Stuffing Box & Packing Material Choices

vanilladuck

E32-3 / San Francisco
Context: About to adjust the stuffing box on the E32-3 as it's dripping a little too much for my, albeit novice, taste. A drip every 2-3 seconds at the dock and a few drips a second underway in forward gear. I'm reading that it should be no drips at the dock and a 2-6 drips per minute with the propeller shaft turning [1][2]. I have no idea the last time the packing gland was adjusted. And, I don't know what kind of packing/flax is under the large nut or when it was last replaced.

IMG_20200727_195327.jpg

I figured I would gather some materials and tools to replace the packing if the adjustments don't work, shaft gets too hot, dripping continues, <insert other signs that the packing needs replacement here>. Among the tools -- like two Ridgid E110 wrenches, packing extractors, infrared temp gun, PB blaster, stainless and bronze brushes, etc -- I'm purchasing some packing material and wondering what folks are using on their Ericson boats. I'm reading on MaineSail's site [3] the differences between packing material. I'm thinking about GFO for it's low temp and 'drip-less often' (NOT 'drip-free') capabilities. The only concern is graphite is high on the galvanic scale and could cause increased corrosion rates on anodes, propellers, and other things. I know from looking at the owners manual [2] the prop shaft is made of Monel, which should be somewhat more resistant to corrosion than other metals. For packing I'm looking at:


What are other folks using? Has anyone used GFO or other graphite options and, if so, what has been your experience with anode erosion and other corrosion shenanigans?

I'm also buying some new hose clamps to 'PTA' -- I don't like the rust showing on the forward clamps in the photo above and the safety wires are missing on the shaft set screw connecting to the transmission. I'm planning on throwing a smaller hose clamp on the exposed shaft as a safety retainer to avoid losing the prop and/or damaging the rudder if things go sideways. I'm going with these in varying sizes:



REFERENCES:
[1] https://www.windcheckmagazine.com/article/stuffing_box_maintenance/
[2] Ericson 32-3 Owners Manual, http://www.finessesailing.com/download/engine_/_mechanical/e32_manual.pdf (See page 3-7)
[3] Mainesail Article on Stuffing Boxes, https://marinehowto.com/re-packing-a-traditional-stuffing-box/
[4] Another EY.o thread, https://ericsonyachts.org/ie/threads/ericson-32-leaking-stuffing-box.13501/
[5] Another EY.o thread, https://ericsonyachts.org/ie/threads/hot-stuffing-box.14936/
[6] A blog post on stuffing box stuff, https://ericsonyachts.org/ie/ubs/novice-stuffing-box-analysis-inspection-discussion.799/
 

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
FWIW, I have not personally heard/read of any corrosion problems attributed to the type of packing material. But since we boat in fresh water, we worry less about this.
I presume that you are doing this work while on the hard, so some time can be invested.
Not trying to add to your chore list, but "while you are there" it would be worthwhile to wire brush the trans, coupler, and the adjacent hull. Sand and paint the hull surfaces. Having the area clean and smooth pays big dividends in future maintenance and trouble shooting time.
 

goldenstate

Member III
Blogs Author
Unless you are hauled out, once you loosen/remove your adjustment nut enough to extract your old packing material, you will have water coming into the boat.

Are you going to try to stop up this water flow somehow, or just get the job done with my-boat-is-now-sinking efficiency?

I know sometimes people put a bicycle tube wrap on the outside of the boat where the shaft exits the shaft log. I don't know if there is a clever way to do the same thing from inside the boat (but I know plugs nearly always work better from the outside).

Also, have you found a piece of good 1" diameter (or whatever diameter your prop shaft is) stock from which you can cut your packing material? As I understand it (from the Maine Sail article) one wants to have 45 degree cuts in the packing that align neatly around the shaft.

These are items on my 'packing gland swap' worry list, so I'm hoping you'll get them solved before I have to :)
 

Sean Engle

Your Friendly Administrator
Administrator
Founder
The last time I did mine I rented two large box wrenches as I found trying to use something akin to channel locks tore up the nuts too much. When I opened it (in the water) I was surprised to find the amount of water which came through was less than what I had anticipated, however I was nervous, etc.
 

Alan Gomes

Sustaining Member
Unless you are hauled out, once you loosen/remove your adjustment nut enough to extract your old packing material, you will have water coming into the boat.

Are you going to try to stop up this water flow somehow, or just get the job done with my-boat-is-now-sinking efficiency?

I know sometimes people put a bicycle tube wrap on the outside of the boat where the shaft exits the shaft log. I don't know if there is a clever way to do the same thing from inside the boat (but I know plugs nearly always work better from the outside).

Also, have you found a piece of good 1" diameter (or whatever diameter your prop shaft is) stock from which you can cut your packing material? As I understand it (from the Maine Sail article) one wants to have 45 degree cuts in the packing that align neatly around the shaft.

These are items on my 'packing gland swap' worry list, so I'm hoping you'll get them solved before I have to :)
FWIW, on my last three boats that had packing glands, my electric bilge pumps were easily able to keep up with the flow and there was no need to rush the job.
 

tenders

Innocent Bystander
The water enters in an exciting fashion if this is done at the dock, but it isn't alarming if your bilge pump is working. It comes through a relatively narrow slot between the shaft and the bearing, and can be slowed considerably from the inside by ziptying some plastic grocery bags around the shaft near the slot. Or, you can have a diver from the outside stuff the bags into the shaft hole, or pack the shaft hole with some clay. Bicycle tube wrap, hmm, interesting.

Home Depot's plumbing department sells big adjustable wrenches for about $11 that will accommodate those nuts. You have great access to them in this photo - I do not in my V-drive setup.

Mainesail's website suggests a very complicated three-dimensional angle for cutting the flax. I found this very difficult, as the flax frayed as I was hacking at it. Next time I'm just going to cut it at a two-dimensional angle and that will have to be good enough.
 

Keith Parcells

Sustaining Member
On you tool list, these are needed, afaik:

small pick or pointed tool, like this,

A short piece of pvc pipe which as been cut down the middle. It should be the same ID as your shaft diameter, 1” or 3/4”, It is used to push and prod the packing into the groove in the gland. This really is helpful.

A wrench like this helps because the nut ont the gland is very thin:
 

vanilladuck

E32-3 / San Francisco
Great suggestions, thank you! I've added a few things to the shopping list, including the picks/hooks, PVC, 1" staging piping, etc. I'll be doing the adjusting and perhaps the repacking at the dock and I'm trying to psych myself up by just being prepared (and cleaning the bilge to make sure the Rule 500gph pump is unobstructed). I might also wait for the haul out soon. Part of me really wants to see how much water comes in and how manageable the situation is.

How about that packing material? Graphite impregnated? Old school flax? Teflon impregnated? What's common on the Ericson boats?
 

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Not trying to hijack the thread, but there are a lot of us using the PSS shaft seal.
"A dry bilge is a happy bilge."
:)
 

vanilladuck

E32-3 / San Francisco
As I've been reading, I've noticed any thread about stuffing boxes inevitably will lean at some point towards packless sealing systems - all good, Loren ;) I have concerns as I'd eventually like to think about long cruises and having something I can maintain myself without pulling the boat from the water is desirable. I'm also concerned about failure modes. Thoughts there?
 

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Well.... considering that a failure of the traditional stuffing box is normally when the nut back all the way off because it was not "jammed" properly, the water will enter from around the shaft and wall of the shaft alley. Failure mode for the PSS might be a failure of the spring-loaded-bellows with water entering via the same path.
Either of these failures can be reduced to a very tiny % IF...... the owner actually ventures down and feels and looks and inspects this 'stern gear' regularly.
IMHO, owners who ignore the parts of their boat that keep the sea out are more likely to have a major leak accumulation, sooner or later.
Note B: there are a humongous number of inboard boats out there from the 70's and 80's with original stuffing box hoses that are a decade overdue for replacement.
Human nature being what it is.... we all can get bit by the old aphorism of "Out of Sight Out of Mind" for shaft maintenance, thru hull valve maintenance. and below-the waterline hose maintenance.
I get it that the traditional stuffing box would be easier to service when out of your home waters, but blue water cruisers have 99% accepted roller furling jibs. And we all use dacron rather than flax for sails. And our hulls are made of "fiber reinforced plastic" rather than wood planks.
OK - exaggerating the comparisons a bit. But still..... having seen rotting spruce masts and copiously leaking teak decks, I am OK with modern technology & materials.
BTW, read the thread/blog on this site maintained by the couple that is cruising the South Pacific with an electric drive and solar cells on their E-35-2. A couple of decades ago, this would have seemed like a fanciful dream.
You are doing fine with a nuanced and studied approach to your boat, I should note. And I am not trying to change your mind regarding your choices. All of these solutions work, and what seems less-proven yesterday, tomorrow becomes 'mature technology'....! :)
 

racushman

Member II
I have been using the regular PTFE impregnated flax (available at west marine) for many years to create a "poor man's dripless" shaft seal. I tighten it down until it just barely stops dripping at the dock. It will get slightly warm under power, and drip slightly when the shaft is rotating, but stops again when the boat is moored. Have done this for many years without a problem.

Agree that it's best to buy two of the wrenches at Home Depot so you can always have the ability to adjust as needed. Think they are called sink drain wrenches or something like that.

Have replaced the flax while boat is in the water without a problem. As others have said, less water than you might think.

LAST IMPORTANT TOPIC: The short length of marine hose that connects the bronze shaft log to the fiberglass stern tube does not last forever, and should it fail it's a catastrophic event. I once had a 20 year old boat that needed the prop shaft replaced. When then pulled the shaft, they found the hose on the shaft log was very close to failure. So my rule of thumb now is the hose needs to get replaced every 10 years.
 

1911tex

Member III
Vanilladuck said: "I'm also concerned about failure modes. Thoughts there?"
Yes! My failure mode was squeezing down into that cramped cavern in order to get to the stuffing box...by almost getting claustrophobia and if I did not have my Brutus son to grab me by the belt and jerk my butt out...I may still be down there!! Be sure to have someone there that can lift you out and wear a big loose belt just in case!! I think I hurt for a week.....
 

bigd14

Sustaining Member
Blogs Author
Relatable, tex! I got stuck in the stern seat hatch when trying to tighten a nut. I was balanced upside down with one hand on the sloping stern counter and when my hand slipped my ribcage compressed as i slid through the hatch rim and then expanded back again leaving me wedged in and unable to push back out. It was only with great difficulty and adrenaline that I manage to grind my way back out leaving cuts and bruises all over my torso! Too close.
 

1911tex

Member III
Relatable, tex! I got stuck in the stern seat hatch when trying to tighten a nut. I was balanced upside down with one hand on the sloping stern counter and when my hand slipped my ribcage compressed as i slid through the hatch rim and then expanded back again leaving me wedged in and unable to push back out. It was only with great difficulty and adrenaline that I manage to grind my way back out leaving cuts and bruises all over my torso! Too close.
My goodness bigd14.....I am hurting again just reading your post!!!!! Vanilladuck...I hope you took good notes!!!
 

vanilladuck

E32-3 / San Francisco
Thanks, Loren for the info and thoughts! You noticed I'm trying to delve into all the different parts of the boat. Not only is it fun for me, but hopefully I'll be able to handle any challenges that come up, esp. under way.

bigd14/1911tex - copy that. I'm only going into the cockpit lazarette feet first! After reading your replies I thought of Tom Hanks in The Money Pit:

1597378941063.png

racushman - I was already thinking about replacing the rubber hose on the stuffing box/shaft log connection when I haul out. You just convinced me the rest of the way.
 

vanilladuck

E32-3 / San Francisco
Update

Started adjustments today of said stuffing box. Measured temp of shaft while still (well, three readings, because who trusts a sample set of one?). Ran two springs lines to the bow cleats and ran the engine idling in forward for 15 minutes. Took another three temp readings of the shaft. Stopped everything, setup lights, opened the cockpit lazarette for air, and jimmied myself into position in the port quarter berth behind the chart table with my stainless brush and some PB blaster to clean up the oxidation.

While trying to loosen the lock nut, I noticed the stuffing box nut moved. Hmmm. This isn't what people said would happen...

IMG_20200816_130023_2.jpg

I spent the rest of the afternoon with the Ridget E-110 wrenches and PB Blaster trying to free the lock nut. I used channel locks on the round part of the stuffing box assembly to keep from rotating the whole contraption against the hose which connects to the shaft log. When channel locks didn't seem to have enough grip, a trip to Home Cheapo produced a 14" pipe wrench which provided lots of purchase. Then I upgraded to Kroil. Spray, wrench, sigh, go fix something else on the boat -- like wiring a mute switch on the fancy bilge pump alarm I installed a couple weeks ago --eat a snack. Repeat.

IMG_20200816_172835.jpg

Any thoughts? I plan on going back tomorrow. If all else fails, I can tighten the stuffing box nut back onto the lock nut and wait for haul out to fix further. If I do that, I'm going to be checking this thing every few minutes while motoring for the next several weeks to make sure the stuffing box nut hasn't backed itself off the threads (thinking: right hand turn in forward for the prop.. threads on stuffing box right hand turn over the top moves whatever your turning forward towards motor... yea I think that's right)
 

Keith Parcells

Sustaining Member
Update

Started adjustments today of said stuffing box. Measured temp of shaft while still (well, three readings, because who trusts a sample set of one?). Ran two springs lines to the bow cleats and ran the engine idling in forward for 15 minutes. Took another three temp readings of the shaft. Stopped everything, setup lights, opened the cockpit lazarette for air, and jimmied myself into position in the port quarter berth behind the chart table with my stainless brush and some PB blaster to clean up the oxidation.

While trying to loosen the lock nut, I noticed the stuffing box nut moved. Hmmm. This isn't what people said would happen...

View attachment 35120

I spent the rest of the afternoon with the Ridget E-110 wrenches and PB Blaster trying to free the lock nut. I used channel locks on the round part of the stuffing box assembly to keep from rotating the whole contraption against the hose which connects to the shaft log. When channel locks didn't seem to have enough grip, a trip to Home Cheapo produced a 14" pipe wrench which provided lots of purchase. Then I upgraded to Kroil. Spray, wrench, sigh, go fix something else on the boat -- like wiring a mute switch on the fancy bilge pump alarm I installed a couple weeks ago --eat a snack. Repeat.

View attachment 35119

Any thoughts? I plan on going back tomorrow. If all else fails, I can tighten the stuffing box nut back onto the lock nut and wait for haul out to fix further. If I do that, I'm going to be checking this thing every few minutes while motoring for the next several weeks to make sure the stuffing box nut hasn't backed itself off the threads (thinking: right hand turn in forward for the prop.. threads on stuffing box right hand turn over the top moves whatever your turning forward towards motor... yea I think that's right)
Bryan,

my advice, worth $0.02

1. These are bronze fitting and are soft an malleable. Channel locks and pipe wrenches easily deform or crush them. Stand down with those tools. Maybe the locknut is deformed. Try to work it gently with a wrench. If you can visualize which side is crushed maybe you can squeeze it at 90 degrees and get it back to some semblance of “round.”
2. PB Blaster dissolves seals and rubber, I don’t know about packing flax, but be cautious.
3. back the packing gland all the way off. What happens? Some water inflow? Maybe, but then you can try a Proper wrench on the locknut. Some water is OK. Plumbers putty can temporarily staunch inflow of water, or just put the packing gland back on, If inflow is too much. Don’t forget to remove plumbers putty before reassembly.
4. Refer to Maine Sail’s excellent tutorial at PBase.com:
5. 1+ for PTFE packing flax
 

trickdhat

Member III
Blogs Author
the right tools make all the difference in the world. I wasn't able to get mine to move either until I bought these:


I applied a liberal amount of PB Blaster a few days before adjusting (make sure you don't get any one the transmission seals). It was also necessary to tap the wrench on lock nut a few times before backing it off. I need to replace the packing in my stern gland as well, but this method has kept me afloat for the past few months. When I haul out, I'll be replacing with a dripless shaft seal so I don't have to continue doing this. Good luck!
 
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