Category Archives: boat

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.

But how did you get here??

Last week I mentioned cruising aboard the little cuddy-cabin my husband and owned back in our twenties. And as I said, we had many good times aboard that boat. But there’s one in particular we still laugh about – our arrival at Block Island. It was right after that two-day stop-over in Mystic, and wanting to squeeze in as much time as possible on the island, we departed the Seaport before dawn had  begun to tint the horizon. We had our course plotted, the engine was running perfectly, and off we ventured into the darkness.

The passage went smoothly, with nothing but miles of wide, flat rollers while the engine hummed and the blackness gradually gave way to a murky fog-bound grey. We stayed on course, and right on schedule, we reached the red bell buoy marking the entrance to the Great Salt Pond. We motored slowly through the crowded anchorage and made our way to Payne’s Dock, where we had a slip waiting at the floating dock with the thirty foot and under crowd. It was still early; the sun was starting to burn away the gloom, people were just beginning to stir, and the fellow on the 28’ flybridge Carver we were docking beside paused from his mug of steaming coffee to give us a hand tying up. And then he asked the strangest question.

“How did you get here?”

Huh? I looked to my husband, he looked to me, and we both looked to the boat we’d docked only moments before. The answer seemed fairly self-evident. But maybe not. Carver asked a second time, as though we hadn’t understood the question. In reply, I pointed to the boat we were standing in.

But that, it seems, wasn’t the answer he was looking for, so this time he rephrased his question. “But the ferries aren’t running yet. How did you get here?”

Am I missing something here? My husband and I look at each other, perplexed, and this time I state the obvious: “We came by boat.”

Still Carver looked as baffled as us, and finally he elaborated enough to explain his confusion and clear up ours. He said, “But the ferry isn’t running this early. How did you find the island?”

Ahhh! That’s what he meant. I pointed to the compass and my husband held up the chart.

“Oh,” Carver replied. “You know how to use those? We just follow the ferry.”

And sure enough, later that day as we hiked around the island and saw the ferry arriving, it was trailed by a small flotilla of boats, much like a duck with ducklings. Apparently, our friend from the docks wasn’t the only one who used that method of navigation. And while it may have been a reliable way to get from point A to point B in those pre-GPS days, personally, I’d rather plot my own course to explore new and unfamiliar waters, rather than follow in someone else’s wake.

The K.I.S.S. approach to cruising…

C.E. Grundler

The other day I overheard a couple discussing their ideal boat, and I’ll have to admit, it was impressive. The fun of theoretical boats lies in the fact that no expense need be spared — we’re talking theoretical, after all.  But as I listened, I recalled that very boat, the *ideal* boat, because I’d been docked beside it once, years ago.  And more important, it brought to mind a lesson I learned along the way – one that has stayed with me ever since.

My husband and I took a little cruise aboard Sandcrab, the little cuddy-cabin we owned at the time. It wasn’t much of a cruise, really, just a short getaway. Our daughter was small and my parents offered to watch her for a week, so we threw a dufflebag of clothes and an ice-chest of coldcuts, soda and bagels onto our 23’ vessel and set out for adventure… or at least a few days to ourselves. And let me tell you, we were cruising in style.  Amenities consisted of vee-bunks beneath a deck that leaked (some things never change) a porta-potti, and the aforementioned ice-chest. Instruments consisted of a compass, VHF and a depth finder that read ‘ERR’ whenever the water got skinny, and we had a stack of paper charts.  That was it. This was before the time of GPS on shiny tablets, cells phones and all the other bells and whistles that many couldn’t imagine leaving the dock without these days.

And yet, aboard that little boat we traveled to some wonderful locations. There was no set cruise plan; we picked a spot, set out, and since the boat itself hadn’t drained our budget we were able to tie up in some very nice marinas each night. With a boat that small, there was never need to call ahead; they’d always find some spot to tuck us in, and transient fees were minimal. At Mystic Seaport we found ourselves placed into a slip meant for a boat three times our size, surrounded by vessels we could only dream of, towering over us quite comically.

The couple to our port side were lovely people, liveaboards with a well-used boat and countless miles beneath their keel. The couple in the shiny new ketch to starboard, with the TV flickering and the AC humming, however… well, let’s just say HE wanted that *&#@%! boat, and SHE wanted to spend that money remodeling the kitchen… and needless to say, neither of them were happy. With the way sound carries through fiberglass hulls and water in the quiet hours of the night, we all knew in great detail just how unhappy they were. He kept raising the volume on the TV, and she kept raising her volume to match. My husband had walked down the road in search of ice to replenish our cooler, and I was about to go over and say something when the fellow to port had a word with starboard about keeping it down.

When my husband returned, all was once again quiet on the waterfront. As he climbed aboard with the ice, he looked to starboard and remarked about ‘someday, a boat like that.” I explained how not everything about that boat was as shiny as it appeared. And while that couple stayed below with all their fine amenities, simmering anger and resentment, we happily ate our cold sandwiches in the cockpit, then wandered the now silent, darkened Seaport filled with magnificently restored square riggers, schooners and sloops, sitting ghostly in the moonlight.

That little boat took us many places, on that cruise and others, and through it all I came to appreciate the freedom that came from keeping things simple. We could tie up just about anywhere, and occasionally we even skipped the baloney sandwiches for dinner in some very nice restaurants. And when we chose the trawler we have now, we intentionally sought something on the small and simple end of the scale. Yes, it’s nice to have an enclosed head, a real stove and standing headroom, but 32’ still leaves us the ability to cruise in the style to which we’ve become accustomed… at least, once we’re back off the hard, that is!

And for a bit more on really K.I.S.S. boating, a ‘build your own’ video, (it’s funny how much these engines sound like my diesel,) as well as a wonderful demo video of the boat pictured above, (sorry, no subtitles, but I do love that this guy is wearing an ‘Eight Heads in a Dufflebag’ tee-shirt!): Ponyo Pop-Pop Boat

 

Murphy was a Meteorologist

I’d like to apologize to everyone for the unusual shifts in weather patterns that have been occurring over recent years, both here in the north east and beyond. Unfortunately, I predict that through the coming weeks we’re all in for yet more abnormal fluctuations in temperatures and precipitation. I cannot say precisely what weather is headed our way during that period, only that whatever awaits will be either excessively hot or unusually cold, likely with periods of extreme rain/snow/hail and humidity as well. I know there are numerous theories, debates and scientific explanations as to why the weather’s been so wonky, but I can sum it up quite simply and indisputably: it all ties directly to my proximity to my boat.

I know what you’re thinking. There’s no way one little person and one little boat can upset entire weather systems. For years I tried to tell myself that as well, to convince myself it was just my imagination, but the moment I attempt to work with any substance that requires specific setting conditions, my boat immediately transforms into the center-point of a bizarre weather vortex. You want snow in April? Ninety degrees in the same month? Torrential floods? Forty degrees at the end of May? I’ve made it all happen – I was going to work on the boat. Last October’s paralyzing blizzard/ice storm? Same deal. I had the car packed with tools and clean Mix-n-measure containers waiting in the salon. The instant I so much as screwed the metering pumps into the West epoxy I was screwed as well, and the weather immediately reset itself to a temperature that fell outside the recommended working ranges. Varnish and high-gloss paints, I’ve discovered, would cause an even more unique meteorological effect. The weather would remain optimal through the first coats, just a little too optimal, in fact, ideal to stimulate the hatching cycles for swarms of gnats, right on schedule to launch themselves kamikaze-style into the flawless finish just as I’ve laid down that perfect final top coat. And don’t even get me started on trying to USE the boat. Remember a few summers back, when New Jersey was deluged with rain nearly every day from spring to fall?

I’ve begun to believe the only way the weather will ever settle back to some level of normalcy is to throw in the towel on boats altogether. In fact, in over twenty-five years, I can recall only one vacation where the weather was ideal. We’d spent several days in Denali National Park, in Alaska. Mount McKinley, or Denali, as it is known locally, is the highest mountain peak in North America – so high, in fact, that it creates its own localized weather. And that weather, we were told, usually included a thick shroud of clouds that obscure the mountain for much of the summer. But from the moment of our arrival to the day of departure, the clouds parted and the mountain remained in full view the entire time. From there we continue to Juneau, Alaska, reportedly North America’s best guarantee of near-perpetual rain. Not one drop fell during our stay. Our vacation wrapped up with three days in Seattle… bright, sunny, Seattle, where not even a single cloud dared enter the sky for the duration of our visit. But it makes perfect sense – in no part of this trip was our boat a factor. I’m quite certain if that had been the case, the Pacific northwest may have experienced their first plague of locusts in recorded history.

5200 and True Love…

It’s funny how certain memories can slip to the back of your brain for years, filed away so deeply that they’re all but forgotten, yet the strangest triggers can retrieve them instantly in perfect detail. In that moment of catching a few notes of a song I haven’t heard since high school, drifting from the open window of a passing car, suddenly I recall the precise lyrics as well as friends I was with one rainy afternoon so many years ago, friends I hadn’t thought about in decades. It’s something I’d all but forgotten, yet it all comes back to me in with such vivid clarity, as though it had only been yesterday.

Scents are even more powerful. One whiff of mothballs and I’m eight years old, rummaging through the trunks in the attic for hidden treasures. The right combination of a bus passing outside Starbuck’s, and my brain remembers a backdraft of diesel over the transom mingling with the aroma of fresh-ground coffee as we passed the massive neon Maxwell House cup, perpetually dripping that last drop of coffee, glowing like a beacon along the Hoboken shoreline as we motored down river. The scents of sawdust and varnish don’t have any specific moments attached to them, or perhaps it’s that there are so many years of moments that they’ve all blended together, but whatever the case, it’s not so much a single memory so much as an emotion. I smell that smell and my brain switches to ‘happy’.

truelove

So what is it about removing old 3M 5200 from Annabel Lee’s rudder components, a task I’ve been attacking with a pick, thread by thread in endless sessions and feel as though I’ll never complete, that brings to mind my late friend Butch, and leaves me with a smile? It’s not a sound or a scent. It’s a riddle Butch once said that my brain retained as surely as if he’d set it there with that very adhesive. “What’s the difference between 5200 and true love?” he’d joke.  “5200 is forever.”

Brochures for the abnormal boat buyer…

The other day I was looking at some new boat brochures.

No, don’t panic! Don’t think that I’m even considering letting go of my beloved Annabel Lee for something sleek, glossy, and modern. That’s just not happening, especially now that the great deck re-coring is nearing the end. (For real, dear readers! But that’s another post for another day.) No, it was more a case of morbid curiosity. In my eyes these newer boats, with their sloping bows, asymmetrical salon windows and roll-bar radar arches, all seem to look alike, and I’d always wondered what sort of interior lurked inside one of these shiny new vessels.

Well, for the most part it was pretty much as I expected. Page after page of brochure showed nicely dressed beautiful couples and smiling families enjoying perfect weather as their boats skimmed across smooth water. Sunsets, tranquil anchorages, all in the comfort of beautifully spacious cabins. Everything inside is equally as sleek and modern, with sweeping curves designed to maximize every inch of cabin space per foot. More photos showed décor options and extras. Upholstery choices. Comfort groups. Even fitted sheets. Yes, fitted sheets were an available option. But as I reached the last page, there wasn’t a single picture of the one thing I really wanted to see – the engine room.

Apparently, I was told, engines weren’t something the normal boat buyer wants to see. No. Engines, it seems, are low on the list of concerns with a prospective customer making that all important boat buying decision. Fitted sheets, yes. Engines, not so much. It turns out, there are actual study groups, with actual normal boat buyers, (oddly enough, I wasn’t invited,)  to determine what it is new boat owners are looking for in a new boat, and these brochures are the direct result of these studies.

So there you have it. It’s no surprise to learn I’m not exactly a normal boat buyer. Which, I suppose, is a good thing. Otherwise, brochures would have pages of dirty, itchy people, sweating away in paint and epoxy stained clothing, surrounded by power tools and scraps of lumber, rolls of fiberglass and resin. Photos would show core construction, accessibility of fuel lines, detailed diagrams of hydraulic steering systems, and engine rooms galore! No fitted sheets, though. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be nice – just that they’re waaaaay down on my list of priorities, boat-wise.

Come to think about it, I’m starting to see the reasoning behind these new boat brochures.

You have a… WHAT?

DSC01233

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!

I own that boat in the shed…

boatinshed1
You know the one. Nearly every boatyard has a ‘work-in-progress’ tucked away somewhere. Likely it’s something unique or uncommon, a boat with character. Usually it’s old, often but not always wood. In most cases it has suffered declining or misguided maintenance in the hands of previous owners, or else it’s been abandoned altogether, and now some optimistic (delusional) soul is undertaking a stem-to-stern restoration. Passers-by pause and shake their heads as they study it with a mix of awe and sympathy. They politely mumble, “but it’ll be beautiful when it’s done,” and then back away as though this condition might be contagious.

For years I’d I sailed a lovely little gaff-rigged catboat. Unfortunately, due to a fear of capsizing that I may have ‘accidentally’ instilled in my husband when we first met, he was not a fan of sailing. In fact, getting him aboard my boat was like pulling teeth and most times I sailed alone or with our daughter. Once she left for college I was single-handing and silently dreaming of something with more cruising capabilities. Sitting among the ‘death-row’ derelicts at the boatyard where I worked was an abandoned 32’ Cheoy Lee trawler. True, she was a powerboat, but if I ever expected to cruise my choices were a stinkpot or a divorce. She was sturdy, full displacement and single screw with a deep, concrete-ballasted keel and a massive rudder. But she needed serious work, the sort that strains wallets and relationships. For years she’d been in the back of my mind… until one fateful day. My husband had stopped by during lunch and we walked along the river’s edge. He looked over, noticing the Cheoy Lee, and said, “You know, if you didn’t have your sailboat we could fix that trawler up.”

In the end we didn’t wind up with that particular boat, though fate paired us up with a sister-ship. She needed work as well, though in theory she wasn’t supposed to be quite so much of a project. In theory. You know how it goes: that little drip is never truly little and each project reveals several more lurking unseen. Where you draw the line is another post entirely, but for the last two years we’ve remained on the hard, watching the ebb and flow of boats around us as we toil away. In that time I’ve come to realize that restoring a boat is much like writing a book. It starts with a dream, but that’s not enough to see it through. At the far end of the boatyard a collection of boats sit silent and forgotten. Long ago each had been someone’s pride and joy; now they remain as lonely reminders of abandoned dreams and failed aspirations, much like manuscripts in a desk drawer.

Be it a boat or a book, if you want to see it through you’re going to have to work at it. There’s an order to the plan of attack: first you make sure everything in the hull or the plot is structurally and mechanically sound, then build out from there. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Everything takes longer than you can ever anticipate. Both undertakings involve a significant investment of time and sanity, none of which you can ever hope to recover. You’ll be met with looks of confusion from those who don’t understand what you’re doing or why, and it’s not even worth trying to explain. Odds are neither the boat or the book will make any financial sense, but when it’s all said and done that’s not what really matters. People will see the end result with no idea of the perseverance it took to reach that point. It takes a certain ability to see beyond the work to the potential, to press on in the face of adversity even while all seems endless and hopeless, knowing in your heart that it will, indeed, be beautiful when it’s done.

boatpic

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?

openbridge

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.

bridge 003

bridge 031

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.”

 

A great place to hide a body!

Improperly stowed body. The bigger they are, the harder they are to hide.

Anyone familiar with Travis McGee’s houseboat probably recalls how the Busted Flush had a strategically hidden space, all but undetectable and just large enough to hide one human. On more than once occasion Travis utilized that space, either to avoid or to ambush his enemies. And while my boat is nowhere near as big as the Busted Flush, I’ve often considered how handy some hidden space like that might be. I’ve always know there were a few odd areas tucked here and there, it wasn’t until we needed to remove the midship cleats and fuel fill pipes from the side decks that I discovered just how much space I really have aboard.

Let’s look at the dimensions. On both sides of my salon, vacant spaces measuring roughly twenty inches wide by thirty inches high by twelve feet long. One side is accessible through the hatches beneath the dinette seats, which takes a bit of bending, but can be accomplished by even a 6’4″ 190 lb. man. As a 5’2″ woman, I had no problem slipping in there. The other side has a larger entrance, except that it involves pulling the entire stove out first. All the same, it is fascinating seeing just how much space we have aboard that we’re not putting to good use. Still, short of smuggling whatever, what could be done with this space?  At the moment, I’m considering setting up more accessible entryways, and making these caverns a combination storage space as well as cabins for our four-footed crew.

More Shiny Bits!

It’s always nice to have something to show for endless hours of hard work.  I suppose that’s one of the reasons I enjoy brightwork – it’s so very visual and satisfying.  But my brightwork days are still far off. Much of the work I’ve been doing aboard Annabel Lee has been on things that most observers will never see. Passers by rarely pause to comment on the fairness of a keel, or the smooth, even curve of a firm, solid deck.  And while I realize few people will ever venture deep into the engine room, at long last, I can look in there and smile…because things are really starting to shine!

One more coat to go and the block will be finished.

The valve cover, starter and alternator are next in line for their makeover, then they and all the other nice painted parts, including the resealed tranny go back in. New belts, hoses, lines, clamps and more, and this little engine will at last look as good as it runs. And that makes me very happy.

I guess this means now I’ll have to start cleaning and repainting the rest of the engine room.

The destruction continues…

I’m counting the days until Annabel Lee emerges from the shed and returns to the realm of sunlight and tides. The quiet corner where she’s dwelled, once solitary and serene, has over the last few months become a somewhat hellish place of earsplitting noise as compressors, grinders and sanders all tear into hurricane damaged hulls, and a constant layer of gritty white dust that coats everything and everyone. These days, I can’t even hear the passing freight trains — I only know they’re rumbling past when the boat begins to shake.  But progress continues. The bridge is solid, smooth, and sealed up tight as a duck’s rear end. Likewise for the transmission, along with much of the other leaks in the engine room. The salon windows will receive some temporary attention until we can focus on them further. But as our days with the boat indoors, under a roof and out of the weather count down, there’s one last region of leaks I’d intended on eradicating, and though I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant, it had to be done. The forward and side decks.

I’m sure thirty-five years ago these decks looked lovely and seemed like a good idea. True, they had their charm, but at present they weren’t far behind the bridge, and left unattended I knew only too well where their advancing leaks would lead. It was time to be ruthless.

It was painful, ripping the first planks up. But before long I was discovering how many fasteners were all but gone. These decks were on their last days, with or without my help. And in short time, I’d already cleared a large area.

Once all the teak is gone, I’ll strip off the bedding, drill and fill the holes, and this time around it should (theoretically) be a simple case of laying down some biaxial cloth with yet more epoxy, and finishing it off with some non-skid.  After the structural issues entailed in reconstructing the bridge, this should be a whole lot simpler, easier, and faster. At least, that’s my hope, but whatever the case, it needed to be done. I’m just looking forward to the days when I’ll have more time to focus on my writing, aboard a tranquilly floating, dust-free and relatively leak-free boat.

A dirty subject…

Dirty, oily, messy. Leaky.

Sadly, those were the words I’d use to describe my boat’s engine. She came that way, and it was something that bothered me to no end. While some people think of an engine room as that place where the nastier workings of a boat are tucked away, out of sight and out of mind until they misbehave, that’s not how I see it. The engine is the heart of the boat, especially in a powerboat, and should be cared for with the honor and respect it deserves. The engine is that critical piece that should be there for you, humming along contently, or on the ready when all hell kicks up, and it should be cared for with the proper reverence and respect it deserves.

Alright. I’ll admit it. I’m a bit fanatical when it comes to engine care. But a clean, well-maintained engine is (at least in my eyes) a thing of beauty. A sound engine is one you can count on, and a clean engine is one that will readily reveal if any area develops a leak or other issues. In my opinion, the engine room above all else should be the cleanest part of the entire boat. And while the deck-glassing project proceeds, the engine overhaul has been moving ahead at a steady pace. I’m happy to report at this point I’m able to wipe the engine down from end to end with a white rag, and it remains white.

All loose paint has been scraped and wire-brushed off, and the entire engine treated with a pre-primer prep.  It won’t be long until this whole thing is gleaming Ford red, and fitted out with new hoses, belts, lines, filters, and so on.  And while much of what people see on my boat awaits cosmetic attention, the engine itself will, indeed, sparkle!

UPDATE: And shown below is what I’d define as a vast improvement.

shiny engine

Still awaiting installation, many more sparkly bits, including the beautifully refinished Econ-O-Power Manifold, (Yay, Linden, NJ!) breathers, expansion tank, oil and trans coolers, fuel lines, hoses, belts, and more.

more engine parts

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!

How did you guess?

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the car they drive. And considering how many people, upon seeing my truck, immediately surmise that I own a boat, I’d have to say that’s true. Only the other day it happened again. A fellow at Shoprite glanced over as he loaded groceries into his sedan, his eyes lingering for a moment on my old red Dodge, (I’ll note the bed was devoid of a prop, shaft or rudder at the time,) and he chuckled. “Sailor?”

“Trawler,” I replied, though in fairness the truck dates back to my catboat days, and many traces of my true ragboat tendencies still remain. But as I shuffled tools to make space for my boat bags of groceries, I stepped back and regarded the truck to consider what it was that gave me away.

First off, the truck itself. A Dodge Dakota that I’d driven off the dealer’s lot two decades ago.  Worn, scuffed and comfortable as a pair of old work boots, but still mechanically sound due to years of diligent maintenance and a spouse who can weld and machine parts no longer available. A great little truck, big enough to be functional but small enough to be practical. Once a strong seller, the number of aging Dakotas still on the road has steadily dwindled as their upkeep, not to mention the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program, took their toll and sent many of these sturdy little trucks off to the automotive glue factory. To us, that would have been like dumping the trusted and reliable old family dog at the pound to trade it in on a cute new puppy. Thanks, but no thanks.

Replacing driveshaft bearings – boat maintenance is perfect practice for days like this.

So the old Dodge rumbles along, a testament to that sailing ‘fix it’ mentality. But there’s another clue, and this one is pretty straightforward. The bumper stickers. They’re rather self-explanatory, and even the non-boating ones make it fairly clear the driver has a warped sense of humor, which I believe is mandatory for anyone hell-bent on restoring any aging boat.

And for those who have spent too much time working on a boat, a quick look inside confirms any lingering suspicions: this is indeed a boater’s truck.

This is pretty much standard for what you’ll see in the cab. Tools and batteries. Parts catalogs. Mixing containers, work gloves, etc. Boat cushion on the driver’s seat, (I’m only 5’2″ and I like to look over the steering wheel, not through it.)  And let’s not overlook the ‘trim’ on The Wand of Power…

Years back, I found myself waiting at a train station with time on my hands and some line in the cab. Ever since, it’s been a conversation piece whenever the truck goes to DMV for inspection.

But it’s not just me. I’ve noticed how automotive preferences among boaters break into some interesting but fairly consistent patterns. Go-fast powerboaters drive massive, powerful SUVs and superduty pickups, ones usually visible from space due to size as well as the vast amounts of chrome trim, or they lean towards flashy sports cars. Most sailors seem to prefer faded old Hondas, Subarus, or Volvos, especially in the station wagon configuration, usually with the rear seats folded down and loaded to the headliner with gear and a ladder strapped to the roof. Aging Ford Rangers or Mazda pickups are also a popular choice, as well as the occasional VW TDI, (my other car as well.)

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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Let’s call these the ‘before’ pictures…

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sort 037above, alarm sending for temp

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Gauge sending unit for temp…

It may not look like much right now…

but three layers of biaxial fiberglass/mat cloth, laid up with epoxy resin, is truly a thing of beauty.

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Everything is level and smooth, flush and even.  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 once I’m done this deck should be reasonably resistant to leaks, as well as missiles and/or the zombie apocolypse. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

As for those hole running along the sides of the bridge, I’ve 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. Whe I’ve saved the cutouts, which will be glassed back in place and faired out when all is done.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the boat, the new rudder bearing is securely in place. Progress moves forward.

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I know I haven’t been posting much these days. I’ve been a bit busy, between hurricane damage to the house, the marina where the boat is, and the marina where I’m working. But rest assured, work aboard the boat still continues, and I still continue to write.  Something has to give, and these days it seems it’s my online time….along with my sanity. But that’s another topic.