Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Repairs, Upgrades and Maintenance. Hard work!

[Kyle]It’s been a while since we’ve posted a blog entry. It’s not because we haven’t been busy, quite the opposite. We’ve been so swamped with jobs there hasn’t been a free moment to write – until now.

Here’s what we’ve been up to:

After anchoring out for a couple of days to prep Begonia for having the mast removed, I took the boat to Deltaville Yachting Center, where they were waiting with the crane for my arrival. Since I was now safely in harbor, I set about loosening the rig in an attempt to keep unnecessary labor costs to a minimum. The rig turned out to be cranked down so tight that it took all of my strength just to move the turnbuckles. What I thought was going to be a quick 10-minute job turned into 2 hours of straining under the sun in the airless heat.

The mast and step (the plate on the deck upon which the mast rests) came off with difficulty. By the end of the day, the whole yard crew and me were overheated, drenched in sweat, exhausted and frustrated.

I moved the motorboat Begonia to her slip and immediately started in on my portion of the long jobs list for the refit. Eventually, as it got dark, I was too exhausted to face it anymore and staggered to the showers for a marvelous cold shower (They have hot. I just didn’t use it.) That washed away all of the grime and excess heat of the day. When I got back to the boat, I was too tired to consider cooking, so I grabbed a handful of trail mix and called it good enough before collapsing into bed.

The days have been going like that ever since. I couldn’t possibly spare the time to eat and even if I could, every available surface is so filled with tools and parts that I wouldn’t have anywhere to sit and eat it anyway, so I just keep working. I promise myself I’ll knock off a little early, tidy up and have a decent meal when the day’s over but by the time it happens, I’m usually back to grabbing a quick handful of something between shower and bed.

The work has since been progressing in three-steps-forward, two-steps-back fashion. I will set a goal in the morning of getting two or three jobs done only to finish the day with one thing done and the other two kind of done, possibly spawning a fourth and fifth. For example, the other day I decided to solve once and for all the fuel leak in the starboard engine that had plagued me on the ICW trip here from Charleston. I checked over the entire fuel system very carefully and found the culprit to be a faulty gasket on the fuel pump. I removed the fuel pump, took it into the main salon, pushed aside enough space on the table to work, and spent the morning rebuilding it. At the end of the day, as I lay on top of the engine trying to keep the sweat out of my eyes while I installed the pump, I was pleased to know I could tick that pesky item off the list when I was done. Well, you know where this is going. As I tightened the last fuel line, the bolt got tight, and then it got loose. Damn! I had stripped the threads. I took the bolt out and found that I had stripped the threads in the body of the fuel pump, not the bolt. The only solution after all of that work was to buy a whole new fuel pump - one job NOT done after all.

They’ve pretty much all been like that. I’ll get 90% of the way through, and find a part that won’t fit or find that a part is missing that I need. I’ve been doing a lot of last-minute runs to the local hardware store for solutions. Sometimes, while I’m out, I’ll swing by and get a sandwich somewhere with table space in the air conditioning. Starvation averted.

Maryanne and I have been working opposite schedules during all of this. She has the more traditional weekends off, I’m off during the week. Our schedules don’t overlap, so we haven’t been seeing each other hardly at all. Most of the time, our planes are passing each other as we go back and forth to the boat. This is made worse by the fact that our AT&T phones don’t work in Deltaville and the marina’s wifi is only good out to about 50 feet from the office. Once a day email barrages are our main means of communicating.

After a couple of weeks chugging away independently at our various lists, things were starting to feel a little less desperate. Neither of us could help but notice that we seemed to be the only ones working. The marina hadn’t done anything inside the boat, and outside all that had changed is the mast and beam removed, but no sign of progress there either. They were waiting on a guy who was waiting on a guy who was on vacation or some such thing. Our electronics installer, Marine Electronics of Hartfield, was even more useless. Even though we had given them several weeks (2 months) notice before showing up, and with me going in personally a couple of times a week since, we were unable to even get them to come to the boat to see what we needed. My dealings with them became a string of broken promises and lame excuses. Maryanne got worried enough about their reliability that she made an end run around them and mail ordered all of the hardware, leaving them just the labor. One or two more lame excuses later and I was fed up enough to walk out of their office in disgust.

As to our yard, to their credit, and despite some concerns on our part that progress was not visible, once it was our turn in line we seemed to have their full attention and substantial work started every day. Every time I came back to the boat, she looked better and better. I keep trying not to keep a running total of labor hours in my head, but it’s hard to resist. The estimates all seem fair and reasonable, but they’ve done a lot of work. We haven’t seen the bill yet.

We gave up on Marine Electronics entirely. Maryanne spent a Saturday that should have been allocated to other jobs chasing down leads for their replacement. She found Bill Cornpropst of Norton Yachts as a possible candidate (and approved Ray Marine Dealer). On my next trip to the boat, I met with Bill to talk about what we needed. He started work the next day. The day after that, he emailed me at work to tell me he was finished with everything he could do without the mast up. Wow! Was that so hard? Bill is our hero.

I waited and waited for Marine Electronics of Hartfield to make me another empty promise about coming out to start the estimate. They never did. Eventually, Maryanne sent them an email making it official that we wouldn’t be using them because they’re crap (although I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been the word she used, they should have received that message). Who knows if they’ve managed to get around to opening it yet?

As time went on, I started running low on jobs that I could do while I was waiting for parts in the mail. I’d just get to where I thought there wasn’t anything left I could do for the day when another shipment would come and I’d be back at it until dark and through the next day.

The trusty Ed installing footpumps for a manual water supply, and Kyle's shiny new SpeedSeal for easy access to the impeller (raw engine water pump)

Yesterday, I worked until dark. My last two jobs were to install the new fuel pump as well as a water pump on the starboard engine. After nearly a month out of commission, it was a great relief to start it up and watch it run. As it ran, I repeated the now usual routine of crawling over the running engine, looking for signs of trouble. This time, there was none. It ran smoothly without a hint of leaking fuel, oil, water or coolant. Whoo, hoo!

It took me a few more hours to clean up. I decided I wasn’t taking shortcuts and made myself a proper dinner at last. I made it to bed around midnight.

This morning, I learned from Maryanne via email that our VHF radio and our autopilot control panel needed to be shipped to their respective factories for service, so I removed them both. One of our floorboards over the bilge feels a little soft. I pulled it up to find it developing a crack. That necessitated another trip to the hardware store for supplies to reinforce it.

That was it. After weeks I have finally reached the point where there is nothing to do until more parts arrive or until some intermediate job somebody else is doing gets done first. That’s a little misleading. There always lots than can be done. I’m talking about the list of stuff that has to be done for the refit to be considered complete. The boat is finally starting to seem more finished than not. The cracks in the mast have been welded and all of the rigging has been removed for eventual replacement. It feels like we may actually have a working sailboat in the not too distant future. After all of this work, It’s hard for me to imagine what that must be like.

Maryanne has been bugging me for a while to update the blog, so I’m finally getting around to that while DYC’s installer, Ed, mutters to himself in the background from some tiny corner of the boat. Today, he’s installing manual foot pumps for our water system. I keep trying to help, but honestly there’s only room in those spaces for one of us at a time, so mostly all I can do is talk to him, which seems to slow him down.

So I finally get to have kind of an easy day, except that I’ve got to track down some boxes for those shipments and the mail should be here by now. What’s in the office will determine tomorrow’s fate.

Mast progress

[Maryanne]Kyle is sounding so positive and we really are making progress. For a boat that was basically OK, it's amazing how much effort and expense we are incurring, but we really feel that we want to get all the work over and done with now, so we can then just enjoy the boat for some time to come.

Along with new stuff to install, and old stuff to repair, there is maintenance required too. I slowly identify all the items on the boat and search for manuals and recommended maintenance. Some items are long familiar to us, like the winches, which despite seeming to spin freely, were in dire need of a service.

Digging in, and discovering while living in chaos! Oh and some shiny new instruments to play with too

Despite progress, very little is actually completely done yet; even our new Portland Pudgy dinghy has only half arrived (The basic dinghy is here, but all the fun and useful parts have yet to be even sent). The main boat mast is off, stripped of rigging and awaiting parts to be delivered and fabricated before it can be put back together. The cross beam is ordered (not sure when it may arrive, nor what might need to be done with it once it gets here). The heating system has arrived, but still to be installed. We've had to forget about the canvas work for now (yet another contractor letting us down and others in town fully booked), but since we've over spent on anything else, this is probably a good thing. What I'm trying to say here is that we are far from done, but this is all pretty disruptive work that is much easier attempted now than after we've moved aboard. It's a painful process, and it's frustrating that Kyle and I don't get to see much of each other during this time, frustration on top of all the normal boat yard hassles... but we keep telling ourselves it will all be worth it; short haul pain for long term fun.

We hope soon to be posting actual sailing blogs.