A sports car with a super-charged engine can take a driver on the ride of his life. But it’ll go nowhere fast with a flat tire.
The same can be said at sea. The best engines don’t matter if the propeller is damaged.
Kelps & Will Prop Shop of Houma brings bent and broken propellers back to life.
Michael Kelpsch has been repairing propellers since he was fresh out of high school. He met up with Wilton Guy at Houma Machine and Marine Supply. After working together for a while, the two decided to strike out on their own.
But in the beginning, their road to success had some potholes. The partners’ first shop on Denley Road caught on fire during Hurricane Rita. That and the storm surge meant the two needed a new facility.
The business was closed only three weeks until a temporary shop could be set up. While a new building was under construction across the street, they got by with what they had.
“The guys continued to work out of the old shop and I had a camper for the business office. We made do with generators until we could get going again,” company treasurer Gisele Lirette said.
With the fire and flood behind them, Kelps & Will Prop Shop is keeping busy repairing the damage caused by whatever boat captains find to run into with their propellers.
Recently a lot more small propellers have been coming in.
“We’ve been busier lately because of all the people helping with the BP spill,” Lirette explained.
Any size propeller can be damaged in murky south Louisiana waters.
Propellers as big as 125 inches (over 10 feet) across in diameter appear sturdy enough to withstand any impact. But they fall victim to submerged objects in marine traffic lanes as easily as leisure outboard motor propellers.
Damages range from cracked or bent blades to big chunks breaking off. The cost to replace some of these propellers can run tens of thousands of dollars so it’s usually more cost effective to repair them.
“Our full service repair shop includes total rebuilding and pitch adjustments. We can pretty much fix anything,” Lirette said.
The repair of bent blades begins by heating the metal until it’s red-hot then various tools are used to muscle the metal back into place. Gages and guides help the men make sure the blade is back in its original position.
When a piece of the blade has broken off, Kelps & Will’s ABS certified welders make a rough repair by welding new nickel, brass or steel into place.
Then it’s the man behind the grinder who endures hours of backbreaking work bending over the blade while sculpting the metal into shape.
“The amount of time it takes to repair a propeller depends on the amount of damage there is or what kind of problem the customer is having with their propeller,” Lirette said.
Before the propeller can be considered repaired, a Pitchometer is used to check the pitch of the blades. The pitch of a propeller blade directly affects the performance of the boat or ship.
A lower pitch makes the engine reach maximum rpm at slower speeds. A higher pitch will deliver greater top speeds, but slower acceleration.
“Customers will complain about speed. They’re not getting up on the water. So the shop adjusts the pitch to make it run better,” Lirette explained.
Kelps & Will Prop Shop not only repairs propellers but sells those manufactured by Michigan Wheel, Sound Propeller, Kahlenberg Bros., Ahoy Marine and Padgett Swann as well.
“The propellers are made to order and take about a month to come in,” Lirette said.
Salesman Mark Belanger uses vessel and engine specs to generate a technical analysis of a boat. He then determines which propeller is most efficient and will perform the best for his customer.
“We provide any style, type, diameter, size and pitch propeller from fishing to oil field vessels,” Belanger said.
Kelps & Will Prop Shop offers 24-hour service on any type material or style of propeller up to 125″ in diameter.
“We have pick up and delivery service too,” Belanger added.
The business also sells nylon propeller bushings and brass nuts to ensure a perfect fit.
Many large boat owners keep a spare propeller to prevent down time if one is damaged.
“Handling and storage is available for propellers serviced at our facility,” Lirette said.
Without a good propeller a vessel is dead in the water.
From the small to propellers so large a crane is needed to lift them, Kelps & Will Prop Shop continues to keep vessels on the move on south Louisiana waters.
The men of Kelps and Will Prop Shop, (from left) Michael Kelpsch, Wilton Guy, Charles Calloway, Mickey Adams and Chris Hebert, stand near a propeller repaired in their shop. COURTESY PHOTO