Monday, January 16, 2012

Our Pubescent Sailboat

When we hauled Tango out of the water for her pre-sale survey, we noticed, after a quick look over, that she had a few blisters on her hull.  For those unfamiliar, blisters are essentially boat acne.  Per Don Casey “Fiberglass blisters occur because water passes through the gelcoat. Water soluble chemicals inside the laminate exert an osmotic pull on the water outside, and some water molecules find a way through the gelcoat.  As more water is attracted into the enclosed space, internal pressure builds. The water molecules aren’t squirted back out the way they came in because they have combined with the attracting chemical into a solution with a larger molecular structure. Instead, the pressure pushes the covering gelcoat into a dome – a blister.”  We knew that these were going to have to be taken care of once we got the boat home and out of the water.  
When we hauled her for the winter, we noticed that, upon closer inspection, she had more than we expected – at least a dozen or so.  She had numerous layers of old, flaking paint on her bottom, which needed to be removed, and with the blisters we were seeing, we were now faced with two different options.  We could have her soda blasted (similar to pressure washing with baking soda) or we could have the first layer of gel coat and fiberglass mechanically peeled. The former option would require, once the soda blasting was complete, that all the blisters be “popped” (oddly enough this result is much like squeezing a zit, but what comes out of boat blisters is an acidy liquid that you do not want to touch), opened up, washed out, and then allowed to completely dry out, and then finish with a repair.  This is a significant amount of work, and may not guarantee that you will fix the problem.  With the latter option, it would be the more (much more) expensive option, would be less work for us, but would give us a better chance of not having blisters in the future.  The catch here is that once she was hauled, while we saw a few more than we expected, we didn’t really know the extent of the problem and wouldn’t know until we did the soda blast.  However, if we did the soda blasting and found many more blisters (hundreds instead of tens, we’d be out the money we spent for the soda blast which is, by no means, inexpensive, and may still need to have her peeled, which is quite expensive.
So, in the end we decided to just to do the soda blast, assess the full extent of the problem and repair the damage.  In all the reading we’ve done, shallow gelcoat blisters will not sink your boat.  They are not ideal for the hull, reducing her hydrodynamics, but they are not detrimental to the structural integrity of the boat unless allowed to go unchecked and develop into deep blisters (penetrating the second layer of laminate and beyond).  She now sits in the yard, with a completely bare bottom down to her gelcoat. 
Tango before her bottom was soda blasted
Soda Blast Prep
Tango after soda blast

We’ve discovered a lot of blisters (more than a 100), all but three of which are only through the gel coat with the remaining three only into the first layer of fiberglass.  This is relatively good news, but this also means we have a lot of work ahead of us.  Each one of the blisters will need to be fully opened up, grinded out and then built back up with epoxy ( a combination of resin, hardener, and colloidal silica). The down side is this may only be a band-aid if the gelcoat is prone to blistering, which it seems to be.  In that case we either have to live with the blistered bottom and fix them as they come up, or go ahead and have her peeled and repaired, shelling out several thousands of dollars for an essentially new bottom.  While the money set aside for her current refit is quickly dwindling, we’ll look at her again in two years when we have her hauled again.
A couple of small, surface blisters
The blisters are the dark spots, her port aft hull area has quite a few.
One of the three bad blisters on Tango

Surprisingly, blisters are not that uncommon and it really is a game of chance as to whether your boat will have them.  Sometimes they tend to be seen on particular brands of boats, which may mean that they are due to the way in which the hulls are laid or the ingredients the manufacturer  used for the gelcoat.  Others seem to happen by complete chance, such as those on our Mason 44.  Maybe they waited too long between spraying the gelcoat and laying the first layer of fiberglass, maybe it was a bad batch of gelcoat, but one thing is for sure; there isn’t anything you can do as an owner to cause blisters, but once you have them, they’re yours to deal with  I guess when you compare our boat to others with blisters, it could be worse…
Not our boat but an example of a serious blister problem.

In the end, considering our boat is an adolescent (16 years old), we shouldn’t be so surprised she is suffering from an acne breakout.  Let’s just hope she doesn’t go through that lashing out phase where she hates her parents.

got gas?

When we first moved aboard, though it was easier than I thought it would be, it definitely took an adjustment to get accustomed to doing things, well…differently.  While I’ve said to many folks that we find living aboard “easier”, I don’t necessarily mean it in its literal sense.  Easy for us tends to mean “simply”.  We don’t have 5 or 10 pairs of jeans, or countless t-shirts.  If we want to get a new pair of jeans, an old pair on the boat has to go – it’s a one for one swap.  Living in a small space, we no longer buy the economy size pack of paper towels, with 8 rolls, or the 12 pack of toilet paper.  This makes us more conscious of our usage (at least with the paper towels), thus wasting far less than we might have on land.  Living aboard has forced us to think differently about how we approach many things.  For example, on the boat we have a small 8 cubic foot fridge; so when we go grocery shopping, we only shop for the next 4 days, since that’s all there’s room for.  I remember the first time I went to the grocery store after moving on board, with each item I placed in the cart I had to visualize (in particular, anything that was cold and/or required refrigeration after opening) whether there would be sufficient space.  I couldn’t buy more than I had room to store in our new down-sized “kitchen”. 
One of the biggest differences of living aboard is that there is not an endless supply of resources, such as water, propane for cooking, and even electricity (when we are not at the dock, connected to shore power).   On Knotty we have 88 gallons of fresh water - when that runs out, we have to refill the tanks.  In the winter that means driving up to the marina office, filling two 6 gallon jerry jugs, and lugging them back to the boat.  Depending on how many times we are willing to do that, in the often bitter cold and piercing wind, determines how much water we have on board.   Even in the summer, when the task is much easier, it still requires that we go out and attach the hose and filter to the dock-side spigot , run the hose to the bow to fill the forward tank, then monitor it until full, reversing the process once complete.  So living aboard has taught us a lot about conservation. 
I recently talked about how we utilize baking as an additional heat source in the winter.  Well, the other evening, which happened to be my night to cook, I mentioned to J that  we should go ahead and fill up our propane tank the next day.  We’ve been doing a lot of cooking, so I figured we would be running on the low side.   Just for giggles (though I wasn’t laughing later) I thought to myself what I would have to do if I ran out of propane in the middle of cooking.  I was in the process of making one of our regular meals, a turkey Tex Mex, and had just put the ground turkey into the hot pan to brown.  No sooner than finishing my thought, about my hypothetical plan B, did I hear a putter, putter, and then poof… Yes, I had run out of propane!  With that, I turned off the LPG solenoid and prepared to finish dinner up in the cockpit, on the grill.
Upon going topside, I checked the LPG and sure enough, the pressure gauge read zero.  I guess we did more baking then we realized. 

So, I proceeded to go back below, bundle up and gather all my remaining ingredients, and spent the next  20 minutes standing in the cockpit, taking in the quiet evening while I completed cooking our meal. 
Implementing Plan B
The stern pulpit seats serve as great counters :)

I will admit that at first I wasn’t happy about the situation, but it wasn’t because of being outside in the cold, it was because I had just thought to myself how much I didn’t want to have to implement my Plan B.  As I stood there, laughing at myself, I made a mental note to check the propane more often. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

“So, what do you do in the winter?”

You’d be surprised at the number of people, when we tell them we live aboard, who ask that question.   Typically that follows with additional questions like “Well, doesn’t it get cold?” and “What do you do about heat or when it snows?”  Our responses are along the lines of “We do the same as you do living on land.”  We have heaters, three of them to be exact, which are used instead of our reverse cycle A/C (which stops working when the H2O temps get below 50 degrees).  I will note that all said heaters are on full blast right now since it was so cold today (10 degrees this AM with the wind chill) and I came home to icicles on the transom!! In addition to the heaters, we wear sweatshirts , warm cozy pants, and always have on thick socks and slippers.  When it snows, we shovel the dock and the deck of the boat (who knew a dust pan would make such a great shovel for a boat!).  So really, it isn’t much different from land life.  There are a few things, though, that we’ve learned after already spending our first winter aboard.  
First, no matter how hard we try, the bottom 2ft of our boat above the floor will ALWAYS be cold; after all, our house is constantly submerged in about 2ft of H2O (which this AM was about 37 degrees!).  Kind of funny when you think of it, we are always standing in water up to our knees : )
Second,  boats sweat...  Last year, we were quite alarmed when we looked in the bilge to find a lot of H2O, which shouldn’t have been there!  We have a dripless shaft, which equates to a dry bilge.  We knew that during times of heavy rain, sometimes some water would get in through the cockpit shower locker and through a small leak we had on the headstay stem fitting.  However, neither of these should have produced as much water as we had.   To make matters worse, we removed the water and about an hour later, there was more!  Where could it have been coming from!?   We thought the boat had a leak and when you live in something that is supposed to remain afloat, taking on water from unknown places is not fun!  Needless to say, we finally determined what it was – condensation…  The boat is significantly warmer than the water it sits in, so naturally condensation formed.  This year we know to expect some water and we are very conscious when it comes to humidity, e.g., we do more cooking in the oven, than on the stove top to avoid the additional humidity from the steam and we keep the dehumidifier running.  We also learned last year just how much heat the human body puts off as we found a significant amount of condensation under our mattress.  This is a place you do not want moisture as it can lead to mold and ruin mattresses (they are not cheap!). Last winter we pulled the mattress away from the bulkheads every AM and then on the weekends propped up the mattress to completely dry it out.  This was not ideal…  So, for this winter, we were determined to figure out a better solution.  Allow me to introduce Hypervent Condensation Prevention Matting – another great product!  It’s a Spun Polymer which is bonded to a breathable fabric layer, and does not compress allowing an open layer of air to form.  We put some under our mattress and, so far, have had no condensation – yay! 
Lastly, bake often!  Not only does it help with the condensation prevention but it helps heat the boat.  We have our favorites –Greek Shrimp (thanks Nan), or Artichoke Chicken (thanks LT).  We also do breakfast breads like pumpkin apple bread (thanks C) and hopefully this weekend, I’ll attempt some homemade rustic bread, yum!  Although, the only downside to the delicious and comforting baked goods is the resultant increase in our waistlines…  I guess if we were in the northern latitudes, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, so maybe we are just practicing for the future… or at least that is what I’m telling myself… :) 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Faucets, Sink Drains and Mast Steps – Oh My!

We’ve been busy working on Tango since she was hauled out of the H2O almost 6 weeks ago. She is completely torn apart and while we’ve made some headway on things, we still have a long way to go…
What a mess!

Poor Tango!
We took advantage of the long holiday weekend and the great weather we’ve had to get a few things done on the boat. Our to-do list is literally pages long and it seems like each time we mark one item off, another 2- 3 get added. Or, what we think will only take 2hrs to do, end up taking 2 days because we don’t have the right tools or materials. I guess that is to be expected when we’re refitting a 16yr old boat, which was built in Taiwan so nearly everything is metric and hasn’t had much, if any, preventive and periodic maintenance done on her. So why would this weekend be any different? We had an old faucet which I didn’t care for and thought it was an eyesore (it was at one point white, I think, but had turned to a dingy yellow color), so we decided to replace it. With Tango we wanted a higher faucet neck because the one we have now on Knotty sits relatively low so it makes it difficult to clean pots and pans. So we got a really nice sterling silver faucet from Lowes and two new drains (the old ones were extremely corroded and rusty) which we figured the replacement would be a one day job. Well three days later, it still is not complete, but we are getting there. The faucet went in with no major issues (J did a great job and its looks awesome!), the drains did as well (with the exception of the quick trip to Lowes to get plumbers putty) but the plumbing under the sink has been the clincher. The two drains were routed, let’s say a bit unconventionally so we’re still fighting with the plumbing portion. We figure may as well do it right now, and not have to deal with fixing it again later… Here’s hoping we can get that one done and marked off our list soon!
The old faucet...

The new faucet...

When we hauled Tango for the season, we took off her mast so that we could work on that as well. That too has its own to do list which is at least a page in length. Our mast is keel stepped which means it does not connect to the boat on the deck but rather, it goes through the boat all the way to the keel and rests there. Keel stepped is preferred for offshore sailing.
The mast step was covering in dirt and debris and needed to be cleaned up before we could inspect it and determine if that too would need replacement. After using the good ole Shop-Vac and some Prism Polish which I should add is by far my favorite cleaning, polishing, corrosion prevention/treatment product – if you could use it as hair conditioner, I probably would! This stuff is amazing! Anyway, after getting it all cleaned it looks like there is some surface corrosion which needs to be removed and treated (again, took one item off the list and added two more) but it looks like we’ll be able to salvage this one and not have to replace it.
Mast Step BEFORE (bottom 3/4 cleaned with Prism Polish)

AWESOME stuff!

Mast Step - AFTER
While on the topic of the mast, yesterday I spent a little while on the task of removing the existing rigging (while J continued to battle with the plumbing under the sink). We didn’t have a full day at Tango due to the usual weekend errands and we had a New Year’s celebration to attend, hosted by our good friends S & A, but I wanted to at least get it started. We’ve already ordered all the new wire for the rigging, and we plan to do it ourselves, but the first step is getting off the old. I was able to remove the upper fittings, the intermediate and the port lower fittings before we had to call it a day. Hopefully tomorrow I can finish that task and move on to removing and treating the corrosion on the mast – fun, fun!!