Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Hodge Podge of Bricolage

We have a victory to report.  If you’d told us a few months ago that we would dismantle the steering quadrant, replace the ball joint / rotator pin, and adjust the steering cable tension by ourselves, Patrick would have laughed and I would have broken down in sobs.  As it is, we’re just smugly pleased with ourselves.  (See Rainy Afternoons and Rudder Angles for the background.) 

The hopelessly stuck ball joint / rotator pin.
But the task didn’t start out so well, and if you know anything about this kind of job, you’re asking yourself, “Now why the heck did they take apart the steering quadrant just to change the ball joint?”  Because it was stuck, that’s why.  Irredeemably stuck.  So stuck that we called in the mechanic to see if we were doing something wrong.  After he tried forcing it off with a couple of screwdrivers, he told us to take apart the whole steering quadrant and bring the offending section into the shop.  There, he proceeded to attack it with a blow torch and what I think is called a hub grappler (in French, arrache-moyeux) and what I know is called a really big hammer.  

Half the steering quandrant with new joint and clean bolts.
Once the joint was replaced and all the parts were cleaned with turpentine and re-greased, putting it back together was pretty simple (although it helps to be a fan of the game Twister).

The shiny new ball joint in place.
We adjusted the tension using the screw pin connecting the steering column to the rotator pin.  By adjusting the screw pin a few turns at a time, we managed to get rid of about 2/3rds of the play in the wheel, and when we manually put the rudder straight, the wheel lined up with what we assume is the original (red) mark indicating a straight rudder.  Not too shabby.
We’ll keep fine-tuning to see if we can get rid of the rest of the play in the wheel, keeping in mind that “Great is the enemy of Good”.

I’ve also had a splicing fit recently:  spliced the rode to the anchor chain and made an eye splice on the other end of the rode to connect to the boat.

Chain splice and eye splice.

We installed two battery controllers (we actually only did the physical placement of them on the nav station… the electrician will come and hook them up to the batteries later).

Battery controllers installed.

And we finally tracked down a new control panel for the motor controls.

Motor control panel: before and after.

Despite this wave of activity, we’re really no closer to getting Spray into the water.  The boat yard announced that they had a backload of work and summer vacation has shut down many of their suppliers; in particular, the one who is supposed to give us an aluminium plate to reinforce the chain locker where the windlass will be placed.  We’ve got at least another 2 weeks on land.
Posted on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 | Categories:

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Tubed !

In what the statistics confirm has been the rainiest June / July since 1959, we FINALLY had a weekend with no rain and a friend of the former owner came to help us install a new propeller shaft tube.  (Confession: he did the work and we fed him sandwiches and beer.)  It looks great and the polyester tube is more marine-friendly than the stainless steel mix that was rusted and pitted.  If you're wondering why we changed the tube, see The Naked Truth Parts I and II.

Prop shaft tube: before and after.
Of course, if everything went smoothly, this would all cease to be fun, right?  Luckily for us, there are a couple of glitches to keep things interesting.  When he took the rubber stuffing box (in French “joint Volvo”) off the shaft, he saw that it was quite worn and suggested that we change it.  He didn’t have a spare one with him so we now have to scout around to find one (early attempts this morning suggest this will not be so straightforward, either).  He also had to cut away the rusted bolts on the gear box to liberate the shaft, and didn’t have spare bolts of the right size to replace them. 

Needed: bolts for gearbox (left) and a volvo joint (right).
Once we have located all the missing parts, we can put everything together and write a big DONE next to this job in the maintenance log.  But neither of us feels confident enough to install the Volvo joint ourselves since this is a critical element that keeps water from gushing into the boat through the propeller shaft tube.  The instructions sound simple enough but we’ve never seen it done before, so we’ll call in reinforcements for this one.

We also learned a valuable lesson, one which you may very well find bleeding obvious, but as the saying goes, “one experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions.”  When you take a circular saw to the hull of a boat, fine dust goes everywhere.  We had been warned and put plastic covering in the work area.  This is useful for catching about 50% of what flies, and the rest you just have to vacuum up afterwards.  Here’s what we learned:  a vacuum cleaner intended for regular home use just isn’t up to this kind of task.  After about 45 minutes of vacuuming with my hot pink Electrolux home-edition, it began making an angry, high-pitched whine, became very hot, and gave up the ghost with a big dusty belch.

So before making the rounds of the ship chandler’s to look for missing parts, we went to the hardware store and bought a manly man’s wet-dry shop vac for the boat (it’s yellow and black) and took my little pink machine to be repaired.  Now, we may have our dim moments, but we knew that we shouldn’t admit that we were using it to suck up polyester resin fiberglass boat hull dust.  In the parking lot of the repair shop, we prepared our story.  We would simply tell them that it was plaster dust from a small home repair job. 

“Plaster dust ?!  It says clearly in your instructions that the machine isn’t to be used with ash or fine dust. I’m afraid your warranty won’t cover this.”  At that moment, my American instincts kicked in and I began planning how I could fight them on this by pointing out that their instructions said nothing about polyester resin fiberglass boat hull dust.  But while I was scheming, I also heard something in the background that sounded like “…it will cost more to repair than to buy a new one” and saw the flash of defeat and resignation already on Patrick’s face.

My hot pink electrolux (R.I.P.) and the new shop vac.
Reviewing the day’s events over beer later in the evening, my assessment was that the day had been a rather poopey one.  Patrick, a born optimist, just announced with a smile, “we’re less stupid now than when we woke up this morning.” 

Addendum:  A few days after this post, Patrick took our little pink Electrolux back to the appliance store to ask them how to get into the motor compartment so he could try cleaning it himself.  A different guy was at the help desk and suggested sending it to the shop and asking them for an estimate of how much it would cost to clean and repair.  A couple of days later, we get a call to come and pick it up.  Twenty-eight euros, thoroughly cleaned and with a new filter.  What do you get when you combine a ruthlessly positive attitude with tenacity and luck?  Patrick, that’s what !  Drives me banoonoos sometimes, but gotta love him !
Posted on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | Categories:

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Rainy Afternoons and Rudder Angles

Here is a tale about how a simple mathematical musing can uncover daunting new tasks requiring skills you don’t have to fix a problem you never suspected.

It all started rather innocently, as these things always do, when I was looking for things to do on the boat while waiting for the rain to stop.  I remembered that one of my books on sail trim suggested calculating the rudder angle while the boat was in dry dock, and this sounded like a great rainy-day activity.  As we say back home, “you may as well dance when it’s too wet to plough.”  Now admittedly, it is difficult to liken rudder angle calculations to dancing even by the most enthusiastic math nerd, but I was happy to find something that felt like a useful task on such a dreary day.  And, truth be told, it sounded like fun.

When you are under sail, you set and trim the sails according to the wind direction and the direction you want to go.  On a well-trimmed and well-balanced boat, the rudder stays more or less straight, in line with the boat.  Joshua Slocum’s Spray was a boat that was so well-balanced that he could simply tie a rope to the tiller to keep it centered and let her go for days at a time without adjustments (in steady winds, of course).  This was quite a feat in the days before auto-pilots, and was a major factor contributing to his successful solo-circumnavigation of the globe. 

When it is necessary to hold the rudder at an angle to maintain your bearing, it means that your sails are not well-trimmed.  Beyond a certain angle, the flow of the water against an angled rudder turns your rudder into a brake.  This is bad, and depending on the expert you consult, occurs between 6° and 9°.

Most boat steering wheels will have the center point marked so that you know when the rudder is straight.  Now the trick is to mark the point corresponding to 6° of rudder angle on either side the center mark to know when you are braking and need to re-trim the sails. 

If the rudder could turn 360°, the radius of that circle is the distance from the central pivot point (the rudder stock) to the trailing edge of the rudder.  On Spray, this distance is 37 cm.  Of course everyone remembers that the circumference of a circle is calculated using the equation:  c = 2 π r    (confession: I googled it.)  At MIT, where the sports teams were rarely the school’s strongest point, there was a cheer to amuse the crowd: “Cosine! Secant! Tangent! Sine! 3 point 1 4 1 5 9 ! ” so it’s easy for me to remember the value of π.  For my rudder with a radius (r) of 37 cm, this gives a circumference of 232 cm for 360°, and by a simple ratio calculation, the 6° of rudder angle I seek is located 3.9 cm from the center position.

With numbers in hand, we moved to the practical-application step.  With Patrick up top at the wheel and me beneath the rudder (no dummy, me… he got rained on while I was protected underneath the boat), I measured off 3.9 cm on either side of the center point and had him slowly turn the wheel until the rudder was lined up with my marks.  We did this a couple of times in each direction and he marked the 6° points on the wheel with a marker. 

“How’s it look?” I shouted up to Patrick.  The response was the worrisome French expression “Ooh laaa…”.  This is not to be confused with better known “Ooh la la” which is generally a happy expression of appreciation.  “Ooh laaa” is most appropriately translated as “uh oh” or, in certain cases such as this, “oh shit”.

I climbed up on deck and looked at the two marks on the wheel.  They were not symmetric from the center.  By a long shot.  One was a full 10 cm further away from the center than the other.  “Ooh laaa” indeed.  This was a clear indication of something we knew already but had not fully appreciated:  there was considerable play in the wheel.  When we took the boat out for a test sail, we noticed that there was some play, but it didn’t seem particularly bothersome.  Clearly, after lifting the boat out of the water a second time and 2 months in dry dock with various assaults inflicted on the rudder, the play had increased significantly. 

Back at home, I looked up how to stiffen up a limp steering wheel.  The forums all suggested it was something that could be done easily, but this sort of statement always leaves me a bit queasy.  The next day on the boat, we took advantage of a brief visit from the head mechanic to ask him what he thought about the situation.  He spun the wheel slowly, watching the quadrant rotate from side to side and pointed out that most of the play seemed to be coming from the rotator pin connecting the quadrant to the steering chains (rotule, in French; see photo).

The rotator pin connected to the steering quadrant.
This reminded me that Antoine, the boat’s previous owner, had left us a spare rotator pin in case we needed to change it.  The mechanic assured us that it was a simple affair to remove the old one and attach the new one.  When he had gone, Patrick, emboldened, started looking more closely at the situation and rapidly ran up against the first hurdle:  he didn’t have the right size of wrenches. 

As with so many things that we attempt to do on the boat, my simple “mark 6° of rudder angle on the wheel” has now become:
  •  Buy new set of wrenches.
  • Mark the current position of the rotator pin and bolts.
  • Remove the damaged rotator pin and install the new one.
  • Test the play in the wheel; if acceptable, proceed to next step; if not, turn the bolt on the connecting pin by 2 turns to tighten the chains; repeat as necessary
  • …and then, mark 6° of rudder angle on the wheel.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bricolage Update

In honor of the upcoming 14th of July French National Holiday, I would like to take this opportunity to pay homage to the French language for giving us the word “bricolage”.  In English, this is translated as “Do it Yourself” but I have to say I find this phrase rather inadequate to describe what actually happens when you repair, install, or build things. And bricolage can be turned into the verb “bricoler” (breek-o-lay) to describe the act of doing the work, while telling someone that you are “DIY-ing” just doesn’t have the same elegance. 

So here is a bricolage update with our recent successes, mixed-successes, and set-backs.

Our non-standard flexible faucet tubes.
Repaired galley sink leaks.  We thought all we would have to do is to block off the hot water intake line.  There’s no hot water, but the faucet mixer opens the hot water intake line and allows cold water to flow out … all over the floor.  But the flexible tubes for the hot and cold water are not standard sizes for Europe.  After 3 visits to various plumbing stores, one very nice man led us to a back room and ripped the tubes off an old sink they had sitting around.  He just gave them to us... said he couldn't sell them because they weren't standard.  Perfect fit.  Another fitting that was in bad shape was nowhere to be found in the hardware stores.  We finally found something that did the trick in our local garden center. 

Passed electrical cables for windlass.  We found out that we didn’t need to buy a new battery for the windlass after all (see post “The Learning Curve Blues”) but can instead use the service batteries (2 x 100 Ah batteries in parallel) which are even closer and easier to reach for the cabling. Passed electrical cables from the chain locker to the battery and from the chain locker to the cockpit locker for a control button near the throttle.

New cables installed (looking down).
Installed new electrical cables between the service park batteries.  Found out that the cables connecting the two service park batteries are not sufficient for a big electrical draw (such as needed for a windlass) to pass between the two.  Bought new cable, ripped out the old, passed the new under the floorboards.  

GPS antenna installed.

Installed new GPS antenna.  More cables passed, from the chart table controls to the locker behind the head where we installed the antenna to keep it out of harm’s way.  Gets kick-ass reception there, too.

Repaired two hatches that had minor leaks.  We noticed some small leaks around two hatch covers, and when we unscrewed the covers, we noticed that there were wads of paper towels strategically placed to catch any drips. We decided to replace the paper towels with spray foam insulation. The insulation expands and forms a lovely effect like snow sliding off a roof, which then hardens, allowing you to cut it to the form you need.  

Foam insulation around hatch cover.
New super-hold hair mousse discovery.
Unfortunately, one of the globs became so heavy that it started falling towards the floor.  I raced to catch it with a paper towel.  Turning around proudly to show Patrick my catch, he says “Ohhhh noooo… your HAIR !”  What about my hair?   

A quick look in the mirror showed a big blob of insulation across my forehead.  My attempts to remove this “cotton candy super glue” with towels and acetone only met with limited success and the residue turned rapidly to hard plastic. 

Collateral damage, hatch job.
Back at home, after repeated failures with various oils and solvents, I was reduced to pulling hair out of the plastic globs strand-by-strand.  Most just broke off, and I had to use a razor blade to separate the worst of the lot.  It took a ½ bottle of white wine to deaden the pain after all the hair pulling.

It'll fade, right?
Repaired dings in gel coat.  We learned that with an electrical sander, you get a nice smooth finish after patching dings in the gel coat.  The problem is that I didn’t have the right color of blue gel coat, so I used white, with the idea of painting it afterwards.  But I didn’t have the right color of paint either, so I mixed two blues to get something close.  After reading the forums on this, I’m told that all of this will peel and crack in a very short time anyway, so I’ve decided not to stress over the bad color match.  Sigh.

Eye splice + needle-and-palm whipping on devil's claw.
Made eye splice for devil’s claw.  Bought a sort of devil’s claw, which is used to reduce the strain on the windlass by hooking into one of the links and transfering the strain to a cleat on deck.  But you have to attach the metal claw to a polyamide / nylon line by making an eye-splice and wrapping any loose ends with needle-and-palm whippings.  After a few false starts, my Seamanship 101 and 102 classes from Texas A&M came flooding back to me and it turned out okay.  (Don’t look too close, though).   

Set up / programmed the new portable VHF radio.

Replaced the lock on the companionway door.  It’s a good fit, but we still need to “bricoler” something to eliminate a gap.

Set up new computer.  The problem is that the graphics card for this operating system has been known to have big problems with the navigation software we wanted to use.  We’ll test this using a friend’s software before buying it ourselves.  But we have to wait for that friend to get back from sailing in the Caribbean.

Twiddled thumbs over propeller shaft work.  The work on the propeller shaft is a major setback.  The friend-of-a-friend who has agreed to help us can only help us on the weekends when it doesn’t rain. It was just announced that this June was the rainiest June since 1959, and July doesn’t look much better.  We wondered if maybe the boatyard would be able to work faster, since they would be able to work any day it didn’t rain.  We asked what their workload was like at the moment, and they announced that the guy who was scheduled to work in July and August has just run off to Mexico with his girlfriend and did not say anything about coming back.  This will also push back the work on the chain locker needed before we can install the windlass. Sigh.  Back to square one.
Posted on Monday, July 09, 2012 | Categories:

Monday, 2 July 2012

Hull Work

The next few posts will show the gradual transformations of different parts of Spray’s anatomy that have occurred over the last couple of weeks. 

Today’s feature: The Hull.

The hull was water/sand blasted to remove what was left of 20 years of bottom paint. 
Bare, with rust spots already starting on the iron keel.

The iron keel was treated with 4 layers of epoxy (AC20, red). 

Red epoxy on the keel.

An epoxy primer was put on the hull, followed by application of a mastic epoxy putty (enduit) where needed to fill in any pits.  Silicone mastic was put around all the through-hulls, and 2 layers of epoxy undercoat finished off the prep work (SC20 epoxy undercoat, light tan).

Epoxy undercoat on the hull.

The keel, before and after scrape, epoxy, and new seal.

Finally, a coat of new bottom paint (dark blue) was added.  We had to do this in 2 steps; paint around the supports, have the boatyard move the supports, then paint over the spots.   

Blue with tan spots.

1st layer of bottom paint DONE.
The 2nd will be added a few days before Spray goes in the water.  

We used a hard matrix bottom paint for this first layer, but in coming years, we will switch to erodible matrix. 

In fact, we were just informed yesterday that it will be increasingly difficult to put any bottom paint on the boat in the coming years because of environmental issues and the need to have specially-equipped boatyards to perform the work.   

Many sailors are now moving to the Oceo-Protect system, which is supposed to last anywhere from 5-10 years.  But like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, “I’ll think about that tomorrow”.          
Posted on Monday, July 02, 2012 | Categories: