Monthly Archives: June 2019

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…