Work, Work, Work…

Faithful readers will know that Smartini recently completed yet another longer-than-anticipated haul out (when the boat is out of the water for various repairs, which either can’t, or can’t easily, be done while IN the water). “Why does it always take you guys so long?”, you might ask. “Shut the hell up!!”, I might reply. But no, that would be rude. So lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much – lemme sum up.

This post is a list of pretty much everything we and three vendors did to Smartini from December 4 to February 22. I didn’t try to make it funny, and it’s long, so unless you’re really interested in what it’s like to own and maintain a boat like Smartini, it probably won’t be all that thrilling.

I should point out that a lot of these things didn’t NEED to be done. In fact, all of the  biggest projects were discretionary, and so were a lot of the small ones. We just like to torture ourselves. If you’ve ever done a home remodel project that started with new faucet handles and ended up costing $30,000 for a whole new kitchen, you’ll understand a lot of the psychology that was involved.

Where all the hydraulic magic happens

1. Replace all the hydraulic hoses with new ones. We could have waited until a hose burst, but since that would disable every hydraulic item on the boat (anchor windlass, bow thruster, stern thruster, dinghy crane, and stabilizers), and would have made a helluva mess, and would likely have been difficult to have repaired wherever we happened to be when it burst – we decided to do this maintenance item preventively.  Almost everything in these two pictures was replaced, relocated, or is brand new. Plus at least 300 feet of hydraulic hoses that run between these points, and from them to all over the boat.

Genset hydraulic PTO
New hydraulic motor for stern thruster. It’s about the size of a pack of hotdog buns, and replaces an electric motor that weighed about 70 lbs, and was powered by two 8D batteries weighing 160 lbs. each. Hydraulics are pretty cool!

2. Switch the stern thruster from an electric motor to hydraulic power. We could have left it electric forever, although we would have had to change out the two giant batteries that power it – they were rapidly dying. But the hydraulic motor is stronger, and it can be run non-stop for as long as you need it. An electric motor will overheat if run too long, and we didn’t ever want to really need that thruster, and have it overheat and shut down just when we needed it most. Besides – with those two giant batteries gone, we have a LOT more storage space back there – and I’ve used every bit of it. (See item 17).

One section of Irma damage to the caprail
New rubrail, and new handrail mounting, now that the wood is gone

3. Remove the mahogany caprail from all the way around the boat, and then add a stainless steel rubrail to replace the one that was on the mahogany. Hurricane Irma knocked two sections of the caprail loose, and we could have repaired them. However, we knew that there was some rust forming on the metal lip that the caprail is fastened to, and as long-time readers will remember, Rust Never Sleeps on a steel boat. If we didn’t get rid of the wood eventually, we’d have a lot of rust to deal with one day, and we hate rust! So we decided to bite the bullet and get rid of the wood now, rather than some day later. Fortunately for us, the painters volunteered to remove the caprail, thinking it would be a trivial project. Two men, two days, two big hammers and chisels, and one Sawz-All later, they had it off. After they got it off, and primed and painted it, Fran, Kelly*, and I had to remount the stainless steel handrail, which involved drilling 117 holes, and tapping about 20 of them. (*Kelly is the nephew of Romeo, the man who owns the painting company we used. His help with this project was invaluable – thanks, Kelly!!!)

Separately, another vendor fabricated and installed 3/8″ stainless steel flat stock around almost the entire boat (not the transom – we can’t run into anything back there because of the swim platform), and then reattached the heavy stainless rubrail, which had been attached to the wooden caprail, to this new flat stock. It took two men the better part of two weeks to do this, with all the trial fitting, drilling, and tapping, but they did a great job, as you can tell from the picture.

Custom trim piece on top of tackle center.

Finally, the wood caprail made up the top edge of the dive equipment storage bench and tackle center that Pratt Plastics custom made for us in 2016. Without the wood, there was a nice, big gap for water to get inside, which would eventually have caused rust. Besides, it was kinda ugly. With Richard Pratt’s help on a Saturday, we now have trim pieces to cover those gaps, and they look like they were made that way from the start. Thanks, Richard!

This was a huge project, considering all the aspects of it, but it was something we knew we’d eventually have to do, and now it’s done. We’re very pleased with the result, and as a bonus, we’ll never have to clean and seal the wood again!

Killer – it came with that name, and we like it!

4. We didn’t have to get a different dinghy, but we really didn’t like the last one we had, and visitors DeDeAnn, Heather, and Katie will probably cheer this decision the next time they’re onboard. Of course, a new dinghy meant a new way to store it on the upper deck, so a ridiculously expensive stainless steel cradle was made – which I’m still not happy with (more on that later). But we sure are happy with Killer, our new-to-us 1979 13′ Boston Whaler Sport! (It came with that name, which came with a good story, so we’re going to keep it.)

5. Replace stabilizer fin shaft seals and bearings. Smartini has two big fins that move back and forth under the water to reduce the amount of rolling (side to side movement) we experience, adding greatly to the comfort of a long trip in not-so-calm seas. These fins are hydraulically activated, and I had dealt with the hydraulic actuators last summer when one of them started leaking. But since their shafts go through the hull, there are seals to keep the water out, and bearings to make them move smoothly. We could have waited until we started to see some leakage, but at that point, it would have required a haul out. Doing it now means we don’t have to do it again for at least three, probably four years.

Looking aft along the port bulwarks

6. We could have limited the painting to only those areas that were scratched during Irma, but we had a bunch of little scratches and rust spots developing all around the bulwarks*, so we decided to have all of that fixed and painted, all the way around the boat. (*Bulwarks are the part of the hull that extends upwards above the deck; the part that keeps you from falling overboard as you walk around on the main deck.)

The above items took 95% of the time of all the work done, and maybe even a higher percentage of the cost of all the work done. But as you can see, every one of them either made Smartini better in some way, or addressed a potential problem before it could become a problem. We kept telling ourselves “When we leave the yard this time, we don’t want there to be a single major project that we know needs to be done. We want to go enjoy Smartini for a long time before we have to do a major haul out again.” I sincerely hope we’ve accomplished that!

The list below is in the order that things were completed, simply because that’s how we were using our To Do List – when something was done, we moved it to the bottom of the “DONE” list. (If it were in order of Frustration Level, or Cost, or Value of End Result, it would be sorted very differently.) Here goes!

7. Replace the transducer. This is the device that sends and receives sonar signals from the boat to the bottom and calculates the depth, so you can see it on your various displays. Since Smartini is made of steel, we can’t use the kind that can transmit and receive through the hull, so ours actually pokes through a hole in the hull. That’s why we HAD to haul out – almost everything else COULD have been done in the water, but many of those things would have been much, much more difficult. The transducer we had to replace was new in December 2016 – and they’re supposed to last forever! Why did this one fail after less than a year? No idea.

Air conditioner circuit board. We let all the blue smoke out, so it had to be replaced.

8. Replace the circuit board in the Master Stateroom air conditioning unit. We had the board in the Salon (aka “living room”) unit replaced last summer when it blew. Not long after, the Master unit stopped working, and I suspected its board. I bought a new one (plus a spare – we still have one more unit that hasn’t failed!), and decided to tackle the replacement myself. I wasn’t sure I’d know how to recognize a bad board – but look at the picture!

Too bad our first attempt at a splice didn’t come out this nice

9. Remove the anchor chain, take it to a chain and rope store, and have them add 100 feet of rope. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we currently have 175 feet of ⅜” stainless steel chain, all of which had to be lowered to the ground (into the trunk of the car), and then hoisted back up onto the boat after the additional rope had been added – about 20 feet off the ground. It was a workout! And then, because the loop that the rope store had spliced into the bitter end of the rope (that’s the end that fastens to the boat, down inside the chain locker) wouldn’t fit through the hole into the chain locker, we had to cut off his very nice splice, and watch about a dozen YouTube videos to find one that showed us how to do it ourselves. This picture is of the SECOND one we did (just for practice). The FIRST one (on the anchor rope) wasn’t nearly as pretty! Guess we should have done the practice one first.

Whatever you do, do NOT push the red button!

10. Install a “Total fuel used” reset button on our fuel flow meter. For some reason, such a button had never been installed, so if you wanted to reset the total (like when you fill the fuel tanks), you had to actually cut off the main batteries to the whole boat for a few seconds. I installed this little red button that lets us reset it to zero whenever we want.

New hull zinc

11. Whenever you have different metals in an electrolyte (salt water is an electrolyte), you create a battery of sorts. So a steel hull, a bronze propeller, a stainless steel propeller shaft, bronze through-hull fittings – all of these things are part of Smartini’s submerged parts, and collectively, they create a very large (although very low voltage) battery. Over time, as electrons flow through the electrolyte from one metal to another, they corrode the “least noble” (think “softest”) metal. You don’t want any of the parts of the boat to corrode, so you add one more part to the mix – some zinc. Zinc is less noble (softer) than all the other parts of the boat, so the zinc is the metal that corrodes. Every so often, you replace the hunks of zinc, so the new ones will corrode, rather than any other part of the boat. Smartini has eight such zincs on her hull, each one weighing about five pounds when new. I removed all of them, cleaned the stainless steel studs that they attach to, and reattached them with new washers and nuts. (They don’t work unless the attach points are clean.) Except one, which was pretty corroded – I replaced that one with a new one.

12. Drill out the mounting tabs for all the new hull zincs we bought. They come with no holes, because every boat’s mounting studs are a different distance apart. Now we have a full set of zincs, drilled and ready to mount, for when the existing ones corrode too much. We can easily do this in the water with scuba gear and a single wrench, whenever needed.

Cabinet doors modified to allow tool drawers to open, while still protecting the eight batteries below

13. Smartini has two three-drawer tool chests mounted under the workbench in the engine room, which is awesome. Under them are the eight “house” batteries (the batteries that run all the lights, the refrigerator/freezers, the pumps, and most of the rest of the electric things on the boat). To keep tools from falling onto the batteries (resulting in a massive shower of sparks and probably a ruined tool, maybe a ruined battery, maybe even an explosion!), the tool chests and batteries are behind some cabinet doors. Which means that every time I needed to get into one of the tool chests, I had to open two cabinet doors, which then kept me from moving fore and aft in the engine room. Doesn’t seem like a big problem, but I tell you, I was constantly cussing this design. Not anymore! I removed the doors, took them to a cabinet shop and had them cut them down to my specs, and then I reinstalled them. I had to relocate the latches, too. But it was sure worth it! Now I can get into my tool chests without opening a cabinet, and my batteries are still protected. The drawers lock in the closed position when underway.

14. We have a really bright handheld spotlight that’s very nice as a backup to our permanently mounted spotlight. (Which I had to repair when we were in Key West.) On our oh-so-bumpy voyage from Key West at the end of November, the handheld light fell from its perch at the flybridge helm station onto the floor with a great THUD, and stopped working. Fortunately, it was only the lightbulb, which is a common automotive halogen headlight bulb. Unfortunately, you have to completely disassemble the whole spotlight to replace the bulb. Which I did.

15. Update the firmware on all of our electronics.

16. Update the charts on our electronic chartplotters. In this case, we actually switched from one provider (C-MAP) to another (Navionics), so Fran had some fun with that! (Not.)

Lots of organized storage, in place of two 8D batteries and a simple shelf.

17. Remove two giant batteries and all the wiring and other wiring and other gizmos for the now-removed electric stern thruster motor from the lazarette, then create a storage area for spares. (You can’t believe how many spare parts we have onboard – and they all have to go somewhere!)

Pretty new hoses everywhere!

18. Replace all main engine coolant hoses. Smartini’s engine, an 838 cubic inch Izuzu Industrial diesel, has fouteen hoses for keeping things cool. Half of them move anti-freeze throughout the engine and between the engine and the keel cooler (our “radiator”, which is on the outside of hull), and the other half move seawater through various heat exchangers (to cool the transmission fluid and the hydraulic fluid), then inject it into the engine’s exhaust, to cool the exhaust and to get rid of the seawater. All in all, it’s about thirty-five feet of hose, involving almost thirty hose clamps, and lots of “chafe guard” to keep holes from getting rubbed into the hoses. It hadn’t been done since the boat was built, so it was way past time. And yes, I did this one all by my lonesome.

New intake selector valve and plumbing, and relocated seawater strainer
Pump relay bypass switch – my first time working with 220V. Hope I did it right.

19. Modify the air conditioners’ seawater cooling system to allow it to be flushed periodically, to clean it out. This was a lot trickier than I thought it was going to be, mainly because I had very little room to add the 2-way selector valve I needed. (See picture.) Also, I had to add a manual switch to engage the seawater pump, so that I can do the flushing without having to fire up one of the air conditioners. (The pump comes on when any one of the A/C units comes on, but there wasn’t a way to run only the pump, for my flushing circuit.) Now, I can run a mild muriatic acid solution through our air conditioners’ cooling lines to get rid of the crud that inevitably builds up inside of them, and don’t have to run the A/C units to do it. I’m actually pretty pleased with myself on this project!

Relocated watermaker sea strainer. The hole you are looking through used to be a wall!

20. Replace all the low pressure hoses that supply water to the watermaker. This also involved relocating the sea strainer (a filter that keeps out big stuff – there’s one in every seawater intake: main engine, generator, air conditioners, water maker), and that was the challenge. It had originally been mounted in a very weird spot that was practically impossible to get to for inspection and cleaning. I cut out a big section of wood to make an opening into a hard-to-reach spot, and remounted the strainer where I can now easily inspect and clean it.

New cradle for new dinghy

21. Create a cradle for our new dinghy, Killer. This was, I believe, the most annoying thing done during the haul out, because the vendor took it upon himself to modify the design from what we had originally agreed on. When I first saw it, still in “rough” condition, I should have yelled “Stop! That’s not what you were supposed to make!” – but I didn’t. I let myself be talked into this new design – and each subsequent modification that was necessary because of the deficiencies of the new design. Well, it’s not what I wanted, but it sure was expensive! However, it works, and that’s what matters, I guess. It just won’t ever be what it was supposed to be. Grrrr….

Four new tie-downs for the dinghy. In boat lingo, they are called “pad eyes”.

22. Add four new tie-downs to the upper deck to make sure we never again have a loose dinghy while underway. Each one involved drilling and tapping three holes in the deck.

23. Remove the hatch lid from the aft deck to the upper deck, take it to have the Plexiglass replaced, and remount it.

It faces the other way now!

24. Remove the hatch on the foredeck that opens into the VIP Cabin and flip it 180 degrees. Because for some strange reason, it was mounted backwards when the boat was built. In other words, when you opened it, the opening faced aft – so almost no air came in through it when at anchor. Future guests – you’re welcome!

L to R: fuel polishing filter, main engine fuel filter, generator fuel filter

25. Replace all three main engine fuel filters, and both generator fuel filters. Add a vacuum gauge to each of the primary filter housings to indicate when it’s time to change the filter cartridge.

26. Paint the bottom of the new dinghy with two coats of primer and one coat of bottom paint.

27. Speaking of bottom paint: apply two more coats of bottom paint to Smartini. Yes, after applying five coats of primer and three coats of bottom paint at the last haul out, we had to put more bottom paint on this time! It turns out that the bottom paint we chose, once it goes in the water, can’t be OUT of the water for more than 72 hours before it needs to be scuffed and re-coated. We were obviously out a lot longer than 72 hours, so we paid our painters to scuff the entire hull, then Fran and I put the bottom paint on. And since we tend to overdo things, we did two coats.

Slide-out trash can in galley

28. Install a pull-out trash can in the galley. Seems like a small thing, but it’s so much nicer than having to drag the trash can out of the cupboard and stuff it back in every time.

29. Disassemble, service, and reassemble the crane that lifts the dinghy on and off the upper deck. This was not a job for amateurs – we farmed it out. And after watching them do it, I’m sure glad we did! Definitely above my pay grade.

Removable section replacing fixed section

30. There’s a stainless steel safety rail running all around the back half of the upper deck. Some of it is fixed, but the aft-most portions are removable so that the dinghy can go on and off. For some reason, they made the section where the crane goes when hoisting or lowering the dinghy a fixed section. Sure enough, the very first time we put the dinghy in the water after we bought Smartini, we lowered the boom of the crane too low, and bent that section of the railing. So we had that section converted from fixed to removable. (That involved cutting and welding stainless, so we didn’t do that job.) Now we can lower the boom as low as it goes and not hurt anything.

New upper deck downspout – one on each side

31. Another bit of Irma damage was to one of our downspouts that drains water from the upper deck. (We added these at the last haul out.) It rubbed (and rubbed, and rubbed, and rubbed!) against the dock piling in Key West, and while it mostly chewed up the piling, it also got pretty bent out of shape in the process. So we had it cut out, and a new one welded in. And because we weren’t thrilled with the ones that were put in originally (not long enough, not enough downward slope), we had the other side done, too.

New boarding gate hinges

32. One of our three side boarding gates banged against a piling during Irma, and bent the heck out of the hinges. So we bought some new, heavier duty hinges, had them drilled to match the old ones (the new ones came with no holes), and re-hung the gate. If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see that we couldn’t get all of the bolts started in the bottom hinge – a project for another day.

33. Another of our boarding gates has always rubbed the deck in one bottom corner, and it takes the paint off, then it rusts. We couldn’t mount the gate any higher, so we decided to have ¾” cut off the bottom. We removed the gate, had someone cut the bottom off and weld a new bottom on, then the painters faired and painted, and we re-installed.

Wow! I’m exhausted just writing about all of that work! Vendors did a lot of it, but still – whew! However, this wasn’t all we had to accomplish during our almost-three months in the yard. In addition, we also had to:

Get the car to the body shop to fix the scratch that they didn’t fix the first time.
Sell the old dinghy.
Register the new dinghy.
Get rid of the trailer that came with the new dinghy.
Buy about 100 things that we’d need for spares, or for future projects, or whatever. Maybe it was 200 things.
Provision for the Bahamas. Fran spent about two days on this alone.
Investigate, choose, then switch us to a service that can handle all of our physical mail, no matter where we are in the world. It’s called St. Brendan’s Isle – a weird name for a very cool service!
Investigate, choose, purchase and set up a satellite phone. Then deal with the police report, and buy another one, when that one was stolen from our galley!
Sell our old underwater camera setup.
Investigate, choose, and purchase a new underwater camera setup.

Side trip to Brooklyn, to deliver Bennett to Pratt

Somewhere in the middle, we flew to Indianapolis, then drove to Brooklyn, NY to deliver Bennett to Pratt Institute, his new venue of higher education.

Can we please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top, not have to haul Smartini out of the water for at least two years? Please??????

Sometimes It’s The Little Things

In an effort to post shorter tidbits, and more often – here you go!

Fiddles on tackle center

Ever since we had the built-in benches and fishing tackle storage center done, we’ve wanted to put “fiddles” on a couple of them. (Fiddle: noun – a small ledge or barrier raised in heavy weather to keep dishes, pots, utensils, etc., from sliding off tables and stoves.) These also double as handrails, when going onto and off of the flybridge helm area and the swim platform.

When we’re underway, especially if it’s a many-hours trip, we have a lot of stuff up on the flybridge – a little table for lunch, life preservers, a basket full of odds and ends that we need throughout the day, etc. If it’s at all rough, that stuff tends to slide around, which is never good. Not anymore! I attached seven stainless steel loops around the perimeter of the area, then made custom length bungees for each span.

Yep – that’s all. Just a few minor improvements that we can cross off the To Do List, and that will make life on Smartini just a little bit better.

Wesmar Stabilizer Cylinder Removal and Replacement

Step-by-step instructions for removal and reinstallation of hydraulic cylinders on a Wesmar stabilizer system.

(To the regular readers of Smartini Life – skip this one! I’m starting to build a library of straight-up “how to” articles for other boaters, and this is the first one. I can’t imagine you’ll find it interesting!)

This is a step-by-step article on how to remove and replace the hydraulic cylinders on a Wesmar stabilizer system (one on each side). In my case, I did this because the seal on one cylinder started to leak. Hopefully, in your case, you’re doing it as preventive maintenance.

I needed some technical support a couple times during my project, which I got by calling Wesmar directly, and speaking to a wonderful man named Jason Smith. He seems to know these systems intimately, because he had the answers I needed in his head – he didn’t even have to pause to look them up. 425-481-2296.

I couldn’t find any definitive information on how often to service the cylinders and the fin shaft seals, so here’s what I’m going to do. You need to do your own research, and do your service when it make sense for you. My schedule may seem aggressive, but since we plan on being in a lot of places that are a long way from being able to haul out, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
– Replace fin shaft seals every three years (for me, that’ll be at alternating haul-outs).
– Rebuild the cylinders at the same time.
– Replace the hydraulic lines every ten years.

My system was installed when the boat was built in 2002. The various Wesmar manuals that came with the boat when we bought it are dated 1995, 1999, and 2005, and they’re all consistent. The only differences I see mentioned are the size of the fins – presumably bigger boats used bigger fins. But all the rest of the documentation I have found seems to indicate that everything else about the system – at least about this part of the system – was the same for many years.

If you have all the tools you need, and easy access to everything, you should be able to remove each side in 30 minutes or less by following these instructions. Reassembly may take a little longer, depending on how good your grease gun is. (Seriously – getting grease where I wanted it was the hardest part of my reassembly!)

Things You Will Need
Aside from normal hand tools, you’ll want some things you may not have in your toolbox.
– First and foremost, you’ll need plugs for the four hydraulic hoses you’re going to disconnect (two on each side). If you don’t plug them, you have a very good chance of losing a lot of fluid out of them during the time it takes you to get your cylinders rebuilt and ready to reinstall. Masking tape won’t cut it! The fact that the bi-directional valves are supposed to center in the closed position doesn’t seem to matter. GET PLUGS! (Don’t ask me how I know.)

– LOTS of rags and diapers or other oil-soaking cloth. This is the messiest job I have performed on the boat to date, and I sure hope I never have a messier one. Hydraulic fluid will leak, and get on your hands, and your tools, and all the parts of the system. When you’re greasing all the fittings during reassembly, grease will spooge out of various places, and get on your hands, tools, and everything. So have more rags than you think you’ll need, and use them often. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

– 90 degree Phillips head screwdriver, for one or both of the screws that hold the potentiometer cover in place.

– A hex head bolt socket, for the six large bolts that hold the upper housing in place. On mine, the size is 5/16″.

– A grease gun with waterproof (or water-resistant) grease. The Wesmar manual calls for Lubriplate Marine A, but I couldn’t find that, so I went with Lubriplate Marine Grease. It’s thinner than the grease that was in there, but I don’t know if the grease that was in there was what it should have been.

– If all four of yours aren’t in great shape, you may need to replace one or more of the “E” clips that hold the large clevis pin in place (one on the top and bottom of each pin, one pin on each side of the boat). (See Step 15.) Neither Home Depot nor NAPA had ones that were big enough – I found mine at Fastenal.

Image 1: Top view

Disassembly
1. Locate the stabilizer actuators. There’s one on each side of the boat (one for each fin). On our boat, one is under the bed in the Master Cabin, the other is under the floor of the hanging locker in the Master Cabin. Yours could be anywhere. Here’s what the whole thing looks like:

Image 2: Side view

It consists of a large “arm” that’s connected to the shaft on which the fin is mounted, so moving the arm rotates the fin. The arm is moved by a hydraulic cylinder (that’s what we’re going to remove), which is held in place (and rotates on) two heavy “pins”, which go into holes in the lower housing (mounted to the hull) and upper housing (which you’ll remove). The cylinder is controlled by a bi-directional hydraulic valve (the blue thing). The valve is controlled by the “brain box” (mine is mounted in the engine room), which gets input from an electronic gyro (mine is located under the lower helm) for detecting the boat’s roll, and from a potentiometer at the end of each fin shaft, which gives an electrical signal to the brain box about the current position of the fin. Basically, when the boat rolls, the gyro sends that info (speed and degree of roll) to the brain box. The brain box then determines how much correction to give (how much to move the fins), and uses the bi-directional valves to send hydraulic fluid in the right direction for the right amount of time, which it determines in part by monitoring the fin position via the potentiometer. Clear as mud?

Image 3: Pot cover, showing one of the attachment screws. The other one is on the opposite side.

2. First, prepare you work area by removing anything that might be in the way of you being able to swing wrenches, and by putting a cloth of some sort under the entire assembly, to catch the fasteners that you will inevitably drop at some point. I put a towel under the unit, as I have a real “black hole” into which anything dropped would be gone forever. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

3. Remove the “pot” (potentiometer) cover by loosening the two Phillips head screws at the base of the cover. You don’t have to remove them – just loosen them. In my case, I had to use a 90-degree angled head screwdriver to access one of them. When you have the screws loose, gently lift the cover, feeding wire into the inside of the cover as you lift it so you don’t pull on the wires inside. Feed enough wire into the cover so that you can set it aside, well out of your way.

Image 4: Potentiometer (pot) on top, then the bracket, then the flexible coupling to the fin shaft. All this comes off as one unit.

This is what you’ll find under the cover.  In this Image 4, you can barely see the pot on top  of the mounting bracket (with the wires going to it), and underneath, you see the flexible coupling between the bottom of the pot and the top of the fin shaft. As the fin is moved by the hydraulics, the shaft rotates, which rotates the flexible coupling, which turns the knob on the bottom of the pot, which changes the electrical output from the pot, which is sent to the brain box. This is how the system always knows the position of each fin.

4. With a permanent marker, put a mark on top of the big fin shaft, and on the side of the flexible coupling, so that when you reassemble, you can line those marks up. You don’t have to be exact, as you’ll do a final adjustment at the end of the reassembly process, but make it close. Also, mark the orientation of the bracket that holds the pot, before you remove it. It will fit both ways, but if you get it back on wrong (180 degrees off), the final adjustment will be harder. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

Image 5: Hex head screw in the side of the shaft that secures the flexible coupling of the pot to the shaft. Loosen it just enough that you can easily turn the flexible coupling, but don’t remove it!

5. To remove the pot, mounting bracket, and flexible coupling, you have to first loosen a hex head screw that screws into the side of the shaft, above the castle nut. (Image 5.) On one of my units, it was easy to find. On the other, I had to use a mirror to locate it, as it was between the shaft and the base of my hanging locker, with only a few inches in between. Use an Allen wrench to loosen it (DO NOT REMOVE IT!), so that you can freely spin the flexible coupling.

6. Remove the screw at each base of the pot mounting bracket and lift the bracket (with the pot and flexible coupling attached) straight up until it’s free from the shaft. Set it aside, well out of your way – you don’t want to smash a wrench into it later! And be careful with the wires – they’re small and delicate.

7. Now you have wide open access to the castle nut and cotter pin on top of the shaft. Remove the cotter pin and the nut. Don’t worry, the shaft won’t fall out of the hull – probably. 🙂 It’s secured by a clamping mechanism lower on the shaft, and also, the fin SHOULD be buoyant, so that it will try to float up into the hole, not fall down out of the hole. (But if your fin is damaged, it could be full of water, and could try to fall out.)

Image 6: Bronze thrust washer around fin shaft. Leave in place for now.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve done this job only once, and one of my shafts did drop down about half an inch before the lower clamping mechanism kept it from going any farther – which freaked me out! But not a drop of water came in, and I secured the shaft back into place once I got the cylinder removed (Step 18), and I suggest you do the same. Also, pay very close attention at this point, in case your shaft seals aren’t in great shape, as you could get some water coming in after the castle nut is removed.

8. In Image 6, you can see a large bronze thrust washer around the shaft. You shouldn’t need to remove that at this point – it will come off when you lift the upper housing. (Then you can easily remove it to expose the roller bearings underneath, which you’ll want to clean and regrease prior to reassembly.)

9. Remove the six large hex head bolts around the upper housing. (You can see three of them in Image 6.)

Image 7: Insert a flat blade screwdriver under the upper housing to loosen it, then lift it straight up.

10. At this point, the upper housing is no longer fastened to anything, but it’s likely to be pretty snug. Use a large flat blade screwdriver (or two – one on each side) to pry it loose. Once you’ve pried it up even a little bit, you should be able to lift it straight up and off of the shaft. See Image 7 to know where to insert the screwdriver for prying.

 

11. Remove the upper housing and set it aside. This exposes the clevis and clevis pin that attaches the moving part of the cylinder (the ram) to the lever arm. You should also now have good access to the small hydraulic hoses that connect to the cylinder.

11a. Lift the bronze thrust washer out of the upper housing, and inspect the roller bearings underneath. If the grease is clean and the bearings look to be in good shape, they should be fine to go back together. If the bearings are pitted, you’ll need to replace them. Mine were fine, but I’m guessing if you had to replace them, you’d have to contact Wesmar to get the right ones.

Image 8: Hoses removed from cylinder, draining oil into a diaper. My system has an extra valve in each hose that was installed years ago to smooth out the operation of the system. Yours may or may not have these, but it shouldn’t make any difference.

12. Put a diaper or other oil-absorbent cloth under the fittings on the cylinder to catch the hydraulic oil that will ooze out. I use actual baby diapers for this kind of job, with the stretchy sides ripped off unless I want a “bucket” shape, then I leave them on.

13. Using tape and/or a Sharpie, mark each hose so you know which one goes on which fitting. You think you’ll remember… but don’t take the chance – mark them!

14. Loosen the fittings and remove them, catching all of the oil in the diaper. NOTE: once the hoses are removed, the oil still in the cylinder will squirt out with some authority if you move the ram in or out – so don’t do that, until you’re ready to catch that oil. (Don’t ask me how I know.) Better yet, if you have caps, put them on as soon as you disconnect the hoses.

The bi-directional valve that controls the flow of fluid to these hoses is closed at rest, so no fluid should come out of the system other than that which is in the small hoses to the cylinder, and the cylinder itself. But plug those hoses, as fluid can leak out! If you don’t plug them properly, and you accidentally start the stabilizer system, you’re going to have hydraulic fluid EVERYWHERE! (No, I didn’t do that. In fact, I disconnected the wire at the stabilizer manifold, specifically to prevent this from happening.)

Image 9: Top view of clevis, clevis pin and “E” clip, all visible after removing the upper housing.
Image 10: I used this to pull the “E” clip off the clevis pin. Worked great!

15. Remove the “E” clip on top of the clevis pin. I used a little scraping tool that had a hook on the end to simply pull the clip away from the pin. Be careful – the clip may want to go flying!

 

16. Push the clevis pin down into the hole, giving you better access to the “E” clip on the bottom of the clevis pin, and remove that clip, too, Then you can pull the pin up out of the hole.

Image 11: With the clevis pin pushed down, you can barely see the “E” clip on the bottom, which you have to remove, too. In the picture, it’s under the blob of green grease, and a little to the left – the little brown thing.

 

17. Now, simply lift the cylinder straight up. Be ready to catch the hydraulic oil that will inevitably ooze out of the fittings. I suggest you put the whole thing in a bucket.

18. Unless you have a replacement cylinder ready to install right now, I suggest you now replace the upper housing (which you removed in Step 11), and loosely reinstall the six long hex head bolts, the bronze thrust washer, and the castle nut. This will keep the shaft from being able to drop at all, giving you the peace of mind you need, knowing that you’re not going to sink the boat while the cylinder is being rebuilt. Also, put the locking pin (you do have your locking pins, right?) in place to keep the fin from rotating. (Basically, do a loose reassembly of the system, without the cylinder, until you’re ready to reassemble it with the new or rebuilt cylinder.)

Rebuild or Replace the Cylinders?
After getting input from several sources, I decided to have mine rebuilt. They were in excellent condition (the ram must be, or it will always leak), and I found a marine hydraulics company (Ramsay Marine, in Riviera Beach, FL) that does fantastic work. They pressure tested them before they took them apart, and found not just one, but both of them, to be leaking (one much worse than the other). They rebuilt them (which they said doesn’t require any special tools or even seals that aren’t commonly used by hydraulics repair shops), pressure tested them to 1000 psi, and shipped them to me in about a week. The total cost was significantly less than the cost of two brand new cylinders.

But if yours aren’t in great shape – if the ram is pitted – replacement may be your only option.

Reassembly
It’s pretty much the reverse of the disassembly process, with a few twists.

1. Reverse Step 18 above, to remove the upper housing.

2. Grease the fitting on the lower housing, now, before you cover it up with the cylinder. On mine, I never had grease come out anywhere I could see, so I just greased it until the pressure started to increase on the handle of the grease gun. My guess is the oozing out was taking place on the bottom of the housing (around the fin, under the hull), so I eventually stopped.

3. Put the cylinder in place. Be sure to orient it correctly, with the arm pointing in the general direction of the fin shaft, and the fittings on the same side as the hoses you have to reconnect. Once it’s in place, grease the fitting until grease oozes out of somewhere, or the pressure on the handle of the grease gun gets really hard (because it can’t put any more grease in).

4. Put an “E” clip on one end of the clevis pin and have it ready to put in place. Rotate the lever arm (the arm that’s clamped to the shaft, that has a hole in the end) so that it lines up with the holes in the clevis on the end of the cylinder ram, and insert the clevis pin through all three holes. Put the “E” clip on the bottom of the clevis pin. This may be difficult – you may want a helper for this step! If you’re in completely calm water, moving the arm / shaft / fin is tough. If the water under the boat is moving, it’s very difficult, even with a helper.

At this point, you can see how the whole hydraulic system works: the blue bi-directional valve sends fluid into one end of the cylinder or the other, which moves the ram, which moves the lever arm, which rotates the fin shaft, which moves the fin.

5. Attach the hydraulic hoses and tighten the fittings. Tight, but not too tight. Depending on the angle of the hoses and fittings, you may have to do them in a certain order. On mine, I had to do the short one first, because if I had done the long one first, it would have been in the way of doing the short one. Pay attention.

6. If you didn’t do this during disassembly, remove the bronze thrust washer from the upper housing and inspect the grease and the roller bearings. Hopefully the bearings are in good shape, because if they aren’t, you’re going to have to pause the project at this point until you can get replacements.

7. With the thrust washer removed, gently lower the upper housing onto the shaft, so that the hole in the “arm” part of the housing fits over the “pin” on the cylinder. (Not the clevis pin, but the short round “shaft” that’s part of the cylinder housing.) Now, the cylinder is held in place by the lower housing and the upper housing, so all it can do is rotate a little, as the ram moves in and out.

8. Put the thrust washer in place. If there is a hole in it, position that hole on the opposite side of the shaft from the grease fitting in the upper housing, and keep the hole in that position when you later tighten the castle nut.

9. Start, but don’t tighten, all six of the large hex head bolts that hold the upper housing in place.

10. Put the castle nut on and tighten it. Not as tight as you can get it – just a little less than that, so that the cotter pin will go through the hole in the shaft. Put the cotter pin in and bend one or both of the ends.

11. Grease the fitting on the upper housing that puts grease all around the shaft and under the thrust washer. In my case, I greased it until grease oozed out of the hole in the thrust washer. (That’s why I positioned the hole opposite the grease fitting – so that grease wouldn’t come out of the hole until it had filled the area underneath.)

12. Tighten all six hex head bolts to secure the upper housing.

13. Replace the pot bracket, making sure it’s oriented properly. (It will go on either way – and it’s not the end of the world if you get it wrong. But if you put it back on the way it came off, it makes the final adjustment a little easier. Don’t ask me how I know.)

14. Line up the marks  on the flexible coupling and the top of the fin shaft (the marks you made in Step 4 of the disassembly process), and “snug” the hex head set screw that keeps the flexible coupling from turning. (See Step 5 of the disassembly process.) You want it tight enough that the flexible coupling can’t spin freely, but loose enough that you can twist it with your fingers.

If you didn’t make marks – no worries – the final adjustment will just take a little longer.

15. Now you’re ready to test. Move all your tools out of the way. Move the pot cover and the wire out of the way of the cylinder and lever arm. (These are the only moving parts.) Make sure you tightened the fittings on the cylinder – tight, but not TOO tight. Start the engine to get hydraulic fluid pumping. Turn on the stabilizer system and leave it in “Standby” mode. Inspect your hydraulic lines at the cylinders for leaks.

You shouldn’t need to bleed air out of the system – it should be self-bleeding. New fluid is constantly pumped into each side of the cylinder as it’s moved, and the old fluid (in the other side) is returned to the tank.

16. On each side, one at a time
– If the locking pin can slide into place, through both holes, the fin is centered properly, and you can tighten the hex head set screw. But it’s probably not, because it’s unlikely you got the flexible coupling perfectly aligned when you re-installed it. So…
– Twist the flexible coupling a tiny bit, in either direction, and see what happens to the alignment of the locking pin holes. Keep twisting the coupling, a little at a time, one way or the other, until the holes stay lined up. When they are lined up, that’s centered. Now you can tighten the hex head set screw, nice and tight.
– IF YOU DIDN’T MAKE MARKS, or if you installed the pot bracket 180 degrees off (like I did), it may seem like no matter what you do, you can’t get the fin to center, indicating that you’re WAY off. So twist it all the way one direction, or all the way the other (still just a little at a time, though). Eventually, you’ll get it in the ballpark, and then you can fine tune, until the holes line up. (If you suspect you put the bracket on “backwards”, you could remove and replace it the other way, but it’s probably just as easy to do what I did – just keep twisting until it all lines up.)

17. Replace the pot cover, gently feeding most but not all of the wire out of the cover as you put it in place.

18. Get clean rags and clean up all of your tools. Wipe up all the hydraulic fluid that leaked out, and all the grease that spooged out, and make everything nice and clean, especially around the hydraulic fittings. (That’s how you’ll know later that you have a leak – if an area you made completely clean and dry is no longer clean and dry, you probably have a leak.)

Post Op Instructions
It’s probably a good idea to visually inspect the whole actuator mechanism very shortly after you use the stabilizers the next time. I don’t mean after an 8 hour run with stabilizers on – no, I mean after using them for maybe 5 minutes (in conditions that require the stabilizers to activate). If you have a hydraulic leak that happens only under serious load, you want to find that out before you dump a gallon or five of hydraulic fluid into the bilge. (No, I didn’t do that!)