The other night while having a few beers with a fellow liveaboard, the topic of stuffing boxes and packing came up. He had a bad experience trying to get corroded nuts loose in order to replace his packing. His advice was to never let that happen as it turned into a dirty, knuckle-busting job.
I vowed to inspect mine and the beer drinking continued. Yesterday I dropped down into the bilge for a look-see. To my dismay, the bolts were unrecognizable globs of corrosion. After scraping and banging away at them with a scewdriver for a while, I managed to clear them enough to actually put a wrench on them. Should have taken a “before” pic but I didn’t.
A walk to Ace hardware for new stainless bolts and washers, plus a can of PB Blaster was in order. Now every boat owner knows that any job in the bilge is ten times harder than if it was on deck or even on land. It’s dark and cramped and nothing is ever easy to reach. In this case, my work area was further constricted by the a/c pump, strainers and assorted hoses that support the a/c system. Well, we haven’t used the a/c in over three years. I decided now was the time to simply remove all this useless stuff to clear up the work area. Busted knuckle number one was the result, but it did clean up the space and give me room to work. It also created another job for the to-do list. I may as well remove the a/c unit itself now that I’ve rendered it inoperable. I’ll take it to our local marine consignment shop and make a few bucks. That seems to be the way with a lot of boat projects. One job turns into two, or three.
I attacked the nuts that adjust tension on the packing first. They started to loosen just fine, but then stalled as they reached the corroded part of the bolt. Busted knuckle number two . . . More PB Blaster and a pause to climb out of the bilge for some fresh air. I finally got them off and started cleaning the bolt with a wire brush and more PB Blaster. Replaced the old nuts with shiny new stainless, using a locking nut as the back up to the first one.
Then I started on the bigger nuts that hold the backing plate to the bulkhead. The new nuts just did not want to cooperate going back on. Busted knuckle number three . . .They’d come tight and refuse to budge any further, well short of fully tightened on the bolt. I kept backing them off, spraying them again, and retighten. It was tedious work. My hands were now a combination of corrosion, sweat, blood and PB Blaster. Eventually I managed to ram them all the way up the bolts, but today I plan to back them off a tad and see if I can get them any tighter after soaking all night. Then I plan to coat them with a little grease to prevent any new corrossion.
Once finished, I had an ugly mess of goo beneath the shaft. Oh goody! Bilge cleaning. Again, one job turns into multiple jobs. If I was working on a similar project in a garage it may have taken a half hour or so. Down in the Holy Place it took several hours. Spending all that time in the bilge caused me to start mentally ticking off all the other items I should inspect or tighten soon.
So there’s a lesson for you. Don’t neglect this little maintenance chore or you too can spend hours busting knuckles in the dark confines of your bilge. My next book definitely needs to have the word Bilge in the title! For now though, you can read about other adventures of liveaboard boating in Leap of Faith / Quit Your Job and Live on a Boat, and Poop, Booze, and Bikinis, by Ed Robinson.