Stuffing box and aft chain plate woes

We knew that our stuffing box was leaking excessively. During one sail with Noah and Jessica one of us discovered the trickling sound of water coming from in back of the engine. It was almost a pleasant sound that one might hear in a Japanese garden except that it was alarming to be hearing it inside our boat. We also knew that our aft chain plate was not to be trusted after it pulled up about 1/4″ while out for a sail in a decent wind. Matt’s wife Laurie had been sitting behind the tiller and I was not far from her when we heard a loud twang come from the rigging, particularly the aft stay. I quickly realized that we needed to take the tension off the back stay so we furled the jib and motored back to our mooring. This was just great! Now our boat was not even trustworthy under sail power.
The chain plates as executed by Douglass and MacLeod used a hunk of marine plywood to which the chain plate was bolted and the whole thing was glassed to the hull in the form of a knee wall. There was no easy fix for this except to take apart the knee wall, remove the rotted plywood, inspect the chain plate and put it all back together somehow. In retrospect I should have done a bunch of research into how to best re-construct this chain plate but it was summer and we were anxious to use our boat so we repeated the technique that was used and had lasted over 30 years. Instead of plywood I came upon a hunk of Ipe, or Ironwood which I shaped to make the core of the new knee wall. I used the West System epoxy and cloth to bury the entire mess (chain plate, new bolts and Ipe). Hopefully this chain plate would last another 30 years.
The order of these events is a bit fuzzy to me now as all of this occurred over 10 years ago so please forgive me if I have detailed the events out of sequence. The event that may be out of sequence is the near sinking of ‘Odalisque’ due to her leaking stuffing box. I believe that it occurred like this:
Matt and I arrived at Steppingstone after about a two week absence. We intended to address the chain plate but instead discovered about 6 inches of water above the cabin sole, the batteries drained of charge therefore with no engine power. The batteries had drained as we had installed a water sensing switch and hard wired the bilge pump to the batteries. This was done in an attempt to balance the leak rather then fix the actual leak itself. Needless to say no work got done on the chain plate as we had to manually bail out the boat and run off to West Marine and get 2 new batteries. The nice launch operator named John lent us a jump start battery and we got the boat to the Steppingstone dock where we could work on her. Matt and I were both fed up with the leaking stuffing box but it was Matt who actually got underneath the cockpit with a wrench or two and tightened the nuts such that the leak finally became a regular but slow drip.

It was summer time and other plans had gotten in the way of attending to our boat for a two week period and we were pissed at ourselves for not being more proactive but also were pissed at Noah who lived 2 miles from the marina for not checking up on her either. What had happened had happened and there was little or no point in playing the blame game so we finally did what needed to be done. I got to speak once again to Don Moyer and did the requisite 3 oil changes to get the sea water out of the engine oil. In spite of shooting ourselves in the foot we managed to fix the chain plate, adjust the stuffing box and do a thorough engine oil change. Oh, and I cut out the wiring for the bilge pump sensor as all it had managed to do was drain the batteries and not the boat. I know that I am probably on the fringe on this point but I do not like these float switch or sensor units to make a bilge pump ‘automatic’. I do not think that there is a substitute for regular inspections to a boat on a mooring.
In the spring of 2005 while on the hard I replaced the old stuffing with Gore GFO 1/4″ packing material. Here is a link for the best stuffing box tutorial I have found on the web: MaineSail’s website.

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