arrival in Sarasota I noted a fuel burn of 39 gallons. At departure on Monday morning I had 960 gallons in the mains (and 31 gallons in the auxiliaries)."

After the off-loaded fuel was pumped back into the tanks (see above), Chad, Randy and I took the 63 for a sea trial off the local waters. This version included running the boat through the full power curve to check for any vibration and to exert maximum stress on the running gear. Chad came up to the bridge with the bad news. The shaft seal was leaking and they could see perceptible motion at the power takeoff and seal. Chad took the helm and I went to see for myself.

As we headed for the city dock the three of us discussed the situation in relation to the upcoming 1500 NM cruise to Hingham. Chad explained that he had done his best and was now out of options (even if I agreed to delay the trip north). He agreed to refund the cost of the alignment $1,080. He did not think that the misaligned running gear posed a safety problem that would cause me not to make the trip north. That said, the 200 hour run north would probably damage the coupling. So the consequence was strictly financial.

Did I mention that I like doing business with people of integrity? Chad Shakespeare and Embree Marine are good people who stand behind their work. Most of their work was successful and where they failed they corrected the problem or refunded the charge. Hard to argue.

So, you ask, where is the pony in this pile of manure? By heading north back to Massachusetts I have the opportunity to work directly with Soundown, the manufacturer of the coupling and their engineer, Chris Murray. Soundown's headquarters is located in Salem Mass which is close to Gloucester where there are marinas with the ability to haul the 63.

Stay tuned for part two of the story.

Written by Les.













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