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Sunday, December 14, 2014

PART 15, or - Lizards On Ice sing: "I Got The Low-Down, Breakdown, Boatyard Blues"

Part 15:

"These are the times that try men's souls"  OK, so I know this wasn't first penned by a boat owner but it could have been.  Up until now I have been writing this sporadic blog somewhat chronologically, or at least the way I remembered it.  This time I am grouping all the items under the single subject irrespective of chronology ( I put all those big words in for my editor) and memory. 

I Got The Low-Down, Breakdown, Boatyard Blues; and on the flip-side Money!  To quote my musical muse, Jimmy Buffett: "Now don't get me wrong, this is not a sad song. Just events that I have happened to witness."  S/V Caribbean Dream is a 10 year old boat and things do break even on new boats.  Saltwater is a harsh environment and the stresses placed on mechanical and manual systems are tremendous, but really….UNCLE!  When it comes to maintenance and repairs there are several types.  First, scheduled, i.e. the oil on the two auxiliary engines gets changed every 150 hours and the generator every 200 hours.  That you see coming and can plan for it.  Then there is annual or semi-annual maintenance.  Bottom paint, changing impellers, belts, fuel filters, and washing and waxing, although washing is more of, or should be a weekly occurrence, for example.    Then there are unexpected repairs/expenses some of which can represent an emergency, some merely an inconvenience.  These are the ones that you don't always see coming and as such hit your pocket book hard; very hard.  Finally there are upgrades or refits that don't necessarily need to be done but it would make life easier.

We will leave scheduled maintenance for now and start with annual maintenance, and that takes us to the boatyard.  We hired a captain to help us move CD to the Nanny Cay lift since my last experience with backing into a slip was so disastrous.  While there, the plan was to deal with some annual, some unexpected, and some desired upgrades. First and foremost was bottom paint or antifouling paint applied below the waterline to retard marine growth such as algae and barnacles. There is great debate on the subject of what is the best paint and its eco friendliness or lack thereof.  One thing is for certain, it is expensive paint and you want to or have it done right.  We decided to take the advice of the boatyard manager and use a product banned in the upper 48 and add some tin booster to it for good measure.  Since we did not know what we were doing we decided to have it "professionally" applied.  The process is messy, and involved sanding off or roughing up the old paint (I am still finding black paint dust almost 4 months later.)  Of course there was this add-on and that add-on and why not add washing the salt residue off the underside and scraping the props while I am at it.  I will say it did look nice when finished, but here 4 months later not only is it (the paint) chipping off there are sections where it has worn away completely; so much for 18 months of service as promised, but it was "professionally" applied.  Several days before the haul out…  I should stop here and talk about the haul out.  This is a process where they but two large straps under your boat and then a big lift does just that, lifts your boat out of the water.  This lift is on four very large wheels and the driver then takes your home/boat out of the water and it is pressure washed to get the growth (slime, barnacles, etc) off the bottom before it is moved over to the yard where it is placed up on blocks.  Kind of like the car you were perpetually working on as a teenager or the Junker across the street that will never run again.  Whichever analogy works, it looks like the Big Bad Wind might just huff and puff it down.  It is also a good 15 feet off the ground so climbing up into it is a pucker inducing exercise; well at least for this old fat guy. 

At the point it is in the yard the afore mentioned "professionals" began to do their thing on the bottom.  Oh yes, several days before the haul out I noticed water in the port bilge, and it was salty tasting.  Remember your mom telling you not to put that in your mouth, well the fastest way to tell what kind of liquid it is and where it might be coming from is to taste it.  This is especially special when there is fuel in the water; more to come on that one.  As I said, this tastes salty and with a boat in the ocean the salty tasting stuff is supposed to be on the outside of the boat or on the rim of your margarita.  So I contracted one of the maintenance companies to check all of the thru hull fittings.    These are holes in you watertight boat below the waterline; you know, where the wet stuff is.  Well, they went through each one and determined I needed to replace two of the shutoff valves called seacock's that allow you to shut off the flow of water if the hose connected to it fails, thus eliminating the eventual filling of your home/boat with its surrounding environment.  OK worthy investment, and guess what, to replace the seacocks you also need to replace the actual thru hull fitting that goes through the hull of the boat.  I watched and learned and two grand later I had 2 new seacock's and thru hulls ( there are 14 on our boat total) but they were "professionally" done so of course they leaked because the "professionals" did not tighten the interior hose clamps and once in the water they leaked and had to be tightened.  I did get to observe the process and see the hull construction of CD when they ripped the old thru hulls out.  I have never been a fan of balsa core boats (guess I crashed too many of those cheep balsa airplanes as a kid), one of which CD is, but I must say the thickness of the hull and the outer layer of fiberglass was impressive.  For those not sure what I am talking about, in the old days when boats were made of wood there were the wooden ribs of the hull and then planks fitted tightly together and when the boat went into the water the planks swelled and the hull below the waterline was watertight(ish).  Above the waterline they were often painted with pitch to seal the planks.  In modern fiberglass boats there are many ways to construct the hull, one popular way being an inside layer of fiberglass then a core material like end-grain balsa or foam and then an outer layer of fiberglass all squeezed together (vacuum bagging) or sometimes hand laid up.  For those of you who are boat people, please don’t have a tizzy over this over simple explanation, rife with over simplifications, it's not a technical blog after all.  Well all-in-all, CD's hull looked to the uninformed new boat owner very solid and has given me no reason to question it since.  Even after I bumped the starboard keel over a reef that was mislabeled on the chart.  Think skinned knee.    

So to recap; bottom job underway, new seacock's and thru hulls in process.  For those keeping score that's boatyard up $8K, me down that same amount.   The one big thing I wanted to have happen while there,  were needed engine access ports created.  If you go back an entry or two I talk about the engine access on the Leopard 45/47 which is fine if you are very short, very limber, and very skinny.  Which of those apply to me?…..yup-0.  So before we even thought of considering a Leopard I researched the possibility of cutting away part of the  area under the aft berths to gain access from above instead of just through the furthest aft outside hatches that are located on the steps up from the water to the main deck; these are called the sugar scoops. The designed access is for you to go into the sugar scoop and crawl through another removable hatch into an enclosed and hot engine room.  Now I will say that access to engine rooms and space allotted them are usually not high on a designer of a charter boats' mind.  The point is comfort for the charterers who will not be working on the boats, that’s for the mechanics in the yard to do and they are paid to be miserable.  So I needed to make sure that opening the area over the engine and under the aft mattress would be structurally safe.  I talked to several people on several web sites and most importantly on the Leopard Owners Group. I found in the archives a brief email from the original designer of the boat: the word was that it was ok to do and would not damage the structure of the vessel if you did the following, and went on to list some parameters that I made note of. I emailed the person who surveyed the boat and he gave me the name of a person in the boatyard who would do an excellent job, so I contacted him.  He came and looked at the project and made some suggestions in how it could be done and even though the boat was up on blocks right outside of his shop that was pretty much the last time I saw him until November when we had to go into a marina to deal with a fuel tank problem.  Several days later I got an email from his wife wanting to know if we still needed the work done.  Let's see, August to November, you might be good enough to wait for a few weeks for but almost 4 months for, no.  I think I'll answer her email in March.  Luckily the person the previous owners had watching the boat knows a lot of the trades people in the BVI and was able to hook us up with a carpenter to do our hatches a few weeks after the boat was back in the water.  It was supposed to happen during the three weeks we were back in the States so of course it took five, you know, Island Time Mon.  They do however provide easy access to the engine rooms and are sturdily made so you can only open half of them if you are only checking oil, coolant, etc.  But, back to the boatyard saga, the last big thing on the haul out list was to fix the water maker.  For a number of reasons  I won't go into here, the watermaker, a magical device that using diesel, multiple filters,  and high-pressure turns sea/saltwater into drinkable fresh water.  You need the diesel to run the generator to power the watermaker and it makes water at a rate of about 50 gallons an hour.  The generator burns about 1/2 gallon an hour at about $5.00 a gallon so by island rates it is pretty cheap water, and very tasty too.  The watermaker was finally looked at just as we were put back in the water and about to head back to our marina slip and the problem was determined and parts were ordered and a week or so later we could make water…  just not in the marina where we were tied up since that local bay water was/is near toxic.

Thus ends our first haul out experience.  Oh yes, I should mention how the pricing works down here.  There is the boatyard itself.  Their rates are pretty straight forward; it's x-amount for a haul out, this amount for a bottom wash, and so on.  If you have the yard buy the supplies it is more than if you buy them yourself so you set up an account at the chandlery (boat stuff store) and get a slight discount and it's off to the races.  Then there are the trades persons in the yard.  For example, my docking boo-boo needed to be fixed and I found a similar one on the other side, that I didn't do, so I go to the painter whose prices are not so fixed and he provides me a quote "range"; well you know how that works out so just plan for the top of the range.  Next there is contracting the yard workers to do the work the yard would pay them for but charge you more for, adding their percentage.  This usually is facilitated by a third party, in this case the guy watching our boat who became our "go-to" guy for skilled labor.  He would introduce you to yard person "A" and they would have a quick conversation in the local dialect I have not nor will ever master.  Then your "go-to" guy leaves and tells you that you and person "A" will have to talk about a price; ok there's really no talking, you're given the price and agree or not to have the work done. Then once you agree person "A" has person "B" or "C" or more do the work.  On the positive side, you directly help the local economy and get work done maybe a little cheaper.  On the downside, you best be on them like a hawk because if they don't do the work to your liking you have little to no recourse; what are you going to do go complain to the yard?  Boatyards also have unwritten rules, like you use the boatyard approved labor not outside contractors.  Like any unwritten rule there are ways around that, that's what your "go-to" guy (ours was an outside contractor) is there for.

You might ask, "Lizards, do you stay on the boat during all this work?"  Hell NO says the wife!  It is hot, windless, and dirty so you get a hotel, usually located at or near the yard and run the air-conditioning at full and take long hot showers. Now at some yards you can stay on the boat, and if you have shore power so at least you have your refrigeration and fans, and especially if you are doing the work yourself you can and often do stay on the boat, but the boatyard at Nanny Cay was also a place boats go to ride out the hurricane season so abundant cooling breeze in there is not desirable.  Neither were restrooms, shower facilities, power, or water so hotel it was.  All good things must come to an end, so the saying goes. There are many reasons for this, one is your holiday is up and it's time to go back to work or maybe it's because the money is gone.  Well in our case the work was mostly done and more money would be gone if we didn't get the boat back in the water so the painful process of watching them strap up our boat and take her off the chocks and move her begun.  There is a lot of angst in this and you ask yourself certain questions like, did all the thru hulls and associated hoses really get reattached?  Yup that's a big one.  Well she went in and our "go-to guy" helped us start the systems up.  First the generator so the watermaker guy could determine what was wrong.  Now the generator is just another diesel engine and is cooled by sea water being pumped in past its version of a radiator and then expelled, so no water coming out of the boat means no water coming in which means you generator will overheat and if left long enough your wallet will be considerably lighter.  So you guessed it, started the genny and no water came out, the temp gage did shoot up so we quickly turned it off.  After some quick assessment we primed all the engine pumps and water came in and went out properly and it was off to the fuel dock, only problem is we lost our watermaker guy.   He eventually came over to the fuel dock and did a preliminary assessment and went away to meet us later at our slip in our, for now, home marina.  So off we went back to Village Cay, new bottom paint, two new thru hull fittings and seacocks but still no engine access and no watermaker.  When we got back to Village Cay a fellow Leopard owner came down and commiserated regarding the cost but explained it thusly:  'buying a boat is just the entrance ticket to the carnival after that you have to pay for each ride'.

As I said, not all of the work we needed done had been done but over the course of the next two months the engine accesses were finally completed  and new and more expensive rides at carnival were to be experienced.  One involved our starboard fuel tank developing a leak when it was full of 78 gallons of diesel and to make things worse (really they can always get worse) we were in St. John, a National Park, in the U.S.V.I so had we had dumped any of our fuel the fine would have been exorbitant.  We made it back to the B.V.I., not 15nm from where we were but where there is no EPA and found a marina near where the guy who has become our "go-to" engine/mechanical/electrical guy, is located.  Several days later we had a new bottom welded on the fuel tank and the ride on the tilt-o-wheel was over… until next time. 

Well we are now sitting in a perfectly lovely anchorage off Water Island U.S.V.I.  in a bay the locals call Honeymoon Bay.  If you like 'Lizards on Ice'  on Facebook or follow me on Facebook you have seen some of the spectacular sunsets witnessed from this bay.   We had planned to be in St. Croix by now or even St. Maarten but when anchored in 45' of water off Norman Island in the B.V.I., where I needed to put out at least 200' of the 300' of chain I have attached to the anchor, somewhere past foot 120 was a lot of rust, I mean 'turn the water rust red and rusty flakes of metal were flying off' rust, so we needed a new chain.  Now you can't or shouldn't  run out to Home Depot for this kind of chain and it is expensive, no tilt-o-whirl kind of expensive or like a rollercoaster but we had a guy recommended by the former owner and another sailing friend we have met here and I gave him a call.  Now this guy and his warehouse could fill a whole season of 'Hoarders' and he has turned out to be a most fascinating person, but the size of chain I needed 300' of he had just cut his last 300' piece the day before I called him; no problem, more should be here in 10 days.  Well you guessed it that was 20 days ago but no worry, maybe tomorrow.  In the mean time we picked up a new family car a.k.a. a dingy smaller than the old one that Jo can easily drive and have enjoyed some lovely sunsets and met some more fascinating people.  At the time I am writing this it is 11 days before Christmas and we have some decorations up and are getting into the spirit and getting into the spirits, come on it is the Caribbean and are excited by what 2015 will hold in store.  More tickets for rides at the carnival, but I might also beat the barker at the sideshow games and win a big stuffed parrot!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to my land based and seagoing friends, and to leave with a thought from Jimmy Buffett:  Ho-Ho-Ho and a bottle of rum, Santa's runoff to the Caribbean!

How to get 17.7 tons out of the water.  A real "pucker" moment

Blocked up  and ready for action

Prep for paint, prop still to be cleaned

I just kept telling myself, professionals did it


The often mentioned thru hulls