Monday, February 27, 2017

Dorado on the rocks!

Dorado on the rocks?

Yes, I DO mean that the anchor dragged and the boat ended up banging around on the rocks for a while before it could be pulled free. However, this is a forensic discovery of the boat's history rather than a recent event.

I planned on pulling the boat Tuesday, doing a quick and dirty job of fairing the rough bits, apply a few coats of bottom paint, and then back in that lovely water on Friday or Monday and away from the noise, heat, lights, mosquitos, and toxic or itchy dust. I managed to back the boat into the concrete and rusted steel slip without trouble, they hoisted it and pressure washed the bottom,
and set me up in the yard, right by the busy road.

I rented a sander to partly smooth the bottom to help the paint adhere, although not perfectly smooth. As I sanded I found blisters that spurted cola-colored fluid, so I popped some and worked to patch them... but had heard they are cosmetic rather than structural and I think everyone knows how I feel about appearance vs function. I also found cracking where fiberglass was smoothed over the joint between the 4,000lb lead keel and the hull of the boat.
Experts have said this is very normal and not a problem as long as the bolts seem sound. Still, it seemed sensible to remove the loose stuff and smooth it out with some fiberglass.... and to smooth out the incredibly rough keel wing. But this became rather overwhelming: how can I do this much in the time I have, what shortcuts make sense and which are problematic.... paralysis sets in.

So, I finally said yes to a fellow who kept coming by and telling me to hire him. So, I have a fellow working for me who refuses to take my shortcuts, insisting that all the bottom paint should be stripped, the blisters repaired, and things done RIGHT. He may be right, although I find myself with very mixed feelings, becoming anxious as days pass and bills mount, then getting much better as we finish demolition and get into the repair phase. 

However, as he cleaned off the bottom paint (and bits of oysters and coral) we have discovered that the port side of the boat has a lot of repairs to undisclosed bashes and gouges!
Clearly the fingerprint of some traumatic event and, given the location of the damage, it could not have been impact with another boat, mooring, or dock. It sure looks like the boat dragged anchor and ended up on some rocks at some point.

We have not seen anything that leads us to believe that the structural integrity has been compromised and, today, moved launch day to this Friday.

Man, the things you see when you bring your aged equipment in for a good expert checkup can be pretty scarey... *grin*

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Engines are a mixed blessing

I've always shied away from engines....other than a couple small engine and auto mechanic courses I took for fun. My feeling is that they are noisy, heavy, expensive, and prone to costly issues. I'd rather hike or bike than drive...although this DOES limit me in some ways: it sure is nice to be able to motor into certain odd windless bays in two minutes rather than trying to catch the errant wisps of wind for a half hour.

When I bought my boat, I was assured that the engine needed a bit of repair, but worked. What did I find? Well, first of all, it would hardly crank, due to corroded wiring and a broken wire... and the wiring in the control panel was all corroded... and the coolant tank was broken... and a damaged fuel line dripped diesel into the boat. And the front of the engine was laden with rust as though it had salt water on it.
So, I replaced things and fixed things: 20' of wiring and a few fittings and a couple days of work: total cost of materials perhaps $300. Now it would crank, but not start.

So I hired a local mechanic to come take a look. He found the fuel pump had no power, so I fixed that. The engine started!

Mistrusting it even though I could see water coming from the exhaust, I only ran it for a few minutes at a time. This turned out to be wise: when I reached the marina for a haulout (I planned on doing bottom paint and a cutless bearing) no water was coming out: my water pump had failed.

So, the hole I dig gets deeper.... time to dig faster!
The mechanic replaced the cutless bearing and said the shaft alignment issue
I had found was due to needing four new engine mounts.... and these cost $300 EACH! And he told me which bolts I needed to remove to check my water pump.

These bolts were COMPLETELY rusted: I simply cut off what was left of the heads so I could slide off the pump cover. Once exposed, the impeller turned freely instead of being locked to the engine as it should have been.
Now I had to remove the entire pump and see why..

This required removing two more bolts. The first came easily.... because the casting it screwed into had cracked away a bit.
The other would not move, but I finally freed the pump and looked behind it: the two little steel ears had broken off and no longer drove the pump....and the pump would hardly move by hand. Worse, the little ears were part of the camshaft and the entire shaft would need replacing!

So, we are now down about $500 total and the repairs to the engine will cost in the thousands. Might it be better to spend more and buy a rebuilt engine? Perhaps, but.... when all is said and done, I will probably be looking at $12k for that option. This is... painful.

Then again, having the boat powered and stable, having the bottom faired and painted so it rarely needs cleaning.... these will make the boat far nicer to live upon and sail. I've been trying to take shortcuts, to avoid these costs and issues. Perhaps, for peace of mind and sanity, it would be better to just do it.

Then again, I feel as though I am tempting fate, that now a hurricane will come along and ruin everything I've worked on....

Ah, well.. at least I don't have to deal with the issues my neighbor has. Apparently they struck a rock or reef with their big power boat... Probably ruined some internal parts, too...

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Calm waters and upside-down jellyfish

Normally, the trade winds blow pretty much continuously here, especially in the first few months of the year, but this year has been really weird, with lots of still nights and light-breeze days. The deck is soaked in dew when I go out to do my sunrise yoga, I have trouble getting anywhere for lionfish diving or exploring, the boat swings randomly and rolls violently when it turns sideways to the swell (I then put out an extra anchor and force the boat into the right orientation), and I am hoping the wind will pick up enough for me to sail to the boat yard this weekend. On the bright side, paddling to and from shore is far easier and I can see really cool stuff through the unruffled surface.... like tarpon swimming around my boat or upside-down jellyfish.

There are two species of these Cassiopeia jellies. They sit on the sea floor looking like anemones, but they can swim away to a new location if disturbed. Cynthia and I found thousands in a little bay named Bork Creek (more of a pond), probably twenty-five to fifty per square meter, and I came across these and shot some pictures when paddling to shore in Coral Bay.

And, if you want MUCH better pics, check out these Google results here.

I've found them swimming about, with their compact tentacles on top and their bell or foot downward, and captured them. I've also lifted them from their resting spots and watched them sigh (at least in my mind) and settle back down or grumble (again, in my mind) and flap away in a search for a spot with fewer annoying primates. We can probably all relate...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lions and adventure vs real life

I miss my lass.

Cynthia's last visit down here worked pretty well: we came down together and didn't sail far afield (staying on the north and east side of St John rather than going to Culebra, Vieques, St Croix, or the British Virgin Islands), but we read reports of lion sightings and hunted them down, studied satellite views and found a couple new reefs in Coral Bay (including one no one had apparently hunted), added twenty more lions to her kill list (including three massive breeders (possibly her largest) from the virgin reef (two 14.5" fish on the first hunt, one on the second)

and her smallest lionfish ever).
Great food, lots of sleep, loads of swimming and sailing,
cool enough to cuddle at night, sunrises,
enough sunshine to recharge us from the northern winter....... and very limited internet and email.

Now she is back in the frozen north, dealing with real life and I'm getting the engine working, sewing sails, pulling the boat out at the boatyard (if I can get them to respond!) to handle replacing a cutless bearing, dealing with minor leaks, and applying on some bottom paint. Then there is the leaking kayak and other stuff. Satisfying work and I DO love those sunrises (let's see, the next one is in less than three hours!), but... I miss having Cynthia here to share it.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Every night here lasts about twelve hours and I go to sleep around dark. By 3am I run out of patience, rise from bed, putter around the cabin, check a few things on-line, then go back to bed...or stay up and read. By 5am, one can hear the engines of a dinghy or two taking folks to catch the first ferry to St Thomas to get to work or catch a flight north. The first hints of possible sunrise show in the east and roosters start to crow more frequently. This morning, as the full moon set, I pulled a seat cushion from the cockpit and headed up to the bow for morning yoga: somehow the feel of the wind and the movement of the boat always make it more attractive. By the time I finish, the sky has lightenned and often shows some color: time to pour some coffee, sit in the cockpit facing the wind and sunrise, and enjoy some cereal...and maybe catch up on my morning internet routine while the crowing roosters nearly drown out the tinkle of halyards on masts.

Well, I suppose I should put this away for now and go work on Gigi, my neighbor's boat. He is running into major deck leaking that is making the interior of his boat moldy
...and he is not around enough to deal with it. Then I'll ask Alan, the mechanic, to come work on my engine some more and tell me what else to fix (I replaced some fuel lines yesterday), make a dump run, and get a couple bags of ice.

By then the sun will be high enough to burn me, so I'll work indoors: the bed sheets need modification..or I may just wash them and store them away with some dessicant to stave off the mold. My wind scoop (made of old and weak sail-cloth) has a rip to sew. And I have minor leaks in my own deck that need attention... Live on a boat and you will NEVER have nothing to do!

There are plenty of drawbacks to this life: missing Cynthia (she just headed back north after a couple weeks of hunting lions with me and finding a deep reef that had probably never been hunted), expensive and low-quality veggies, ever-present mold, rust, and leaks, radiation burns from my favorite nuclear reactor (yes, the sun), and the glaring sodium vapor lights on shore..

Ah, but those dawns...