Sunday, March 27, 2016

Underwater adventures!

Cynthia bought an inexpensive underwater camera. It boasts many really, really annoying features such as inability to recall dates if one replaces the batteries, short battery life, focus issues, and image numbering issues. Still, my gal spends HOURS taking shots with it, hoping that one in ten will be decent. She loves taking shots of all the interesting critters and, especially, shots of new fish. Later, she pages through her books to find names... and then we TRY to remember them. At least we are getting decent at saying "well, that is a filefish", but we wonder what kind, then look it up, and try to remember it.

It definitely adds another dimension to diving to be able to identify various species. So many!
A blue-headed wrasse..
And a little school of copper sweepers (I think they look more natural upside-down).
And what sort of remora is that on that sleeping nurse shark?
 Maybe if she gets about a foot away and takes more pics..."
We both agree that lionfish are just beautiful and that we should get more pics of them alive...and then "remove" them... but we only have this one to date.
And an octopus can move fast and blend in nearly perfectly..
But, if you keep coming closer, they often panic and try other patterns that don't camouflage at ALL! And they hate it when you pet them.
So very many fish and other creatures to learn: baracudas,
feather duster worms, I LOVE the way they instantly disappear down their tubes like the ones in Avatar!
so many weird fish!

And shellfish (these are scallops)..

Eels (some sort of moray)

At least we can identify the blue tangs (aka "Dora"),
But what sort of pufferfish is this?
Hawksbill turtle? Green?.

It really feels like learning a whole new language. FUN!

Of course, now Cynthia really needs a nicer camera..

Friday, March 18, 2016

Beach cleaning adventures.. and repairing a sail.

Once Cynthia and I returned from our adventures in Culebra and St Croix (Yes, I WILL get around to writing about that!), we had a few days remaining... and had not killed a lionfish in nearly a week. We moored in Johnson Bay and, at Cynthia's urging, grabbed several garbage bags and paddled to the fringing reef to pick up debris and say hello to the hermit crabs.

The reef has gradually been getting cleaner and cleaner as we keep at it: the first time we picked up electronics from shipwrecks and other heavy stuff that had been there forever, but now most is lightweight and we can actually pick up nearly everything. We might pick up plastic bottles and bottle caps and bag them without a word, laugh as we toss in a single nice blue leather loafer, or ask for help untangling a section of fish net from the coral. And the treasures: this Sunday we found a nice fender, a good snorkel, a hat, an excellent deck scrub brush, a boat hook, and a big tangle of black poly rope (filled a white bag).

All this stuff left no room on the kayak for unimportant items... like us. We swam, pulling the kayak back to Dorado. We sailed back to my mooring and Peter immediately bought the fender and we took the trash ashore... where we ran into Paz, a local character, who pounced upon the poly rope for use with his fish trap. Nice to have trash off the beach and into landfill or into hands that appreciate it. We even got a cheer from a house overlooking the reef! Win-win-win: very nice.

Still fishless, we dove at Hansen Bay the next morning early, but STILL found no lions. Cynthia suggested that we had nearly two days to sail to Brown Bay and back, check the shore for more interesting flotsam (especially fenders), and patrol my assigned section of shoreline to clear out any lionfish. We could sail close to shore, spot fenders, and let her off in the kayak to retrieve them and bring them back..

Was I up for such an adventure? Heck, yeah! Up went the sail and off we set. We spotted the first fender just east of Newfound Bay, heaved-to, and awkwardly got Cynthia onto the kayak. The shore landing was not easy, but she did it, collected the fender, and returned. This time I had her climb onto the stern of the boat and this turned out to be far easier that the rough lee side.

After another mile we spotted one... two... three more! Heave-to, climb into the kayak (off the stern, this time!) and off to collect, scout, look for beach glass, etc. I waited and waited, the boat slowly moving along, but gently enough that I could go below, clean up, etc while I waited.

She returned with the kayak absolutely LADEN with fenders and debris, so we loaded them aboard (not very easy in the waves and wind and getting a bit too close to the lee shore for comfort) and then she paddled ahead, scanning the shore as she surfed down the following waves.

This worked fine: she would paddle and I sail, or she would go close to shore or land while I heaved-to. Then adventure struck: I looked up and something seemed very wrong with my mainsail... and I realized it had ripped 3/4 of the way from leech to luff... Yes, I probably said four-letter words, maybe even "Argh! More work!"... or less printable stuff.

OK, don't panic, drop sail so it doesn't rip farther, furl jib, drop anchor.... and make sure it holds.

Cynthia noticed a certain lack of sails and paddled out and climbed aboard and we held a council and decided that, since we were close to Brown Bay (we were a half mile upwind) that we should shelter there and contemplate further. This worked perfectly: we tied the ripped main down securely to the boom, pulled the anchor, unfurled the jib, and headed downhill. Fifteen minutes later we dropped anchor in ten feet of water with far less current and wave action: much nicer!

So, we snagged some food and considered our options.
>Call for assistance? Well, that can be a fallback.
>Sail downwind with the jib about fifteen miles (four to six hours) to Manfred's to have him fix it? Hmm.... might be some tricky stuff at the end... and we would need to leave the boat in St Thomas for weeks.
>Sail downwind with the jib to Red Hook (about seven miles (two hours) and take sail across island to Manfred's to have him fix it? possible.... but would still probably leave the boat in St Thomas for weeks while we were in Cape Cod.
>shorten sail down in an extreme reef and sail back to Coral Bay? Possible.
>use duct tape for a temporary repair?
>use sail cloth for a temporary repair? Hmm... this has far more appeal, even though it will take a while. But how? Tape? Bolts? Glue? Stitching?

It turns out that I have some ripped old sails that I use for wind scoops, dodgers, biminis, sunshades, etc. We cut a couple strips of cloth from one measuring 6"x6' and pulled out some fabric glue I had bought for assembling my mattresses. We dried the sail when the sun emerged from the clouds, laid out the rip in the cabin, and taped it together, then flipped it and glued a strip of cloth in place. Then flipped it again, pulled the tape off, and glued the other piece of cloth in place. So far, so good! This might even be strong enough to get us home as is!

Next, we used an awl to punch holes for a nice zigzag stitch (both of us were sore from this for days afterward),
then hung up the sail,
I ran a few stitches to test things...
sat on opposite sides, and pushed the needle back and forth for hours and hours. Subjects of conversation included "can you imagine that the old sailing ships used sails that were ALL hand sewn?" and "Maybe we should buy a sewing machine." We slept well enough, woke at 5am to sew, took a break at sunrise to hunt lionfish
(We got seven! Cynthia even got two that had stymied me for months! She is definitely the better hunter.), then sewed some more. By noon we were done,

reinstalled the sail, and raised it.
The sail ripped right above the batten

We raised anchor and headed home, wind diminishing. Cynthia took the helm the entire way, leaving me rather bored... until I recalled jobs that needed doing and rinsed some clothes, tested an electrical tester, worked on stopping leaks along the mast, and re-installed the lens in the aft cabin hatch (it has always leaked... and let in LOTS of salt water in the last couple weeks!). Finally the the last breath of wind took us to the mooring and we secured everything before our last bits of energy ran out.

Another couple days seized and throttled, as Calvin might say.

Of course, now Cynthia and I are feeling exhausted and she is back to work... but the memories are good. Very good, indeed.

But.... now I need to deal with the sail. Repair, replace? Buy used or new? Ah, decisions!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fabricating batten pocket protectors of epoxy and fiberglass

When I bought my boat, I heard that the mainsail might last me a year or so and, when I had managed to install the mainsail and slid the battens into place, found that there seemed to be missing pieces in the hardware to keep the battens in place... and the remaining bits of plastic were falling apart. Parts for the existing hardware seemed to be unavailable and the after-market updated stuff would cost about $1000 for my sail! So... I tried to make do with what I had, I tried following the advice of some experts, I tried buying some simpler hardware... but none of this worked well. I thought of making something of glass and resin and machining it... then wondered: could one create super strong and effective parts without a mold or much machining?

The key to making a glass/resin part as strong as possible is to completely soak the glass cloth with resin so no air remains while using as little resin as possible. So.... I took enough glass to make a pad a quarter-inch thick and six inches long. This took twelve feet of cloth! Then I laid it out on blue tape
 and soaked it with slow-setting epoxy. I left it unfolded at 3" x 12" as I didn't think I could massage the epoxy through the full thickness, then folded it into 3" x 6".

I found a piece of stainless steel that nearly matched the dimensions of a batten and taped it into the right position on one of these packages, then taped the other on top. This whole thing goes in a plastic garbage bag to contain any resin drippings.

Now, how to squeeze the remaining air out of the packages, to squeeze the excess epoxy from the parts, to form the parts around the batten form? Well, I had some scrap foam and used a piece above and below, figuring they would give good and even pressure. The whole sandwich is compressed under a press created from a drawer, one of the companionway hatch boards, and a bucket of water for a couple hours until the resin has set.

This worked pretty well,

and with a bit of work with the belt sander and a drill I had impressively strong and (I think) attractive pocket protectors that have been working well for a few weeks in seriously harsh conditions.

Normally, the parts at the ends of the battens were failing every ten or twenty hours, but we've had no breakage in over a hundred hours. This is very good!

Making this part right took two failures before the first perfect part. Too little glass resulted in a thin piece...although it probably would work. Another attempt had the batten form knocked askew, but extra tape and care eliminated that problem in future tries.

And I don't think these nice new parts had anything to do with my first major sail disaster earlier this week... I think THAT was due to a weakness I tried to get fixed by a pro last year, then spent time on this year... but I only fixed one of the two weak spots and... well, more on that later.