100_1489 In most refits of a boat, the existing  systems aboard (water, electrical, etc)  are generally inspected, repaired,  upgraded etc., but usually there is a  basic structure of systems that you  work within.

Not so in this case. Renaissance is a 52  year old boat which has received no  significant care for 8 years, and was, I  suspect, the victim of a deferred  maintenance “plan” for several years  before that.

She also suffered  at the  hands of who-  knows-how-many well-  intentioned do-  it-yourself owners, individuals who’s    intentions were good, but who’s skills  were, sadly, not always up to the task at  hand.

Too, the industry standard for safety  and security in boat building have  changed over the last half-century, and  practices that were considered “best” in 1962 are now looked at with considerable suspicion.

And so we are starting over.  Last Fall I spent several days removing everything from the boat that related to her systems.  Engine, fuel, water, electrical, bilge pumps – anything that could come out without cutting open the hull (Fuel and one water tank stayed for that reason) was removed and – basically – scraped.  Some of what I found that had passed for an electrical system was, frankly, frightening.  Certain tasks should be done by someone with the appropriate skill-set!

What you see in the image above, therefore, are my design drawings of the new systems that I’ll be installing in the boat once the basic hull repairs (re-coring decks and relocating the chainplates, sealing and painting, installing thru-hulls) have been accomplished.  You’ll go blind trying to read those images here, but they include a 12 volt DC electrical system, including solar panels and a 430 amp hour battery bank; gray and black-water holding and handling; fresh-water collection, storage and distribution (including limited engine-heated hot water and a hand-held shower at the stern); and a salt-water manifold system to provide seawater for the galley, engine, and flushing the head.

What you won’t see is a standby generator, an AC electrical system, and pressure water throughout the boat. (having hot-water does require a small pressure water system, but  it will be very limited in capacity to conserve both fresh water and power.)
Nor will there be a microwave, TV, DVD player, washer/dryer…  Forget all that crap – if we wanted that level of toys, we’d stay ashore.

On the safety side, this refit will be a quantum leap forward. For instance, the entire electrical system will be protected by fuses, circuit breakers, or both. 200 amp fuses will be installed right at the battery posts to protect the entire boat from that hazard, while each individual circuit (internal and external lighting, refrigeration, navionics, bilge pump, engine starting, etc) will have it’s own breaker or fuse for protection of the wiring in that particular system.

Plumbing will also be upgraded.  As it left the factory, the Alberg 35 had 11 holes through the hull below the waterline, and only 3 of these holes had a method of closing the opening (ie: a valve) in the event of a malfunction or damage. Again, that was industry practice in 1962, but it’s very foolish. Stuff happens in a boat, and keeping the sea on the outside of the hull has to be taken seriously.

This refit will reduce the number of openings from eleven to 6, and of those 6 openings, ALL will be rebuilt with bronze thru-hulls and ball valves so that they can be secured closed if necessary.  Now, if a hose is damaged or accidentally pulled off the fitting in rough weather, all that is required is to close the valve. Failure of a valve, while rare, is also possible, so each valve installation will also include a soft wooden plug, taped to the valve, which can be driven into the failed valve to seal it off.

And what of water in the boat?  How do you remove it?

Renaissance  was built with a single hand bilge pump, located in the cockpit (but out of reach of the helmsman), which had the capacity to pump about 15 gallons a minute out of the bilge.  When she relaunches in 2017 or so, she’ll have an automatic electric pump that can remove 36 gallons a minute, a manual pump that can do an additional 20 gallons a minute, and the ability to use the engine’s seawater pump to move another 10-12 gallons a minute – all independently.  The manual pump will also be located in the cabin, where an off-duty crewmember can pump while sheltered from the weather.
Overkill? Possibly. But I really hate water inside a boat, unless it’s frozen and floating in rum.

And finally, a word about boat parts.

Boat parts, like car parts (only worse) are expensive. Yet there are ways to reduce the impact.  One of them is taking your time, and another is looking for used. We’re fortunate here in Maine to have a marine consignment store in town, with the result that my budgeting spreadsheet is thus far showing that I’m spending about 25% of retail on perfectly functional parts – many times as good as new – every single time I go looking.  That, and Craigslist, local cruisers and word-of-mouth (“Hey, I hear you’re rebuilding a boat – do you need a new anchor?  You can have it if you can lift it!”)

This is fun!








In the doldrums

Progress is slow right now.  Not for a lack of desire, but mainly because I got an opportunity to actually do some work for pay, and decided I should accept the opportunity, and it’s inherent limitations.

So six days-a-week installing a heat pump system has seriously cut in to any free time I might have invested in boat projects.  It being winter, however, those projects would have to be inside anyway, so I’ve set up the cellar as a pseudo-paint and varnish shop, and brought some of the boat furniture indoors.

100_1333 The boat has 13 of these drawers between the galley, salon and v-birth. Those in the v-birth are  actually in very good shape, the paint and varnish still mostly solid, but they’ve been poorly re-coated  in the past. Those in the galley and salon are in rougher shape – still structurally sound, except for a couple of cracked front panels, but the varnish and paint are poor, and the lower drawers particularly are filthy: full of rust, dirt, and the muck that comes when a boat is flooded at some time in her past.

So I’m taking each piece of the interior that can be moved into the basement and attacking it with my orbital sander and 60 grit sanding disks. Not attempting to remove every bit of paint, but I can take off 90% of it in a few minutes, and all the varnish from the front of the drawers, revealing sound, beautiful mahogany beneath.


100_1339 The same for the steps from the companionway. Filthy, but sound. The glue is long gone, but the screws have held and the structure is good. Once I sanded the surface away, I re-drilled and counter-sank the holes for new screws.  I’ve also decided to narrow the steps about four inches. This will give back about 4 inches of space in the galley, and make the steps more secure for the climb into the cockpit. Since a major re-design of the galley is planned, every square inch is precious!




100_1345An interesting aside to show how time-consuming boat-work can be.

Each tread of the steps has a corner cut off to fair the edge of the step into the riser of the step assembly, and this radius is cut at an angle to the horizontal. It’s attractive, but complex to cut without a jig.  I spent about three hours setting up the drill press for these cuts, using a 3″ hole-saw and adjusting the angles until I could recreate that same cut. Now each step will have the same corner “look” on each end again.  Total time for this little bit of refinement?

Four (4) hours for the four steps.  That’s boat work!


100_1351 But I think it’s worth it. Ultimately I expect we’ll spend a lot of time aboard, possibly several months at a time, and it’s those little details that make a restoration of this sort “personal” – and therefore worthwhile.  Once the sanding and paint is complete on the drawers, I’ll move on to varnish for steps, boarding ladder, cockpit table and cockpit combings. Varnish is picky, and I’ll need to do a lot of cleaning to minimize the dust in the work area.

The combings, by the way, are each a single tapered piece of 3/4″ mahogany, 14″ high at the fore end, 9″ high aft, and 9′ long.  A neighbor just happened to “find” a selection of 15″ to 22″ wide, clear 1″ mahogany in a barn somewhere, and gave it to me.  That’s going to be fun to work with!  If I can just get the sanding done…

Clearing the decks

100_1280 100_1289When you’re working with an old boat, you’re bound to find some challenges. And many of those challenges will, not surprisingly, involve water!

In the case of Renaissance, which spent the last 8 years out of the water in a boatyard, the only water she’s seen came from the sky, but in fact that’s the sort that tends to cause the most mischief in an old boat, as illustrated here.  On the right is the backstay chainplate assembly, and you can see the rust weeping from the stainless steel hardware on the outside of the “pocket” (formed from fiberglass) that holds the chainplate in place. The left side is of the deck immediately above this fitting, and it’s clear that the deck opened up, water has been seeping in, and the layers of fiberglass and wood that make up the deck in this area of the transom have begun to go their separate ways.

That’s what this stage of the process is all about, though.  Assessing the damage that time, neglect and accidents have wrought on this 51-year-old classic, and then determining how best to restore it to “as-good-as-new-if-not-better” condition. In the case of this chainplate, “better-than-new” is the goal. I’ll be removing the deck here, replacing wood where needed, and then building a new fiberglass skin over the area, completely sealing up this opening, which won’t be needed once we rig the boat as a sloop, rather than a yawl. One less hole in the deck is always a good thing.

100_1322Speaking of holes in the deck: In a previous post I mentioned that I plan to move the mast stay chainplates from their original location, where they penetrate the deck (see photo on left) and attach to a bulkhead below, to the outside of the hull, where they would be visible, inspectable, and easily replaceable. Look closely at the photo and you’ll see that the chainplate to the right is actually bent aft at about a 15 degree angle. I don’t know what happened here, as it happened before my time, but I do know it takes a HUGE force to bend a 1 1/2″ x 1/4″ stainless plate like that – she hit something hard!  And there’s no way to see if there is a crack around that bend until it’s removed from the boat.  External chainplates will make that simpler, and leave 6 fewer holes in the deck to allow water below.

100_1306And speaking of water below…

The photo on the right was taken inside the cabin, on the port side. You’re seeing the lower end of one of those chainplates. The water damage to the surface is obvious, but what isn’t so obvious is the softening of the wood in the bulkhead which the chainplate attaches to.

There are several areas like this, particularly inside the cabinets in the salon, where this leakage tended to collect.  That actually looks like it may be one of the most challenging aspects of the refit, because even though it’s not structural, it’s very widespread, and will take a lot of time to get the old rotten pieces out of confined spaces so new shelving can be built. Somebody’s going to have a sore back from all that crouching…



 Finally, these last couple of pictures give some idea of progress – though to  the uninitiated, it might not look like much! The left photo shows the  starboard (right) side deck, where I’ve done pretty much nothing yet. The  right shows the port side, where all the hardware, the toe rail, and the  chainplates have been removed and the whole thing given a good sweep. It’s  amazing how much better everything looks if you just do a little cleaning!

Next time I’ll do a short one on the relocation of the fuel tank to try to finagle a few more cubic feet of useful storage in the cockpit lockers.  If anyone knows where the warm weather went, that would sure help the process!  Greenhouse or not, it’s cold out there!

Things that go Boom


There isn’t much you can do with a sailboat without a rig. At least, not if you actually want to sail it.I do have some good friends who actually lived aboard their 42 foot ketch for two years, doing a huge amount of work on the boat, but never got to sail it because it had no rig.

Not that they wouldn’t have liked to sail it – they always regretted not getting to that point – but life goes on, and in the case of my wife and me, we’d really like to be able to put sailing on the top of the list. Renaissance, therefore, must have a rig.

Unfortunately the Alberg 35 original equipment boom (which holds the bottom or “Foot” of the main sail) was made of wood. Strips of spruce were glued together, forming a hollow box, which was then shaped to a nearly round form.  Maintenance is constant on such a system, since the wood must be protected from sun and weather if it’s to last. Reefing is accomplished by rolling some of the sail up on the boom, but that’s not a particularly efficient system for shortening sail, so I’d like to get away from that as well. Unfortunately as the picture above shows, the maintenance on our boom was not kept up with, and it’s really good for nothing but kindling now.

100_1271Enter in my good luck, once again! Driving into Rockport one day, I glanced off the side of the road and noticed a scrap-wood pile out behind the buildings of a small boat yard, and what should I see laying on top of that woodpile, but an aluminum boom, seemingly discarded. A little investigation revealed that nobody remembered why it was there, but ok, for $100, it could come home with me…

It’s a a little longer than the original , but well within reason, and will allow for a little more flexibility , and it includes a few nice features (internal blocks and clutches) that hadn’t been invented when Renaissance was designed. I’ll have to create a fitting for the gooseneck, where the boom meets the mast, but otherwise it should serve well.

And it will NEVER need a coat of varnish!

The dirty little jobs…

Sanitary facilities – or “the head”, in boat jargon – are one of those necessities that one hates to think about, but also hates not to.
You hope it works first time, every time, and dread the day when someone says “the head didn’t flush” or worse, “WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!”

Still, having a head that’s reasonably convenient to use AND that you can comfortably live with within the confines of a boat is critical to the happiness of the crew, so it bears some serious thought.

The original installation in Renaissance is – to put it kindly – antiquated, although it’s no doubt an upgrade from the factory version.
100_1216 100_1217It consists of what’s called a macerator/chlorinator which, as the name suggests, chops up whatever is put in the head, adds enough chlorine to  render the material sterile, and then discharges it overboard – and herein lies the problem – or one of them.

It seems that the laws have changed a bit in the 51 years since the boat and I were built, and overboard discharge of human waste is no longer legal.  Entire cities of 15 million people can do it, fine, but not a couple on a boat – that would be a public health crisis of the highest order, and the Coast Guard actually spends a fair amount of time going boat-to-boat to be sure your waste stays with you, at least long enough for you to get to a pump-out station ashore. There, the local municipality will remove the contents of your holding tank, usually charging you a fee for the privilege, and will then send the material to their treatment plant and hence, most likely, into the very water your boat is currently floating in.

Trouble is, Renaissance doesn’t have a holding tank – they weren’t required the last time she was upgraded – and the equipment on board is clearly beyond it’s serviceable life.  It’s time for a change.

An additional complication is that space for storage is at a premium aboard this boat, because the hull shape is designed for seaworthiness and comfort, rather than interior volume. I’m not thrilled with the idea of using a bunch of that scarce space to store my daily exhaust, but I do have a desire to be a good harbor tenant as well, so at some future date I’ll need to find a place for a tank.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but meanwhile we’re in the clean-up phase, and for the topic at hand, that means ripping out the existing system so that we can see what space we do have to work with. The pictures don’t do it justice, frankly, but let me assure you that the old head and processing unit are filthy, corroded and defunct, but not particularly unpleasant, since they’ve been unused for the last 8 years.  Interestingly enough, the macerator tank still held about 2 gallons of water/whatever, but except for the momentary “Ick” factor when it ran over my hands, down my elbows and into the bilge (I wasn’t expecting it to be there, clearly!) this wasn’t actually a problem.

100_1234Once the major portions of the system were removed (the macerator and the bowl), I could see the rest of the installation, and it was just as bad as I expected. The boat still had the original tapered valves in the water inlet (for flushing) and waste outlet, and these old valves are infamous for doing just what these two had done – freezing solid in whatever position they were left in. The tubing in the system was hard and inflexible, and the valves are beyond their useful life.

So out it all comes! The structural integrity of the head compartment  itself seems good, which was a pleasant surprise. I half expected to find that the constant damp of the head would have damaged the core of the shelf upon which the “throne” rests, but in fact it seems to be ready to receive the new unit I expect we’ll ultimately install.  With that will come a few changes in the plumbing to accommodate both a holding tank and an overboard discharge for times when that’s appropriate (when the boat is in international waters, basically). I’m also planning to combine as many of the saltwater inlets and drains as I can, since I firmly believe that a minimal number of holes in a boat’s hull below the waterline is a good thing.  The head will have it’s own discharge of course, but sink drains can be combined, as can saltwater inlets for the galley and flush system.

Progress is definitely being made!


Clean-up, Phase 1 – clearing the decks

The restoration of the decks on Renaissance require a complete stripping of everything that is attached to or protrudes from the deck surface.That includes not only the cosmetic and functional items like the cap rail, handrails, mooring cleats and the like, but also the really scary structural stuff like the chainplates, to which the rig – which supports the mast – attaches.

Well ok, I COULD be less thorough about this. I could just seal around the chainplates (a major source of leaks on all older sailboats and some new ones), fair out eh fiberglass, and paint it. Then I could do the same thing again every 3-4 years as the constant flexing of the hull from wind loads opens the deck to the weather and cracks the new paint.
Not so much.

100_1248100_1251Instead, I’m removing everything that can be. Cleats, chocks, padeyes, lifeline stanchions, indeed the cap rail itself, which is so badly weathered and rotten that it’s not recoverable. Get everything out of the way now, so that I can completely remove the top surface of the deck honeycomb, replace the rotten balsa core within, then build up a new top surface, restoring both the structural and weather integrity of the decks.

At the same time, I’m seriously considering a fairly major design change. Currently there are 3 chainplates on each side, which pass through the deck and bolt to bulkheads inside the cabin.  As I mentioned before, these substantial pieces of stainless steel support the entire mast via the six shrouds (or “stays”) that run from the middle and top of the mast to this point. They’re kinda important.  And I plan to move them.

Not far, no.  I intend to move the chainplates outboard about 4 inches, and bolt them to the hull externally. The benefits are four-fold:

  1.  Stainless steel will rust if it is in an oxygen-deprived location, such as passing through a fiberglass deck on a sailboat. (Ok, technically it corrodes, not rusts, but the effect is the same – bad.)
  2. Stainless (or any metal) will eventually work-harden and crack if it’s subject to repetitive stresses. Like a chainplate on a sailboat. And cracks are much easier to detect if the metal in question is out where you can see it.
  3. Moving the shrouds outboard 4″ will make walking the side decks easier because of the added space.
  4. Moving the shrouds outboard will increase – slightly – the strength of the rig, since it improves the angle at which the shrouds pull on the mast. Minimal, I suspect, but it’s a factor.

So yesterday began with mapping, to the closest 1/16th of an inch, the location of each fixture on the deck. Once I’ve removed the hardware, torn off the upper layer of fiberglass, replaced the core and laid up a new deck skin, I need to be able to replace the hardware exactly where it was when the boat was built.  I can move the shrouds outboard with relative impunity, but their fore-and-aft position is critical to keeping the mast in column so that the sails will set properly. I’m willing to assume that Carl Alberg (who designed Renaissance) knew what he was doing in that regard, so I’ll take my cues from him.

100_1244 100_1250

Once the  mapping was  done, I began in  the cockpit,  removing  hardware and  electrical fittings  long past their  prime, then  moved to the  lazarett, where I discovered that the squirrels who filled the bilge with nuts had a second stash.  Industrious little buggers, those squirrels!  Old vent ducts and fans, propane tubing, chafed wiring and nuts, it all came out, and joined the growing pile of junk and recyclables at the base of my ladder.  And I’m off to create some more.

The old electrical system is finished. There isn’t an inch of wire or a component that I’d dare trust my life to, so I’m working my way through the boat and un-wiring it, stripping right down to a bare hull. Once that’s done, and structural work is complete, I’ll run new wiring where needed, but there’ll be significantly less wiring when I’m done than the boat once had, simply because I prefer to keep things really simple – and inexpensive.


This picture on the left shows the original electrical panel in the cabin.100_1268 Classic 1962, with 40  years of owner DIY projects added on for good measure. I’d  rather  pull it all out, clean up the space, then install a new  system, up to  current code, and be able to sleep easy at  night.

At right is that same space, emptied of all the old panels,  wires,  etc.  What I install to replace it will depend on the final electrical  system I design, but those decisions won’t need to be made for a while.


…and here’s the net result. You know, those old speakers look just like the ones I put in my first car, back in the day!

Clean-up, Phase 1 – The engine

When you’re adopted by an old boat that’s not seen much love in a long time, there’s no question that she’s going to need a certain amount of hoeing out initially.  Renaissance was – in theory – in sailable condition when whe was purchased by the previous owner, but I frankly have my doubts about the truth of that assessment. She may have been in the water, yes – but I doubt she was in any way seaworthy in fact.

None the less, once she arrived at her prior home, she was put on the hard and left there, unprotected and unused, for nearly 8 years.  That’s a long time to be ignored. At some point her companionway hatch stuck in a partially open position, which allowed that good clean rain and snow that Maine is famous for accumulate in the bilge.  Whether it was that which left a high-water mark 12″ above the cabin sole, or if she had sunk at some point prior to arriving at the yard, I don’t know, but the net result was a flooded engine/hunk of rust, and a whole lot of damp trash in the bilge.  My choice was to concentrate on getting the old engine out first thing, and have that out of the way for subsequent cleaning projects.


Once the miscellaneous tubing, hoses, etc had been removed (yes, in fact someone had “repaired” the sink drain – BELOW THE WATERLINE! – with blue duct tape!) the old engine, resplendent in it’s thick coat of rust, was visible and nearly reachable. The prior owner had managed to remove three of the four bolts holding the engine to it’s bed, but the forth – hidden beneath the raw-water pump, eventually had to be chiseled off, after I broke the pump off (deliberately, since there were no longer heads on the bolts holding it in place) with a 5′ iron bar. Slick, eh?  Four days of spraying penetrating oil on the old bolt eventually allowed me to drive it out with a punch, freeing the engine from the mount.100_1184

Of course I still had the problem that the prop shaft was still coupled to the engine.  The coupler was – marginally – within reach, but the three bolts that hold it on require that you be able to turn the shaft to reach them.  With the engine frozen and the transmission un-shiftable, this was a problem. Enter “The Bigger Hammer” theory of disassembly. I could reach the shifting lever…  So for the next hour, I worked the shift lever back and forth with a hammer, gradually loosening the internal mechanism, until it finally reached the neutral position.  Then a few minutes with a large pipe wrench on the coupler, and each bolt – badly rusted on the surface but surprisingly free once I got a vise-grip on it – backed out, releasing the shaft from the engine.

And finally there was the exhaust system. The Alberg has what is – to me at least – an unusual exhaust system, composed of two concentric lengths of copper tubing, with a gap between them.  Cooling water from the engine is discharged via the gap, effectively isolating the hot exhaust from the structure of the boat, and is then dumped overboard.  And yes, it’s solid copper 1.25″ tubing, surrounded by an equal length of 2″ tube, and nearly 12 feet long. The scrap yard is going to LOVE me when I take that in, as it has no place in the diesel installation we plan for the boat in future!

So how does one person remove a 250# engine block from the bilge of a boat – safely? Simple machines, of course!

100_1190As previously described, the shelter over Renaissance is composed of stressed arches, and they’re amazingly strong for their weight. I have a bunch of old boat lines around, so I formed a loop system to weave through the trusses and support a hand cable winch (come-along). Whenever I felt that more reinforcement would be prudent, I added a brace – and in this case, formed a triangle brace to support the roof bows. It worked perfectly – the shed didn’t even creak when I took weight on the winch!

100_1193 And trust me, I let the motor hang there for a few minutes,and actually added my own weight to the load at one point to be sure of the system before I began to add height. That done, it was a relatively simple process to raise the engine up to the level of the companionway and slip my specially made shelf under it to support it while I re-positioned the hoist.

The next four images don’t do the process justice.  Each repositioning of the hoist gained, perhaps, 10″ – 12″ at most as I slowly dragged the dead weight along the planks that protected the deck. Slow. Boring to watch. Kinda fun to do, I must admit, but then I’m easily amused.




100_1202        100_1203         100_1205




In all this phase took 5 days, but really only about 10 hours were active work on the project.  I’m hoping that the cleaning and assessment of the structure and fittings that comes next may move a little faster.  The net result is easy to see though – a great big gap where a chunk of iron once sat.

Progress is being made!