May 15, 2004 Newport, Rhode Island
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West

A Winters Refit Tale-Part I

By Douglas Bernon

Ithaka, in repose and receiving all manner of attentions, sits on her poppets in the corner of Newport Shipyard, covered in shrink wrap.
Bernadette says I’ve become duller than lint, and that I was a lot more fun to be around before I started obsessing endlessly about Ithaka’s projects. She says I used to be able to talk about world events, and often would muse on the meanings of life, but now, she says, “It’s no longer true; you’ve become focused beyond the point of being interesting.”

Yet, I’ve ploughed onward, compelled by a magnetic power far greater than I am. I’m referring, of course, to The Boat. I now understand, for the first time, why so many men refer to their boats as mistresses. During the course of this winter, I’ve been floating about in my private checklist-bubble, adding to-do items, putting in sub-categories, sometimes re-doing my lists and copying them into different forms. Anything to maintain some control over entropy.

Before installing the new windlass, we made a new base-plate and reinforced its below the deck.
There are an awful lot of ways to categorize boat projects. You can discuss them in terms of their cost in dollars, time, or both; how many unexpected interruptions took place to make expensive trips to BoatUS or West Marine; whether these projects are routine maintenance or critical repairs; whether their goal is safety or luxury; the number of hours or days into the project that you admit to yourself that you’re sorry you ever started; and the number of hours after that, when some form of success arrives, and you thump your chest in victory.

Mark Mutty, Newport Shipyards manager and the go-to guy, is the one person who puts a caring human face on the workings of a big yard full of every manner of boat from Americas Cup racers, to classic megayachts, to hardy little cruisers.
This has been a winter of changes for Ithaka. We hauled her at the Newport Shipyard in downtown Newport. In general, I don’t much like boatyards. They’re dirty, expensive, the exact opposite of being at sea, and they tend to suck you in like a giant black hole. (Eileen Quinn, whose logs also appear on this BoatUS website, has written the ultimate folk-blues song about being trapped in boatyards, called “On The Hard” included on her album Degrees of Deviation.) I’m not sure the soul of any self respecting vessel much likes teetering high and dry on poppets, but in this yard, the manager, Mark Mutty, has been a gracious and helpful friend, making our stay more pleasant and often going way out of his way to help when chaos or calamity inched in our direction.

Phil Burton is a dear friend, and a master shipwright of extraordinary talents and patience.

We were lucky to find a house to rent only a few hundred yards away from the shipyard, so no matter the weather I had the luxury of easily going back and forth several times every day. We had Ithaka shrink-wrapped, and then we borrowed a 70,000-BTU kerosene heater that kept us warm above decks and below, even when we were covered with snow. And I got especially lucky that a good friend and boat wizard, Phil Burton, was able to work with me, which is to say manage and teach me. He performed these tasks with uncommon patience, tact and good humor. There’s nothing Phil can’t do, and between the two of us, we steadily checked projects off the lists. More importantly we became a good team and better friends. To have him as playmate and guru made being in the boatyard something I actually looked forward to most mornings. I know I’d never have been able to do many of these chores alone. Five years ago, when we first bought Ithaka, Phil had worked on her then, and been a great teacher. This winter, his one-on-one tutorial continued, and it’s been the most fun class I’ve taken in many years.

Our nav station is now a shrine to our new speed and wind instruments, and the new SSB
When Bernadette and I arrived in Newport last fall, as soon as we had a place to store our goods we emptied Ithaka except for my tools and the supplies we’d need for the refit projects. The entire boat became a plastic-wrapped work room that soon filled with Phil’s tools, too. First we did the standard winterization drill—anti-freeze, bleeding lines, loosening belts. Then we did a full boat hunt, taking a look at every hose, hose clamp, wire, belt, fitting, connection and collar; replacing, adjusting, easing chafe, and adding to the list that seemingly wouldn’t end. From there it was a matter of priorities. With only a few months, what should we and could we get done.

Ive found the source of two of our three leaks, and fixed them such as this chain plate cover that needed re-bedding.

We figured the most critical tasks involve staying afloat and knowing where we are. These had both become problems last fall when the seal on our dripless shaft gland started gushing water and violated the keep-the-ocean-on-the-outside rule. As for knowing where we were, we pretty much limped into Newport last year, with only the depth sounder working. The ship’s GPS, the anemometer, and the speedo had all died of old age within the same month; and the SSB was intermittently mute, only talking when it felt like it, which was increasingly less often.

Re-installing the shaft was not a delicate procedure, as evidenced by the tree stump used to complete the job.
Boats that are cruised full-time take a real beating, and after three and a half years, Ithaka needed some serious attention. She’s a hardy and magnificently constructed platform whose structural strength continues to protect us against ignorance, error, and the vagaries of the sea. The family who owned her before us had sailed from Capetown to South America to the States, during a six-year period, and now, when you add our time cruising as well, she needed some TLC. Its been a delight to bringing her back into fighting form.

We installed a new PYI packless shaft seal, and so far the bilges are bone dry.

Once my beloved (Ithaka, that is) was on the poppets, Phil and I pulled the shaft, took it to a machine shop, had it rolled and checked for trueness, then put on new cutlass bearings, and replaced the failed gland with one of PYI’s Packless Shaft Seals, a strong and elegant unit that was relatively easy to install -- although getting the shaft back in required some serious persuasion from a large piece of tree. So far—we’ve been back in the water now for two weeks—there’s nothing in the bilge below the PYI shaft seal but dust. To speak so matter-of-factly makes this sound like no big deal, but really, to us it’s the sun and moon. And the folks at PYI, whom I called several times to figure things out, were consistently helpful. (You can find them on the internet at

Solenoid, newly mounted on starter. We carry a spare for each.
We took apart the nav station in the main saloon and the repeater display panel in the cockpit, pulled out the original instruments that had been installed in 1990 and replaced the system with Ray Marine’s ST40 series. Phil and I marveled at how elastic we’d become at getting our large arms into small spaces and snaking wires. With Raytheon’s SeaTalk connections, this was a far simpler project than I had anticipated. And it’s wonderful to have everything working. For now.

Our new Lewmar windlass is more powerfully built than our last unit. Plus, it has a manual override critical so that you can use the windlass in case (read: when) you lose power.

We yanked our old windlass. That traitor that had betrayed us any number of times by going on strike when we most needed it. We replaced it with Lewmar’s new V3 model, a handsome and massive muscle, which comes with a manual over-ride, just in case. I can’t imagine owning a unit that does not have a crank-it-by-hand option for those inopportune moments when electricity is no longer “available.” This is much more windlass than our previous one, so naturally it’s a different size and didn’t fit the footprint of its predecessor. That meant ripping up part of the deck, putting down a new mounting plate to spread the load, and then hunkering down this beefy unit with some serious bolts. Now, to listen to its sweet whine is one of the greater pleasures in life. (You can find information about the V3 at

Ithakas side deck, after re-caulking several replacement teak planks, and before sanding off the residue.
While we were tearing up the foredeck for the windlass, there were slightly more than 600 bungs that needed replacing—and worse—two troublesome regions by the lifeline gates where the deck was turning into a squishy trampoline. No choice but to rip out the teak, root around underneath it, find the bad spots, dig them out, heat it up, dry it out, re-fiberglass, cut new teak, bend it into place, secure it, bung up, caulk it, sand it, and call it done. Piece of cake, we said. Phil estimated we could manage that repair—start-to-finish—in three days. Phil is an optimist. By the end of day six we called it done, and it looks pretty spiffy. Everyone knows that all jobs take longer than you plan, and the sooner you curse yourself by saying out loud something like “this one will be easy,” the closer you are to screwing it up with some bonehead error that will require at least two additional repairs you’ve brought down upon yourself.

A wet deck shows the finished project new planks

In our on-going compulsion to keep water outside the boat, we pulled up and re-bedded all the deck fittings, replaced the bimini and dodger and re-caulked all seams between deck and coach house. As I write this today I know of “only” three small leaks now, two of whose origin have been uncovered. I’ll get them this week, but there’s a third that’s sneaky-evil, and I still can’t find where the water is entering from over the stove. My resolution is slay that beast before I write the next log.

The old water temperature sender. Now we carry a spare of this item, too.
Taking out the old single-sideband radio (SSB), an ICOM M800, which had been installed in the late 1980s, and installing a replacement model, the newer ICOM M802, was straightforward, although needless to say, none of the their new wires or end-fittings matched up with the previous model, so all wires had to be replaced and re-run. Bernadette and I chose the M802 model for four reasons. It’s a rugged beast, has Digital Selective Calling—a safety feature I like—and it’s a component system. With a shallow depth, remote display head, I could mount the front panel with all the controls right at the nav station, and bury the guts deep in a distant compartment, saving us space. Finally, as best as I can figure, the M802, which has far more bells and whistles than we’ll ever use, is the most e-mail friendly of the new SSBs on the market today, and we run our email through the HF radio. No major challenges on this installation.

Bernadette put Install a new head on the winter to-do list.

Our estimated time for the two of us to accomplish this job together was 8 hours. Our actual time spent was 17, because we had to cut new spaces in the nav station for all the new instruments. Plus, in the cockpit, we had to remove the old display heads, fill those holes, gelcoat over them and polish it all. Then we had to cut new holes for the different-sized navigation instrument replacement units (wind speed, depth, etc). We learned on this task, as we learned on all tasks, that as soon as either one of us made a well-reasoned time guess-timate for task completion, the other would laugh and double it. Our total hours actually spent on each task does not include trips to the local coffee shop for rejuvenation. (Information on the ICOM M802 can be found at

When the weather is warm enough, finally, its time to make that first cut through the shrink wrap, and emerge from a winter hibernation.

Its a great day when you tear off the shrink wrap and find your boat again underneath.
Removing the old head, holding tank and hoses was unpleasant but straight forward. Installing the new ones was easy. Likewise the new faucets and hoses in the galley and head, the new hoses on the engine and the new bilge and propane hoses too.
  These projects and dozens of smaller ones—replacing the engine’s starter solenoid, installing new lights in the main saloon, installing a new water-temperature sender for the engine, wiring in a new GPS in the cockpit and the nav station, putting in new glass in three portholes and new gaskets in six—were all necessary, but proved small potatoes time wise in comparison to three other projects: ministering to blisters, installing the watermaker (Hallelujah!), and wiring Ithaka for 110-volt power. More about that next time.