The Cutlass Bearing Debacle

Once upon a time back in September 2015 it came to our attention that our cutlass bearing was worn out and the prop shaft had too much play in it. We had recently wrapped a line around the prop and it evidently heated the rubber inside the cutlass and pulled it out with the line. Our diver, whom shall remain nameless, told us that he could replace the cutlass in the water, and that it would be no problem. All he would need to do is plug where the shaft comes in through the hull and get the replacement bearing. This sounded great and like it wouldn’t take too long. We wanted to have the boat ready for sailing to Catalina Island during the Fall so that First Mate could fish and drop her lobster traps, and we have sailed out for Christmas and New Year’s for the past few years. It’s an off-season time and really nice! We gave the go ahead to the diver, and he started work the next week. We were told it should not take more than a few weeks at the most. We paid him the $300 that he estimated it would cost.

About two weeks into the job the diver came to me and told me that someone had installed the previous cutlass with 5200 and that it was stuck fast. He said he would need to buy extra saw blades so he could cut the old one out. At that time he told me he would need more money because he had gone through all his saw blades. I gave him an additional $70 or so (what I had with me) and he promised it would be complete within a week. A week had passed and nothing. We let it go for a few more weeks until I found him at the marina and asked him about the progress. He then told me that he had pulled the prop and shaft and needed to get the cutlass bearing, but he did not have any money. We wanted to be good citizens at our marina, and we understood that the job was much bigger than be initially thought, so we told him that we wanted to pay him for his time and did not want him to work for free simply because he had underestimated the job. We gave him an additional $300 to finish the work. He promised that he would have the cutlass bearing and install it the next week. At this point we were about six weeks into a one week job.

Several weeks went by and we finally found him at the marina again. I asked about why the job wasn’t finished. He told me that the cutlass bearing that he bought was the wrong size. When he came out of the water with the shaft he could not lift it, so he tied a buoy onto it and left it beneath the boat. When he went back to get it a few days later, he could not find it anywhere. He told us he dove multiple times with hooks and had a friend dive with him, but neither of them could find our prop shaft. When he told me what happened, I waited until he was finished and then waited for him to continue the conversation with how he was going to fix the problem he created. There was a pregnant pause in the conversation, then nothing from him. I offered that if he found a shaft I would finance it and he could work off what he owed us by cleaning out boat for a year or so. He thought that was a great idea, and we thought that maybe he would then come through.

Well, in the end we are now coming up on four months since he started the job. He has not come up with any solution on getting us a replacement shaft, and has not even acted as if it were a priority for him. The sad thing is that he is a really nice guy! We like him and always have, but this has really put us into a position of having to make some decisions. We could sue him, but that would change some of the dynamics at the marina. He’s not made of money, so we wouldn’t be able to derive anything out of a lawsuit other than a judgment, which would never be satisfied. We decided to just let the money go that we had spent, and plan on having our sailboat hauled out and fixed at a reputable boatyard. We found a good boatyard south of Long Beach and will be calling them next week to schedule the haul out and fabrication/installation of a new prop shaft and cutlass bearing. Lesson leaned – always talk to others before you have anyone do any work on your boat. Only hire someone that comes recommended by someone else that had used them. Never use someone in your own marina, and although it may cost you more to have the work done by a professional, it is ALWAYS worth it!

About Captain Tom

Over 10 years sailing and over 3500 miles under our keel. Was an engineer (EE) for over 30 years, then after moving into management, decided that the corporate world was no longer for me. Ran my wife's law office for 15 years and recently retired. Now we live aboard and sail the California coast, soon to leave for the Sea of Cortez.