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!

The Uncertainty of Stainless Steel

We’re here in Niue and have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves for the last month or so, meandering West in a zig-zag pattern in the general direction of Tonga. It’s been exclusively down-wind sailing since we left Rarotonga. In fact, the mainsail had stayed in the bag on the boom for the entirety of that period until we decided to set it for the final few hours of our passage from Beveridge to Niue, mostly to give it an airing but also to provide some stability while we flew the spinnaker. Bob rolls with a sharp, fast motion and it seems I’m the only one who doesn’t mind it too much. Sarah is not a fan of rolling and it seems that Bob isn’t either. We have suffered our second major rigging failure in as many months, while moored in the Bay at Niue.

 

This 5/8″ T-bar appears to have suffered a fatigue failure just as the sta-lock fitting failed a couple of months ago. Sarah and I were on shore and arrived back to Bob after dark to be greeted by the sound of something banging against the mast. At first I thought it must be a halyard that I had neglected to secure properly, but we were both dismayed (to say the least) to discover that it was in fact our Starboard lower shroud – the other end of the same shroud that failed en-route to Raiatea.

Now, one failure of a 2 1/2 year-old fitting could be put down to very bad luck. Two failures implies a very serious problem with the design of the rig. I have always had my doubts about it but figured it would be OK since it has been so for the past 40 years with no particular problems. Mind you, none of these boats, to my knowledge, has ever travelled so far as Bob. And then, most are probably no longer sporting their original 1970’s masts. Only a single set of spreaders and a single set of lower shrouds. A baby stay, intermediate shrouds and running backstays help to stabilise things but it was never going to be great on account of the fact that not only are the chainplates set forward of the mast (so all of the shrouds serve to pull the mast slightly forward instead of the usual aft, or directly out to the side) but the builder didn’t even put them equidistant from the mast, which means the shroud tensions are by necessity unequal. Not ideal. Between the mass of the mast flopping back and forth with every roll and probably some flex in the hull moving the chain plates themselves by a tiny amount, the shrouds load and unload repeatedly, not just at sea but in any rolly anchorage. Unfortunately the only thing that I have any control over at present is the shroud tensions. It is possible that I had them a touch tight (though still nowhere near the ’15-20% of the breaking strain of the wire’ that is apparently officially recommended for shroud tension) so I’ll back off on that a little. We now find ourselves hoping we can make it to New Zealand with the current setup so that it can be completely re-designed and re-built there. I’m thinking of two additional chain plates on the outside of the hull, one forward and one aft for split lower shrouds. We will also look very closely at the feasibility of installing ‘soft’ (non-wire) standing rigging, depending on price, the danger of chafe and it’s resistance to fatigue failures of the sort that Bob’s rigging appears to be prone to. For now, Larry and Sue from s/v Serengeti have given us their spare second-hand T-bar fitting so we should be back in business shortly. If these swells from the SW ever die down and we stop rolling violently back and forth I’ll go aloft and make a close inspection of all the stainless fittings. I’ll also install dyneema straps as backups around as many fittings as possible so that if another one goes while we’re sailing at least we’ll hopefully save the mast.

 

Until the rig looked like it might fall down, the most pressing maintenance issue was a duff VHF aerial. We’d noticed that our VHF range and AIS reception range had plummeted from about 25 miles to about 4. With the help of some advice from Yahav (s/v Cheeky Monkey) and Larry (s/v Serengeti) I was able to diagnose the aerial itself as being the problem component, and, since there was nothing to lose from a non-expert bodge (and no hope of getting a new one for some time yet) I figured I might as well take it to pieces and see if it was salvageable. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take pictures for the blog while I was in the process of butchering it but I can tell interested parties that VHF aerials are actually fairly simple affairs. Some water had managed to get into ours through a tiny crack in the plastic housing at the top (cracked due to relentless UV exposure) and, I think, broken a capacitor which appears to be the only electronic component in the whole thing. I removed the capacitor, soldered a few things to a few other things that may or may not be supposed to be soldered together, patched up all the holes that I’d drilled and/or pried in the housing and stuck it back together with the liberal application of duct tape, hose clamps and sikaflex sealant. It remains to be seen whether this mess constitutes an improvement or an effective destruction of our fixed radio apparatus. We shall see! In the meantime here’s a picture of the result:

 

 

Broken Bits-of-Bob Development

Well, this is what the guys at Alu-Inox in Raiatea have come up with. Unfortunately they couldn’t fabricate a brand new piece but I think it’s not a bad effort.

 

 

With luck this will get us to somewhere that we can more easily do a proper fix. In the meantime I’ll back it up with a piece of fancy rope (dyneema) so that if it breaks again we hopefully won’t lose the whole mast. I’ll also slather it in grease so that it doesn’t corrode in the no-time-at-all in which thing seem to turn into piles of mush in this environment. It would be decidedly inconvenient if the mast came crashing down in the middle of the South Pacific. Or………. anywhere for that matter!

I really should have been true to my tallship roots and tarred the whole rig. Ah well. Wish us luck for the next leg. We have our port clearance papers in order and the weather forecast is for stable trade winds following a trough later this week. We will see…………….. I’m not a fan of that crack that you can see in the picture across the top of the ‘U’.

Update, July 1st: Sta-lock USA are apparently ‘horrified’ by this failure. Apparently it’s the first occurrence of such a thing. They have apologised profusely and are shipping a new fitting to Rarotonga ahead of us at our request (we didn’t want it sent here because getting stuff imported into French Polynesia is very expensive and bureaucratic). Their response has encouraged me considerably regarding the strength and reliability of the rest of the rig.

Still Stuck

The gods are becoming more and more inventive in their bid to prevent us from leaving French Polynesia. I hope there isn’t some underlying omen behind all this. We are making progress to the West, but slowly. The winds over the past month or so have been terrible for making any sort of long-distance crossing. Periods of good winds for three days at the most have been forecast but these have been invariably followed by long periods of calm, or strong winds from the South – a phenomenon known locally as a Maramu which occurs normally at this time of year. So, we have been island hopping during the good periods and have made it as far as the island of Raiatea, which is almost as far West as it is possible to go in French Polynesia before one must make the 4-5 day hop (in good winds) to the Cook Islands. Finally, last week, the forecast looked great for a run to Rarotonga, but there was something I wanted to check first. During the sail from Huahine to Raiatea (just 22 miles) I heard an unusual ‘pop!’ from somewhere in the rigging, so I went aloft yesterday to double check all the fixtures and fittings and quickly discovered the source of the sound. This toggle fitting has failed in a very worrying way.

 

Like the rest of the rigging it is only 2 1/2 years old, so there really is no excuse for this. I’ve spent the best part of the last 24 hours mulling it over in my mind and can come to no other conclusion than it being a manufacturing defect – the result of poor quality materials and/or poor manufacturing processes. But if this one has failed, what about the rest of the rig? The wire at the base of the terminals is showing disturbing signs of rust despite being rinsed down with fresh water after every dousing with salt. It’s supposed to be top-quality 316-grade stainless steel. We’re not the only ones with these problems either – our friends Mark (s/v Pilas) and Mario (s/v Ann Cailleach (or something like that!)) have both found that their new rigging, only a few years old, looks to be in a similar condition to the old rigging that they removed and replaced, and which had been in service for more than a decade. Mark has even kept his old rigging and it is clear to see that the quality of the steel that his old rigging was made from is superior to what he has now. And he didn’t skimp on price when he purchased his new rigging.

Not only are we going to miss out on our weather window, but fixing our problem might not be an easy one. Our fitting is imperial, not metric, so it’s unlikely that one will be found in Tahiti, never mind here in Raiatea. We could order one in, but to get it here in any kind of decent time we’d have to FedEX it, and French customs charge a percentage of the freight cost as well as the value of the item. A $100 item such as this, plus a $200 FedEX charge from the States ends up costing $400 after customs duties are paid. To make matters worse, this fitting (a sta-lock terminal fitting for 3/8″ wire and a 5/8″ pin, which should be overkill for our boat) is not as simple as it appears. The whole thing from the toggle to the wire terminal is a single unit, with the threads welded in place at the factory so that it cannot be disassembled. Well, we’ll see about that. I’ll be taking it in to a local machine shop first thing on Monday morning. With luck the guys here can come up with something that will be strong enough to get us to somewhere with better access to a replacement fitting. We’ve got a couple of ideas that we think should get us there. Fortunately, the next leg should see us on a port tack the whole way. If we can’t get something sent to Rarotonga maybe I’ll switch the shrouds from side to side for the next leg to Palmerston, back again to Beveridge, back again to Niue and we might just be able to make it all the way to Tonga without ever putting too much pressure on the ‘bad’ side 🙂

It’s not all bad though. We had the most amazing experience as we were hitch-hiking into town yesterday to try to find somewhere with internet so that we could email some friends in Tahiti and ask them to try to source this part for us. We were picked up by a young local couple, Marjorie and Loik. First, they insisted on stopping at a shop and buying us a beer. They then drove us into town, but, on discovering that everywhere including the cafes was closed due to it being a Saturday, they took us on to their house on the other side of the island where we met their family and were able to send our emails. It turned out that the lady of the house had served us pizza the previous night at a fast-food takeaway at an event ground, and although she spoke no English we managed to have a good laugh over this serendipity. The next thing we knew we were having dinner, more beer and were driven back to Bob feeling very, very welcome indeed. I sincerely hope we can get Marjorie and Loik out to Bob at some point before we leave, in order to reciprocate their generosity in some small way. Maybe we’ll have ample time to do so. Fortunately it is possible to FedEX stuff to Raiatea……………. but it still takes 2 weeks.