Thursday, December 07, 2017

New Zealand - The Boat Yard Blues $$$$


Marsden to Whangarei is a beautiful sail

[Kyle]Instead of using a Travelift, which can be operated by one person, Norsand uses a submersible trailer and a bunch of other machinery operated by a whole team. The whole process is tremendously elaborate and labor-intensive. Since they have to compete with the Travelift guys, they charge about the same amount, which means every time a boat gets taken in or out of the water, they're taking a loss. At the end of the day, though, it's all peanuts. The haulout is just the cover charge that lets you in so you can really start spending, which is exactly what we did. Ouch!


Fancy haul out system (in the rain!)

When the Haulout Manager asked us when we wanted to go back into the water, we told him we were hoping we could do the whole thing in two and a half weeks. “Impossible”, he said “We have no availability to return you to the water for two MONTHS”

“That won't work for us. We're going to Chile. We need to leave by mid December”

“No worries. We'll just do the work while you're gone. When do you get back?”

“No, we're sailing to Chile. The boat has to go with us”

After a lot of staring at the big board and head scratching, he said he could put us in in two weeks. Yeesh! Nothing like a little pressure. Now we had to get moving.

Motivated by a reluctance to leave on the 5,500 mile passage to Chile with anything not in the best possible working order and knowing the passage needs to be done in the milder weather of summer, we met with Mark, the Yard Manager, and handed over their part of our long list. When we told him it all had to be done in two weeks, he remained perfectly sanguine and unperturbed.

Once we were dropped off in our spot in the yard, we began the process of dismantling in order to access the things we needed fixed. This inevitably revealed another layer of new things that needed addressing. We repeated this process until we were out of layers. We took our new, expanded list to Mark and he remained steadfast in his refusal to freak out. This was unacceptable to me as I was freaking out. I explained it to him again, but I still got the distinct feeling that we were the only ones that would be having boat maintenance nightmares that night.

As we arrived back at Begonia wondering if getting the yard to do any actual work was going to be like pulling teeth, we found three guys poking around at the first three things on Mark's list. Well, that was unexpected. In the next few days, I found that happened a lot. I would mention something to Mark, stop at the water fountain, go to the boat and find a worker who had already beat me there.

Without exception, every single guy they sent over was really friendly and seemed happy to help. We had decided it was time to strip all of the old layers of antifouling paint off and bring the bottom down to bare gelcoat. Case, the poor man assigned the lion's share of the initial scraping, acted as if he would be happy to be getting some real exercise. I picked up his scraper during his lunch hour and had a go at reducing our yard bill by spending a tiring fifteen minutes clearing off a one square-foot patch. When he returned, he was happy I had saved him the work. Fifteen minutes later, I emerged from whatever horrible job I was up to and found him already three feet further down the side of the hull he had been scraping. I think I may have reached the point where I am too old for some boat jobs.


The view across the river was quite something
That and the cats to fuss over sure helped balance out the work (kind-a)

We then fell into the all too familiar boatyard routine of getting up before dawn, so as not to waste any precious daylight, and working until dark, so as not to waste any precious daylight. Our plight was made much more tolerable by a box of goodies Mom had sent us. It was nice during a frustrating job to be able to pop in and sneak a cookie before getting back at it.


Kyle servicing the wind generator and atop the mast

I was rather insistent that we then clean up and put the boat interior back in order before having dinner in a relatively normal-looking boat. I don't mind shoving aside a pile of tools to find space to sit and climbing over boxes of parts to get into bed after a long day, but I HATE waking up to find the boat in that state in the morning. This gave us a short mental health break in the evening during which we are allowed not to be working on some project. In Panama, we used to try to carve out time for a short walk into the adjacent jungle to look at the monkeys. Here, the only thing adjacent is industry, so we try to wind down by watching a movie or something. Invariably, fifteen minutes in, one or the other of us will wake up, look over and find the other one asleep. Time to admit defeat and go to bed.

The workmen in the yard didn't put in the hours we did, but apart from their lunch and two tea breaks, they didn't stop moving until their shift was over. Progress was fast.

During the workday, Begonia became a real building site. Machinery noises came from every direction and the whole boat reverberated loudly with the vibrations of multiple power sanders. We had to shout to be heard over the noise. Things were definitely moving along quickly, but watching those guys was like looking at the ammeter while Maryanne goes around and turns on every single thing on the boat. At one point, we had five guys working on the boat at the same time. It took some real effort to keep it together while trying my hardest to not do the math in my head:

“Let's see...five guys working eight hours a day for three days... that's 120 hours... times their labour rate equals...AAAHH!!”

They worked hard, though. They had all pretty much sweated through their protective suits by quitting time. They did good work, too. We've often been in boatyards where the guy assigned our task was on his second try and did worse work than we would have. These guys seemed to really know what they were doing. We'd have to go through the whole learning curve all over again to do once in ten year jobs, but these guys do it three or four times a month and it really showed. When they finally had the last speck of paint removed, Begonia was gleaming white below the waterline. We were pleased and not a little bit relieved that the years of paint accumulation had not been covering up any underlying fibreglass or gel-coat issues. In fact, without the paint, the hulls both still looked brand new.

THE major unexpected issue that we had to deal with was our rudders. You may recall that having one of our rudders fail at sea, we had Fountaine Pajot build and send us two brand new rudders all the way to Hawaii from France. Since then, we have made a point of pulling them and checking them every haulout. We have even hauled out just to check them. Almost immediately, they began eroding at what seemed like a higher rate than we would have expected. In Mexico, we discovered water in both and had the yard there open them up, dry them out and rebuild them. This time, in New Zealand we found not only water dripping from the post/blade junction, but rusty water. It was most distressing. {Maryanne: A common reason for rudder failure like this is some kind of electrical connectivity, as soon as we had issues this was the first thing we tested. We were rigorous with this, but every test we did confirmed all is well on this front - but what the HECK was going on?}

Mark had a look at the rudders once we'd pulled them out and his first comment was that the posts appeared to have been built from the wrong grade of stainless. He guessed that it was 304 instead of marine grade 316. 304 is magnetic, 316 is not. We threw a magnet at one of the posts and it stuck. We were kicking ourselves for not having done that earlier, but we had assumed the boat manufacturer would use the right stuff and it never crossed our minds.

The yard's machinist took a look and made the same pronouncement as Mark. Both were amazed that our rudders were only three and a half years old. Then we met Ross,the New Zealand representative for Fountaine Pajot. He took one look at them and said the same thing.

At one point, Maryanne said, “We know mistakes happen...”, to which he responded, “This isn't a mistake. It's incompetence!”

We were obviously distressed about the rudders (and had been for the last 3 years), but it was some comfort to know we haven't been crazy this whole time and that they really are sub-standard for some very peculiar reason.

Kevin, the Machinist, dug around a bit and found corrosion that was about halfway from turning the solid post into Swiss cheese. No wonder the Mexicans couldn't seal them. The water was getting in through the posts themselves.

This was bad. Even if the rudders did survive our next ocean crossing, they wouldn't likely make it much further and there was no way I would get one good night's sleep with that knowledge in my head. After several unsuccessful attempts to get it out of my head, we decided we would have to suck it up and fix the rudders – again.

The yard in Hawaii where we installed them told us at the time that it would take them a month to fabricate new ones for us, which was one of the main reasons we had Fountaine Pajot start the work in France while we were still at sea. This time, we were due back in the water in nine days. We would never make it. I looked pleadingly at Mark, who just smiled calmly like he does. He said he could get it done in about a week – he would just have to find someone. How could he? They were all scraping paint off our boat.

On my next bathroom run, I looked in the shop. Neville, the fiberglass guy, already had both of our rudders opened up!

Ross stopped by and asked for some photos of the posts. When I couldn't find them, Mark directed me to the machine shop where the new ones were being fabricated. I rode my bike over. They are not set up for meeting customers – it's just a big building with garage doors on one side filled a whole lot of machines. They were really nice, though, and one of the guys there found our old posts for me. I took my photos and as I was leaving, Derek, the Manager, intercepted me. He told me they couldn't get any 316 stainless in time. That vein in my head was filling. He said they were going to use 2205 Duplex instead. It's twice as resistant to corrosion as 316 and also has twice the tensile strength. The shafts were also of slightly larger diameter than they were supposed to be, so he was going to machine our new bearings to fit the larger posts. Our new rudders would be super strong and hopefully worry-free for decades. “Great! How long will it take to get the the 2205?”

“It's right here”, he said, and pointed to two cardboard tubes on the floor with our names on them. I checked the label and it did indeed say 2205, not something else. When I got home, Maryanne, my favo(u)rite researcher, checked up on Derek's claims about 2205 Duplex and verified all of them to be accurate - 2205 is considered even better than 316 for rudder posts... Perfect!

Ross contacted Fountaine Pajot on our behalf and was told that since our boat was originally sold by the French division of the company and not the New Zealand division, he had no jurisdiction and should butt out (at least we think it was something like that.. ha!). We'd had to deal with France directly ourselves.

We contacted them and were brusquely told our rudder problems were our own fault because we were naive enough to trust them. After insulting us for insulting their quality, they offered to sell us replacement metal posts. They would cover the cost of fabricating the blades. We could split the shipping.

I began my response email with an 'F' (For Fountaine Pajot. What did you think I meant?). The gist of it was that they have lost our trust and we would never be buying anything except hard-to-find cosmetic items from them ever again. Honestly, at this point, if we're going to have rudders made and shipped from halfway around the world, we might as well have them built in New Zealand.

Everybody, including us, was working furiously to meet our launch date. No one told us explicitly that they were putting in overtime, but we couldn't help but notice that the din from our boat seemed to be starting earlier and finishing later than that from the others.

At some point, it became clear that the rudders would not be quite done in time. We got the posts back from the machine shop pretty quickly, but rebuilding the fiberglass blades required cure time between every layer. Once that was done, there was drying times between primer and paint to comply with. We added up all of those numbers and came up with five more days to get them ready to go in the water.

The haulout guy moved us into the next available slot two and a half weeks later. This apparently got out at some morning staff meeting and work on Begonia coasted to a quick stop. We had to spend a couple of days insisting to everybody that we were still aiming for the first possible date and begging to be first in line if an earlier spot opened up. We checked several times a day to keep it in the forefront of their minds. A couple of days later, we got on the schedule a week earlier. We could have used even a couple more days, but the deadline now seemed comfortable.


This time we shared the Yard fun with others

We slowed down by allowing ourselves to get up at dawn and eat dinner at dusk, which gave us an hour or so on either end of the day. The yard finished their list. Apart from painting a daily coat on our new rudders, our list moved into jobs we had planned to do after going into the water. A few days after that, we were done with even those.

Whew! We knew the bill (which we hadn't seen yet) was going to be a few steps beyond painful, but Begonia is in the best condition she has been since we have known her, including when she was spiffed up for us, the new owners. Everything has had a proper job of refurbishing and repair and it feels (almost) as if we have a new boat.

It did seem a shame that most of the effort in the yard was to put the boat back into prime condition. Everything that's been bugging us for a while has been fixed, but we had very little in the form of new toys to play with. Mom chipped in (a LOT) for us to upgrade our nine-year-old satellite communications system. We finally put in an AIS transponder (we were previously receive-only), so now we should show up on other's AIS displays. We also bypassed our useless and annoying deck light with one that reliably turns night into day. I'm reasonably sure we now have the best-equipped Athena 38 in the world.

A couple of days before our launch date, Maryanne booked us for a 'meet and greet' held for cruisers by the marine version of the local chamber of commerce. She insisted we were overdue a bit of a social life and it would be good for us to have something to look forward to. We took our bicyles into town leaving the boat early to give us some time to check out the marina and have a look around the town. We left our bikes at the marina with the plan of intercepting them again when we went in the water and moved up the river into the town centre. Wow! Whangarei is really nice! As we were strolling around, I realized this had been my first chance to walk around in the grass and just enjoy the scenery since we got to the yard.

At the 'meet and greet' we bumped into a lot of the sailors we haven't seen for a few thousand miles and had a great evening catching up with them and meeting others. They also fed us and a local kid's group put on some traditional singing and even a haka for us. It was terrible because they were awkward little kids fidgeting in their costumes, but it was also adorable for the same reason.


Entertainment from the local Kids - Adorable


Our first sight of the beautiful downtown,
and some of the Yard staff were at the Meet & Greet

We were planning on walking back to the yard, but the owners gave us a ride. They are such nice people. They're getting to the point in their lives where they are looking for a partner so they can dial back, but they've been very slow about it because they know all of their employees are depending on them for their livelihoods and they want to make sure they will all be secure in their incomes. They seem to take their responsibility to them very seriously. The yard really does have the feel of a big extended family.

The next morning, we slept in. Aaahhh, that feels good. Time to tidy up to get ready to go in the water.

{Maryanne} Kyle's blog post has barely touched on the jobs that we got done, and there have been so many even I have forgotten most of them. Everything that was due for a service of any kind got one (even the winch handles), things were checked and inspected, replaced where necessary, and we even upgraded and installed a few new items. Aside from our own work (sewing projects, up and down the mast, etc), we had help from the yard, the local Yanmar specialists, and the metal fabricators. The yard has a supplies store, there is a good chandler just a block away, tens of specialist metal fabricators are also within a couple of blocks, and pizza can be delivered. Most boat work is in tight quarters and Kyle has to squeeze himself into tight spaces and around sharp corners constantly. The yard was quite nice (as yards go) to be living aboard on the hard. They even had a little outdoor seating area and BBQ for the residents to use, laundry machines worked, and everyone was happy to help with the constant stream of requests we made. The other boat owners in the yard were sociable and friendly, tools were swapped about and jobs got done. It wasn't all bad, but we are always ready for it to be over, and we're hoping for some light spending over the next few months (thankfully we'll be at sea, so that should be easy!)

Here are just a handful of the jobs we managed this time around, we should be set for a while.

  • New engine Start motor, relay, and fresh terminals on starter cable
  • Filter and Oil changes all around (motors and drive legs)
  • Impeller and zinc changes all around
  • Sail pack - install new zipper, add some chafe protection patches, install new jack lines
  • New seat cushion and covers at helm
  • Jib sail patches for chafe areas
  • Full rig inspection
  • Apply fresh Non-Slip paint to cockpit and entry areas (that stuff we did in Panama was not working for us)
  • Install AIS transponder (now other boats can see us in yet another way!)
  • Service/install new pump in head
  • Install new tricolour light - with a much better anchor light at last
  • Install new AM/FM stereo, and replace a speaker outside
  • Install cupboard lighting in under-sink cupboard
  • Install new gasket on all the port lights (it turns out that these were leaking primarily since the old gasket wasn't the correct type!!)
  • Install new gasket in the escape hatches (again, old gasket wasn't the correct type!)
  • Install new deck flood light
  • Inspect/Replace radar mount rivets
  • Adjust headstay foil screws (for smoother track)
  • install teflon washers in headstay toggle (after inspection and OK by yard rigger)
  • repair stern step leak, and refix/rebed stern step rubrail
  • Service all winches (and winch handles)
  • Service/refurbish annemometer
  • Wax all gelcoat (top, below, and on hulls)
  • Replace rudder posts
  • Install new sea water tap at galley sink - the new one we put in earlier this year was rusting!
  • remove old bottom paint, epoxy hull, and put new anti-foul paint on (We had the yard to this job)
  • Replace sail drive covers
  • Replace float switches in both engine compartments
  • service wind generator
  • Rebed any loose hardware
  • Lubricate steering, adjust for any slack
  • Weld helm seat support at post (it had a crack)
  • Install new stern anchor reel
  • Install new 12v sockets for charging things (at helm and at nav station)
  • fix gel coat dings
  • Install and setup Iridium Go (another way to get weather and contact folks from the middle of nowhere)
  • etc...

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