June 1, 2004 Brenton Cove, Narragansett Bay,
Newport, Rhode Island
41° 28.435 North
071° 19.866 West

A Winters Refit Tale: Part 2 of 3

By Douglas Bernon

For three and a half years we’ve cruised without a single 110-volt electrical receptacle on Ithaka. We’ve carried no appliances, no hair dryers, no gee-whiz gadgets or toys—hardly an under-privileged life—and in some ways blessedly simple. We plugged nothing in except small battery re-chargers and our computer. If it wasn’t 12-volt and couldn’t find its life-force in a cigarette socket, we didn’t bring it along. Now all this is changing. We installed an inverter and wired Ithaka with three 110 plugs. I don’t know how slippery this slope will get, but I can see already my life is about to become more complicated. Bernadette is eying a Braun hand mixer, and I’m lusting after a new drill -- the devil’s playthings, all — and for both of us, we’re noticing that some other sacrilegious items, whose names we’ve never spoken in the context of boating before now, can be seen scooting from the “Wouldn’t it be nice” column to the “Absolutely Necessary” side of the ledger. It’s frightening how quickly such corruption becomes part of normal life.

Douglas paints over our old blue cove stripe with a dramatic, shiny black Interlux Brightside.
On Ithaka we have two solar panels, a wind generator, and a high-output alternator, so it’s possible to gin up good juice without much trouble. But we also know that when “wants” morph into “needs,” footing gets tenuous. That said, I’m going to love having a real drill with oomph instead of the 98-pound-weakling, 12-volt version I’ve been grousing about for years.

A New Inverter Leads To New Fuel Filters

As a result of this winter’s refit, a glorious improvement in my maintenance responsibilities is the addition of a remote oil filter. Up until last month, on our Yanmar 3HM35F, the oil filter—which for some insane reason was mounted horizontally -- guaranteed a mess in the bilge at every oil change.

Our new remote oil filter promises to make changing the oil a less messy affair.
To replace the filter, I had to lie on my back with my head under the sink, blindly extend my left arm through a door between the sink area and the engine compartment, insert and balance a cut-off two-liter soda bottle under the filter, and slip an oil-absorbent rag under that. Once this house of cards was gingerly set, with that same left hand I’d unscrew the filter, capture as much oil as I could, and attempt to minimize an inevitable mess. Clean oil is a diesel’s best buddy, so you really don’t want to go much beyond the 100-hour mark between oil changes. I’ve been vigilant about this but, because of the hassle, unhappily so. Now the world is brighter. By connecting a $300-set of hoses and fittings, the oil filter is mounted vertically now, does not drip, is easy to reach, and feels, I’m sure, the warm vibes I send in its direction.

Fiberglass Repairs: A Blistering Hassle

Interprotect 2000Eour hope for blister protection
All fiberglass boats that hang out in warm water are subject to osmotic blisters, and Ithaka proved no exception. Ours were fairly benign little blisters compared to some we’ve seen on other boats. Ithaka’s were only underneath the waterline and almost entirely on one side. While our repairs were modest, they were little fun. When we first hauled, I marked all the blisters and pricked them, to let any water drain away. Then it was the attack of the grinder, widening the area so that we could be sure there was no wicking elsewhere.

After months of drying out, we faired the area around each one and applied multiple coats of Interlux 2000E Interprotect. The instructions recommend several coats as a minimum, so we put on seven, just to make sure. Once that was dry and lightly sanded, we coated over that with several coats of two-part epoxy—fared now to a baby’s bottom—and started applying primer and numerous coats of paint. The end result was elegant, albeit hidden, and hopefully this will be the last time we have to make this repair. (Right.)

Our rudder in various stages of blister repair: drying out, filling, and finally, the painted new surface.

It’s curious that the vast majority of blisters were on one side only. Asking among the cognoscenti—every problem has a stable self-proclaimed experts, there was no consensus. The most popular opinions were: a) when the boat was originally laid up, the glass on one side had more sunshine, cured more fully and remained more impervious; b) different batches of chemical were used on each side; and c) some combination of A and B. Like consultants everywhere, no one really knew, but everyone hazarded a theory.

Making Water Onboard

Among the refit projects, the biggest change to our life will not be the result of repairing blisters, or adding a remote oil filter, or putting on new Lewmar blocks and new running rigging, all of which look wonderful and should make life nicer. The really big deal, the one most apt to make life better on an hourly basis—albeit while consuming electricity—is the addition of a reverse-osmosis (RO) watermaker.

Our new Spectra watermaker has a rated capacity of 15 gallons an hour. If it only did half that, wed have more water than in our wildest cruising dreams.
We had debated this for sometime. Watermakers aren’t cheap, and we’ve cruised successfully for more than three years without one, but this time around we wanted some greater comforts. I wanted to be able to wash my diving gear more carefully and completely. We wanted to lug fewer jugs from mainland rivers, and use fewer chemicals in treating what we put into our bodies. And both of us wanted to have the luxury of showering with more fresh water instead of salt water. In the past we’ve sudsed up with Joy detergent (it foams beautifully with salt water), jumped in the ocean to rinse off, and then come back aboard and sprayed ourselves with fresh water as a way to rinse off the salt. It’s an effective, low-tech, and cheap system. In fact it’s a very good system. I could blame La Comodora as the one who insisted upon this comfort, but the truth is, despite my knowledge that all technology attacks its installer at the least opportune moment, I have led this parade.

One of the reasons we bought the Spectra is that we can locate the components of the system in different nooks and crannies around the boat a terrific attribute on a 39-foot vessel where preserving storage space is critical.
The most time-consuming aspect of the watermaker installation was figuring out where to locate the various components. Then it was a matter of hand-fitting everything to see how it looked—making sure there was good access for service. After that it was about fitting Tab A into Slot B, following some pretty decent, if not poetic instructions from the Spectra watermaker company. The hardest part—in the middle of winter when we did this work—was seeing everything hooked up, but knowing we were 10 feet above the water on poppets, and would have to wait another two months to see if it all worked, which it did, immediately.

We replaced many of our 10-14 year old lines with new running rigging.
In looking at watermaker systems, there are a variety to chose among, but in a small boat with limited space, the list narrows quickly to several brands. We chose the Spectra’s Catalina 300 MPC (www.spectrawatermakers.com) for many reasons. First, it’s a 12-volt system—meaning you can run it off your batteries without running the engine, and it’s not terribly hungry for amps. Their brochure advertises that the unit draws only about an amp per gallon, and friends of our’s who have this model verify this as fairly accurate, depending on salinity, water temperature and the condition of the filters. Second, this unit is comprised of component parts that can be distributed throughout the boat, making it possible to put a pump here, a filter there, an electrical device in yet another spot, and thereby save an enormous amount of space.

On Ithaka we have the main filtering unit under the V-berth, the pre-filters under the sink, the pump in a separate compartment, and the electronic control head by the nav station. The company claims that this unit can produce about 15 gallons an hour. Considering that for years we’ve been averaging our use at about 4 gallons a day (including showering, drinking, cleaning, and cooking) this will be a major luxury. Finally, with the Spectra’s new “Z-Brane” system, there’s no need to “pickle” the unit (run chemicals through it) if you don’t use it for several days. This one is engineered so that after four days it will suck its own clean water out of the freshwater tank and give itself a scrub.

We replaced many of our old, somewhat agricultural looking blocks many of which were rusting out -- with the Lewmar Synchro series.
We’re optimistic about our unit’s robust construction, and its promised ease of maintenance, based on other cruising friends’ reports from the field. We’ll soon see for ourselves how well it actually works, how well it holds up and how it changes our daily cruising life. We’ll report back to you after we’ve had a chance to really use it and see how it does its stuff.

Launch Day Arrives

Finally, after a long cold winter, and an interminably chilly spring, we arrived at launch day last month. I was as nervous as a hen as I watched my chick being driven about, swaying precariously in her slings, while some guy I don’t know—who may be distracted by a craving for lunch, coffee or something stronger—worked the controls on the Travelift and drove Ithaka around the boatyard toward the water.

Just before launching, Bernadette removes the tape from the cove stripe.
Four weeks later, the whole launch ordeal is still an agony to think about. I know lots of cruisers, men and women with weak stomachs, who just insist upon leaving the yard when their boat is being hauled or launched, because the tension of waiting for a calamity is unbearable in person. I’m the type who slows down on the highway for accidents, so I had to stay and watch. Plus, regardless of legal actualities, I always figure anything that happens to the boat is ultimately my responsibility, so I wanted to help strap her in and position the slings so that no underwater extrusions would get mashed—which I’ve seen happen on friends’ boats. Also I wanted to make sure the foam cushions on the slings were carefully positioned so that the new boot stripe and cove stripe, over which I’d labored, would not get rubbed off on day one.

Mercifully, there were no mishaps. As soon as Ithaka was bobbing again, and I could jump aboard, I checked the bilges and was relieved to see that the sea was staying where it’s supposed to be—on the outside. I opened the engine seacock and cranked her over. A good start. She sputtered a second then spit out the antifreeze and did her thing, but the oil pressure never came on. I shut her down to do what boys do under such circumstances. Swear. Then I started her up again. Still no oil pressure. My handy-dandy new remote oil-filter system, at the point where it was screwed into the engine, wasn’t just leaking, it was spewing oil. I swore some more.

We had to buy new chain to fit the new Lewmar V3 windlass, and before we stowed it in the chain locker we painted it every 50 feet to make it easier to estimate how much chain we put out during anchoring maneuvers. We know the paint will wear off, but it buys some time.
My friend Phil Burton, with whom I had spent an entire afternoon rigging this seemingly cursed system two months before, was equally baffled. We thought the unit was seated properly. We screwed it down slightly further, but still reaped the same unhappy result. Like guys everywhere, not content to believe our eyes or learn from our errors, we repeated the same dumb move several more times, with increasing conviction, and each time multiplied our mess. Finally, we admitted to being stumped.

Still bobbing in the Travelift alleyway, it took several hours to find the cause of the problem. Phil finally figured it out. It appeared that the plate at the end of the remote hose, which affixes to the same male piece on the engine that formerly screwed into the oil filter, was properly seated. BUT, once we took it off again and examined everything with a magnifying glass, Phil found a scoring on the screw threads. Sure enough, despite Yanmar selling us this unit specifically for one of their own engines, the milling was off and the fitting on the engine was 2 millimeters too long, making it impossible to get a good fit, even when it looked just fine from the outside.

With Ithaka in the slings, Douglas adds a few coats of bottom paints to the underside of the keel, where the boat had been resting for the winter.
Satisfied, or at least hopeful, we ambled up to the machine shop and had 2 millimeters shaved from the end of the male fitting—something of a diesel circumcision. With a fresh taper on the end, everything fit perfectly, we achieved oil pressure, and a 10-minute repair solved a three-hour problem, re-teaching me the lesson that all improvements on a boat require two steps forward so that I can take the unavoidable one step back. It’s still progress, but never quite as much progress as you hope for.

Ithaka gleams in her slings, just before touch down.
Whether all our winter improvements work as we’d planned remains to be seen. For now, it’s amazing that we’re accomplishing in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, what the Newport Water Department has forever failed to do. Every few days since we launched, we’ve been producing clean, taste-free, odor-free and chemical-free drinking water. We’ve got a new windlass, new canvas covers, new running rigging, new instruments, potential for using power tools I’m no longer dreading the clean up after each oil change.

Primitivebut effective.
For a winter of work projects, it was infinitely easier to accomplish all this on land, where the boat was not rolling, where there were stores nearby, where English-speaking experts were available for consultation, where tools could be found to make it all possible, and where a car made chicken buses and hitchhiking a quaint memory from boat projects accomplished in the Third World – also a glimpse of the future, but for the moment unnecessary.

In Part III of this refit series, which I’m now writing from our navigation desk aboard the boat – a place I’d rather be -- I’ll finish up by taking a look at my favorite tools aboard Ithaka, including the one pictured to the left, the original device that Trini Lopez lusted for in song.