Friday, May 24, 2013

Poco a Poco

Can you imagine us in a tropical lagoon, lying on the deck of Bel Canto, the boat gently rocking in the breeze, as we watch the the man-of-war birds swooping over the palm trees on shore and sip our rum and pineapple juice concoctions, the faint sounds of reggae from the natives wafting over the bay? Or perhaps ghosting along over gentle ocean swells, the white sails looking like a seabird's wing extending up over the blue hull, listening to the murmur of the wake as the boat cuts through the water.

That's not us. The boat is in the boatyard, on dry land, propped up on jacks, while her mast lies 200
Bel Canto "On the Hard" and unmasted
yards away. Shortly after we arrived home from our last work session in Annapolis, we got an email from David van der Spuy, our South African rigger, that the mast was coming down and he was ready to start measuring for new standing rigging (remember, the cables that hold the mast to the boat and keep it from tumbling down?) We wanted to see for ourselves that all this was really necessary, so we piled back into the Honda, loaded down with stuff that we will need if we ever do get under way, and headed back to Annapolis. The boatyard is sometimes facetiously, but accurately, referred to as “the dust bowl.” Dust from boat bottoms being sanded before the copper bottom paint, toxic to sea life and humans, is applied, and dust from fiberglass being ground down for repairs to damaged hulls settles over everything.

Looking over the rigging, we were convinced that David was right about most, if not all, of it. The inner forestay, a cable that runs from the deck in front of the mast about 2/3 of the way up the mast and to which the staysail is attached, was half severed at the upper end. This stay isn't essential for holding the mast in place, but two of the shrouds holding the mast latterly had broken strands, and many of the other stays, while seeming sound, showed rust. We decided that the prudent thing to do was to follow David's recommendation and replace all of the standing rigging that was original with the boat, hoping that when it came time to sell the boat, this would be a strong selling point.
Dave and Jim examining the rigging

Angie: We met Dave at the boatyard on Saturday morning to help him remove the rigging and measure it to order new. If we hadn't done it he would have had to hire someone else, so we figured between us we were earning $25 an hour. That's better than we had been making.  Part of our job was removing the halyards (used to raise the sails) and topping lifts (used to control the boom and spinnaker pole) from the mast. These run up inside the mast, so we had to run messenger lines up as we pulled them out so that we'd be able to get the new ones back where they belonged. While we worked, we talked (can you imagine?), and I learned all about Dave. He is descended from Afrikaners, the Dutch settlers in South Africa. They spoke a form of Dutch called Afrikaans, and some of Dave's speech patterns and sayings come from that. For instance, he said that if we were to put an eye splice in the end of one of the lines, it would end up looking like a pig's breakfast. The Afrikaners hated the English South Africans, who they thought were trying to gobble up everything for themselves. Dave's mother is English, straight from England, so I guess his father got over the hating. It was fun working with Dave. He has an upbeat personality and makes us feel better about all of the work we are doing. He's says she's a beautiful boat and we'll have great fun with her when we get these major jobs out of the way.
Getting the prop ready to paint

Getting back to Annapolis enabled us to coordinate the work that still had to be done on the boat. We talked to Ann Miller, who was supervising the bottom painting, and Sean, who came out to measure for the new dodger (he's also making the new cushions for the vee birth). And when we saw the mast down, we decided we needed all new wiring that runs up inside the mast to and from the mast lights, the radar, the wind instruments, and the radio/tv antenna. Some of these were undersized for the length of the mast, and some showed signs of wear and were liable to fail. So we got hold of an electrician and went over all the electrical jobs to be done with him. Chris Oliver, the engine guy, came and finished working on the engine, except for a few tests and adjustments that have to be done once the boat is back in the water.

Cutting line for new fenders
Angie: Meanwhile we continued putting our things on the boat and trying to get it settled. This is really hard, because the vee birth is full of sails, and the solar panel, which came off the dodger so that it could be measured, is lying in the quarter birth. These are the two main cabins of the boat, and it makes it hard to settle these areas. And the galley is still partially disassembled, because you have to take that apart to get at the engine. Everything that goes on the boat has to come up the 15 foot ladder. I must climb the ladder 20 times a day. I don't think I've been on a ladder that many times in my whole life before, but I'm getting used to it.
In fact, I started cleaning and repairing a section of the rub rail that runs around the hull. To do that, I had to keep moving the ladder around the boat in addition to climbing up and down. It's no wonder that I'm exhausted at the end of the day! In my spare time (like when we're traveling back and forth to work in the car) I practice tying knots. I learned some essential sailor knots when we were on Escapade, but I'm more into it now. Jim just taught me how to tie a clove hitch around a piling. He said that when I get really good at it I'll be able to tie it around the piling from six feet away, and that will impress everybody. I've seen him do it, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to.

We have been taking time to relax once in a while, mainly by going out to eat. We discovered a great breakfast place, 49 West, that has the atmosphere of a sixties coffee shop. They have great coffee and excellent quiche. That helps us not miss our Sunday brunches at the \AUT\ so much. We also stop in at night sometimes for chocolate covered almond biscotti and cappuccino. Our favorite place to eat is a Thai restaurant called Lemongrass. They have a great happy hour—all wine by the glass and hors d'oeuvres for five dollars, and their seafood dishes are out of this world! We've had dinner—three hors d'oeuvres, a main dish, and a bottle of wine—for less than going out for a snack costs us in Ann Arbor.
Steamed dumplings at Lemongrass

Two jobs we still have to get done before the boat hits the water is to repack the stuffing box and to fix a switch on the automatic bilge pump. The stuffing box is what keeps the water from gushing into the boat where the propeller shaft goes through the hull, and the bilge pump is, of course, what pumps out the water that does seep in. The list seems to go on forever, but we are making progress, little by little. And we passed one huge milestone. Just before we left Annapolis, the graphics people came out to put the new name on the boat. And yesterday we heard from the Coast Guard that the documentation, which makes the name official and also certifies her as our boat, was just completed. Here she is.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

And the Beat Goes On . . .

May 10, 2013

Things a person must do before buying a 28 year old boat:
Get a thorough survey of the boat and read it carefully.
Get a survey of the standing and running rigging.
Get an engine survey.

We arrived at the boat on May 3, with a load of personal gear and equipment, ready to start replacing the 30 bags of stuff that the previous owner had left aboard with our own belongings, a major step in transforming Outrageous into Bel Canto. When we checked our messages before heading for the boat, we found one from David van der Spuy, the man we had chosen, at Tyler's recommendation, to check out the rigging, informing us that he and Tyler would be at the boat at nine o'clock to do the inspection.

Dave working 5 stories up on the mast
David is a fascinating guy, a South African, slight of build and wiry, with a thick South African accent. After explaining to us what he was going to do, he strapped himself into the bosun's chair, attached the mainsail halyard to himself like an umbilical cord, and had Tyler begin winching him up the mast. Soon he was swinging around atop the 54 foot mast like an acrobat, calling notes to Tyler as he looked at every wire and fitting, from the mast top to the spreaders, and on down. He found several shrouds with broken strands, corroded fittings. 

His final report was not encouraging. He recommended totally replacing the rig, except for the headstay, which had been replaced fairly recently. We should have been prepared for this. Some people recommend replacing the standing rigging (shrouds and guys that hold up the mast) every ten years, and just about everybody agrees that you shouldn't trust it for more than twenty. From a safety standpoint the standing rigging is the most important part of the boat. If a shroud or stay breaks, the mast can come down. And in any kind of a sea, the mast in the water, still attached to the boat by all of the wires that did not break, can wreak havoc, even to putting a hole through the hull and sinking the boat. 

The report on the running rigging was just as bad. The halyards which are used for raising the sails, and most of the sheets and other control lines, had been left on the boat while she had been in storage at the owner's dock for the previous four years. Superficially, they looked great. Many were comparatively new. But almost all of them had spots where they had been exposed to water and weather, and these spots were mildewed and in some cases rotted. Lines used for running rigging are expensive. They must be strong, but soft enough to allow the crew to handle them comfortably. Like the wire rigging, most of the lines and the boat must be replaced. Dave demurred from giving us an estimate on how much all of this was going to cost until he had worked out a plan of action and priced out parts. Our 3 a.m. worry that night was that the cost of re-rigging might exceed the value of the boat. 

Meanwhile, we went ahead getting the boat ready to be hauled from the water for the bottom work. On Monday, the appointed day, Grover and Rob met us at the boatyard (so that we would have transportation once we arrived there with the boat), and we piled into the Honda and headed back to Grover's. It took an hour or so to get the boat ready to leave the dock. 

I wanted to handle the boat myself, but Grover convinced me that leaving his slip in the shallow creek was tricky, and that he should handle that part of it. As we pulled out, he demonstrated how by turning the wheel just so and gunning the engine in sync, you could get the boat to turn in it's own length. 

From that point on, Grover stood by giving me tips on how to handle a 33000 pound boat, and Rob, the great guy who has been doing some work for us, helped Angie handle lines. The four mile passage down the Severn River from Grover's dock to Back Creek and Bert Jabin's Boatyard was easy. I just had to steer the boat in a straight line from point to point. We were motoring because the object was to get to the boatyard, not enjoy the ride. And the slight drizzle would have taken the fun out of sailing anyway. But I was scared nearly shitless when I learned that I had to bring the boat in between two wharves with barely more distance between them than Bel Canto is long, especially when the dock hands instructed us to turn around in there in order to have the stern facing the hoist. 

Angie: We'd called ahead on the cell phone to let the yard know that we were coming in, and there were two workers coming out on the wharf to meet us. They yelled that we had to turn the boat around. I looked at the space and asked Rob, “Can we do this?” Now you have to know that this boat weighs 16 tons. That's a lot of boat to maneuver—about like driving a semi-truck. My job was handling the lines on the bow while the worker on the dock yelled out what we should do.

Jim: Grover told me to turn wide but be careful because she pivots near the stern. I nearly blew it by turning the wheel the wrong way at first, but then I corrected and gunned it and she turned on a dime, just as Grover had said she would. The stern swung a few feet from the wharf on the port side. The guys on the other wharf, where we were heading were yelling at me to slow down, so I threw her into reverse and gunned her. The dock worker reached out and stopped her with one hand and the prop rotation pulled the stern over to port. Everybody said it was a perfect docking, done like a pro, but I knew that I was just damned lucky!

On Wednesday we received Dave's estimate by email. It was bad, but not quite as bad as we feared. To make the necessary repairs and modifications to the rigging was going to cost $12000, more than a third of what we had set aside for all the repairs, additions, and other expenses we had planned for in getting the boat ready to sail.

Angie: (Wednesday, May 8) Another eight hour day working on Bel Canto. She's now in the yard, resting on her keel, braced by stanchions that keep her from falling over. So now we've traded a long ladder to board her for the 60 steps and Grover's steep trail. Yesterday we had monsoon rains and didn't get much done on the boat, but today is beautiful—cool, blue sky, light breezes—a perfect day to take the sails down. Oh, did we mention that the sails that we were so happy to get up the last time we were here had to come down again? Jim was awake a 3 a.m. the day we brought her over here worrying about how and when we were going to do that if it was necessary. Now we have some really big sails, especially the mainsail and the genoa (foresail). Together they would just about cover the floor space in our house. My trust level is really low, so when Jim said, “Let's take the sails down,” I envisioned a gust of wind toppling the boat over onto our car, or worse, onto the two brand new sailboats next to us. Our million dollars of liability insurance wouldn't cover the damages, to say nothing of fact that we would probably be severely injured or possibly die. Jim is a good teacher and has lots of sailing experience, but did I really trust him that it was safe to do this? Usually I just dive in and do what has to be done, but I was really nervous about this. But I knew that we had to do it because we were leaving tomorrow, and the sails had to come off for the mast to come down, and the mast had to come down for the rigger to do his job.

"On the hard" and ready for her new name

Jim: We lucked out on the weather. Taking down the sails would have been dangerous if there had been much wind from any direction but dead ahead. You see, the sails had to be raised in order to take them down because they come off the track starting at the bottom. But fortunately the breezes were gentle and right on the nose. 
Angie: We worked a good two and a half hours doing this. We had to sort out all the lines and halyards, and there are many, but we got the sails down and we were very proud of ourselves. After we got the sails down on deck we had to fold each one (there are three), because we had to store them inside the boat. You start by folding them like an accordion. The nautical term is flaking. After they were flaked, we rolled them up, tied them, and struggled to get them below decks. The biggest sail must weigh about 80 pounds. 
As we were stowing the sails, Ann Miller, who will be supervising the painting of Bel Canto's bottom, showed up. The keel is a reddish orange color now, and my main concern wasn't how much work the keel needed, or how much money it was going to cost (I let Jim worry about that). It was, “What are our choices of colors?” We all have our priorities, and I am bound and determined that we are going to make Bel Canto not only the best sailing vessel possible, but also the most beautiful. We finally decided on black for the bottom paint. It won't be visible except when we are sailing and heeled over a bit, but it will go well with the deep blue hull and red accents. 
When Ann left I thought I would settle down with my Kindle, take it easy for a while, and read. Dream on Banjo Picker. Did I actually think the captain would allow me to rest while he was working? Jim had been removing the name Outrageous from both sides of the stern when Ann came. To do this he had to balance on the ladder, using a heat gun (something like a hairdryer) to heat up the vinyl letters so he could peel them off. This left a sticky gunk, which he had to saturate with Goo Gone and then scrape off with a plastic putty knife. It was hard, tedious work. He was getting ready to go back to this when he saw me with the Kindle. “I'm sure you can find something that needs to be done if you look around,” he commented. I could and did. 
Beginning to make her ours with Sarah's spoons

Getting an older boat ready to sail and live aboard is a lot like what happens when you buy an older house, or as Jim says, when you get married. There are always a few surprises and things you don't anticipate, and some of them can be quite costly. As we were on our way back to Ann Arbor, we got a call from Chris Oliver, who was working on our engine. The heat exchanger, which cools the engine by transferring heat from fresh to salt water, has to be replaced. That's going to be another couple of thousand dollar bills. I have to say that this has been a challenging project, not to mention an expensive one. But we are having fun working together and still eagerly looking forward to when we can move aboard and set sail.