October 31, 2016

How to replace a propeller on a sailboat

I've neglected my propeller for many years.

I replaced my zinc anodes- but not as often as recommended. I probably put new zincs on every 6 months - but every 3 months would have been better. 

Each time I've dove under my boat, I've seen more oxidation and more corrosion building up on my prop.

It was time to replace the propeller...

how to replace a sailboat propeller

I hauled out this week in Shelter Island Boat Yard in San Diego. This is a good yard with a reasonable haul out package deal. I let them do the prep work and paint this time.

However - replacing the propeller was a separate process. A marine surveyor working out of the shipyard named Ken Closs helped me with the following propeller replacement.

Here's a step by step instructional on...


How to put a new propeller on a boat.


propellers for sailboat
my three sons

1. Decide when its time for a new propeller.


In the photo above, I have arranged my propellers in order of disintegration.

On the far left is the prop that has been pushing me through the water for the past decade. It is ready to retire. In the middle is my secondary (emergency) prop, it is not quite as oxidized, but the blades are bent from hitting a rock. On the far right, is my brand new propeller. 

As you can see, these are all Michigan 2-blade sailor propellers. This is a popular brand for sailboats.

On my 30 foot Newport 30 from 1976, I use a 12 inch diameter, 11 inch pitch propeller. My shaft bore is 7/8 inch.

In the photo below, you can see that the corrosion on my old propeller has caused the edge of the blades to break off.

replacing an old propeller
looks like a mouse chewed on my blades

 How do you know if your propeller had oxidized?

If you scratch your prop blade with sandpaper, and you see pinkish bronze under the surface rust - then it is time to replace your prop.  If it's still good, you will see golden bronze upon scratching.

oxidized propeller
an old propeller, that has not yet oxidized fully

In the photo above, you can see that my secondary propeller has not yet past the point of no return, in terms of oxidation. When I scratched it with a heavy grit sandpaper, I found fresh copper metal. There was no pinkish tone, therefore in regards to oxidation I am still good. However, this prop has already hit a rock - and so the blades are bent out and the bent region shows cracking. For this reason, it was not worth restoring.

Another way to assess a propeller's oxidation  - is the ring tone. When you hit a good propeller with another metal object, there should be a resonating tone, like a bell.

If the prop is oxidized, then there will be a dull, brief tone - with no resonance.

2. Buy a new propeller

So - it was time for me to buy a new prop.

My brand new prop (below) set me back 550.00. I ordered it from Wilmington Propeller in Los Angeles. Other good west coast retail prop suppliers are: Tacoma Propeller in WA and Pacific Propeller in San Diego. Be prepared, if the retailers don't have what you need in stock, you will need to put in a order through Michigan Sailor. This could take 6-8 weeks. Plan this out before you haul your boat into the shipyard.

how to install a new propeller on a sailboat
new prop, 2 nuts and a key

3. Removing your old propeller


So, when you pull off your old propeller, first you will pull out the cotter pin at the end of your prop.
Just snap it in half, you'll put a new one on soon.

Then you should unscrew 2 nuts (1 large and 1 small). This may take some coaxing. Get a big wrench and tap it with a mallet.

Once the nuts are off - you can slide the propeller down the shaft.

There is also a special propeller puller tool that helps with this process.

Once the propeller is removed, you will see there is a slim metal object holding the prop against your shaft, this is called a propeller key.

You can see my 2 nuts and prop key in the photo above. Hold onto all these items, you need them once you put on your new propeller.

4. Once your prop is removed, clean up your shaft, nuts, prop key. 


In the photo below you can see my propeller shaft all cleaned up. On the top of the threading area, you can see the groove that the propeller key slides into. There is a similar groove on the propeller. The prop key works like a joint to hold the propeller in place around the shaft. This prevents the prop from spinning independent of the shaft. At this point, make sure to clean up this groove and your prop key.

install boat propeller
all cleaned up, ready for a new prop
Okay - slide that new, shiny propeller onto your shaft.

putting on a new propeller

5. Fit the new propeller on the shaft with the propeller key

A good fitting propeller should land on your shaft with a satisfying thud. That means the bore diameter is a good, snug fit. Use a pen or a knife edge to mark the spot up on the shaft where the prop naturally slides up to. (prop shafts are tapered).

Now, pull off the prop, and put your prop key into the groove on the shaft. It should fit in easily. Then slide the prop on top, over the key. You want the propeller to slide into place at the same place it landed without the prop key. In this manner, it should still line up with the first mark you made.

This is how you make sure you have your propeller and propeller key at their ideal spot on your shaft.

bronze propeller for sailboats
lining up the prop with prop key
 In photo above - you can see the front (fore) of my propeller with the prop key snugged in on the shaft. 

tightening the nuts

6. Tighten the propeller nuts

Place your small nut on first. Hand tighten, then use a large wrench for tension. You can place a large wooden block between the prop blades and the hull of the boat - to keep the shaft from spinning as you tension the prop. Once the smaller nut is secure, tighten the second (larger) one on behind it. The larger nut takes more of the load. Tension it the same way. 

It should be noted that schools of thought differ in regards to whether the thin nut should be placed on first or second. I have heard passionate and convincing opinions on both theories (thin nut first or thin nut second..). For more on this subject, you can read this article from Bolt Science.

put in a new cotter pin

7. Insert the cotter pin

Get yourself a fresh cotter pin. There should be a cotter pin hole at the end your shaft. With pliers, bend out the pin around itself. This prevents the nuts from sliding off.

the finished product

Now just trim the ends of the cotter pin and Voila - you are done. 

Splash the boat back in the water and fire up the engine.

If you've done this correctly - your boat should move forward as you increase the throttle.
If it doesn't - haul it back out and try again....

Good luck and let me know if this was helpful in the comments section below...

Captain Curran -

October 17, 2016

Getting the remains of these northwest storms down in San Diego

Summer is over in San Diego.

This really doesn't mean too much - as we don't have actual seasons down here. We have fake seasons.

The air is still warm - most days are mid-70s. Rain is few and far between.
We don't have many deciduous trees, so there are no autumn colors out.

But... we do start picking up wind from the huge low pressure storms that batter the Pacific Northwest.

Jessica at the helm of our Newport 30

This past weekend, Jessica and I pushed my trusty Newport 30 into some 17 knot/hour winds. We exited Mission Bay and sailed along the coast of Point Loma.

The swell was about 4-5 feet out of the northwest. This made for a bumpy ride but a 17 knot breeze kept us moving pretty well though the trough.

the ocean always looks flat in these photos...

 In a few days, we should get the wind front from the most recent storm that just hit the Oregon coast. I am referring to the storm that caused this water spout near Manzanita, OR.

 I am looking forward to that wind...

In general, we are a bit wind starved in San Diego. Our coastline is buffered from the inward slant of the shoreline - any by the presence of the Channel Islands. So what we experience near shore in San Diego is always a fraction of the sea conditions on the windward side of Catalina Island.

Still, I am not complaining. Anytime San Diego gets 15-17 knot winds, you need to be grateful and get out there and enjoy it..

Fair winds!

August 25, 2016

Took my girlfriend's parents out for a sail.

Jessica's parents finally made it down for a sail in San Diego.

They live in Phoenix and are generally in need of a break from the brutal heat in Arizona.

San Diego delivered.

We had great cloud cover and comfortably warm air. These are my favorite boating conditions. Plus there were steady 10-15 knot winds all afternoon.

Nothing much more to report. Just a great day out at sea with my lady's folks.

July 14, 2016

To varnish or not to varnish? Short answer...don't varnish.

How is the wood looking on the outside of your boat??

Time for a touch up?

Yeah, I know how that goes...I just went through this process on my Newport 30. I had friends trying to convince me to varnish my wood trim - but I resisted.

In fact, there comes a time in every boaters life when they need to decide between cetol or varnish.

I have put a lot of thought into this question...and I have an answer.


My reasoning is simple.

Time has value.

That's the most succinct way to put it...

I use a cetol finish on my external wood because I want to spend my time out sailing in the open ocean as opposed to in harbor re-applying varnish.

This past week, I sanded down all my teak trim, cleaned it up and then applied 4 coats of sikkens cetol marine natural teak. It looks perfectly fine.

Below I will review the process of applying cetol.

apply cetol on a boat
Final product - a few days after 4 coats of cetol marine natural teak

The photo above I took 2-3 days after the final coat, so the cetol is more or less cured. I cleaned up the deck and sprayed it down with water before this photo.

cetol marine natural teak reviews
my forward hatch right after 4 coats of sikkens cetol marine natural teak
This photo above was just after the last coat of cetol. It is still tacky and wet looking.

Now, keep in mind, I am not a perfectionist. But, to my eye, this looks almost as nice as varnish.

Here's the trade-off.

  • Cetol is easier to apply than varnish (put on 3-4 coats, no work in between coats)
  • It's easier to remove than varnish
  • It lasts 2-3 years before you need to re-touch (varnish lasts 6-12 months)
  • in general, varnish has a deeper and richer look vs. cetol
  • some people complain about the slightly orange color in cetol

So, here's the story with the color...

Cetol is a durable satin, translucent protective wood finish (that's their wording). Historically, the major complaint with cetol is that - it has a slight orange hue. That is certainly the case with Cetol Marine, their first product. Apparently, it's the orange pigments in the finish that allow the Cetol to defend against the UV rays in the sun.

In response to outrage from boaters - the Cetol folks made a new product, the 'marine natural teak'.

They turned down the orange in the 'marine natural teak'. Somehow, with the natural teak version, they've managed to maintain good sun protection without the orange color.

To my eye, the color in the 'natural teak' version is perfectly normal for treated wood.

If the color of my wood in these 'after' photos makes your stomach turn, then go buy yourself some real varnish and get to work!

If you don't mind the color, then go get yourself some cetol. I use about 2 quarts on my boat. That amount allows me to put 4 layers on all the wood trim you see in these photos.

West Marine will sell you a quart for about 50$ (yeah, not cheap...)

However, you can usually find the same quart of cetol on Amazon for a better price.

cetol marine
The hatch and cockpit teak with 4 coats of cetol natural

In this photo, the hatch and cockpit teak are finished (4 coats), but the hand rails are still raw teak.

Okay, if you're interested - I will walk you though my recent teak project - step by step.

Here are my 'Before' photos...

sikkens cetol natural teak
out sailing, ignoring my crappy woodwork

Here I am - doing what I do - out sailing. If you look close, you can see that the external teak trim on my Newport 30 sailboat is looking a little ragged. I will be generous and say, its been about 4 years since I have done much of anything with my teak. 

Let's just say, my teak had degraded to the point where my marina friends regularly gave me a hard time over it. That's usually my cue to get to work.

cetol natural
the shameful condition of my teak
Since the time I bought my boat, I have never sanded the teak all the way down to clean wood. In the past, I've just lightly sanded and then loaded up on Cetol. So, my wood has always looked patchy and there's been dark water stains throughout. So, this time I decided to do it right.

I should mention that the peeling finish in the photo above is the cetol natural teak finish that I applied about 4 years ago. So, you can see it is already separating from the wood, this made the sanding a bit easier.

cetol marine finish
cleaning up the bare teak with 80 grit
I used an electric hand sander where I could - and then just sanded manually with bare hands in the hard to reach spots. I recommend only using high quality 80 grit paper. Anything else just binds up with oils and dust and becomes useless. Don't skimp on the sandpaper, get the good stuff. 3M makes good sandpaper.

sandpaper teak
shaving it down to bare, clean teak
This was a very dirty week. I recommend really trying to keep the wood dust from entering the inside of your boat. Really focus on that... It's a mess once its inside.

I spent 3-4 days sanding down my wood. My girlfriend, bless her heart, came down to help out.

teak varnish reviews
Jessica sanding down the hand rails

This piece of teak in the cockpit was finally starting to look nice. Apparently, my teak has a light golden color once it's properly sanded down. After removing stains with 80 grit, I moved on to 150 grit, to smooth things out and close up the pores.

Is cetol better than varnish?

 I have never seen my forward hatch look this nice. I had to take this photo, because I know this won't last.

cetol vs varnish
forward hatch cleaned up to bare teak
Alright, so I removed the dust and prepped the wood for finish. For this, I used a couple rags and acetone. I first tried paint thinner (since it is less harsh on the fiberglass), however the thinner takes too long to dry. Acetone vaporizes in 10 minutes, so I went with that.

I taped off with the blue 3M tape. 3M says you can leave this tape on for 14 days and still pull it off clean. I wouldn't wait that long. After 1 week, it is anyone's bet. I left this tape on for 3-4 days in the hot sun, and it still came off easy.

cetol marine teak
all prepped up

Here, I have applied 2 coat of cetol marine natural teak on the teak panel on the right. The trim on the left still remains raw.

cetol natural teak
a close up comparing 2 coats of cetol vs. nothing
Here's a link to this stuff on Amazon.

At this point in the week, Jessica became bored with the project. Here she is at the marina, playing with the dogs. You can see that Glacier (the white one) can barely contain her excitement over getting a treat. They were having much more fun that I was.

dogs on a sailboat
Glacier very excited for food

Okay - many days later, I am done with the project. I have now applied 4 coats of cetol on all the wood.

If the sun is shining, you can easily do 2 coats in 1 day. I wait till the bottom layer is no longer tacky, then start the second coat. I should mention that I used foam brushes for this project. Personally, I think they are easier to handle/control than hair brushes.

So, I think it looks great. I have had at least one professional boat-yard guy stop by and compliment me on my varnish. He was impressed to hear it was actually cetol, because he is well aware how much more work is required to actually apply varnish.

Here's a few more finished teak photos.

I will load a few more photos up tomorrow, now that the whole boat is done and cleaned up.

Final pictures after 4 coats of sikkens cetol marine natural teak

marine cetol

sikkens cetol teak
big improvement in the cockpit

handrails sailboat
handrails looking nice!

Cetol Marine Natural Teak Reviews

I'm looking at the wind report and seeing 10-15 knots this weekend. I'm planning to raise sails this Saturday and head into the Pacific Ocean...

It's like the old saying...

'Varnish is for people who love boats, cetol is for people who love sailing.'

It should be noted that I owe much of my familiarity with boat maintenance to Don Casey's classic book, This Old Boat.
This is a broadly respected, definitive text that has brought many novice boaters into the world of proper boat care. There's a nice section on wood work and teak maintenance. Also, if you are emphatic about putting varnish on your boat, this article provides some good insight.

Truth be told, I didn't know much of anything when I bought this old Newport 30. I slowly brought it back to life and it's given me 8 great years. Let's hope I see another ten years from this vessel. Lord knows I wouldn't get much if I sell it...

June 27, 2016

Huge influx of Pelagic Red Crabs in San Diego waters

An old friend paid us a visit this past month in San Diego.

The pelagic red crab, also known as the tuna crab, has piled up on our shores in record number.
This conspicuous invertebrate is a species of squat lobster that tends to aggregate off the continental shelf of Mexico. It's scientific name is Pleuroncodes planipes.

Every couple of years, the tuna crab will follow a warm water current up to San Diego. This is sort of a natural rhythm. The warm waters generally coincide with the El Nino year. During these warm water years, the animals tend to swarm together in an attempt to mate. For some reason. that nobody seems to understand - the red tuna crab ends up getting washed on shore during these swarming events.

Last year, we had a huge wash up in Mission Bay and Ocean Beach. But this year, the pile up of these crabs was even more extreme. Here is a picture of a pile of red pelagic crabs near the gate to my marina in Mission Bay. I took this photo mid-June 2016.

an enormous pile of red tuna crabs near my boat in Mission Bay

Now, it is important to remember that 2016 is not a El Nino year. So, biologist believe that the washing up of crabs in southern California may be more of a climate change event.

That is - now that we are seeing persistently warmer waters in our Pacific Ocean, the swarming of this invert in our waters may be the new normal.

There are bound to be reverberations in the ecosystem. The crab is an important food item for marine birds and fish (such as tuna, yellowtail, amberjack and sharks).

As long as the northward currents remain warmer than usual, we better get used to our new red friends.

May 31, 2016

Sea Dogs on the Alize'

I've got dogs on my sailboat!

(...for better or worse) 


Well, it has finally happened...puppies have descended on my otherwise peaceful, Newport 30 sailboat. I would never call myself a dog person, however I would very much call my girlfriend a dog person. She insisted that we get dogs. I was on the fence, but ... sometimes the smart move is to defer to your better half.

So, in conclusion, we are now a dog couple. 

We have two dogs. 

They are puppies. 

They chew everything and pee everywhere and jump up on our legs. 

But - here's the good news. They are completely awesome and I am really, really happy we got them.

This was the first moment that Baja and Glacier peered into the depths of the main cabin. They seemed inquisitive, possibly fearful. They had their reservations.

These puppies have already been through a lot. They were abandoned in Ensenada, Mexico. A kind soul pulled them out from under a car when they were just 1 week old. Their eyes hadn't yet opened up. After being passed from one shelter to the next, we eventually picked them up at The Barking Lot rescue in El Cajon. This is a great organization, if you're ever in the market for a rescue pup.

The dank, dark cabin was a bit too much. So, we returned to the cockpit. Here you can see they're settling in and starting to get their sea legs.

Baja, the brown dog is some type of Collie blend. Glacier - the white one - is a terrier mix. They're both 4 months old.

Oh... and oddly enough these two puppies are sisters. Apparently, a few different dads got involved with the bitch while she was in heat. Strange but true. An entire litter of 12 was delivered at the same time. Some looked like Glacier while others looked like Baja.

At some point, I'll do some genetic testing on them and figure out exactly what breeds they are..

My girlfriend has never been happier. So that alone is reason to keep the dogs. Here, you can see she is encouraging them to descend into the cabin.

I don't like the fur and hair on my cabin cushions. I also don't like the pee stains and chewed up electrical lines...but those are all details and minor inconveniences.

These dogs are really cool. I am stoked that they'll be a part of the next chapter in my life...

Fortunately - they performed well on their first harbor cruise. But, next comes the real test... The Sea Trial..

How will they do in 15 knot winds and a moderate sea swell??

Stay tuned...

April 19, 2016

Sailing the Santa Anna winds along the southern California coast

Last Saturday, we got really nice Santa Ana winds off the coast of San Diego, 15-20 knot winds with just a 2-4 foot swell. This is a rarity for us here - generally, when we get 15+ winds, its accompanied with storm conditions: high swells and a steep wind chop that can make the ocean less than hospitable.

But - last Saturday was phenomenal sailing conditions. More fun than I've had in awhile

santa anna winds
My crew: Zach and Megan - enjoying the action.

We left midday and sailed straight out to Sea. After a few hours we found ourselves within throwing distance from the Mexican islands, Los Coronados. 

So, we must have been moving at 7 knots/hour in an upwind sail.

Truly fun.

In these conditions, my 30 foot Newport feels like an enormous surfboard. I had just scraped the bottom so she was flying off the swell crests.

Below, is a gorgeous photo showing Santa Ana winds moving across southern California and then out to the Pacific Ocean. You can see Catalina Island and San Clemente about 50 miles off the coast.
This public domain photo clearly illustrates the trail of wind coming out of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts and bathing our coastal waters. These are extremely dry, down-slope winds. As long as they're not too strong, they make for fantastic sailing winds.

santa anna conditions

You can see Los Angeles at the upper corner of this photo. Then if you cut in from San Clemente you can see the hook of San Diego Bay about halfway down the photo. Baja to the south.

Below is a screenshot from my wind app. I use this software to get the broad, global wind pattern perspective. You can see that last weekend, we had hot, dry desert winds coming in from the Basin and Range Deserts of central Nevada. Awesome, awesome sailing conditions.

Good winds to use when sailing out to Catalina island...

santa anna southern california

And of course, I always fail to take a photo of the Ocean that properly conveys the mood.

We were ripping but all the white caps must have been shy when I took this shot...

March 27, 2016

Goodbye raft up for Dave in Mariner's Cove, San Diego

Well, time waits for no man. Sailors come and go at our local marina. Sometimes, unlikable people move on and that's a good thing for the rest of the boaters. Those people usually leave in the dark of night and there's not too much more to say about that.

But sometimes a likable person sells their boat and flies off to a new place. And in that moment, it's time to get together and give that likable person a proper send off.

Last weekend, we got about 7-8 of our boats tied up for a proper 'Dave Koller goodbye raft-up'

It's San Diego, so of course the weather was outstanding. There were many cans of Tecate and many limes and plenty of hot sauce.

I believe we all ended up in the water at the end of the night.. that parts a bit blurry. But we definitely had some delicious chicken burritos in the morning. I put those together, so I can vouch for the quality of that meal.

Good bye Dave and stay dry on the Oregon coast...

February 2, 2016

The Western Flyer, Steinbeck's fishing boat from "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" is getting restored.

I just spent the weekend up in Port Townsend, Washington.

While driving around the peninsula, my friend mentioned that The Western Flyer, the fishing boat featured in the classic John Steinbeck book "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" was currently in dry dock in the Boat Haven shipyard in the town of Port Townsend. We wandered over there and found this beauty up on sticks.

steinbeck western flyer
The Western Flyer getting some work done in Port Townsend, WA

This is the famous, 76 foot fishing trawler that carried Doc Rickets, John Steinbeck and the rest of the gang from Cannery Row - as they adventured south from Monterey down around the tip of the Baja peninsula. They were there to survey and collect marine creatures for Doc Ricket's projects back home.

“The Log From the Sea of Cortez,” was  published in 1951.

steinbeck log sea cortez boat
many timbers are rotted out, lots of work to be done...


Western Flyer Steinbeck 

This large fishing boat has lived a tough life. She has sunk multiple times since 1951 - as can be attested to by the barnacle shells still stuck to the interior of the cabin.

A wealthy geologist has purchased the vessel for 1 million. He plans to put 2 million more into it - hopefully finishing the restoration by 2018. You can read more details about the project in this great New York Times article.

He freely admits he has paid too much for something that - arguably, has no monetary value.

Turns out, that Steinbeck book made a big impression on him.

It certainly made quite an impression on me. I list that book as one of the main reasons I committed to a career in Biology.

john steinbeck boat
stern section of The Western Flyer

If you find yourself around the top corner of the United States - near the Canadian border and the Straights of Juan de Fuca - go ahead and poke around the Boat Haven Marina in Port Townsend, Washington. This classic old boat will be there for a few more years. It is certainly nice to know its still around.

Apparently, the new owner has plans to convert the Western Flyer into a floating marine research vessel.

the marina at Boat Haven in Port Townsend

I still keep an old paperback copy of this Steinbeck classic in my main cabin. On the cover photo below, you can see what The Western Flyer looked like back in better times...