“Sionna” – A Yacht Enters a New Chapter

I’ve noted – with some surprise – that in the last week four new folks have followed this blog.

Surprise because I haven’t written anything fresh since the end of January, and because my last post spoke of the effective demise of Renaissance and a complete course change for us.

But I also hinted at the next steps for us, so I figured, “Why not?”  Why not write a little about this new path to the old goal?

We closed on our “new” boat on March 16th, and the first task was to look over the survey and the requirements of the insurance company and decide what work we needed to do.

If you haven’t owned a boat, or insured one, you might think it would be like owning a car. Fix it when it breaks down, and insure it by making a phone call.  But boats are different.

Our insurance policy was issued based on the pre-purchase survey – a pretty common method. And listed work we MUST complete in order to have the boat insured for use.  This is called a “Port Risk Policy”, or PRO.  We are insured, but the boat cannot be operated, cannot be moved, can’t even be launched without specific permission from the insurance company until those items which THEY think are important have been completed. It’s an interesting list, since they marked as “critical” items which seem to be trivial (non-structural crack in the finish on the deck), and didn’t even notice things like a loose centerboard pin (a critical piece of hardware if there ever was one!)   But that’s the insurance industry for you.

So my initial worklist looked like this:

  1. Bottom prep – lightly roughening the surface to assure that a new coat will stick, then rolling on one coat of Neptune (water-based) bottom paint.
  2. *Repair two deck cracks at forward corners of aft cabin (exterior surface).
  3. Remove, inspect and reinstall forward center-board pivot pin, patch and fair around pin.
  4. Reinstall bilge drain plug, boat cushions, sails, awning, etc.
  5. *Correct oil leak in Evolution shaft system
  6. *Ground fuel tank fills
  7. Assess and secure steering wheel shaft coupling
  8. *Replace hose for aft sink drain
  9. Install double hose clamps in two locations
  10. Clean and lubricate thru-hulls.
  11. *Remove, inspect, and reinstall 2 main chainplates to confirm good condition.
  12. *Repair main boom gooseneck fitting
  13. *Repair mizzen outhaul track
  14. *Replace nylon and polypropylene running rigging with Dacron.
  15. *Replace forward cabin-house port-light
  16. Install fire and CO alarms in main and aft cabins
  17. *Repair Charlie Noble
  18. Update portable fire extinguishers

All of those are now done, with the exception of the two fiberglass repair items – those are having to wait until it warms up enough to apply resin. IN the mean time, though, the true nature of boats comes out. Each item completed suggests several others that “would be a good idea” – or even MUST be done.

Like the bilge pump. Sionna has – or rather HAD – two.  The manual pump (always a good idea) was installed in the last five years, and looks great. The electric pump was said to be installed, but nobody had ever actually seen it…  I discovered that by kneeling next to the starboard side of the engine, and wedging my head and shoulders between the front of the engine and the water heater, I could actually reach into the bilge far enough to touch a small lump of plastic with a piece of wire on it.  This I pulled out, to discover a very small, very sad electric bilge pump which might – in it’s prime – have been sufficient to de-water a canoe…   …but never a 32′, 12,000 pound sailboat.

Add “replace electric bilge pump and float switch.” Plus the hoses, plus change the outlet so that the new, 2000gal/hour pump is discharging through a large enough hull fitting. And re-plumb the ice-box drain, adding a new sump for that so that the melting ice doesn’t drip into the bilge. And maybe we should also change the fan and water pump belts on the engine. And the impeller on the engine water pump. And since we’ve got the prop shaft out to replace the seals, we really should replace the flex-couplings in the drive because they’re out anyway and it’s been 10 years or more…

This is how buying a boat looks. Every time.  Even when you think the boat is in “sail-away condition” – it’s not.

On the flip side, I’m told new boats are even worse, but I’ll never know.  So far I think I have about 150 hours in these projects, and I’m not done yet. IF I were paying to have the work done, local shop rates are in the $75-$90/hr range, so we’d be looking at a labor charge of between $11,250 and $13,500.  This is when being a handy fellow really comes in handy!

Opening a new Chapter

When I last wrote here, I describe the quandary of time available vs. time required,  and offered that Renaissance – for all her attributes and beauty – wasn’t the boat for us and our evolving sailing dreams.

For those of you hoping for an uplifting, Disney/Hollywood end to the story, I fear I may be a bit disappointing, and yet…

We’ve found a new home for Renaissance, at least the major part of her.  Through the grapevine and “Uncle Henry’s” (the Maine swap & Sell weekly), I connected with a fellow in Blue Hill Maine who’s in the final phases of building an absolutely stunning new wooden boat – check out his blog here: And one of his needs for the completion of the project is lead for the 6000# ballast.

You can see where this is going. We’ve been looking for a home for Renaissance for about 6 weeks now, and have followed a fair number of leads, but the ultimate response is always the same – it’s too much work, too much money, not worth it…  Still, we feel some responsibility to her, and if we can’t see the project completed, if she must end up in the scrap heap, at least parts of her can be used to make other dreams happen, to launch other lives into adventure.

Once the snow melts and the ground hardens up enough to get a truck in here, I’ll open up the end of the boatshed and Renaissance will make her final journey – over land – before her rebirth in the keel of the Susan Elaine. 

It’s not the path I’d hoped for, not the end I’d planned, but it is somehow comforting to know that when the couple building the Susan E. head south in a couple years, about a third of s/v Renaissance will sail with them.

And what of our plans and dreams? Well, I’ve seen enough of my contemporaries die or develop significant health issues in their 50’s to reinforce my “Do it sooner” mentality, so we’ve raided our retirement funds for a down payment and signed a purchase agreement for a boat that’s ready to sail now, ready to explore the Inter Coastal Waterway and Bahamas at a moment’s notice – ready to make dreams come true.

Meet Sionna, a 1963 Triangle 32, Center-cockpit ketch.

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The adventure continues.

You can’t be all things to everyone…

…not even to yourself.

It’s been a very frustrating couple of months. Mostly the frustration of having a job and business and also a boat to rebuild – and a dream that depends on the boat getting finished.

Or does it? Are the two inseparable?

That’s the question that finally presented an answer this week, and the surprising (to me) answer is that, no, our dream of cruising south for a few months – or a couple of years – is not dependent on my finishing the restoration of Renaissance. We could, in fact, find a relatively simple and inexpensive boat that’s already in the water and seaworth to carry out our dream. In fact, in the long run that would certainly be cheaper than rebuilding a 53-year-old sloop that’s seen so much neglect over the years.

But what about Renaissance? We’ve spent a few thousand dollars (a mere pittance in the boating world) to bring this boat home, build a shelter, start gathering gear, and a few hundred hours of labor stripping her down to the point where all that’s left is straight and sound, and it’s time to begin rebuilding. We’ve done the nasty part.

But I suddenly have come face to face with the reality of my life. My financial resources are pretty limited, so to restore a boat, I have to work. Work takes time – and when you’re self-employed, it sometimes takes more hours than a day contains. Rebuilding a boat also takes time. In this case, an inestimable amount of time, certainly thousands and thousands of hours.

Let’s do some math: there are 8760 hours in a year. I sleep for 8 hours a night, or I collapse into a quivering pile of uselessness, so that leaves 5840 hours.
Meals, brushing teeth and all the other things that life demands take up about 3 hours a day-we’re down to 4745.
The job needs the most – something around 9 hours, and sometimes more than 5-days-a-week, so we’ll call it 9.5 hrs in a theoretical 5-day week.  We’re down to 2275.
It gets cold in Maine, and our boat shed isn’t heated – or heatable. Paint, fiberglass, varnish etc doesn’t work in the cold, so figure that the period from December 15th through April 15 is pretty much a loss. We might get something done, but chances are, we won’t. Let’s be optimistic, though, and hope that perhaps 1/3 of that time we actually WILL be able to work, or we’ll find projects that can be done in the basement, where it’s warmer.
Our total available hours to work on the boat is looking like about 374 hours a year.
But wait – what about the occasional night out? Or spending time with my lovely wife?  Subtract a few more…
The cold, hard truth is that I’m not getting any younger, so I really need to be living this dream in the next 5 years if I’m going to be physically able to accomplish and enjoy it.

So here’s the rub:  Assuming that there are 5000 hours of labor in the restoration (and that might be overly optimistic!),  I’d need 13.4 years at my current rate of progress. Even if I could do it in 3000 (very unlikely), It’d take me 8 years.

So that was my epiphany on Tuesday – I’m not going to be nautically functional long enough to complete this restoration and still be capable of sailing the boat.

“Well”, says I, “That sucks.”

Then there’s the issue of changing goals.  When my wife and I got this boat, I was pretty certain that I wanted to do some ocean crossing. At least as far as the Azores, and perhaps even a circumnavigation of the North Atlantic, maybe the Caribbean Sea…

Now, though, we’re both recognizing that we may not need to do that, we might be happy just following the East Coast and crossing into the Bahamas, maybe the Leeward and Windward Islands…   We may never get around to crossing the ocean – so do we really need a boat that’s in many ways optimized for ocean passages? Might we be better off with a boat that has less draft (depth in the water) and a little more space and comfort? The Bahama’s are pretty shallow…

In other words, Renaissance might not be the right boat for us, both in terms of resources AND our cruising plans.

So Renaissance is for sale. If you’re reading this, and were thinking to yourself “Boy, I could do that, especially if someone else did all the nasty tearing apart for me…”  this could be your big chance!  I’ve got engines and gear and a sound hull that’s ready to start going back together, all in a classic CCA yacht of excellent pedigree. To the right craftsman, she’s ready to be reborn.

Meanwhile, we’re back to looking at used boats again. Looked at a beauty today, in fact. Let me know when you’d like to come look over Renaissance – I’ll cut you a good deal.

Workin’ for a living…

First off, many thanks to the folks who’ve signed up to track our progress on “Renaissance”.  Perhaps you’ve been thinking we gave up?  Not so!

But we have been very busy elsewhere.  Both living and boat restoration require a bit of money coming in, and that’s been a  bit scarce the last few months.  In hopes of correcting that problem, the admiral and I have started a new business called. “Handy-Hands – home maintenance and repair”.  (Check it out on Facebook or http://www.handyhandsmaine.com)    We do the jobs that most folks might do themselves if they had the time, tools, skills or dexterity, but for whatever reason don’t.  It’s fun, but busy!

But we have managed a little progress toward the dream!  In August we attended our first gathering (called a “Gam”) of the SSCA – the Seven Seas Cruising Association.  Hosted by a couple in Gilkey Harbor, Isleboro island, Maine, this gathering happens every year, and included 65 boats and 125 cruisers ranging in experience from beginner wanna-be’s like us to couples that have circled the globe more than once – and everything in between.  (http://www.ssca.org)

It was – in short – a blast.  I’ve seldom encountered a more welcoming, enthusiastic, warm-hearted and helpful group of people! Every conversation turned into “What are your plans and how can I help?” Just delightful!

Meanwhile we have spent only minutes at a time on the projects, but we have made a little more progress.  All the deck fittings and hardware are off the starboard side, the rest of the toe-rail came off INTACT, meaning that I have a pattern for creating the new one.  The pictures I’ve posted show the port side rail coming off in dust-sized pieces, so that was a relief indeed.  Yesterday I finally removed the starboard winch pad – intact as well – by hacksawing the final bolt (the others loosened fine, but not that last one!)   So again, I have a pattern.  I can’t actually make the new pads until I find the new winches, which may have a different sized base.  Anyone have a pair of 35-40 power self-tailing winches to contribute? Self-tailing is a minimum, but single or two-speed is negotiable.

So there we stand.  The weather is cooling off, making working in the greenhouse more comfortable, and perhaps I’ll be able to take one day a week – or even a half day – to devote to the boat.  One thing I know about myself – I need to see a little progress on this project to keep my energy up.

Slow, slow progress…

There is a very good reason for the seemingly slow progress we’re currently making on this job. Well actually two reasons. The first is simple finances. Boat parts cost money. Money comes from working, which takes time – time away from working on your boat projects… It’s a downward spiral if you’re not careful! 100_0793The other reason is simply that we need to do some sailing on a regular basis to remind us WHY we’re going through the effort, expense and discomfort of restoring this old boat for our future plans. Last summer we took 12 days and cruised downeast from our home base in Rockland, getting as far as Northeast Harbor before we turned around to head back home. Each day was a different  adventure, a quiet cove or beach or harbor.  We needed that. 100_1529 But there has  been progress!  I decided early on that the cockpit sole wasn’t as  stiff as it  should be, so the steering pedestal had to come out in order to  strengthen  that area. This turned out to be a good decision again, as one bolt  broke off  easily during the disassembly, and the others were partially eaten  away  by corrosion.  I can just imaging the effect on boat control in a seaway if the helmsman were to be thrown against the wheel, and the whole steering station then carried away with  one of us holding on for dear life… 100_1533 So the pedestal is in the basement for  stripping and repainting, and the cockpit is clear for eventual repairs to the laminate. Since we’re considering installing a hatch  in the sole to allow for easy access to the expanded battery bank (420 amp/hr, as opposed to the original 105), this may all  work in our favor. Meanwhile the process of removing anything that needs to be replaced or repaired has continued in the  cabin as well. The first mate has graciously devoted a good bit of time to removing furniture 100_1556from the port side – the remains of  which are in the basement to serve as patterns for the eventual rebuild, and we can now see the structure of the hull inside, and begin to visualize how things will look “someday”.

The rudder has been removed, too. As you might100_1596 100_1597 expect, that’s quite a story in itself, but much to my  surprise, it was easy digging below the stern, and I  only needed to go down about 18″ to allow the 27″    rudder stock to clear the hull. It could have been  much worse!

Why remove the rudder? It’s made up of mahogany planks, about 3/4″ thick, which are held together with multiple bronze nuts, and screws that range from 5″ to 15″ in length.  Because the boat has been on the hard for so long, the wood has shrunk to the point that there are 1/4″ gaps between planks.  That’s “normal”, in the wooden boat world, but the amount of movement of the planks now makes me wonder just how strong those old bronze screws are…  More investigation – and possibly even a coating of fiberglass to encase the wood – will make me confident that this rather important bit of boat is up to it’s eventual task.

And then there’s wood! Back last fall, one of my neighbors was asked to clean out an old barn, and he found a stack of nice looking planks that looked  like mahogany. He asked me if I wanted it.  Um, how fast can you say “Yes!” without being  unseemly?100_1538

That stack of wood turned out to be about 200 board/feet of Honduran mahogany, and “They ain’t makin’ that no more”, as the saying goes. After planing, I have wood to replace the cockpit combings (9′ x 14″), and possibly enough to replace the entire toe-rail too.  Oh, did I mention it was free? And I bartered for the use of the planer…

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And what about the deck-recore job? Slow and uncomfortable, but progress is being made! We’ve made it from the bow, where we found a small area of serviceable core just ahead of the couch roof, all the way along the port (left) side deck and across the stern, where we found none.  Indeed, someone had clearly gone to the trouble  of removing the core and re-skinning along the port side by the couch roof, but that repair hadn’t held, and was completely saturated and worthless.  Out it all came, and I created a new tool for stripping out the old balsa fibers from the edges of the opening. That, and my circular saws set at a depth of 3/8″, are all the tooling required for this stage.  Well, and a full-face respirator to protect eyes and lungs, and earplugs for the ears, and coveralls for the skin, and gloves for the hands…

Yeah, it’s a right nasty job.

Blood, Sweat & Tears

Boating is dangerous.

Obviously, considering the number of band-aids I go through in the course of a given boat project.

It’s not – on the whole – the using and operating of boats that’s dangerous (though accidents do happen, of course) but the close proximity of objects that bite you.  Like spinnaker poles.

I’m an enormous fan of a local shop we have here in Rockland, Maine, called Marine Consignment of Coastal Maine (MCOCM) LLC.  http://www.marineconsignmentmaine.com/

As you’d expect, it’s simply a consignment shop for the excess, unneeded or unloved boat parts and gear you probably have lying around the house and yard.

Back in February I had a few dollars in my pocket, so I went to visit the proprietor, John.

Yes, we are on a first name basis. He’s got my debit card number on speed dial, and dreams of that new Lexus whenever I walk in.

Which is funny, in that his prices are very reasonable, and he’s even more so. Take the spinnaker pole I was working on today. I saw this adjustable 20′ spinnaker pole lying on the floor, and in looking it over, saw that both pins were frozen (not uncommon for stainless pins in aluminum castings) and there was no price on it.
“What’s the story on this pole, John?”, says I.
“Guy had it lying in the basement, the pins are stuck.  You want it?”
I thought a minute – another project?  “How much?”
“Take it home if you want. If you can make it work, how ’bout 50 bucks?”

I’m a sucker for boat parts.

I tried soaking the ends in vinegar to loosen the corrosion, but nothing doing.  I tried tapping with a hammer, but no-go. So I set it aside for a bit.
Today, 5 months later, I happened to have a propane torch in my hand when my eyes fell on the old stuck pole again. Why not?

Heat, tap, heat, tap, heat, tap tap… POP!  There’s one!DSCN5130

Same treatment on the other, but it only took “heat, tap” before “POP!”  Then a complete disassembly of the pins & springs, ream out the corrosion in the castings, and polish the pins. One pin had been slightly mushroomed by the tapping, probably weakening the hole for the retaining ring, so I cut off 3/16″ of the end and drilled a new hole through the shaft. They’re ready to reassemble as soon as I buy new retaining rings.

Oh, and the blood? Well, I decided to see if the pole would extend to it’s full length, and during the retraction phase, a small, unnoticed sliver of metal decided to take a piece out of my left palm.

Good thing I heal fast, dang boats are dangerous.