Monday, July 7, 2014

Rudder Knowledge
By Michael

A familiar walk through the yard,
Bean always in tow.
…the most curious of the projects by far.

When we hauled Del Viento in 2011, we did so only to paint the bottom. I also re-greased the Maxprop. We were back in the water in just a few days.

But I noticed that during those few days, the concrete beneath our rudder was wet, all the time. A slow drip from the lower hinge assembly was the source of the water. I did nothing about this and we launched.

The notion that our rudder was filled with water bothered me and nagged at me, for about a month. Then, the discovery of bigger boat problems pushed all thoughts of our water-logged rudder aside.

In 2012 we hauled again, this time for the express purpose of installing transducers for our new instruments, out and back in. But a persistent drip over those 48 hours reminded me that we still had a rudder filled with water.

I Googled about this and read everything from horror stories of rudder failures brought on by water intrusion to platitudes seeking to reassure me that all rudders leak. Accordingly, remedies ranged from rudder replacement to drilling drain holes and epoxying them up before launch. This year I resolved to cut a panel out of the side of our rudder to see what’s what.

Maxprop is all greased up
and clean.
Part of what informed my decision was my understanding that rudders are constructed with an internal framework comprised of a vertical post (the part that passes through the hull and which the tiller or wheel rotates) and flat bars welded to it (perpendicular) that transfer the rotational force of the post at the leading edge of the rudder to the rudder’s surface area that extends aft, to the trailing edge. Then this framework is covered in foam that is shaped like an airfoil. Finally, an outer fiberglass skin is applied over the foam layer.

The danger I read about with regard to water intrusion is corrosion. If the water enters the rudder at the difficult-to-seal place where the fiberglass skin meets the rudder post, then it can be assumed that bond is compromised. And if that same water corrodes the welds that attach the flat bars to the post, the rudder can fail such that the post rotates independently of the flat bar, foam, and outer fiberglass skin assembly.

So knowing we’d spend a couple weeks hauled out in a hot, dry place and craving the piece-of-mind I’d gain from seeing what was happening inside, I attached the cutting wheel to my grinder and went to town. Once I’d cut completely through the 3/16”-thick skin, it took only a small bit of prying to pull the cut panel off.

At the bow, between the boot stripe and
the bottom paint, I painted a small, stylized
E and F. Knowing the girls would be pleased,
I walked the family around to the starboard
side and announced that I'd painted an E
for Eleanor. I told them that it would be
there forever. I gave Eleanor a big hug and
asked Windy if she liked it. Frances stared
up at the E, quietly regarding it, before
something finally sparked and she ducked
beneath the bow to see the port side. Then
she beamed.
By this time, I’d read everything I could find about rudder construction and repair. There, beneath the panel, was foam like I expected, but not the foam I expected. This was foam from my childhood, that orange-colored 1970s stuff that is not very dense and turns mealy when you rub it between your fingers. I could poke my finger into it and leave a hole. And it was saturated so water squeezed out of it when I did. Only a portion of it was not delaminated from the fiberglass panel I removed.

I grabbed a big piece of it and pulled it out. There, halfway to the other side of the rudder was a thin wall of resin—I’m guessing polyurethane resin. It was cracked all over and brittle like the sugar melted over crème brulee. I suspect it was used to bond the two sides of foam, but there were wide gaps between the two halves.

I dug deeper, until I reached the other side of the rudder. I removed all the foam and resin. That’s all there was, no flat bar or webbing to connect all this to the post.

Where was the post?

I dug forward, removing all the foam I could towards the leading edge. It wasn’t a post I found, but a solid fiberglass wall. The post was seemingly encapsulated in a cavity immediately aft of the leading edge of the rudder and it seemed the skin was a part of this seeming exoskeleton.

I sent pictures to a respected colleague who works for Good Old Boat and Professional Boatbuilder magazines. He hadn’t seen this before, but asked if he could publish a picture I sent him, to solicit reader knowledge. That was good, and I am eager to learn more, but I’m on the hard in the Sonoran desert. It’s over 100 degrees every day, there are biting ants everywhere, and I’m struggling to stay hydrated and finish these projects so we can get back in the water.

Eleanor and Bean.
So with the knowledge that the rudder was working fine when I opened it up, and with a nod to the Japanese craftsmen who constructed it more than 36 years ago, and with the confidence that I could put it back together at least stronger than it was, I set to work.

First I drilled four drain holes near the base of the rudder and let everything sit in the dry air for two weeks while I attended to other jobs. Then I came back to the rudder and cleaned everything I’d excavated, vacuuming foam bits from the crevices and wiping the surfaces down with acetone. I mixed more than two cups of West System epoxy and poured it slowly into the spaces between the foam halves and the gap between the skin and the lower section of foam. Then I pushed thickened epoxy into the vertical gaps I couldn’t pour into, re-bonding surfaces that appeared to have not been bonded for a long time.

Once everything was cured, I sprayed nearly a full can of dense, closed-cell polyurethane foam into the spaces where it could stick and expand and harden without falling out. Then I epoxy-wetted big areas of the inside surface of the panel I cut out, pushed it into place, and used scrap lumber, rope, and clamps to hold it in place, with pressure.

This is one of the down days of the long
haul-out. About a week after we hauled,
I removed the main sail in preparation for
removing the mast. There in the folds, not
only had a couple finches built a nest, they'd
already left an egg. Frances was devastated.
I wanted to eat it, but instead there was a
proper yard burial.
I’d noted the areas still requiring foam and drilled five holes in the outside of the rudder to spray through, carefully working the straw up as I sprayed, filling every crevice until foam oozed out of the seam and holes. Once dry, I removed the lumber and clamps and used the grinder to expose just over 2.5 inches of raw fiberglass on either side of my cut, a shallow angle that would allow me to make a scarf splice-like fiberglass repair.

I cleaned the entire surface with acetone and then wetted it with epoxy before wetting and applying 5-inch-wide strips of woven glass over the seam. Then I built it up with a 2-inch strip, another 5-inch strip, and then coats of thickened epoxy the next day. Once faired and sanded, the rudder was stronger than when we hauled and all that was left was bottom paint.

I still don’t understand the construction—it may be that there are perpendicular supports attached to the stock down lower, or perhaps this design, as it is, is perfectly robust—but I am confident it is stronger than when we hauled and will probably remain so for the next 36 years. I do look forward to hearing any feedback from the Professional Boatbuilder readership.

We’re back in the water now, underway with a clean bottom, a rudder mystery solved, a transmission not threatening to dump all its fluid, and a mast that will never again interrupt a peaceful night’s slumber. Oh, and even close-up, Del Viento now gleams, looking prettier than ever.


If anyone has seen similar construction, I'd love to hear about it.

Our view for nearly a month--good to be back in the water.

Launching. Will you look at the reflection on that hull.

There is a restaurant in a house just outside the yard. Here
the girls lounge outside.

Monday, June 30, 2014

In Pursuit of Reflection
By Michael

Me, standing on an 8-inch block of wood to
reach the boot stripe I'm painting.
Standing ashore and looking back at her, I’m always pleased to note that Del Viento is a fine looking boat. But approaching her in a dinghy over the past couple years, the nearer we got, the rougher she looked. It became increasingly clear that she sorely lacked cosmetic attention.
Her hull and topsides were rough and chalk-like. Everything soaked into her porous surfaces and left a stain. Her 36-year-old gelcoat looked like 36-year-old gelcoat. The turquoise ornament and boot stripes were worn, chipped, and faded. Our pending haul-out represented an opportunity to remedy this.

Back in my 20s, when I lived aboard the first Del Viento, my liveaboard neighbors took sandpaper to the hull of their Passport 47. It was the first time I’d heard about very fine grit sandpaper and wet sanding. I was shocked to see this method bring a high shine to Mimosa’s gelcoat.

So twenty years later, I bought a lot of sandpaper, sheets and sheets of the 400-, 600-, and 1500-grit stuff suitable for wet sanding. For days in the Guaymas boat yard I stood on scaffolding and ran my 1/3-sheet electric sander over the hull with water everywhere (don’t do this at home, I nearly destroyed the cheap corded sander, went through nearly half-a-can of WD-40 to keep it going). White gelcoat residue ran down my arms and covered my hat. In the 110-degree heat, it felt good.

Slowly, a smooth, shiny finish emerged. At this point I taped and painted the ornament stripe and boot stripe a dark, dark blue. Then I used my buffer to first apply a liquid polish and finally a paste wax. It took more than a week of work and my arms were ready to fall off, but the results are astounding. Del Viento could almost slip undetected into a gaggle of new boats at the Annapolis Sailboat Show--sort of. I've yet to do the same to the gelcoat surfaces of our cabin top.

Next up is the story about the final major yard project. This one didn’t take the most time, but it was the most curious of the projects by far…

Caught in the moment--Frances reacts to something she ate
at a Guaymas taco stand.
Eleanor and Sophia (of Dawn Treader) and Frances at a fancy beachside
restaurant in San Carlos where we celebrated Carla's (Dawn Treader)

This picture sort of captures the shine of the polished gelcoat.
In fact, this picture captures everything, taken the
evening before we launched.
The girls feeding rice to pigeons in the pretty Guaymas plaza.
Windy insists it's an urban myth that you shouldn't feed
birds rice lest their little stomachs explode. If so, shame about all the
weddings where the end of the rice tradition resulted instead
in the manufacture and disposal of millions of little bubble-
blowing bottles. Think twice before you start an urban myth.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tranny Time
By Michael

Tranny out. The job was surprisingly simple,
just bolts around the bell housing. The
challenge was separating the coupling.
I sometimes vacuum my engine room. Sounds odd, I know, but the 25-year-old Yanmar and her surroundings aren’t made up of broad, smooth areas to wipe down; the surfaces are intricate and difficult to reach. So after gradual wearing of the belt has left a coat of rubber dust everywhere, I pull out our (excellent) 120V vacuum cleaner. They say it’s good for the engine to keep it clean.

I share this anecdote to say that I know this space. Anything new stands out.

“Look at this,” I said to Windy, “I think we have a problem.”

It was faint, but a fine pink mist had discolored the clean, white oil absorbing mats I keep under the engine and transmission. The pink mist had made a radial spray pattern, one line of pink just below where the shaft exits the transmission.

“That’s transmission fluid. I think it’s coming from the seal and spinning off the shaft when we’re under power.”

I opened our manual to see the seal in the breakdown diagram and then small-framed Windy contorted herself and used a headlamp and a mirror to explore underneath the transmission to find more evidence to support the bad seal theory.

Transmission re-installed. A big side benefit
of this job was being able to clean and
paint this half of the engine room.
I flipped the pads over and watched a new spray pattern form after about ten hours of engine run time. I checked the fluid and added two ounces.

“Good timing for this to happen, since we’re hauling out in Guaymas this week.” Windy said.

I emailed the Mexican boat yard for their mailing address and permission to receive a package. Then I emailed a Yanmar parts supplier in San Diego to have a new seal shipped down.

“You should replace the nut too.”

“How much are those?”

“Forty-five dollars.”

A week after we hauled, the parts arrived. I disconnected the transmission, realized there was no way I would be able to change out the seal with the transmission in the boat, and removed the transmission. Once out, I realized there was no way I would be able to remove the nut that attached the coupling to the back.

Then Omar appeared, a local mechanic who dropped by to coordinate the removal of the engine from our neighbor’s boat. Omar clearly knew our transmission and said he could remove and replace the nut and both seals in his shop and bring it back Monday morning. Sold.

Omar brought it back as promised and I went to work reinstalling the transmission and coupling inside a boat sitting on the hot earth. It was over 100 degrees inside.

So that’s it for the mast and transmission work. In the next post, I’ll write about the biggest job of all, the one that consumed almost half our time in the yard…


Frances with one of the sheep at the far end of the yard.

Father's Day in the yard. I woke to receive the larger
citrus squeezer I'd coveted, wrapped by the girls
to make it impossible to guess what was inside.

Eleanor and Bean with one of the friendly yard security guards.
As we go to press, his name is on the tip of all our tongues...

Frances and Eleanor out to lunch downtown with Windy.
They are no doubt keeping out of my way for 26 days
while I transform Del Viento to the extent possible.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Stick Job
By Michael

Here the crane has me in a bosun's
chair; I'm attaching a loop of
webbing just beneath the spreaders.
It was a problem. It was a problem that drove Windy to a place beyond extreme agitation, but still this side of madness. It bothered me too, but I was resigned to living with the problem simply because the remedy seemed so daunting. Then Windy took a turn decidedly towards madness: “It’s either we fix this or we sell the boat.”

Our mast is over 60 feet long. It’s hollow and made of aluminum. In the summer of 2012, we installed a new anchor light and a wind instrument transducer at the top of the mast and a new radome about halfway up the mast. When we installed these devices, we dropped cables down the inside of the mast and out the bottom. Since that time, every slight pitch and roll of our boat has caused yards and yards of loose cables to swing, hitting the inside walls of the mast. In the cabin down below, this produced a cacophony that I imagine is like being trapped in the bell tower of Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral at noon.

The obvious fix for this problem is to remove the mast from the boat. But that is a big deal, and certainly seems like an extreme measure simply to silence a few clanging wires. I Googled nine ways to Sunday for a way to fix this acoustic nightmare without removing our mast. Windy and I spent way too many hours manipulating improvised tools through small holes in the mast, trying to catch and secure the troublesome wires.

It’s either we fix this or sell the boat.

As we planned to haul Del Viento sometime this summer, we included in that plan a decision to pull the mast, somehow secure the wires, and re-step the spar.

So the first thing you should know is that I’ve never pulled the mast on a boat before. I came into this project knowing little except the obvious: I would have to detach the following things.
  • the boom and vang from the mast
  • all standing rigging from the deck
  • all the aforementioned wiring from someplace inside the boat
Beyond that, I trusted that the yard would take care of the rest.

“I want to pull the mast,” I said in Spanish to the yard manager, “maybe tomorrow?”

“Si, I’ll contact the company we work with and let you know what time the crane will be here.”

“Great, thanks!”

The next day, a couple hours later than scheduled, the crane arrived. I greeted the operator and asked whether he’d done this before.

“Oh yeah, lots of times—all these boats,” he said waving his arm across the sea of boats sitting with ours in the sun-scorched yard. I enthusiastically told him I was relieved to hear this, as I’d never done this before. Then he hemmed and hawed (in Spanish) and told me I’d first have to remove the radar. We both looked up the mast.

“No way Jose!” (I didn’t really say that, but I did ask him why, protesting mildly because the few Youtube videos I’d watched the night before didn’t show anyone removing their radar so they could run a sling up the mast.)
Remember Project Bean? Well, it's ongoing.
Here Frances carries him through the streets
of Guaymas in a backpack. This is very near
where Windy found him.

From his explanation (in Spanish), I understood that he planned to wrap his short loop around our mast, attach it to his hook, and pull, letting it slide upward until it caught beneath the tangs where my lower shrouds attached. I’d learned from Youtube and Google that this was not the way to go about this. I’d learned that pulling from these tangs or even from the spreader bases was a recipe for damage. I’d learned that a good way to pull a big mast like ours was to loop beneath the spreader bases, but to attach separate lines to this loop and run them down to the halyard winches, transferring the weight of the mast to the winches, but retaining a control point up high, above the center of gravity.

I realized I was now in charge of this operation. I explained to the crane operator and the assembled yard crew exactly how I wanted to do this. Everyone agreed.

Then the crane operator offered that he wasn’t sure he could lift the base of the mast above the lifelines. The arm of the crane was now extended to just about a foot above the spreaders.

“How much higher can you go?”

“This is it.”

It turned out the crane operator who’d assured me of his experience had no idea our mast was keel stepped and was amazed at the notion. Laughing and shaking his head, he drove off. The company he worked for had a larger crane, but it was broken. He thought it would be fixed within two weeks.

“There is another company,” the yard manager assured me, “I’ll call them.”

It was clear when the next crane arrived that this is what we needed from the start. It was clear when I talked to the driver that I was still going to have to manage this effort. I again explained what I wanted to do. I asked him to haul me up in my bosun’s chair, explaining that I’d secure the loop beneath the spreaders exactly as I wanted them, but leave it hanging in a way that it would be easy to grab later with the hook.

So that’s what I did. I positioned the loop and dropped two attached lines to the deck. Once he lowered me, I detached my chair, he hooked the loop above, and I tensioned the lines on the halyard winches. Then the crane pulled and our mast lifted without complaint, the top of it soon reaching more than eight stories up. We guided it down to the old tires, crates, and chairs I’d scrounged and assembled on the ground alongside our boat.

Just like that we turned Del Viento into a powerboat…a disabled powerboat, more on that in the next post.


This is the anchorage in front of the Guaymas Fonatur marina,
across the bay from where we hauled.

The morning of the haulout, awaiting the lift.

Frances watching Del Viento rise.

And this is why I married her. Here Windy sits in the
blazing heat, biting ants everywhere, peering into
the mast for 45 minutes to untangle wires.
This is the middle of the operation in which we
eventually, successfully, pulled 12 swim noodles
up the length of the mast with the offending
wires inside them. I never want to have to do this again.

This is our mast step. After I cleaned the step up, I cut a
hole in this thin, tough, plastic placemat and laid it down.
Along with the Lanocot I generously applied to the base
of the mast, this should reduce the corrosion caused by
the aluminum/stainless steel interface.