Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mid Winter Check In

Working on an old sailboat has  become our major extracurricular activity.  Some might say our only extracurricular activity. And it feels that way sometimes although it's not totally accurate either.  It's been like this for quite a while now.   We keep finding things on the boat that require repairs or replacement.  There are little things and big things and little things that could turn into big things if left on their own.  Well one upside of all of this is that we never have to ask each other "What do you want to do today?" any more.   The answer to that would usually be to just finish our coffee and head to the boat. We're working toward the day when our morning coffees will once again be brewed on  board s/v Twisted Sheets  instead of at the house. We're getting itchy to do some coastal cruising.


By now I suspect that you've realized that  this is going to quickly degrade into yet another of these DIY-old sailboat-fixing posts.  I'll try to fit in some tropical scenery to dilute the boat stuff.  That's why I threw that photo of the coffee cup in there.  Well, it was taken at sunrise.  We just didn't have any horizon that morning.  We're feeling guilty after watching the Boston weather this morning.  A blizzard.   Not for us, thanks.  Been there, done that, didn't buy the t-shirt.

My son Jacob has been visiting us this month from Massachusetts and that's why we're paying attention to the Boston weather at the moment.   And he's definitely not wishing he was on Cape Cod right now.  He and his step-mother have been out cruising around  on the paddleboards quite a bit this week.  This is our version of winter sports.

They like to paddle out to one of the Five Little Cays and loop around it.   I handed him my camera  to snap some photos. He's not fooling me.  I can tell by the angle on this one that he was sitting on the board.


I think maybe he forgot to mention that La Gringa led the way around the island, with a dog on board.  I wasn't there for this, but can tell from the photo that this is the seaward side of the little cay, as they rounded it heading back toward Providenciales.


The ocean water is simply disgusting here, isn't it?    Would it help if I reminded you that this is really just melted snow and that I'm sure this water has all been prominent in a New England storm at some point in the past?  And will be there again, in good time.

Dooley wasn't stuck on the board the whole time, either, by the way.  He gets plenty of swim time in on these excursions.   I entertained myself by roaming around taking photos of the shore area while my entire immediate family was off floating around in the ocean. On third hand fiberglass planks.  Without life jackets.  In shark infested water. I thought this rock formation had some potential from a photographic standpoint.


I held the camera near that hole in the rock to see what a video  would look like.  What do you think?:


I guess Dooley's returned from the paddleboard trip.  Our own personal Tropical Disturbance, in action.

Jacob is another inveterate beach comber, and takes a camera on his walks here.  Having visitors here from the US reminds us of how different this little island is from places like Cape Cod.   After ten years here we've gotten jaded.  This all actually looks normal to us.  This is our day to day life.  Not his. He sees the differences.  He tells me that he's never noticed a bug like this on Cape Cod, for example.


And for some reason I like his photo of the last days of a sand dollar as it gently blends back into the earth which formed it.   There's just something about that thought that this photo seems to bring back to me.  Makes me remember that life is short.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. An organic version of turning to rust.


It also reminds me that it's time I got back to work on the boat.  How's that for a segue into what I really wanted to talk about anyhow?   Hey, I DID put some tropical photos in here.

If you can remember back to the previous blog post,  you might recall that I put up a photo  of the mast while we were out sailing.  This photo, in fact.


My son took that photo and what was of interest to him was the sail and the boat logo.   I look at the photo and see the cause of a definite problem and a passel more DIY jobs.  At least.  There might even be two passel worths.   The DIY jobs that leap out at me are replacing the VHF antenna  and removing the lightning damaged junk from the top of the mast, and running a flag halyard up to the starboard spreader, and removing the fried radar antenna, and installing a speaker, and repairing the spreader, anchor and deck lights.   Oh, and the Catalac logo needs repainting.  Sigh.   Lets make that a series of sighs.  Tapering off into low sobs.  This boat has definitley been keeping us tied up pretty well, lately.



I'll explain what caused the problem for us, too.  Look at the halyard that's tucked behind that second mast step  down from the top on the right side.   "Halyard" is sail boat talk for the ropes that run up to the top of the mast and back down to the deck.  They are used to raise and lower things like sails and booms and dinghys and salvaged treasure when it's too heavy for us to lift on our own.  Ha ha.  

Actually, we're about to use one of those halyards to haul me up there to do some of these repairs.  Not that I'm any treasure.  Look at the rope that goes right to the top tip of the sail.   We have roller furlers on our boat, so we don't use as many halyards as most boats, but we have a bunch of them installed on the mast. And from time to time this conglomeration of lines causes some issues.   Usually the halyards are just loose and making that annoying slapping noise that sailboat halyards make in the wind.  Anyone who has tried to sleep in a marina full of sailboats in the wind most likely knows what I'm talking about.  I've long thought that "The Slappy Halyard" would be a good name for a marina bar.  Anyhow,  In this case, that loose halyard became snagged on the top of our main sail roller furling, and we didn't notice it at the time.  You can see it in that photo if you know what to look for.

Late in the day when we were finished sailing and  trying to roll the main sail back up we ran into problems.  That snagged halyard prevented the roller furling from  rotating as designed.  The problems were that I cranked entirely too enthusiastically on a  winch, and tore the sail and overstressed the furling hardware.   Getting the sail secured in a 20 knot wind was  quite invigorating. Especially since we hadn't been sailing but once in the past year and were way rusty and not all that clear on the proper sequence of events as we remembered it. Differently.

We got all tangled up with the furling line jammed on the winch. It involved cutting lines and  a fair bit of improvisation.  When we returned to  the marina, I discovered that one of the mast fittings for the roller furler was bent and about to fail.  I think one of the previous owners of this boat must have constructed this piece from heavy stainless steel wire.  I don't think it looks like it came from a marine chandlery.   And I'm sure you can see that one good tug and this thing would be coming loose from the mast.   I realize that not everyone reading this is familiar with sailing activities, but in general it's bad news whenever hardware comes flying off of whatever it was supposed to be attached to.  

I could see that this little bent wire t'ingum was going to become a problem with the next big tug on that line. And after looking at the local marine hardware options several times, I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to get this repaired in time to go sailing again next weekend was if we just fabricated a replacement ourselves. We do a lot of that here. Also, we noticed that the block (which is a nautical term for a pulley) was putting the line (rope)  down low on the furling drum (which is that spoolie thing with the red rope wrapped righteously round it) and this was something I wanted to fix, too.  But the whole point of this photo is to show you how precarious the grip of the pop-riveted wire was to the mast.  Whoops.


Having never fabricated a piece of mast hardware before, I was a little unsure as to what was going to work best.  Here's a photo of what I came up with.   The first object there on the left is that bent piece from the photo above.  I hesitate to call it original, as I'm fairly confident that this wasn't a professionally designed and manufactured piece.  It was failing anyway so it really doesn't matter.  I removed it to get the dimensions I needed to duplicate and I also wanted to see if perhaps I could just simply fix it by re-bending the eyes.  This is a good, time-honored lazy way out of a job I really didn't feel like doing in the first place.  I've gotten pretty good at that over the years.  But at some point this annoying sense of responsibility kicked in and  I decided that rebending the steel would  weaken it.  I also felt that this approach left something to be desired from an engineering standpoint.    I do not think that using rivets with that bent wire was the best idea.   I mean, a bozo like me just bent it, right?  I also thought it just basically looked ugly and unsuitable and that alone was more than enough justification to do something about it.  I didn't want someone looking at this and thinking it was something on the boat that I approved.  Know what I mean?  


That piece in the middle is my first attempt to copy the function of the  bent wire "original"  on the left.  I basically just mutilated a  perfectly good  piece of stainless rod that started out as salvaged rigging from a shipwreck on West Caicos. I heated the ends with a propane torch and then wailed away at it like a maniacal drooling blacksmith  with a claw hammer and a cheap bench vise as an anvil.  I think the hammer marks give it an air of hand wrought authenticity, like I just screwed up a miniature horseshoe.

After it was all said and done  I was a little nervous about the thin material around the eyes.    And yes, I know it's even uglier than the piece I was trying to replace.  It's perfectly okay if you want to tell me these truths.  You won't hurt my feelings.  I'm a big boy, and  I knew my creation was hideous when I heavily hammered it hairless.  I realized it,  I cried, and moved on.  We just have to try to use these little failures as stepping stones to our next little failures. Which is at least a change of scenery and a chance to wash up and get some sleep. Or something like that.  The really important part of what many call a failure is to consider it just a learning step in the process of getting it right.  Failures can be very useful with the right attitude.  At least that's what I told myself after hitting my thumb with the hammer and screaming until my own eardrums hurt.  Time to move on.

Now that third piece of metal  in the photo of the DIY mast pieces, the one on the right, is the result of  taking a Dremel tool and cutting a 15mm wide strip off the stainless holding tank that we also salvaged from that a wreck on West Caicos.  We sure got a lot of mileage from that wreck.  I wish I knew who owned that boat.  I'd like to contact them and tell them their old boat was living on, and parts of it were sailing again.   I know I'd be tickled to hear that if it was me.   And I think this second attempt looks almost like it was intended for the application, if you squint your eyes just right and suspend most of your standards for a moment.


I think this is a better application for the rivets, for sure.

I also made the replacement just a few millimeters shorter than the one I destroyed, er,  replaced.  This should do a slightly better job of feeding the furling line onto the drum in the middle so that it doesn't clump up in one area and cause hard feelings amongst the sailors.    I know it's difficult to see what I'm talking about from these photos.  And I notice it looks better from a distance.  So much so, that I am expecting that looking at it from the distance of a couple years will make it look even better yet.  We'll see.


In the early day of stripping this boat I  never realized that I would ever get  this far into it.   I thought I'd  just take a quick look behind the vinyl and find the places where the rain was leaking in, and that would be the end of it.  But no, it's gone much deeper than that.  I don't know if this has become a challenge, or an obsession.  But I've noticed a change in my attitude as this whole old-boat-refurbishment thing has progressed.  I noticed it again just yesterday, in fact.  We're working on stripping the forward cabins in preparation for painting and installing the new hull liner.  The ventilation could use some improvement, and I decided to take a break from stripping old glue to install a new 12 volt fan.

I know this doesn't look like much, but it represents something to us.   This is something new being installed on the old boat. I wish I had taken photos of the old, rusty, cheap  discount store fan that I removed, but that's long gone to the dump.   And there was something satisfying about putting those two new stainless screws into the wood.  So many of these projects have been done in the past using whatever hardware was available.  We've thrown an amazing amount of rusty steel away so far.   But now, things are starting to come back together.  And  wherever possible, it's being done right.  I used the right sized screws.   The right length.


The fan is a good one.  Designed for use on a boat, not plugged into a cigar lighter designed in 1950 for an automobile.    There is a feel about a good product.  A heft to the motor.  A solidity to the parts.  It's clean and white and new and if nobody was looking I'd probably fondle it for a few seconds before installing it.


We hadn't put up the new hull liner at this point.  We were working in the cabin to clean the rest of the old glue and foam rubber from the fiberglass.   We were using solvents to loosen up the glue.   It was decided that installing ventilation was probably a good idea.   We'll remove it to install the hull liner under it when we get to this part.


And there we have a new, marine grade, functioning fan that works just great.   I realize this doesn't sound like a big deal to most people.  They'll figure "what's he on about?  It's just a little fan."  And yeah, that's accurate.   That's all this is.   The first of six new fans.   What makes it a little red letter nanosecond for me is that finally, things are being installed back on the boat at a good clip.    The destruction phase is over.  Now, we rebuild with good stuff.


Jacob has been working on the interior of the forward cabins for us. An extra pair of hands is very welcome, as there is a huge amount of boat work yet to be done. He's learning a lot about old English catamarans on this vacation.  For example, he now knows that the  hatches over the bunks double as emergency escapes.


We've been organizing lines, sorting them by size and application and getting rid of the old and worn out ones.  This, too, has become satisfying in some strange way.


I wonder what kind of a manuscript we'd have if we'd logged every little repair in the two and a half years since we bought this boat.    I don't put all of this stuff in the log book for the boat.  It would take up way too much room to talk about all the little things.  I do list the important stuff, like major changes or engine repairs.  But we don't bother listing every stitch to a parachute drogue, for example.   We do have a sewing machine on board, but sometimes the old ways are more convenient.

Like with a curved needle and 40 lb. test monofilament.  And these stitches don't come loose.


We've got a big roll of hull liner, which we've also heard some sailors refer to as "mouse fur carpet", in our living room for months. We're pulling the old stuff off the boat and taking it home to trace and cut the new pieces. There is a huge difference in smell between 30 year old hull liner and new hull liner, by the way.  Just in case you wondered about that.


We're spending as much time at the marina as we can get away with.  The boat is functionally just about there, awaiting only a certain yellow bellied captain to climb the mast and fix a bunch of already listed issues there. I would have done it today, but I dropped a socket overboard between the boat and the dock, and well, I believe in omens.


Can you believe that the water is 12 feet deep there ?   Or how I changed the subject from me climbing the mast?

I can't avoid it much longer, so I'll be up there as soon as this dreadful wind abates a bit.  Or something like that.  In the meantime, we're still here on the south side of the island of Providenciales, dreaming of casting off the lines and heading out for some new adventures.   The 'cruising season' is just starting up here, and we're starting to see other sailboats coming through South Side Marina.  

Speaking of South Side Marina, recently I was finishing up  another of my latest little projects-du-jour and looked up to notice a decent looking sunset.  Not that they're all that rare here.  I looked around  and noticed that my crew was gone. I was on the boat alone.   


This is usually their subtle signal that it's time to gather up at the bar.  So I went up to take a look. 


Yeah, it's a much better view from here.