Friday, September 19, 2014

The Boatyard -- Refitting Flying Cloud

My wife will hate this post. I think she thinks (how many men have uttered that phrase?) that we should focus on just the positives and the travel brochure aspects of cruising. I’m more of a “tell it like it is” type of guy. I read a lot of cruising blogs and the ones I appreciated the most talk about both the positive and negative aspects of this crazy lifestyle. This post is about the negative.

As I mentioned earlier, I abhorred the idea of returning to Trinidad to work on the boat for two or three weeks. Trinidad is somewhat of a necessary evil. It’s one of the easiest places to get work done. Many times you’ll call a repair guy and he’ll be on your boat within an hour. Try that in Seattle sometime. There are good chanderlies (albeit at high prices) and most anything you need repaired can be fixed down here. The downsides are the heat, the torrential afternoon rains, and the likelihood of any simple repair becoming complex and expensive. In addition, when you haul out you lose boat systems that depend on water:  1) air conditioning, 2) sinks and showers draining, 3) heads working, etc. Try living in your house for two weeks with no heat/AC, sinks, showers, or bathrooms. Not fun.

This Excel ToDo List goes on and on and on.
Back to the projects. Like any respective anal-retentive I’d been keeping an Excel spreadsheet of everything that needed to be fixed once we got to Trinidad. The list showed exponential growth as projects beget projects. That’s even before we started taking covers off things and exploring.

Sailing to Trinidad I essentially had six projects in mind:  1) new bottom paint, 2) new anchor chain, 3) a whisker pole, 4) fitting a used Code Zero gennaker, 5) replacing the cutlass bearing, and 6) commissioning a survey of the condition of the boat for insurance purposes.  Not too intimidating at first glance.

Life in the boat yard. You could walk from deck to deck, the boat were that tightly packed.
Our savior, after three days of sweltering in the boat sauna, was this portable air conditioner that they rent out at the yard.
First, we had the boatyard (at $375 labor) clean, sand, and apply new bottom paint. The Ameron ABC3 paint worked well for us last year and sells for about $800 for 4 gallons. It’s a hot, messy job and best left to the yard workers at that price. We also commissioned our old Rastafarian friend, Mellow, to clean and polish the sides of the boat. At $250, still a deal given the heat. As long as we were polishing the hull, we hired Mellow’s fellow Rasti, Corwin, to repair the numerous dings and scratches in the fiberglass all over the boat. Still a good deal.

Think of untangling a 200 lb slinky.
Brand new 10mm Maggi chain in our now clean anchor locker.
My first job was to get the old, rusty anchor chain out of the anchor locker and onto the ground. I then crawled into the locker (remember no AC at this point) and used oxalic acid to dissolve the rust stains coating the inside of the anchor locker. This was not fun and breathing was a challenge.
We then had the new 10mm 220 ft. Maggi chain from Italy delivered in a pick-up truck. It was on a spool, but ironically was mis-wrapped so the worker had to kick the spool apart and try to untangle around 200 lbs of chain. It took a while to hoist it aboard using the anchor windlass (we also had to replace the windlass chain wheel as the cogs were badly worn causing the chain to skip). Because the chain is purchased duty-free, he had a female Customs Officer watch the installation. She was not a happy camper.

I then tried to attach the anchor to the chain using new high tensile Crosby shackles I’d laboriously searched out in Seattle. Turns out a ⅜” shackle won’t fit a 10mm chain even though 10mm is slightly bigger. After several trips to the various chandleries I found out there were no 10mm shackles in Trinidad. Ended up using a rotating anchor connector left over from my C36. Should work fine.

One problem I noticed was the motor on the anchor windlass was rusting fairly bad. That meant dismounting the very heavy motor from inside the locker, wire brushing (I had just bought a Makita industrial die grinder fitted with a brass wire brush, so that worked great) the rust off, and painting it with zinc primer and industrial enamel. Can’t have this puppy ever fail.

While in the anchor locker I fitted two three-foot pieces of teak with line holders mounted so we can store various lengths of smaller line in the otherwise unused forward locker space. That worked great, except my idea of combining quick dry epoxy with the slow drying 5200 mounting adhesive didn’t work as well as planned and the boards, with all the wet 5200 goop, started sliding down the sides of the locker.  I had to hand hold them until the epoxy took hold, then clean the 5200 off the walls. You don’t want to ever do this, especially in a hot compartment. A lesson learned.

Jonas, our stoic Swedish rigger, getting ready to remove the over sized main halyard.
Jonas' assistant rigs the control lines for the new whisker pole that will mount on the front of the mast.
I finally got the rigger on the boat to talk about mounting the whisker pole and the Code Zero gennaker. The whisker pole was fairly straight forward, although we did have to machine a Selden end fitting to fit into a Forespar sliding car on the mast. Metric meets imperial. When will the US ever shift to the much easier metric system?

The new reinforcement plate for the Code Zero gennaker eye strap. The cracks found by the surveyor were at the base of the two vertical stantions.
I had originally assumed we’d mount the base for the Code Zero sail by through-bolting a fitting on the deck between the forestay and the anchor windlass.  After looking at the rig, the rigger said it would be problematic to fly the gennaker in that position since it would get caught with other halyards at the top. He suggested moving it to the forward-most point of the boat on the bow pulpit step. That was great except the load was up to two tons, which meant we’d have to weld a ¼” stainless reinforcing plate to the pulpit and through bolt the stem piece. Ugh. That meant I'd have to make a pattern and find a welder who is authorized to work in the yard.

Now here’s a bit of good luck (sort of). When the surveyor was inspecting the boat (with a magnifying glass) he noticed two hairline cracks in the bow pulpit, ironically inches away from where my welder would be mounting the plate. For a little bit extra he welded the cracks, saving someone from imminent death when the bow pulpit failed and they fell in the water in the middle of the night in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (that would be me). The other issue was the plastic electrical wire for the forward running lights ran through the stainless tubing that was soon to be red hot from the welder. Normally you’d just attach some line and pull it back out of the way, but most line would melt at those temperatures. I thought about this for several days and came up with a good solution. I found some braided steel fishing leader (it has to be flexible to make it around all the corners) and crimped it to the wire and then had Meryl pull it back into the boat where it would be safe from the heat. The braided wire should survive the heat OK.

Actually the most difficult part of the project was removing the teak step that I had just put 8 coats of varnish on. I first had to tear out the teak bungs hiding the screws. Doing that without damaging the edges of the hole is difficult at best. The ten screws simply didn’t want to come out and I didn’t want to ruin the expensive piece of teak (which was heavily bedded to the tubing). After much trial and error I hit upon a removal method, as inelegant as it was. I ended up re-tapping the holes and buying new mounting screws, so the re installation wasn’t too back. Unfortunately the stainless steel backing plate I had custom made in Seattle (which I assumed would be mounted under the deck) needed to be recut to fit under the new stainless plate. All in all the welder (Mitchell at West Coast Welders) did a great job and the attachment point is now rock solid.

With the mounting plate installed, I had a sail maker come on board to measure the luff length of the gennaker so he could modify the sail (it was designed for a 50 ft sailboat). That will take about a week to complete.

A single strand is all that is holding this genoa halyard together.
When the rigger went up the mast to take measurements, he noticed the genoa halyard (which we never take down since it’s roller furling) was literally holding on by a single strand of the 24 strands that make up the line. Amazing it hadn’t failed (resulting in the sail blowing out) yet. Looking at the staysail he noticed the same thing, but not quite as bad. It turns out all the halyards were oversized, and as such, were rubbing on the sides of the exit sheaves. We couldn’t re splice them since the line was too old, and anything we did would result in the same wear pattern. In addition, especially on the main halyard, it was the wrong type of line. The surveyor (who used to be a rigger) noticed it when I hoisted him up and he was bouncing up on down on the springy line.

Luckily the rigger had some spools of a German made Dynema line called Liros that he gave us for a fairly good price (translated to outrageously expensive compared to the States) so we opted to replace them now with the much stronger and smaller diameter (12mm) Dynema. The splice on a Dynema line is very small, meaning it shouldn’t rub on the exit sheaves. Love those surprises when you’re fixing one thing and two others pop up. The option of loosing both sails in a heavy blow out in the middle of the ocean made the decision fairly easy.

The most beautiful stainless polisher in the world.
During most of this work Meryl was diligently polishing all the stainless steel on the boat, a huge task. She’d try to work a couple of hours in the morning before it got too hot, then a couple of hours right before sunset when it cooled off a little.

This brigantine was rigged with several square-cut sails.
How this couple maintains this huge wooden boat is beyond me. I got tired just watching them.
As an aside, a 65 ft. brigantine was brought into the yard right next to us for a week. It was a huge, very complex boat with a young Dutch couple and their 5-year-old son.  They worked 14 hours a day sanding and scraping the bottom, then painting the bottom and hull sides. I’d never seen anyone work so hard. Half the time she was in a bikini top covered with red bottom paint dust from hair to toes. Don’t know how they maintain and handle that big a boat. The kid was very cute and helped out at times and the rest of the time played in the large mud puddles. The only bad thing was their young dog fell off the deck 25 ft down to the dirt and landed on his head. Amazingly he seems OK. Oh, the robustness of youth.

Now back to the bottom of the boat. Before they do the bottom painted (usually a couple of days before you go into the water) you have to clean all the underwater metal (propeller, shaft, strut, and thru hull covers). This is a messy job but made easier using the electric die grinder with the brass wire brush. Before we had just painted the bare metal with bottom paint, but I noticed it seemed to come off faster than the bottom paint on the fiberglass. I contact my buddy, Steve d’Antonio, the expert of all experts in boating repair, and he recommended an acid etcher followed an epoxy-based primer.  Meryl had to walk about two miles up the road to get the acid etcher ($45 for a quart) while I went the other way to another paint store to buy the Ameron epoxy primer ($125 quart). It’s nasty stuff but the application went fairly well and will ensure the bottom paint stays stuck to the underwater metal. The only negative was I carefully removed the small pins from the drop down doors of the through hulls and carefully lined them up on the wooden support of the keel for exact replacement. Naturally when the yard workers came their high pressure hose knocked these (and their cotter rings) in the mud surrounding the boat (remember the torrential rains every day?). Amazing I found all of them, but have no clue which goes where. Next time I bag and label them and store them on the boat.

New cutlass bearing and PropSped coated prop.
A couple of days before we launched we had to re coat the propeller shaft with a product called PropSpeed. We did this three years ago and it did a fairly good job of keeping marine growth off the shaft and prop. When it fails stuff grows fairly quickly on the prop, and it’s a pain to keep diving and scrubbing it clean. PropSpeed is getting hard to find, especially down here.  We scored the second to last can (a pint at $200) and carefully read the installation instructions and planned the application. You need to sand the shaft and prop right before you apply the PropSpeed, otherwise the shaft will start oxidizing fairly quickly.  It had been raining fairly lightly but seemed like it was stopping so I mixed up the two-part acid etch and began coating the shaft. Naturally a full out deluge hit and soon everything was coated with water. I was pissed and felt stupid for going ahead, but you never know when it will rain down here.  Luckily the acid etch had a 8-hour pot life (I thought we’d have to find another can at $200 and was aware it may be out of stock, thereby delaying the launch of the boat. Another problem is that once the bottom is painted, you need to launch within a few days. Once it stopped raining I managed to wire brush the gunk off the shaft and as I painted the new acid etch on (it dries very fast in this heat), Meryl followed with the Clear Coat, which had jelled a little but was still OK. We dodged a big bullet on that one.

This diesel powered tug moves boats back and forth to the Travellift.
I'm praying the straps hold for just a few more minutes.
I won’t bore you with the myriad of other small fixes and repairs, but we were ecstatic to finally be back in the water on Sept. 15th. The dock master, Ragnor, to whom we’d donated our 240 ft of old chain, moved some boats and got us a great location on the inside of Peakes dock with electricity and water. Peakes gives you five free days after your haul out, so it’s a good deal for us. Naturally the AC on the boat didn’t work initially, but we finally got the air bubbles out of the feed line and now it’s working like a champ, along with the pressure water, showers, and heads.

Meryl is getting very adept at sail and canvas repairs with her Sailrite industrial machine. Here she's sewing through several layers of Sunbrella and leather protective strips.
We spent the next few days just getting all the tools and junk put away and cleaning the boat. Naturally, while cleaning our moldy white bimini, I managed to put a six-inch rip in a section that was especially threadbare. Off came the bimini and out came the sewing machine. Luckily the guy who had recovered our seat cushions was delivering them that day and brought Meryl a piece of white Sunbrella, so she’s repairing the rip and reinforcing some other sections of wear. It’s unbelievable the damage that the combination of sun and salt water does to everything on a boat. Our surveyor commented that your boat is trying to commit suicide every day, and it’s your job to keep her alive.

To add insult to injury, our domestic water pump (that supplies water pressure to the sink and showers) decided to die the next day. It’s a very expensive pump (a Paragon Jr. at about $1400) and one I worry about on a daily basis. We had Mark at Dynamite Services come right over and remove it. At the shop they found the motor was toast, so we'll try to order one from the States and have it air shipped. The motor is $200 and the air shipping is another $250 and will take a week at the shortest. Then we have to get it through Customs. Looks like we'll be here longer than we thought. Luckily we’re hooked up to domestic water at the dock so everything still works on the boat.

Another day, another dollar, the exotic life of a cruiser.