Working on old boats can be therapeutic. Sometimes. For brief periods. And that's a good thing because "working on an old boat" pretty well sums up our year-to-date when it comes to aquatic activities. We're still spending big hunks of most days down at South Side marina. There are worse places to hang out.
That photo makes it look quiet. It's been busy as this is the season for many sailors in this hemisphere to be heading south to the Lesser Antilles and islands scattered along the way. The marina has been full more often than not lately. I've been spending a lot of my time squirreled away under one hatch or another. This, for example, was a recent morning spent rewiring some of the alternate energy systems on board. I'm not sure why the previous owners thought it was a good idea to install the watermaker next to the solar controllers. I don't think it's a good idea. I have these archaic ideas about salt water dribbles and electricity. Apparently some previous owners had looser specifications about these things. Welcome to my world.
We still have lightning strike damages to address in addition to the general boat maintenance and repair issues. We've been waiting about a year for an insurance claim settlement. I think they must be sending the check via continental drift. The whole process of settling a claim of this nature remotely has been a drawn out and painful peristalsis. So the new systems are not yet all purchased, which affects boat readiness at the most basic levels. We have repaired the solar array. We removed six old amorphous PV panels whose weight exceeded their useful output value and reconfigured the remainder to take advantage of the latest MPPT solar controller technology. The solar power geeks out there will know what I am talking about, and I'm not going to bore the rest of you with any more it.
We've removed one of the heads, along with associated hoses and tank. The galley is being slowly changed and improved. Once we get all the rainwater leaks sealed up we can start repairing the systems that suffer from rainwater leaks. The galley stove comes to mind. Some of the "big ticket" electrical items like a radar and the navigation system will have to wait until we have the insurance money in hand. The claims adjuster is suggesting we go with one of the new integrated systems like the Garmin. I dunno. I'm pretty old school in some of this. I like the idea that if my radar display goes blank, I still have depth, GPS map, and wind information. That doesn't work if they all depend upon one central processing and display setup. I wonder about redundancy. The jury is still out on this one.
The one part of the boat where I haven't made any repairs at all yet is up at the top of the mast. And that's because I haven't climbed it yet. I've sort of been putting it off. Maybe I need the stars, weather, biorhythms and courage to all line up on the same day. I'm working on my altitude attitude with rectitude, psychologically crawling slowly toward that point where I can comfortably downgrade outright cowardice to a simple severe case of procrastination.
What's really annoying is that La Gringa would be happy to scamper up the mast with no qualms at all. I won't agree because knowing that she'll do it is what's goading me to suck it up and seriously.....consider it. There's a lot of mechanical and electrical work to be done, and I've got the skill set and experience along those lines. Just not at the top of swaying poles. It just makes sense for me to do it. As much as I would prefer to be standing on the deck looking up at her on the mast, it's gonna have to be the other way around. It will happen. This is a pretty minor little demon by my standards. And these days I've got the support of knees #3 and 4. I tell myself it's worth it for the photos alone. Maybe by the next blog post. You did see that word maybe at the beginning of that last sentence...right? There's nothing critical up there anyhow, come to find out. Did Columbus have a VHF antenna sticking out of the top of his masts? Magellan? Vasco da Gama? Simon Bolivar? Nope. And there y'are. And those guys had people they could order up the mast day and night. Some might call this rationalization. My mom would have another word for it, with the initial syllables being either 'bull' or 'chicken'.
We are slowly going through the boat's rigging hardware and replacing fasteners when we find some that need it. The flagged bolt in this photo was just keeping a hole plugged until I could import the proper replacement. I stuck that rag on it to serve as a nagging reminder so that I wouldn't forget I needed to fix this before we go sailing. You can see again how we've stripped much of the boat's interior back to the bare fiberglass.
Re-bedding the deck fittings is easiest when there are two people to work on it. One of us is outside holding the bolt head while the other is inside working the washers and nuts. Sometimes there's only me available. I just tie a wrench handle to something to keep it from turning while I carefully tighten it all from inside. You can see the new bedding oozing out from under this railing while I tighten the bolts. We're using gray butyl rubber for all the external hardware. Most of the original bedding is long gone. This stuff seems to stick pretty well. I wish the previous owners had tried it.
We import the nuts and bolts we need from the USA. It's tedious, it's expensive, it's frustrating, and it takes a week or more to get what we want. This is NOT a country for those who insist on instant material gratification. But at least when we import we can specify exactly what we need. And some days or weeks later the Fed Ex delivery truck driver shows up with our goodies. In this case, he brought bags of bright and shiny new hardware. It's kinda like paying for your own Christmas present when you bought yourself something you needed instead of something you really wanted. Still, it's fun to open the packages and just admire the clean look of stainless steel that has never seen salt water or been under any stress.
That bright yellow round thing in the photo is a bridgedeck drain grating from the 3-D printer. That's to stop some of this expensive new hardware and the occasional small tool from falling through the scuppers into the ocean. These are working well. I'm printing some of this outdoor stuff in bright colors. This is not because I have the artistic sensitivities of a whoopee cushion, be that as it may. These are bright to remind me that these printed pieces here and there on the boat are experimental. I don't yet know how they are going to handle the marine environment. The bright colors remind me to pay attention and to pick them up and examine them from time to time. See how they're holding up. If they work out, I can print Rev.B's in another color with any adjustments I need to make. The clip for the boarding ladder has been in direct UV now for four months, and shows no sign of UV damage or delamination. Good news so far.
Want to see another example of why we've been spending a lot of resources on new hardware? This thing is called a "banjo bolt" by most mechanics around here.
It secures a "banjo fitting" in either the fuel or oil lines of one of our diesel engines. It's got another hole from the end of the bolt that you can't see in the photo that connects to the hole that you can see. It's not supposed to look like this. It's not supposed to be stretched out of shape and cracked almost all the way through. It's supposed to look like this new one we just had sent down from Pennsylvania via Federal Expre$$. I should have angled the photo so that you can see the hole in the end, too.
I've been finding a disturbing number of these little surprises throughout the boat. I'd much rather find distorted hardware somewhere other than in the engines, though.
I know that as long as I can see Dooley, his nose will be pointing at anything of interest going on up in the world of sunlight and marinas..
And there usually does seem to be something of interest going on. At least from Dooley's perspective the marina is a circus of activity. On a day last week, for example, we noticed that Dooley and the South Side Marina dogs were all paying a lot of attention to a catamaran that was coming in to tie up. We couldn't see anything particularly dog-noteworthy about the boat( I was more interested in our deflated dinghy) but it was an interesting looking boat and I snapped some photos.
Dooley didn't take his eyes off of it for the entire time it was approaching. This was unusual. His normal attention span is something like "okay another boat. big deal. Now where was I....?" Not this time.
The resident South Side dogs also came out to check in this boat. Here's a photo of ( left to right) Julian, Cam, and Bob waiting to help tie up the newest arrival. Note the attentive dog.
When I looked around I realized that we had three dogs intently interested in this boat.
And it wasn't until after they had tied up that we discovered that the South African sailors had two Dachshunds secured down below while they came into the marina. I can only assume that Dooley and the Dogs heard the new arrivals barking from about a half mile away.
Either that or they'd all been chatting on Muttbook and arranged to meet the boat. We do something similar with cruisers from time to time, come to think of it. Okay, that was my brief effort to write about something other than boat DIY. Back to the fray.
We got a chance to test the Gorilla brand duct tape on our inflatable dinghy recently. The strange flip-over frame contraption that came with the boat had worn a hole in the fabric and pulled the rub rail off. You can see that contraption in the second photo in this older blog post. We wanted to inflate the boat long enough to float it over to a place where we could work on it comfortably. I cleaned the area with acetone, and put a piece of this sticky duct tape on it. We were impressed. This is not the wimpy gray duct tape. This stuff really sticks. The tape is as good a tape as the Gorilla brand glue is as a glue.
We pumped the boat up and floated it over to the dock where we could haul it out of the water. The tape held pressure and was so well stuck to the Hypalon fabric that I think I would have been willing to put the outboard on the boat and run it around the marina with the tape over the hole. A roll of Gorilla tape will probably make it's way into the little dinghy's storage locker. I think a small bottle of solvent is important, too. We need to get the salt and any other contaminants off the surface in order for the tape to do a good job.
These are the holes that the flipping frame rubbed in the inflatable fabric. That frame is no longer a part of our life and it's another seventy pounds off the boat. We followed directions with the glue and patches. Isn't it amazing how often "following instructions" seems to be the best approach. Some of us guys don't like to do it because we don't want to be seen reading the manual. It's a little like asking for directions. Painful. And you probably wouldn't believe what we went through and the costs to patch these three little holes. It's also painful to realize that it costs us $ 100 go get our hands on $23 worth of rubber patches. I don't even want to talk about it. The only thing that saved us here was finding a local friend with the glue already on island.
We gave the whole boat a check up while we had it ashore. We mixed up a spray bottle with soapy water and sprayed all the boat seams after pumping it up extra firmly. Even small leaks will make soap bubbles. Another patch went on this one.
We gave it 24 hours, as recommended by all the online gurus you just know I consulted. Then we put it back in the water and attached the old outboard motor that came with the boat. We have a two stroke Merc that is old enough to vote in national elections. And it's crankiness is commensurate with it's age. Like a few of us.
It floated just fine. We gave it the old 'canary in the coal mine' test, sort of. We didn't have a canary so we used the dog. He was all for it. He wouldn't even mind getting wet. He loves these little adventures. They always seem to cheer him up.
And this is the power-washed and blown-dry but still totally-gummed-up carburetor from said old Mercury outboard. It was being cranky too. After a greasy hour of fiddling around and yanking on a starter rope, I think the outboard, the carb, and I were all a bit cranky. I took a bunch of photos like this to help me remember how all the springs and bits went together. I don't have a manual with parts diagrams. I kept taking things apart on this sucker until I couldn't separate any more pieces peacefully. I was left with a small pile of fragile and expensive looking little shiny things. Needles and throttles and springs, oh my.
I put all the pieces in a basket and soaked it for an hour in a bucket of carb-soaking chemicals. I think it's carbon tetra chloride and some of it's more disreputable relatives. You wouldn't want to use this stuff as a mixer for your drinks. Maybe for someone else's drinks. The ultimate Last Call.
I'm not going to chronicle this whole Mercury outboard thing step by step here in the blog either. I did get it running, again, but we desperately need a new outboard. I wanted to give you enough info to make it easier to envision how this boat rehab is progressing. Slowly, with serial sets of serious setbacks slowing schedules significantly. The upside is that we're learning the boat pretty well. And everything on it. This started out as "let's go patch the dinghy and take it for a ride".....yesterday morning. An anticipated one hour job. And 48 hours later I'm huffing carbon tet and slinging sibilants.
And then BAM! The islands' only power company blows a fuse. Big time. The entire island was totally without public power. We fired up the 2K Honda generator and made the best of it for a couple of days. I mean, it's not like this doesn't happen several times a year. We can keep the fridge and freezer cold and run an electric skillet or coffee maker. The Internets down but we can run the computers in their own little world. Here's La Gringa cooking quesadillas by lantern and candle light with a spatula in one hand and a Cosmo in the other. The girl knows how to cope.
And those blue lights are NOT her eyes, by the way. She borrowed my LED baseball cap to chop up the jalapenos. Something to do with sharp knives, darkness, alcohol, and keeping both hands free and bloodless. Our newest glass electric GE cooktop has not worked since the power outage. This was our second glass cook top. Replacing appliances ten years early is also a part of life here. We seem to be replacing at least one major appliance a year. This is an expensive place to live.
Back on board the battered boat we've got kitchen issues of another kind. The leaky hatch and window above the galley let water drip onto the top of the stove. For several years, apparently.
These burner caps were originally solid cast iron. Now they're mostly about the care and feeding of iron oxide.
The stove top grill is welded stainless rods, but there's this thing about reheating welds repeatedly. They get tired of it. They learn to let go. They go back to being loose rods. Is "reheating repeatedly" redundant? You know...if those rod ends were just bent around that transverse rod in a tight "J" shape, they'd be free to expand with heat and the welds wouldn't break because there wouldn't be any welds...I'm just saying.
You just know where this is going, don't you? Yes. I couldn't stand looking at it. I started taking things apart to see if this was salvageable. A new one is about $ 1300. In Western Canada. And we're a long way from western Canada. I was a little bit nervous about us turning on the gas and firing this up, too. Call it a gut feeling due to previous experience with owner installed equipment on this boat. Sloppy propane work isn't something to wonder about. Catamarans are not that much fun with one hull on fire. Of course monohulls are even less fun on fire. No place to run to. (Sorry. Had to put in some sailing humor.)
I took the stove out of the galley. Another dirty job with that stove, the holding tank, and the engines being the major sources of yuck around here. I was glad that we elected to take a look behind the stove. Not happy, but it was a good thing that we looked. The cabinet was filthy, haunted by the ghosts of chili dogs passed, but that was just cosmetic. Several issues more serious that simple filth stood out. The bottom of the stove was resting directly on a sheet of plywood. And there seemed to be a lot of copper tubing and an ungrounded, unshielded, cheaply made, rusty old AC outlet in an enclosed space behind the stove. Live electricity. The major components of both gas leaks and sparks. Tick, tick, tick. This will never do. I can't bring myself to put this back together like this. I'd be living every day under the Stove of Damocles.
I looked up the installation instructions online and they essentially want an open space under the bottom burner in the oven. For ventilation, and oxygen supply and to keep combustibles away from the burner. Sitting on a solid sheet of plywood was not listed as an option. And those burn marks in the wood look so pretty. I'm going to cut a big hole here to move combustibles further from the bottom burner, and to improve the ventilation up through the stove. After I do some research of course.
I wrestled the greasy beast out into the cockpit and started the really dirty part of this job. I think black soot means burning too rich means it needs more oxygen. I think I read that somewhere in the manual, too. Forensic boat work.
This could be a tale of two greases. Hard baked and elbow. And sayonara to my recently clean walking shorts.
That Contractors' Solvent stuff is pretty good, by the way. We bought it to help soften the old foam backing adhesive on the interior but it works well as a general industrial cleaner too. It's environmentally and politically proper and all that biodegradable stuff. I guess one could paraphrase Steven Wright and say everything's biodegradable, if you've got the time. This stuff smells good, too. Nice scent of oranges. Very pleasant compared to acetone or lacquer thinner. Not nearly as much of a buzz, though.
After a healthy bit of cleaning from top to bottom I installed three new stainless burner kits. Force 10 stoves are rugged and easy to disassemble for cleaning and repair. This is some of the fun part of rebuilding this boat. I know every major piece in this stove now.
I bet you can see how this could be therapeutic to an old retired dude.
We cleaned out the cabinet and sanded and etched it down to new surface for the most part. La Gringa put a couple coats of fresh paint on the woodwork. I looked up the regulations on installing gas appliances. They're pretty simple.
And this violates every single one of them. I won't go into details because it would bore most of you and those who would be interested will spot it all in a heartbeat, anyhow. Notice the rusted out back of that electrical outlet. It's just a short trip from a short trip, electrically speaking.
The stove installation has now become a work in process. Parts are on order. There will be some changes made here. Sigh.
The seals in the windows are ancient rubber originally extruded by some far away chemists in England who retired twenty years ago. It was old long before we had bar codes and expiration dates. If I bend it, large cracks develop. I'm not even sure you could call it rubber any more.
The good news is that I can 3-D print acceptable replacements. I had to make some small design changes but it will work. Well, actually, major design changes. But I am trying to keep it in the spirit of the original designer's vision, which I hope was just to keep the water out. Boats are all about handling water. The whole idea is to keep it under you.
I pried, cut and scraped twenty years of various sealant and putty patch jobs out of the window tracks and designed some small pieces to goop into place just where the leaky corners are. It's not necessary to fill the entire tracks with rubber. Only to stop up the corners where the leaks are. They work well, too.
I printed up enough of these for all the windows, and then discovered that flexible filament is now available for these printers. I made this version with loose enough tolerances to use sealant. I now want to re-print them scaled up slightly but in squishy rubber. This printer just keeps getting better as a boat tool. Getting some experience with the capabilities is helping me to figure out where it will work and where it's not a good idea. I've also learned that the printer should be inside an enclosure for a number of reasons. Especially if it's going to live in a Naval, Sheltered environment. I wonder what MIL-HDBK-217 would think about that stove installation. My background continues to haunt me in these things. I want them all done right.
I've also been having a problem with the engine hatches falling and smashing my fingers and head at the most inopportune times. Like, for example, when I'm trying to maintain consciousness while climbing a ladder at sea. The boat came with some UV frazzled bungy cords that will hold the hatches open in most conditions. If the boat's not moving. Or the winds not blowing. Come to think of it, that's really not most conditions at all. Anyhow, those hatches and bungies looked like this:
You can see how that gets loose when the boat is rolling and the wind is flopping the hatch back and forth. I need a hard hat to work down there or something like Nicholson's' football helmet in Easy Rider. After a couple of frantic sessions of scrambling down the ladder to deal with fuel lines my old bald head looks like a scuffed up soccer ball that bleeds.
I haven't fine tuned it yet, but the yellow thing is my first pass at a positive hatch lock. It should slide up to the top of the stanchion out of the way and secure with a thumb screw on the outboard bolt. Needs a little fine tuning, but it works. Rock solid.
I think I must have read 32nds of an inch as millimeters or something similar for the pipe clamp components. I'll scale it up and reprint it. If it works, and lasts, I'll eventually do it in gray. And I need to junk my non-metric rulers and tape measures. We all do. Wake up, America. There's a whole different world out here. And some of it is better. No kidding.
Well, that should give you a pretty good idea of what we've been up to lately. We're making progress, and now are actually installing new things. This is a lot more fun that ripping musty rotten old stuff out. Or leaky tanks half full of the stuff of nightmares.
We're going through a lot of changes these days, but we have some fun plans for this old boat as soon as we have the basic systems working reliably enough to go out sailing for a few days. I've been poring over charts and maps and making a list of things to go see. Want a random example out of many? Okay. I want to go dive around the coral heads in this Google Earth image. And it's an overnight trip where we'll be anchored behind a small deserted island for a couple of days to do it. Sound like fun? Should be some great underwater photos and I want to put a kite up over this for some aerial images, too. That kind of thing interests me for some strange reason.
We do get away for an occasional break from the brig. We get up the hill to Bob's Bar from time to time, of course. Especially on Wednesday nights when there are some interesting people or boats in town. Recently we met a long time internet acquaintance from Key West in person. He and his wife were in the Turks and Caicos for the first time, having motorsailed down from Florida. This is a view of Turtle Cove marina just before sunset, from the bar at the Magnolia Restaurant where we had sundowners with Mike, Sandy and Dave from Key West.
And this is what that particular sunset looked like from that bar. This is the outside seating area for the Magnolia Restaurant on Providenciales.