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  • 1 Post By Sue & Larry
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Old 08-31-1999
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Sue & Larry is on a distinguished road
Let the Refit Begin!

"Have you seen what they're doing to Serengeti down the dock?" chuckled Randy. "I thought they were crazy when they started taking up the teak decks, but now they're ripping off the toerails too. Every day it's something new. Looks to me as if they've taken a cruise-ready boat and torn it all apart"!

"I don't know," Bernie replied thoughtfully, "I think maybe they're just giving an old boat a new lease on life. In fact, they got me thinking about some of the stuff on my boat. Not much has been done to her in a long time, and she could probably use a little TLC before I head out again."

It's amazing how two people can look at the same boat and reach completely different conclusions about its condition. Sue and I believe that happy cruising experiences result from good boat and boat-systems forethought and preparation. We don't agree with the theory that things just happen on boats. We think that onboard failures and problems often result from improper installation or poor maintenance. We're certainly finding proof of that with Serengeti. To some it may seem like we're going overboard. But having already tasted the pleasures of cruising on a boat with trouble-free systems, we have every intention of making our experience on Serengeti just as good.

It appears we've become an odd source of entertainment for our dock-mates here at the Titusville (Florida) Municipal Marina. Each day, while we are hard at work, our new friends stroll past to take in the latest changes. Some of them shake their heads, convinced we've lost our minds toiling away under the hot Florida sun, while others, seeming to understand what Serengeti will be when we're finished, are full of admiration for the task we've undertaken. We're getting to know Serengeti inside and out. When the work is done we'll have much more pride and confidence in her as we head off on our adventures than if we had just left the dock without doing the work. All of our efforts are geared toward making our new boat as safe, watertight, and easy-to-handle as possible.

Actually, we hadn't planned on doing this much work this early in the game. It all began when I wanted to have a new aluminum stern rail fabricated for mounting the wind generator and solar panels. Sue agreed. But after we got the new rail she wouldn't let me install it until we first took up the teak deck under the rail bases. We'd planned to remove the old teak decks in a year or so anyway, and she didn't want to have to remove and reinstall the rail again later. Since she's the one who'd be crawling around in the hard-to-get-to areas putting the nuts and backing plates on, I couldn't argue.

The small piece of the teak deck around the bulwark came up pretty easily so we said: "Why not at least do all of the aft deck?" Since we're here

Sue begins the big job of
removing the old teak deck.
at this nice dock and we've started this mess, we decided we might as well continue and take it all off. Now we have all of the teak deck off. But you can't leave a deck covered in goo and full of screw holes, so we've scraped off the goo and neatly filled in all the holes. We've faired and sanded and sealed the deck underlayer (and a little bit of Sue, too) with epoxy and are now ready to paint.

The new stern rail led to a new matching aluminum bow pulpit and with the old pulpit off we checked the integrity of the stemhead fitting and modified the anchor roller. All the stanchions and lifelines are now off and piled on the cabinhouse. Meanwhile the backstay is unattached while we wait for the new ordered chainplates to arrive. Basically, so much has been stripped from the deck, we no longer have anywhere to tie the large sunshade and have been forced to work in the blazing sun. We tried getting up really early one morning so that we would be working during the cooler part of the day, but we just ended up going the whole day and putting in more hours, so we quickly killed that plan.

One afternoon, noticing that the caulking between the teak caprail and the bulwark seemed pretty aged, we removed a stanchion base to find water trickling. Concerned about the rail integrity, we attempted to determine the extent of the problem. But, because the hull-to-deck joint is fiberglassed over on the inside of the boat, the only way to ascertain the composition and condition of the bulwark was to remove the teak caprail.

The next morning we were hard at it in 97-degree heat pulling off a part of the boat I never thought Sue and I would be dealing with. The port rail came off with amazing ease (after removing 65 wooden bungs and screws), but the starboard rail made us regret having started this project. At some point in Serengeti's life, the rail had been re-bedded with 5200 marine adhesive. It took several days to pry it off, inch by painful inch. Our findings made us glad we had removed the caprail. We discovered the bulwark was mostly solid, but there were a couple of voids and a small amount of rotted wood sandwiched between the fiberglass. Employing our newly attained fiberglass and epoxy skills, we repaired these areas and made the entire assembly watertight once again.

By this point, there was no stopping Sue. She stripped all the varnish off her beloved teak toerails and is now refinishing them. Again, this was not a job we had planned to do for some time yet. She's finally admitted that there's enough teak on this boat—perhaps even a little more than she wants to keep up. We certainly won't be adding any more wood to the exterior of this boat.

Before we started all this exterior work, we'd spent several sweltering weeks below. I began with the repugnant job of cleaning the bilge and Sue repainted the interiors of the lockers and cabinets. Then we moved on to the heads where there was plenty of work to be done. Water squirting our shins from each pump had gotten old. Serengeti didn't have a holding tank (not uncommon on older boats) so we put in

Larry cuts a hole in the head wall for holding tank installation.
two new toilets and redid all the plumbing to include holding tanks. Since the heads were in pieces, we couldn't resist the opportunity to pull out our tiling tools and apply slate to the counters and backsplashes, and under the toilets. Next I went over the boat's through-hulls and plumbing, adding some hose-clamps for piece of mind till I get around to replacing all the through-hulls and associated connections at haul-out time.

A common problem in older boats is leaking tanks. Serengeti is 21 years old and no exception. We determined that we have a small leak in one water tank and plan to deal with that later. But we also detected a very small leak in the starboard fuel tank. This was something we couldn't put on hold. That led us to the immense task of removing the 55-gallon steel tank ourselves (I can still see Sue's rust-smudged face and angry eyes glaring furiously at me from over the top of the heavy steel tank), having a new one fabricated out of aluminum and installing it.

I'll admit that I sometimes get a little tired of sleeping in fiberglass dust and Sue's a bit dismayed about having to cut epoxy out of her hair from time to time. But we both feel good about the progress to date of our very complete refit of Serengeti. With the help of fellow sailors and books of all kinds, we've learned more about an offshore sailboat in the last two months than we ever thought possible.

We still have a bunch of work to do before all the changes we want are made, but the work is going fairly quickly. Our biggest setback has been the active hurricane season. You may have read our earlier experience with Dennis. That ended up being nothing more than a poor dress rehearsal for Floyd, in which we actually stripped Serengeti of everything we possibly could, above and below decks, crocheted her to the dock with 23 lines and hung 16 fenders, and then evacuated. We left solemnly and with full knowledge that the whole marina could be wiped out by the hurricane. But, once again, we got lucky. We had top winds of 80 mph and Serengeti survived just fine.

To the average dock walker, Serengeti, with her toerails still off and her decks eagerly awaiting a new paint job, may look a little bare right now, but she's going to be a knockout when we're finished. It's a long and involved process to completely refit a boat, but the beauty is that you end up with a boat set up exactly as you wish, and know that all the systems are in good order. You end up with a like-new boat at a much lower price—if you don't include the sweat equity. We believe Serengeti will be a dream boat for the cruising life—in addition to a pretty good hurricane dodger.

Choice of aluminum rails

Our new stern rail and bow pulpit have been fabricated out of one-inch aluminum pipe, in lieu of one-inch stainless steel tubing which most sailboat rails are made of. When people speak of pipe sizes, this refers to the inside diameter of the material, as opposed to tubing, which refers to an outside diameter. Our new aluminum rails are in fact 1-5/16-inch diameter on the outside, and provide a quite larger profile. They are nice to look at and to grab.

Aluminum has less strength, therefore a larger size is needed for the same job. The end result is a much lighter but very strong product.

Larry relaxes for a moment at the sterm. The deck is ready for painting and the new stern
rail is in place.
Virtually all sport-fishing boat towers are made of aluminum pipe and have proven to be reliable.

Aluminum is less expensive than stainless steel and easier and faster to fabricate. It also doesn't stain like stainless steel. Is there a downside? Anytime you use aluminum on a boat you have to watch for dissimilar metals making contact. The result could be the deterioration or even disintegration of one or both of the materials. To combat this, the materials need to be isolated from one another as much as possible if fastening together. (This is like using Tef-Gel or a caulking type material when inserting stainless fasteners or pop rivets into the aluminum mast).

Since aluminum is a softer metal than steel, it can also nick or gouge easier than stainless, so you need to be more careful with spinnaker poles, chain, etc.

How will these new rails hold up compared to stainless steel on Serengeti? We'll let you know.



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