Saturday, February 3, 2018

Messages from the past: In this case, a rear-deck repair.

In many respects owning a classic is no different from owning any other boat.  As you know by now, that is one of the main themes of this blog.  With all boats there are things that might have been done better, either by the builder or by folks who came along later.  We are fortunate that Compadre was well designed and built to a very high standard by Stephens Bros.  But because least 13 owners came before us, there has been ample opportunity for folks to mess things up.  Luckily we have found only a few problems that could be attributed to poor repairs or restoration. 

One problem we had known about for some time was around the hatch on the back deck -- it moved up and down when you stepped on it.  Not supposed to happen.  As 2016 came to a close we could put it off no longer.  It was time to pull up the teak and deal with it.

Compadre's teak decks, and some of the underlying beams, were replaced about 15 years ago and generally are in good condition.  Beneath the half-inch teak boards is 3/4-inch marine plywood resting on fir beams.  Around the hatch in the back deck, water had leaked inside the hatch opening, and then seeped between the teak and the underlying plywood, causing an area of rot extending a foot or so in all directions.  The teak was fine, but the plywood and underlying beams were rotted and needed to be replaced.  This was going to be a big job, but one I felt I could do myself.  The first step was to pull up a few teak deck planks to investigate.

Beginning to take up the teak deck.  Hatch is in the foreground, looking aft. 
Fortunately the teak was just screwed down, and not glued.  With a little care the screws and bungs (wood plugs covering the screws) could be removed and each deck board came free.  This was significant because the teak could be cleaned up and reinstalled, thus eliminating the cost of new teak decking and the time required to fit each piece.  So far, so good.

Directly beneath the teak was waterproof membrane.  Nicely done.

Between the teak and the underlying plywood substrate was an elastic, waterproof membrane.  This is a product for the roofing trade called Ice and Water Shield, and was meant to keep any water that leaked through the teak deck seams (not uncommon on teak decks) from coming in contact with the plywood.  This is an excellent product and sells for about $130 per roll, so whoever did this deck installation did not skimp on materials.  I promptly bought a roll to use on my repair job.

So with all this fancy waterproofing, why did we have a rot problem?  In spite of using good materials, the installer forgot one important thing:  Flashing around the hatch opening.   The teak and plywood simply ended at the hatch opening, with the raw edges covered by some teak trim.  A little rubber seam compound between the trim and the teak deck boards was the only thing keeping the water out.  I'm sure it didn't take long for rain water to begin to find it's way behind the seam compound and back under the fancy waterproof membrane.  Eventually an area about 1-foot wide on each side of the hatch was saturated by water and rot soon followed.  Some simple flashing around the opening, as is typically done around house windows, would keep this from happening again, but first we had some work to do.

Removing rotted plywood underlayment.


Hatch framing and deck beams also were rotted. 
Finally, all rotted plywood removed.
Once I had the plywood trimmed back to sound wood, it was time to confront the deck beams and rectangular hatch framing where they contacted the rotted plywood.  They would have to come out as well.  Measuring carefully so I could rebuild the framing later, I cut out all the bad wood, with a taper on the two lateral beams to allow me to scarf in new replacement pieces.

Hatch framing removed and existing beams tapered.  Ready for new wood.
Scarfing in new vertical-grain Douglas fir deck beams was time consuming but not difficult.  These were through-bolted to the stubs of the existing beams and glued with epoxy.  The new hatch framing then followed, held in place with new silicon bronze screws.

Replacement deck beams in place.

New hatch framing.

Detail of hatch-frame joint
 With the framing in place it was time for new 3/4-inch marine plywood.  It would be in two pieces, and in order to be sure it would bend enough to conform to the curvature of the deck, I made a series of shallow cuts (kerfs) on the underside of the plywood with a circular saw.  This worked well, and the plywood was fitted and screwed down without difficulty.

Cutting saw kerfs on the underside of replacement plywood.
The image below shows the new 3/4-inch plywood decking, screwed in place and resting on the fir hatch frame.  The next step was to ensure that this rot problem would not happen again.  Which means keeping water out.  Which means flashing.  I decided on a two-part system consisting of self-adhering flexible flashing, overlain by sheet metal.  I started with a "butterfly" piece at each corner, then added long strips from corner to corner.


Self-adhering flexible flashing at the corner.


Self adhering flashing all around.

Ready for metal flashing.
I was confident that the self-adhering flexible flashing would prevent any water from contacting the wood, but it is not durable enough to stand on it's own in a high-traffic area such as the deck hatch.  It would need some protection, and for that I chose metal roof flashing.  This is sheet steel, so there is some risk of rust, but I planned to paint any exposed metal with marine enamel for extra protection. 

First piece of sheet metal flashing.




Flashing corner detail.


This is not going to leak again.
Next came the new waterproof membrane.  This has a peel-off adhesive backing, and firmly attaches to the old membrane around the edges of my patch, and to the new decking and flashing. 

New waterproof membrane atop the plywood and flashing.  Ready for teak.
Replacing the teak boards was a bit like doing a jig-saw puzzle, making sure each piece went back where it was installed originally.  With two boxes of bronze screws, and nearly 200 3/8-inch diameter teak bungs, the teak went on with few problems. 

Teak back in place.  Installing bungs in screw holes.
The joints between the teak deck boards are filled with a special caulking made just for that purpose.  It's black, comes in tubes, and can be very messy.  A little masking tape (OK, a lot of masking tape) helps control the mess.  After the caulk sets, the tape is removed, and there is little left to do.


A thin strip of teak trim around the edge of the hatch covers most of the metal flashing.  In spite of all the rot in the fir deck beams and plywood, the original teak trim was still good.  Amazing stuff, that teak.

Finished, and good as new -- maybe better?
Overall, this was a very rewarding project.  Things went more or less according to plan, although the extent of the rot was greater than I expected.  I did not keep track of my hours, but the work was done as time allowed over a two-month period.  If I had to guess I'd say I spent about 2-3 man-weeks on the job.  And the out-of-pocket cost was a few hundred dollars in materials.  Much cheaper than going to the boatyard!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cruising and the Kindness of Strangers

As 2016 fades into the past and the new year looms ahead, my thoughts can't help but return to the boating highlights of the last year.  The big event, of course, was re-powering Compadre with new diesels, at once closing the era of gasoline propulsion and bringing the promise of more enjoyable and trouble-free cruising.  After we finished, we immediately left on a 3-week cruise to British Columbia. That was followed later by several shorter cruises around Puget Sound and a visit to the Wooden Boat Festival at Port Townsend in September.  A fitting start to the new era.  Cindy and I had a wonderful time cruising, and Compadre performed even better than we had hoped.  But as often happens on the water, all did not go smoothly.  Had it not been for some very good luck and the kind help of fellow boaters, our B.C. cruise might have been far less pleasant.

A busy day on Jervis Inlet
Our first cruise revolved around a visit to Princess Louisa Inlet, arguably the most beautiful cruising destination in the Northwest.  This was our second trip to Princess Louisa, and this time we were joined by our friends Ken and Martha from California.  After picking them up in Naniamo, we made a quick dash across the Strait of Georgia for an overnight stay in Pender Harbour.  From there it is a half-day run up Jervis Inlet to Malabu Rapids, the entrance to Princess Louisa.  We left at dawn. Steep granite cliffs on both shores and waterfalls everywhere -- what a morning!

Malabu Rapids is passable only every six hours at slack tide, and even then only for a period of 15 minutes or so.  Boats planning to transit the rapids usually arrive early, rather than risk missing the tide window and having to wait six hours for another chance.  And so we did.  The slack was predicted at 1125, and we arrived comfortably early at around 1100.  What to do for 25 minutes?  Let's just shut down the engines and drift for a bit.  No wind, no current, not another boat in sight.  We'll just drift and enjoy the view.  Wonderful.  Until we started the engines again.

Princess Louisa.  We felt as gloomy as the weather when we arrived.  Lousy luck!
We were about a quarter mile from the rapids, and with 5 minutes to go, we could just cruise over slowly and arrive right on time.  But what was that THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! ??  Better take the engines out of gear and find out.  It didn't take long.  A glance astern confirmed that the tow-line for our inflatable dinghy was nowhere in sight, and the dinghy was right at the stern.  Those of you with boating experience already know what happened. Yep, wrapped the tow line around the prop.  What bad luck, we thought.  We had only a couple minutes to get through the rapids, and here we were stuck.  And with no other boaters around to help.

But our luck was not all bad:  Only one prop was fouled; the other one seemed to be clear.  This was our first lucky break.  If both props had fouled, we would have been adrift, and there was no possibility of anchoring.  The water is very deep right up to the shoreline.  No other boats around.  No radio communication with the Coast Guard.  Not a pleasant thought.  But one prop was free! We could make it through the rapids on one engine; I just had to make sure that our guests didn't notice my white knuckles on the wheel!

The channel is very narrow, not much more than 50 feet wide at low tide, and there is a sharp right turn part way through. Not the sort of thing you'd like to do with one engine out, but there were no easy choices.  We could either go through the channel and into Princess Louisa, where we could tie to the dock and hope to get the prop untangled, or make the 6-hour trip back down to Pender Harbor on one engine, hope to find a local diver, and try for Princess Louisa another day.  The decision was made -- we'll try the channel.

Safely at the dock.  Princess Louisa Inlet.
With no opposing boat traffic and slack water, we came through the narrow channel in fine style.  We were soon into the inlet, among the towering peaks, and motoring toward the dock at Chatterbox Falls.  Maneuvering a twin-engine boat in tight quarters on one engine is a challenge, but we managed to get to the dock without embarrassing ourselves.  So far, so good.  But now what?  We still have this tow line wrapped around the prop shaft.  My friend Ken graciously volunteered to go in the water to untangle things.  "Do you have a mask?", he asks.  Of course.  You never know when you might have to do a little diving, so we keep one on board.  Ken has done a lot of scuba diving, and read in the cruising guide that the water in Princess Louisa is pleasantly warm in the summer.  No problem.  Well, ... it wasn't summer.  It was mid-May, and the water temperature was in the low 50s.  Ken jumped in, made a quick attempt to untangle things, and that was all he could do.  Way too cold!  We got him out of the water and into the shower to warm up.  Fortunately he was none the worse for it; we learned long ago that this cold water is dangerous and must be respected.  We were still stuck.

And now our second bit of good luck:  Our failed diving venture had attracted the attention of other boaters on the dock.
"Hi, I'm Nina off the trimaran Rikki-tikki-tavi.  What's up?"
"Hi I'm Rick.  Got a line wrapped around the prop.  Thought we could untangle it, but the water's just too cold."
"Oh, bad luck.  But maybe we can help.  My husband has a dry suit on board.  I'm sure he'd be willing to lend it to you."
"Fantastic!  That should do the trick."

Nina helping Clark get suited up. More help from another cruiser.
A few minutes later, down the dock came Clark and his dry suit.  Now our third bit of good luck:  Not only did he have his dry suit, but he insisted on suiting up himself and diving in.  Once in the water it took him no more than 30 seconds to cut away the line.  Clearly he had done this before.  Then back out of the water -- job done.

In he goes.
The offending line.
Mission accomplished!
Clark returned to his boat to get cleaned up, and Ken, Martha, Cindy, and I counted our blessings.  We could not have been more thankful.  Granted, we (actually I) fouled the prop in a decidedly awkward spot, far from civilization and far beyond radio range.  No way to call for help from up there.  We were on your own.  But not entirely -- when you are in the company of other boaters, amazing things can happen.  We owed Grant and Nina a debt of gratitude that was only partly paid by the two nice bottles of wine I dropped off at Rikki-tikki a short while later.  We visited with them for a while the next day and got better acquainted, and then both boats headed off on other adventures.

Underway again.  Cindy and Martha enjoy the sights.
Happily we ran into Clark and Nina again in September, this time at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.  Rikki-tikki was entered in the show, tied at the end of our dock -- a beautiful example of modern wooden-boat construction.  We were happy to share our other cruising experiences from the summer and reflect on our chance meeting at Princess Louisa.

Again, thanks Clark and Nina, and "fair winds" Rikki-tikki-tavi.




Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fridge Optimizer: Boat refrigeration enters the 21st century

Immediately after we repowered last Spring I decided to replace Compadre's refrigeration system.  The compressor unit was installed in the engine room, and because the ambient temperature was often in the 80s, the unit was very inefficient.  Just before installing the new unit in a better spot, I came across a review for a new product called the Fridge Optimizer.  It's manufactured by a small company here in Seattle with the unlikely name of Stainless Lobster.  I don't make a habit of doing product reviews, and I have no financial interest in Stainless Lobster, but this gizmo is one of the best things I've ever put on a boat, so I feel compelled to spread the word.

Fridge Optimizer control head.


Simply put, the Fridge Optimizer manages all aspects of your on-board refrigeration system.  It is a thermostat, compressor speed controller, humidity sensor, automatic defroster, energy-usage monitor, and more.  All in a nifty little control unit with a multi-screen display.  It plugs into the terminal strip on the front of your existing compressor unit, with no modifications or special tools.  Very elegant, and it works like a charm.  It sells for $250 and is worth every penny.

Gone are the days of fiddling with that mysterious little round refrigerator-control knob: The one with arrow that just says "colder"; the one where you make an adjustment because things aren't quite cold enough, only to find 12 hours later that the milk is frozen.  Now if I want my milk to be 37 degrees, I set the temp at 37 degrees.  Pretty clever, eh?

And gone are the times when you would open the fridge door and find the evaporator unit (cold plate) caked with ice ("I know that salmon is in there somewhere, but all I see is ice").  The fridge now defrosts itself.  Really!

How many times have you wondered how many amp-hours your refrigerator was using -- "Honey, it seems like this darned thing is running constantly.  Is it supposed to do that?  Why is the house battery so low."  The Fridge Optimizer tracks the energy used by the refrigerator over a 24-hour period, and shows the percentage of time the compressor is running -- on a nifty graph.  OK, my science background is showing through here, but this is actually very useful. For what it's worth, our new system runs roughly 37% of the time, and is a whole lot more efficient than our old system, which DID run most of the time.  

The statistics:  All you need to know!

The thermostat is mounted on a small fan, which helps even out the temperature in your refrigerator and aids in the defrost cycle. The thermostat-fan unit is connected to the compressor unit by a small cable (included), and the control head is connected to the compressor by an ethernet cable (also included).  The whole thing is very well thought out and easy to install.

So that's my pitch.  Check out the Fridge Optimizer at the  Stainless Lobster website.   Accept no more frozen milk.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Like having a new boat

"Well, how are those new engines?" they all ask.  I can only answer, "Fantastic!  It's like having a new boat."  We now refer to the era of the Chrysler Crown gasoline engines as the "Old" Compadre.

It's hard to overstate what a difference the new engines have made.  Gone are the days of wondering if we'll get underway as planned.  Many a time we had arrived at the boat with plans to cruise for the day or longer, sometimes accompanied by friends and relatives, only to discover that one engine wouldn't run.  Sometimes it was a fuel pump, sometimes a carburetor, sometimes a bad spark coil.  Sometimes one or both of the old engines would refuse to start after running several hours -- like when attempting to leave the fuel dock at Pender Harbour, B.C.  No more.  We just push the button and the engines start.

I had lost track of the number of times we'd been cruising along and suddenly lost one of the old engines.  We didn't actually lose them, of course -- they simply stopped running.  Once in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, once in Elliot Bay on the way to the Bell Street Classic Yacht Rendezvous , once in Agate Pass on the way home from Port Townsend, once in the Strait of Georgia on our way to Desolation Sound, once only a mile from our berth in Bremerton.  Or how about under the railroad bridge waiting for the Ballard Locks to open?  Twice!  Compadre's log book reads like a tow-truck driver's memoir.  Fortunately we had twin engines, and we were always able to continue to our destination on one.  Or we just stopped where we were and fixed whatever was wrong.  Sometimes it was a fuel pump, sometimes a bad spark coil, sometimes faulty electronic ignition.  No more (I hope!).  With the new engines we cruised to Princess Luisa Inlet in B.C. in May, to the San Juan Islands in July, and to South Sound last week.  No problems.  You push the button and they run -- until you shut them down.  Wonderful.

It may sound odd, but Cindy and I didn't realize what a burden those old engines had been until they were gone.  It was as if a little black cloud had followed us on all our outings, just waiting to darken our day.  Now we can be more confident and spontaneous, exploring places we would have hesitated to go in the past for fear an engine would stall or die.  What a difference.

Have I mentioned faster and cheaper?  Yes, it's true.  We now cruise at over 9 knots, compared with 8 knots with the old engines.  And we do it using less fuel.  Top speed is an astounding 13.5 knots, but at that speed the only thing larger than our fuel consumption is our wake.  We won't be doing that very much, but it's nice to know we have some power in reserve when we need it.

By way of introduction to the "New" Compadre, I thought it would be nice to show some photos of our recent travels.  We've had a great summer so far, and look forward to more cruising before things slow down in the fall.

"New" Compadre in Jervis Inlet, B.C., on the way to Princess Louisa Inlet


Docked at Princess Louisa.  Chatterbox falls in background
Chatterbox falls from the dinghy.  Boat dock is right of the falls.  Feeling insignificant?
Headed back toward Malibu Rapids, inside Princess Louisa Inlet
On a buoy at McDonald Island, Princess Louisa Inlet

Early morning at anchor.

Stern-tied at Wallace Island, Gulf Islands, B.C.

Late afternoon, anchored at Clam Bay, Gulf Islands, B.C.

Sunset at anchor, Clam Bay.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

In with the new

Well, I'm pleased to report that Compadre went back in the water on April 12 with the new engine project largely finished.  After aligning the engines and completing a few remaining tasks, we were ready for sea trials on Monday, April 18.

What a success!  The engines run very smoothly and are quieter than I expected.  Fuel economy is better than with the old gas engines, which was no surprise.  What I didn't expect was a big increase in performance.  After all, the new diesel engines are only 80 hp, whereas the old gas engines were 110 hp.  But performance we got... We will now cruise at 9 knots, compared to 8 knots before.  Fuel consumption appears to be a little less than 3 gallons per hour at our new cruising speed, compared to 3.5 gallons per hour before.  So we are going faster using less fuel.  It's not magic, but close to it.  Chalk it up to the much greater efficiency of these modern, computer-controlled diesels.

In our last post I described some of the projects that needed to be done before the new engines could be installed:  New engine beds, fuel-tank changes, etc.  Another task was to build two new drip pans to place beneath each engine (a Coast Guard requirement).  These are usually made of stainless steel sheet or fiberglass.  It just happened that the Shipwrights Coop had some extra copper sheet left over from another project.  The least expensive option (I almost said "cheapest", but on a boat few things are cheap) was to use the copper, so now we have two beautiful copper drip pans in the bilge.  Few people will notice, but I hope the Coast Guard will appreciate them the next time we are stopped for inspection.
New copper drip pans
After what seemed like an endless string of preparatory tasks, we were finally ready to hoist in the first new engine.  Having already taken out the old ones, we pretty much had the process figured out.  With one person running the overhead crane and the fork lift (not at the same time!), another to give commands, and a third (me), to guide the new engines into place, everything went smoothly -- we had it all done in one afternoon. 

Up with the overhead crane.

Through the door with the fork lift.

Arren rests the engine on temporary cribbing before lowering it into place

Port engine in -- one more to go!
We're done -- ready for sea trials.
One of the great advantages of having work done at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Coop is the wealth of resources available under one roof.  In addition to wood-working expertise, there is metal fabrication of all sorts, machining, electrical, refrigeration, etc.  For our engine cooling system we needed some hose menders that stepped down from 1-1/4 inches to 1 inch.  We could have ordered stainless steel menders online for about $35 each, but our project manager, Arren Day, suggested he could turn some on the lathe more quickly and for less cost.  So before long we had the ones shown below.  Too beautiful to hide in an old hose! 
Custom bronze hose menders.
As we undertake various upgrades to Compadre, we strive to retain as much of her original structure and hardware as possible.  One of our key requirements for the re-power project was to retain our original chrome shift levers in the wheelhouse.  These stand on opposite sides of the wheel and are about 18 inches long.  The long levers where necessary with the old engines and gears because quite a lot of leverage was required to shift gears.  Our new gears shift very easily, so we don't need the leverage, but we need to retain the levers for historical reasons. 
Control console with original chrome shift levers.
Arren and I discussed several options for mating the old shift levers to modern control cables.  His solution was as elegant as it was ingenious.  He discarded most of the old mechanical linkage that once connected the levers to the gears, but retained a short lever attached to the shifters on the inside of the control console.  To this existing bronze lever he added a ball fitting to connect a modern control cable.  The cable is anchored to a custom bracket fashioned from aluminum channel stock.  Now we could connect the old shifters successfully to the new gears.  Arren then fashioned a custom detent mechanism so that the chrome shifters snapped into forward, neutral, and reverse, and held their position until a gear change was needed.  Needless to say I was extremely pleased with the result.
View inside control console, showing new shift cable anchor bracket and shift detent mechanism.  The detent ball is inside the set screw on the right end of the bronze lever.  The ball follows the arc of the lever and falls into recesses in the bronze plate, marking forward, reverse, and neutral.
While we were out of the water and under cover I took the opportunity to put fresh paint on the hull.  Two coats was all I had time for with the press of other tasks; that will have to do until we haul out next time (three or four years if all goes as planned). 

New hull and bottom paint -- looking good!
We have had trouble keeping paint on the anchor guard since we purchased Compadre.  The problem is partly because the guard is stainless steel, which doesn't accept paint well, and partly because the anchor slams into the guard every time it is raised (which of course is why we have a guard in the first place).  The solution seemed to be to coat the guard with something other than the Interlux Yacht Enamel we have used on the wooden hull with great success for years.  But what to use?  Arren and I discussed this at length, first considering epoxy paint, then 2-part linear polyurethane, both of which are pretty durable.  But we were still worried about the impact from the anchor.  What we needed was a tough but flexible coating -- something like pick-up truck bed liner (if only it came in semi-gloss white!) 

Enter Moby Deck.  Or what used to be called Moby Deck anyway.  It's got another name now, which no one except the painter at the Coop seems to remember.  Designed as a non-skid deck coating, it's tough and flexible, and adheres well to metal.  With a special primer made specifically for stainless, this sounded ideal.  So we turned the painter loose, and 6 coats later we had a very nice, semi-gloss white anchor guard.  When I reattached the anchor just before we launched, it gave the guard a pretty good bump (not on purpose mind you).  No harm -- no foul. We'll see how it does this summer while cruising.  Stay tuned.
The stainless steel primer is bright yellow.  Some folks at the Coop suggested we keep it this way.  I thought not.
Anchor guard with it's new coating of Moby Deck.  Very stylish.
So with new engines, a successful sea trial, and best wishes from the Coop crew, we headed back to our home port at Bremerton Yacht Club on the morning of April 19.  The day was calm and sunny, and the current was with us the whole way.  Four hours later we were home.  It was a great ending to a great project. 

Once again, I can't say enough about the crew at Port Townsend Shipwrights Coop, and especially our project manager and friend Arren Day.  We could not have asked for a more positive experience.  From the very day we arrived, partners and employees of the Coop would stop by regularly and ask me how things were going, and whether I had everything I needed.  If they spotted me doing a particular task, it was not unusual for them to say "wait a minute, we have a special tool for that --  would you like to borrow it?"  Not once did they make me feel like I was the amateur and they were the pros, although that certainly was the case.  And the project was on budget and on time.  I cannot imagine working in a more helpful and supportive environment.  Thanks to all at the Coop for a job well done.