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):
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.