With my pride and joy perched in the travel lift slings at last, I was too exhausted to rejoice at the imminent prospect of her being relaunched. "I'm going to miss watching you grind and paint every day," said Vince, the yard owner. "You've become a fixture here at V & G Boatworks." A fixture in a boatyard is the last the thing I wanted to be. My projected one-week haulout had stretched into three and a half weeks of grueling, around-the-clock labor, and at times, utter frustration as I tried to finish the boat and salvage something of our planned summer cruise to the Bahamas.
The discovery of some punky steel beneath the head and around the mast step meant that I wasn't going to just paint the bottom, change the zincs, and drop the old girl back in the water like I had planned. Instead, new steel needed to be welded in place, which sounds simple on paper, or on your computer screen, but on the boatyard tarmac it translates into a grimy, dusty, time-consuming ordeal. And, of course, there is the issue of cost, which turned out to be about three times what I had told my wife Lesa to expect.
"How can this happen," she asked in an incredulous tone edged with anger. "You are supposed to be an expert." There was no use trying to explain that once I committed to the new steel, much of the interior had to come out, more paint was required, etc., etc. I just shook my head. My statement that at least the boat was in better shape than ever was not exactly what she wanted to hear. She confessed that the boat did look good, but she had a look in her eyes that clearly said: "you never seem to learn do you."
The short answer is no, I don't, but fortunately, I can always rationalize a boatyard disaster, after all it's better to have problems when the boat is propped up ashore than when you are a l,000 miles from the nearest port. How's that for rationale? The truth is, you really don't have much control over the direction a haulout will take; boats have a mind of their own. As a delivery skipper I have suffered the blues in an array of boatyards all over the world. Although most deliveries get underway without inspecting the boat out of the water, sometimes emergencies or mere logistics require hauling the boat and for reasons known only by Neptune, things never go the way I plan.
Many years ago I undertook my most challenging delivery ever, and, as it turned out, the only delivery I've had to abort. I agreed, against all the collected wisdom and advice of my friends and colleagues to deliver an 80 year old, 74-foot teak ketch from Ft. Lauderdale to Indonesia. I was blinded by the romance of the project and paid no attention to the vessel's obviously hogged sheer line and droopy stern. Isoletta was a classic Fife designed English pilot cutter built in Scotland in 1908. A couple living in Djakarta had purchased her; Karen was an American attorney and Tim an engineer from Australia. Massively constructed of inch-and-a-half teak planks on oak frames, the survey showed that structurally she was sound. So I assembled a crew and shoved off for the Panama Canal.
Before we reached Key West, Isoletta was leaking 100 gallons an hour, and this was in calm conditions. By time we reached the Yucatan Channel, we were leaking a steady 200 gallons every hour. We knew this figure was accurate because we had a massive hand pump on deck and once it was primed, every stroke was worth half a gallon. Clearly something had to be done. The nearest commercial shipyard, outside of Cuba, was in Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras, so we eased the sheets a bit and detoured south. After a makeshift, in-the-water repair failed to stem the leak, I made arrangements to haul the boat at Arche's Dry Dock. Seth Arch, a crusty but likeable former seaman with a singsong voice, claimed to understand the mysteries of the universe as well as wooden boats. "We'll recaulk her and you'll be on your way," he assured me.
It was terrifying to watch 50 tons of boat lumber up Arche's rickety old railway. And it was tragic to realize that Isoletta
was in much worse condition than any of us imagined. The massive construction scantlings had seduced and deceived us all, the surveyor, the owners, and the so-called expert captain. As soon as we began pulling the stout bronze bolt fasteners we realized the extent of the problem. While the heads of the bolts and the nuts were in good shape, the shafts were gone, completely eaten away by electrolysis. I could literally pull the teak planks off the hull by hand, they were honeycombed. Isoletta
needed more than a caulk job, she needed major surgery, maybe even life support.
I had a horrible vision of Isoletta dying on the hard in Roatan and called Karen and Tim. I suggested that we forego the delivery and that I somehow nurse the boat back to Florida where they could have a proper repair done. Naturally they were stunned, but agreed with me. Tim was concerned. "Do you really think you can get the boat back to Florida? No boat is worth risking your life over?"
"Yes," I lied, "I'm sure we can get the old girl back, we'll take it slow." I flew back to Florida and returned with hundreds of feet of copper stripping. We then had the yard nail the copper over every seam below the water line and slather epoxy paint over everything. A month after we first hauled out, Isoletta returned to the water and we coaxed her back to Ft. Lauderdale.
|"Yes," I lied, "I'm sure we can get the old girl back, we'll take it slow." |
A couple of years ago, I nearly ruined a wonderful family's vacation in the Mediterranean by having to haul their charter boat not once, but twice. I was hired to skipper an older French boat on a two-week charter in the Balearic Islands. Unfortunately I arrived about the same time as the English family and we jointly discovered that the wheel wouldn't turn. The boat had been sitting on the hard for a year and was launched just before we arrived. I tried everything to free up the rudder but the shaft would not turn in the bearings. The only solution was to haul the boat and change out the bearings.
We hauled the boat in Puerto Andraitx, one of my favorite harbors on the island of Majorca. Prying the rudder free turned out to be a difficult job, and ultimately I had to dig a hole to finally remove the blade. I then had new bearings air-freighted from the factory, and reinstalled the rudder. Doing all the work myself, I was ready to be launched after a couple of days of hard, hot work. The yard dropped us into the water just before closing and we motored to a nearby slip. The next morning, the rudder wouldn't turn. I wanted to cry and the family wanted their money back. I finally managed to turn the rudder, but it was obviously grinding and binding, making the boat nearly impossible to sail.
It seems that the rudder bearings were nylon and prone to swelling in salt water. "Oh yes," the factory rep told me, "we have changed to Teflon bearings, but you didn't request them." Needless to say, I was a bit irritated and the new Teflon bearings were on the next plane. The boat came back out of the water and the new bearings were installed. Fortunately, the family understood the nature of boats, and we managed a week's charter after all.
My most memorable boatyard experience was in Bermuda. I was trying to con an ornery schooner across the Atlantic when halfway between Bermuda and the mainland the stern tube disintegrated and we began taking on large quantities of water. The only way to keep the boat from sinking was to dive over the side and wrap plastic bags around the shaft. Unable to motor, we drifted toward Bermuda. With the island in sight, the wind emerged and we charged toward St. George's Harbor leaking prodigiously. Ignoring customs we sailed right into the haulout slip at the Bermuda Shipyard.
It was just past closing time and the yard manager was furious. "You can't tie up here, you don't have an appointment." I apologized and then told him that if he didn't fire up the travel lift, he'd be hauling us off the bottom the next morning. He suddenly became understanding and the schooner, called Tai-o-Hae was soon propped up ashore. My crew on this passage consisted of an old girlfriend and my nephew, who was fresh out of college and looking for a little adventure. Our first task was to remove the shaft, normally an easy job. However the coupler bolts were not giving up without a fight to the death and eventually had to be cut off. Then it was time to remove what was left of the old stern tube but it wasn't budging either. Finally we decided to sleeve it with a piece of new metal. Of course there was nowhere on the island to purchase thin walled bronze, 1 15/16 inch in diameter. We had two choices, incur additional delays and order pipe from the states or head for the dumps.
The yard manager, who by now had nothing but pity for us, suggested we rent scooters and scour the three trash dumps on the island. He advised us to look for a man named Allan Martin, the island junkman who hung out around the dumps hoarding the prime scrap. We hurried to the first dump just outside of St George's and encountered a scruffy fellow who fit my stereotype of an island junkman. I asked if he was Mr. Martin. He looked at me like I was crazy. "Oh no," he said in the Queen's English, "you want the scrap chap, but he's not here, he's golfing."
|"He advised us to look for a man called the 'scrap chap.'"|
It seemed odd that the junkman would be golfing and after a futile search for scrap we hurried to the second dump near Hamilton. Again we stumbled into a fellow who seemed like a perfect junkman. "Are you mister Martin," I asked. "Oh no sir, you're looking for the Scrap Chap, but he's golfing." In the third dump we found out that the mysterious scrap chap had finished golfing and was now likely at tea. Depressed but amused we made our way back to the boat. We stopped at a small fabrication shop not far from the yard and to our surprise and delight we found an old piece of stainless steel that was a perfect fit for a new stern tube. The shop foreman refused to charge us, "we don't need that old piece, I just going to give it to the scrap chap anyway."
We fiberglassed it in place and after a week's delay in the boatyard we launched Tai-o-Hae. Two weeks later we arrived in the Azores. We made our way to the customs dock and soon a small sloop rafted along side of us. As I chatted with the solo skipper I noticed that boat's hailing port was Hamilton, Bermuda. "So what do you do in Bermuda," I asked.
"This may sound strange," he replied, somewhat embarrassed, but I'm the island garbage man."
I couldn't believe it, it couldn't be. I blurted out, "don't tell me you're the scrap chap?"
No, no," he said laughing, "but I golf with him."