Another Lesson Learned

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First Officer
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Joined: Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:06 pm
Sailboat: MacGregor 26X
Location: White Rock, B.C. 96 26X Hull#486 96Merc ELPT 50HP 4 Stroke

Another Lesson Learned

Post by Whipsyjac » Sun Jul 31, 2016 12:11 pm

Ahoy Sailors,

These last couple years I have been off the water almost as much as I've been off line. In 2014 we made 3 long weekend cruises for about 300nm total. In 2015 a day sail and a single overnighter for 85 or so NM. I did in that time find a prop which helped me over 15kts with my Merc 50. Which leads me to my newest lesson learned(I'm my own worst problem).

Over the 5 seasons we've had Whipsyjac I played with the props incessantly since I was nowhere near the magical advertised 20kts. My best speed was 14kts no mast until a new prop last year. When I tried a 4blade vortex but it would ventilate in less than ideal conditions, the tiny props that came with my boat had almost 50%slip and one would even hit the rev limiter at 6,300rpm WOT. During this time I often quickly changed props on the water.

This spring I acquired a new prop in the same line as the one that worked so well last year. I've already made 230NM this year. So after a 60+mile trip with my 2016 prop I decided to take a quick comparison with the 2015 prop. However we had a busy schedule in June and with 3 separate crossings planned in 2 weeks we left the mast off and packed light. My 2015 prop gave me max RPM at WOT with full rig and medium load, this time out lightly loaded and single handing with no rig it was over revving, so I decided on a quick on the water change and the lesson began.

I have tools and props quickly accessible with spare thrust washers, nuts, keepers, and a floating prop wrench. So after determining that I didn't want to run a prop that over revved and gave a lower speed at acceptable RPM I simply maneuvered out of the channel, shut off the engine, lifted the motor and swapped props.

Problem! The engine wouldn't turn over. I tried switching help...the pull start? wouldn't budge...combine batteries and watch with engine cover off...quarter turn only and nothing...Despair!

I didn't "Panic" but I did "Despair" I started thinking about a ruined engine, about my wife "panicking" when I didn't make it(she was meeting me by ferry), all our plans falling through, huge bills, and finally I was drifting.

Drifting, I was in front of Crescent beach, a gigantic sandy shoal, not a danger to my hull, I could probably walk along in the shallows pushing my boat to a safe place. I couldn't push my boat in the shallows to the marina/ramp, there are several obstacles to that. WHAT TO DO????

I thought "the prudent skipper takes cautious action early to avoid a dangerous scenario" I felt that the earlier I decided I couldn't help myself the better and safer the end result. Being near the marina and in no immediate danger I telephoned them and asked for the number of the local SeaTow. When I contacted the SeaTow operator and told him my predicament his first response was "Do you have and anchor?" I FELT LIKE A TOTAL BUFFOON ...of course I have an anchor! Actually 2 anchors both complete with chain and rode ready to be deployed. Then I calmly(still despairing of my ruined motor and plans) waited for my tow and hoped I would be able to haul out before the tide fell too low.

The tow was uneventful other than being seen by Liverpool Lou a MYCBC :macx: the tow operator was professional, calm, confident, and non-condemning. The tide was still high enough for me to haul out. After I hauled out and was preparing to trailer home another couple who launched just before me and had already returned came to ask about my misadventure opening the conversation with "we always wanted an :macx: ". Once my story turned to the prop swap the other fellow walked back to look at the prop I had on. He grabbed it to give it a spin and it wouldn't budge, that got my attention and I suddenly saw it was crooked!

So the analysis of the problem is:

1. I turned off the engine while still in gear.
2. I misaligned the prop on the thrust washer and tightened it down jamming everything
3. I then put the throttle control to neutral but the transmission couldn't release.
4. With the prop and gears jammed the engine wouldn't turn over it just barely moved.
5. IF I had put the engine in neutral before turning off, the engine would have started but putting it in gear would've/could've caused minor to major damage to the lower unit easily surpassing the cost of the tow and ruining my trip possibly even the rest of the boating season.

With the tide dropping quickly to a no-launch scenario and home being a 20minute tow from the marina, I opted for home. This let me wash everything down, get the boat propped properly, run some tests with the hose hooked up and give myself time to settle down.

I headed back to the marina several hours later, made my crossing, and had a great weekend in the Gulf Islands with family and friends stopping at SaltSpring, Galiano, Saltspring, Galiano, Thetis, Galiano, Mayne and finally home to Crescent Beach 110NM later. All without a hiccup from my new 2016 Prop.

So what are the lessons?

1. If it ain't broke don't fix it(regular maintenance aside) I've caused a lot of my own problems by tinkering and tweaking instead of leaving well enough alone(I made a similar problem happen by "tweaking" my steering one year).

2. When a problem arises don't start with a complacent attitude. I wasn't at all concerned about drifting...until I was! I could've/should've anchored when I wanted to change props instead of playing a "beat the clock" scenario. I should've treated my problem with more respect immediately and run through the ABCs which I hope would've had me drop anchor immediately instead of dealing with a growing concern over drifting.

3. I should've started by securing my boat(again with the anchor but still worth repeating even if only for myself) then with all the time in the world re-checked my work. It was very obvious the prop was crooked but instead of an ABC approach I was dealing with the wrong symptom: not starting. I don't remember lifting the leg on the water to inspect the prop and my work.

4. I PANICKED. I said before I didn't because at that point I didn't think I was. But looking back, I did. When the engine didn't start immediately I began scatter brained attempts to start it. I let my mind develop several worst case scenarios and despaired of them. I didn't take a reasoned step by step evaluation of my situation. I gave up on myself or at least my ability to help myself.

5. When to call and who to call. I'm not sure how I did. A :macx: in 10ft of water drifting at 1kt toward a sandy beach is in no immediate danger. Water, food, etc all available. No medical problems. Definitely not a Mayday. Before noon on a beautiful Sunday, calling PanPan and taking the time of a good samaritan(and who knows how experienced at towing) seemed selfish. Being close 3NM or so to the marina where there is a professional(I'd met on previous occasions) I decided to use my cel phone not my radio and call for help. Note I did try to radio the marina but used the wrong channel(I should have a little list beside the radio).

So there you are, I feel humbled and wiser even a little more confident also close to half a boat buck poorer but overall it was a nothing event BUT a great learning opportunity.

A note about my props:

The ones that came with the Whipsyjac (1996 fairly stock :macx: ) aren't worth discussing at about 50% slip.

I'm running a 1996 Mercury 50hp 4-stroke ELPT carburated motor non-bigfoot (1.83:1gears) with a recommended WOT rpm range of between 5500 and 6000

The michigan wheel Vortex 4 blade had amazing acceleration, and great reverse thrust for docking and maneuvering. It wouldn't rev past 4,900 and only gave me 14kts at the very best(like once). It ventilated easily(I was considering lowering the motor on the transom) and I often had to switch to one of the little blender blades my boat came with.

In 2015 I got a Michigan wheel Large Area 3 blade(elephant ear) Vortex 12-1/4"diameter 9 pitch(largest diameter I can run) 992601. With a light to medium load and my mast up it consistently put us over 15kts and had good acceleration and good reverse thrust. First weekend out it seemed to run at 5900-6000rpm@WOT. This year lightly loaded and no mast it was revving 6300 at 16kts and as I've experienced before that is just at the rev limiter.

This spring 2016 I went up 2 inches of pitch(as per usual recommended spread on props). I thought I'd have a prop for light loads and a prop for heavy loads. I bought the same series Mi Wheel but as you increase the pitch in the series the diameter drops slightly it is Mi Vortex 992603 11-5/8"dia x 11" pitch. It reaches 5400rpm with 2 aboard 5500 with me alone no mast and 5000-5100 with the cockpit full of adults. Top speed with no rig,2 people, medium load: 16kts, me alone: 17.5kts(I'm aware of and filtering out the effects of current) I hit 21kts in Active Pass running with the current.

I could have the 9pitch tweaked at the prop shop or I could by another prop the 99602 which is in between the two in dia and pitch. This would keep from changing props in all but the most extreme circumstances. I would probably keep the 99603 for more fuel efficiency when cruising below hull speed( I think I would test that theory first).

I think the 4 blade was made in USA but the 3 blades are made in Korea. The interchangeable hub slid out of the 4blade easily but does not come out of the 3 blade props without a perfectly matched socket driven by a 2lb hammer. I would definitely get another hub kit(just the rubber insert if Ican) to make sure prop changes go smoothly.

I hope you liked my story, I feel dumber and smarter at the same time but more confident on the water.

Happy cruising,


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Re: Another Lesson Learned

Post by taylormade » Sun Jul 31, 2016 3:37 pm

Glad you got out of it relatively unscathed. Whenever something like this happens, I've learned it's always best to look at it at a physical level, leaving electronics and motors (technology) out of it. One of the IT divisions I oversee is the help desk and our guys have a script they have to read that asks "what's it doing (or not doing)?, When did it start or stop doing it? How long has it been doing this? What changed? etc. That last one helps us more than anything else. "Alright, fess up, what did you do?" :D

I can't tell you how much time has been wasted in my 20+ years in IT troubleshooting things that weren't plugged in because they needed that plug for their space heater, didn't have paper in printer and didn't know why it wasn't printing, etc. It took me way too long to learn, but now I always start at the physical layer. What did you do? Undo it and try again. :P

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