May 15, 2004 Newport, Rhode Island
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West
A Winters Refit Tale-Part I
By Douglas Bernon
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.”
Ithaka, in repose and receiving all manner of attentions, sits on her poppets in the corner of Newport Shipyard, covered in shrink wrap.
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
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.
Before installing the new windlass, we made a new base-plate and reinforced its below the deck.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our nav station is now a shrine to our new speed and wind instruments,
and the new SSB
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
that are cruised full-time take a real beating, and after three and a half
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
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.
Re-installing the shaft was not a delicate procedure, as evidenced by the tree stump used to complete the job.
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
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
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 www.pyiinc.com).
apart the nav station in the main saloon and the repeater display panel in
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.
Solenoid, newly mounted on starter. We carry a spare for each.
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
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 www.lewmarusa.com).
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.
Ithakas side deck, after re-caulking several replacement teak planks, and before sanding off the residue.
A wet deck shows the finished project new
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.
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.
The old water temperature sender. Now we carry a spare of this item, too.
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.
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.
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.
Its a great day when you tear off the shrink wrap and find your boat again underneath.