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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 23, 2015-Chainplate Repair

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Removing Shrouds

The last time we sailed in solid winds and big seas was when we were in the Papagayos going into Costa Rica’s Gulf of Santa Elena in 2014. The scenery rounding Punta Blanca that day was spectacular with the indigo seas slamming white spray high up the sheer rock walls of the point. The bright sunlight, crystal clear air, and deep blue sky brought a vibrancy and purity to the sailing. Bahia Santa Elena was in sight and we were in a hurry to make it to shelter in the strong conditions and we focused on working Wings upwind. We pushed the boat hard. In those conditions Wings blasted the waves aside and we took quite a lot of water on the deck.

Some of that water found its way down the starboard chainplate into the cabin.

Normally a trickle of water down a chainplate is no big deal but this water came in looking dark brown, like coffee, and it left a dark stain on the chainplate. This gave us some concern. Brown water coming from the vicinity of a stainless steel fitting like a chain plate is a sign of rust and possibly cracks in the stainless. Those problems can happen where the steel is wet and deprived of air (or more precisely, oxygen); it’s called crevice corrosion. In our case, where the chainplate came through the inch thick deck was where the stainless could be deprived of oxygen. The presence of salt in that water made for a witches’ brew.

Our chainplates are fairly new and beefy as hell so we weren’t immediately worried about them however the starboard one needed an inspection and we put it on the list. To inspect the chain plate we have to take it out of the boat and that means disconnecting all the shrouds. This is a big project and we have been putting it off for over a year.

Finally, Sunday night, I told Judy, “Tomorrow I’m going hammer and tongs on that chain plate inspection.” And the next morning I tore into it.

To take out the starboard chainplate you have to remove the starboard shrouds. That means loosening the starboard turnbuckles. You also must loosen the port turnbuckles because tension on only one side would pull the mast over and probably break it. There are four turnbuckles on each side so I had to loosen eight in all which is hard work and requires big wrenches. Also, this must be done gradually so as to keep the loads equal. First you do one side a little, then the other, then back, and so on. All together this took over an hour. Finally, before you remove the shrouds, you have to provide some temporary support for the mast. I ran halyards out to the sides of the boat and tensioned them. Only then could I pull the pins and bingo the chainplate was ready to be removed. Oh, you also have to unbolt it inside the boat, which I did, and then, it turns out, thanks to Sean Langman’s boys at Noakes shipyard who put these in a few years back, you have to grind out the fiberglass which encapsulates it. I did that too. And finally you use a 4 lb sledge to break it loose. All of this I completed by early Monday afternoon. I was sweating.

Now comes the important part; the inspection. The chainplate was covered in flaking, coffee colored, rust in the places where it could not be viewed and this needed to be removed before a thorough inspection could be completed. I put the chainplate down on the dock and hit it with the wire brush wheel on my grinder. Only then could I look for cracks. At first I didn’t see any, but looking closer I spotted one. A long, thin, horizontal crack, partially through the chain plate just inside where the deck covers it, was visible. It was surprising to me how such a small crack could make such an awful lot of rust.

OK, off to the welder at the top of the hill. Not that I like this guy’s work very much but he’s the only game in town and welding a cracked piece of flat stainless wasn’t exactly rocket science, so he got the job. Two hours and $25 later he gave me back my well battered starboard chainplate and it looked good enough to me, so before dinner that night, with Judy’s help, I put it back in. Not permanently, just with one bolt, but enough to hold it. We hooked up one shroud which gave us some comfort that at least the mast wouldn’t fall down if we had a squall during the night.

On Tuesday I replaced all the remaining bolts, filled the gaps with 3M sealant, attached all the shrouds, and re-tuned the rig, and we were back in business.

I’m pretty happy to have this big project off the list and really happy that I found, and fixed, a dangerous crack.

Oh, you might ask, “What about the other side?”

Well, no trickle of water and no brown stain so I’m not worried.

Click here to see more photos of this job.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz Huancaxtle.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sept. 15, 2015-Big Motors and Taco Fest

Big Motors

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Big Motors

I’ve always been impressed by the size of the outboard motors on many of the sports fishing boats seen around the marina. Big V6 Mercury Verados and bigger V8 Yamaha’s with 300 or more horse power are common, and I know from my powerboating days that one of these would be sufficient to push a 30 open boat at 30 or 40 knots and out on the water they are usually seen chuffing along with wives and kids going about 25. So why all the power? Ok, there is a safety issue at work: dual motors gives a “get home” security if one fails. But if it was just about safety how about two 175 hp motors? Nope you never see that. You see twin 300’s or twin 350’s. I guess it’s just machismo. Apparently no self-respecting Mexican boat owner would settle for less than two huge motors as long as his buddy down the dock has two. So we see rows of these boats with dual monsters on the back.
Top Dog

But I was blown away to see the yellow Everglades 32footer with THREE Yamaha 350 V8’s on the back. Now that’s some lot of power, 1050hp, $60,000 worth of motors, and they weigh 800 lbs each! I have no idea if the owner has them set up and prop’d to extract all that power, but if so I’d image we’re looking at a 100mph fishing boat. Hardly seems likely.
But it’s toppable.

When in Malaysia I spotted in Telaga Marina a big rib purportedly owned by Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime minister at the time, which went one bigger.

Taco Fest

Blue Dress

Puerto Vallarta staged a taco festival in old town last Sunday where local restaurants set up booths to sell samples of their tacos. It was going to be free admittance, featured some folk dancing, and lots of good Mexican beer would be on hand. The taco prices were to be 10 pesos ($.55) so we thought we’d go and sample some of our favorite Mexican street food, drink some cervesa, and shoot photos of the dancers. It was also a good excuse to go to old town, which we love and don’t get there too often.
Well, we’re glad we went, the expedition to old town was nice, but the taco fest was a bust. First of all it was packed and the lines were 20-30 minutes long. Even then they could not keep up with the demand. We picked the place with the shortest line, and got what we deserved: second rate tacos. Plus it was an unbearably hot evening, the sun absolutely stung us, and there was no place to sit down. We fled to a nearby bar, ordered two pints of Modelo, and sat in the shade until the sun went down.
Oh, the dancing? Well, it was pretty nice, but the light was bad and the photos were pretty much impossible. One thing I could have done was to shoot photos of the crowd and the taco cooks, but the heat just put me out of the mood. We went home early.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz Huancaxtle

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Monday, September 07, 2015

September 7, 2015-Sailing to Yelapa.

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Pulling in the Jib

There are times in our sailing lives when we yearn for excitement; like perhaps sailing a Volvo ocean racer through the southern ocean or rounding the Horn. Mostly these are in our younger days when we’re filled with energy and exuberance and we think we are immortal, although for some of us that yearning lingers on far longer than it should. I admit that from time to time I like the thrills and I’m not above pushing things a bit. But just as often I am happy with the easy life and simply having a lazy day on the water suits me fine. Judy and I were ready for just such a day last weekend and since the hydraulics were fixed we were free to go sailing. Except for the propeller.

A welder has set up shop here in La Cruz; a pretty crude shop with lots of hammering and grinding going on and not so much machining or measuring, where they probably never saw a propeller before let alone a Martec folder, but I let him recondition our old spare prop a few months ago because some other boaters had given him a good recommendation, although that in itself isn’t always a good reference. Anyhow, he’s close by so I went there but when he delivered the finished prop I didn’t like the look of his work nor the trouble he was having as I watched him try to fit it together and I don’t trust the thing. Consequently I thought that until we can get a new propeller we shouldn’t stray too far from home.

Then Mike said he and Katrina were taking a borrowed Santana sailboat to Yelapa to celebrate Katrina’s birthday and he asked, “Are you guys going to come?”

Now Yelapa is this scenic little town in a tiny harbor across the bay which you can’t get to by car. Yes, it’s a tourist town, but as tourist towns go, it’s pretty nice. Beautiful in fact. Small, mostly quiet, and pretty much unspoiled. But it’s 15 miles away. What if the wind died and we had to motor?

I made some excuse about the propeller but Mike wasn’t buying it.

“Hey, you’ve got a sailboat right? Anyhow, the boat we’re taking doesn’t even have a motor. So let’s go.”

That’s how we got signed up for the Yelapa trip and it was nice that we did because it turned out to be one of easiest, laziest, most pleasant sailing weekends we’ve had in a long time. No thrill or excitement here and that was fine with us.

Given our propeller problem we were hoping for wind which we got, not much, but enough. At 2:00PM a gentle 8 knots from the west filled in which made the leg to Yelapa, on a heading of 195, a close reach and we set off in pursuit of Mike and Katrina who started on the Santana half an hour ahead of us.

We set the genoa and trimmed onto the reach and sat around on deck letting the autopilot run the boat. Catching Mike wasn’t too hard and I finally took over the helm to steer down next to them and we chatted a bit. As we sailed by his first comment was, “Yep, she’s a duck.” I guess he was referring to how slow his boat was but they were clearly having a good day too. We took photos of each other.

Yelapa was terrific. After a little negotiation with the panga driver who came out to meet us, we got a mooring fore and aft which would keep us from swinging sideways to the swell during the night, I paid him, and we were set. A little swim and then dinner in town with M & K at a Mexican restaurant where they served cool strong Pina Coladas in tall glasses as big around as cantaloupes. We had a few.


Sunday we dove on the boat, just to check out that propeller for cracks, and then, at 2:00 PM (of course, that’s when the wind comes up around here) headed back to La Cruz. Once again, one long single reach, this one a little broader than the trip over, and in another 2.5 hours we were there. We used the autopilot the whole way. The best part was while we were sailing along and I was enjoying myself sitting on the high side with my feet over and Judy was napping below. The sun was shining and the wind was gentle and the warm Pacific waters were splashing up on my bare legs. The feel of it made me laugh.

You know, sailing doesn’t get much easier, or better, and I didn’t miss not having any excitement or thrills. We might even do that again.

Click here for a few more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz Huancaxtle

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

August 31, 2015-Hydraulic Pains

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Cylinder on the workbench

On the race course it is important to “keep your head out of the boat”, meaning to look around and see the big picture. Being able to see past the trees and notice the forest can be helpful in boat maintenance too.

A couple of days ago I installed some new gauges for hydraulic system. To make sure the new gauges worked I pumped up the system. The gauges looked fine but I spotted a leak in the backstay cylinder.

OK, change the cylinder; that’s why I have a spare (head in the weeds).

The spare leaked too. Damn (head still in the weeds).

I took the leaking cylinder down to the workbench, rebuilt it, and then put it back in place (I still had my head down in the weeds).

The rebuilt cylinder briefly held pressure but then it spouted fluid like a sprinkler.

Finally it dawned on me that something bigger was going on here.

Let’s see... We keep an online record of all of our equipment failures and maintenance projects so I did a search to see when that backstay cylinder was last worked on. (Actually this record is on the Internet on our Log Book Pages site, so it is very accessible. You can review these records too, if you want to. Just click on this
link and scroll all the way down the index on the right side, it's extensive.)

I was astonished to find out that the backstay cylinder had failed 10 times in the last 15 years! That was a pattern I had not recognized. In fact I didn’t remember most of the occurrences until I saw them spelled out in black and white.

It was time to take a step back and figure out what is happening to these cylinders instead of simply fixing them each time they blew up.

With three failures in two days I had a good sampling of broken parts on my workbench to examine. I quickly found that in every case the initial point of failure had been the rod seal. No other parts seemed to be damaged except by my subsequent removal. The rod seals were all from the same batch I bought in Hong Kong in 2004, right about when the backstay failures started to become frequent. I took a look at these little green bits of plastic. They looked so nice, and I had been so proud to score them in that little hydraulic shop in Mongkok back in 2004. But even the one I just put in yesterday seemed soft and the broken bits in my hand were crumbly. No wonder the cylinders were failing; the rod seals were disintegrating.

After some internet research on rod seals I headed off to my new favorite hydraulics shop in Las Juntas, near Puerto Vallarta, where Rosalia helped me find the nearest replacement part she had. There were two of them and they looked good, a lot more substantial than the ones I got in Hong Kong. I took the two she had and ordered four more from Guadalajara. Just for safety sake I went online and ordered another four from the Seal Shop in Portland, for a total of 10. (Well, I have five of these -12 size cylinders on Wings, I might as well have enough parts for all of them.)

With my new seals in hand I was back in the workshop rebuilding the backstay cylinder one more time. It wasn’t easy. The new seals were tough and they resisted being stretched into place, plus they were a little too tall and I had to carve them down a bit, but finally I got one cylinder completely refurbished and installed. I put 3500lbs on it. It worked. No Leaks. I then rebuilt the spare and, confident now in my work; and put it in the spare locker in case we need it in the future. That’s five rebuilds I’ve done in four days. Judy thinks that’s my new life: standing at the workbench all day rebuilding hydraulic cylinders.

But that’s all behind me now. Since I have now seen the big picture I’ve been able to solve the underlying problem. I don’t think we’ll have backstay failures for a while, or I hope not anyhow.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Job Complete

Now if I could only apply that principle to our racing strategy.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz Huanacaxtle.

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