Thursday, November 22, 2018

Leak, Crew, Potential Re-routing


I left Intermezzo in La Paz to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday in California.

Just before I left I had to deal with a very small leak coming from the tube that penetrates the hull for the port rudder. The sealant in the annular space between this tube and the rudder tube has failed and water was steadily trickling into the engine compartment ever since launching the boat a few weeks ago. The sump below the engine was full of water and was starting to spill over into the bilge pump well.

It's not a dangerous leak, but it needs to be fixed.

I didn't have time to do a permanent repair before I had to catch my flight but I did a good temporary one.  I built up a fillet with Splash Zone waterproof epoxy between the two tubes and then wrapped it with self-fusing silicon X-Treme Tape.  The slowed the trickle to just a drip.  The Splash Zone wasn't really the right material to use for this repair; I thought it would be a stiff enough paste to stop the leak but the steady trickle of water was enough to thin and weaken it. Now I have rock-hard cured epoxy to deal with when I do the permanent repair. I should have used butyl tape to make the temporary fillet; that might have actually stopped the leak, too.  However, I am very impressed by the X-Treme Tape. It was really easy to work with and made an effective temporary repair that can be easily removed.

When I get back to the boat, I'm going to ballast the opposite bow of the boat to raise the port stern and get rudder penetration out of the water. Then I'll fiberglass the joint between the tubes to stop the leak completely and permanently. I'll fiberglass the starboard rudder penetration too, as it shows signs of leaking in the past.

The other news is that a third crew member has signed on for Leg 1 of The Voyage. Pierre-Luc ("Pete") is a police officer from Quebec and has some decent experience sailing on catamarans including a delivery from Miami to Belize which included some pretty heavy weather. I think Pete, Roy and I will make for a very capable and compatible crew.

We may need to change our destination for Leg 1. Marina Chahue in Huatulco is currently closed due to silting from Tropical Storm Vincente. The harbormaster says they are waiting for dredging equipment to arrive but has no idea when the marina will reopen. This is an important marina for southbound sailors as it is the place to wait for a weather window to cross the Golfo de Tehuantepec. The next closest port to the north is Acapulco.  I didn't like Acapulco much when we stopped there in February 2016; beautiful a place as it is, it seemed like a tired and worn out city. So, if Chahue doesn't reopen in time for us to sail to Huatulco, we'll probably end Leg 1 in Ixtapa, next door to Zihuatanejo. That will add quite a few miles to Leg 2 and make it a bit trickier to time the Tehauntepec weather window, but won't be too big a deal.

Intermezzo's weeping rudder penetration

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Roy Saves the Day! (With Help from Gilles)

It’s been a very productive time since launching Intermezzo on November 2.

First, the boat needed a good scrubbing to remove all the dirty footprints of the boatyard guys who helped launch us. I made my first trip to the Saturday street market to pick up fresh food with a stop at my favorite grocery store, Aramburro, for basic necessities, including beer, wine, and rum.

Next I bent on the main sail and stack pack. This is a tough job to do solo because the sail is heavy and unwieldy. It took a few grunts and groans, but I managed to do a full test hoist to the top of the mast and then flake the sail neatly in the stack pack. I finally got the lazy jacks adjusted so they work and look better, too.

Miscellaneous jobs, unpacking and organization took up the next couple of days, but by Wednesday I was ready to tackle the biggest job on the list; repairing the jib furler.  The furler had been getting increasingly hard to turn over the past year, making it difficult to furl and unfurl the jib. Now I could hardly turn the furling drum at all.

I had contacted the US distributed of the Z-Spar furler, US Spars, to describe the problem and ask them for advice on how to repair. Their technical advisor, Matthias, told me that my model of furler has stainless steel bearings and they needed to be replaced. So I ordered a pair ($149 plus shipping!) and brought them with me to La Paz.

I had a diagram of the main furler components and instructions on how to install and remove it, but no internal parts diagram and Matthias could not provide one, only a verbal recollection from when he used to repair them back before the furler design changed in 2012.  So I figured I would have to proceed carefully and do exploratory surgery.

The first step was to remove the furler from the forestay. I checked the tension on the forestay and it seemed pretty loose to me, so I thought I would be able to remove the rigging pin without having to loosen the shrouds, the turnbuckles of which I new would take a lot to get to turn after several years of neglect on my part. I gave the rigging pin a tap and it seemed to move pretty easily, so far so good. So I used my socket extension to drive the pin out. It got a little harder to get the pin to move, but I kept tapping. Big mistake. The pin shot out of the clevis, fortunately landing on the trampoline instead of in the water, to be replaced by my socket extension, now jammed tightly in the hole of the clevis. Shit.

That was stupid of me. I totally underestimated the tension on the forestay and, of course, it needs be pretty tight to support the mast. I knew that subconsciously, I guess I just went into denial so I wouldn’t have to deal with loosening the shrouds. Lazy and stupid of me.

I got some penetrating oil out, soaked the shroud turnbuckle and started going at them with the biggest wrenches and screwdrivers I had on board. No way was I going to get them to turn just doing that. I sunk into a feeling of slight despair, what had I done? I made Intermezzo un-sailable. How was I going to get myself out of this self-made predicament?

Just then, guess who appears on the dock with a bag of tools? Roy! He had emailed my the night before to tell me that he was coming to help work on the boat, but I hadn’t received his message. So, to me, he showed up out of the blue, just at the right time. I explained to him in a forlorn tone the jam I had gotten myself into.  He took it all in stride and said, encouragingly, “Well, you know what they say. No such things as can’t. It’s just how.”

Roy has worked just about every job there is on oil rigs and oil wells. I figure the furler and stuck turnbuckles looked like toys to him, compared to the scale of rigging he is used to working with. He took a look at the turnbuckles and then set out for the hardware store to buy a couple of tire bars to get more leverage on them

While Roy was away, I called my friend and rigger, Gilles (GC Rigging and Composites), to ask his advice on how to loosen stubborn rigging screws. He told me to use penetrating oil, apply heat with a heat gun and just start working them back in forth, bit by bit. When Roy returned, we did just that, and after few hours of hard, sweaty, oily work, we got the turnbuckles freed up and my socket extension extracted from the rig.  Hurrah!

Roy and I then set to repairing the furler. The ball bearings were not only devoid of any lubricant, they were jammed up by rust from failed shaft seals. The shaft seals had carbon (not stainless) steel springs which had completely rusted away in the salt water environment, depositing their remains in the bearings. The whole bearing assembly is a terrible design, the bearings inaccessible to lubricate and dissimilar materials causing galvanic corrosion all around them. A rusted mess.

It was sunset when we finished cleaning the furler up and we decided to call it quits for the day.  We cracked open cold beers and I bought Roy a well-earned dinner at Vrentino’s, one of my favorite La Paz restaurants. 

The next morning we started reassembling the furler. We didn’t have replacement shaft seals but decided it was better to just install the new bearings without them, as it would make it easier to flush them with fresh water. By late morning, we had the furler repaired and back on the forestay, the shroud turnbuckles turning smoothly to tighten the rig back up.

That difficult job done, Roy took the briefest of a pause and then asked “What’s next?” I stood there and looked at him for a few seconds. On my own, I probably would have called it a day, pleased to get the job done before the heat of the afternoon. But looking at Roy, eager to do more, that was out of the question.

So, we ended up stripping and cleaning all five winches on board, a job that is supposed to be done annually, but which I had waited over five years to do. The guts of all the winches were pretty clean and well-lubricated, confirming my conclusion that annual maintenance is excessive. The benefit of taking the winches apart is more to inspect them, in my opinion. I think from now on I’ll pull the drums off annually and only strip, clean and lubricate if things look funky.

Roy not only saved my bacon with the jib furler, he proved to me that he is a very capable guy, both in skill and attitude, with a calm demeanor and sense of humor. We got along really well.  He’s volunteered for the entire Voyage and I’m very optimistic that he will be a great crew member and that we’ll become good friends.

In gratitude for his help and to check his skills and abilities on the water, I invited Roy to bring his two daughters vacationing from cold Edmonton on an overnight sailing trip, which he enthusiastically accepted. 

That’s what we’re doing now. Intemezzo is anchored in Caleta Lobos, one of my favorite little coves just north of La Paz,  and Roy, Rylee and Keely are swimming around the boat together enjoying themselves in the warm blue water.

Yesterday’s sail here was in windy (>20 knot) conditions with steep 1 meter chop, beating upwind. Although he has very little sailing experience, Roy did great as we worked through raising sails, reefing, tacking and anchoring. He’ll be great crew.  I’m feeling very fortunate and grateful for our paths to have crossed when they have. Serendipity, I guess. 

Tomorrow I fly back to California to catch up with my daughter Hannah at the tail end of her visit there and to cook a Thanksgiving dinner, leaving Intermezzo at rest at berth in Marina Palmira.

The furler raised, exposing the clevis and pin at the end of the forestay. Just before I messed up.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Intermezzo Launched!

We successfully launched Intermezzo yesterday and motored up the Canal de La Paz to Marina Palmira, Intermezzo’s home port for the next couple of months. I appreciated assistance from Roy, a potential crew member for The Voyage who drove up from Cabo to help and get acquainted with me and the boat.

The launch went well as I had arranged with a nearby boat yard to have several helpers on the boat in addition to Roy to help guide Intermezzo into the travelift slipway, which is only a couple of feet wider than Intermezzo’s maximum beam (width). It was high tide, conditions were calm and what little wind there was, was on the nose. It all made for an easy launch.

The only minor hiccup was the port engine not turning over when the boat got in the water. I had checked both starting batteries the day before and they had discharged quite a bit during six months of storage. I connected them to the house bank to charge them via the solar panels for the whole day and they both checked out with over 12 volts by evening.  I was pretty confident that they would have enough juice to start the engines, but just to be sure I didn’t end up in an awkward situation in the slipway, I bought a small jump starter battery pack at the nearby Autozone shop. When it came time to start the engines, the starboard engine started up after a few revolutions but the port engine just went “click”. No worries, though. Roy jumped into the engine compartment, quickly connected the jump start pack and a few seconds later, the port engine was chugging along nicely.  I highly recommend having one of these jump start packs on board if your house batteries are too far away from the starting batteries to use jumper cables, as they are on Intermezzo.

The port battery has been worrying me , seeming to lack cranking power compared to the starboard battery for the past year. I’ll bring both batteries into the shop for testing and maybe they can be renewed by applying an equalizing charge, a high voltage charging that gets the sulfates off the lead mats. I hope that works rather than replacing the batteries here because I am a devout believer in Lifeline batteries, a brand that is difficult to get in Mexico and expensive if you can find them.

It was nice motoring to Marina Palmira with Roy on beautiful sunny day with a gentle breeze. Roy is enthusiastic, attentive, fit and has a solid set of skills from his diverse work experience in the oil industry, but he hasn’t sailed much. I used our short trip to acquaint him with aids to navigation (buoys) and rules of the road. I explained that even if a stand on vessel has right of way over a burdened vessel, the stand on vessel must take action to avoid collision if necessary. Right after explaining this, I had to speed Intermezzo up to avoid a collision with a panga to our port (the burdened vessel) commanded by a solo fisherman who was messing with his fishing gear instead of steering his boat. I told Roy, “See, that was just like a power boater from Alberta. You can’t trust them.” Roy is Canadian, from near Edmonton.

It felt good to sleep in my berth on Intermezzo last night. I still have to unpack a bunch of stuff and put things in their proper place, but the boat feels like home again.  I went shopping at the Saturday street market today and filled the fridge and larder with fresh vegetables, staple ingredients for meals, a few bottles of wine and a bottle of rum.

Now to tackle the long list of pre-Voyage projects.

Charging the starting batteries with solar panels via the house bank

Intermezzo in slung in the travelift, on the way to being splashed
The little ump starter battery pack that saved the day

My old friend Jeffery on the dock.
No sign of his cousin, Sir Geoffrey yet.

The pre-Voyage task list.
I squeezed it onto one page.