Paying it forward and the layup from Hell…

Over the years, more times than I can count, cruisers have gone out of their way to help as Brenda and I ventured further afield, cruising new areas.  When we went “international” with visits to the Bahamas, Cuba and most recently, the eastern Caribbean, this help became more important than ever with fellow cruisers always willing to lend a hand or offer advice.

Our first real contact with the cruising community was at Gams, events, put on by the Seven Seas Cruising Association, SSCA,  in 2012 on our first trip down the  ICW.  Among the first of these events was at the SSCA Melbourne Gam in FL where we met many cruisers, some of whom remain fast friends to this day.Along the way we have been given great advice on how to prepare for for travels to far away places, lent cars, helped with laundry, shopping and were guests at their homes and yacht clubs.   Others spent months traveling with us, “buddy boating” along the way, as we learned the ways of living aboard for extended periods.

Among the most memorable for us are Harry and Melinda of Sea Schell and Bill and Maureen of Kalunamoo.  Both couples stayed close as we made our first trip down the ICW, crossed the Gulf Stream and explored the Bahamas in 2012 and 2013.  Here’s Brenda on a beach, shortly after our arrival in the Bahamas, near Nassau with Harry and Bill.Before crossing to the Bahamas, where we cruised with both couples for much of that first season, while we were waiting in Ft Lauderdale for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas, they treated Brenda to a much needed celebration on her birthday.  She was feeling more than a bit homesick and it really cheered her up.  With all the help and nurturing that we have received over the years from the cruising community, I have felt compelled to do what I can to “pay it forward”.  The idea of “doing to others as they have done to you” is nothing new, but in many ways, it is perhaps one of the things that what makes the community of people who live on small boats so special as so many that we have met over the years clearly feel the same way.   In the SSCA, this is called “leaving a clean wake”.  

When Brenda and I headed south back in 2012 for our first “big kid” trip down the ICW and on to the Bahamas, we were very touched by all of the help we received as we came in contact with some of the most generous people we had ever met.

Based on this experience I decided, more than seven years ago, that I would host, with the hope of my fellow SSCA member George, what became an annual Gam in Essex CT for cruisers at the Essex Yacht Club.  I also decided to sign up as an SSCA Cruising Station Host and more recently, port officer for the Ocean Cruising Club, again to help members of those two groups when they visited Essex.

A few years ago I also joined the board of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association and worked out all the details for an annual arrival of the rally fleet in Antigua.  I now serve as Port Captain for the fleet’s arrival every November when perhaps more than 60 cruising boats will make landfall at the island.

I have also spent considerable time giving talks and writing for various publications, all with the hope that I can inspire those who might be thinking of “casting off the dock lines” to do just that and head out.  In my way I continue to try and help others as others have inspired us over the years, to try and pay it forward.

Fast forward the seven years since our first Gam in Essex and last weekend George and I hosted our Open Blue Water Boat weekend, the biggest yet.  This year’s event was a bit different as we decided to include, in addition to SSCA, members of the Ocean Cruising Club and Salty Dawg Sailing Association.    We also narrowed our focus to blue water sailing with a bit of “where to go” thrown in to round out the mix.

We had nearly 100,  a capacity crowd.  It was great.  Sailors came from all over by land and sea, with about 20 boats and crew arriving by boat.  I thought it would be fun to display a selection of “well traveled boats” so that attendees could see, first hand, the types of boats that make long ocean treks.  I selected six representative, well traveled, boats to be on the docks, open for tours and it turned out to be a great idea.  Unfortunately Pandora, also a great cruising and blue water boat, wasn’t on display as the canvas guy, after months of promises, had still not installed the headliner, to my extreme distress.

However, we had some great boats on display including Misto, arriving in Essex less than a month after completing a 2 1/2 year circumnavigation beginning and ending in St Lucia.  She’s a great example of a modern catamaran, so popular with the cruising set these days. I was particularly intrigued with this lovely Joshua 40, painted in the red signature color of the original Joshua that Bernard Moitessier made famous for being perhaps the fastest boat in the Golden Globe around the world alone, non-stop race back in 1968.  I say “probably” the fastest as he decided, when he neared the end of the race, to drop out and just go around again.   Many boats of the “Joshua” design were launched along the way and this one, Petronella, is  particularly well kept and likely more fully fitted out with all sorts of modern equipment than Bernard’s Joshua.This catamaran, Angel Louise, owned by the current president of SSCA, has a lot of blue water miles under her keel and some unique accomplishments having completed the “great loop” on the waterways of both the US and Western Europe.  The US great loop is an interesting inland trip and there is a group, the America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association, dedicated to this effort, once again proving that if you are not a member of at least one association, you are not trying hard enough.  They call themselves, fittingly, Loopers.  While very little of this voyage qualifies as blue water, it is impressive, never the less. I had never heard of the western Europe loop.  It’s too, is quite a trek, with a good deal of blue water sailing thrown in. With modern cruising boats growing in scale every year, I was thrilled to have this little gem, Entr’acte, on the dock for tours.  Her owners have cruised far and wide, with thousands of blue water miles to show for their nearly 20 years aboard.  She’s beautifully fitted out for long distance cruising and there’s even an aft cabin for some privacy, something that is in short supply on a 25′ boat. Co-owner Ed, looks like he’s enjoying all the attention and there was a great deal of interest in his charming and beautifully outfitted yacht indeed. As has been the case for several years now, weather router Chris Parker made the trip up from FL, presenting on both Saturday and Sunday.  He was, as always, a great speaker, making the complex topic of weather understandable with careful explanations.  I particularly liked his presentation, “how to think like a weather router” and was glad to have him with us again. And when I say “with us” that’s also because he stayed at our home and did his Monday morning broadcast from my home office.  After hearing him on the radio so many times over the years,  I was tickled to have him stay with us again.  And, I “ain’t lyin”, as there’s proof, a photo of me and Brenda on our wedding day up on the shelf to prove that he was there.We were also thrilled to have the USCG with us including a helicopter rescue pilot Lt, Kate Dacimo, who shared some fascinating stories of rescues that she has participated in.  We were also treated to a visit by a 29′ rescue boat and crew that offered tours.    They seemed much less anxious about us boarding them than we are about them greeting us with “permission to come aboard”.   And, we learned that they NEVER take off their boots.

As an interesting side note, this little 29′ cutter cost a cool $4,000,000.  I wonder how much their toilet seat cost?It was great to hear about their experiences, first hand. I wonder how often the have to break out the gun that goes on that stand in the bow. We had plenty of sessions over the two days, and I won’t try to recap them all but there was lots of give and take with “experts” from the audience sharing their years of knowledge.  We were even treated to a live Winslow life-raft deployment demo.  One of the boats at our event came complete with their growing family who willingly volunteered to be “rescued”.  It was so much fun to watch the three of them pull the cord and “pop” the raft on the lawn.   Love the shades.
While all three sponsoring associations were well represented, OCC wins the prize with the largest burgee.  I had to stand on our deck for Brenda to properly photograph it.   Yesterday I put it in the mail to it’s next stop, the OCC New England Cruise.  As of the end of the season, the “great flag” will have been on display at nearly a dozen events with Essex just number two on the list.
All and all, the weekend was a terrific success and I now find myself wondering what to do about next year as George and I are pretty pooped and don’t think that we really want to do the whole thing over again, all by ourselves.  Wana run an event?  We’ll tell you how it’s done.

In past years, I only gave myself one week or so after the event before I started to look for speakers for the next year.   Not this time.  I’m going to focus on getting Pandora completed and ready to cruise.

Unfortunately, due to the endless delays from the canvas guy who is supposed to be renewing the headliner, I was not able to put Pandora on display at the event and it pained me to have so many at the meeting ask where she was.   With all the delays, it was only last week that she finally splashed, sans headliner and far from complete.

My friend Gerry, when hearing about my travails, made this observation,  “…it appears the “Layup from Hell” may be ending soon, I feel your pain.”

So, there you have it, one more installment of me working hard to “pay it forward” and now that Pandora is back in the water I can focus on paying the bills.

Yesterday the canvas guy finally showed up to begin the install.   Wish me luck, I’ll need it.

Maine beckons and none too soon.



When spring commissioning becomes a refit…

Well, It’s getting close to launch time for Pandora and what a long road and winding road to the water it has been.  Perhaps she’ll go in tomorrow or Wednesday.   Fingers crossed.   I sure hope so, as I want to bring her to my event at the Essex Yacht Club this weekend, the Open Blue Water Boat Weekend.    It’s going to be a great event with a capacity crowd of 100, our biggest event yet in seven years.

Here’s her cover coming off last week. There have been so many projects and new “stuff” since she was last in the water.  The mast and new standing rigging (last fall) is all set up and ready to step when she splashes.  As the owner of the mast to the right from a J30 said to me, “that’s a mast and a half, you’ve got there.”   I agree.Her cushions and area rugs are clean and ready.  I was grossed out to see the nasty dirt that was sucked out of them and equally amazed with how bright and new they look. It took a surprising amount of time to do this seemingly simple job.  That’s a lot of parts.  The unbelievably frustrating and painful mast step fix is done and back in place.  That’s if a lowly step can be beautiful, this one is.  Well, it’s beautiful to me given the months of sweat that went into the effort of summoning the nerve to do it, removing the screws, cleaning up and refinishing and putting it back in place. Look simple?  Lest you forget, dear reader, this is what I started with.  All the old halogen and fluorescent fixtures are gone, panels recovered with new vinyl and fixtures replaced with LED lights and lovely LED white/red dome lighting.  I expect that these lights will be somewhat brighter.  That little detail should be a big hit with Brenda who has long suffered with poor lighting while attempting to do delicate hand work in the evenings. Below, two of the nearly 20 new lights.We will be warm and toasty while we are under power, on those evening passages in the fall and while we are in Maine this summer, compliments of our new engine driven heater.  Brenda will love her potty again with her shiny new evacuation pump, one of the three pumps that it takes to run her potty.  Who would have guessed that a potty needs three motors?Dining aboard will be just a bit more civilized with our newly varnished dining table. And there should be fewer, I hope none, drips below as I have pulled and re-bedded just about everything that went “drip in the night” and a few that didn’t, just to be sure. And, speaking of drips, the newly installed drip-less prop shaft seal, all blue and shiny and newly “restored” CV joint, to the right.  That CV joint was a big job, let me tell you.  And that’s saying something as my contribution in getting it done was limited to writing a check, ditto for the seal. I really tried to address every little detail to make Pandora ready to be her best, down to polishing the plexi hatch panels.  If it’s possible to see beauty in a flat piece of plastic, these are worthy now.
And even the tiny details of putting plastic shims under the ends of the solar panels to be sure that they are perfectly level did not escape my attention.  No more aft drooping solar panels for Pandora.  Yes, I know, her stainless needs polishing.  I’ll get to it soon, I promise.And, of course, who could forget newly renewed caulk on the dodger windows.  And that took several years for me to even build up the nerve to tackle.  It wasn’t easy but less daunting than I had feared. And, I even found a way to re-use the old dimmer switch holders, the only way I was able to fit a “round peg (dimmer) into a square hole”, in the bulkhead.  Pretty nifty, if you ask me.  They took a lot longer to do than their humble looks, would suggest.   And, they even have a lovely colored ring around the button, green, blue or orange, depending on which state the lights are in, on, off or dimmed.   So, exciting?  To me they are.New chaps, engine cover and seat, in matching grey, of course. And, speaking of matching, who can forget Pandora’s new “clothes”, a lovely grey paint job.  If you follow this blog, you will recall that I really beat the “color thing” to death, with renderings of her in multiple colors.  Just to be sure.  I even had small panels painted “just to be sure”.  I even have new fender covers on order, monogrammed of course, and in grey to compliment and protect that expensive paint.

Oh, so many things to obsess about, my specialty.

And, under the category of “how did I break that?”, I was working on my binnacle compass the other day and dropped it.  Broken you say?  Not a problem as I was able to purchase repair parts.  However, when I looked for the compass to fit the new parts to, I was UNABLE TO FIND IT, in spite of tearing every conceivable area on board and at home apart, no compass.

I ultimately had to purchase a new shiny compass.  Here it is in place.  Looks grand.  However, if you look closely, you’ll see that the sun cover doesn’t fully retract as it hits the instrument cluster above it.  No problem, all I have to do is to move that cluster up 1/2″.   Isn’t it ALWAYS SOMETHING?   Today’s project.  Well, solving that problem is just one of today’s projects.Alas, all is not lost as Pandora looks great.  Isn’t she shiny?  You can even see my little truck reflected in her so shiny paint.Ok,  I’ve admitted it, I have done plenty of obsessing about getting Pandora just right” and with nearly a year to think about what needed to be done, there was  ample time to obsess about every little thing.  While “obsessing” perhaps overstates the point, I have also found myself wondering, for the past few months, no make that the past year, as Pandora’s “to do” list continued to grow, is when does spring commissioning becomes a refit.

The company that painted Pandora last summer promoted themselves as a “refit company” prepared to do whatever repairs or upgrades would be needed.    This term, “refit” is often used to describe what happens when a superyacht is put into a yard for months of upgrades.  Somehow, that just sounds more impressive than “ashore to fix broken stuff”.

So, the question is that as Pandora about to be commissioned, and it had better be in the next two days, after being out of the water for the better part of a year, is it spring commissioning our was it a refit?

Now that I look back on all that I accomplished over the winter, on our home, Pandora and for Brenda, especially those projects for Brenda as that gains me “Time aboard Pandora points”,  I realize that I was able to catch up on a great deal of “deferred maintenance” both at home and aboard Pandora, perhaps the term “spring commissioning” really doesn’t apply.

So, what about all that happened with Pandora while she’s been “on the hard”, was it a refit or commissioning?  In including the mix of items I detailed above, here’s a mostly complete list of what was done to Pandora, in the last year and especially since last spring when I returned from Antigua.

The list, in no particular order…

The stuff I hired out.

  • Topside painting, changed from hunter green to light grey.  She looks awesome!  A clear number one on the “boat dollar” scale.
  • Standing rod rigging replaced, also consuming an alarming number of boat dollars.
  • Zipper sail cover (new in Antigua, Spring, 2018)
  • Dripless seal on the propeller shaft
  • Rebuilt CV shaft bearing on prop shaft.  Replacement not available. but that would have been way cheaper.
  • Shaft warp cutter repaired and upgraded.  Spurs Unit.
  • Pandora logo on boom along with larger graphics on hull
  • Full cockpit enclosure (new in 2018)
  • Main and jib serviced, twice actually.  New Jib to come this fall.  Brenda’s thrilled about that.
  • Canvas chaps, for dink, engine cover and seat with pocket (Bequia, May 2018)
  • Refurbished plotters, Raymarine E-120 with new LED back-lighting
  • Rebuilt bilge pump for bow thruster compartment.   I removed and re-installed.
  • New hydraulic fittings on lines going to the boom.

The stuff I did myself.

  • Lazyjacks, new line.and several hundred feet of it, no less.
  • Engine driven cabin heater, in addition to a diesel heater that was there already.
  • Upgraded battery box and two new AGM batteries for bow thruster
  • New AGM starter battery.
  • Most of interior head liner renewed.  I did a huge amount of prep work on this but the headliner materials will be installed by Chad, the guy who did my great enclosure.  This was a huge job, still not done but it’s supposed to be done tomorrow, none too soon.
  • All halogen puck lights replaced with dimable LED.  This involved a good deal of new wiring.  Sound simple?  It wasn’t.
  • New LED compatible dimmers for three sets of puck lights.
  • All overhead fluorescent lights replaced with white/red led domes.  With all those red lights, down below at night will look like an outtake from “Hunt for Red October”.
  • Interior trim kits for all opening Lewmar ports.  This upgrade sounded like it would be easy but is turning out to require a great deal of careful fitting, and there are 8 of them to fit.
  • Resealing of three tempered glass windows in hard dodger.
  • Upgraded supports for solar panels on radar arch.  Small change using a very tall ladder, but looks much better to me.  They were not perfectly level.  Bugged me to no end.
  • Polished all plexiglass on hatchway
  • Rebuilt electric head.  Yes, they are electric.  Who knew?
  • Re-tapped screws in binnacle compass, removed it, dropped it, purchased new parts, lost the compass (I have no idea where it is now) and had to purchase a brand new replacement and it doesn’t quite fit.  Details, details…
  • re-varnished cockpit dining table
  • re-varnished main dining table in cabin.
  • Shampooed all interior cushions and carpet
  • Removed and reset mast step.  That was a particularly painful job.

Whew!  It’s exhausting just to write the list.

So, when does commissioning become a refit?  I present that what I have done to Pandora over the last year is best described as a refit and oh boy, has it taken a lot of boat dollars and “me hours” to accomplish.

Yes, it’s been quite a slog to get Pandora ready but it’s almost time to splash and begin some cruising.  In a day or two?  Details to come.

As far as getting Pandora into the water, she was supposed to go in last week, then today so perhaps tomorrow.

Details to come is all I can say.

So, commissioning or refit?  I don’t know what you think but it sure seems to me that the work has securely tipped into the “refit” category.

And, all the while I have been working on my Blue Water Weekend at the Essex Yacht Club that’s happening this weekend with many details to deal with and a sold out crowd of 100.

So,spring commissioning or refit?  What do you think?

90% preparation, 10% execution and showing up.

It is often said that most projects in life are 90% preparation and 10% execution, not to mention that some suggest that 80% of success is often just showing up.  Combined, this suggests that a lot of work goes into a project just preparing for the job.

So, as I think back on all of the projects that I’ve done on Pandora, it does indeed take a REALLY LONG TIME to prepare for just about any project.

First, as there were only three of these boats built and the company folded up shop shortly after commissioning Pandora, hull #3, there is nobody to call and ask about what is attached to what or how the boat was put together.  This means that I often have no idea of what I am getting into and what “lies behind the curtain.”   In every way, and I’ve said this before, working on Pandora is a scavenger hunt.

Last fall I showed the rigger the corroded heads on the bolts that held the mast step in place and after only a moment he said “They don’t look to good Bob, you’d better pull one and check it”,  Ok, got it but that proved to be way easier said than done.   For the first order of business I spent months sweating about exactly how I was going to do that as the space where the step is housed is impossibly tight with wires and hoses snaking every which way and all very close to the bolts that needed to come out.

Obviously, the first thing to do was to put a wrench on the bolt and try to back it out.  No good, as the heads were pretty well corroded and the wrench just turned and turned.  No movement at all. So what to do?  Finally, after several months of “thinking” but not “doing” along with a good deal of applications of  various products designed to release corroded bolts, I decided to drill into the head of one a bolt and tried to pull it out with a screw remover, a sort of reverse screw that you thread into a hole drilled in a stuck bolt, used to “extract” the bolt.

I know that I have gone over much of this already in prior posts and you might be asking yourself “Why Bob, why go over this all again now?”

Because, of all the projects that I have done on Pandora this was one of the toughest and surely the most frustrating I  have done.  More than once, over the winter, I left the boat after hours of frustrating work, without making much progress, feeling like Pandora was “executing” me.   How many times I said to myself and anyone who would listen that “I wish I had never tried to get those bolts out” they were so well secured it was clear that they would NEVER come out on their own, a fear that motivated me to tackle this “fix” in the first place.

However, I kept going as the idea of the base of the mast coming loose and banging around down below was a terrifying thought.

In order to get a decent purchase on the bolt with a wrench, I drilled into the bolt heads and pulled with an extractor, drilled bigger holes and put in larger extractors and pulled some more.  I tried everything I could, abrasive cutters, cobalt drill bits, all broken and still the bolts wouldn’t move.  There was simply nothing that I could do would loosen them. and it wasn’t until I just gave up and ground the heads off of all four bolts, with a carbide burr run by an air compressor, that I was able to lift the step up and cut off the remainder of the bolts flush with the step.

Finally, FINALLY, I was able to get the step out of the boat but the old bolts were still there, if ground down flush and I still had to somehow reinstall the step.  This meant that I now had to drill new holes immediately adjacent to the old bolts and do that in a very tight location.  First I took the aluminum step to a welder who filled the old holes.  Then I ground them flush.  They didn’t look pretty at all and there was some electrolysis from the stainless bolts that had not been properly bedded against the aluminum. As I could not get the old bolts out, I had no idea about how thick the mast step was.  First I marked the step to be sure that I could drill the new holes as close to the old bolts as possible and yet not too close to the edge of the step casting.

The rigger predicted that the fiberglass step would be at least 2″ thick, perhaps more.  I drilled and he was right, 2.5″.   With that in mind, I used 2.5″ lag bolts.  I marked the spots where the old bolts were and drilled as close to them as I dared and “dry fitted” the bolts in place.   Everything fit.  Good to go…One of the problems with the old stainless bolts and why they corroded so badly, is that they had not been properly bedded to insulate them from the aluminum in the step.   Stainless is a more “noble” metal, and when you attach two different types of metal, the one that is “less noble” looses.  In this case, the stainless bolts won and the aluminum corroded badly.  That is caused by a mild electric current that flows between two dissimilar metals.  The result of this is a process of “electrolysis” that causes a lot of corrosion to both metals, especially with aluminum, which it did.

There are products that can be used to “isolate” dissimilar metals and keep them from corroding and I lubed up the bolts carefully before snugging them in place.

All done.  Note the electrical cable in the upper right.  That’s to direct power to the sea, from the mast, in the event of a lightning strike, something that I don’t want to think about.

Anyway, the step is back in place and it took less than an hour. Wasn’t that easy?

No, not really, and a perfect example of how many things in life are indeed 90% preparation…

I guess that goes double for boats and with Pandora add the fact that I have nobody to call for advice so I have to just stumble my way around.  Well, at least I can take satisfaction in knowing that the job is done and I did it myself.   Yea, I cling to that.

Next project.  The lists is long and time is short.   Less than two weeks till launch.

Sure hope that the canvas guy shows up on Tuesday.    Talk about 90% prep.  I don’t even want to think about how many hours it took to prep for the replacement of the headliner.

As I’ll be paying him to put it all back together, let’s hope that it’s only 10% of my prep time.

Fingers crossed…

It’s becoming clearer now, sort of…

It’s the long Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer on the water, and Pandora is still on the hard.  Land locked or not, as the days tick by, plans for the summer are, sort of, coming into focus.

There’s a lot of activities in the pipeline for Pandora in the coming months beginning with my event, the Open Blue Water Boat Weekend, June 21st to 23rd in Essex.

As we have, for the past six years, my friend George and I will be hosting cruisers from all over at the Essex Yacht Club for 2+ days of events, kicking off with a rendezvous in Hamburg Cove, about a mile up the river from the club.

In past years we have done this event with the Seven Seas Cruising Association, a group that I credit with helping me and Brenda gain the experience and nerve to head out on our first long trip down the ICW and on to the Bahamas way back in 2012.  Since then we have cruised further afield, to Cuba and for the last few years, the eastern Caribbean.

I mention this as it was because of the wonderful support that we received from members of SSCA that I decided to do an event with the intent of “paying it forward” to help cruisers as others have helped me and Brenda for so many years.

For this years event, George and I decided that we’d also extend an invitation to members of the Ocean Cruising Club and Salty Dawg Sailing Association.  That proved to be a very good decision as the response has been just terrific and we reached capacity six weeks before the event.  I have to say that we are very disappointed to be turning people away and while we decided to rent a small tent we still had to start a waiting list.   One person, who missed signing up, said he’s coming anyway with the hope that there is at least one last minute no-show.

Unfortunately, to expand attendance beyond about 100, it would complicate things a lot and require renting a tent for thousands of dollars as well as getting police and fire departments involved.   That would be just too much for us to handle given our “committee of two” handling all of the logistics, promotion, speakers.

So, here I am, with only a few weeks until the event begins, working hard, in between gardening, home projects etc, to get Pandora ready to go in the water.

Now that I was finally able to get the mast step out of the boat, I am now in a good position to put it back with new bolts.  After so many hours of grinding it doesn’t look like much, just a bare area of fiberglass.On Wednesday I will take the step to to a welder to have the old holes filled.  After that, I’ll drill new holes adjacent to the old bolts that have been cut flush with the step.  Even though the remains of the old bolts are still in place, the rigger says that this is a perfectly fine approach as the bulk of the pressure is downward and only a small amount of shear force.  I’ll be sure to install the new bolts with some sort of release agent or caulking like Life Seal, which is what the rigger recommends if I want the step to be removable in the future.  Additionally, I’ll spray a thick lubricant/sealer on the heads to keep them from becoming corroded.  Frankly, I doubt that I will own Pandora when it’s time to deal with corroded bolts again.

There’s one thing for sure, I don’t want to ever have to tackle this project again.    You wouldn’t think that something so simple could take so long. I’ll post photos of the step installation as I put it in, probably in my next post.

The big project that continues to hold things up is the installation of the new head liner, and I have been having trouble getting the canvas guy to commit to a date to take care of it.  It looks terrible, like some sort of derelict boat.  I am optimistic that he will be able to do it this coming week when the all important Memorial Day Weekend will be history.  For now, Pandora’s salon looks like a construction zone.  Or should I say storage container? I am also renewing the caulk around the large tempered glass windows in the dodger.   I was able to dig the old caulk out with a tool that I made from an old metal file.  I heated up the narrow end with a torch, bent it 90 degrees and ground it to a sharp edge.  It worked well to remove the old caulking but it still looks messy.  And, with something like 30′ of caulk to renew, it’s a big project.  It took hours for me to clean out all the old caulk.  I should have actually taken the windows out completely but I didn’t have the nerve so I’ll just renew the exposed caulk for now and try something more severe when things decay further, down the road. As far as what to use to replace the caulk, I spoke to someone who specializes in renewing hatches on boats and he recommended Sika 295 caulking along with a special primer and a cleaner to prepare the surface.  The primer was nearly $100 for a one pint can.  I hope it works.   The caulk is made for industrial use, specifically for glazing and sticks much better when it is put on a surface that is well prepared.  Or, so I am told…

I also decided that “while I’m at it” I’d do some varnishing and removed the salon dining table.  It was done in a mat finish and I thought it would look better with a high gloss.  It’s been tough to get a good finish as it had been sprayed with furniture polish so many times over the years that the varnish kept flattening out and developing “fish eyes” in the finish.  I would lay on a perfect coat of varnish and then some spots would would develop and look terrible.  I sanded the entire top again and again, three times, before I got it right.  This photo doesn’t show the problem all that well but the white smudge to the left of the long white reflection is one of the flat spots.   The long white streak is a reflection. However, it looks pretty good now and I am going to call it done, even though there are a few dust specs here and there.  I  used gloss Epifanes, varnish, the best you can buy.  Great stuff and quite a shine, if you ask me. So, there’s a lot left to do but I am making progress, slowly but surely and am finally feeling like I can make it toward launching on a timeline assuming that the canvas guy finishes the headliner.

Speaking of timelines, I hope to launch on or about June 14th and then spend a week getting her ready and the mast back in and stepped.  Remember that I had new standing rigging put on her last fall.

Following the launch, I’ll take her to the Essex Yacht Club and our event where she will be on display as one of the “blue water equipped boats” for the event attendees to tour.

Then,  off to Bridgeport to have her waterline “adjusted” to better reflect the actual trim of Pandora fully loaded with the dink in the davits.  I am told that it will take a week for the paint work and then back to Essex for a few days of provisioning and on to Maine for much of the summer.  I also will be giving a talk at the Camden Yacht Club as part of their summer speakers series, on July 23rd.

After spending some time in Maine, I’ll either take Pandora to Annapolis for the fall boat show, where I am also giving a talk as part of Cruiser’s University, or directly to Hampton VA where Pandora will stay until I head to Antigua in November.

Other than that, not much going on, just sitting around eating bon bons.

All of this has to be done according to a strict timetable as we have the first birthday for our twin grandchildren in July.  Off to MD for a party.  That will be fun.  Aren’t they cute?Well, there’s lots to do and that doesn’t even get me to the point of preparing for the run to Antigua in November.

Oh yeah, one more thing.  Remember the work I was having done on my little red car with the cracked head and rebuilt transmission?  Well, it’s all done and she runs much better with her rebuilt transmission, fixed head, valve job, rebuilt radiator, distributor and the list goes on and on.  I’m happy to have the car back and she cost, well let’s say it was more than I had expected. Isn’t that always the way it?  Doesn’t she look great up against Pandora in spite of still having her winter cover?  Big boat, little car. I am not sure if everything is clear but at least things are beginning to come into focus.  Let’s hope that the canvas guy can fit me in or all this will seem more like wishful thinking than a plan.




The burning of the socks and a stitch in time saves, well, boat dollars.

Well, it’s getting a lot warmer and I am feeling even more pressure to get Pandora ready for the water.    Just a quick look out of my office window, now green and sunny, suggests that it’s time.Not too long ago, it looked like this and I felt like there was no need to rush. And, speaking of spring, I participated in another tradition at the Essex Yacht Club a few weeks ago, the burning of the socks.  The idea is to get rid of those old socks, the ones you won’t need when it’s warm outside.

Spring or not, it’s not quite warm enough to shed my socks just yet.  Well, at least compared to the last six winters in the tropics where sandals were my footwear of choice.

However, being a “joiner” I had to be part of the fun and true to my “Yankee” upbringing, I only tossed “widowed” socks.  You know, the ones without a mate.  I also made sure that they were “environmentally responsible” socks, cotton only please.   It’s a fun tradition but one that happens in the early spring when I should really be in Antigua, not New England.  Next spring I plan to miss this particular rite of spring.

I understand that this tradition was cribbed from a similar practice that is followed in the sailing hub of Annapolis MD.  So, here I am, nearly in the second half of May and there’s plenty still to do to get Pandora ready.

“So Bob, tell us more.  How are those myriad projects going anyway?”

Well, some well and some not so well.  That pesky mast step, well, it is defying me and I am running out of ideas on how to remove the bolts.  Last week I was finally able to grind off the heads of the two that were more exposed but the two in the back corners are so tight that they are proving to be very tough to get at.  Oh, how I wish I had never gotten into that…

This is an old photo of the step.  Now the two on bolts the left have had their heads removed but the two tucked in the corners are defying me.  Bit after drill bit have broken and still, they won’t budge.   My friend Paul, at the local machine shop, lent me a burr to grind the heads off, when attached to an air powered grinder.  I purchased a  grinder along with a long extension hose for my compressor and loaded it into the back of my tiny truck.   I’ll snake the hose down below and let you know how it goes.  I don’t have much experience with air tools so caution and patience will prevail…  Details to come. And speaking of air tools, I was exposed to some of these metal working gizmos on Friday when I drove to a machine shop near Hartford to pick up the engine head from my 1962 MGA MkII.  Yes, I realize that this blog is supposed to be about boats and not cars but hey, it’s actually pretty interesting.  Well, to me anyway.  I guess you’ll have to be the judge.

Anyway, when we purchased our little red car shortly after moving to CT I knew that the syncro for second gear was shot and after grinding my way into second gear for six years, I decided that it was time to have the transmission rebuilt. That didn’t seem to be a terribly daunting project except that the entire engine needed to be removed to get at the gear box.   It’s all rebuilt now and looks as good as new. That circa 1962 engine, well it didn’t turn out to be very happy and that it’s issues went way beyond the gear problem.  Indeed, it gets worse.  “While we’re at it and the engine is out of the car, let’s check everything and see what else needs attention”, says the mechanic.   And, he did and found that the cam shaft was worn and it also needed a valve job.   Ugg…

Anyway, this has absolutely nothing to do with boats except that I learned something really interesting about fixing engines which matters unless you are one of those rare ones that believes that sailboats should ALWAYS be sailed, so read on…The head, now removed as you can see from the photo above, turned out to need love so off to a machine shop it went for a valve job.  As luck would have it, they discovered that the head had a number of cracks.  Not good, I thought, wondering how many “boat dollars” would be siphoned off to the MG.

I had always heard that a crack in cast iron was a death sentence but now know that may not be the case at all.   It turns out that there are folks out in the world that can fix this sort of problem.   Complicating all of this is the fact that my MG is an hour away at the repair shop, the head an hour away in a different direction at a machine shop and the head needed to go to yet another shop and a guy that fixes same, two hours farther away.  This guy Frank, it seems, does nothing but repair cracks in old cast iron engine parts.

Beyond wondering how much that repair was going to cost me, I also wondered how much it was going to cost to have someone deliver the cracked head to the specialist and then drive back and pick it up.  So, being a good boat dollar pinching Yankee, I decided to devote Friday to being a “cracked MG head delivery service” and resigned myself to spending the entire day in the car.

Anyway, not to get too much deeper into the weeds about all this, but it turned out to be a really fascinating day.   First I drove the hour to the machine shop tucked inside an old brick mill building on the edge of a waterfall.  While all of his equipment is powered by electricity, some of the machines in his shop looked like they were made only shortly after water power was replaced by electric.

It was really a cool place, greasy and dirty and the beaming smile on the face of the owner Mark made it clear that he was thinking about how much he’s making fixing all of those old engines.  There were engines everywhere I looked, in various states of disassembly along  with some really shiny newly rebuilt engines.  Perhaps my favorite, all ready for the owner to pick it up, was a beautiful 12 cylinder red monster, on the right, from an antique fire engine.   Awesome! So, I loaded my sad little cracked MG engine head into the car and off I went to that special place that heals sick engine heads in MA.

There I met Frank Casey, a guy that does nothing else but fix cracks in cast iron parts.  His shop was tucked away in the basement of this little tiny house at the end of a road in a residential neighborhood.  There was a button on the jam of the garage door that said “push button and hold”, so I did and a moment later I was greeted by Frank who reminded me of Giuseppe of Pinocchio fame, leather apron and all.

His business card says that he does “metal stitching of cast iron”.   That’s it, the only thing that he does, aside from finding cracks that need stitching, of course.

His shop, impossibly crammed with tools and engine parts, had a wood burning stove happily chugging away only adding to the Giuseppe image I had in my head.  Notice the temperature gauge on the smoke pipe for the stove.  This was clearly the workshop of a very precise guy. Amazingly, he agreed to fix the head in a few hours and instructed me to head to a local mall for lunch and to return at 12:30.   I did and returned just in time to watch him finish up the repair.

The key point, I learned, is that you can’t apply heat to fix a crack in cast iron, it needs to be fixed by a cold process using a mix of threaded rods and heat-proof adhesive.   First he confirmed the location of the cracks, all located in the number 1 cylinder, and set to work.

This involved drilling into the crack, first at the inside or terminus of the crack.  It was important to stabilize the crack and keep it from getting any longer, something that he says is inevitable once a crack begins.  Frank carefully drilled, threaded in some sort of special metal rod and then filed off the remainder flush to the surface of the head.  He then followed with additional holes and plugs that overlapped and connected to the prior threaded insert.  After filing the inserts flush, he used a pneumatic “tapper” to peen the metal in even more securely.  I was exacting work.
And, all of this very precise work was in great contrast to a chaotic riot of stuff everywhere I looked. In his “operating theater” a wall of tools in perfect order.  Interestingly, he doesn’t bother to switch bits or grinding heads as that takes too long.  Instead, he has every tool dedicated to it’s own pneumatic drill or hammer.  It’s the picture of efficiency, in every way.   Frank is the picture of precise time and motion. 
When he was confident that the cracks were filled and secure, he took multiple clamps, metal wedges and temporary gaskets to cover each of the cooling chamber openings in the head so that he could pressure test the casting and be absolutely certain that his repairs were perfect.   It was hard to follow with his quick movements but it was clear that he knew exactly what he was doing.He turned up the pressure to see if it held.  While the head was pressurized, he applied a liberal coating of WD40 to check for bubbles of escaping air from problems in the head casting.  There were none.  As expected…The whole process took about an hour and was fascinating.  It surely demonstrated that it pays to have work done by someone that does this sort of thing every day and in Frank’s case, all day, every day.

Fortunately the cracks the head were very short, about a half inch long so the repair was simple, well simple for Frank.  He’s fixed a lot worse and proudly showed me a photo of a repair that was huge on what he labeled as a “409 blk”.   The repairs show up like a nasty scar on Frankenstein.   Pretty impressive. Frank is a remarkable craftsman, clearly knows what he’s doing and is proud of his work.  He told me that parts are shipped to him from all over including many from cars that are worth a fortune, the sort shown at Pebble Beach.   I’d put a link to the guy but he doesn’t have email and certainly nothing like a newfangled website.   

You have to know the right people to find him and I guess that I do.  I called Frank yesterday to tell him that I’d be writing about him and would like to send a link but, he doesn’t have a computer or a cell phone, much less e-mail.   I am here to say that if you find yourself needing a “stitch” Frank’s you’re guy.  He’s located in Millbury, MA, and can be reached at 508-865-6613.

As fascinating as this was, the day did absolutely nothing to move Pandora closer to launch but now I know that if somehow we end up with a crack in her engine, perish the thought, well, Frank is standing by and ready to fix it.

As they say, “a stitch in time” saves, well I expect that it saved me at least one boat dollar”, and that’s a good thing as, with Pandora, they keep piling up.

Or, put it another way, unlike my socks, I don’t want to see to many “boat dollars” go up in smoke.



Finally, putting it back together.

It’s been a very long winter, for me anyway, having to wear closed toe shoes for months now.  Can you imagine?  Well, it’s getting warmer now and happily, yesterday was a first of the season and Brenda and I were able to sit outside on the deck.  What a welcome change.  Things are looking up even if it wasn’t warm enough for sandals.   Even the hummingbirds have returned from their winter in the tropics.

After months of tearing things apart on Pandora I am happy to say that I am now beginning to put things back together, bit by bit.

I finished the installation of the cabin heater and was pleased to find that I had done everything right after it was checked by the mechanic at the marina.  He also pressure tested the engine and found that the source of the anti-freeze leak was limited to a single loose hose clamp.  I had feared the worse, perhaps a bad water pump.

As I have mentioned before, the basic plumbing for an auxiliary heater was installed when the boat was built but I was a bit unclear as to whether it was installed on the boats’ cooling system in the correct way.   Fortunately, it was.

Here’s a shot of the system in place.  It looks pretty tidy but getting it there was a bit of a knuckle buster given the tight confines.   To keep fluid flow even, they recommend that I make the bends in the cooling hoses as gentle as possible.   There’s the heater itself, on the right.  And, the starter battery on the left.  I wonder if it’s time to replace that too?This is the switch to control the heater fan.  There are three fan speeds and two vents.    It’s located on the front of the settee in the main salon so it will offer easy access.  I hope that it won’t be “easy breaking” as well.   I am hopeful that the cushion, right above it, will keep it out of harm’s way.   That’s also the vent, right below it.  It can be opened and rotated to direct the, hopefully, hot air. As I have mentioned in prior posts, a lot of the overhead panels were badly damaged from dripping water coming from badly bedded fittings on deck.  The granny bars, near the mast were particularly bad offenders.  Here’s quite a stack of panels that needed recovering, about a dozen.The vinyl on each panel was held in place by hundreds of staples, something like 500 per panel, many rusted beyond hope.  I had to pry each one loose with a screwdriver and then pull it out with a pair of pliers.  Talk about repetitive motion injury.

I ended up with some blisters after two days tedious prying and pulling.   There were staples literally every half inch in the velcro and many more under that holding the vinyl.   This was one of the better panels.  Others were so badly rusted that the velcro just pulled off.   Of course, that left a mess of bent rusted staples behind. Many of the panels are scored to allow them to bend to follow the curves of the ceiling.  In many cases, they were cracked so I had to reinforce them with even more staples, stainless steel now. All of the panels are cleaned up now and out for recovering.   I was going to recover them myself at the canvas shop but Chad decided that he didn’t have room for me to spread out and is going to handle this himself.   Oh boy, this process is going to get even more expensive.  Let’s hope he can finish them fast, really fast.

After he’s done I’ll take them to Pandora and decide how to affix the new LED lighting fixtures.  Oh yeah, I had to remove all of the puck lights from the panels.  Not a great move so now I get to add even more new lighting to the list of purchases.   I hope it’s not too obvious that the new ones don’t match the others.  I am hoping that if I put the new fixtures in the forward cabin that will minimize the difference.

The main reason that these panels were damaged was because of leaking from deck fittings, the traveler and granny bars, as I have mentioned previously.    I was fearful that the traveler would prove to be a challenge to remove and fortunately, it came off fairly easily.    It was alarming to see what it looked like when I was in the thick of it.  I was also surprised with how little bedding compound there was under each fitting.  Also, the traveler is held on by a dozen fastenings.   That nasty leak over the galley should be gone, for now anyway.

All better now. The list is still long and winding but at least I am moving forward instead of two steps back.

Oh yeah, remember that mast step problem?  The corroded bolt heads?  Oh, how I wish I had never started that project and left well enough alone.  I really don’t think that the corrosion was particularly problematic and now I am weeks into messing with them and still can’t get them out.   Yesterday I tried using a much larger $18 extra hard drill bit to just remove the head of the bolt.  No luck, the bit bound in the hole that I had already drilled broke off after less than a minute.  I’ll bet that I have trashed nearly $100 in bits so far.

Next step, a grinder or some other type of cutter.  Details to come, I guess.  This is a great example of where hiring it out might have actually saved money.  It would surely have saved anxiety.

I think that I now know that they may be fastened from the underside of the mast step with nuts and washers.  Unfortunately, to get at that would mean pulling up the floor in the forward cabin, a big job to say the least.   I had hoped that they were lag bolts.

Now, I’ll need to determine next steps and purchased a nifty video scope that will allow me to look through a small hole and see what it looks like on the underside of the step.   I fear that I will find bolts and washers, not doubt, nasty and corroded.   If so, how to get them out?

I purchased this nifty video scope on Amazon from one of the Chinese sellers for a remarkable $35.99 and free shipping.  The instructions were obviously written by someone who’s first language wasn’t English.  I expect that they just loaded the Chinese instructions into Google Translate, Chinese in, garbage out.

Fortunately, the iPhone app worked immediately.  I couldn’t believe it was that easy.

The instructions, such as they are, included this enlightening segment…

“Note 1:  if not necessary, we do not advise our customers to change the original WiFi SSID and WiFi password for stabler using experience.  if you forgot the modified password, pls use a clip to press the resent hole and restart the endoscope and re-join its WiFi.    When connected well, the blue wifi signal LED will flick, if not, it means it failed in connection, please charge wifi box through DC5v 2A portable battery or computer USB, or the box battery will be burned.”

Burned!  Yikes!  That did not sound promising at all.

Alas, it worked so the instructions, such as they are, weren’t needed.  And, no battery burning at all or should I say, so far.

But wait, there’s more.  It even illuminates what you are trying to look at with a very bright but dim-able LED.  Note:  I did not come complete with a gold fishy.  I guess that means it’s waterproof too.

Believe me, you need one of these too.  And it even came with some nifty attachments, including one that looks around corners.  Wouldn’t it be fun to drill into an adjacent hotel room wall with this?  So, this afternoon I will “scope” out the mast step situation and see what I have to do to get those bolts out.  Wish me luck.

Well, there’s still plenty to do and it’s nice to see at least a glimmer of light as I begin to put it all back to together.

I sure hope that isn’t the headlight of a train racing toward me.  No,  I’m hoping that it’s just the light on the end of my new nifty scope.


Two steps forward. Three steps back?

It’s finally beginning to get warm here in CT and I am becoming more than a little anxious about what’s left to do as I prepare Pandora for launch.  As I don’t expect (wish? pray? plan?) to put her up for another winter anytime soon, I have decided to tackle as many projects as possible while she’s covered and on the hard, so the list continues to grow even as I finish each project.  This year the “getting ready for launch” has turned out to be more of a “refit” but the good news is that when she hits the water, she should be in great shape indeed.

When a boat isn’t fully covered, with protection from the weather, many of those need-to-do projects, the ones that might allow rain to get down below, somehow get put off.   A good example is the Plexiglas companionway, a sliding hatch and three “boards” that secure the boat from intruders, people and water.   Over the years they had all gotten very scratched and dull with use.    They looked downright shabby. A while back I purchased an automotive buffer to bring back the shine to the paint and headlights on my little Suzuki truck and it worked really well.   I needed it to make the truck look better, which it did but, frankly, I never thought that I would use it again.  BTW, this is a link to the buffer I selected.  It’s a much better unit, and more expensive, than one of the cheap ones available from Walmart or West Marine.  It’s variable speed and random orbital which minimizes swirl marks or burns in the finish, which is vital to getting a good outcome.  It also works with higher quality pads,  the same ones that the pros use.

A few days ago, it occurred to me that it might be effective in polishing the scratched Plexiglas companionway boards so I pulled one off of the boat and gave it a try.  Along with the buffer, I had purchased a set of three 3M polishing compounds that are progressively finer.   The first in the series, and most aggressive, is labeled “compound” with the next two finer still, and when used in series, they are designed to bring a high shine to car paint.   In this instance, I decided to skip the middle grade and went from the most aggressive compound to super fine, on both sides of the panels.  The whole process didn’t take long at all, less than an hour, and the difference is striking.  I also used the compound to shine the stainless, with a rag.   I am really happy with the result and it was surprisingly easy to do. I have mentioned in a prior post that I was replacing all of the old, inefficient fluorescent fixtures with LED.  Yesterday I installed the new fixtures in the cockpit.  I decided to use a version that is smaller than the ones I selected for use below decks as I am hoping that they will not be too bright.    I had a hard time identifying a model that would work on 24v but these are good for both 12v and 24v.   Only a few years ago it was very difficult to find dual voltage fixtures and bulbs but they have become much more affordable and now are available in a nice warm white, 3,000k, which looks great.

All of the new bulbs and fixtures i am using are from DR LED.  They have an extensive selection of LEDs for nearly any marine application.  Their site looks like some kid set it up but, never the less, they have very broad range of great products.   I do fear that even in red mode, and these fixtures are both red and warm white, may be too bright to use when on passage at night but I guess I’ll have to see how it goes.    However, they should come in handy on buggy nights in Maine this summer.  Fortunately, when we are in the Caribbean, there isn’t much of a problem with bugs unless we anchor too close to shore.  It’s probably because it’s always blowing at least 20kts and there aren’t too many no-see-ums that can fly against a gale.

The old fixtures that I pulled out are a lot larger and I didn’t know what to do about the holes from the old fixtures so I just put in round head screws.    I have struggled to find LED replacement bulbs for the many halogen fixtures in the cabin that fit as most G4 LED replacement bulbs are not designed for use with a dimmer or are too big.   Fortunately,  Dr LED also makes a terrific little bulb that is small enough to fit in most any fixture, is very bright and yet dims well.  These tiny bulbs are not cheap but they are a lot less expensive than replacing the entire light unit. Well, there’s still plenty to do to get Pandora ready as I work my way through the list, one step at a time.  Unfortunately, the list is long and it continues to grow at least as fast as I check items off.

I expect that my new cabin heater will arrive this week so I can begin that installation.  It’s the type that uses waste engine heat, much like a car heater, to warm the cabin.  This will come in handy when we are in Maine or when I am motor sailing in the fall or on rainy days.  I already have a diesel heater that operates independent of the engine, but I thought it would be nice to have an engine driven option as well.  In addition, it is higher output, 30,000 btu,  so it should warm things up quickly.

As an added bonus, the engine was set up for this type of heater when the boat was built so I don’t have to worry about any plumbing, just a simple extension of the engine heater hoses and electrical hookups.  Also, as a special bonus, this particular style of heater isn’t terribly expensive as they are designed for use in trucks and commercial fishing boats.   For sure, if they were built for marine use… well, they’d be twice, no make that three times as expensive.    This is the unit I selected from Summit Racing but in 24v. I also purchased a length of 3″ duct work and two outlets.  I’ll be installing the unit and vents under the settees in the main cabin forward of the galley, hopefully, this week. It’s always challenging to tackle projects on Pandora as the process, more often than not,  feels more like a scavenger hunt, trying to find the right parts and not knowing where to get them.  It is especially complicated when the parts are electrical as the boat is wired for 24v which usually means special order.  As there were only three Aerodyne 47s built, I can’t just contact another owner to see how they might have solved a similar problem.  For my last boat, a SAGA 43, there were more than 50 built and there was a very active owner’s forum with a number of owners who knew their boats inside and out and always had a quick answer to most any question.

Still to come will be re-bedding some of the deck hardware and yesterday I finally opened up all of the headliner under the traveler for the boom, so I now know exactly where the bolts are located and they appear to be easy to reach.  The traveler has been the source of a persistent leak so now I know how to solve that problem, if I can only get the traveler off.  Now I know that it will be easy to get at all the bolts but will it be easy to remove after all these years?  Wish me luck.

I’ll also be continuing to work on the job of re-covering much of the headliner, some I’ll do myself, and the rest I’ll be hiring out.

So, here I am, May is only a little more than a week away and I still have tons to do.   I’ll admit that the process to date has felt like two steps forward and one step back.   I guess that’s what working on boats is all about.  Perhaps my best wish will be that it not be two steps forward and three, or worse, steps back.

Well, it’s been a long cold winter, well at least compared to the Caribbean, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.

However, don’t ask me about that pesky mast “step”.  Talk about steps backward…

But hey, the companionway is looking great and there are two new lights in the cockpit.  That’s progress, right?

Dog-hole ports and the Pacific Coast lumber trade.

For the last two days we have been staying in Mendocino, on the coast, with our son Christoper and his girlfriend Melody.   This is the view that greeted us this morning from the kitchen.  It’s been a real treat to spend a week with them, here and near their home in Oakland.  They live in a lovely little studio apartment with their dog Mila.  It’s way to small for us to stay with them, so off to an Air B&B for us.  It’s an expensive area so I won’t comment on where we’ve been staying. Let’s just say that today’s view, well, it’s better.

So, here we are, and it’s great.  Chris and Melody set this up and are treating us to a stay with them high on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The place, and you can’t see another building from here, is located on 85 acres.   Its  a compound or tiny village with an eclectic mix of buildings.  There’s even a root cellar, or is it a Hobbit House?  The view from the deck on the main house, where we are staying, is pretty spectacular.  From the northern part of the property you get a pretty good feel for the scale of the place.  You can barely see the main house peaking out from the trees on the left. These trees to the left on the above photo look like they have had to work hard to grow here.  Craggy and I expect very old. Out on the point, near the edge of the cliff, there are some wonderful spring flowers.   These low lying fleshy plants grow everywhere. Love the dwarf iris, not more than 6″ tall.  Near the northern property line, is a government survey mark placed here in 1930.  It says that to disturb or remove it will subject me to a fine of $250 and imprisonment.   $250 sounds like a pretty good deal for what would be a very nice souvenir.  I wonder if they would calculate inflation from 1930 into account if I take it?   Not sure about the “imprisonment” part.   On second thought, I’ll leave it.Anyway, back to the flowers.  I have no idea what this is but it is impressive with a flower stalk that is over 4′ tall. These clusters are on a bush along with dozens more make for quite a show. For lunch yesterday we stopped at a tiny deli in nearby Elk, population 250.  There was a lovely picnic area across the street, overlooking a beach. 
Nice spot.  Mila waiting for lunch to arrive.  Melody in a lovely hat.  I just love hats. The Pacific coastline is remarkably rugged, with many miles between ports.  By the mid 1800s, this area was a major source of lumber, shipped all over the world and a major source for the wood used to rebuild San Francisco following the devastating earthquake of 1906.  This photo does suggest that they needed a lot of lumber.Lumber schooners, mostly with two to three masts and easily maneuvered, were able to pull into just about any spot in the coastline that offered even a small amount of protection from the ocean swells.  These harbors, such as they were, were known as “Dog-Hole Ports“, so named by the captains that used them because they were just large enough for a dog to get in and out of.  There were some 400 sawmills along the northern California coastline serving these tiny ports.    It’s hard to imagine bringing a ship near a rocky coastline like this, but they did.

This photo, BTW, was taken from the deck where we are staying.   Amazing.  As close as we are to SF, about 3 hours by car, this areas once felt a lot more remote when it was only accessible by boat or stagecoach.  In many ways, it still feels far away and very primitive.  Well, primitive perhaps but with some really nice places to eat out and don’t forget about those wonderful wineries that are so close.

Yesterday evening we visited the nearby town of Mendocino for dinner.   Before dinner we had drinks at a beautiful old inn from the late 1800s.  I expect that our bar tab would have put us all up for a month, meals included, in the olden days.  I also expect that the crowd would have been a bit rougher.    “Hey you, yeah you dog face, get me another whisky and make it right quick or I’ll blow yer frigging head off!   On second thought, a chardonnay if it’s not too much trouble.”

The trip here from San Francisco takes you through the major wine regions and finally winds through the redwood forest just north of the Anderson Valley, our favorite, and one area that Brenda and I have been visiting for over 30 years.  It was a bit surreal for us to sit in the back seat on the way here as Chris drove us along those familiar roads.    It wasn’t that long ago, well it doesn’t seem that long ago, since Brenda and I were in the area while Chris and his brother Rob were toddlers, home with their grandparents.

Melody and Chris just love it here.   About 100 yards from the main house, there is a small deck that overlooks the very edge of the cliff.  The wind off of the ocean is so strong that the chairs on the deck have to be tied with a rope to keep from being blown over the edge of the cliff.  Not the most relaxing place to sit and sip wine.  However, after a glass or so, the risk of falling to certain death somehow seems less of a problem.   Their dog Mila loves surveying all that she can see.  “Hey mom and dad, I’ll bet that cove is one of those Dog-Hole Ports.  Am I right?” This area is very close too the dense redwood forest of the Navarro valley to the east, one of the areas that were heavily logged.   As the coastline is so rugged, with safe harbors so far apart, transporting the lumber to anchored schooners involved a huge effort.    Some spots, but not many,  were sheltered enough to allow for the construction of a wharf that went far out into the water.   Note the many lines strung from the bow of this steamer, no doubt to hold her off of the wharf in the ocean surge.  
I expect that these structures did not last very long with the relentless pounding of ocean waves.    However, with low cost labor along with cheap and abundant building materials, I doubt that it mattered.

The often precipitous drop off from cliff to the water posed unique challenges in getting lumber down to the ship. The only way, in those areas, to get materials down from high on the cliffs, was to use long lines strung from the top of the cliff or lumber shoots designed to slide boards down to the waiting schooner far below. As technology improved, schooners made way for steam powered freighters but creativity was still needed to board freight and passengers.  “Don’t worry little lady, I’ve done this hundreds of times.”
The schooners that served this area had to be very maneuverable in order to safely make their way in and out of the tiny harbors along this exposed coastline.  It was easier to load the ships from high cliffs than to try and transport lumber any distance over rough dirt roads to better harbors.

The last remaining lumber schooner from that era is the C.A. Thayer, launched in 1895 in Eureka CA, not far from here.  She is now preserved at the San Francisco Maritime museum.     Over the years, she, along with a number of other vessels in the museums large collection, fell into an unfortunate state of disrepair but recently she has been fully restored.

We visited her in 2017, on our last trip to SF, as they were just finishing the restoration and enjoyed a tour.   She’s in great shape now. Her stern was designed with openings that allowed the loading of long pieces of lumber below decks. In order to fit the maximum amount of cargo, she was designed with no bulkheads below decks.  There were once hundreds of these schooners moving lumber down the coast to San Francisco but she is now the last remaining one and it was nice to see her restored to better than new condition.

So, here we are, in an area with so much history and along with is us Mila, who must particularly appreciate the history behind these out of the way, “Dog-Hole ports” that played such an important part of area history.



A race to the finish line. And, it’s Deja Vu…

It’s the beginning of April and I find myself completely focused on something that hasn’t been on my mind for the last seven years.  Spring launch.  It’s not news to anyone that follows the blog that Pandora’s been on the hard over this winter, her first since being launched in 2007 and that this winter was the first in Pandora’s decade long life when she was “decommissioned” for any reason, b beyond a few months, much less and entire winter.    Not to put too fine a point on it but the last time I did any real sailing was a year ago May when I returned from Antigua.

So, here I am, recalling so many spring commissioning sprints trying to getting the boat ready for the water in time for the long Memorial Day Weekend.   Well,  not actually, as in my retirement it’s a bit different as I am no longer focused on a single long weekend but the whole year and months aboard.  However, with Pandora about to emerge from nearly a year out of the water, I’ll be in the boat yard working hard to get the boat ready in time to enjoy the season.

After an ill fated attempt to prepare her for a run south last fall resulting from a long delay from some work that I had commissioned last summer, I came to the painful realization that we’d be staying home for the season.   It turned out to be OK,  I guess, as I got a lot done around the house and we also spent more time with our growing troupe of grandchildren.  That was good but, and there’s always a “but” I am anxious about being afloat again.

Being home-bound for the winter did allow me to get many projects done around the house, especially for Brenda, that I am hoping that she will take pity on my and not grouse too much when we head south next winter.

So, soon enough Pandora will be back in the water where she belongs.  The bad news is that shortly after she is launched, she will be hauled yet again to address a problem with the waterline resulting from last summers paint job.

Regarding that bit of news, when Pandora was being painted, I asked to have the aft portion of the waterline raised but somehow the port and starboard lines ended up being a few inches off from each other.  I noticed that last fall, shortly after she was relaunched.  At first I thought that she had developed a list to port, but when I put a ruler on the waterline I realized that port was two inches lower than the other side.

So, in order to fix the problem and get a good feel for exactly where the waterline should be, she has to be fully rigged with mast up, sails on and dink in the davits.  After launch, measurements will be taken and she will be marked for fore and aft trim.   The key in all of this is the “after rigging” part as that means that she will then have her mast and all that rigging in place which means she will be tall, a lot taller than the door of the shed where she was painted.   The good news is that the painter has access to a building in Bridgeport with a door that is tall enough to accommodate her inside, even with her mast up.   While Pandora’s mast is tall and the door to the shed is taller, something like 75′.

That’s a really big door and an even bigger shed.  Actually, it was the building where the yacht Cake Walk was constructed in a few years ago.  She was, I am told, the largest displacement yacht ever built in the US at over 250′ long.  Longer yachts have been built in the US but none with greater displacement. She’s now named Aquila but she’s still huge.   If the shed could fit her, Pandora should fit too.  Actually, the building can fit many Pandoras.

Here’s Aquila.  Pandora could be her dink.   So, here I sit.  It’s early April and I have a growing list of what has to happen to get her ready for the water.  It’s like the old days before I retired but at least I don’t have to get up on a Monday morning and head to the office.

Well, I am in my “office” but at least I am writing a blog post and not a business plan .  Well, I guess it is a business plan of sorts, a plan to get Pandora back in the water.

The biggest thing standing between me and the launch of Pandora is the collapsed headliner that was sagging badly in, well in just about every part of the boat, the main cabin, aft and forward compartments.    About a year ago the foam backing on the headliner had deteriorated to a point where it separated from the cabin sides and fell down.   At first I thought that the problem was limited to a few areas.  No such luck.So, I decided to take nearly all of it down.   It was a huge job and very messy.  I consulted with Chad, the canvas maker that did a great job on my cockpit enclosure, to get advice on what to do.  He suggested that I pull the vinyl down and then, with a wire brush on a drill, have at it.   This is a view of the aft cabin, where I pulled down all of the vinyl.  Then the drill…The main cabin, post wire brush.  Looks like a derelict boat.   Depressing.  And such a mess…Over the weekend, I went to a sale at Defender, a discount marine supply company nearby.  They have a once a year warehouse sale and it was mobbed.    I purchased most of the lights I needed, along with a new EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.   Say that three times fast.   As the name suggests, it is a transmitter that I can activate to call for help if I get into trouble while at sea.   I have two on the boat already but they are both out of date and it makes more sense to get a new one instead of having the older one re-certified.  All this, lights and EPIRB, and it wasn’t quite one “boat dollar”.   And, speaking of lights, I’ll also be replacing all of the inefficient fluorescent fixtures in the cabin and cockpit, along with all of the halogen bulbs in the overhead with LED bulbs and fixtures.  The bad news is that the “footprint” of the old fixtures, and there are 9 of them, is larger than the new ones so that means that I’ll have to replace all the vinyl on other areas of the headliner that are basically fine to eliminate the old screw holes and stained vinyl in the areas around the old headliner.  There are a LOT of fixtures to deal with.    Fortunately, vinyl comes in many colors of “white” so we should be able to match the new to the old.  Fingers crossed.

Also, in going from halogen to LED in some areas so I have to replace the dimmers, three of them with a type made for LEDs.  This is what the old, non compliant, dimmers looked like.  In spite of my best efforts, I could not locate new dimmers that look anything like these and would fit in the same 2″ hole.  So, I decided to just “remodel” and use the same dimmer casing.  So, I made up wooden inserts from scrap plywood that matched the interior.  The plan will be to glue the new touch dimmer into the old housing and it will look like this.  Pretty neat, right? I’m pretty pleased with myself, frankly.  An elegant solution that will minimize effort in matching the current holes.

I am doing, have done, all of the demo but I am hiring Chad to put the new headliner in place and it’s a LOT of work so it’s going to be several boat dollars, I expect.   Brenda will be so pleased.

Add to this project myriad other issues, like re-bedding deck fittings, general cleanup and a number of other upgrades and there is a LOT to do to get Pandora ready to splash.

Oh yeah, and with all the time I save in making my own dimmers, I’ll be spending plenty of time trying to pull out the bolts that hold in the mast step as the heads of the bolts had become corroded and suspect.  So far, not a lot of luck in getting them out.   Yes, that’s a bolt extractor in the lower left.  Wish me luck. Oh yeah, one more thing.  Pandora has electric toilets.  Can you imagine, electric?  And mixing electricity with, well, you know what, is a messy business.  The toilet, head, has three electric motors and one failed on the aft head so I had to put in another.  If you think that this looks expensive, it is.  Fortunately, I was able to get it replaced under warranted.  Let’s hope that if it decides to “poop out” it does so before a year.  Motors on a head?  Who knew?  So, after a winter spent waiting for the weather to get warm enough to work on Pandora and time spent focusing on my “honey do list”, it’s time to get cracking and find a way to get Pandora back in the water and ready to cruise.

I never imagined that I’d be back in the grind of spring commissioning, but now I am.  And, when I get her up and running again in a few weeks, I’ll learn if I missed anything when I was winterizing her systems.

So, if I can only get her ready by Memorial Day.  Wow, a deja vu moment.  At least I don’t have to go to work the following Tuesday.  No wait, perhaps I’ll wait and not even use the boat as everywhere will be jammed that weekend.   Ah, the luxury of being of a “certain age”.   Now don’t go telling me that I am in my “twilight years” and that it’s “all down hill from here”.

And speaking of “down hill” I guess that it is a race to the finish line.  Yes, I guess it is and time’s a-wasting so I’d better get cracking.

“Brenda, anything you need me to do before I head to Pandora today?”

This year, the season won’t end in the fall, I hope but I’m still racing to get her in the water.

Did someone say deja vos, again?



Nelson’s Dockyard and the spark that made it a national treasure.

So often it is the work of one person or a single family whose actions and vision can be the spark that changes the course of history.   For Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor, Antigua it was the Nicholson family.

In 1948 the Nicholsons left Ireland beginning what was to be an around the world voyage aboard their 70′ schooner Mollihawk.  Aboard were “Commander V.E.B” Nicholson his wife Emma and their two young sons who arrived in English Harbor, the site of the then derelict Nelson’s Dockyard where they decided to make a home.Over time, their older son, Desmond and his wife Lisa also became passionate about the historic Dockyard, looking beyond the caved in roofs and crumbling walls to envision what is today a national treasure, UNESCO world heritage site and the only operating Georgian Dockyard in the world

It was their hard work, the enthusiasm of the family and certainly others that galvanized support to rebuild the iconic Dockyard that was once the center of British naval power in the Caribbean.

At the time of their arrival, only a few years after the end of WWII, Antigua was not the tourist destination that it is today and the yacht charter business in the Caribbean was not yet born.  Soon after their arrival, the family was approached by John Archbold, a wealthy landowner from nearby Dominica with a request to charter Mollihawk.  This event proved to be the beginning of the first charter business in Antigua, that lives on today as Nicholson Yachts Charter & Services.

Desmond was an enthusiastic photographer and when I was in Antigua last November I visited his daughter Nancy’s art gallery, saw a charming book of his photography and purchased a copy.   All of the black and white photos in this post are from that book and are posted compliments of Nancy.

There were only a few cruising boats visiting Antigua in those early days.   The building in ruins to the right in this photo, without a roof or windows,  is where the customs office is now located. Today the grounds and customs office are fully restored. Nearly every inch of dock space in English Harbor and nearby Falmouth Harbor are crammed with all manner of mega-yachts and cruisers.  Some of these behemoths look more like ocean liners than private yachts.   I was told that in January there were some 80 mega-yachts in residence between English and Falmouth harbors. Shortly after arriving in Antigua, the Nicholson family received permission to take up residence in the abandoned Dockyard and set about doing what they could to improve the facility.   No drones in those days.  These photos were taken after much of the rebuilding was done, replacing missing roofs and walls. Today the look of the Dockyard is true to it’s roots and looks much like it did when it was the Caribbean base for the British Navy with all of the buildings beautifully restored.  In 2016 the Dockyard was designated as a  World Heritage site by UNESCO.

As a point of interest, this next photo was taken about a week after back to back hurricanes ravaged nearby Barbuda and other islands in the Caribbean two years ago.   By a quirk of geography and the storms path, the island and Dockyard were spared.    That same year the Salty Dawg Rally decided to head to Antigua with 55 boats making landfall on the island. The Dockyard doesn’t look all that different these days than it did when Desmond took this photo. Well, one thing that is different is that there are a LOT more boats.  This is a photo of boats participating in the Oyster round the world rally from a few years ago.  I have a friend who had hoped to meet me there this April as they return, having completed a circumnavigation themselves as part of the rally.  I wish that I could be there.  Next year…There are still remnants of the careening dock that was used to pull over navy ships for bottom work.  The Nicholson family used similar equipment to restore yachts in the early years.  Nowadays, right across the harbor, there is a full service yard with a railway servicing yachts of all sizes. Most everyone visiting the island makes the pilgrimage up to the British Navy era Shirley Heights fort overlooking the harbor.  Here’s Desmond and his young bride Lisa, C1958.The Lookout is still a tremendously popular spot to watch the sunset for locals and visitors alike with barbecues and bands performing at sunset every week. Crowds or not, this view will never be beat and no less lovely than it was when the Nicholson family first made landfall.  It’s no wonder that they decided to stay and make a life for themselves on the island.
Sail making has always been a part of the Dockyard, including during Desmond’s time.  I’ll bet that the figurehead in the corner has an interesting story to tell.
And that craft remains a vital part of the Dockyard today.  A&F Sails is located in the Dockyard, owned and operated by the Commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club, Franklyn Braithwaite.  He’s a great guy and has been tremendously supportive of the Salty Dawg Rally. In addition to Franklyn’s loft, the Dockyard is home to many marine related businesses.   These stone pillars, now part of the Admiral’s Inn, were once the base of the loft that took care of the sails for naval ships.    In Nelson’s day, the channel between the columns allowed ships’ gigs to row under the building and have sails lifted into the loft for service. Today they serve as an iconic backdrop for the Admiral’s Inn, run by siblings Astrid and Paul Deeth.  Their parents founded one of the earliest resorts in English Harbor.   These columns are quite a sight as is the rest of the property, especially in the evening.  Astrid and Paul have been tremendously supportive in helping me organize events in celebration of the arrival of the rally for the last few years. The Dockyard plays a big role in the arrival of the Salty Dawg fleet.  We have a number of events in the Dockyard and cap our week of celebration with a dinner by the pool at Boom, part of the Admiral’s Inn. The view of the dockyard from that spot is really impressive. Across the harbor from the Dockyard, is Clarence House, built in the early 17th century as the residence for the Duke of Clarence, Prince William IV.  The restoration of the building was made possible by a grant from Sir Peter Harrison, who now keeps his yacht Sojana, in the Dockyard during the winter season.   When the refurbished Clarence House was officially dedicated in 2016, Prince Harry was on hand.   His appearance in Antigua was chronicled in the Daily Mail of UK. 

This shot shows Clarence House on the hill.
Today English Harbor and Nelson’s Dockyard remain a vital harbor for cruising and charter yachts alike and it all began with the arrival of Commander Nicholson and his family so many years ago.

Every cruiser or yachtsman who arrives in the harbor owes a debt to the Nicholson family that had the vision to help remake English Harbor into what it is  today, perhaps the most wonderful place to make landfall in the Caribbean.

As part of the arrival events for the Salty Dawg fleet last November, Nancy Nicholson, daughter of Desmond and Lisa, hosted an arrival event in conjunction with the season opening of her gallery, Rhythm of Blue art gallery.

It was nice to meet her mother Lisa at the event with Nancy.   I for one, would love to sit down with Lisa to hear more about what it was like in the Dockyard during those early years. So many years have come and gone since Mollihawk arrived in English Harbor but the legacy remains, a good example of how important the vision and work of even a single family can be.

In addition to his work revitalizing the Dockyard, Desmond was instrumental in helping to develop the original website for the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda,  That site along with his many books and articles ensure that Desmond’s legacy in Antigua is secure and the results of his work will continue to benefit the island for decades to come.   Read his obituary here as it lists many of his impressive achievements.

Those who spend time in the Dockyard and, for that matter, all of Antigua surely owes a debt of gratitude to the Nicholson family who helped spark the revitalization of what has become a jewel in the crown of Antigua, Nelson’s Dockyard.

I look forward to joining the Salty Dawg fleet in the Dockyard this coming November and will raise a glass to those who made it possible.