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When it come to boating, it’s smart to not get trapped into hard and fast schedules. The past couple of days are an example of why. Having been in Prickly Bay for more than a week, we had hoped for a change of scenery, planning to move the boat to the St. George’s anchorage, closer to Saturday’s hash. Before leaving, I first wanted to have Richard, the owner of Turbulence, the company that replaced our standing rigging, do one last check to make sure that all was well. As it turned out, he found one or two things that he thought should be adjusted, and that was enough to keep us in Prickly Bay another day. Oh well.

Yesterday morning, with the rigging work behind us, I was confident that we’d be good to go. I completed my engine checks and all seemed well for us to raise anchor and leave. When we put the boat in gear though, we were presented with a very unwelcome surprise, a loud rumbling (grinding?) noise that obviously should not have been occurring. I immediately shut the engine down and as always, when faced with a problem that I have not experienced before, tried to think it through.

As the noise only occurred when the boat was put in gear, I first looked to the transmission. While I checked to make sure that there was sufficient oil in the gearbox (there was), Rebecca jumped in the water to make sure that there wasn’t anything on our prop (there wasn’t). With those two things checked off the troubleshooting list, I started to think of what else might affect the shaft turning and create that noise. There was nothing obvious, no loose fittings, or items rubbing that I could see. The shaft does run through that mysterious stuffing box though, so maybe it had something to do with that?

  • I know all about stuffing with my turkey dinner but on boats, stuffing boxes are new to me. Neither ZTC, which runs on outboards, or the LeopardI no longer like to promote the name of that boat — which has sail drives, have stuffing boxes.

I will admit that until I did some reading in Nigel Calder’s book Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual, and had some discussions with knowledgeable friends, I didn’t know anything about stuffing boxes, or packing glands. I do know a bit now though, at least in theory.

Our Amel’s stuffing box has a permanently mounted, external grease gun which, when the handle is turned, injects grease around the packing glands. When we were going through the boat with the previous owner, he told me to give that handle a turn every 10 hours or so. Figuring that more grease would be better than less grease, I was pretty sure I’d been doing that even more often than directed. Perhaps I hadn’t though?

Looking for another solution to our noise, I cranked the handle on that grease gun to further lubricate the packing gland. As we put the boat in gear, the noise seemed to dissipate a bit. Note that we were still at anchor so the boat could only be put in gear for short periods of time, alternating between forward and reverse. Buoyed by that bit of positive results, we continued the process of adding more grease while putting the boat in gear. Ultimately the noise went away. I should point out that at the recommendation of our friend, I did open up the grease gun to make sure that there was actually some in it, and to be sure that it was working, I filled it to the top.

Was that really the problem though, a lack of grease? I’m not sure, and as there was no wind to sail the boat yesterday if we lost our engine, we weren’t interested in raising anchor to really test it out. I guess we’ll see.


  1. Thank you Mike – I learned something new today. I was unaware of that type of stuffing box which requires grease for lubrication. I always thought that they were kept cool and lubricated by water alone.

  2. Hi Mike, last year we changed out our stuffing box to a PYI dripless unit to get away from the dripping and have something a little more maintainance free. And now a dry bilge is great.

  3. Is there any play in the cutlass bearing? From the outside, move the prop/prop shaft, does it move at all?

  4. If there is no oil in the transmission and it’s making noise, It’s to late– The transmission would be shot..

  5. Using the word rumbling, would definitely lead me to think some sort of play in the drive shaft, like a cutlass bearing old and worn out, packing gland not compressed, shaft coupling to tranny loose, and possibly an engine mount broken. What about that shaft generator or whatever it is you have, how is it mounted and or attached to the shaft?
    Using the word grinding, would lead me to think tranny (major shit) or maybe that shaft generator has a bearing that’s gone. good luck

  6. Do you have folding or feathering prop? One of my blades got stuck not fully open and caused a lot of vibration when in gear. I also couldn’t get the engine to full revs.

  7. I once read that stuffing box noise can come from air bubbles in the box. Often happens after boat has been hauled or in some boats it can happen when a quick reverse thrust causes air to get sucked into shaft. The fix is to occasionally “Burp” your shaft by squeezing the hose and burp out the air. I guess if you stuff your baby, it’s gonna need burping 🙂

  8. Dea-Latis looks like the same boat you two have..

  9. Mike, I’ve been following you two for some time. Congrat on the new boat.

    In my theory of things this is a good thing to happen now while you are getting everything up to specs and not on some stormy evening when you really need that engine to be flawless. Can you imagine the stomach twister it would be to need that engine and you heard ungodly noises?

    So, you dodged one….smile.

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