Category Archives: delamination

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.

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.

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.

bridge 003

bridge 031

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.

bridge 019

bridge 025

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.

Still itching…

I’m a bit behind schedule today, but that’s mostly because my schedule, once again, is non-stop. I’ve been going since 4:30 a.m. … okay, technically 5:00, if you want to count actually functioning as opposed to merely waiting for the caffeine to kick in. It’s another one of those days with more to do than I have day to do it in, but such is my life.

As for the primary task at hand, it involves prepping to wrap up the final fiberglass work within the salon. It’s one of those big-scary jobs, the sort that once you start, there’s no turning back. Every last detail must be in place and waiting, because as the saying goes, once it’s mixed, resin waits for no one. And laying up three successive layers of glass on a very contoured overhead surface… well… that just adds to the challenge.

Last weekend was spent very meticulously discussing, planning and diagramming every detail. Measuring distances and profiles, debating various approaches to fiberglass lay-up. Which pieces overlap where, in what order they’ll go up and how we’ll go about it. Below, the ribs, now with filets faired out and sanded.

Then crunching all those numbers and measurements into a roadmap of sizes and layup order…

Then once again verifying that every last number is absolutely correct, so I could begin cutting 20+ yards of fiberglass cloth into various boat-size pieces.

A quick note for anyone attempting an undertaking such as this. The ‘rotary’ style razor often found in the quilting section of most fabric stores, (it resembles a pizza cutter, only with an actual razor blade serving as the wheel,) cuts fiberglass with smooth precision and makes this task immeasurably faster, neater and easier than either scissors or a utility knife. Explaining precisely what I’d be using that rotary razor for when asked by the curious saleslady in the quilting section… well, that was amusing. I suppose I’m making a quilt, of sorts, actually, though I don’t think it was the type she had in mind.

Each section, once cut, I wrapped in its own piece of plastic, which will serve both as a fresh surface to wet it out, as well as a neater way of laying it out overhead. Every section I labeled to its corresponding number on our paperwork, and sequence of layup. Those numbered and pre-wrapped pieces I grouped into bags, ready and waiting for their round of layup.

Ultimately, we’ll be positioning seventy-eight pieces in total, and from the first to the last, there will be no stopping. I suppose this might be the point to say something clever about how preparation is half the job, or make some analogy to how it connects to writing or something else in life.  But right now I’m more preoccupied with double and triple checking every number, while watching the weather forecasts, which predict excessive heat, and figuring how we’ll rig an air conditioner into the cabin to keep temperatures in the cabin within optimal working range.

Looking a bit more ship-shape…

I know. Technically, she doesn’t look much different than she has for far too long,  at least from this angle.  But inside is a different story altogether as things all come together.

WE HAVE RIBS!

And here’s where the new overhead joins with the original section.

Two layers of double-width ‘ribs’ are laminated over an original rib and a new single rib to give maximum strength. The screws in the photos are temporary clamps; we’ll remove them and fill the holes with thickened epoxy, and the bolts hanging down are attached to 2×4″ ‘guides’ on the bridge to keep everything aligned as the epoxy set. Next: hardware out and layers of glass cloth go up, then it’s topsides to glass from above.

And finally, the aftermath of the weekend. This is our cockpit work area by day’s end. I usually just let everything in the Mix-n-Measure pots harden, then pop the set epoxy out, resulting in a clean, reusable container and a levitating chip brush.

At last…

Last week was a rough one that blindsided me, and home feels a lot emptier for it, but I’ve been dealing by lavishing attention onto the other four-footed residents and by keeping busy.  And keeping busy at this time of year means boat work, in this case in the form of the salon ceiling/bridge deck, which is at long last securely in place.

When last I left off, we’d been prepping out the areas where the edges would join. This included the forward edge of the remaining deck, the salon bulkheads and underside of the bridge.

Think of it like a layer cake – one where the upper and lower layers are fixed in place, and the inner layer (the new laminate core) would be *very* carefully slide in between. Only this layer measures approximately 8’ x 8’, weighs I can only imagine how much, has a camber to match the original curves and exact dimensions of the opening with only millimeters to spare and would be eased in by two people, (one of which is only 5’2”.) Add into this equation that every edge, inner and outer, upper  and lower, needed to be prepped in epoxy, and upon alignment, lagged into place before that epoxy set.  In other words, there was zero margin for error.

Below: The space we need to slip the core through. (Small scrap piece of correct thickness in place to test clearance.)

Below:  The Gazebo with the core on top — this made things much easier.

The key to pulling this off was tons of preparation and planning, repeated ‘dry-fit’ test runs, and everything coming together just right. We had everything in place. Resins, mixing pots and spreaders, fiberglass, brushes, hardware, tools, clamps, stands to support the wood, braces for alignment, etc. With the frame we’d used to originally laminate the wood set up on legs and looking like a gazebo in the cockpit, it supported the core at the right height and allowed us to slide it smoothly into the cabin.

Below: the view from the cockpit. This extends slightly further than the original bridge, which will provide more space above and more protection to the cockpit door below.

Once inside, we angled it down, braced it, wet out all areas that would meet with West System epoxy. We eased strips of pre-cut chop strand mat up from beneath where they would extend down, and smoothed the upper halves of these strips onto the top edges of the core.

Next,  we quickly spread West, thickened to a peanut butter consistency with 406 filler, along the salon bulkheads and bridge underside. At this point I wasn’t taking pictures, as we were racing to cover large areas and get everything in place before the epoxy began to cure. That, and were I to pick up my camera it would likely still be covered in resin. Once everything was wetted out the core was raised into final position and screws went in to set it into position, joining it to the leading edge with clamps, the bridge, and temporary 2’x4’s shimmed and angled to match the final alignment.

And there you have it. Next round, screws out and we’ll be laminating ribs in. After that, we’ll re-glass the underside, then go above, fill all the screw holes with epoxy, and glass the bridge deck.

Bonding with the boat…

Technically, not just with, but actually bonding the boat.  When she was first constructed, the bridge was set down after the salon was completed. Seems logical and makes sense.  However, once we’d removed the saturated salon overhead/bridge deck coring, all that held those regions together was a small bit of filler, much of which had separated.  Needless to say, once water found its way in, it was easy to see why this was yet another source of leaks over the years.

Both areas are quite solid and strong, but there is little holding them together. Here’s a closer look at particularly bad spot.

 

Being that this particular joint is the same location where the new core will rejoin the cabin, some reinforcement were in order. We prepped the area, and yesterday I first wet it out with some West System, then filled and faired all gaps and voids. I’d cut strips of fiberglass mat and laid them over these areas, creating a smooth bond between the salon and bridge.  Today, a bit of wet-sanding before the epoxy fully cures, and I’m going to mold in a small ledge in either forward corner to give the new core that much more to bond against when it goes in.

This small but critical step may not look like much, in fact once the glass was wetted out it’s almost impossible to see, but this represents a key turning point. This round of destruction has rounded the bend. Things are now going back together. This coming weekend, with some willing volunteers on hand to assist, the cabin should once again be solid and bonded on all corners. It will take a few more weeks before everything is structurally reinforced and glassed into place, but we’re getting there.

And once that’s done, THEN we can focus on removing and resealing the salon windows as well as (first) replacing all the damaged wood covering the salon interior bulkheads. Fortunately that is a 1/8″ laminate, so that shouldn’t hit the budget too hard, and with that done, she’ll start to look the way she should… on the inside, at least!

The weather’s looking great for the weekend, so the plans are to pack a cooler with some nice steaks, and once the main work is done we’ll be firing up one of the grills the boatyard has by the river’s edge. It’ll definitely be a celebration, and one thing that makes boat work that much nicer is a bit of fine dining. Hmmm. Maybe I should pack a laundry bag… but I wouldn’t want to scare anyone.

Progress???

Sometimes it seems that going forward requires several steps backwards, and that’s where we stand at the moment. After a long winter’s break, assured that the temperatures had now warmed enough to proceed with epoxy resin, (and equally as assured that the weather would immediately go to hell the minute we began,) we set forth to tackle the salon overhead. But a fresh perspective made us realize this might be more effectively accomplished if we could tilt the new overhead core down inside the salon, prep the areas where it would rejoin the salon bulkheads/base of the bridge, then raise it in place. If this doesn’t explain what we have in mind, don’t worry. All will be revealed in the coming weeks. But it suffices to say that there was one obstacle to this plan: the inner frames of the salon windows. The VERY leaky salon windows, the same windows I’ve been vowing to remove and re-bed before the boat leaves the shed, so…you guessed it. We were going to do it anyhow, so why not now?

I’ll tell you, that’s easier said than done.  These windows are set in teak frames, both inside the cabin and out, and even if the previous owner didn’t have a fixation with excessive though ineffective amounts of exceedingly tenacious caulk, these frames required first excavating the fasteners from beneath teak plugs and *very carefully* separating the teak frame from the boat by delicately hammering heated putty knives into the hardened black goo, (5200?) That then revealed yet more screws, also buried beneath copious amounts of caulking, and these screws secured the inner frames from the outside. From there it’s another round of putty knife/heatgun/hammer to remove the inner side. This stretched over two cold, damp, rainy days while we worked by the glow of droplights and the electric heater.

Below: First round of screws removed, commence prying.

Well, there’s your problem. (Below) Globs of caulking, silicone and bubblegum won’t keep the water out if not evenly applied. A single, narrow, clean bead of sealant would have been far more effective, not to mention kept me from cursing the misguided soul that made this mess to begin with.

No. More does NOT equal better if large areas are not evenly distributed.

The logic behind this baffles me.

Oh are my arms going to look good by the time this project is done.

Below, keeping the putty knives 2nd degree burn hot. It made caulking removal only a little less unbearable.

The galley. Isn’t it pretty?

Stay tuned. More fun (insanity) to follow!

Holes…

I often refer to Annabel Lee as a collection of leaks in the shape of a boat, and a boat, by definition, is a hole in the water into which you throw money. So cutting large holes into that already leaky hole might be viewed as a questionable action, but that’s what we’ve gone and done.

We now have a well-ventilated salon to match our well-ventilated engine room.

This should make passing sodas up to the bridge easier.

I have emails to return, mountains of writing ahead, and a cabin full of itchiness.  This is just the start, but as which so much else in my life at the moment, there’s no turning back now.

Right now, I’m turning in. Much to do tomorrow. Too tired to think tonight.

Update: In case you’re wondering how we’ll close this big hole, that’s why we built this…

Life in the shed continues…

It’s a reasonable expectation that if you own a boat, that’s the place you’d spend the 4th of July.  Of course it’s reasonable to imagine that the boat in question is floating tranquilly on sparkling summer waters, not high up on blocks in the far shed. But I did spend this holiday weekend aboard, with the bridge uncovered I could look out the doors and see the river, and the roof overhead provided some relief from the blistering sun so it wasn’t all bad. Still, how is it that when ever Frank and I find ourselves armed with power tools to cut and grind away old fiberglass the temperature tops 90? More accurately, it bordered 100 as we worked to remove areas of delaminated FRP from the cabin-top.

For those who have never experienced this task, fiberglass work involves wearing goggles, a dust mask and protective clothing of some sort to cover all bare skin, or else suffer the consequences as thousands of pollen-sized glass shards finding their way into every pore of exposed skin. Sweat or itch, that’s your options.  I know some hardier souls are less sensitive the fiberglass dust; I’ve seen them working oblivious to the irritating glitter, but I’ll admit it: I’m not that tough. Needless to say, our weekend would have been far more bearable had the temperature been less excessive.

So, what destruction are we up to this time? We’re onto the next phase of the leaking cabin top/bridge deck. Phase one was removing all the teak from above, revealing the fiberglass and its approximately 900 or so holes from where the teak had been fastened. For the most part, the majority of these holes had not penetrated that fiberglass to the core beneath, though a few, mostly ones changed by previous owners, had.  Unfortunately, a few is all it takes for water to find its way into the coring and that’s where the headaches begin.  That water will remain, saturating the core, and between compression and expansion from freezing over the winter it will eventually cause the fiberglass to de-laminate from the core, compromising the deck’s strength.  This process occurs silent and unseen until ultimately some small drip finds its way through the headliner and into the cabin, and at that point the damage is done. Worse yet, on so many boats by this point the wood coring, normally constructed of balsa or plywood, has begun to rot. All in all, not a pretty picture and certainly not a simple repair.

On a boat of Annabel Lee’s age, the odds are high that there is wet core to be found. It would be more surprising if all was dry. Fortunately, our little boat has a certain unusual, exceptionally rare feature.  ALL her coring, in fact all wood used in her construction, be it structural, joinery or cosmetic, is TEAK.  Aside from the engine and the concrete in the ballast, if it’s not fiberglass, it’s teak. Teak has many wonderful qualities, most important in this case being its resistance to rot.  And as we’ve cut away the delaminated fiberglass, the teak we’ve found is indeed wet, but as solid as the day the boat was built.

The photo below shows sections of glass we’d removed, exposing the core teak planks. We’d start by cutting a small square, just big enough to wedge a prybar in, then work out from there.  The dark are is wetter wood that’s freshly exposed. With the  day’s heat the surface was dry within minutes.

 

The fiberglass itself, despite being delaminate, put up one hell of a fight. Once the damp wood is all exposed and allowed to dry over the coming weeks, then we’ll begin the process of re-glassing it back together.

There’s still more to go, but this is the majority of it. Heat exhaustion was taking its toll and we quit for the weekend, with hopes that next weekend is at least a little cooler.

It must be April…

We ache. Our fingers hurt. We’re exhausted and again questioning our sanity. The weather’s been miserably cold and uncooperative, though the cover is still up, so while things are cramped at least they’re dry.

We’re still at it. The main planks are all off the bridge, and the black goo beneath as well. Now it’s just the outer trim pieces. But it was so bitter and damp today, we called it quits a bit early, and we’ll start over tomorrow. And I’m bringing a space heater this time.

And the headliner’s down, revealing fascinating details of the construction closer photos will show more clearly. This boat is built like a tank. But that’s for tomorrow, if I’m not to beat to post it.

As I’ve been removing wood in the cabin, I planned to number it for reference when things go back together. Only I’ve found it was already numbered during construction 32 years ago. The amusing part is,as the boat was built in Hong Kong, it’s written in both English and Chinese.

A whole lot of loose screws…

So here’s the math. 60 planks, 120″ x 93″ = 900+ screws.
Bronze ones. Stainless ones. Straight. Phillips. Stripped. Snapped.
And that’s just the bridge.

Sometimes things look their worst just before they get better. And they will. This is just the start.

 

A few loose screws, and XM radio alternatives…

Much of yesterday was spent as today will be, removing countless screws from the bridge deck planks. Lots of screws. I’ll do the math,  but I’d say probably 1,000 + screws. Frozen screws. Screws that snap. Stripped screws.  Each and every one has to come out.  And first each must be dug out from beneath a teak bung, some of which have been epoxied in place, or glued with some strange rubbery compound. Others just pop out. You never know what you’l find.  A tedious task to say the least. But that goes with the territory. Much of boat maintenance/restoration is tedious, monotous work.

One thing that made last spring’s work pass more pleasantly was XM Radio. Most times it stayed on X-country, other times Fred or Ethel. Stations all phased out when Sirus and XM merged. Which was the same time I cancelled my contract, vowing I’d only return when the programming I enjoyed did as well. Thousands of other listeners cried foul as well, but judging by the comments on the petitions, (4,450 at last  count) most remained customers, hoping things would improve. From what I’ve heard, it hasn’t.  But I’ve found some alternatives, and they seem to be working.  I still miss Rogue Calls, but at least I’ve found a place to hear most of the music I’d come to expect on X-country. The first, recommended to me by someone named Cody (hmmm?) is Texas Free Radio. Take a listen, there’s good things to be found there. The other is Slacker.com, which also lets me listen to their Americana station, Alternative Country,  or switch over to several of their Alternative Rock stations. They have plenty more beyond that, it’s just a matter of what you like. Optimum has WiFi I can log onto right by the boat, so with my laptop and a set of cheap speakers, so if all works as planned, there’ll be music onboard today. And you can get on Slacker via Crackberry. So for all of you still stuck on XM and unhappy, there are options. It just takes a little creativity and some loose screws.