Replacing the rudder on a P-34

The rudder on my 1984 P-34 "Kristeph" (shoal draft) has been "loose" for a few years, but had gotten much worse this year. What I mean by "loose" is that the rudder itself (fiberglass shell) will move laterally about 2" on the trailing edge without the shaft moving Ė whatever is holding the shaft in place inside the rudder has failed.

Originally, I was hoping that my boatyard (Britannia in Northport, NY) would be able to do the labor portion of the job. But after getting no response from them after a couple of inquiries, and needing to get it out on a timely basis, I decided to try doing it myself. Not knowing much about how rudders are attached, I consulted with Rudy of D&R Marine in MA. He has the molds for the P-34 rudder. P-34 rudders are known for this particular weakness and Rudy has built several replacements already. He instructed me to remove the rudder first to determine which of two shaft lengths was used before I could order a new one. I figured if I could remove the rudder, installing the new one should be pretty simple. He told me the steps necessary, which Iíll outline below. Donít attempt this alone. I had my good friend, Bruce Smith, with me throughout, not only because this requires four hands and lots of muscle, but for moral support as well (when things started going south!). Anyway, hereís whatís involved (bear with me Ďcause I tend to be a little verbose):

  1. The first step is to remove the steering quadrant from the rudder shaft. This is not too difficult, except for the fact that itís a pretty cramped space to work in. I went in on the starboard side through the hatch in the aft end of the quarter berth. I had to remove the pegboard panel to gain access to the center of the boat.
  2. The steering cables must be removed from the quadrant first. This just requires backing off and removing the pair of nuts on each cable end fitting. This requires a 7/16" wrench. I was lucky enough to have a 7/16" deep socket that saved a bit of time. You may need to stick a screwdriver in the eye portion of the eyebolt to hold it steady while you back off the nuts. Once the nuts are off (be careful not to drop them in the bilge), just pull the cables out of the holes on the quadrant. There is a small stainless plate holding the cables into the aft end of the aft half of the quadrant. I found that I didnít have to remove this, there is enough slack in the cables to allow the aft half of the quadrant to be moved.
  3. The next step is splitting the two halves of the quadrant. There are a total of six bolts holding it together; two short bolts on the outboard sides both port and starboard, and four bolts holding it together around the shaft, something like the bolts on bearing caps holding a crankshaft into an engine block. These took quite a bit of force (actually a hammer on the socket wrench) to break them free (18 years of corrosion between dissimilar metals Ė aluminum quadrant and stainless bolts). Once all these bolts are removed, the quadrant splits easily and can be removed. The forward half can be completely removed, and the aft half, with the steering cables still attached, can just be pushed aside.
  4. Now the key in the rudder shaft must be removed. There was a hose clamp around the key and shaft that I removed first. Not sure what the purpose of this is other than to keep the quadrant from slipping down if it somehow loosened up (canít see how that could ever happen). This is a very interesting key and keyway. The key and keyway are exactly the same length and shape, 3/8" square and 4 5/8" long with rounded ends. It almost looks like it was a press fit! And it seemed that way when I tried to get it out. At first it wouldnít budge, but after spraying on some Liquid Wrench (one of my "miracle tools"), it came out easily. Keep the key Ė Rudy doesnít give you a new one!
  5. Now that all the internals have been removed, my attention focused on the externals. The rudder is held into the boat by a bronze "shoe" at the aft bottom of the skeg. This shoe is a "U" shaped bronze fitting that "wraps" around the bottom of the skeg, with a flat section extending aft into the slot in the rudder. The rudder shaft actually sits halfway into the flat section of the bronze shoe, but doesnít go all the way through. There is a good deal of filler (about ľ" thick) on either side of the shoe on the skeg, covering the bolt heads. This must be chipped away. This is quite easy, but do it carefully. Removing the filler reveals the two screws holding the shoe onto the skeg. I assumed that theyíd be hex head bolts, but to my surprise they turned out to be bronze flat head slotted machine screws! After carefully cleaning out the slots, I put my largest screwdriver in the slot and tried to turn it. Not a chance! Gee, what a surprise! Only 18 years of being assembled in an underwater saltwater environment! What was I thinking! Hereís where having Bruce around was so helpful.
  6. We spent some time trying to acquire a tool that would remove the screws. We considered an impact wrench, but couldnít locate one. I also purchased a hammer driven impact driver. What a waste of time and money. What we ended up with seemed to do the job quite well. This is where some good old-fashioned American ingenuity came into play. We got a socket that had a large screwdriver blade instead of a hex-head opening to fit my Ĺ" drive. Itís called a drag link socket, and itís the key to getting these screws out. We actually had to grind down the screwdriver blade side to make it small enough to fit the slots on the bronze screws. But, no matter how hard we pushed against the screw, the blade would slip out of the slot. These screws are really in there! SoÖ pushing against it wonít workÖ how about pulling it against the screw head from the other side? Bruce went home and got a large "C" clamp he had picked up at a garage sale. We placed the drag link socket on my Ĺ" drive breaker bar and clamped around the skeg to hold the socket firmly into the slot. This means that the clamp was around the breaker bar, socket, and the skeg. I would set the end of the "C" clamp on the breaker bar and socket, then Bruce would tighten it up from the other side. Then I backed the screws out ľ turn at a time and repeated the process many times. It actually worked!! After the screws were far enough out, I put vice-grip pliers on the head and backed them out the rest of the way. Once the screws were out, a little banging on the shoe started the whole assembly (rudder included) moving down.
  7. I purposely hadnít dug a hole under the rudder because I didnít know how deep to make it. I figured Iíd wait until I saw how much I needed to lower the rudder before I did any digging. Well, once the rudder started moving down, I thought this would be a good time to start digging. I put my spade in the ground and discovered that under the boat was what Bruce called "bank run". For those who donít know, apparently "bank run" is a combination of rocks and filler that is as close to concrete as you can get. The shovel went into the ground only about Ĺ" before stopping. This is gonna be a pain. Of course, at this point, the rudder slipped all the way down and was resting on the ground where I had to dig.
  8. In order to raise the rudder back up, I rigged some old dock lines under the rudder, up each side of the boat and into the cockpit by going around the aft deck cleats, and forward to the winches. Thereís a bit of friction in this setup, but it works. This way, I was able to winch the rudder back up high enough to work under it. Iíll also use this method to install the new rudder. I borrowed a pick from Bruce and, over the period of two days (the sun was going down by the time I started on the first day) I spent over an hour digging a hole about 3 feet long, 10" wide, and 10" deep. What a job! We finally got the rudder out and measured the shaft so I could call Rudy and order the replacement. At least now I feel confident about being able to install the new rudder.
  9. When I spoke to Rudy to order the new rudder, I asked how the bronze shoe came off the rudder, since itís still attached to the shaft. He explained that there is a plastic "cap" that is epoxied on the leading edge of the rudder just under the shoe. This permits setting the rudder shaft in the shoe during assembly. He said to carefully sand down the edge of the rudder in that spot and carefully remove the cap (he doesnít have replacements). This piece will have to be epoxied back on after the new rudder is installed. Instead of sanding, I took my old chisel and carefully started chipping away at the paint around this area of the rudder. I noticed a very fine line showing where this "cap" was attached. I, again carefully, chiseled on the line and the cap easily separated from the rudder. The bronze shoe then simply came off the end of the rudder shaft. The cap is actually fiberglass. I will clean it up, along with cleaning up the bronze shoe, in preparation of installing the new rudder.

Ordering the rudder

Rudy at D&R Marine is great. Heís very knowledgeable and helpful in all aspects of this job. Since I have a shoal draft boat, and Rudy only has the molds for the full draft rudder, he needed an accurate length measurement on my old rudder so he could cut off the new one for the proper depth. Iím pretty sure that the chord dimension (fore and aft) is different between the rudders. However, thereís not really any alternative, so Iím going ahead with Rudy and D & R. I thought I might want a few extra inches of depth on the rudder so I took an additional measurement on the boat and decided to go two inches deeper. I called Rudy with this information and thatís the way the rudder will be made. He indicated it would take about four weeks to construct the rudder. I also faxed him a copy of the drawing I made of my rudder with all the dimensions. On the drawing I asked him to make the new rudder two inches deeper. Now we wait.

I decided that instead of having it shipped, that I would take a day and drive up to Assonet and pick it up myself. Probably save a few hundred bucks in shipping, save lots of time, and actually get to meet Rudy and see his facility.

Rudy called on January 6th to let me know the rudder was ready. I got my buddy Bruce to agree to take the ride with me on Friday, Jan. 17th. I have to borrow my old Ford Explorer from my son-in-law (to whom I sold it when I got my Mustang GT). He wonít mind trading for the day. He gets to play with the little white hot rod!

Bruce and I had a nice pleasant day riding the ferries back and forth from Orient Point to New London. The highlight of the day was seeing two submarines Ė one as we were pulling into New London, and one while we were leaving. Pretty cool!

When we got to D&R, Rudy wasnít around, so his wife wrote us up, took my check, and Bruce and I loaded the new rudder into the back of the Explorer. Unfortunately, I didnít really save anything by picking up the rudder myself instead of having it shipped, because I was charged Mass. sales tax! Oh, well, live and learn. When we got home we unloaded the rudder into my garage, where it stood for the next few months until the weather warmed up enough to try the installation.


Finally, on Saturday, May 17th, we got to start the installation. Of course, Bruce was there to hold my hand through the whole thing. The new rudder probably weighs about 150 pounds, while the old one was a bit more. When we put the new one on top of the old one (which I had left on the ground under the stern for the winter), we could see the differences in dimensions. The new one, being the deep draft rudder simply cut off, was about 5" narrower for and aft, but about 3" longer. There is quite a difference in area. But, I rationalized that the reduction in rudder area is all at the back edge of the rudder, and aft of the rudderpost, and should make the rudder more balanced and the boat easier to steer. In fitting the leading edge cap piece back into place I also realized that the new rudder is also thinner (probably about an inch) than the original. Hope this makes the boat faster!!

I had to start the installation by digging the hole under the rudder about eight inches deeper. Although we had covered the hole over the winter, water had filled it and caused some of it to collapse back in. In addition, with a longer rudder, the hole would have to be deeper anyway. Luckily, with the water softening up the ground, the first few inches were relatively easy. Then I hit rocks again. Not little pebbles, mind you, but 6"-8" diameter chunks. Bruce had again brought his pick ax, and now that there was no rudder hanging in our way, we got the hole dug in about a half-hour.

Next we stood the rudder up in the hole to check the clearance. No problem, we had dug the hole a few inches deeper than needed. Then I ran the old docklines under the bottom of the rudder and passed them up on deck, around the aft side of the sternrail, and forward to the winches, just as we had done to lower the rudder in the fall. While Bruce guided the rudder shaft up into the hole (no jokes, please), I worked the two winches alternating a few turns on each. It put a tremendous strain on the docklines, but it lifted the rudder beautifully. If I were to do it again, Iíd put some kind of chafe guards at the rubber rub rail, since the line put a small dent in each side. Once the rudder was within about a foot from the top, we stopped to install the bronze shoe.

I bought two tubes of 3M 4200 adhesive sealant to bond the shoe back to the skeg. I also bought epoxy filler to fair in the shoe once everything was installed. The key here is to use plenty of sealant, so that it squishes out in all directions when the shoe is in place. Prior to this whole procedure, I had cleaned up the shoe with a wire-wheel, getting rid of any remnants of the previous sealant. We squeezed out lots of sealant onto the shoe, put it in place on the rudder, and cranked the rudder up into place. At this point I noticed that the rudderpost had come up through the cockpit sole under the helm seat where it should be. Wonder of wonders!

The last bit of pushing to get the holes aligned was done by hand, at times prying a little against the rudder with a large screwdriver. We inserted the two screws (I probably should have bought new ones) in place and started to thread them in. It seemed that the tolerances are so tight that the holes in the fiberglass skeg are threaded as well. After much effort we got the screws in most of the way, but it was now apparent that weíd need the drag link socket and clamp to thread them all the way in. At a quarter of a turn at a time, we worked together and got both screws all the way in. Then we eased the tension on the lines, and the rudder was in place in the boat!! The first, and what I thought was the hardest, part of the installation was now complete. It was then that we noticed that the actual dimensions of the forward part of the rudder were a little different than the original. There were several places where the rudder would bind up against the back edge of the skeg, and also hit the protruding part of the bronze shoe. I borrowed Bruceís portable grinder and went to work on both the leading edge of the rudder up against the back edge of the skeg, and also the edges of the protrusion on the bronze shoe. After about 20 minutes of grinding, the rudder swung freely and easily. We chocked up under the bottom of the rudder just as a precaution and called it a day.

The following week I was on my own to finish the installation. The first task was to reinstall the quadrant. The first step here is to reinstall the key into the keyway on the shaft. I cleaned up the key with a little light sanding and placed it over the machined hole. Boy, Iíll tell you, that Rudy sure can do some fancy machining. The hole was exactly the same size as the key. I actually had to tap it gently with a hammer to get it in. Even the rounded corners fit perfectly. Then I noticed that the four bolts that hold the two quadrant halves together were full of corrosion (dissimilar metals). I used my wire-wheel (in my trusty old electric drill) to clean them up. I also cleaned up the two joining surfaces on the two quadrant halves.

Luckily, as we had pushed the rudderpost up through the boat, it actually went between the cables on the aft half of the quadrant that I had left in the bilge. If it hadnít, it would have required removing the cover plate on the quadrant. Make sure the cables are lying in the right place before pushing the rudder shaft up through the boat. I put the two quadrant halves together around the shaft and key, and inserted one bolt partway in to hold them together. It is vital that the quadrant be aligned with the steering cables so they feed onto the quadrant fair and true. I did this visually by simply sighting the cables on the quadrant. Once I determine the correct height of the quadrant on the shaft, I refastened the hose clamp around the shaft and key up against the bottom of the quadrant. This will hold it in place while the rest of the bolts are connected, and will give a little extra margin of safety by keeping the quadrant at the correct height in the event the quadrant bolts ever loosen up or fail. I then installed the four bolts (1/2" socket) to hold the quadrant in place on the shaft, first lubricating each with winch grease to make them easier to install and possibly remove in the future. Next the two smaller bolts were installed near the outside edges of the quadrant. With the quadrant in place, it was next time to reattach the steering cables and set the tension. The two cables are attached to stainless eyebolts that are pushed through holes in the quadrant and fastened with two nuts on each. Do all the adjusting with only one nut on each, then put the second nut on and finish the tightening by turning them against each other. The tension I chose was as tight as I felt was possible while still being able to easily turn the quadrant by hand. As long as the cables lead fair onto the quadrant, you should be fine. In fact, what I did was leave then so they were slightly toward the top of the quadrant groove. This way, when they loosen (and they will), they will be more in the center, and not bind up at the bottom of the groove.

Here is where I discovered one of the major oversights of the project. Since my boat has a dripless stuffing box, Iíve never really had any experience with regular stuffing boxes. Now that everything was installed, I turned my attention to the rudder shaft stuffing box. I tightened the packing gland nut it all the way down and realized that it probably needs new packing material. I went up to the marine supply store to buy some only to find out that it comes in different sizes! The guy there told me I had to get the old material out so we could see the size to buy the new material. I had no idea how to do this. He suggested the special tool used for this purpose, but, alas, they were out of them. He suggested cutting a coat hanger, sharpening one end, and bending it over to form a sharp angled pick. Then you simply reach inside the packing gland nut and pull out the old material. Well, I made two different "picks" and spent about an hour and a half trying to get the old material out, but to no avail. All that was coming out were little chunks of the wadding. His wasnít working. I figured Iíd just repack it over the old stuff, so I measured the shaft diameter (1 ľ") and the rough inside measurement of the packing gland nut (1 Ĺ"). Therefore, it must be ľ" packing material that I needed. Off I went and bought a package. I got the instructions to cut three rows of material, each slightly overlapping, and placing them so the ends were spread out evenly around the shaft at 120-degree intervals. Well, back in the bowels of the boat, I proceeded to cut three such pieces, and stuffed two of them up the packing gland nut. The second barely got in, so I figured two was good enough, so I tightened down the nut with a monkey wrench. Then I worked the quadrant back and forth to test the tightness, and the packing gland nut simply unscrewed. Tightened it down a little more and tried it again with the same results. It was obvious that ľ" material was too large. So now I had to remove the two new pieces. A half-hour later, after using a small flat screwdriver, I finally got them out. Went back and bought the 3/16" material and installed the three pieces. This time when I tightened the packing gland nut down, it didnít back off. Of course, the true test will be when the boat is launched. Then Iíll see whether there is any leaking. Iíve left the aft compartment open, didnít reinstall the pegboard, and left the quarterberth hatch off to gain quick access for when the boat gets launched. The big lesson learned here is that the packing gland nut was fully exposed for several months while there was no rudder in the boat. I should have simply removed it, brought it home, cleaned out the old material, and had the new material already installed when the rudder shaft came up through the fitting. Another life lesson.

During the process to test the tension of the steering cables, I heard grinding noises coming from inside the pedestal. Great, I thought, the chain must have jumped the sprocket on the steering wheel shaft. So, up I go and remove the compass only to find that the bottom portion of the compass has broken off and fallen onto the steering chain. Luckily, I was able to reach and remove it. But, now my compass is broken. This particular P-34 had come with a cheap compass sitting on a plastic pedestal extension. The white plastic of the pedestal extension had long ago turned yellow, and the compass always looked small and crumby, so I felt this was my opportunity to replace this with a new one. In addition, the four screws holding the plastic extension to the main pedestal were not giving way. I had to go buy a new, larger screwdriver, and cut off the top half of the plastic part to gain access to the screws. Iíve ordered a Richie 5" binnacle compass on the stainless extension piece. That should brighten up the cockpit!

But, back to the rudder. Now that the mechanical part of the installation is complete, the only thing left is to attach the fiberglass insert and fair the whole thing with epoxy. I mixed up a batch of the epoxy and put a good deal on the underside of the fiberglass insert. I placed it over the rudder, under the bronze shoe, and pushed down firmly. Then I applied additional pressure by using three screwdrivers as wedges to really put pressure on the joint between the insert and the rudder. I also applied liberal amounts of epoxy to the sides of the bronze shoe where the screws go through the skeg. This is to build it up to the same level as the sides of the skeg. When dry, this is sanded down and additional applications of epoxy are made until it is all fair.

I filled in the hole we had dug, and we tossed the old rudder in the dumpster. All in all, this was an interesting project, albeit frustrating at times. Since my yard never did give me an estimate on the job, I can only guess that I saved about a thousand bucks doing it myself (with Bruceís help, of course). Plus I know a little more about the boat that Iíve owned for almost 20 years.

Lessons learned: