Tag Archives: boat work

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.

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.”

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.

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.”