Category Archives: Annabel Lee

Solid to the core…

I’ve been promising these pictures, so at long last I bring you (drum roll please) COMPLETELY re-cored (and very solid, but pre-glassed) decks!

decks 039   This photo was taken before the final lapped ‘plank’ of 1/2 marine ply was lagged into place. Every thru-deck (cleats, fuel, water, waste lines) have been set with reinforcements that will keep water from reaching the new core.  Next, two layers of biaxial from bow to stern, and all deck leaks will have been banished!

Letting go of Perfection

Another winter is right around the corner, and once again, Annabel Lee remains right where she’s been for far too long.  No, the work I’ve been doing should have never taken this long, but sometimes health, hurricanes, and life in general get in the way. All the same I do know for certain (with the exception of any unforeseen impending disasters, of which I’ve had enough, thank you very much,) I am on the home stretch. If all goes according to plans (okay, go ahead and laugh. I know the boat gods are even as I type this.) her completely re-cored decks will once again be sheathed in fiberglass, and she WILL WILL WILL be afloat come spring, her decks nice and solid, her engine gleaming and purring, and her new-old mast standing high and proud. I may have mentioned in the past, it’s my delusional optimism that keeps me going. Hey, sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.

Now, I’ve heard the whispers. I know what some people are saying. I’m a perfectionist, and until I come to terms with that, the boat will never be done.  And that is true to some extent. For one, no boat is ever truly done –that just goes with the nature of boats. And I am a perfectionist when it comes to the boat, but only to a point. For example, I have a strong dislike for leaking decks, and I believe if you’re going to tear them all up and re-core them, you might as well do it once and do it right. So no, I won’t cut corners there. And I strongly believe that the engine room should be the cleanest, shiniest area on the entire boat, because then if there are any leaks, they are clear and easily located and addressed. But beyond that, I’m actually rather partial to the New England workboat philosophy – minimal brightwork, minimal shiny bits, and simply freshen up the paint once a season.  Let the boat look respectable, let her show she’s maintained, but don’t sweat the finish. Personally, I’m seriously considering simply rolling the hull with a nice, flat, off-white paint.  It’s a look I’m rather fond of, and not just aesthetically.  It’s a look that says, “This boat isn’t just a show piece.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m the first to admire a truly beautiful, meticulous finish. You’ve got to respect the work and discipline that goes into achieving and maintaining it, and brightwork that gleams with flawless richness is truly a thing of beauty. I’d been that obsessive on my old catboat, Myra Lee, and took great pride in the admiration she attracted. But these days I’m letting go of that ideal. So long as she’s mechanically and structurally sound, I’d prefer  Annabel Lee be less of a show piece and more of a functional, functioning boat. A boat I won’t mind dogs romping around, and one I won’t mind hauling a striped bass aboard. A boat that guests don’t have to remove their shoes to board. A boat that dinghies can thump against all night without concern. A boat I don’t have to pamper. A boat with the lowest maintenance-to-use ratio I can achieve.  A boat I can simply enjoy.

It’s easy to get caught up in the quest for perfection. As a writer, there’s always another sentence we can tweak, and on boats, there’s always something that could shine just that much more.  But there’s a point where it might be best to let go of perfection in exchange for ‘good enough’. Because in the end, once Annabel Lee is finally anchored out, as the sun dips below the horizon as the clouds streak the sky with a magnificent pink and orange display, the last thing that will matter is how shiny her hull is.

And on that note, I found this video had been emailed to me from Jamestown Distributors, and it sums this philosophy up perfectly. It’s well worth watching.

You have a… WHAT?

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Over the years my husband and I have spent countless hours on the phone, trying to track down various components for Annabel Lee, our 32’ 1977 Cheoy Lee trawler. And the responses we hear are consistently the same.

“What kind of a boat is that?”

“Never heard of them.”

“I thought they built only sailboats/megayachts/ships.”

Actually, Cheoy Lee did, for brief span of years, build various small trawlers. But it isn’t just the boat itself. The parts she was built with lead to an equal amount of dead ends.

“What kind of helm pump? Oh. Can’t be rebuilt. You got to replace it.”

No. The Wagner 701 can be rebuilt.

“An inner cutlass bearing? No such thing.”

That’s odd, because I’m looking at one right now. Only it isn’t in a standard size. The inner diameter is for a 1.75” shaft, but no standard outer diameters available match the dimensions of my apparently very unique stuffing box/inner cutlass bearing housing, which a friend with a machine shop will be boring out this weekend so we can use a standard size cutlass. The same goes for the rudder bearing.

I suppose this should be expected when one buys an old boat of unusual pedigree, and I did anticipate it to some extent, though as with all things on a boat, the reality of the situation often far surpasses what you first imagine. This has become amusingly apparent whenever I’m on the phone with some supplier or another, who, in an attempt to find answers Googles “Cheoy Lee” + whatever part we’re discussing.

“Oh, hey,” I’m told, “there’s a web site here with someone doing just what you’re talking about, with lots of pictures and information.” Every time, without fail, it’s my site and my boat they’re looking at.

If there is a positive to this all, and I always try to see the positive side, as a result, we’ve become highly skilled at rebuilding what can’t be rebuilt, repairing what can’t be repaired, and coming up with creative and innovative solutions to the unsolvable. We’ve had to design our own tools and friends have welded up massive wrenches to our specs. We’ve devised ways to remove long-frozen parts, to adapt things in the oddest ways, to fix what can’t be fix, and ultimately, to gain a sense of humor about it all in the process.

The WHOLE thing?

The whole hole. Think it’ll leak?

I’m often amused by the reactions our work aboard Annabel Lee draws from onlookers and passers-by. Last weekend a fellow stuck his head into the shed, hoping to locate one of the mechanics and a set of jumper cables to fire up his Jet-Ski. He looked up at my husband and I, decked out in tyvek pjs, filtration masks and full-face eye protection, then he looked to the powertools in our hands and the massive opening where the salon ceiling once was and said, “You’re fixing this boat? That WHOLE thing?”  Another fellow once told me how he’d love a boat like ours, with all her character, though he didn’t feel he was “brave enough for a project like that.” But the comment I most frequently, and the one that amuses me the more than any, is how lucky my husband is.

Me, looking my most glamorous!

If I had a nickel for each time I’ve heard that one… well, nickels don’t go that far these days, but you get the idea. I’d look from our boat, which appears to have come through a missile-testing site, to my stylish apparel, and in truth, at first that statement used to baffle me. Apparently, it turns out people are under the impression that my husband has the most understanding and helpful spouse; after all, I’m always down there at the boat, working away. In fact, I’m down there more often than him. And around our yard, around the scary-project boat area at least, it’s a man’s world, one where women are few and far between. I never thought much of it, after all, compared to Christine and several other friends, I’m merely a weekend boater; an amateur by comparison. It still comes as a surprise to me that others find my presence odd.

Myra Lee – MUCH less work!

Years ago, when I had my lovely little catboat, I heard some strange remarks as well. When I first bought her she was a bit rough around the edges, but each season I tackled more projects, and as time went on she really began to shine. My husband didn’t sail and I think in all the years I owned her, I had him aboard twice. But I recall walking down the dock one summer day to find an admirer gazing at her.  He pointed to the boat and smiled, saying how much he would love to have a boat like that… but all that brightwork! He told me, “I heard some girl owns that boat.”  I nodded as I climbed aboard. “Some girl,” I agreed. “Oh, it’s yours? Who does all that work for you?” he asked.  “Some girl,” I replied. It’s my boat. Who else would I have work on her? And when we first went to look at Annabel Lee, the broker immediately angled his conversation to my husband, who informed him, “Talk to her. She’s the one buying this boat. She’s the one who knows boats, not me.”

Perhaps if it was just me alone, it might not seem so strange. But as a couple, the assumption is that it’s the husband’s insanity, and he has such a supportive, understanding wife. But in our case, it’s the other way around. Yes, we work as a team and we’re in it together. Truth is I’m the insane one, (which is the reason we named her Annabel Lee, as you Last Exit readers might have caught) and I have a wonderfully supportive, understanding husband, though people seem to think he’s joking when he tells them, “This thing? It’s her boat. The whole thing.”

Annabel Lee – A whole lot of work!

The right tool in the wrong hands…

“Oh, you mean the fellow with the belt sander,” came the reply on the other end of the phone.

A bad feeling crept up my spine. Belt sander? When you work in a boatyard, you often identify customers by certain traits, distinctions, or habits. The guy with the blue-eyed dog. The woman who always wears tie-dyed shirts. The dude with the long ponytail. But the fellow in question, the one with the belt sander, was at that time the owner of a boat I was coming to see. The boat I ultimately purchased. And the previously mentioned belt sander was, tragically, his preferred method of keeping the teak decks bright.

By the point my boat and I came together, the decks had been sanded, for the most part, clear down to the fasteners. In some cases, even the fasteners themselves had been sanded smooth. Which didn’t exactly aid in keeping the planks secure, or water out.

Not much holding this teak down, aside from the black goo, which was sticky in some places, dry and crumbly in others. Best we can determine, this was a result of the prior owner’s fondness for certain quick leak cures that ultimately could not cure the issues,  but temporarily hid the symptoms.

As a result, the decks suffered an abundance of leaks, seeping through the fiberglass beneath that teak, and into the coring.

The only saving grace was that the now saturated coring was also teak, sparing it from turning to a rotted mess. I knew this, and it was one of the reasons I was wanted this specific boat, despite the work I suspected she’d need. But it’s the work I couldn’t begin to imagine that bit me in the backside, to put it politely. Years of repeated freezing and thawing had taken their toll, delaminating a significant area of the bridge.  And the more things came apart, the more apparent the extent of the damage became. And the more we began to realize this wasn’t going to be a simple repair.

This was around the point my husband began grumbling under his breath about taking a saw to the boat, and I suspect he wasn’t referring to repairs. Either way, it was time to take some drastic steps. Pictured below is the first section of the ceiling/deck being cut away. Ultimately, two thirds of the bridge deck were removed.

Hmmm. Now, WHERE is that leak coming from?

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There was no turning back now.  We constructed a new core, consisting of three layers of 1/4″ marine ply, laminated over a mold to duplicate the original camber.

It was easier to work on ground level, so we did this in the garage, then trucked the whole thing, mold and all, to the boat, then had it forklifted to a support set to bridge height.

At this point, folks around the yard were speculating that we were building a new cockpit enclosure. Not quite. But the structure supported the new core and allowed us to ease it into the space between the outer sides of the bridge, secure it, then laminate new ‘ribs’ into place. The screws you see were used to temporarily secure each layer as the epoxy cured.

Then the whole the whole area was glassed over with glass cloth and yet more epoxy.

And then it was time to tackle things from above, in this case with three layers of biaxial fiberglass/mat cloth, laid up with epoxy resin.

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We’d saved the ‘skin’ of the rear contours of the bridge so we could more easily duplicate the original contours, and you can see that in the left side of the picture.

Next step, one more layer of biaxial, covering the entire bridge from end to end. Yes, it might fall along the range of overkill, but I can confidently tell you at this point the bridge is now rock solid, leak, (and possibly even bullet) proof. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

As for those hole running along the sides of the bridge, I had cut access so I could pour in epoxy, filling the gap between the inner and outer walls of the bridge where it meets the deck — which was probably already completely sealed in previous steps, but then again, if you’re going to go with the overkill approach, you might as well go all out.  It was an interesting process involving a funnel and section of hose, but sorry, no pics. I saved the cutouts, which were glassed back in place and faired out.

Today’s task will be the first barrier coats, and then topside paint and non-skid. It’s been one hell of a long, itchy, sticky road to reach this point, and in the end we’ll have a deck that looks like any other normal deck, which, I suppose, is a good thing. And lest anyone think the deck is the only thing we’ve been working on — the engine room, steering, and countless other mechanicals have been getting a complete overhaul as well.

As spring rolls around, we’re drawing closer to actually being afloat once again. Throughout the Sandy-battered boatyards, there’s a sense of optimism as things gradually return to some level of normal. Some boats are gone forever, hauled away to salvage yards, while some new (and new-old) boat have taken their place. Other boats have been professionally repaired and you can’t even tell what they’d been through. Some owners bought their storm damaged boats, or someone else’s boat, back from the insurance companies, and they’re learning the fine art of DIY fiberglass repair. Yet other boats escaped unscathed, and their owners are happily prepping for launch…including one merry fellow I passed the other day, blissfully sanding away at the teak decks on his boat.

“Yeah, they leak a bit,” he explained, “but all decks do. And they look so nice after a fresh sanding.”

 

Transmission, transformed…

From this…
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to this…
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followed by some heavy duty cleaning…
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disassembly…
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soaking, cleaning, and, for some areas, sandblasting, (other parts included)…

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followed by new seals, bearings, and very careful reassembly, and a few coats of primer…
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and finally a nice coat or three of classic Ford red…
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No more rusty, oily, leaky tranny. The transmission is all set to go back into the engine room, along with new motor mounts, hoses, lines, belts, filters, and more. More leaks banished, and best of all, the engine room will SPARKLE!

Today’s Agenda…

Engine room must sparkle! (Click on the text for a very funny comic. The entire piece is brilliant, but scroll down to the sixth panel for the reference here.)

For those of you who may be wondering, there’s a reason behind those cryptic and occasionally changing pictures I’ve been posting of my very dirty engine. Online photos aid in conversations with very nice and extremely helpful folks over at American Diesel Corp. For anyone with a Lehman, these are good people to know. And I’ll admit, at present the engine is not a pretty sight. But there are brighter days ahead! Parts are coming off, the bad stuff is being replaced and the good will be cleaned and repainted. When it all goes back together, everything is going to be shiny, in oh so many ways. Missing from the picture below but on the way, cans of white bilge-coat.

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