Sunday, February 23, 2014

Up on the House Top

Forward Hatch - starboard side
Main Hatchway - port side
In an earlier post, I noted that the whole cabin top would have to come off (see, "Separation Anxiety"). As I started peeling back layers of fiberglass and plywood, I found dampness in all the places I expected, but what convinced me that the whole roof would have to be replaced was finding dampness in places I didn't expect.

Main Hatchway - starboard side
As these photos attest, water and mold was everywhere.

Amidships - port side
Amidships - edge of cabin starboard

More to the point, the house top is not that big and with the exception of the chimney, is free of obstructions. Thus, resheathing the house top should be pretty straightforward (words I'm sure I'll regret later).  Originally, I pulled back layers slowly - largely to get a sense of how the cabin top was built. It appears that most of the cabin top was built with three layers of 1/4" Lauan plywood. However, the forward section was three layers of what appears to be 1/8" mahogany plywood with fiberglass and awl grip over all. My guess is that the thinner ply forward allowed for the compound curves at the front of the cabin.

"X's" mark the spot - to cut out
Measure Twice, Cut Once

With that knowledge, the quickest way to remove the rest of the cabin top was to cut away the largest sections - taking care not to cut through the framing beneath. To be sure that didn't happen, I drilled holes up from beneath an inch and a half on either side of all the framing (surgeons refer to this as "clear margins"). Back on top, I "connected the dots" by drawing solid lines between the drilled holes. This gave me a template on the top of the house to guide the saw.

Large sections removed
Large sections removed
When it is your intent to take a skill saw to your boat, there is a fair amount of anxiety before you take the irreversible act of a major incision. 

My grandfather was a carpenter and was fond of the saying "measure twice, cut once." This was firmly in my mind as I double-checked that the lines I'd drawn lined up with where I really wanted them. I can honestly say the lines did nothing to reduce my anxiety of plunging a skill saw into the flesh of the deck. 

After the large sections were removed, it was a matter of peeling back the layers of glass and plywood - removing fasteners from the frames as I went. A heavy, long handled chisel came in very handy here as it had the edge to get in between plys and plenty of leverage to peel back large sections.

 The picture on the right shows the cabin top off and its pieces strewn along the deck. The sides of the cabin have some ragged fiberglassed edges and dried caulking all around.

The picture of the left shows the edges cleaned up and loose fiberglass ground down. The four ovals in the foreground are the bronze port lights. They need to be cleaned and oiled and their absence will make repairing some of the delamination on the cabin sides easier.

It is a sobering thought that everything I've done to this point has been simply taking things apart. A friend stopped by the other day and reminded me "Remember, you gotta put this all back together y'know."  True, but as the Marines say of new recruits: "we break them down first, then we build them back up."  No one who's been through boot camp would mistake that experience with what I'm doing, but sometimes you gotta zig before you can zag.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Severe Blockage

Anatomy of a Block
When I bought Desiree, she came in several pieces - some of them identifiable even by someone with only a passing familiarity to boats. The hull, mast, wheel and sails all fit into that category. Then there are several pieces that are identifiable only in what they are - not where they go or how they go together. Locker doors, drawers, teak cup holders, handrails and more are all in that category. However, the king of this second group has no equal when it comes to the blocks.  

Lignum Vitae: The Tree of Life

Blocks awaiting assembly
Lignum Vitae is latin for "The Tree of Life."  It is the national tree of the Bahamas and is known for its oils, strength and density. Around the boatyard, it is pronounced lig-nuhm vahy-tee.  Latin scholars beware: the second word is not pronounced vee-tay as in "curriculum vee-tay" - at least not in the boatyard. I suppose it goes back to fishermen pronouncing fillets as "fill-ets" and main salons as "saloons." So, when in Rome, don't order Sushi.

At any rate, Desiree boasts 22 blocks made of the stuff - only 3 of which I'm certain of their location and another 4 of which I'm only "reasonably" certain. After that, it's kind of a crap shoot. I am banking on some photos and schematics along with my not-so-novice knowledge of traditional gaff rigged vessels to get them all in the correct place. Frankly, I'd be shocked if a fair amount of "trial and error" didn't seep into this - probably enough error to result in a mistrial.

Boom block down to the essentials
When I acquired Desiree, all the blocks were pulled apart.  The sheaves, tangs, pins and shackles were all separate from the shell. This was the proverbial two-edged sword.

On the one hand, this was a huge time saver as it made it easier to varnish the shells. On the other, it has made putting them all back together an advanced exercise in spatial mechanics.

Tag 'em and Bag 'em
The prior owner had organized each block so that all the pieces were together - or so I thought. However, none (save the Boom Block) were labeled as to their function. To preserve the order, all the presumed pieces of a particular block were assigned a numbered zip-lock bag and the corresponding shell was tagged with that number.

Shrunken Heads (Staysail Club on right)
Then I hung all the shells from the cellar rafters so that I could varnish the whole shell at one time.  The effect was not unlike a bunch of shrunken heads in Torquemada's little shop of "Things to Do of an Evening."

I did not sand in between each coat, as the goal here was to get several coats of varnish on these shells as quickly as possible. As in many things (such as this blog), perfection can be the enemy of the good. At any rate, ten coats later, we're ready to put these together.

One little tool that proved invaluable here is shown at right. This is a custom tool similar to the tool used for removing deck fuel and water caps and is designed to hold one flange in place while you screw the pin into it from the other side. Each flange is embedded about 1/16 of an inch and held in place by a tight fit and two screws.

During the assembly process, it became obvious that more than once,  the tang (or screws or pin or sheave) for one shell was in the bag belonging to another shell.  Not a big deal, really, but it did slow the process down while I found the correct match with all the excitement of an archaeological dig.

#3 completely apart
Some shells, like #3 here, came apart completely. So, back to shop for that one. 

On the whole, however, most everything was together. Of 22 blocks,
Boom Block ready to Go
only 8 will need additional work ranging from missing screws to rebuilding the block .

Greetings from my yard
In one way, the saving grace to taking on this restoration is the sheer volume of work to be done. This means that there is plenty to be done in the boatyard (see "Separation Anxiety" post) and plenty to do in the shop.

In New England, we are experiencing our third straight snowfall in as many weeks. While we don't have a monopoly on cold conditions this year, working in the boatyard in sub 25 degree temperatures gets old real fast.

When that's the case, it is nice to have plenty indoor work to do. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Melanie is (regrettably) SOLD

Melanie will be plying New Hampshire waters from now on . . . She will be berthed up the Piscataqua River and her new owners will undoubtedly have many fond memories aboard her. Thank you to all who expressed an interest. 

A man cannot serve two Masters - or Mistresses.  At no time is this more true than with boats. With the restoration of Desiree consuming my every boating moment, I cannot do justice to Melanie  and have decided to sell her in the hopes there is someone out there who will continue to care for her as her prior owners have.

She is a 1979 Pearson Yawl and is in very good condition. Her sails, dodger, mainsail cover, roller furling are all new and she comes fully found.

The Pearson 35 sleeps 5 adults comfortably. There is a V berth forward, a double berth amidships on the port side and single pull-out berth to starboard. The pilot berth (also amidships) is excellent for children. The galley includes a 3 burner alcohol stove to port with oven and ample storage all around. An enclosed head with shower is forward to port directly across from a hanging locker to starboard. Melanie also has a solid fuel stove in the salon ready to go.

LOA: 35’
Beam: 10”
Draft:  3’9”/ 7’6”
Engine:  Universal 25 HP 
Tankage:   Fuel 30 gallons (monel tank); Water 90 gallons
Displacement:  13,000 lbs.
Ballast: 5,400 lbs.

Melanie is a great cruiser - her shallow centerboard draft allows you to moor in places other 35 footers can only dream of. With a 10' beam and 6'2" headroom below she is plenty comfortable below and her large cockpit can accommodate several adults (she has been the favorite summer venue of my wife's book club). Her displacement makes her a stable, safe craft. We have had her in heavy seas and she has performed admirably. She has been a fixture along the New England coast from Rhode Island to Acadia Maine and has always been well maintained.  Her yawl rig offers many different sail configurations and is a blast to sail. 

It is an old saw that says that the two best days of boat ownership are the day you buy her and the day you sell her. In this case, that's only half true. She will be sorely missed. 

 I am offering her at $28,500 to a good family.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Sultry Winch

Winches on board sailboats make trimming sails much easier - unless they're frozen.  Such was the case here. Desiree's bronze,  Lewmar 40, two-speed Mothers of Mechanical Advantage brought low by the elements.

These winches adorned their delaminated pads as leaves composted in the main spindle, old grease congealed on the gears and bees (yes bees) made their homes under the casing in between the cogs. That said, these are made super-tough and of good material so they can take a fair amount of abuse. Getting them back in order, however, took a lot of elbow grease, WD-40, a couple of new pawl springs and winch grease.

Once you remove the locking ring from the main spindle, the whole casing will lift right off. These rings can be tricky, but a screwdriver or knife edge will let you get the purchase you need. Once the ring is off and before lifting the casing, take off the metal plate around the spindle. Beneath it you will see two pawls designed to keep the winch operating in one direction. These pawls have little springs in the middle. Take the pawls out with care so as to not lose the spring (the first time you do this - and probably the second - you will likely lose the spring anyway; don't say I didn't warn you, but have some spares handy).
The Naked Winch

With the casing off, the roller bearings lift right off.  I find that a toothbrush and WD-40 will clean these about as well as anything, but it is a messy job and you will go through a lot of rags or paper towels.

The Lower Gears 

The lower gears are held in by a spindle (it's the shiny metal square on top of the lower gears in the picture above).  This spindle goes through the middle of the gears and they turn around it. In winches such as Desiree's  that have sat for so long, old grease has caked up around the spindle which either inhibits the gears' ability to turn or it stops them completely. In my case, the spindle was frozen - mostly because of gunk rather than from rust or corrosion.

Before you can remove the spindle, it has to be rotated such that it will come out clean. In it's working mode the flat square metal tab at the top of the spindle rests under a lip on the housing. This prevents it from coming out unexpectedly.

In the picture to the left, this tab is under the housing. In the "Naked Winch" picture above, it is rotated ready for removal. In my case, getting this tab to rotate took a lot of Liquid Wrench and some gentle, strategic taps with a hammer via an awl.

To remove the spindle, it may be necessary to invert the winch and tap with an awl or a small wooden dowel and hammer from the bottom. This does not require a lot of force - just enough to kick loose the junk and push the spindle up through the gears and housing.

Here you can see the spindle almost free of the gears. Remove the spindle and the gears and clean them up. Again, a toothbrush and WD-40 does a pretty fair job; look carefully though, some of the old grease will have hardened on the cogs or spindle and may need to be scraped off. A knife edge will usually do the trick. 

Here are the dirty pawls, spindle, pawl springs and a bunch of gunk. 

Lubing the Winch

I have heard and read about people using all types of different greases on the winches to good effect, but I simply used a tube of West Marine winch grease because it is what I had. White lithium grease also works well and some have suggested Water Wheel Bearing grease. In any event, you want something that will stand up to the marine environment. Once you lube the lower gears and the roller bearings, you're pretty much good to go. Reassemble taking particular care not to lose the pawl springs. They can be a little tricky to get in, but not impossible. It's a good idea to have some spares even so.  NOTE: Do not grease the pawls. You do not want them to get gummed up. A couple of drops of 3:1 machine oil will do you there. 

My experience with winches are that they are generally bullet-proof. In consequence, they are often neglected.  In truth, they should be dismantled, checked, cleaned and re-greased at the end of each season or as part of the fitting out work in the spring. It doesn't take long to do and you'll notice the difference. Winches carry heavy loads and their failure under load can be, if not catastrophic, at least exciting - but not in a good way. 

Separation Anxiety

It is ironic that on a wooden sloop, my major repair issue is fiberglass.  But Poseidon (and whatever other sea gods there may be) work in mysterious ways to be sure. Desiree was built with MDO plywood decks and (I now know) her cabin top was sheathed in 3 layers of 1/8" Lauan plywood - presumably to promote bilateral flexibility. The Dictator  model of the Friendship sloop has a pronounced lateral curve to the cabin top as well as a longitudinal arc forward. While this provides 6'2" headroom down below, it offers some challenges to the builder. Thus, it appears the builder used something thin and flexible, built it up in layers and then screwed it down with a vengeance. 

Delaminated winch pad
At any rate the whole furshlugginer mess was covered in fiberglass and awl grip. The job was well done and it is probably the thing that saved this boat from compost during her days in the wilderness. However, as these things go, there was some delamination to small areas in the cockpit, winch pads, cabin sides, stem and some significant delamination and underlying rot on the cabin top.

"When you don't know what your doing, go slow" is my mantra, here. As a amateur, I started by slowly peeling back those sections that were clearly bad, just to get a sense of the thing. In so doing, I learned more about how the cabin top was built. Clearly, information I'm going to need later.

Originally, it was my intent to replace only those sections that needed it.  However,  as I got into the work, it became clear that there was more rot and dampness than met the eye or my survey. To any experienced wooden boatsman, this is not a novel conclusion, I know, but I'm going slowly.  It seems clear, for example, that once water seeps into plywood, the plys act as capillaries and the water "runs" along and under the plys and gets into places not immediately noticable. 

Starboard cabin top forward
Companionway hatch, Port side
In the photograph to the left, you can see the leak started at the corner of the skylight combing and fanned out toward the edge of the house top. Similarly, in the photo on the right, you can see where water collected on the companionway slide, it leaked and spread out.

Close up of Port side companionway

Causing the rot shown.

So, where we stand today is that I have decided to replace the entire cabin top. That way, we start new with good wood all around. The cabin top is not that big and, aside from a chimney, is free from obstructions. Moreover, the pronounced arc of the cabin top will make bending a large piece of plywood easier than a smaller scarf.

Getting back to basics 
3 plys of 1/8' Lauan & fiberglass

This may take awhile, but I'm going slow, remember?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Weather Gauge

In the days of wooden ships and iron men, the Weather Gauge was the preferred position at the start of a naval battle between two ships. There are several advantages to being to "weather" - or windward - of one's opponent in battle.

First, the ship to leeward would be heeled over away from it's opponent. This exposed more of the hull of the vessel. Any shots that hit the leeward ship had a greater likelihood of doing damage below the waterline in consequence. Additionally, this heel elevated the angle of the guns - sometimes to a point that could not be compensated for by the gun crews.  
The line of battleships on the right hold the Weather Gauge

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Fall and Rise of Desiree

Desiree in Happier Days
In 1993 the wooden Friendship Sloop, Desiree, was launched by her builder in Newburyport MA. She was an exquisite version of the 1904 Dictator model designed by Robert McClain. Built for his personal use, the builder, a professional woodworker, spared no expense or detail in her construction: Cedar planking on oak frames, bronze fasteners, lignum vitae blocks, sitka spruce spars and bronze hardware throughout. He sailed her regularly for about 5 years when, unfortunately, medical issues caused him to put her on the hard.  There she sat, by the road for 10+ years, subject to the rain, snow and elements.

I have loved Friendships since the age of six when I saw my first one in Gloucester.  Each time I passed Desiree forlorn by the roadside, I shook my head as she was far too pretty a boat to leave to become a planter.  Long story short, I bought her in December.

By the roadside
The inspection found the hull to be essentially sound, but found delamination of the fiberglass on the cabin top and deck (cabin and deck are glassed over) and some softness in the topmast. 

The engine has not run for at least 3 years and the diesel in her tanks is 10+years old. 

The rest of the boat is a mess cosmetically: mold, mildew, dirt, varnish gone and generally not a happy girl. 

The goal is to get her back in the water by this summer - July 10th to be exact. There is no magic to this date (except the tide happens to serve); it is just a date to shoot for. My punch list is huge including everything from general cleaning and refurbishing to rebuilding woodwork and systems.   

In the coming weeks, I will chronicle the rebuild and hope you'll come along. There is an old saying:  "If you don't know what you're doing, go slow."  Since I don't, I shall. And I welcome you on the journey.