Monday, April 16, 2012

A Trailer, a Dolphin and a Gimp Suit

2011 was the beginning of catch up. For the previous six years poor old Epenetus had wintered on the hard at Axmouth. Over wintering outside, especially when its near as dam it on the beach just doesn't work with a wooden boat, well not year after year anyway. At the end of every season I religiously went through everything to ensure that we were safe for the winter and yet every spring it was enough to make you cry. What a difference in just five months. It was no good I just had to find a way of preventing the winter damage from happening. The only sensible solution was get Epenetus under cover in a nice warm dry barn for the winter and to do that I would need a trailer and a big one at that. 

Epenetus at the end of 2010 looking very "end of season"

Well 2010 was not exactly my most prosperous year financially so the spare £2500 to £3500 for a new trailer was never really on the cards, so the search was on for a good used example. Unfortunately a big secondhand trailer that's any good is not easy to find at a bargain price so by the time September came around I was getting worried. Well I'm a firm believer that if you keep your nerve something will turn up, well it did.     

Sitting in a local seafront pub, winding down with a beer after a particularly tough day at work and someone says "the Lurk is selling a big four wheel trailer and he doesn't want much for it.". Well not to be beaten to a good deal I'm off down to the boatyard to find the trailer in question. 

 As per usual when funds are low what turns up is never quite right and this trailer was no exception. Lying abandoned in the corner of the yard where it had lain in the sea air for more than a year or two was an American bunked trailer complete with rust holes in the underside of the draw bar. It was big enough and according to the plate it would take the weight but it looked awful. After a good inspection with the assistance of a 2lb hammer I established that the trailer was built from thick walled steel box section which was still sound whilst the draw bar was build from thin walled box section and was far from sound. In its present form this trailer was no use to me but as ever its not what it is its what you can make it. I slept on the idea then the next morning a little cash changed hands and the work started. 

The bunks, or more correctly what was left of them were removed, the draw bar cut off and a new slightly longer one welded in, hubs and brakes overhauled, chassis cleaned up rust proofed and painted. All in all six days work to turn a heap of scrap into a strong serviceable trailer. Six days, well three weekends really and it was now October so the clock was ticking. All that we required now was to build and fit the wooden supports for Epenetus to sit on. Luckily one of the great joys of the Fairey Atalanta is that every part has its associated engineering drawing and that even goes down to trailers. I had already obtained a copy of the relevant drawing from the drawings master at the Atalanta Owners Association so I had all of the measurements I just didn't have the time. 

Well you can't do everything on your own. Darren had helped me with the trailer and I couldn't have done it without him, a far better welder than I have ever been but he is strictly metal, an engineer by trade. Enter Trevor builder come woodworker extraordinaire. After some discussion Trevor built the supports in the week whilst I was away at work and what a cracking job.  

Epenetus being lifted out ready to be put on the new trailer

Epenetus was lifted out on the Saturday morning and carefully lowered onto the new trailer. A near perfect fit, Trevor your a star.

The finished trailer

The following weekend Epenetus moved to new winter quarters, safe from what was to turn out to be a very hard winter.

Safe, warm and dry in winter quarters

"I bet there's not much to do this year after all winter in a nice warm shed" How wrong can you be!

The old YSE12 had caused me more than a little grief the previous season so something had to be done. The main part of the engine was good with loads of compression but the same could not be said for all of the ancillary bits which were getting past their best. The exhaust elbow fell in half whilst being cleaned up, the water pump required reconditioning again, the fuel pipes needed replacing and the whole lump required cleaning off and repainting. Other than these minor maintenance issues and the fact that the old girl was suffering from being a little on the obese side, weighing in at around 140kg, what a sweet little engine.

Thinking about it, lets take off the rose tinted specs. There were other problems associated with the old YSE12, the noise for one. From outside of the boat the engine noise was fine, no different to any other boat just the almost musical chug of a single cylinder diesel, however inside the boat it was a whole different story. With only a single piece of ply between your feet and the engine your fillings shook loose and you could not hear yourself think. In addition to the noise there was the prop issue. Matched to the engine performance under power was excellent but sailing it was a three bladed drag anchor somewhat akin to dragging a bucket.

Now when it comes to props there are umpteen options available to sole the issue of drag but wouldn't you know it due to space restrictions and a mud berth the only option open to me to dispose of the three bladed drag anchor was a three bladed feathering prop coming in at a hefty sum.  

Well considering the grief which had been caused by the old YSE12, the price of Yanmar parts and the prop issue the only sensible option looked like a modern lightweight diesel and a feathering prop. Well as anyone who has replaced a yacht engine will know when you look at the shopping list the money soon adds up. £3.5k to £4.5k for the engine, £1.2k for the prop and on and on it goes. This isn't looking very likely to happen. 

Time for some serious thought:

  1. Atalanta's sail best when they are light
  2. Atalanta's were originally fitted with lightweight petrol engines
  3. Old petrol engines can be unreliable and spares difficult to find
  4. Even modern lightweight diesels aren't that light
After many hours of thought and as many hair brained ideas it came to me, what about a Dolphin 12hp? The direct drive model weighs just 41kg and given the high shaft speed a 9 1/2 inch two bladed prop should deliver the required performance under power and substantially reduce the drag when sailing. OK only two issues here, one its a petrol engine and two they stopped making them a couple of years ago. Back to the drawing board, time for a beer or two and some thought.

Several weeks passed and guess what no magic answers on the engine front. 

Whiling away the hours sat in a hotel room surfing the net and there it is, good old eBay. A direct drive Dolphin 12hp reconditioned by the manufactures in 2001 then unused until 2007 then serviced by the manufacturers and dry stored again. This has got to be worth a punt.

A dusty little Dolphin

Well the description was correct and nine days later I'm at a farm on the edge of Dartmoor handing over a little cash for a dusty little Dolphin along with a host of bits such as a fuel tank, strainer, exhaust pipe, sea cocks, prop shaft, prop, fuel pipes and filters etc. what a result.

 A few extra bits and pieces would be required to complete the installation such as an exhaust elbow as a wet exhaust is an optional extra with the Dolphin. Now I can go as far as a petrol engine in a boat, a two stroke at that but a hot exhaust running through the aft cabin is not for me. Maybe I'm paranoid or perhaps I just haven't thought this through properly but having experienced how hot a motorcycle exhaust gets (I once had a pannier catch fire after touching a hot exhaust but that's another story) I can not bring myself to surround something that hot with wood. 

I should explain here for those who are not familiar with the wonderful Dolphin direct drive engine, it has a few peculiarities compared to modern small marine engines. Having no gearbox to go astern you stop the engine and restart it again in reverse; this of course means that when the engine is running backwards so is the water pump. To accommodate this two sea cocks are used so both the inlet and outlet are underwater and their functions simply reverse along with the engine rotation. Once you fit a wet exhaust this solution doesn't work and life becomes a little challenging. The guys at Dolphin (yes they are still in business) are very helpful and soon came up with the solution.

One way valves and a couple of tee's and we have a solution

There is not much the guys at Dolphin haven't done with these little engines over the years, at one point they had them kicking out 40hp!

Engine fitting time

The weekend at last and time to fit the Dolphin. The old YSE12 came out easy enough with the assistance of some lifting slings and a fork truck borrowed from Derrick. 

Life becomes easy with a fork truck

The rusty old YSE12

A messy empty engine compartment

Things were going far too well. Much head scratching and screwing up of the previous weeks scribbling on bits of paper exercises followed, whilst we studied the mess of the empty engine compartment debating the best way to sort out the task in hand; new engine mountings, shaft alignment, exhaust pipe routing etc. Well there comes a time when you just have to make a start, so out with the hacksaw, drill and files. Plan A was swiftly followed by plan B and plan C, the day was fast descending into a strange parody of “Scrapheap Challenge” only thankfully without the cameras. Still improvise, adapt and overcome, we will get there. More than a few hours later having skinned more than one knuckle and discovered some best not repeated new language we had the engine bed suitably modified. Really the day should not have been a surprise as it had followed the normal routine with the parts of the job which should have been easy turning out to be a complete git! One day I’ll learn, it would have been easier to start from scratch and fabricate new engine beds instead of modifying the existing.

Sunday morning and a new day, in goes the new engine with no need for the forklift. I picked up the engine, climbed up the stepladders into the cockpit and placed the engine into position on the modified engine bed. How easy was that! An hour later and the engine is aligned and bolted into place with the exhaust and electrics connected. It was all going so well so it was no surprise when we came to an abrupt stop. Modifications were required to conect up the drive shaft and not a lathe or a miller onsite. What do you know its time to retire to the bar for shall we say a design meeting. 

The Dolphin looking lost in the engine compartment
With engine work delayed for two weeks while Darren modified the drive shaft coupling it was time to get on with other jobs. Amongst the mountain of things to do, a new cover for the engine compartment needed to be designed and fabricated, so to work. Digging in the dark corners of the shed I dragged out the marine ply left over from the trailer build. What do you know, it doesn't matter which way you look at it if the wood isn’t big enough for the job then it’s not big enough. Is that really true? Not strictly true if you’ve got a biscuit jointer and some epoxy to join two pieces together. 

With my faithful if somewhat useless assistant Rex the ancient Jack Russell Terrorist the new engine cover and hatch soon came together so time to turn my attention to toe rails.

The forward toe rails were well past their best, it fact they were rotten and needed replacement. With time short a decision had to be made, repair, replace or remove. After much deliberation it was the latter we would just have to do a season without them. Unfortunately removing the toe rails causes more work, laminate repairs and painting what a surprise.

Joy and disaster a day of extreams 

Well today took me through the full gambit of emotions all the way from apprehension moving into excitement followed by shock and then joy, happiness plunged quickly into despair finishing finally with hope and determination.
Today is the day, time to run up the engine and see what we’ve got. The new fuel tank isn’t fitted yet and the new battery box is yet to be built but we can work those little issues out I’m sure. The batteries are temporary wired and the fuel tank jury rigged, hose pipe into the strainer and its time. Fingers crossed. Ignition lever switched to forward, a little choke, touch the button and the dolphin instantly springs into life. Joy, relief and pure delight it runs and it’s smooth and quiet. Stop the engine and start in reverse. I’m shocked at how quick and easy it is, probably 3 seconds from ahead to astern no worries there then. Everything was going so well it just had to happen. As I pushed on the revs suddenly everything shook! It can’t be the shaft alignment was good, or was it? On inspection the casting for the rear engine mountings had fractured. I could have cried. After a short interval and a few choice words we started the autopsy. Cause of the failure turned out to be the LAYRUB coupling which bolts into the flywheel, the bolts were tight but that was due to them bottoming out not being tight so to speak. Engine out time and a rethink on the drive shaft coupling, two more weeks of delay but hey when its done it will be good.

Saturday 2nd July and the engine reinstalled, engine casting replaced, the new drive shaft coupling fitted and balanced, everything working as it should. I’m back on track with plan B four days left to get everything finished and in the water, leaving a day for sea trials then off to France and the Channel islands on the Friday morning tide. 

The 3rd of July and life deals one of those big blows.
Sitting down to an early Sunday morning breakfast, the house to myself for a change, sun shining in through the kitchen windows, outside the gulls squawking their territorial calls and inside Vivaldi is gracing my ears. The coffee is strong and pungent the bread is still warm from the oven, eggs, cheese, cold meat and salami, just a perfect start to the day. A little green light is flashing in the corner, a message on the answer phone I ignore it and enjoy my breakfast in peace whilst planning the work for the day. A shower then dress, I hit the play button on the answer phone on my way to the door and the day hits a brick wall. The big man is dead.

When you loose someone close it leaves a big hole in your life and for a while it turns everything upside down. Apart from the emotional side of things the legal aspects are a nightmare. Now as it happened everything was in good order complicated only by the remnants of my late mothers estate, but I have to admit the official system stinks. Probate, pointless officialdom, Revenue and Customs and the legal sharks even in death they are there to cause you pain and unnecessary complication in their quest for monetary gain. Not much of a civilization that can see nothing in death other than tax and profit. The big man will be sorely missed by many but he leaves behind him a wealth of memories. Furrows in the ocean.   

Happy times

Life moves on and its Saturday 23rd July so it has to be launch day. The plan is to sort the last few little bits and bobs in the morning and then wet launch from the club hoist at high water around mid day. This plan soon fell apart. What do you know the harbour master is away with his caravan for an impromptu weekend and the only other person who can use the hoist and was supposedly in charge of the harbour has buggered off to Lyme for an overnighter with the new found love of his life. Oh good luck to him it makes a pleasant change to see him all loved up instead of playing the lonely guy.
Nothing for it we will launch off the trailer. I fire up the truck and here we go again, where is all that oil coming from? This is not the time to blow an oil return pipe on the truck. With the truck out of action the flat tyre on the trailer and the missing topping lift almost seemed immaterial. Am I doomed not to make it to sea this year? It certainly feels like it.   

Sunday 24th July and its time for plan well we must be on F or G by now at very least. 1000 hour and I’m 30 miles from the boat near Exeter waiting for a well known firm of tyre fitters to open in order to get a new valve body fitted to repair the trailer tyre. Now you would think “can you just fit a new valve in this and re-inflate it please” would be a simple enough request but sadly no. I feel a bit like Victor Meldrew as I argue the fact that wheel balancing is not on my shopping list today and how the hell can you perform a free brake check on a trailer which is thirty miles away. “Please just re-new the valve”. Well to cut a long story short eventually the valve is changed and just £4.75 the poorer I’m heading back to Axmouth.

Arriving back in the yard at 1115 (high water 1230) time was seriously against us. The wheel was refitted to the trailer, the mast was lowered, topping lift fitted and raised again (really easy using the winch on the trailer) fuel tank filled, warps and fenders attached. All we needed now was a truck to launch with.

Darren in the gimp suit

An hour after high water and with the assistance of Darren in what can only be described as a gimp suit Epenetus slides effortlessly off the trailer. We're floating again at last thanks to the aid of a Jeep shall we say borrowed from a guy called Nigel. Thanks Nigel. 

The dolphin fired up and pumped an amazing quantity of water considering how small the water pump is. We test ran the engine up for as long as we dared being by now well over an hour after high water and only on a small tide at that. Time at last to head for my berth.  
I’d forgotten how effortlessly she moves through the water and what a change without the old YSE making the ears bleed. I must admit to some anxiety regarding the stop and restart routine to go astern but there was no need. Flick the lever to stop, wait a second for the engine to stop, flick the lever to astern, hit the button and the dolphin springs instantly into life. All in all the whole stop and restart routine takes only a couple of seconds longer than going astern with the old diesel.

1 comment:

  1. Gday Rob interesting to read your post on the Dolphin,we have one fitted to our 30" yacht here in Sydney (down under) and it is probably the last one manufactured.Apart from the somewhat antique feel about it and the electrics it is a great motor ( ) as you can see.BUT despite repeated emails to the new owners I cannot get a reply and wondered if you could help me with any info you may have gathered.
    Big thanks if you can
    regards Richard