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The Voyage of Spectacle Boat Mechanics

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Archive for the ‘Boat Mechanics’ Category

Holy Week A Curse for Spectacle

Posted by: andy

Holy Week here in Panama has proven to be an insurmountable cultural obstacle to our attempts to leave for the Galapagos.  We have not made it off the dock, and Spectacle will remain in Panama City until at least April 9.

A bit of explanatory background is needed here.  Having long ago (as was required given the preposterous lead times with which these trips sell out) booked a god-awfully expensive SCUBA adventure in the Galapagos, we have known for weeks that yesterday was the last possible day to depart Panama City for the Galapagos without resorting to Plan B (i.e. flying there and back from Panama).  We need to be there on the 29th.  It’s 900-950 miles away.  Our boat does about 150 miles a day (and will easily do that if we motor 24/7).  The math is not hard.

We had been told by people who know things that the typical wait for a Panama Canal crossing is about 5-9 days, and our research pretty much confirmed this.  We began the process on March 1st (while still in Colombia) and were admeasured in Colon on March 7th.  For whatever reason (and there certainly isn’t a good one), there are presently HUGE delays at the Canal.  So when we were told that we wouldn’t be crossing the canal until late March, I pretty much threw a fit (although others have had it worse — a boat that came in two days after us was given an April 14th transit date).  At this point it seemed pretty unlikely we’d be making the March 22 cutoff.

Employing my litigator training, I pretty much table-pounded and screamed my way into a March 19-20 (“maybe”) crossing appointment.  So at this point, everything had to go right — not only did the March 19 appointment date have to be “real,” but we had to have the boat otherwise completely ready for the Pacific crossing 48 hours later.  This involved about 7-8 non-trivial things going right.

Slowly the pieces began to fall into place.  Sure enough, we made it through the Canal on the 20th and pulled into the Flamenco Marina late that Thursday afternoon with three items left on our checklist.

Well, to make a long and not very interesting story short, these fairly simple jobs have been rendered extraordinarily difficult by virtue of the subsequent Friday being Good Friday.  The entire city is basically shut down from Friday through Tuesday, booze is not being served (the horror), and people are not working.

After a great deal of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, we managed to get two of the three simple jobs done — they took 30 hours and should have taken three.  But, alas, we could not find a single marine electrical store anywhere in town that was open to sell us an inverter diode (not a particularly hard part to find), which was the part our electrician determined is causing problems with out batteries.  There’s literally one boat store in the whole city that was open either yesterday or today, and it specializes in fishing gear.  Without said diode, we can’t guarantee proper, consistent charging of our batteries and that wouldn’t be a particularly enjoyable thing to live with for 90+ days.

So, alas, we have tripped over the final hurdle and will have to move to Plan B, but no big deal … we’ll fly in about 5-6 days, come back, and then cross the Pacific.

Type I Error

Posted by: andy

For any of you who had the pleasure of taking Statistics 150 at Mizzou or its equivalent elsewhere, you might recall the concept of Type I and Type II errors.

Basically, a Type II error is, in boating as in most walks of life, the more common mistake:  underinclusivity, the failure to include relevant data, or, if you will, the failure to recognize a particular extant problem — a false negative.

A Type I error is a mistake far less common in boating:  overinclusivity, the inclusion of irrelevant/erroneous data, or, if you will, identifying as extant a problem which does not in fact exist — a false positive.

Let’s make this simple –

Not knowing that the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor — Type II error.

Erroneously assuming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — Type I error.

OK, even more simple.

When the pregnancy test says you aren’t pregnant and you actually are – Type II error.
When the pregnancy test says you are pregnant and you really aren’t – Type I error.

See the difference?

Not being the most experienced sailors, we commit Type II errors all the time.  The Tale of the Twin Fiascoes was basically one Type II error after another – not filling up the gas tank, thinking we had a handheld VHF but not actually having one, not turning off the electronics once we were out of fuel, etc., etc., etc.

Well, I’ve finally committed my first major Type I error.  And it was a doozy…

For about the last two weeks, I’ve been convinced that our batteries were, for whatever reason, failing adequately to retain charge.  Following test after test, the reading of endless manuals (probably could have done some more of that earlier) and even the hiring of a largely clueless electrician, I have now diagnosed the situation:  there is nothing now wrong, nor has there recently been anything wrong, with our batteries.  Instead, there is something wrong with my powers of diagnosis.

This episode would be at bit more humorous if it weren’t so badly timed.  Having improbably cleared every hurdle in our mad scramble to meet our deadline, we actually found ourselves all set – the boat was all ready to go to the Galapagos and we could have left on time in ideal conditions (the weather was absolutely perfect), saved ourselves a couple of thousand dollars in airfare and attendant travel hassles and had an extra two weeks in the South Pacific.  So, yeah, um …

Getting Back to Normal Means Boat Work

Posted by: melissa

We said “Goodbye” to Ryan yesterday evening, and then went out for pizza and beer with Jason.  He stayed on the boat with us last night, and was off to the airport early this morning.  And so Andy and I are left by ourselves with our thoughts.  We both still don’t really know what to think about the passage.  Every time we tell the story, some new detail comes out or some new emotion bubbles to the surface.  It doesn’t help that we both still feel very tired.  It’s hard to sleep soundly after a passage anyway because you’re so used to sleeping in 3-4 hour increments depending on the watch schedule, but adjusting this time is proving especially difficult.  I think we are both suffering from an adrenalin hangover of sorts, and coming down is a real bitch.  The whole experience feels quite surreal.

One way to shake such a strange feeling is to get back to normal things, and for me, that means boat work and check lists.  First on the list is dealing with the head sail.  It needs a new shackle for the halyard, but unfortunately, the halyard and furling drum did not come down the forestay when we dropped the headsail at sea, so someone will need to go up the mast to retrieve it.  The furling line is looking a little haggard as well so I’ll look into replacing that while we’re at it.  The staysail blew out completely.  It seriously looks like it was shot with a shotgun, but the sail loft thinks it may be repairable and will pick it up later today.

I’m also going to find someone to service the autopilot.  If you’re a boat person, or if you follow our travels or the travels of any other cruiser, you realize the importance of the autopilot.  During the crossing, poor old Otto was working really really hard against that huge, following, Tasman swell, and he was making some pretty sad noises.  It was also making a “thunk” noise as if it was slamming into something when turning sharply and completely to port.  Whatever’s happening, it can’t be good.  The loss of the autopilot was a secret fear for the entire crew, but never articulated out loud in an effort to keep everyone’s stress level as low as possible.

At some point during the crossing, a loose jib sheet was whipping around and whacked a big hole in the plastic window of the dodger.  The boat trim guy will come by later this week, and I’ll probably get a quote to re-do the bed cushions as well. 

Additionally, we have a ton of exterior lights that are burned out – anchor light, tri-color, starboard deck light, and starboard running light.  Other than that, I would like to hire someone to help me scrub the deck, work on rust removal, polish all the metal, and sand and oil the teak.  Bayswater Marina in Auckland was a stickler on not allowing exterior boat work, so much of the deck desperately needs attention.

Going Up the Mast

Posted by: melissa

As I mentioned, the furling drum did not come down the forestay when we dropped the halyard on the headsail, and as such, someone needed to go up the mast to retrieve it.  I suspect there’s something wrong up there since theoretically, it should be weighted enough to slide down on its own. 

Going up the mast is a boat task that is simultaneously mundane and terrifying.  You attach a seat, called a bosun’s chair, to the mainsail (or spinnaker) halyard, and use a winch to lift the seated person just as you would raise a sail.  Intellectually, it’s easy to understand that the load on a huge sail, in big wind, involving a 69-foot mast, far exceeds your body weight.  But you just can’t help but wonder if this might be the one instance that the shackle fails.  I was especially thinking this since I was going up the mast because of a failed shackle, but whatever.  And yes, I volunteered to go up the mast because in a way, running the winch is far more nerve-racking … the ascent isn’t that bad as the winch does all the work and there’s a brake preventing the line from feeding out should the winch fail or slip.  But, on the descent, that brake is open, and the line is manually let out.   

I’m not afraid of heights and I didn’t find the whole experience particularly scary, but the very top of the mast is fairly unnerving.  Past the highest set of spreaders, there’s nothing really to hold on to except for the big tree trunk of a mast that I wrapped my legs around.  And it’s weird to see the halyard, with which you’re being hoisted, become so short and then feed into the mast. 

Once I was up to the spreaders or so, I pulled extra slack of the headsail halyard out of the mast, and swung out to the forestay to inspect the furling drum.  That was a pretty strange sensation, but really, holding onto the forestay really freaked me out because it’s pretty loose, that is to say, definitely not as rigid as the mast.  The furling drum was definitely stuck, and no amount of muscle or slack in the halyard would budge it.  One of the connecting points on the forestay’s sleeve appeared to have some bolts sticking out that have loosened themselves. 

I reported down to Andy that the furling drum would not come down, and that I didn’t have the tools to try to fix it.  As such, he lowered me slowly down, and I was a snit for the rest of the day because he forgot to take my picture while I was up there.  Dammit!

Getting Ready to Say Goodbye

Posted by: melissa

We’re working hard to get ready to leave Sydney, and it’s very difficult since we like it here so much.  I could easily live here.  But we’ve got a good weather window coming up, so it’s time to get going.

After checking three different chandleries, I finally located a shackle for the headsail that will probably be acceptable.  It’s not perfect, but it should do fine.  This shackle attaches the top of the headsail to the furling drum.  The shackle needs to be sufficiently strong; the pin needs to be small enough to fit into its slot in the furling drum; and it needs to be big enough to contain the loop of the sail which is quite bulky.  Unfortunately, gusty winds are forecasted for today and tomorrow, so we’ll have to delay hoisting and refurling the headsail until we get some lighter conditions. 

The sail loft was successful in repairing the staysail, and will be returning it on Monday.  I don’t know how much it will cost since the secretary has “gone crook,” which in Australian English means that she’s sick.  Two cultures separated by a common language, as they say!

We hired a rigger to go up the mast and follow up on the furling drum that I was unable to retrieve.  He tightened the connections on the forestay sleeve, and the furling drum just slid right down exactly as it was supposed to.  He also removed and brought down the burned out bulbs of the tri-color and anchor lights so I could buy new ones.  He also confirmed my suspicions that the forestay was a bit too loose, and he tightened up the backstays.  Unfortunately, the backstays are adjusted as tightly as the adjustable backstay can be tightened, so if we need to tighten more in the future, a more significant rigging change will be required.

The refrigerator guys have dropped the ball so egregiously that we’re beginning to think that they just didn’t want to take the work in the first place.  This happens in areas where there are a lot of really nice yachts.  Apparently, the refrigerator job is either too small, or not small enough.  It might be too small in that the opportunity cost of delaying a job on super yacht is too high.  Or, the complexity of our refrigerator problem makes the job not small enough … they don’t see an easy 3-billable-hour solution so they don’t want to waste time figuring it out, especially when I will resist paying a guy to take it all apart and stare at it like it’s from outer space.  Hopefully, we’ll find someone more motivated and less expensive by the hour to take a look at it somewhere up the coast.

I was a little disappointed in the trimming guy as well.  I see him around the marina very frequently and he’s always walking fast and frantic as if he’s late for a big deadline.  He said that he would have a quote for me weeks ago, and he finally delivered it yesterday.  I would see him in passing and he would promise to meet me in an hour or first thing tomorrow morning or whatever, and he would never show up.  So, too bad for him.  I’m not going to beg him to take my business if he won’t show up when he says he’ll show up.  Well, for cosmetic work anyhow.  If I need a diesel repairman, I beg.

Otherwise, everything is fairly cleaned up and ready to go.  We just mailed a huge box of books home which freed up some storage space.  I purchased paper charts from Port Jackson to Brisbane.  I made a reservation at the marina in Newcastle.  I need to return our borrowed space heater and extension cord.  Pay the marina bill.  And that’s about it.


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