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Finding Failure Before It Happens….and Sexy Brackets

Taking the time to do PMCS on Tulum’s V-Drive may have staved off a major disaster with mounting brackets.

Tulum is an older ketch with a V-Drive coming off her engine and transmission, allowing the propeller shaft to come out of the V-Drive, under the engine and into a deep bilge where it exits the boat via the stuffing box.  From the transmission to the V-Drive there’s another shaft, with the V-Drive securely fastened to the hull of the boat via sturdy brackets.  Or so I thought.

As fate would have it, we came back into Puerto Escondido a week too early (here’s that story) and we sat on the dock waiting for the fuel tank to show up while provisioning and doing other minor chores.  While there, I decided to get into the engine room for some engine service checks, vacuuming and cleaning. We had our gray water pump burn out that day too, so I spent some quality time hunched over in the engine room taking out and checking the old one (burned out) and wiring in the spare. After that, I moved onto the rest of the engine cleaning party…eventually checking fluids in the transmission and V-Drive.  While down in that end of the engine room, I put a hand under the mounting brackets to check their underside paint but got a surprise when large chunks of metal and paint came off in my hand with no pressure.  I checked the second mounting bracket and the same thing happened but worse.  Check out this picture, the top piece of metal is nearly as large as my hand:

Knowing what a mess this would be if one of these snapped, cracked or broke while under way and thinking about the lack of services in other parts of Baja, I knew we needed to get these fixed before leaving the slip.  As fate would have it again, the crack mechanic who took out our fuel tank (Lauro) knew what he was doing to get these messed up brackets out…and an hour later emerged from our tiny engine room with two rusted, about to break apart brackets.

To get them off, he used car jacks to hold up the V-Drive and had to break several rusted out bolts, but they came out.  Here’s the brackets minutes after he took them out.

Since we were still waiting on our tank to be finished, Lauro took them with him to the same welders in his hometown…where they were made from scratch with heavy grade stainless steel.  While those old brackets were out, I had a chance to get into the space on either side of the V-Drive to make sure the sides of the V-Drive got a new coat of blue paint to protect the drive.

Sure enough when the new fuel tank arrived late Friday afternoon…a beaming Lauro came with it bearing two new heavy duty brackets.  Here’s our new brackets:

After the complete install of the fuel tank and getting the water tanks back into place, he immediately dove into getting the V-Drive brackets put back into place, not coming out of that engine room till the brackets where bolted back into place and the drive was ready to run again with new stainless steel brackets.  Here’s Lauro in the tiny space in front of the V-Drive…he’s a large man.

It’s a relief that a simple process like periodic maintenance and service checks helped avert a probable “Ow Shit” like this one.  Finding and fixing these nasty brackets before they broke in the middle of a crossing or critical moment under motor is exactly why you DO engine checks and cleaning days on your Iron Ginny.  Corrosion Control, engine cleaning, bilge awareness, fluid checks and other mechanical tasks are not high on my fun meter, but someone on every boat (with an engine) should be able to do these basic functions.  I’m one of the LEAST mechanical persons in the world but I’ve had to learn, sometimes the hard way.  I write this blog and these posts with a lot of candor so you can read and learn from our successes or failures.  This one was a success!


We live on a cruising sailboat currently cruising in Baja California Mexico.  When not doing engine checks and cleaning,  we get off the grid and work on COVID isolation as we prep to head to Bay of LA in July to spend the rest of hurricane season there.  As we look forward to the rest of the cruising year, we’ll watch the COVID situation carefully to determine if Central America and the Caribbean have reopened.  If those areas are safe, we’ll start making our way down the coast slowly-

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