Tuesday, October 25, 2005

God, please tell my I don’t have to inspect the propeller shaft. The nasty jobs I have left to do on the Bristol seep into my mind occasionally and make me groan. The shaft is 15 years old, and inspected 10 years ago—it looked like new then. I could easily convince myself it still is fine and not galled or corroded. But I don’t plan to do a refit again for at least another 10 years so I need to inspect. It’s a nasty job entailing buttering up my chest with oil so I can squeeze into the engine compartment beside the Yanmar in order to reach the back of the engine and the flange that attaches the propeller to the transmission. Once there, waves of claustrophobia sneak up my spine as I work on my side, head down, arms out, trying to get the flange to separate.

The nastiest jobs on boat are not fiberglass related in my view. I will take the itching of fiberglass dust any day over engine work. In addition to needing to inspect the propeller shaft, I have at least one sort of questionable motor mount—I shutter even writing the words here. That means detaching all of them, putting the engine out of alignment to the shaft, raising it to get it off the mount—that takes a block and tackle to the boom above. Another nasty thankless job that doesn’t relate to sailing.

Least I give you the wrong impression of the auxiliary power in the Bristol, to its credit I should point out that I would never trade the Yanmar 3GM30F in the boat for any other kind of engine. The Yanmar is as reliable as a GM V-8. It starts instantly, never smokes, never soots up the stern, never leaks or smells of diesel, and is quiet and smooth. I just hate working on or around it.

The only non-engine job that was almost as bad as the two I’ve just listed was removing the rudder. Now there is a gut straining, cursing, groaning bit of a job I have done once and sits at the top of my list of “Jobs I Will Never Do Again”. The Bristol’s rudder is build like the Queen Mary’s. It’s solid fiberglass with a bronze webbing welded to the solid bronze rudderpost inside. It weighs about 80 or 90 pounds and sits on a 1-inch diameter bronze pintel at the rudder shoe. Its only weakness is that pintel should be stainless instead of bronze. The pintel will typically wear on the forward edge—from the weight of the rudder (it hangs “down” since the aft edge of the keel slants forward). The wear on the pintel creates play that is expressed in the tiller vibrating at speed. It’s probably nothing to ever worry about, but I like to have everything perfect on the boat and “new” if at all possible.

So I removed the rudder and replaced the pintel. That’s a fun little job: dig about a 4-ft hole under the stern—if you are lucky enough not to have your boat on pavement in the boat yard. Then cock the rudder full over to port and there is just enough room to lift it off the pintel—it’s quite a lift and slide the rudder down, maintaining the angle of the rudderpost until it is out. It lays on the ground like a dead tuna and the yard foreman looked at it and said I needed their fiberglass shop to design and build me a new one. As usual, he had no idea what he was talking about. I told him the rudder was stronger than anything he could build for me. He countered with, “It’s full of water”. I drilled some ¼” holes—all dry, all solid glass. He tried some more excuses before finally leaving. Then I rebuilt the stuffing box where the rudder post enters the hull. That’s a fun little project. Little being the operative word. You have to scoot headfirst down into the lazerette on the sloping hull to try to undo the 30-plus year old hose clamps and worry off the ancient hose. Eventually, with enough prayer, it all came loose. The stuffing box is identical to the one for the propeller shaft. I rebuilt it as I did the engine one using Teflon impregnated Drip-Free packing, a new hose and proper 316 stainless hose clamps. It should now outlive me. Then I rebuilt the cockpit sole bearing where the rudder post passes through the floor of the cockpit. I expected there to be play and the shaft to be worn at the bearing. Wrong on both counts. The bronze Bristol used is tough stuff and the rudder post showed no signs of any wear. The bearing was fine and I re-plated the housing in gunmetal gray nickel plating.

Installing the rudder was at least five times harder than dropping it. Somebody please kick me if I ever get a notion to drop it again.

Monday, October 24, 2005

I suffer through bad weather ashore in little bits and pieces. It’s 1:30 Monday afternoon and Wilma is out in the Atlantic off Palm Beach. The eastern edge must be playing havoc with the Gulf Stream. A little bit of me wants to be out there in the stink of it. Instead, I have been up all night on hurricane watch. We had gusts in Orlando in the 50’s I guess. Mostly I sipped hot coffee while everyone slept and watched the wind and rain fly down the lake outside. A little bit of me wants to be out there on a Laser flying. Instead, I turn to the weather channel between power outages and watch sailboats at the Naples city marina jumping in their slips, straining dock lines, heeling to the wind. The boats are alive and I have tended plenty of dock lines on the Bristol as she jumped and heeled in her slip. A bit of me wishes I was there, tending my boat. This hurricane she’s at home in the side yard: safe, steady on jack stands, waiting patiently for me to get her floating so she too can come alive again. Instead, I fuss with the tarps covering her, and wander into the garage to fiddle with one of the dozen or so projects I have underway.

The barrel of wind brings cold weather behind the rain. Winter is coming to Florida and epoxy will take forever to cure. This refit is taking forever to finish.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Sometimes radar just doesn’t see the big stuff. I was sailing with my brother John and my nephew Kevin several years ago, on John’s lovely boat Southern Cross, a 45-ft Ocean Cruising Yacht. We had this idea to sail up the Strait of Juan de Fuca just for the hell of it. Most people in sailboats just cross it and try to stay out of its way. The strait is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world. The fairways in bound and out bound are under U.S. Coast Guard vessel traffic control, and often stack up with super tankers, container ships, tugs with tows as well as pleasure boats like Southern Cross. So we have worked our way up the strait, tacking continuously. It is blowing 15 – 25 knots and we are rushing through a wet dripping blanket of pea soup fog. I am on the helm and Kevin is working the sheets for me. John is below navigating and watching the radar screen as he tracks the positions of ships around us.

The logistics of big ship radar is such that they can’t see us at all. The radar reflector on Southern Cross is maybe 40 feet above the water; most of these ships have their decks higher than that and their radomes are on masts much higher still. It order for them to see us we would have to be 20 or more miles away. In the close confines of the strait we are invisible in this fog. On the other hand, our radome is about 12 feet off the water and we should be able to see everything, and do, as John sings out sightings up the companionway, and Kev and I alter course in response. When a big ship gets close you hear it and feel it; no fog horn is necessary. The ship’s props send out whomp whomp whomps you hear across the water. As the ship gets closer you begin to feel that same whomp of the screws tingle your feet in the cockpit. And, when the ship gets very close you hear the bow pushing tons of water aside.

We have sailed this way for a night and most of a day, tacking back and forth across the strait, enveloped in a silent cocoon of fog, surrounded by distant moans of fog horns, dodging ships the size of buildings that we never see except as blips on the screen. The wind funnels down the strait from the Pacific and the tides have not been in our favor. John occasionally calls out the shore or a known marker on the shore, and an occasional fog horn from a light house, sharply decreasing depth on the depth meter, or in some cases the sound of surf against the shore confirms his analysis of the radar screen. Yet he is absent in telling me about a ship I can begin to hear…that whomp, whomp, whomp of her screws. I call down the companionway, asking him to double check. No nothing, he says after a moment.

Fog defuses sound vibrations and the ship could be anywhere. I call down to John again: “I’ve got a ship close by….anything?” Kevin’s eyes get big. Another pause from John and then the all clear again. The sound becomes stronger and more defined. She is probably steaming at 10 or more knots—they are so big then look from a distance like they’re hardly moving and their speed can be deceiving. Kevin looks more nervous so I ask him to go below and ask his dad again. He flies down the companionway. He’s back up in two seconds saying there’s still no sign of a ship close to us on radar. Since we are sailing at about 7 knots I assume we aren’t heading bow to bow (a closing speed of easily 17 to 25 knots) since the sound isn’t increasing that rapidly; yet I can now feel the vibration of her props through the sole of the cockpit. I know she’s gaining on us, probably from behind, doing easily twice our speed.
Another check with the navigator is the same: all clear, nothing near. Kevin is going to hurt his neck trying to look everywhere at once.

Now I just barely detect the sound of her bow wave, sort of a waterfall sound easing through the fog. She’s close and definitely behind us. The trouble is I don’t know if she has seen us and is turning—takes a while in something that big—and if I change course I could run into her. On the other hand I don’t think the skipper knows I’m ahead or he would have turned sooner.

I ask Kevin to dig out the Freon-charged air horn. He dives into a cockpit locker and shoves an old rusty thing at me. I fire off 5 anemic blasts close together; the universal distress alert. The fifth blast sounds more like a duck quaking as the canister runs out of Freon.

The sound of the bow through the water is very distinct and constant now, close enough to know the exact location of her behind us. I calmly ask Kevin to find me a spare can for the horn. He jumps down the companionway and reappears almost instantly with another can. I screw it in place and fire off another 5-blast warning. The waterfall sound is louder and growing at a quick steady pace. I have a fleeting thought of accounts of sailors in small boats who have been hit by passing ships and reported that usually the force of the bow wave had pushed their sailboat up and to one or the other side before actual impact. I wonder if John’s boat, at 20-thousand pounds, is still small and light enough to be affected by the bow wave, or if we will get sliced from stern to bow like a buzz saw.

Kevin is nervous as a cat and John STILL sees nothing, but the horn blasts take affect. I can detect a change in direction to the bow wave, now beginning to move across our stern to port and the deeper middle of the channel. I see nothing, but hear the waterfall of her bow wave, the throbbing of her engines, the whompping of her props. A minute later her wake gives us a little surfing push as we sail on in this thick white swirling cloud.

Friday, October 07, 2005

My wife opened the door into the garage last night and asked, “what is all that stuff under our bed?” I had to think for a minute. Oh she means the finished bowsprit, the main shrouds all shined up, coiled and tie-wrapped; the lowers, each prepared the same way; and the inner forestay. “Just some stuff for the boat,” I reply. She looks around the garage with a critical eye. It’s full of work benches, saws, power tools, wood, paint etc, with a fine layer of saw dust and epoxy dust everywhere. Her look says why in the world can’t they be stored out here. I tell her I’d be glad to move them to my closet that already holds the rolled up 135% genny, the new bagged main and canvas covers I want to keep and reuse. She relents and says it can stay under the bed, but the conversation gives me pause to consider where I am going to store everything I need to store as it is cleaned, refurbished and made ready to re-install on the Bristol. God what I’d give for a real boat shed, a nice steel building maybe 40x60 on a lot near a boat yard, near water, with a nice travellift I could use, say near St Pete or down near Ft Myers….keep on dreaming David…

Thursday, October 06, 2005

If you sail out there you know. Night is a sky blanket of light and civilization is over the bend of the earth, somewhere in the next century. I love sailing at night. Everything amplifies. Night lasts twice as long as day and the predawn gray fringe in the east brings a prayer to my lips.

Sailing at night is a balancing ballet in the dark. I go instinctively for exactly what I want, clipped on, safe in this little craft in the middle of green phosphorescence and white licks of waves and blackness. I am more glued to the boat’s motion, more aware of the swishy hiss of her through the water, the gentle roll and sway of her to the swells, the chatter of her stern wave and the bubble and shimmer of her wake. A pop and snap in the main’s luff, a flutter of the genny’s leech warn me of wind shifts and her tiller tugs lightly in my hand. The red and green of the masthead light cast gentle glows that mix with the Milky Way above me, and the soft red lights in the cabin call me down to a warm bunk and a hot mug of tea.

At night I can’t stand the engine, as if I would wake neighbors nearby. So I ghost into an anchorage main dropped around the boom, genoa rolled, gliding along as I stand on the bow ready to loose the anchor, way on the boat laying the chain on the bottom in a straight line, the snubbed rode jerking her bow around and setting the anchor deep. Even then the warmth of the cabin lights can’t compete with the sky above, that blanket of dusty stars, and I sit on the fore hatch and enjoy the show.

I wasn’t actually trying to turn her over, but I was standing on the vertical side of the cockpit coaming and the loaded sheet winch was under water…

One of the duties we should be able to ask of our boat is to crawl off a lee shore in stinky conditions. Modern boats, beamy things with narrow keels and canoe shaped bottoms, ineffective rudders and badly balanced rigs can be great charter boats, great downwind cruising boats, great party boats and can carry lots of gear and people. But they can fail miserably sailing to windward, especially in lots of wind. Does the Bristol 29 sail to windward? Like a scalded cat.

About two years after buying her, I wanted to test out a new suit of sails and see how she sailed and balanced in real reefed conditions. She was in Cocoa, Florida at the time on the ICW and Jay Walthers and I took her out at the beginning of an approaching storm. We sailed up to the Canaveral barge canal that connects the Indian River (what the ICW is called in that part of the state) and east to the Banana River. The Banana is a tributary of the Indian caused by the presence of Merritt Island. The Banana is narrow and shallow, the fairway being only about 100 feet wide and just deep enough for the Bristol’s draft.

By the time we got to the Banana we were triple reefed with the genoa rolled up 50 percent. The wind was well over 30 knots. I estimated 35 with stronger gusts into the 40’s. The wind was from the north, funneling straight down the river and we began tacking up the fairway. A Coast Guard RIB fell in behind us—I’m sure waiting for us to go over or be blown aground out of the fairway.

Neither happened. The boat sailed at a heel of about 60 degrees, with water over the lee coaming and seat, the loaded winch under water. But at that attitude she was steady as a rock and the high gusts would not push her over anymore. We tacked back and forth up the fairway, and made so much ground to windward that we were making two tacks between day markers. This boat really loves sailing to windward. The exercise showed me that I needed an inner forestay and a small staysail, which would keep her more upright. But it also proved that I can sail off any lee shore I’m likely to encounter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I have never understood the mentality of some boaters. The 12,000-dollar world cruiser: any old sailboat with a 406 EPIRB, handheld GPS, and a new life raft.

The first few years I had the Bristol I didn’t sleep well aboard. I worried about the standing rigging mostly; about the chainplates, about the ground tackle; the important stuff that can break and get you in trouble. I had accepted ownership of a boat already 20 years old and had no real idea if anything was on the verge of breaking.

The scary fact is lots of people put to sea or at least sail offshore in such boats—ones that have earned no respect yet because someone else owned them, sailed them, and maybe repaired and improved them properly—or maybe didn’t. To them, safety at sea is a shiny new life raft canister strapped to the cabin top, an emergency locator beacon so someone can come save you, and a GPS so any fool can sort of navigate. Yet, until you know your boat’s real condition and the real level of sea worthiness, sailing should be confined to an afternoon in the bay activity.

For me, rebuilding an old boat is the act of verifying her condition and correcting what is wrong, while bringing the boat up to like new condition, engineered at a strength level that can successfully handle sailing long distances. I’m not sure if you would call it refurbishing, or rebuilding, or restoring; I think of it as re-engineering. For me, going thru the whole boat, every inch gives me the assurance that I know how to fix anything that breaks and that I’ve already beefed up all of her systems so she is not inclined to break. The results let me sleep soundly.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Sailing brings people together the way Christmas does. I have met and sailed with some extremely interesting people. Some have sailed around the world, others have cruised to many distant places. A common trait in all is a lack of boasting about it. Two I will mention here are Jay Walthers and Bert Coalson.

I met Jay as I was pulling into a newly rented slip on the ICW near Cocoa, Florida. His was the next boat over and he appeared on my finger pier to help me tie up--and then commenced to teach me all I didn’t know about tying up a boat. Jay was 89 at the time, a retired sea captain, living alone on his boat. He was slight in build, bald on top with long stringy grey hair on the sides and back almost to his shoulders. What he had forgotten about sailing over the years was more than most people ever learn and he didn’t forget much. He ran away to sea from his home port in Estonia at age 11 as a cabin boy on a square-rigged freighter. By 18 he was captain. Back then, to be promoted to mate you had to be able to sew 200 square feet of sail per day, every day. Over the course of his life he owned a fleet of square-rigged clippers—all of them confiscated by the Nazi government in the 1930’s; a fleet of oil-fired freighters after the war, and a summer home next to Albert Einstein. He was skipper of the famous 71-ft Herreshoff designed Ticonderoga when she was owned by John Hertz (of Yellow Cab and Hertz rental cars) and sailed her to winning the St Petersburg to Havana SORC regatta in 1947, shaving 3.5 hours off the previous best time. When you sailed a Herreshoff-designed boat, even the Bristol 29, with Jay Walthers you really sailed. I learned more in a year of sailing with him than I had in the previous 20.

I met Bert Coalson at the Harborage Marina in St Pete by drooling on the dock beside his beautiful Rhodes one-off ketch Natoma, until he finally climbed down and said Hi. Bert is a retired US Air senior pilot and lives aboard with his wife Lissie. He has a smooth North Carolina accent and salt and pepper gray hair under an inevitable ball cap. At the time he also owned a lovely wood Mason 36 in the slip next to the Bristol. Bert had crewed with Ted Turner on Tenacious, maintained Natoma to absolutely perfect condition and did everything himself, even the stainless. I hear Natoma is back at the Harborage after a year of sailing around Europe. I believe her next voyage might be heading out to the Galapagos islands.

I mentioned being a sailboat nut in the previous post. We are all partly nuts to go sailing and own a boat, but you could be a certifiable sailboat nut:

If every time you step outdoors you automatically check for wind speed and direction.

If you wear deck shoes to work, church, school, and out to a nice dinner.

If buying a new mainsail is as exciting to you as dropping a small block V8 into a 68 Camero is to most guys.

If you actually think about crevice corrosion.

If your quest for an iced drink while sailing leads you to spending an unlimited amount of money (and you don’t care).

If you go straight to the Sports section in Borders to check on the latest sailing books they may have.

If you know what Peukert's law is.

If you know the name of Ferenc Mate’s Westsail 32.

If you can pick out any Phil Rhodes design at a glance.

If you find a pleasing comparison between a yacht’s stern and a woman’s bottom.

If you have ever searched the Internet for the breaking strength of 7x19 wire rope.

If you have ever dunked new deck shoes in sea water as soon as possible.

If you think the movie “The perfect Storm” is a comedy.

If you have a natural distrust of anyone working on your boat.

If you long for the past days of tin-based bottom paint and find it puzzling that a 1000-ft long container ship can have tin-based bottom paint and your boat’s 20-something-ft bottom can’t.

If you find life at 20 degrees of heel satisfying instead of disturbing.

If encountering any other sailboat while sailing means the race is on.

If you sail thru your marina just to piss off power boaters.

If someone asks you “how’s the water here?” and you answer “kind of thin on the east bank” and all they wanted to know was how cold it was.

If you can’t help living by amp hours.

On returning from a sail if you spend more time tying her in her slip than washing her down.

If a romantic stroll is walking the docks at a marina.

If the first universal rule for installing anything on deck or down below is “What can I bang my forehead/elbow/knee/shin/toe on?”.

If the second universal rule is “If I turn her upside down and shake, what happens?”.

If you find the green brown patina of weathered bronze beautiful.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

When it rains in Orlando, it pours big drops that spatter and whack you on the head. It always makes me wish I was on my boat listening to the rain. For some weird reason I have never been a fan of bad weather ashore, but love it if I'm on my boat tucked into some little cove. It's a great place to read or nap away the weather, and with the boat on the hard since the beginning of the year, and expected to be in my side yard for another year, I do miss those little coves.

It rained today; three times, which ruined my chances for spraying the mast. Instead, I epoxied the old roller reefing gooseneck on the Bristol so the boom will no longer rotate. I had disabled the roller reefing mechanism years ago when I converted the boat to slab reefing, but never got around to locking the position of the boom versus the gooseneck. Today I filled it full of epoxy and it sure won't rotate anymore.

The idea of locking the boom so it won't rotate at the gooseneck came to me at a traffic light Friday morning. It was on a list in the back of my head, but hadn't surfaced to cogitate about in years. When I drive to work, it's an hour I use to think about boat projects--I'd rather meditate about engineering solutions to the boat then listen to music--the sign of a true boat nut, I guess. Friday I was driving along thinking about the midboom sheeting attachment, and the stresses involved, and suddenly realized I can't have the boom rotating anymore. It would fuck up the leads for the outhaul that goes forward on the port side to a turning block and down to another turning block at the base of the mast. However, with the boom able to rotate, it means the lead would only be fair when the boom is centerd over the boat. So I have to dredge up all my old thinking about the subject, and start mulling over possible solutions.

Then it rained. So I spent the time with epoxy and some drilling and now the lead will be fair for the outhaul. End of one of about a million little problems.