Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Hard Top

I'd been toying with the idea of building a hard top for the dodger for a couple months, since the day my friend Greg sent me a link to a blog about a cruising couple who built one for their boat on a dock in Mexico.  It got me thinking.  A hard top would be nice to have -- it would hold up a lot better in the sun and spray than canvas and provides a nice mounting platform for solar panels.  It would take some time and effort but I knew I could do it.  The more I thought about the project the more obsessed I got with it.  Unfortunately, There was no turning back.  Thanks, Greg.

After studying the cruising couple's blog I decided to do things a little differently.  They took an FRP wall panel from Home Depot, tied it over the dodger frame, and layed 6 layers of fiberglass over the top.  I liked the idea of the panel on the bottom.  This would give it a nice finished look and cut in half the amount of fairing, sanding, and painting I would need to do.  But instead of solid glass I decided to go with a foam core sandwiched between two layers of glass.  This would result in a lot of strength and stiffness without a lot of weight.  So, I bought a sheet of CoreCell, tied it over the frame, and cut it to size.

Since this was the biggest fiberglass project I'd ever attempted and I knew Greg had a lot of experience working with epoxy, I recruited him to help me lay it up.  We put a layer of 17-oz biaxial cloth over the foam core and followed it with a layer of 6-oz cloth and fairing filler.  The next day we moved it to the dock, turned it over, and layed down a layer of biaxial on the bottom side of the foam.  I had already cut a sheet of the FRP wall panel to size so we then epoxied that down to finish the glass work.  That was the easy part.

I spent countless hours over the next week filling, fairing, and sanding, followed by more filling, fairing, and sanding.  Until, at last, I had a nice smooth finish that was ready for paint.  A week later and I had 3 coats of glossy topside paint applied.  The conceptual hard dodger that had been living in my head for months was finally becoming a reality.  And, I have to say, it looked pretty good.

One minor miscalculation on my part involved the existing dodger frame.  It simply wasn't strong enough to support the additional weight of a hard top and solar panel.  I knew I'd need to beef it up a bit.  So, the next couple weeks involved buying new hardware, mounting bases in the deck, and cutting stainless tubing.  I added four additional struts which provided the necessary support.  No more wobble.

For the sides, I decided to reuse the existing canvas dodger and simply bolt the hard top over it.  Millie spent a day sewing chafing patches to help extend the life of the fabric.  I expect to get a couple more years out of the soft dodger, after which time we plan to make a new one and attach it directly to the hard top.   I ordered a solar panel to mount on top and once that has been done we'll stretch the canvas back on.  I can't wait to see it finished...really.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Watermakers 101

Last year I started researching reverse-osmosis watermakers.  Since we plan to spend a lot of time in the Sea of Cortez and considering that my wife isn't really thrilled about salt-water showers I decided I'd better put one on the boat. 

However, buying one of these units for a small boat can put a big dent in the cruising kitty.  The concept is pretty straight-forward and most parts can be purchased online or at your local hardware store so why not  build it yourself?  With an internet connection and a little time you can dig up everything you need to know to put a system together. 

Essentially, you use a high-pressure pump to push salt water through a reverse-osmosis membrane.  Most of the water is discarded as brine while some is pushed through the membrane as fresh water.  I was looking primarily for a system that I could run every 2-3 days which would produce enough water for two people and use a minimal amount of battery power to operate. 

There are essentially two ways to go:  AC-powered or DC-powered.  Both require a significant about of power to operate.  AC systems produce a lot of water and can be powered by a generator and high-output inverter or run directly off the main diesel engine through an additional pulley.  For larger boats with an engine room you can put together a very modular AC system for a few thousand dollars. 

On Jean Marie space is a luxury we simply don't have.  So, I decided to go with a DC solution and created a spreadsheet comparing current DC-powered watermakers in terms of amps per gallons (that is, the number of amps required to produce one gallon of fresh water).  In this comparison Spectra Watermakers with their patented Clark pump came out well ahead.  Two problems: (1) Spectra watermakers are very expensive and (2) they don't sell the Clark pump separately. 

I went back and forth on the pros and cons of building versus buying until the annual boat show in Oakland.  After about twenty minutes with the sales rep I pulled the trigger on a new Spectra Cape Horn.  Their boat show price was just too good to pass up. 

The Cape Horn is perfect for our needs, producing up to 14 gallons per hour at 18 amps.  It comes with two feed pumps to the Clark pump and has the option of running on one pump or both as needed.  Installation was challenging due to space constraints but, after some effort, I got the system up and running. 

I was so impressed with the product and the company that I signed up for their roving rep program.  Roving reps are cruisers who are trained and authorized to provide maintenance and support for Spectra watermakers.  I spent a week at their office in San Rafael learning all about watermaker design and the Clark pump and am now an authorized Spectra Roving Rep.  I have no idea what that means for us yet.
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Boat Yard Blues

I pulled the boat out of the water in April just after Colin was born.  It was a good time to tackle this project since Millie's parents were staying with us at the time to help.  A typical haulout entails sanding and repainting the bottom, waxing the topsides, servicing the prop, and lubricating the thru-hulls.  I hadn't hauled the boat in the 6 years I've owned it so I wasn't exactly sure what I'd find and how much work was needed, but I gave myself a week to do the work and get the boat back in the water.  I thought this would be enough time if I worked all day.  And, the fact that the yard rates doubled after 10 days provided the motivation to get it done quickly. 

The hull looked pretty good at first look.  The old bottom paint held up well.  It seemed my routine dives to clean the hull kept most of the large growth away.  I was thinking I'd need a couple days to sand off what was left of the old paint and then start rolling on the new paint -- no problem.  But after a day on the sander the job suddenly became much more bleak.  There must have been six coats of old paint on the hull which should have been removed before recoating at some point in the past.  Unfortunately, the layers just kept accumulating; and the perfectionist in me just couldn't leave it all there to be painted over again.  So, with some much needed assistance from my brothers we geared up and attacked the old paint with air-powered sanders and garden hoses, leaving a sea of blue in our wake.  

In the process of removing the paint we uncovered a number of gelcoat blisters.  These appear when water works it's way into small voids in the fiberglass.  I expected to see a few of them and was prepared to grind them out and fill them wtih epoxy as needed.  So, each time we came across a blister we'd turn the sander on it to open it up and dry it out.  More and more blisters appeared from under those layers of paint until the hull looked like someone tossed a grenade at it.  It was about this time that I also uncovered a large gash in the bottom of the keel hiding beneath old paint and boat caulk.  It looked like a bad repair gone horribly wrong.  This was going to take some time to fix.

So, my week of routine maintenance turned into two weeks of back-breaking labor.  I guess that's to be expected with any estimate for a boat project.  I was very thankful to get help from Ron and Ricky for a weekend and then spent the next week filling, sanding, and painting all the holes we put in the hull.  I hired the yard to fix the botched keel repair which bought me some time on the yard rate increase, and got busy waxing.  In the end I was able to get all the work done, and exactly two weeks after she came out Jean Marie went back in the water. 

There isn't anything that time and money can't fix.  That seems to be my mantra now when it comes to boat work. 
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