Bob Works New Zealand

As promised, this next blog is about all the work we did to Bob in New Zealand after our camper van trip and before setting sail to Vanuatu. This probably won’t be of much interest to most of you but other boat people might be interested and in particular other owners of West Indies 36s. Here we go!

Job no. 1: Compression Beams

Job no. 1 was dealing with two thwart-ship beams, one forward of the mast and one forward of the head compartment. These beams are made from strips of wood laminated together and are bolted through the bulkheads. The after one is also bolted through the deck. As far as I can tell the purpose of these beams is to tie the bulkheads together and prevent the deck from bowing upwards. This is important because, among other reasons, if the hull is flexing then the distances between the chainplates and the mast are not constant. On Bob, these beams were badly delaminated and of little structural value. Having thought long and hard about the rig failures that we experienced last year (you may remember that our starboard lower shroud suffered two fatigue failures, one at each end) I think it highly likely that the delamination of these beams was a major contributing factor. Interesting to note that both failures were on the starboard side, where the bulkhead that the chainplates are bolted to is smaller and therefore less resistant to flex.

We removed the beams, re-laminated them with epoxy, upgraded the through-bolts (two of the old ones were bent, which means they had experienced some serious force at some point) to a larger size and did away with the countersunk heads and pretty finishing plugs. The result is something that should outlast the rest of the boat and which is infinitely stronger. The starboard side cupboards used to move relative to the deckhead by a good 3 or 4mm in a decent sea. The squeaking used to keep me up sometimes. We had some nasty cross-seas coming up to Vanuatu and some spells of strong winds, and I never heard a peep.

Here’s the finished product. The really tricky bit was conserving the correct bend in the beams once they were removed. We managed OK and overall I’m really pleased with the result:

 

Job no. 2: VHF Aerial

This was supposed to be a simple VHF aerial change. The Shakespeare aerial that I bought new before setting sail lasted all of two and a bit years before the plastic cracked from the sun, letting water in and the aerial failed. The replacement that we bought in Tonga from the local cafe was only ever expected to be temporary, and indeed it was, lasting about 3 months before the terminal morphed into a ball of rust. I bought a new one in New Zealand, manufactured by Pacific Aerials.

A very simple test can be done to troubleshoot aerials and cabling for a VHF setup. If you short one end of a coaxial cable between the central conductor and the outer jacket and then use a multimeter to measure the resistance at the other end, it should be close to zero. Likewise, if you measure the resistance between the central socket and the outer casing of an aerial it should be zero. As a unit, you can simply unplug the cable from the back of your VHF and measure the resistance between the central pin and the outer casing. It should be close to zero. Or so I thought. That is true for Shakespeare aerials, it’s true for the one we bought from the cafe and as far as I was aware it was how these things worked. So when I’d finished installing my brand new Pacific Aerials aerial, complete with bracket modifications and a careful application of silicone sealant on the terminal, and I measured the resistance and found it to be an open circuit I was pretty dismayed. Angry even. I’d been sold a duff aerial. So I went back up the mast, un-did all that work and drove the 45 minutes back to the shop. I marched in and announced to the salesman that the aerial he’d sold me was faulty. To illustrate my point I had brought my multimeter along with me and I showed him the readings in the shop. He was quite happy to give me a new aerial. I did have a little niggle at the back of my mind though, telling me that perhaps I wasn’t quite as knowledgeable about these things as I thought I was. I tested a different new aerial. Open circuit. And another. Open circuit. It turns out that while most aerials do have zero resistance, a few test as an open circuit. I felt quite the fool when I explained to the nice gentleman that I was, in fact, a doofus and that his the original aerial he’d sold me was, in fact, fault-free, before I drove back to the boat, climbed the mast and re-installed the aerial. It started to rain while I was up there. It served me right. The new aerial appears to be working beautifully.

 

Job no. 3: Water Tank

Job no. 3 was re-sealing the port water tank. It should never have been necessary in the first place, but some doofus forgot to open one of the valves one day when the water maker was on and pressurised the tank until the seams blew out. I was very, very lucky not to have done more damage. A day with a chisel and some sealant set that right. Plus a strong mental note to never shut off that valve when the water maker is on!

 

Job no. 4: Engine

Bob has a Westerbeke 40 (Perkins 4-108) with a Hurth 100 gearbox, circa 1970ish. Our friends on S/V Calypso had a catastrophic engine failure when some salt water got sucked up the exhaust……… twice. Fortunately their transmission was still in good shape so we bought it from them because it is supposed to be identical to ours and ours was leaking oil like a sieve. I’d positioned a plastic cup strategically under the bit that the oil leaked from and every few hours of run time I’d pour the cup of oil back into the transmission. Switching out the transmissions was a nightmare. The ‘new’ one (not sure how ‘new’ exactly but the manufacturer’s stamp says ‘West Germany’ so that gives us a bit of an idea) was just slightly different from our old one in every way so that I had to spend a lot of time with an angle grinder shaving off a little bit here, a little bit there. When I finally got it installed it kept jumping out of gear under load, so I gave up. I switched out the bit that was leaking oil on ours and put ours back on.

Unfortunately while doing all this it became apparent that the mounts for the engine were in such bad condition that the engine had sunk and was nowhere near properly aligned. So another job was added to the list. Two new engine mounts, different from the old ones of course, and all sorts of modifications and peripheral jobs to make them fit and get the engine properly aligned for the first time since I bought the boat a little over ten years ago. It was a good thing too, because we did more motoring on the passage up to Vanuatu than we did in the whole of last year, by a considerable margin. About 60 hours. Nothing has yet fallen apart so I take that as a sign of success!*

To replace the engine mounts required lifting the engine. The method below worked quite well. It was inspired by the simple yet effective boat hoists found throughout French Polynesia. Other WI36 owners may notice that Bob’s helm is further forward than theirs. I’m told this modification was done at some point in the past in order to give the helmsman better protection from the elements behind the dodger. Seems a bit extreme to me, but it certainly came in handy for this job, because it puts the binnacle directly above the engine:

 

 

Job no. 5: Rigging

This was a big one. You may remember that last year we suffered from two major rig failures. When the top end of the starboard lower shroud broke as we were sailing into Raiatea I initially thought it must be due to poor materials. The company that makes those fittings has a good reputation, but someone has to get a bad apple every now and again. Maybe that was us? I thought we must be the freak unlucky ones. The company that I bought the parts from just a few years ago was excellent. They were suitably horrified that we had suffered such a failure and fedEXed a new part out to us free of charge in Rarotonga. But when the other end of that same shroud broke while we were at anchor in Niue it was obvious that this wasn’t a freak failure, it was a structural problem. I’ve talked above about the de-laminated beams that I think were largely responsible, but I also wanted to re-design and replace the lower shrouds, because the setup we had was really quite poor for an ocean-going yacht.

I didn’t want to replace like for like. I wanted to reduce the loads on the rig and replace the existing setup with something much more robust. I also wanted to get away from stainless steel as a rigging material wherever possible. Everything for boats these days seems to be made from stainless steel. 316-grade stainless steel, which is a particularly expensive variety. It is corrosion-resistant and it is strong. It also work-hardens, is more brittle than other grades and is prone to crevice crack corrosion that eats away at it from the inside and is completely invisible from the surface. A friend of mine (who is probably reading this) replaced his stainless chainplates on his boat. They looked fine but he was planning on sailing a long way so he figured he might as well. He took his old ones off and installed the new ones. Then he set about doing some other jobs and the old chainplates sat on the deck of the boat while it was up on the hard in the boatyard. One day he was walking along the deck and kicked one of them by mistake. It fell over the side of the boat, down 10 feet or so to the ground and broke into two pieces from landing on the gravel. Along the break the metal was completely rusted, but none of it was visible from the surface.

In a bid to escape from the perils of stainless steel I decided to be a bit unorthodox. I contacted a company called Colligo Marine in California and spoke to a man called John Franta there. John was superb, going considerably out of his way to make sure that we got the right stuff and giving invaluable advice. Colligo marine specialises in making fittings and finding solutions for ‘soft’ standing rigging. Basically, using rope instead of wire. The problem in the past has always been that ropes are too stretchy to be used in this application, since an elongation under load of just a few inches could result in your mast coming out of alignment and failing. But a company called Hampidjan now manufactures cordage with incredibly low stretch (and creep, which is another important property of ropes that must be considered). This rigging is becoming popular among high-performance offshore racers, mainly due to the performance benefits of it being light-weight. But it also doesn’t suffer from fatigue in the same way that steel does, it doesn’t corrode, and it is several times stronger than steel wire. We have now split our lower shrouds into two parts – forward and aft. The forward shrouds go to external chainplates that are bolted to the hull and the aft to pad-eyes on deck that are supported by ‘knees’. We’re using all-bronze turnbuckles purchased from a second-hand boat parts shop, because the only new ones you can buy these days are stainless steel. Not because steel is better, but because it is cheaper than bronze so they can make a bigger profit margin. Cutting-edge ‘soft’ rigging meets tried and tested 50-year-old turnbuckles. I have confidence in the old turnbuckles more than I would in their new steel equivalent. Still, it doesn’t hurt to back them up with a lashing. Just in case 🙂

 

Here is a view of one of the internal knees that transmits the load from the deck pad eye for the aft lower shrouds to the hull. They are made from aluminium alloy:

And here’s the finished product with all the trim re-installed:

Here’s the view of that shroud on the deck. The turnbuckle jaw is connected to the pad eye via a loop of dyneema. As well as providing a practical solution for the connection, this method also ensures that the toggle jaw is perfectly aligned with the load. Since the toggle jaw is rigid, this is important. At the top end I still had to use a stainless T-bar and toggle because that was the only way to connect to the Colligo line terminator. Over everything is a dyneema-cored backup lashing. It may not be pretty but it’s very strong. After our experiences last year – and given the number of miles we must cover this year – I didn’t want to take any chances!

 

One of the challenges with the forward chainplates, which were to be bolted to the outside of the hull, was the rub rail that had to be cut through. 10 minutes with an angle grinder managed that. WI36 owners may be interested in the construction of that rail. The total hull thickness is 1/2”. Of that, about 1/4” is beneath the foam that forms the rub rail and 1/4” is over the foam. This supports my theory that the hull was laid up in a male mould in several parts. The first part was 1/4”, then they stuck the foam on for the rub rail, then they glassed over it another 1/4” and then they gel-coated the hull. It seems crazy to have done this but it’s the only explanation I can think of for several of the things I have encountered while working on Bob:

And here (below) is the final product. Again, not pretty but it is strong and will do the job. The aesthetics can be improved the next time we paint the hull. This plate had to be made from steel because of the bend and the location. It is made from 1/2” plate. On the inside I beefed up the hull a touch with 5 layers of double-bias glass. It probably wasn’t necessary to do that in hindsight but I had the time while I waited for the metal parts to be fabricated and figured it couldn’t hurt. There’s also a 1/4” steel backing plate on the inside. As for the rail itself we just removed as much foam as we could and filled the void with epoxy filler to prevent water ingress.

 

There were many other smaller jobs – servicing the head, disassembling, greasing and re-sealing the windlass, end-for-ending the anchor chain and re-painting the marks. Sarah did lots of varnishing in the cabin. I did some routine engine maintenance in addition to the big jobs above. But, those are the major ones and the ones that might be of most interest to other boat owners.

 

Why I am so Disillusioned with Stainless Steel

This is a perfect example of the evils of stainless steel. I bought this toggle at a boat jumble in Tonga as a backup in case we had another failure on the way down to New Zealand. It is second-hand but looked fine to me. Part of the process of installing the Colligo fittings for the new shrouds involves opening up the 5/8” toggles. Since I was planning on doing a backup lashing over the turnbuckles anyway I figured why not use these old toggles? So I opened them up to fit over the Colligo fittings and a whole lot of nastiness made itself apparent. This crack goes 2/3 of the way through the toggle strap and is an accident waiting to happen. It was completely invisible until the toggle was opened up:

 

What’s Happening Now?

We’re currently anchored just off the NW coast of the main island of Efate in Vanuatu, tucked in behind some little barrier reefs about 200m from a beach. We just went for a proper snorkel for the first time since Minerva Reef last year and it was simply beautiful. It’s really great to be back in the tropics. Alas, we have to keep moving. Tomorrow we’ll hop 20 miles or so to the North. Then a couple of days later we’ll make an overnight passage a bit further. We have about two weeks left here before we really have to be moving on so we’re making the most of our time.

 

*On closer inspection it turns out we weren’t so lucky. Turns out the transmission has developed another leak. I guess I’ll have to dig out the one we bought in Tonga and fix that one, then swap them out again :-(. In the meantime we won’t be doing much motoring. I’m out of transmission fluid and the other yacht that’s anchored here doesn’t have any either. The next shop for that kind of stuff is about 150 miles North. Oh well, at least there’s plenty of wind!

Wildlife Therapy

I think Bob is very displeased with all this boat work we’ve been doing to her recently. She is upset that we’re disturbing her peace and has decided to show her displeasure in a number of ways. Firstly, she has made every stage of every job just a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. This has cost us a lot of extra time and money and will mean we have to rush around even more than originally planned in order to get to South Africa for the next cyclone season.

Bob’s most recent show of disobedience comes in the form of a mysterious brown gunk that inexplicably appears in unforeseen places around the boat. I took a packet of pasta out of the cupboard yesterday for dinner and it was covered in brown gunk. I got a packet of cheese out of the fridge to grate over the pasta and that, too, was covered in brown gunk. I got some cling film out of a different cupboard to replace the cheese packet – it was also covered in brown gunk! Where the hell is all this brown gunk coming from?! Bob is obviously disgruntled and is finding her own ways of voicing this. Meanwhile, after six weeks of living in what can best be described as a damp workshop in the Arctic in a home that anthropomorphically shows her displeasure by leaving disgusting brown sludge everywhere, I am in desperate need of escape.

This is what Bob has looked like most days recently.

We can see our own breath most of the time, even indoors!

This is me fully kitted out in winter attire for cooking dinner. And no, I’m not pregnant. I have a hot water bottle shoved up my top!

A simple and effective form of escape for me at the moment is to simply go up on deck on a clear day and admire the wildlife. Despite the chaos on Bob from all the work, we are lucky enough to be moored in a beautiful location on the Kerikeri River and even though it’s currently the middle of winter, wildlife is still in abundance here.

This pied shag spends most of his time in the water hunting small fish. He can swim better than he can fly.

I found this honey bee on deck last week. She was struggling to move so I tried to revive her with some sugar water.

She is using her tongue to suck up the sugar water. I find this both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.

Today my chosen escape method is to spend a little time reminiscing about the fascinating wildlife we’ve seen throughout the country. New Zealand has been separate from the main continent for quite some time now. As a result, much of the wildlife has evolved completely differently from anywhere else in the world and has led to some truly unique species. I would like to share some of my favourites with you.

Friendly birds

Many bird species evolved without the pressure of natural predators and as such many have no fear of humans and some have even become flightless. This lack of fear has led to the demise of some species, such as the moa and the huia, which were hunted to extinction by human settlers over the past 1000 years. Many species are now struggling due to typical anthropogenic pressures such as agriculture, introduced species, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and climate change. The species that survive today are playful, curious and a joy to be around. Their presence is an important indicator of the state of the environment and if New Zealand continues with its conservation efforts, hopefully their populations will remain and thrive in years to come.

Weka

The weka is one of New Zealand’s most iconic flightless birds. They are curious creatures and are often attracted to human activity. This one was very happy to take food from our hands and hung around the van while we ate our dinner. It didn’t just attempt to steal my food scraps, it tried to steal the whole bowl when I foolishly put it on the ground after finishing my dinner! It also tried to nibble the white ‘spots’ on my socks mistaking them for food. I guess they’re not the smartest of creatures.

Kea

Unlike the weka, the kea is apparently one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It is an alpine parrot and in order to survive in this harsh environment they have become inquisitive and social birds. They are known to congregate around novel objects and use their strong beaks to manipulate them. They have evolved a neophillic (a love of new things), fearless and mischievous character as a survival mechanism in extreme environments. Unfortunately this has caused some conflict with people and the kea is now listed as vulnerable in New Zealand. Did you know:

  • A kea stole a mans wallet and car keys from inside his camper van.
  • A kea took a mans boots from outside the front door and dropped them down a nearby long-drop toilet.
  • A kea learned how to turn on a water tap at a Department of Conservation site.
  • A kea learned how to use tools to get to eggs set in stoat traps without being harmed.
  • A kea once locked a Department of Conservation ranger inside a toilet hut.
  • A group of keas can write off a car in 30 minutes.

 

Pukeko

The pukeko became established in New Zealand about 1000 years ago but is now facing pressures from introduced predators such as cats and rats. Our friends, Alexa (who we originally met in Niue) and her boyfriend Blair have adopted (or been adopted by!) this young pukeko who turned up at their house one day and decided to stay. This is her getting a cuddle from Blair in their living room. She was decidedly less friendly towards me and Alex. We were obviously not welcome in her territory and she frequently demonstrated her dislike of us by trying to peck away chunks of our toes! I don’t know what it is about birds in this country and their desire to eat my feet, but I don’t much like it.

Tomtit

This little bird is a tomtit, also known as the South Island robin. It flew right into my hand to take some food with no persuasion needed! Very cute.

Royal spoonbill

The royal spoonbill definitely deserves its name. It’s native to New Zealand and is the only spoonbill to breed in this country. Have you ever seen such an unusual and regal-looking bird? They feed by opening their spoon-like bill and sweeping it from side to side to filter out small vertebrates and insects from the water.

Silver tree fern

To the Maori, the elegant frond shape of the silver tree fern signifies power, strength and endurance and is now a national symbol of New Zealand. The trees grow up to 10 meters tall and the underside of their fronds is often white or silvery. This underside reflects moonlight well and in the past they have been used as an aid to navigation.

Glow worms

Glow worms may look as stunning as the Milky Way in the night sky, but don’t let their looks deceive you. They are, in fact, deadly and ferocious hunters. The worms are about an inch in length and they have a very interesting way of attracting prey – they use their poo! Glowworms use their ‘waste’ in a chemical reaction to produce light to attract prey, which then gets caught in a network of sticky silk threads. They essentially have glow-in-the-dark bums! Cool eh? They appear regularly distributed in their environment (like the starry night sky) due to cannibalism that can occur during territorial disputes. I also read that they lay their eggs in batches and apparently the first one to hatch eats the rest. I’d hate to think what happens during mating!

Mammals

Dolphins

This bottlenose dolphin spent a good 10 minutes playing in the wake created by our tour boat at Milford Sound. There were probably about 10 individuals in this pod but they can reach numbers of up to 20. Having spent the morning touring this stunning location surrounded by shear mountains and thundering waterfalls, these dolphins were the cherry on the cake!

New Zealand fur seal

Fur seals are sociable animals and we were lucky enough to see this colony from a viewing platform on the south coast. It was fabulous to see mothers with their suckling pups. Some of them have identification tags on their flippers and are part of a population monitoring scheme set up by the Department of Conservation.

New Zealand sea lion

We’ve seen sea lions before in Galapagos. Those ones were a couple of meters in length and we naively assumed the ones in New Zealand would be similar. As we set off down the beach for a windy sunset stroll we noticed a dark cloud looming overhead. We were about to turn back when Alex decided to have a quick run up the beach to see if we could see any sea lions before leaving. He saw what he thought was a large piece of driftwood in the distance. He was somewhat surprised when the driftwood somehow morphed into an enormous male sea lion and squared him off when he was only a few metres away! I managed to snap the photo above as he was speedily on his way back. You get some idea of scale but it doesn’t really do it justice, this sea lion is HUGE (over 3m long) and weighs almost half a tonne! As the worlds rarest species of sea lion, we are incredibly fortunate to have seen it.

That concludes my escape therapy for today. I hope my next form of escape will be more literal – in the sense that I hope Bob will be in great shape (after all this work) and be in a beautiful tropical island in Vanuatu and away from the New Zealand chill.