LARK - a 1974 Bristol 27

2015: What was I waiting for?

People who know me well, know that I have always claimed that *someday* I would live on a boat.

For the last too many years I have held off ... waiting and thinking I would convert a wooden lobsterboat, but for one reason ... and another, that didn't and isn't going to happen. Also, for many years, between growing up around wooden working boats, primarily wooden lobsterboats, that are in my blood from both sides of my family, as well as many years working the stern of a two-person lobsterboat, and spending decades working on wooden sailboats:

I thought any boat that would be mine, would be wooden.

But then, the Bristol 27 came to the center from the periphery.

And, the realization that if I waited much longer, I simply would have waited too long, which prompted a decision to move onboard a boat — this year! And, I do so solo.

The remainder of these pages about my Bristol 27, LARK, will document the work I've done and continue to do on her - so far, mostly engine work. I did not expect to become land-locked with a failed engine, but that is where I am right now (late-June 2015). I know it is anticipated, almost expected, that I would be immensely frustrated by the "fix one thing; another fails" progression, but I am not. As you can see in the following sections, it's all learning and, for *me*, that's all good. Wherever I cruise, I will need to be able to maintain and repair all systems. So while a bit more sailing, after new ownership, than three days would be a reasonable expectation, that didn't happen. So, a crash course in the Palmer P-60 and the systems that support it will be my first round of getting to know this Bristol 27.

fix one thing; another thing fails:

(Accomplished with long-distance technical support from my brother who has generously tolerated fuzzy pictures; questions repeated too many times; and slow brain processing on my part when I'm exhausted and/or when temps are over 90°.)

  • 4.10.2015 (first sail, which resulted in engine failure and SeaTow to new slip) ... engine overheats with smoke but no water emitted from the stern ... it is most likely a failure of the impeller in the raw water pump (or the raw water pump itself (fingers crossed it's not — that!))
    → replace the the raw water pump impeller. [The impeller had disintegrated but not broken down into small enough pieces to have infiltrated the system.] (Previous owner had this work done by the yard.)
  • 4.29.2015 ... one possible failure that results in an engine just ... quitting, and starting, then quitting again ... is:
    • water in the gas
    • or, an over-flow of water in the fuel filter / water separator
    • or, sediment in the fuel filter / water separator
    → drain most if not all of the gas in the tank replacing with fresh fuel and, then, drain, remove, and clean the bowl of the fuel filter / water separator, but if that doen't come apart, replace the whole unit, and, check the o-ring in the cockpit fuel fill. [Water was present in the gas tank; and, water was present in the fuel filter / water separator and the bowl had sediment; and, the bowl wouldn't come apart from the filter. Further, the gas fill o-ring was brittle and cracked.]
  • 5.9.2015 - 6.6.2015 ... engine runs smoothly and then faulters: be very suspect of the fuel pump
    → replace the fuel pump and add a pressure gauge. While at that, add a fuse. (This was a vey long process of trial and error and installation of two fuel pumps that weren't best for the situation: a Carter, which is often used in automotive environment (this is the pump that was installed when I bought the boat) & a Holley - also most often an automotive fuel pump. Finally, a Facet brand pump was ordered form Moyer Marine.)
  • 6.8 - 22.2015 ... Happy day! the engine runs, puts out a good amount of exhaust water, sounds good - even under load. But (too many 'buts', right?) , then fails and won't restart.
    → Learn to diagnose the ignition system. Spoiler alert #1: It was a non-functioning coil and then the points needed cleaning.
    This job involved learning how to spark test parts of the ignition system, several rounds of turning a bolt a tiny, tiny, tiny! bit at a time with short breaks to rest arms and hands cramped from leaning on top of the engine reaching as far as I could reach, making a remote starter, chasing down part numbers and parts, and finally adding a shiny new coil. A friend came to visit with a gift of a points file at just the right moment. With the points polished, the engine started without hesitation and purred.
  • .2015.06.29 ... but after a day of maneuvering out of the marina and around and about the mooring field and a nice sail ... next morning: water in the oil, that persisted through numerous oil changes.
  • → eliminate, one-by-one, possible causes. But, to do this, the cylinder head has to be removed.
    • June 22, 2015: engine before remove cylinder head
    • June 24, 2015: cylinder head removed from block
  • Spoiler alert #2:
    Cylinder head gasket failure (yup, that's water and rust in the cylinder):

    and, once the hoses were removed from the cylinder head, and the head turned over, an untapped air vent was discovered:
    • The right side of the red hose connects a sealed vent (see picture below) to a fitting on the manifold on the left. This is supposed to be an air vent for the cylinder head, but until tapped, the fitting is blocked.

      • "All P-60s AKA M-60 supplied by Palmer have a taped 1/8" pipe thread bronze fitting that connects either with a copper tube or synthetic tube about 1/2" in diaameter to the top of the flywheel end of the exhaust manifold or to the thermostat houseing. This constantly bleeds off any entrained air/steam in the top of the cylinder head.

        + read more

  • 6.29.2015: As intended, I returned to Maine for the 4th of July. But, not expected, I returned with the cylinder head of my Palmer P-60 to have it re-surfaced ("decked"), to clean and paint it, to tap an air vent, and to hunt-down fittings and hoses.

  • 7.03.2015: A new copper head gasket, and a spare, arrived at the marina today. I won't be back to the boat for several more days, but knowing parts are waiting when I return is very nice!

  • 7.05.2015: Always good to have help: here, my oldest son cleaning the cylinder head.

  • 7.06.2015: The air vent tapped, new fitting located, and head painted.

  • 7.09.2015: Back on my Bristol 27 on Long Island. It feels like home....

    Now, to organize parts and tools and put this engine back together again!

    • New head gasket

    • The black hose that is crimped (picture on top left) is means for water to pass through the top space of the cylinder head, "the water jacket", and exit through the exhaust manifold. A fitting on the top of the head, in second photo, houses the water temperature gauge. It's not clear whether earlier hose material made the bend without collapsing, but it sure happens with modern hose. I devised what I refer to as an exoskelton of hose clamps to prevent the hose from collapsing in the bend as hot water moves through and makes the hose more pliable.

    • The fitting on the left side of the red hose didn't truly function as a connector — no water or steam passed through. But, there was back-flow from the manifold and the connection leaked. The fitting, made of hard plastic, that held the hose in place had to be replaced, the threads of the receiving fitting tapped, after which a new fitting slid nicely into place.

  • July 10, 2015: all back together and she purrs again!

  • Alas, that's not the end of "fix one thing; another fails" ...

  • 7.16 ,17.2015: A lovely motor-out and sail on a very hot day with occasional showers. But, screeching noise when almost back to the beginning of mooring field channel that is 30+ minutes of motoring between the bay and my slip made continuing impossible. An abandoned mooring held the boat while waiting for SeaTow to arrive. And so, I returned to my slip one more time by tow.

    I was quite sure the noise was some kind of transmission issue. This made sense to several people and would have been a problem that I couldn't solve without extensive repairs on shore.

    But, after some crawling around in the engine compartment again, I found that the drive shaft simply didn't look right, in fact, the drive shaft has slipped out of the direct drive shaft coupling and I was able to unscrewed the final couple threads of the one set screw that I could reach with my fingers after a ¼ turn with a wrench. I tightened that set screw back up and considered my options.

    It was a long-shot, but both the head of maintenance and head mechanic for the marina, my long-distance tech-support brother, and I all agreed that it would be worth lifting my boat and trying to fix the drive shaft problems.

    Once the shaft could be pulled back and coupling pulled out it was clear to see that the second set screw was completely missing and the key was sheared off - that was probably the last to go and the scraping off of the key and the spinning of the shaft in the coupling were probably what made the horrid sound on my last attempt to bring the boat back to the marina. Also, either the set screws were never secured with seizing wire or somehow that had released itself. And(!), the threads for the missing screw were deeply rusted and brittle (making it look like that had gone missing some time ago) so re-tapping really didn’t work well but all that could be done was done, fingers crossed, and the boat was put back in water at my slip.

  • 7.19.2015: With faint optimism (but optimism nevertheless) I invited a friend to go sailing, but before we made it between my slip and the entrance to the mooring field channel, the repair failed... And, so I headed back to my slip and ordered a new coupling...


  • July 25, 2015:
    With new coupling inhand, I found myself caught up in pondering more engine repair and thinking that this is getting (or has gone beyond) unreasonable and I wasn't sure where the line was...
    I know I've passed that line and installing another coupling has been cancelled. More images and an explanation of what passing that line has involved are now added (w/ edits still likely needed). So, I'm busy packing up, pulling together last details of having my boat shipped to Maine, and will reluctantly leave Long Island next week. The engine runs beautifully but the drive train is work I can't do in the water and can't afford to have done by the marina. Besides, the next possible failure is the dripless seal and I feel that's just gambling a bit too much — it's one thing to get stranded waiting for SeaTow; it's another to know the next system inline is now compromised and you hazard taking on lots of water and possibly sinking.

    Once my Bristol 27 is back in Maine, I'll decide whether to re-power this winter with a fresh-water cooled Atomic 4 (I'm quite sure I will), tidy her stem to stern, repaint, and launch her with her new name in Spring 2016.

    And, this Bristol 27 remains one of the best decisions I've ever made...