The Prop-er Thing To Do - August 16, 2002
By The Ithaka - Published August 16, 2002 - Viewed 631 times
By Douglas Bernon More articles by this author
Your boat may be tricked out with electric winches, carbon-fiber masts, 80-gallon-an-hour watermakers, 25,000-BTU air conditioning, full-color integrated radar/GPS chart plotters, plus every high-tech, mega-giga-gizmo known to creation, but if you don’t got a dinghy to get around in, you’re just toast. Everyone out here relies on them totally; your dink is your workhorse, limo, motor scooter, escape pod, ticket to the reef, pick-up truck, and the lifeblood of social experience in any anchorage. Families with kids soon conclude they need at least two dinks, and couples without kids often wish they had that many as well. Sure, sometimes you swim over to a friend’s boat, but mostly you drive the dink. So, when the dinghy motor’s not working, even though you can still get from here to there by rowing (which soft-bottom inflatables barely tolerate), it’s mighty slow going; you don’t go as far, you don’t go as fast, you don’t go in risky weather, a strong current or at night. In questionable moments, when it’s row-only time, you don’t tend to go at all. See where all this is leading?
photo courtesy of Marty Baker
Kuna huts dot the little cays of the isolated San Blas islands.
Edwin Sherman’s Outboard Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting and Repair-Be Your Own Outboard Mechanic, a first-rate diagnostic and how-to manual, is our Outboard Bible. Sherman’s a terrific teacher, and it’s easy to make sense of what he’s talking about, even if you know as little as I do. My only beef is that he and all the other how-to authors always tell you the right way to do stuff, and I’d place my money on ol’ Ed, that he could give Scotty a pretty good race for reinvigorating antimatter-propulsion systems, even if all he had on hand was bubble gum and chicken wire. But Ed, m’man, I just know you’re hoarding those "Now-kids-don’t-try-this-at-home" fix-it-on-the-spot secrets so you don’t have to sweat law suits and stuff. Sure. Sure. ABYC standards are just ducky, but out here in the real cruising hinterlands, when it comes to do-it-now-with-whatever-you-got-on-hand repairs, those standards are as useful as a handshake from your insurance company. Sometimes, the wrong way is the only way. You gotta make it up as you go.
|The challenges of the cruising life require a strong dinghy with a reliable outboard. (Mural from Nargana, San Blas)
|A picture of our first attempt at repairing our prop: showing the inner bronze casing, surrounded by the evil rubber and filled with too thin a layer of epoxy—a mistake that won’t be made in the future.
The rubber-hub system is a perfect example of product made to break, an unnecessary, potentially dangerous, and predictable failure merely awaiting an inopportune moment in your already maintenance-filled life. When that little sucker gives way, usually you can’t repair it properly, or quickly, and to read the how-to manuals you’d think you either need to buy a new prop, or in the felicitous jargon of the industry, you gotta get "rehubbed." I imagine one prop commiserating with another: "Yeah, man, I hit some hard times, and now I’m in rehub."
Frank and Lynda from Simba
Being reasonable planners, we had a spare prop at the ready when our hub disintegrated. I’d bought it from the Nissan dealer when we’d bought the motor—a little over two years ago—and foolishly I figured it would fit. But of course it didn’t, and in the middle of the San Blas Islands, we found the spare to be useless.
Frank came over, and together we tried to figure a solution.
"Screw it," declared My Personal Commodore. At first I thought this an uncharacteristically indelicate comment from someone so proper, but Bernadette meant it literally. She thought we should set some screws through the prop into the bronze sleeve that fits onto the shaft. Being guys, we couldn’t accept a girl’s advice immediately. No, we decided. That was too radical, and we’d run the risk of scoring and stripping the shaft, causing permanent damage. Instead, as a first step, Frank and I decided to reinforce what rubber was left with two-part epoxy. We removed as much as we could of the softened rubber, grooved some channels in it to accept the epoxy, then filled it and let it dry for a day. Finally, we put the whole rig back together and engaged the prop.
|This is either Bernadette ready to vent her frustration on one of the manufacturers of these new-fangled props, or it’s a mola by Lisa Harris depicting a biblical scene of Isaac and Jacob.|
But our repair is temporary, and not ideal, and when it fails I’ll follow the advice offered by Yarif, a long-time cruiser on an Israeli boat named Carne. We met him a few days after we made our so-far-successful prop repair. Yarif told me that after several rubber-hubbed props had stranded him on distant reefs, he came up with a more radical and, so far, permanent solution. "I don’t trust these new props at all," he said. "Your set screws will buy you a couple of years. But here’s the only thing to do to really fix the problem. The moment you get home from the store with a brand new prop, gouge out every molecule of that stinking rubber and replace it with inflexible two-part epoxy. It’s the only way to go. I’ve done that on mine and haven’t had a problem in years." I think of him as Yarif McGyverstein.
No doubt Yarif’s system would never gain approval from the ABYC or the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but keeping it in mind may help get a few people back on the road—after they row themselves the three miles back to the mother ship.
|The fishermen present Douglas with their dilemma|
|A close-up of the Kunas’ problem prop, showing their many repairs|
"I guess that’s more my problem than theirs," I said. "Maybe helping out should be such a regular part of the fabric of daily life, like breathing, that there’s no need to say thank you."
|Douglas and Frank jump in the dink to return the repaired prop to the Kunas|
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