Interabang Projects

Steering System Maintenance

On the last of several legs in the journey south to La Paz large and uncomfortable seas were encountered between Isla San Francisco and Isla Partida.  Holding the course with big waves on the port aft quarter put big loads on the rudder and we began hearing a new squeaking sound.  It seemed to be coming from somewhere beneath my bare feet at the helm.  I put my foot on top of the rudder post where the emergency tiller attaches and could feel the rudder post wiggling around.  Between the new squeaking sound and the slop in the rudder post, it was time to have a good look at steering system.

This is where the helmsman stands.  The stainless steel block
 with the threaded hole is the top of the rudder post.

After we reached our destination and got the anchor down, I took a look at what sailboat maintenance expert Nigel Calder had to say about steering systems in his book.  I learned that Nigel recommends replacing steering cables every seven years.  Interabang’s cables were over thirty years old.  Maybe the squeak was coming from worn out steering cables.  In addition, the slop in the rudder post begged a look at the upper rudder bearing.

This is the point where Trisha chimes in on her project requirements.  She wisely expressed her discomfort with the idea of being at anchor with the steering disassembled.  What do we do if there is an emergency and we must move the boat, or the anchor drags?  We put the boat in Marina de La Paz. 

Emergency Tiller

For this project, the emergency tiller would be useful tool for controlling the rudder when it was flopping around with the steering cables disconnected and upper bearing removed.  This big heavy chunk of galvanized steel has taken up prime storage space for over thirty years.  It was time to see how it works.   During an attempted installation it was discovered that the female box fitting on the bottom end of the emergency tiller was too small to accommodate the square block machined into the top of the rudder post.  THE EMERGENCY TILLER WAS USELESS!   A La Paz welding shop cut off the too small box and welded on a slightly larger box.  For the first time ever Interabang has a functional emergency tiller.

Steering Cables

The connection to the roller chain on the old steering cables..
The steering cables are worth discussing here for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, to document that on this Beneteau First 456, the steering cables are of 9/32 wire and the roller chain size is 60.  Secondly, we wanted to share a different solution for connecting the wire to the roller chain.  The picture at left was taken after opening up the steering system.  It shows the factory solution where the last bar of the roller chain goes through an oversized marine eye.  While this method performed flawlessly for more than thirty years, it just seemed a little sloppy.

The picture on the right (taken from a website) shows the Chain to Wire Swage product provided by Anderson Roberts, a marine hardware manufacturer in California.  We needed to purchase a new fitting for the new cable anyway, so we may as well buy a more appropriate fitting.  We bought part number CWS 9-60 and milled it down a little with a Dremel to get a perfect fit.

Dawn Rigging in La Paz did a great job assembling the cables for us.

Rudder Bushing

My first plan of attack was to contact Beneteau USA and see if I could buy a new rudder bushing and have it shipped down to Mexico.  The new bushing would provide some clues about how the top end of the rudder was assembled.  No such luck, the bushings were no longer available having sold out years ago.

The second plan was to just start taking things apart.  The picture below shows a pretty simple assembly: there is a set bolt, a 3/4” stainless steel pin, and a stainless steel collar around the rudder post.  The weight of the rudder hangs from the collar riding on a plastic bearing that is supported by a stainless steel plate.

Taking the load off of the collar seemed like a good place to start.   The marina maintenance manager was kind enough to loan me a large beam for this purpose. The beam was placed across the cockpit right over the rudder.  Now the threaded hole on top of the rudder post came in very handy.  The addition of a bolt that fit the hole, a large washer, and a short length of chain provided a lifting point.  After rigging a block-and-tackle (old boom vang) from the beam down to this lifting point we were good to go.  I ran the bitter end of the block-and-tackle to a winch and easily lifted the rudder.  With the rudder lifted, the plastic bearing under the collar spun freely demonstrating that there was no load on the collar.

Beam across the cockpit.

Jumping ahead, at some point in the future I plan to get that collar off the rudder post.  When that happens, the load must be taken off the beam and the block-and-tackle disconnected so that the collar and the flange are free to be removed.  Remember, the weight of the rudder was hanging from that collar.  With the rudder no longer lifted from above, what keeps it from dropping to the bottom of the ocean?  My solution was to put blocks of wood under the steering quadrant.  The blocks hold up the rudder when the lift is released.  This technique worked very well for me as I did not want to damage my new bottom paint by running support line under the rudder.

So now everything is in place.  It’s time to disassemble the collar.  The little keeper bolt came out real easy.  It felt like I momentum was on my side.  Then it came time to slide out the 3/4” pin.  Access to this area of the boat is almost impossible and you only get one hand to work with.  The other hand is needed for bracing yourself up.  There is no swinging room for a hammer.  Days passed and news of my dilemma spread around the marina.  Guys would stop by to marvel at the stuck pin in the bad location.  One guy had no suggestions but gave me a bottle of tequila.  Another fellow said heat would do the trick.  Finally, Bob on the power boat Zig Zag provided the answer.  Make a press out of a piece of pipe that has an I.D. larger than the O.D. of the collar and press the pin out.  And that’s what I did and it worked amazingly well.  Even with the pin out, the collar did not want to come off.  It was eventually persuaded upward with a gear puller.

The mighty pin press.

With the pin and the collar finally removed, the stainless steel plate was unbolted and pried off the top of the rudder post.  The bushing that was causing the trouble was now visible.  It was a split stainless steel bushing that seemed to have been covered with fiberglass or some other kind of cloth and pressed into the flange.  The cloth had worn away and the metal-to-metal bushing against flange and the rudder post seemed to be the source of the squeaking.  The old corroded bushing was tapped out with a hammer and a screwdriver.

The collar and the pin and a can of Pacifico.

The flange (left) and the old bushing (right).
The flange was delivered to Ernesto so he could make the replacement bushing.  Ernesto operates a machine shop in La Paz known as the Pepsi Plant and he has a great reputation for quality work.  He recommended a hard white plastic for the bushing.  Considering the diameter of the rudder post and the inside diameter of the flange, there was only about 1/8” of space all around for the new bushing.  I was a little concerned that this was too tight.  Ernesto’s machinist said “no problema.”  Four hours later I was back in the shop with the new bushing in my hand.  What an amazing job they did!  A little Vaseline on the rudder post and the new bushing slid on like a glove.

The new bushing made by Ernesto.


Anchor Chain Galvanizing

In addition to being excellent leisure time reading, this document provides basic instructions for do-it-yourself anchor chain galvanizing.  If you find this information helpful, please join Interabang in giving a big thank you to Casey on V’ger, Scotty on Ula Lena, and Patrick on Just a Minute for their valuable contributions.

Interabang’s chain was a little rusty, but still in very good shape.  The only preparation we did was remove the color coded cable ties we use for marking chain length.  A friend on another boat shipped his chain to the foundry with the cable ties still attached and saw no negative impact to the quality of the galvanizing.  The impact on the cost, if any, was not known.

As explained on Just a Minute’s blog, the most thorough preparation technique involves loading your chain in a vehicle and driving out of town to an unpaved road in the desert.  Once on the unpaved road, unload the chain and securely attach it to the back of the vehicle.  Drag the chain down the road until any painted on markers and accumulated rust are sand blasted away.  Flip the chain end-for-end and repeat.  If we had access to a vehicle, we would have used this method to remove some of the rust. 


First send an email to Jose Carlos at the foundry (  Let him know that you are planning to ship your chain to the foundry for galvanizing and your expected ship date.  Include the approximate length and size of the chain.  This way he will be looking for your shipment when it arrives.  Communication with the foundry is the easiest part of the process as Jose Carlos reads and writes English.  There is no need to translate your communications into Spanish.

Next, get the chain off the boat and load into a taxi or a friend’s vehicle then drive it to Transportes Castores.  We highly recommend that you bring a friend who is fluent in Spanish when you go to Castores.  None of the Castores employees we met spoke English.  As for shipping containers, Interabang did not purchase any special shipping crates or buckets for the shipment.  We piled the chain on a wooden pallet kindly provided by Castores.

Finally, the shipping paperwork must be completed and payment made for the shipment to Mexicali.  During the paperwork process, it is important that you provide the delivery address for the return shipment from Mexicali.  We used the address for Marina de La Paz and the return shipment came to the marina.  Please note that getting the shipping paperwork completed is a very slow process.  It will be helpful if you approach the Castores counter with a great deal of patience and a smile.

Now take a deep breath and trust Castores.  When we left the facility, our chain was piled high on a well-used, unlabeled, unwrapped wooden pallet with no indication that it belonged to me or had any to do with the shipping document in my hand.

The address, phone number and email for the foundry in Mexicali:


Telephone: (686) 555-9196


The Castores website offers a pretty darn good tracking system.  On your Castores shipping document you will find the tracking number printed on the right side under a bar code.  Go to the Castores website and enter this number in the little white box.  Don’t be alarmed if it takes a couple of days for your shipment to show up on the tracking system.  Once it does, tracking should show your name and give a status of en route. This status will not change until the chain is arrives at the Castores depot in Mexicali.  Upon arrival, the tracking system will show that the shipment has arrived.  Your chain is now in Mexicali, but not yet delivered to the foundry.  Once the chain has been delivered to the foundry, the tracking system will show a scan of the Castores paperwork with the signature of a foundry employee.


Jose Carlos will most likely send you email notification that your chain has been received at the foundry.  After a week or two he will send a second email including notification that the galvanizing work has been completed, the charge for galvanizing, and payment instructions.  The chain will be held at the foundry until your payment is received. 

With the detailed payment information provided by Jose Carlos, there are probably many ways to successfully make payment to the foundry.  We found that the simplest method is to walk into a Banamex branch and hand the teller a piece of paper with the payment information and the amount you wish to pay.  The teller will quickly take your money, deposit it into the foundry account, and give you a receipt.  Next thing you know, you will get an email from Jose Carlos letting you know that your chain has been shipped.  A day or two later, he will send you an email with the tracking number.


Interabang’s anchor chain was shipped to Mexicali on December 9, 2013 and transit time was one week.  The foundry sent us an email when the chain arrived, and followed up with email notification that the galvanizing work was complete on December 23.  Two weeks were lost with the holidays including a day for figuring out how to make the payment.  Payment was made on January 6 and the chain was delivered to Marina de La Paz on January 13.


Please note that the cost of shipping will vary with diesel prices.  The galvanizing charge included 16% IVA.  The numbers are in US Dollars.

$15      Chain delivery to Castores (payment for a friend’s vehicle)
$45      Castores shipment from La Paz to Mexical
$130    Galvanizing
$60      Castores shipment from Mexical to Marina de La Paz
$250    Total cost for galvanizing ~290 feet of 5/16” G4 chain


Replacing the Exhaust Elbow

Fixing broken stuff and trying to anticipate future failures takes much of our energy while we winter in La Paz.  Occasionally, a casual conversation with another cruiser sheds light on an unconsidered risk and a new project jumps to the top of the list.  A great example of this is our exhaust elbow.  It came up during a card game with Rick and Kyra on Nyon.  Rick told a story about how another cruiser’s exhaust elbow had been leaking for months and he was finally getting it replaced in La Paz.  The topic took me back to articles I have read over the years where the exhaust elbow is consistently described as a “disposable” piece of equipment.  Next, I thought about the elbow on Interabang’s Perkins 4.108 diesel engine.  It is approximately twenty seven years old and we carry no spare on board.  I suddenly had visions of sea water spewing in an exhaust filled engine compartment.  The exhaust elbow replacement project made its debut at the top of the list. 

What is an exhaust elbow?  It is an engine component that combines exhaust gases with the sea water used to cool the engine and starts their journey overboard.    It serves two main functions.  First, it cools the hot exhaust gases by mixing in sea water.  Once cooled, the exhaust can be safely routed through the boat with a series of hoses (the gases are too hot for the hoses without cooling).  Second, it keeps the cooling sea water from finding its way into the engine.  Exhaust elbows fail when the cooling sea water causes enough corrosion to open up a hole in the metal.  Such a hole allows exhaust and/or sea water to enter the interior of the boat, a nasty concept indeed.  Interanag’s old exhaust elbow is shown below. 

Old Exhaust Elbow:
(A) Hose for sea water coming from heat exchanger
 (B) Exhaust elbow: this is where the exhaust and sea water mix
C) Hose routing cooled exhaust and sea water to muffler and then overboard

Turns out the old elbow was getting ready to leak.
See the inside holes corroded through the aluminum.

As the project began, Rick on Nyon convinced me that I could put together a replacement elbow using pipe purchased from La Paz hardware stores.  As a shipwright, Rick has constructed several such elbows and installed them on his client’s boats.  He advised that, if designed correctly, the new elbow would last longer than the boat.  Rick was kind enough to get me started with a rough sketch and patiently answered the many questions that came up as I thought through the project.

A second important resource was Malcom (aka Bucky), a Mexican fellow who owns a metal fabrication shop located a couple of blocks from the marina.  I was introduced to Bucky by Bill on Ocean Quest during a water maker repair project.  Bucky has helped me with several projects since then.

The first step was to fabricate a flange for mounting the new elbow to the heat exchanger.  The big challenge was getting the exact dimensions for the rectangular four-bolt pattern.  Obviously, taking the engine apart while at anchor was a risky option.  The plan was to completely finish the elbow and install it next time we are safe and sound in a marina.  After much searching, I found the dimensions on a website that sells parts for Bowman heat exchangers.  A tape measure confirmed that the dimensions were correct.  I made a drawing and asked Bucky to fabricate the flange by welding a 2.0 inch pipe nipple onto a 3/8 steel plate.  Bucky did a great job, welding the joint inside and out.

Bucky made the flange from my drawing ( painted black)

Next I started scouring the hardware stores for pipe.  The 2.0 inch galvanized pieces were cheep and easy.  The 2.0 inch bronze pieces took some searching and were quite expensive.  I went back to Bucky for fabrication of the mixing elbow.  Per my drawing, Bucky drilled a hole in the 45 degree bronze elbow and welded on a 1.0 inch bronze pipe for a water intake.  Once again I was impressed by the workmanship.

Mixing Elbow: sea water enters through smaller pipe

The major complication with this project came from the water exit on the heat exchanger being located directly above the exhaust port.  The exhaust had to be directed to the side so the water plumbing would be clear to meet up with the exhaust gases after a couple of ninety degree turns.  The ninety degree turns are important for keeping the sea water out of the engine.  As you will see, the result is an angular design that is either pleasing or distressing depending on your point of view.

New exhaust elbow:
(A) Hose for sea water coming from heat exchanger
(B) Exhaust elbow mounted on heat exchanger
(C) Hose routing cooled exhaust and sea water


Battery Charger / Water Maker Project  

The diesel battery charger / water maker project was completed
May 2011.  

The project started with a military surplus Kubota EA330.  The one-banger
is known for producing impressive levels of vibration.  Doubling up on the motor
mounts was recommended to minimize vibration/noise.

Under the helm seat was the space earmarked for this installation.
 The propane locker project sucked up much of the room down there.
  Many hours were spent worrying about how it was all going to fit.

A dark, tight, little space.  The typical location for a boat project requiring
hours of tedious work in contorted positions.  Count on any fumbled tool or
fastener rolling to a remote place where it will likely never be seen again.

A closer look at the space available on the port side.  The motor
mounts were installed several years ago during a period of cautious
optimism.  The gray propane locker takes up a bunch of room.

The forward view of the new engine compartment.

 In a rare moment of creativity, I came up with the idea to invert the
second set of motor mounts.  The aluminum bar stock bent by a local
 machine shop.  This design greatly reduced the amount of precious
 vertical space required to accommodate the double set of mounts.

Thanks goes to David Merrick and his rigging talents for making this
picture possible.  The boom was extended over the helm seat by lashing
on the spinnaker pole.  The engine was easily picked off the dock, lowered
it into the hole, and swung into place.  It was scary how smooth it went.

This picture shows the heat exchanger that replaced the radiator.
There is a coil of stainless steel in the black box that circulates
sea water through the coolant in the box.  The starter is on the right.