Monday, August 22, 2016

Out of Control

(Note: this is an impossibly long and technical post. I promise I will reward you with pretty pictures later. If you have the task of changing the control cables in your boat, please read on.)

Item # 17 on Tim's list: Throttle cable needs replaced.

Item # 18 on Tim's list: Shifter cable needs replaced.

One of the problems with projects like that on a list are that those eight words represent three and a half weeks of calendar time (rainy days and other things like errands and waiting on parts get in the way), and 9 actual days of working time. That's a long time to go without checking anything off The List.

Now if you think that any monkey ought to be able to change out three control cables on a sailboat in less than 9 days, be sure you never purchase a sailboat with a V-drive, at least one that Tartan made. Westerbeke was kind enough to place all the common service items on one side of the engine - oil filter, fuel filters, fuel pump, injectors, control cables - and then Tartan promptly turned the engine around backwards, installed a V-drive, and jammed all those nicely accessible service items right up against the refrigerator with a whopping 1" of space between, and that includes the 1" thick sound insulation.

It took every ounce of willpower this perfectionist could drum
up not to rip everything out here and start over. Who installs
things this way?? Those are my pink messenger lines.
Next, you take that same engine and add 29 years of previous owners and their desire to have all the latest electronic gadgets that require wire to be run hither and yon, and the adequately sized cutout in the bulkheads that the control cables were fed through all the sudden become horribly, inadequately, completely jammed full. Then there's the string of tie-wraps attaching all of that rat nest of wires to the control cables that have to be cut, some of them (of course) in the cubby at the foot of the aft berth under everything stored there, and it's full.

As if all of that wasn't enough, add the fact that some genius designer around the time of Noah decided that both the throttle and the shifter cables should be clamped in the same clamp, and that the clamp should reside 10 inches down inside the binnacle which has a diameter roughly the size of a grapefruit, and into which is stuffed a shaft, a shaft brake, steering chain, wire rope and lighting wiring. Of course, to do this one has to remove the shifter housing which is held on by four very long machine screws which have likely never been removed in 30 years and have frozen solid (3 hours, chisel, vice grips). No less, the genius (read: sadist) decided that to remove the cables (one of which comes up on either side of the wheel shaft), one has to disconnect the cable clamp, tie a line onto the cable ends, push the cable ends down into the binnacle, work the throttle cable under the shaft and then pull them both up on the port (shifter) side. Unfortunately, the genius failed to consider the fact that the clamp is larger than the space left between the shaft and the steering chain so it requires lifting the chain off the sprocket to provide the extra half inch missing.

Rudder post and steering wire rope in the background
The difficulty there lies in the fact that the chain is held in place by the wire rope attached to it, which is in turn held in place by the nuts fastening it onto the rudder quadrant. In order to lift the chain off in the binnacle, one has to empty the lazarette, climb down inside, unhook the wire rope from the rudder quadrant, climb back out, lift the chain off the sprocket. Oh, and then remember to reattach the nuts so you can lock the rudder down so the oh-so-kind sport fishermen in the marina don't break your rudder during their 5-knot approach to their slip next to yours. Hopefully, you remember this before you have put everything back into the lazarette (ask me how I know this.)

Three of my favorite tools. Two different lengths of bronze rod
and a ball of butyl tape. Combined, they are life savers for
maneuvering and retrieving all sorts of things.
After the chain is lifted off the sprocket, you need a long screwdriver or my favorite tool, a two-foot piece of bronze rod with hooks bent on each end, to work the clamp out of the binnacle so you can remove the control cables. Why in the world somebody designed it that way I have absolutely no idea. The logical way would have been to have single cable clamps on each side of the binnacle but, hey, I'm just a grunt mechanic so what do I know? Doing all of this necessitates unhooking the control cables from the engine end as well to give you the play needed. Ahhh...the plot thickens.

Remember the V-drive? To unhook the shifter cable from the engine end, you have to remove a cable clamp (one of the most accessible in the whole job), and then remove the cotter key holding the pin that runs through the clevis which attaches to the shifter arm. This was the easiest thing in the whole job and it took me two hours.
One of the screws for the clamp deep inside the engine

Since I was going to be doing the other two cables, I decided to replace the fuel cutoff cable as well. To remove the engine end attachments for the throttle and fuel cutoff, you have to remove the cables from the cable clamps and remove a nut from a ball fitting on the throttle and a set screw from the fuel cutoff. Each of those two attach points took over four hours. For two screws. Most of that time was spent laying on the engine with my arm nearly up to my elbow jammed between the fuel manifold and the exhaust anti-siphon hose. Working with one hand. Blind. The screws were standard, not phillips, and were less than an inch from the fridge side wall which meant using an offset screwdriver attached to my wrist with my handy 3-cent tool keeper, and getting about 1/32 of the full turn between each time I dropped the screwdriver. Easily retrieved by my tool keeper, wash, rinse, repeat...and repeat...and repeat...

Once you're ready to remove the cables, you have to attach messenger lines to them (I used Gorilla duct tape) and attach the bitter end of those lines to something on the engine. My messenger lines did get tangled on more than one occasion because I used standard weight messenger line. Notes on messenger lines: use a little heavier line like paracord  that you can really tug on, and color code them if you're doing more than one cable at a time. When you're reinstalling them, you'll be glad you did as you're often working in different cubbies where you can't see the whole line.

Three days to remove three cables. The first delay was waiting on the cables. Our shifter cable was a 6400 model Teleflex, and the really good parts guru here at Snead Island couldn't find one. Turns out, the only reason we had a 6400 was because the boat was originally outfitted with a Paragon transmission which requires one. Now we have a Hurth transmission which can function on a 3300 model. Cheaper, more readily available and half the thickness. Score! Easier to run back through the stuffed bulkhead cutouts. Ahhh, but the plot thickens again.

Converting from the 6400 to the 3300 also requires changing out the shifter handle shaft on the binnacle. The shaft we had was too thick to accept the clevis that fits on the 3300 cable. Lots of chit-chatting with Edson's very capable and kind technical staff and we had the parts on order. Ordering was the easy part. Installing was another thing altogether. Another half day (and half a can of PB Blaster) down the drain. It turns out that the set screw in the end of the shifter handle wasn't what was holding it. 34 years of corrosion did just fine, thank you.

Running the new cables turned out to be much less of an issue than removing them. The new cables were much more flexible and slippery. It took me less than 6 hours to run all three new cables. Keep in mind that it would take considerably less time to do all of this with a helper. Part of the reason it took me so long was I was climbing in and out of the boat constantly and the companionway stairs were removed to access the engine. It also involved going from access panel to access panel from cubbie to cubbie, each time moving the cable just a few inches. Color coding the messenger lines is extremely helpful in this process.

Installing the binnacle fittings and getting the cables anchored in the binnacle was next. This involves figuring out a way to hang a flashlight in such a way that it can shine past your head which is squeezed between the cup holder and the binnacle while holding a very long piece of bronze rod with a hook on the end. Why you say? Because the bronze rod will be used to try to prod the cable clamp bolt down into the binnacle in such a way as it lines up with the teeny little hole, push on the clamp to push the bolt through the hole, and then hold it there while you feed the nut on the outside of the binnacle. Oh joy.

Edson binnacle cable clamp
Last, but not least, you have the fun of attaching the engine ends of the cables. Shifter cable was the easiest, done in  just a couple hours. The throttle and fuel cutoff cables go through the cable clamps with those screws that are right by the fridge wall - one full day to get those screws in and get the ends attached. Part of that time was spent cutting the utility cable for the fuel cutoff. In spite of the fact that it was measured against the old one, it was about two feet too long. Not a difficult job, just time consuming. (I loves me some Dremel.) This was the  most difficult day of the job. In fact, it's the most difficult job I've ever tackled on Kintala and I have the cuts and bruises to attest to that.

I finished the cable install on Friday, and wrote this post that evening, fully intending to get to publish it Saturday morning after Tim helped me do the engine run-up to test all the cable functions. Saturday morning came, the engine started, water poured nicely out of the exhaust thru-hull, the oil pressure came up and...the engine died. Somewhere during the contortions of getting my arms into the areas needed to remove and replace clamp screws, I must have pushed too hard on the many fuel lines and worked something loose and the engine got a little air in it. It doesn't take much on a diesel, like I said in a post not too long ago. Rats-n-frackin. The weekend passed with a bit of a gray cloud overhead. I really really wanted to check the project off my list before the weekend but it was not to be.

This morning I dug up all my enthusiasm and all my Westerbeast bleeding tools and set to work. An hour and a half later the engine roared to life and all my newly installed cables functioned as should be. A few lessons were learned here, which I thought I would recap:

  1. I should have just taken off the fuel manifold to give me access to the space where the clamp screws were. I thought of this, but since bleeding a Westerbeast is NOT FUN, and I had just done it a few weeks before, I didn't go that route. In the end it probably cost me two days. I confess to being worried about damaging a fuel line trying to take off the manifold which would have cost many, many more days so that's my main reasoning for not removing it
  2. Use good color-coded messenger lines.
  3. Double check the cable placement in the binnacle clamp before you go to all the trouble of installing the clamp. The cotter key has to be firmly in the groove in the cable. Ask me how I know.
  4. Disassemble your compass and binnacle pieces periodically and lube them with Tef-gel. You or some other future owner will greatly appreciate it some day
  5. Take the time to do things right. A previous owner had done a real hatchet  job on repairing the block base on the fuel cutoff handle in the cockpit. It took me most of a day to fix.
  6. Make use of good techinical service when it's available. The guys on the Edson tech line are top-notch.
  7. If you're going to be working way back in the bowels of a 34-year old Westerbeke, be sure to take off your rings. This one I actually did think of before I started.

So before my English major daughter states the obvious that this post is almost one long run-on sentence, it was written that way on purpose because this project was the project from hell that just wouldn't end. And now, I believe, it's time for a project that's easier and a bit more fun. Stay tuned...


John Clark said...


Robert Salnick said...

Aside from the very real risk of damaging the rings, they should always be removed when working on an engine because too many mechanics have lost fingers when they caught the ring on something, or when the ring completed a circuit somewhere and melted. In heavy industry it is common to prohibit rings on the factory floor for this reason.


Keith Wolfe said...

Jewelry is also prohibited when working on the flight-line (aircraft). However, this is not only because of the personal risk of having a finger ripped off your hand but also because if it falls into the bowels of an aircraft it could create a corrosion problem with the aluminium aircraft or cause something to malfunction later. A ring or tool can get jammed into something that is supposed to move freely or causes a short circuit as it vibrated against a wire long enough to wear through the insulation. Even so, I enjoyed working the flight-line on C-130s.

I must be old fashioned. As I read this post I kept thinking I would still trade him jobs. He can sit in my air-conditioned high-rise office where he can look out at at the grey city skyline and I'll take his place in the Florida heat tinkering on my own 40' sailboat. Now I realize Tim didn't post this and Deb was the worker bee. I also realize she is irreplaceable. My hats off to you both.

Stuart McCullough said...

Ahh! The difference between design for manufacture and design for service.. And your boat was built long before design for manufacturing really kicked in. Pity the poor devils that 34 years from now will have to fix some of the boats being built today......