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"Thelonious"

Rudder Gland Repack and Reseal

Rating: 19 votes, 5.00 average.
Symptom: Water in the bilge after returning to slip. Bilge is normally dry.
Cause: Rudder packing gland/rudder tube/frozen lower grease fitting.

There should not be much water in the bilge of a fiberglass boat. I figure that with a dripless shaft seal, there shouldn't be any at all. But there it was. Sometimes it rose to the level of the automatic bilge pump intake, which begs a disturbing question: is the pump the only thing keeping you afloat? Is a seacock falling apart? Are the keel bolts giving away? Slocum feared his hull being speared by a swordfish, which is laughable--or is it? Yes, mystery water in a dry boat is a riddle wrapped in an enigma that can stand you right up out of bed at 3 a.m. wondering what it might mean. And of course if she sinks in her slip you wouldn't know it till Sunday.

In my case it was the rudder gland that tormented the imagination and kept sneakily filling Thelonious' bilge with ocean. The thing is, the gland is usually above the waterline on boats with spade rudders. It sits on top of the rudder tube. So in the slip, it doesn't leak a drop. But when under way, and especially when under power, the boat squats down, the quarter wave rises and the rudder tube fills. Water pours in unobserved and presents itself as a mysterious leak when you come aboard a week later.

When I finally observed the gland while steaming under full power it was spewing a quart an hour. In fact, the entire bronze fitting rotated with the rudder post and I could lift it right off with a finger. The original white sealant, probably 5200, had entirely lost its grip and its seal.
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Repacking a gland should not be a big deal. However, on the 32-3 and other Ericsons, the radial disk sits right on top of it and therefore must first be removed. Since my lower flange also needed to be reseated, a haul-out and rudder drop was recommended. However, the job can be done in the water. It is truly a pain in the butt, rib cage, shoulders, knuckles and neck. However! In performing this penance I discovered Secret Knowledge that may reward you with the pleasure of not having to do any of it, and in fact of stopping a leaky gland in one hour flat. This potential salvation resides in a patent issued in January of 1929 to an inventor named Oscar U. Zerk. What a name to wear through the schoolyard, eh? Always one little letter away from humiliation. But he's a hero to me now.
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In this photo the radial disk has been raised up on the rudder post. This permits the packing gland to be jacked up and reveal its lower flange. Beneath it is the fiberglass rudder tube.

Getting the radial disk ("quadrant") out of the way takes patience. First loosen and pull off the steering cables. The disk is two aluminum castings held together by four stainless machine screws. Soak them in PB Blaster, use an impact hammer if it fits or tap-tap-tap on a spanner if not. The long stainless bolt piercing casting and rudder post also comes out. The disk will fall into two parts. But I just loosened the bolts and gently pounded the disk up the post using a hammer. Do note the position of the through-bolt hole, as alignment must be eventually regained. This work is done stretched out in the after berth. But you can't reach everything from there, so it is also necessary to enter the steering compartment from the cockpit.

This seems impossible, and it is, until you perfect the entry technique. First, disconnect the base of the water heater so it can move sideways a foot or so. Now lower yourself into the starboard cockpit lazarette while facing the binnacle. Leave a note in case they don't find you for a week. Squeeze your feet past the water hoses. Lower yourself onto your left hip. Your head does not clear the back of the cockpit panel gauges? Keep trying, you claustrophobic weenie. You have to work your rear end between the exhaust system and the water tank. Then, after falling helplessly the last foot onto your nose, you arrive within easy arm's reach of the other side of the gland. I am 6'1", 195 pounds, and was born the day Allied forces invaded Sicily. You can do it. What's that? You forgot to bring tools?

The lower part of my packing gland came off the top of the rudder tube because all that was holding it was the 5200 adhesive, which pulled off in one big useless piece. Since there's actually nothing better than 5200 for this application, after cleaning with acetone I rebedded it as before. However, the factory made no mechanical connection, which seems an oversight. One forum member simply drilled a hole through the tube into the flange and put in a screw. Simple enough, and would prevent the gland turning with the rudder post and working loose.

I decided to exchange the four quarter-inch bolts of the gland for longer ones, so that the bolts protrude an inch below the bronze. With an adhesive paste of West System and colloidal silica I encapsulated the bolt-ends against the tube, greasing the threads first so they'd come out. The encapsulation was then wrapped with several layers of cloth and resin. I don't see how the gland can turn or lift now. Here's
the old failed 5200, and the rebedded and reglassed tube top.
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Now the easy part--repacking the gland. This particular fitting has puzzled those of us who encountered it. It has four bolts, rather than the three bolts of the similar Edson fitting, and may be a Yacht Specialties product. It has room inside for three courses of Teflon flax. However, once assembled there is no compaction adjustment because the flanges are always flush. It was Maine Sail who provided the first guide to renewing it. One of his photos is below, and the link is here.
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My fitting would accept only 1/4" flax, nothing larger. I greased liberally with seacock lube and was pleased to see both parts of the gland seat neatly atop the newly built-up rudder tube. Time for a test.

The engine, with its upgraded wiring, started instantly. I backed out of the slip and proceeded to open water, anxious to open the throttle and observe the renewed gland in all its watertight glory. It was 5 p.m. and the light was beginning to fade. I had grease to the elbows and my hair stood on end, the result of resting my headbone on a convenient pillow that turned out to be the open grease pot. I crumpled up and threw away the piece of paper that said, "If you find this note look for my body under the starboard lazarette. DNR".

At six knots the stern squatted down and I engaged the autopilot, crawled past the roaring diesel into the after berth, turned on my flashlight, and observed water pouring out of the packing gland at the rate of a quart an hour, exactly as it had done a week before. Hmmm. When I got home neither dog nor spouse asked what happened. They just moved to another room. They knew.

By midnight I recalled that I had tested the job without actually completing it. I hadn't greased the rudder post bearing. Wait a minute. That bearing is below the packing gland. Wouldn't grease there intercept water before it got to the gland? I hadn't repacked the grease fitting because it was rusted solid. Probably hadn't been greased in 20 years. Hey, wait a minute!

The next morning I picked up a new half-inch stainless Zerk fitting with a quarter-inch inlet from a boat yard parts department. I drilled a half inch hole in the side of the rudder tube as deep as the Zerk threads. This didn't penetrate through tube to post. I drilled further with a quarter-inch bit, carefully probing. When I thought I was all the way through it was out of the slip again, full speed ahead again, down into the after berth again--and indeed water was squirting out of the new Zerk hole, proof of an open path to the inside of the tube.
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I glued the new Zerk in with thickened epoxy and when it cured pumped in three 3-ounce tubes of marine grease through the new nipple. Pump, pump, pump, filling a void empty for who knows how long, and with a growing suspicion that the whole system relied heavily on grease, lots of it, probably an expected annual application of grease, an application that could not have been made through a rusted Zerk and had perhaps never been made since Thelonious was tossed into the test pool in Irvine, CA, in 1984, toweled off and destined, eventually, for me.

This time at full throttle not a drop came in from the packing gland or anywhere else. The new Zerk and a three-course dinner of grease stopped every form of leak. It may be that the gland itself was never at issue, the radial disk didn't have to come off, the gland didn't really have to be repacked....

So, leaky rudder gland? Grease the lower bearing first and see what happens. Mr. Zerk was awarded that patent for a reason.

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Updated 04-12-2014 at 10:08 AM by Christian Williams

Categories
Maintenance and Mechanical , Ericson Ownership

Comments

  1. Walter Pearson's Avatar
    Well done in all respects.
  2. Ericsean's Avatar
    Christian
    At 6'5" and NFL lineman weight, my body thanks you in advance!

    I've been thinking my rudder post as a problem for quite a while, think I'll zerk it! I did slop some West Sytem goop on the tube/coupler joint, but had not taken it off the tube as you had.

    I actually pulled my rudder out about 5 years ago to reglass in my basement, but don't think I greased that bearing!

    Will put on my spring list!
  3. Christian Williams's Avatar
    More of More Than You Ever Wanted to Know, from a private message:

    Re: Rudder packing gland questions

    How did you pick the location to drill on the rudder tube? Was it below the position of the bronze packing gland (so the hole reaches directly to the rudder post cavity)? I did see that your fix included rebedding/reglassing the lower portion of the packing gland, so I imagine that this created a seal around the packing gland and the zerk fitting goes out into the cavity where the rudder post is located.

    I chose the easiest place to reach, at the same latitude as the original rusted Zerk fitting. Yes, well below the packing gland,maybe 6 inches below. At the fattest part of the rudder tube (my rudder tube narrows where it reaches the bronze gland).

    If you don't have to re-seat the bronze gland, great. In my case the reglassing of the tube is unrelated to the Zerk issue, I only did it to anchor the lower half of the bronze.

    - Either way, how did you keep from drilling into the rudder post or bronze packing gland? Or was that inevitable, even if it resulted in just lightly scoring it?

    I worried about it, then decided to stop worrying about it. I drilled very slowly and nervously, testing by tapping with the bit to see if I hit metal. Actually, the hard glass always sounded like metal. But when I did finally hit the stainless rudder post, it seemed fairly obvious. But I still had to run the boat at full speed to assure myself that I had penetrated all the way through the tube--and water certainly did squirt out, proving I had. I am now certain you can do no harm to a stainless tube by hitting it with a dull drill bit. I;ve had to drill some holes in my stainless binnacle guard, mere one-inch tube, and it was really difficult. Have to start with a hammer blow to a nail punch just to make a ding for the first very small drill, then use cutting oil, push like hell, stop for the bit to cool, and go up through five larger sizes of bit until you get to the half-inch hole that was the goal. So I am pretty sure we won't make a ding in a hefty rudder post, much less score it or make a hole.

    - When you glued-in the zerk fitting with epoxy, did you size the hole so that the threads on the fitting "bit" into the fiberglass rudder tube (and had to screw it in), or was it set only with the thickened epoxy? Any concerns of watertightness?

    Yeah, I was going to tap threads into the tube and screw in the new Zerk real professional like. A boat yard mechanic laughed. Just epoxy it it, he said, you'll never want to get it out again, will you? I used a big Zerk--half-inch base. I drilled a half-inch hole just deep enough for the threads. Lots of surface area for the thickened epoxy, and it seems rock solid. There's hardly any water pressure in the rudder tube anyhow--just enough to leak, not enough to blow a fitting out. Mine seems rock solid, anyway. On my model, the Ericson factory used a standard automotive Zerk, which is tiny. Be sure to get a bigger one of ss. Local boat yard parts department should have various sizes in a drawer. Take your grease gun there with you to confirm it and the Zerk you choose are compatible.

    - My rudder tube has no existing zerk fitting. Any considerations you think I should have due to this before starting this job?

    My rudder tube had a thicker wall than I had guessed. You will probably wind up drilling for the body of the Zerk, and then using a smaller drill bit--say, a quarter-inch bit--to continue on to the void. I think I drilled more than half an inch more, for a total of one inch, until I got all the way through the wall of the tube.

    I read up on all this, as you have, and I've only done it once, so I;m no expert. But as I visualize it, there is a lot of void around the post as it rises through the tube. I would put a ridiculous amount of grease in the new Zerk. I used three 3-ounce tubes, which takes a long time to pump through the Zerk. I wish I had put it another nine ounces--what can it hurt?

    My boat still doesn't leak a drop back there.

    Oh yes--somebody else said the wheel would be stiff afterwards, but that in a few days it would loosen up. It was, so I figured I'd stopped the leak and paid for it with a boat that steered like a truck. A few days later, though, it was not only back to normal but better than ever before, and now the wheel spins with one finger as if encased in butter, which , in a sense, I guess it is.

    Cheers,
    Christian
    Updated 05-13-2014 at 08:36 AM by Christian Williams
  4. Tomwine's Avatar
    Is there anyone on this board that has completed this project and would be interested in doing it again on my boat.
    The boat is in Wilmington CA.[
    I have cash and Beer in hand. E 35 I live in Las Vegas but can come down to let you into the boat or have someone local let you in. I'm not comfortable taking on this job.
    Thanks QUOTE=Christian Williams;bt394]More of More Than You Ever Wanted to Know, from a private message:

    Re: Rudder packing gland questions

    How did you pick the location to drill on the rudder tube? Was it below the position of the bronze packing gland (so the hole reaches directly to the rudder post cavity)? I did see that your fix included rebedding/reglassing the lower portion of the packing gland, so I imagine that this created a seal around the packing gland and the zerk fitting goes out into the cavity where the rudder post is located.

    I chose the easiest place to reach, at the same latitude as the original rusted Zerk fitting. Yes, well below the packing gland,maybe 6 inches below. At the fattest part of the rudder tube (my rudder tube narrows where it reaches the bronze gland).

    If you don't have to re-seat the bronze gland, great. In my case the reglassing of the tube is unrelated to the Zerk issue, I only did it to anchor the lower half of the bronze.

    - Either way, how did you keep from drilling into the rudder post or bronze packing gland? Or was that inevitable, even if it resulted in just lightly scoring it?

    I worried about it, then decided to stop worrying about it. I drilled very slowly and nervously, testing by tapping with the bit to see if I hit metal. Actually, the hard glass always sounded like metal. But when I did finally hit the stainless rudder post, it seemed fairly obvious. But I still had to run the boat at full speed to assure myself that I had penetrated all the way through the tube--and water certainly did squirt out, proving I had. I am now certain you can do no harm to a stainless tube by hitting it with a dull drill bit. I;ve had to drill some holes in my stainless binnacle guard, mere one-inch tube, and it was really difficult. Have to start with a hammer blow to a nail punch just to make a ding for the first very small drill, then use cutting oil, push like hell, stop for the bit to cool, and go up through five larger sizes of bit until you get to the half-inch hole that was the goal. So I am pretty sure we won't make a ding in a hefty rudder post, much less score it or make a hole.

    - When you glued-in the zerk fitting with epoxy, did you size the hole so that the threads on the fitting "bit" into the fiberglass rudder tube (and had to screw it in), or was it set only with the thickened epoxy? Any concerns of watertightness?

    Yeah, I was going to tap threads into the tube and screw in the new Zerk real professional like. A boat yard mechanic laughed. Just epoxy it it, he said, you'll never want to get it out again, will you? I used a big Zerk--half-inch base. I drilled a half-inch hole just deep enough for the threads. Lots of surface area for the thickened epoxy, and it seems rock solid. There's hardly any water pressure in the rudder tube anyhow--just enough to leak, not enough to blow a fitting out. Mine seems rock solid, anyway. On my model, the Ericson factory used a standard automotive Zerk, which is tiny. Be sure to get a bigger one of ss. Local boat yard parts department should have various sizes in a drawer. Take your grease gun there with you to confirm it and the Zerk you choose are compatible.

    - My rudder tube has no existing zerk fitting. Any considerations you think I should have due to this before starting this job?

    My rudder tube had a thicker wall than I had guessed. You will probably wind up drilling for the body of the Zerk, and then using a smaller drill bit--say, a quarter-inch bit--to continue on to the void. I think I drilled more than half an inch more, for a total of one inch, until I got all the way through the wall of the tube.

    I read up on all this, as you have, and I've only done it once, so I;m no expert. But as I visualize it, there is a lot of void around the post as it rises through the tube. I would put a ridiculous amount of grease in the new Zerk. I used three 3-ounce tubes, which takes a long time to pump through the Zerk. I wish I had put it another nine ounces--what can it hurt?

    My boat still doesn't leak a drop back there.

    Oh yes--somebody else said the wheel would be stiff afterwards, but that in a few days it would loosen up. It was, so I figured I'd stopped the leak and paid for it with a boat that steered like a truck. A few days later, though, it was not only back to normal but better than ever before, and now the wheel spins with one finger as if encased in butter, which , in a sense, I guess it is.

    Cheers,
    Christian
    [/QUOTE]
  5. jnevins's Avatar
    Thank you Christian... !!! I have been living with a horrific leak through the rudder post for many years on my 1973 Ericson 32 #278. When motoring with my Atomic 4, the bilge would completely fill up once each hour while underway... how many gallons could that be? That amount of water is 120 pumps on my Whale Gusher bilge pump. I laughed out loud in your description of the inventor of this fitting.

    Well done!

    Jerry
    "Solstice"
    Noank, CT