I hope you don't mind a lot of boat-related DIY stuff. Because that's what most of this post is about. The boat taking up a lot of our time lately, and our time here is really what this blog is supposed to be all about. I did manage to find a few more nice photos from Pine Cay to start off with. And we can just about always grab a sunrise photo if we remember to do it. And to pay attention. Doesn't it seem that so much in life goes a lot better if one just shows up on time and pays attention?
Can you spot the kite and camera shadows in that photo of the beach at Pine Cay? The kite shadow is just on the edge of the sand stirred up by the retreating waves. The shadow of the Go-Pro is there in the tidal zone, on the medium wet sand. The two funny looking sundials are us.
For those with salt water souls there's just nothing else like the cosmic peace of having a few miles of beach to yourself for as long as you want to breathe it. It doesn't take long, just a few hours of walking these beaches is like plugging a heart into a solar charger until all five bars are full.
I was recently reading an article in the BBC's online news about the quietest places on Earth. The author basically says that because you can hear a commercial jet aircraft for 100 km, there's no place habitable left where you'll never hear an airplane. Well, that's probably true. But there are places where the natural sounds of the very environment itself become a primeval heartbeat that floats a mind with a soothing rhythm that resonates within us. We are water. We cannot be immune to the same forces that drive the tides on this planet. These vibrations are part of the natural drumbeat accompaniment to our ancient song of genetic memory. The sounds of the sea and the wind are much more than sufficient to mask a distantly rumbling flight to Puerto Rico in my book. Maybe this is one of the few upsides of progressive hearing loss.
Before we moved to these islands, La Gringa used to tell me that the best days to leave Pine Cay are rainy days. I can understand that now. It's tough to pack up the wet bathing suit and leave this beach for life in the city on a day like this. I look at these photos and think about just why we walk these beaches on perfect winter days pulling that kite along. For us, it's an almost perfect combination of some of the things we love. The beach, the solitude, the ocean, the wind, sky, waves, and a few gadgets to play with. Heck, if we didn't have the kite we'd probably be building sand castles, but you get the idea.
We'd tracked up the beach pretty thoroughly by the time we decided to pack up and head back to Providenciales. It wasn't a rainy day, yet it was still time to leave.
We have boat work to do back on the bustling metropolis of Providenciales. A lot of it. Boat and work are close enough genetically to be considered synonyms. I think boats come with maintenance issues already built in. I know the 'to-do' list never seems to have a last page. Back in a previous career I was convinced that mixing electricity and salt water was just generally asking for trouble. These days I would expand that to mixing anything man made with sea water. The ocean is like a casino in Las Vegas in some regards... it can be fun for a while and the experience might be well worth the expense, but the house always wins when it's over. And sometimes you're just lucky to make it home in one piece.
It's not all work back here though, even tied up at the marina. This part of our tropical life has some interesting moments, too. Especially this time of year. This is the 'season', as those in the hospitality business see it. And that's really the only business of these islands, and Mid Winter is the height of the season. Not only for those flying down for a week's holiday, but for those sailing south. This can be a nice place to tuck in for a while after that last long stretch of the Bahamas. There's not much infrastructure between the Exumas and Providenciales. And the next leg south is over a hundred miles of open ocean to Hispaniola. Provo has the best infrastructure between Florida and the Dominican Republic. Good place to wait for weather. Relax, recharge, and re-provision. R&R&R.
Here's our view at South Side Marina so far this week. A number of boats are in port. Can you spot La Gringa right past the transom of the S/V Toi Et Moi? More on this later in the broadcast.
We're trying to spend at least a few hours a day working on our old sailboat Twisted Sheets. We knock a few things off the list every time. We take Dooley the Delinquent along and he loves being on the boat. It's an entirely manageable little kingdom to his way of thinking. He has access to just about all of it although I have yet to see him try to climb the mast. I've been actively not encouraging him to get near the mast, for obvious reasons. It's the closest thing we have to a tree on board, and we have to handle those ropes.
It's been over a month now since Susan and LA were tied up in the slip next to us in their boat Genesis. Dooley remembers that the boat in that slip had a cat on board, and he still checks every single boat that pulls in there. He's looking for Lulu. He's peering in the windows, hoping to see a familiar furry face. He truly likes cats, despite having to accept the fact they just don't understand him. He says that's just because they were raised in families that stereotyped dogs. He thinks illogical prejudices can be overcome with personal contact. He's one of those rare dogs that was raised by a cat that was bigger than he was. He keeps trying even though he always seems to be the one who ends up bleeding in these relationships. Yet he still searches for Lulu on every ship that slips from the sea into her old berth on their way through Providenciales. Could Disney make a movie out of that?
While Dooley the Diligent is searching for contraband cats, La Gringa and I continue to strip our old boat down to the basics. We've decided to clean the interior back to the fiberglass. That sounds like an afternoon job for a cleaning crew, doesn't it? It's a lot more than that. This boat has foam rubber glued to the inside of the fiberglass. I don't really know what glue the manufacturer used, but I wish I had some of it. It's lasted almost three decades, crossed the Atlantic three times, and it's still tougher than ..... well... I'll leave that metaphor hanging.
As you may have read, we started this by trying to find and eradicate musty old closed in boat odors. This led us to leaks that let in the rain water that led to the musty odors. This led to stripping the interior. And from there, we finally realized that ALL fabric in the boat must go. That includes the curtains. Here's a shot of the soon to be discarded curtains, and the bare fiberglass interior that we're working toward, boat wide.
And boat wide means twice as much on a catamaran. Funny how the benefits sometimes seem to be a number less than twice, while every problem and expense is times two. That ratio changes dramatically once away from the dock.
It's not just stripping the interior. Almost everything on the boat either needs work, parts, or replacement. Our dinghy developed a hole where it rubbed against a contraption some previous boat owner had invented to keep the boat inverted for travel. It was a dumb system. We've removed it, but still have some of the damage to deal with. We tried for two days to find a suitable glue for Hypalon. We can't find anything like that here, so far. And since it's a flammable glue, I can't just have some shipped down on an airplane. Surface shipping would take weeks. Welcome to our world. I've been assured that good contact cement will work. We'll probably find out.
The only good way to fix the leaks around windows and hatches is to completely remove them, clean out the multi layered, dried up, cracked and misapplied gunk, fix leaks and problems, and then re-bed and re-attach them back to the boat. This is usually a two person job, with one of us outside and one inside removing dozens and dozens of fasteners.
This has been leading us through a process I've come to think of as forensic boat repair. I swear, on some of these projects I can trace the steps taken since the boat was new. I can see the logic of what the manufacturer did and why. I can also now identify specific traits of repairs by each of the three previous owners after the boat left the manufacturer in 1986. You can tell a lot about a person by how they've addressed problems. Patterns emerge. Resulting issues become common enough to develop working fixes for.
Not too hard to spot the places where some dummy put a screw all the way through causing a small leak. Getting the interior stuff off makes it a lot easier to find these.
We're not planning to re-upholster the interior. We like the idea of being able to see the hardware holding the mast on, and stuff like that. We also like the idea of quickly locating and fixing leaks. We still have to find a suitable coating to cover this chopped fiberglass mat look. A couple of people have had good suggestions, including an elastic noise suppressant coating, regular gel coat, two part aliphatic paint, and white pickup truck bedliner. I'm hoping for something that's not too noxious, that can be applied thick enough to cover this surface. Maybe using a textured roller to apply it. Embrace the unevenness.
We're making a real effort to fix this stuff right this time around. For example, I'm punching out hundreds of blind nut inserts so that we can replace them with nuts and bolts. This was a bad design metallurgically. Stainless steel cups pressed into holes drilled in anodized aluminum. This is one of those rare opportunities that might justify writing tsk tsk. Each frame has something like two dozen of these to be fixed, more or less. Not heavy work, but it takes hours sitting on the dock with a hammer, punch, and I was using a socket for knocking the little inserts into. You can see the corrosion around the holes. Using this construction method pretty much guaranteed that these would rot away due to electrolysis.
And this creates a problem for us. We have to repair all of these, and there are 21 windows and 13 hatches. Roughly 800 of these troublesome little widgets to knock out and replace.
"I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering where it will go"....(thank you Lennon and McCartney, I couldn't have said it better myself.)
If we could just buy replacement windows we would do that. But they were custom made for these boats. A long time ago. In a land far away.
And for a break from the mundane starkness of our marina time rememember when I pointed out that photo of La Gringa behind the Toi et Moi? Let's get back to the fun side of marina life. She was about to try a stand up paddleboard for the very first time. I was all poised with my little pocket Nikon in hand, all a quiver at how much fun it was going to be to get photos of La Gringa falling into the water. I won't say I was giggling in anticipation, but I'll admit to an expectant grin. Well, that didn't happen. She took to it like a June bug to screen door.
We had become temporary marina neighbors with the crew from Toi et Moi, and had been watching Susan cruise around the harbour on her SUP. We've been eyeing these ourselves, wondering if we might just need a couple to take on board Twisted Sheets with us. La Gringa asked Susan how difficult it was to learn, and by golly if she didn't get an impromptu lesson on the spot. Quickly followed by a first solo. I thought the fact that she hopped onto this board dressed in street clothes showed either a remarkable confidence, or ludicrous cluelessness. (Here's a hint.... she's miles from clueless.)
I did get some movies of her standing on the board and paddling it, but for technical reasons I am loathe to freely accept responsibility for, those came out blurry. Oh, okay okay. I screwed up and had the camera in Macro focus mode. There. I've admitted it. Feel better? I know I do.
Because I rarely get to use the word loathe, and it's so... loathsome sounding.
Okay after that brief stint of attempted jocularity I'll get back to the real subject of this post, which is my stupidity. And I don't know what else to call it. Well, I do, but I refuse to even accept senility into my vocabulary. Let me explain about the dumbness part.
This is a raw water strainer. I removed it from our starboard engine compartment, because I found out that it was damaged. These things purpose is to filter out seaweed, animals, sand, rocks, small craft, sea monsters and similar debris from the engine's cooling water. Very simple device, but it only works if it's air tight. It's under suction.
See the break in the clear cover on the top of this strainer? This lets air in, when the engine is pulling water through it's cooling system. Air at this point is not good.
The infamous "some previous owner" (and we both know who you are) had sought to "fix" this by just globbing it over with electrical tape. Cheap electrical tape. I first noticed this issue when I saw that the water output of our starboard engine was less than that of the port engine at the same RPM. The water pump itself seemed okay, and further investigation found this broken strainer. Like so many of the little issues we are addressing, putting a couple wraps of electrical tape around this is kinda like trying to treat a stomach ache with a Band-Aid. Or a sticky plaster, if you're unfamiliar with the US generic term for adhesive bandage.
I started by just trying to buy a replacement top for the strainer, of course. I'll give you the short version of that exercise.
Research on the internet revealed that the manufacturer of these is in Italy. To import the entire strainer, if I wanted to keep both engines the same (and I do) I figured out that it would cost me about $350 to get two of these to Providenciales. That's enough to make me explore alternatives. All I really needed to do make some kind of seal preventing air from getting in. I mean, cheap electrical tape worked for some time. It got us from Jacksonville to Providenciales, if you ignore the fact that I doubt we ever had both engines running for very long at a stretch.
So, I came up with the idea of a waterproof sleeve or cap to enclose this broken bit, and seal it all up. By now you know my normal MO is to make something out of Starboard. As is so often the case here the first step was to sharpen the tool I needed to drill the hole the same size as that broken piece. Rust kills sharp metal edges. Really.
So, after taking five minutes to find the file to sharpen the bit that had dulled itself since the last time I used it, I drilled a hole in a piece of Starboard. This was a good start. But then I started running into the usual problems. I needed to cut some slots in this collar I was making, to fit over those four support ribs molded into the clear plastic strainer top. This will all become clear in a minute. I hope.
The little mitre gauge for the band saw was broken. This is normal. Some plastics get brittle here. A little plastic bit had broken off at some point in it's short life. I had to fix this before I could use the band saw to cut the kerfs to make the sleeve to fit the ribs on the molded strainer top.
I couldn't replace the plastic part and didn't really want to (it broke, remember) so I figured I might as well fix it good enough to last a while. So I had to drill out the old, and tap it for my favorite fastener, 1/4-20. This is getting pretty involved, for fixing a danged air leak, don't you think?
I'm going to skip through this a little quicker or we'll be here all day. I threaded a rod into the hole I drilled in the miter gauge so that I could use the band saw, etc. etc.
And Dremelled that off (I know Dremelled is not a verb exactly. Well, not even remotely, but it should be a word, at least down here) to make it flush..
And ended up with a functioning miter gauge to use the saw to cut the slots to make the sleeve to seal the leak. With me so far?
Then I kind of got a little out of sequence, and used the repaired gauge to cut off the hunk of Starboard that I was working on. This turned out not to have been the best sequence because I should have cut the slots in this while I had a square piece to work with.
I then used a hole saw in the drill press to make this into a sleeve.
Okay, so two hours later I have a sleeve that will fit the top of the strainer cap. Eventully. After more work.
I sat there at my workbench covered in white plastic shavings and musing on the fact that I really needed two of these and would have to make another. And that sweaty skin seems to be the only thing that starboard particles will happily stick to. I looked at the fruit of my labors wasn't very happy with it. I was still facing another hour of shaping and cutting and filing and sanding. Times two, if I wanted both engines to be identical. I was looking at this ugly little thing I'd made, and thinking to myself...."there must be a better way..." and this was my first major DUH moment this year.
I don't really want to elaborate on the self description that came to mind when I realized that sitting there on my desk was a fully functional 3-D printer. I was harsh in my criticism. I called myself things that might rhyme with numb gas. I used a compressor to blow all the starboard dust and debris off, and started over. Completely.
And once I got my head out of my past.... Designing part to a rough sketch took maybe three easy minutes.
Turning sketch into a .stl file on Autodesk 123D, maybe ten minutes but I'm not fully up to speed on this CAD program. It should have taken five minutes.
Powering up the printer and generating the part I needed...just a few clicks and walk away for a while.
I packed that new ABS fitting with Marine Goop and pressed it on, and I think this strainer top is not only air tight now, but the forces of the wing nut holding it on are better distributed. The $350 I saved on strainers was half the cost of the printer in this one little job alone. And I've now done dozens of these little jobs.
I need to rewire my thinking and make sure I first ask myself if I can print my way out of a bind before I start back with the way I did it before. I'm making progress. Really. Next 3D print project is new stop blocks for the Lewmar hatches. It all starts with imagination sometimes.
Wanna see another one of my early season duuuhmness?
I mean, as long as I am on this 'let's beat up on the dumb Gringo' kick, why not.
If you read this blog much you'll know we recently installed a new composting head (toilet) on the boat. This installation needs access to the outside through a vent. I had installed all that on the boat already, including the toilet and the solar powered vent. But I needed to hook up the vent to the head. I had bought about three meters of 1.125 inch clear tubing at the local hardware source. Three meters of inch and a quarter? That's like speaking Spanglish. I think the DIY down here is getting to me.
Anyhow this stuff had been wound up on a spool since it was made at the factory. Maybe it was wound up while it was still curing but this stuff has a memory. I had bought this over a month ago, and cut the pieces to length. I tried clamping them to the cockpit table for days, leaving them in the sun, and several other bending ideas to try to straighten them out. But no matter what I did they retained some of the curve from being stored for who knows how long on a spool. This was a problem.
I brought the pieces home and ranted and whined and tried pouting but none of that worked, of course. It it rarely does at this age. Dooley still has the cute to pull that off and I ran all out of cute in a previous century. I had gone through my list of mild expletives to describe this plastic and had started over after changing the noun to thermoplastic when it dawned on me, again. THERMOplastic. You do see the major DUH here, too, don't you. Yeah, me too, sitting here smugly in the future from which this all looks so easily fixed. This worked out to be a good idea and I am passing it along here just in case some of you someday find yourselves in similar circumstances. You can look a lot smarter than I did. You're welcome.
I cut a scrap piece of PVC pipe that fit inside the stubborn, curved tubing and internally splinted it straight. Gave it a bit of backbone, so to speak.
I used a capped piece of larger PVC that let me put the splinted tubing inside of it, and then I just filled it level full of boiling water. And waited.
Oh, sure, I had to endure my typical ration of scorn and doubt from the peanut gallery.
Guess what... it worked great. I let each piece cool in the water, and then when I poured it out I had straightened tubing. After a month of frustration trying to physically force this stuff straight, a little heat did it in five minutes.
So that's two major Duh's already and it's only January. I sure hope this doesn't go into the books as one of my stupider years.
It's not very encouraging that I just about completely missed this sunset, though. By the time I thought about it, the show was almost over. Perhaps I should just let La Gringa be in charge of the finer photos. She's better at it, anyway.