The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sailing Home Blues

I bought a bus ticket back to Olhão where a water taxi (25 euros) ferried me back at break-neck speed to Jakatar, anchored just as I had left it, except for some new neighbors.

fishing boat converted into a trawler

traditional Portuguese fishing boat used for recreational purposes
I had planned on going ashore to Culatra for a cold beer. Instead, I was struck by an attack of laziness and a deep desire to basically stare at my toes - again. I brought the mat and pillows into the cockpit and thoroughly enjoyed doing nothing and thinking nothing, to the extent that I couldn't even be bothered to get a second glass of wine.
Early the next morning I raised anchor to a weird surprise (I never take pictures of weird or exciting stuff because I'm an amateur blogger). Anyway, with no wind and no tide the chain came in fairly easy until the chain was totally vertical. Then it wouldn't budge an inch.

"It's really buried" I muttered to myself, switching the handle to the low gear on the windlass. Had do do some grunting to break it free and get it up ever so slowly. Then I saw a huge mass of weed thick as a tree break the surface.

The huge blob on my chain was way too thick to hump over the bow roller. I leaned over the bow with a serrated knife and started hacking at the weed that, as I quickly discovered, was concealing a big tangle of nylon lines.

Hell, I could hardly see the anchor. I started cutting like crazy, pulling in the chain as I cleaned it and occasionally checking whether I was drifting onto nearby boats, finding it strange that I remained in the exact same spot. When I finally reached the anchor, I could see that it had impaled a lobster pot attached to more taught lines still stuck on the bottom. I dispatched the remaining tangle in a samurai slashing frenzy, stood up sweaty and took a deep breath. I felt like the winning gladiator, like I had just battled with the devil and won, like I'd had an exciting adventure to start the day...Alive in the middle of a calm lagoon on glorious sunny day! And nobody to film it and upload it to Youtube.

The Kobra anchor had held through some strong wind, and now I wasn't sure if it was because it had been held by all this crap or because it's a good anchor. Who knows.

After this sweaty workout I motorsailed to Alvor, with a quick stop at the Albufeira marina for diesel and water. I stayed two nights in Alvor's outer anchorage but could have easily stayed for a whole year, at least.

Outer anchorage in Alvor

The weather was perfect, Alvor was nearly perfect, and 2 nights just didn't feel like enough. 

Then I sailed (using the sails only) to the port of Sagres. I left after lunch and arrived nearly at sunset. The wind in port picked up and I was debating on whether to go ashore when a young bearded guy came by in a skiff. 
"Are you staying the night?"
"Where's your anchor?"
"About 30 meters that way."
"Obrigado. I'm putting out a line of hooks for the night."
He barely finished talking when he threw the first buoy overboard, about 10 m from Jakatar. I shouted that it was too close, but he never looked back, just kept going, laying out the line. It was a hell of a long line, at least all the way to Martinhal beach where I lost sight of his stern light. 

So I'm sitting there thinking, "fuck, shit and damn, what an idiot! If the wind veers east a bit, I'll have the line and buoy under me tomorrow when I want to leave. As I'm staring at the buoy, a trawler roars out of port at full throttle straight for me, which was the wrong direction for him, turns at the last second, leaving such a huge wake the dinghy nearly flew into the cockpit. What the fuck, has everybody gone crazy around here? Lost my appetite for going ashore.

Still dark the next morning I get up and can't see the fishing buoy anymore. Feeling a bit paranoid that it might be under the boat or caught in the propeller, I spun the propeller shaft by hand for a long time (advantage of having a Duramax shaft seal)...but it kept spinning freely. So I raised anchor and left in the semi-darkness, eyes peeled for the minefield of buoys near port, ready for the long trip to Sines against wind and waves.

Going by the beach anchorage, I started hearing the Cape Vicente lighthouse foghorn, even though there's not a wisp of fog to been seen. But sure enough, on the north side of the cape I motored into a blanket of fog that later kept alternating between bad and worse for hours on end.

Much later, when the fog cleared up, my long-time rich neighbor from Culatra, who must have been anchored in front of the beach, passed me, but not too fast, and I was barely doing about 5 knots.

Arrived in Sines at sunset and anchored near the  rich guy's boat again. Stayed for two nights, ate at Adega de Sines for lunch and dinner (8 euros per meal including a jar of wine), took long showers (you can check in at the marina office when anchored, pay half price and get a card to use the facilities).

Also got up early for the trip to Cascais and, fuck a duck, my rich neighbor passed me again with much waving by me and his wife and barely a nod from him. Maybe he doesn't trust his wife around handsome solo sailors!!!!! Cough, cough.

Anchored in the bay of Cascais, this time far from the rich guy so his wife couldn't get a good view of me. 

I was already feeling the "going home blues" so I decided (or rather, invented an excuse) that the conditions weren't very favorable for leaving the next day. Stayed 2 nights in Cascais, went for long walks, had lunch on the promenade and pretended not to stare at women on the beach.

Cascais anchorage

The anchorage in Cascais seen from the very long promenade. Jakatar is somewhere in the middle near the marina entrance, where I park the dinghy behind the fuel dock - not supposed to do it, but I haven't been arrested yet.

Had an uneventful sail (motoring and motorsailing) to Peniche on the last day, except for one thing I had never done before: at lunch time, near Ericeira where the water is another minefield of buoys, I stopped the engine sailed at 1 knot toward the Azores while I leisurely made lunch, ate it and had a coffee without a care in the world.

Now I'm home, one summer older and still working. That wasn't the original plan.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Kayak Adventure in Culatra

I was lying in the shady cockpit in Culatra staring at my toes and pondering my main problem: I had ran out of gasoline for the dinghy outboard. 

Rowing the dinghy 400 m ashore during the day is easy. At night, however, water taxis and local boats continue to roar across the anchorage at full speed. How they don't splatter themselves against any of the poorly lit boats scattered in front of the fishing port is a mystery.

Rowing through a crowded anchorage in the dark is not easy, especially with a tidal current. When rowing, you're looking at where you came from and not where you're going, except for the occasional glance over your shoulder. At 400, 300 or 200 meters all the anchor lights look the same and you end up rowing around in circles with a strobe light in your mouth hoping the flying taxis will see it.
There's no gasoline on the island of Culatra, you're not allowed to carry it on the Olhão ferry and, by the way, gasoline emits a strong nauseous smell in 35º C weather. Even if I managed to sneak by the gateman with the jerrycan in a bag, one or all the ferry passengers would surely sniff me out and blow the whistle.

I had no choice but to break out the kayak early in the morning before the wind picked up. The bummer was that the tide was really low and I had to take the long route along the channel. After ninety minutes of paddling like mad, my shoulders getting really stiff, I reached the Olhão marina where I did my business at the marina fuel pump without getting off my sore ass. 

The fun happened on the way back.

On the way back I spotted a channel leading into the sand flats. My arms and back begged me to take the short way home, so I did. I asked an old man digging for clams on the bank if the channel went all the way across.

"Are you training for the gold medal?" he asked grinning looking down at me.

I stared at him dumbly until I remembered that the Portuguese rowing team was doing well in the Olympics. "No, I'm just exploring."

"It's better you wait until the tide comes up. This channel turns into a ditch of shallow water up ahead," he smirked some more, "and you'll be dragging your boat all the way across."

"Obrigado e bom dia," I said and continued paddling. All I needed was 10 inches of water.

I paddled on looking at herons and other birds feeding on the exposed marine life, a shapely skimpily dressed young woman clamming, and then I hit bottom.

And like the old man had warned, I dragged the kayak a long, long way to the other side, greeting suspicious or shy clammers along the way and happy that that's how it turned out. If I wanted it easy, I'd have stayed home. 

This was my rich neighbor anchored even farther out than me.

And this is the view between me and Culatra Island. Notice the Amel with a German flag in the center of the picture. Every time I dinghied by, two people would wave like crazy, and I would wave back a bit bewildered. I finally ran into them (older lady and her son) at the dinghy dock and it turns out I had met him in Nazaré while working on Jakatar in the yard. They had spent the winter in the marina of Nazaré.

Went ashore to the Olhão bus station to buy a bus ticket back home.
Walking along the waterfront I saw the most original anchoring job ever! That anchor is not going anywhere unless somebody steals it.
I took the bus home for some more translations and to handle the tourist check-ins and check-outs at the apartments while Ana went north to visit her family. I trusted 40 m of chain and a 25 kg Kobra anchor to take care of Jakatar while I was away.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sines to Alvor

At 6:00 I cranked the Tigress manual windlass until the 25 kg Kobra anchor clanked loudly onto the bow roller. Tied the anchor down and motored out on a clear calm day.

What looked like a 36-foot sailboat was about 500 metres in front of me headed toward the anchored ships. Although I was motoring at only about 5.5 knots, Jakatar slowly gained on it and then passed it. 

After that he began tailing me. About 45 minutes later, I turned into the wind to raise the main and stay sails and he did the same, except for a staysail which he didn't have. When I unfurled the genoa and shut down the engine, he did that too (I'm assuming he also cut the engine).

Against all logical odds, he tailed me all the way to Cape St. Vincent, always within less than a mile, sometimes coming very close. He must have been solo too because I never saw more than one person in the cockpit. A couple of hours later another sailboat popped out of nowhere and joined the party for a long time. Strange but fun!

Sailing to the Algarve
The boat on the left tailed me for 55 miles, from Sines to Cape St. Vincent. The boat on the right stuck with us for nearly half of the trip.
It's a one-in-a-million shot that a sailboat could tail another one for 55 miles without either using the engine or slowing down on purpose. But it happened. 

In late afternoon, about 10 miles from the cape the wind rotated from NW to N, the ocean got rougher, and the genoa started the "empty-fill-bang" routine, which drives me nuts. After furling the genoa and dropping the staysail, I eased the main to the spreaders and ran for it all the way past the cape, almost dead downwind with a preventer set up, of course. 

I could see the familiar wind-whipped whitecaps ahead, but I wasn't too enthusiastic about reefing right about now, which required turning 180º into the wind and lumpy waves.

I kept sailing southeast instead. That would take me into stronger wind but calmer waters sheltered by the cape where I planned to reef and raise the staysail again. 

So much for the plan, I just kept going SE, farther from land. As I gradually turned east toward my destination, the boat took the wind on the beam, healed over, dug its bow into the water, wanting to turn into the wind, stubbornly refusing to respond to the rudder.

(The boat that was tailing me, kept going south and disappeared, either going to Madeira or giving this area a very wide berth, who knows.)

Lobster pots were popping up in my path and I was getting nervous, not having much control and with visions of snagging a line on the prop or rudder skeg doing 6.5 knots and out of control. 

Then I raised the staysail with surprising ease and my speed shot up to over 7 knots.

I was having a riot flying along dodging pots until a crazy little wave smacked the hull, shot up and soaked me while I was answering the phone. One boarding wave, one phone call, and they happened at the exact same time. The  phone survived.

It's 20 miles from Sagres to Alvor, the sun was sinking quick, I was wet and soon began to shiver. Punched the auto button, dove below, grabbed a coat and a couple energy bars and I was good again.

Then it's getting dark and I have to dive below again to switch on the running lights. The wind isn't letting up like it should near Lagos and I've had enough excitement for one day. By the time I round the Lagos headland and head for the Alvor entrance, it's really dark and I know this place is a minefield of pots.

I sail on a close haul right up close to the pitch black Alvor entrance, turn into the wind and drop sails without a hitch, and slowly motor in between the two long rocky sea walls. It's too dark to go all the way into town so I anchor where the channel opens up into the lagoon in the company of two other boats. It's been a 16-hour trip and I'm floored, but feeling very much alive.

I woke up to a beautiful calm morning with an urge to dinghy into Alvor, the town, before sailing toward Culatra.

Alvor anchorage
Alvor anchorage on a peaceful morning.
Alvor marina
The local Alvor marina for small craft.
Alvor waterfront
Felt good to walk on land after spending over 3 days on the boat.
Possibly one of the most photographed dogs in the world. He spends most of the day like this watching the crowds walk by. He was here last year, exactly in the same position.

I walked around town looking at straw hats, got hungry and had an ice-cream, thought about eating grilled sardines but changed my mind when the wind picked up.
Kite surfing in Alvor
By the time I finished lunch on the boat, the wind began to blow hard, as you can see by the whitecaps in the anchorage, I lost my enthusiasm for removing the outboard, stowing the dinghy and raising anchor. Screw schedules.
But later I wish I had gone. It blew hard all afternoon and night, too windy to dinghy into town. I spent the day watching kite surfers and strengthening the damaged stern rail. 
The pipe holding the ladder is severely cracked. I cut some wood pieces to hold it up and inboard. In any case, I started using the fender step at midships to hop on and off the boat. It works quite well, just like at the marina. I can stand up in the dinghy and place the outboard flat on deck and hop aboard quite easily, better than climbing the ladder with one hand and precariously holding the outboard by the tips of my fingers. In 16 years I never considered this option. Sometimes I'm so dumb, it's hard to believe. So now my ladder is an ornamental piece except when swimming, can't use the fender step to pull myself out of the water.

The next day, instead of the usual calm morning, it was still blowing hard, so I did what I should have done the day before and sailed for Culatra in one fast tack.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sailing from Cascais to Sines

Slept like a man with no worries in life and motored out of Cascais at daybreak feeling more relaxed and alive. The first day on a cruise is always a bit tense; on the second day it's the only thing that makes sense.

Sail looks strange from this perspective.
I motorsailed for a couple of hours over a calm sea. Then I felt the sun and the wind on my face, unrolled the genoa, shut the engine down, and sailed past Cape Espichel all the way to Sines. A glorious lazy day. 

Saw a small shark, for the first time ever, swimming along the surface, which I initially mistook for a small dolphin. Good thing I didn't have to dive in and cut any lobster trap lines fouling the prop this year. I realise it was harmless, but I get very negative vibes from sharks, bears, pitbulls and any femme fatale with a desperate look in her eyes. In other words, I don't like being potential prey.

storing cabbage on a sailboat
I froze six 1.5 litre water bottles that kept the big icebox cool for a week. I tried red cabbage and cured cheese this year and it paid off because they held up well, especially the cabbage which I ate either cooked or raw. I'm making an effort to keep canned food to a minimum.
Fortunately nothing exciting happened. Disasters are good for movies and books, but at this point I'd rather tell stories about my previous misfortunes than experience new ones.

I reached the large port as the sun began to set, anchored in front of the Sines beach and had another night of star gazing and wine sipping, with a big cup of tea at the end to balance it all out.

Anchoring in Sines
See that blue light in the middle. That's a stage where a band played very loud "pimba" music until late at night. 
Stayed aboard again. It would have been fun to eat dinner at the Sines Tavern, but it was just too late and too much hassle to pump up the dinghy, launch it, check in at the marina, get a gate card (the marina is the only place to leave the dinghy), shower, change into respectable attire and walk up the hill into the old part of that time they wouldn't be serving dinner anymore.

This is a really boring solo trip for readers but it's gonna get a little bit better.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

First Leg: Peniche to Cascais

sailing in fog
Poor visibility, but I've seen worse.
On Sunday morning I woke up to fog so thick I could hardly see the port entrance. Large water drops fell from the soggy sail flaked on the boom ready to be hoisted. The lockers were stocked with sufficient food, the water tank half-filled, and I had enough diesel for 60 hours of motoring.

Out of frustration I washed the deck and cleaned the inside some, but not that much....a boat is a boat and shouldn't look like a clinic.

While sipping my mid-morning instant coffee I spotted a red sailboat, a Challenger called Jane, docking at the transient pontoon across from me. What!! I ran over and asked them if it was less foggy out on the water.

"No, we got caught in it while sailing from Porto," said a recently-retired-looking English woman. To which her husband added, "At one point I couldn't see the genoa. Our radar is ancient but it still works." They looked vaguely familiar, and Google proved me right.

It was less foggy the next morning. At 7 a.m. I pulled in the bow and stern lines and started doing the pivot-propwash manoeuvre. On passing by the Challenger's stern Jane's head popped out of the companionway. 

"We're leaving as soon as we finish breakfast. See you Cascais."

They never showed up.

Anchoring in Cascais
The Cascais anchorage fairly empty in July.
I motorsailed most of the way, even after the fog lifted. And for the first time in 14 years, instead of wind blasting down Sintra Mountain and across Cabo Raso, I motored around the cape with limp sails. 

After anchoring, I celebrated with a glass of red wine and spent the evening lying in the cockpit happy to be alone. Cascais is a beautiful town, and even more so when seen from the peaceful bay.

Friday, July 8, 2016


I've been mute, deaf and dumb since April 19, but I'm still alive.

And I'm hoping to sail south next week, all the way to the anchorage in Culatra.

I offer you a photo-story of what's been going on.

travel lift in Nazare
I sailed - wind, not engine - to Nazaré, spent the night at the marina and got hauled out the next morning.

Installing a thru-hull

Installed a new thru-hull with a ball valve for the galley sink. It's barely above the water line so it could potentially flood the boat if, for example, the anchor dragged and the boat ended up lying on this side in the water.

Boat yard in Nazare

Typical boat mess when working.

Docking accident

This was the first time in 16 years I had a docking accident. When leaving the travel lift pontoon at very low tide with little room to maneuver, the wind blowing in the wrong direction and, if you must know, in a big stupid rush, the boarding ladder caught on the pontoon cleat and this was the result.

Although I had a beautiful fast sail to Peniche, this misshaped mess in my face spoiled the ride.
Later I tied a line to the top pipe, ran it to a snatch block on the railing and back to the big winch and managed to straightened it to a semi-respectable condition.

That's Jakatar on the far right raising sail for the annual regatta in Peniche.

And here's Jakatar flying for the starting line with all 3 sails up. With a freshly painted bottom got a big lead on everybody and gybed around the first buoy, where the wind was blanketed by the cape. Everybody else tried to tack and went into irons.

Then I started yapping with my inexperienced crew of 2, went way off course, bungled the next buoy twice, got caught by a lobster pot which we dragged for quite a while, finally god rid of it, went way off course again, the wind died down and we finished 4th. Don't have the racing mentality, I guess.

See you in Culatra.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Downsizing to a Pocket Cruiser

tiny sailboat

Sooner or later sailors, specially solo sailors, with a somewhat large sailboat will face some harsh realities: 
   a) the need to downsize to a smaller boat
   b) life without a boat
   b) death

I prefer option a). I Can't imagine not having a boat, and death is a problem I'd rather worry about after I die. In contrast, planning to downsize to a smaller boat is obscenely titillating. 

Downsizing will give me the opportunity - and the illusion - to finally buy the perfect sailboat, in other words a boat perfectly suited to my needs.

Why do I need a pocket cruiser (ideally under 8 m)?
  • I'm tired of struggling to keep up with never-ending maintenance and costs
  • I can spend more time sailing instead of fixing
  • I can still continue with my yearly coastal cruise south
  • It's easier to sail single handed
  • It's more exciting - closer to the water is better (sometimes wetter too)
  • It makes it easier to step into and out of the dinghy
  • Docking is easier even on windier days
  • Etc. 
The process began when I fell in love with a Frances 26. 

Frances 26

The "Frances 26" infatuation lasted for a while, until it hit me that they're too slow for my solo cruising in Portugal where I need to sail between a number of anchorages ranging from 45 to 60 miles apart. Small classic boats, besides being generally slower, are also more prone to high maintenance because of their construction materials and age.

With this in mind, I started focusing on a sailboat offering a balanced combination of speed, ease of use, affordability and low maintenance. Before I knew it, I was salivating over an  Etap 21i.

Etap 21i

These boats are amazing. They're unsinkable and, astonishingly, can be sailed even after opening the bottom sea-cock and leaving it open. A family of 3 sailed an Etap 21i around the world and it only took 3 years, although they, like the boat, looked very compact in the photograph I saw.

etap sinking test
Four men (the other one is in the cockpit) aboard an Etap 21i after having opened the head's sea-cock, and this is as bad as it got. ~ Courtesy of Yachting Monthly
But...and there's always a you can see in the photograph, it has a maximum headroom of 1.4 m and about 1.2 m above the marine toilet. That didn't faze me at first, until I placed a 1.2 m mark on the wall above the toilet at home and tried using it while keeping my head below the mark. I'm 6 foot 2 and let's just say that in a rolling boat I'd most likely end up crawling around the floor with my pants around my knees. Next boat!

Next, browsing for something a bit larger I came upon the Jeanneau 2500, a well-built high-performance beauty. Headroom is 1.60 m and 1.65 in the toilet. So I went back to the bathroom at home and raised the mark on the wall to 1.65. Not bad at all. But like I said, I'm tall.

Production began in 2001 and the asking price for one with an inboard diesel is normally 25,000 euros or higher. That's still a hefty price for an 1.85-m-tall guy to pay for 1.6 m of maximum headroom. Next!

I then began looking at the Etap 26i, which appears to be a better deal with asking prices ranging from 27,000 (1995) to 35,000 (2003). It seems well worth the slightly higher cost for a much more spacious boat. At first I was discouraged because all the ones I could find are for sale in far-away ports. But, on second though, what could be better than starting out with a long leisurely cruise back to Peniche. To think of it, I bought Jakatar in Toronto, Canada, and sailed it here.
I try not to look at this photograph too much. 
And then there is also the Jeanneau Sun Fast 26, a bit cheaper than the Etap 26i but a good boat nonetheless. Food for thought.

The bad news is that none of this will happen any time soon. It will be at least a couple of years before I'm ready to sell Jakatar and before Jakatar is ready to be sold. In the meantime, I have a plan.


A friend has suggested that I should downsize to a 32 footer and then, lastly, to a 26 footer when I get older (old). But I'm a solo coastal sailor. A 26-foot boat has a good bed, a marine toilet, enough storage room for me, why would I want more space just for the sake of space.

I also considered something like a 1970s Invicta 26 with encapsulated ballast in running order with an asking price of €6,000. But then I began asking questions and doing the math: is the standing rig OK, are the 40+ year mast and spreaders OK and will they still be OK in 15 years, are the chainplates pitted, is the deck mushy, is the engine going to last as long as me? One thing you know for sure, it's narrow, gloomy down below and needing all kinds of TLC. So I'd be back to maintenance/refit mode, albeit on a smaller scale but the cost and time still add up. Nope, once around, big or small, is enough. I want to go sailing, not fixing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Getting High

The weather has been bad and I've been lying low.

Lying low means changing the engine oil, transmission oil and fuel filter.

It also means getting high - up the mast that is.

If you haven't read it before in a previous post (and I'll forgive you if you haven't), I'm on a mission to scrape all the paint off the mast and to leave it naked. This is the naked boat, so the "nakeder" the better.

bare aluminum mast
I'm like a bird crapping all over the deck. The glove lying on the deck looks ominous.
removing mast paint
Not sure if dry two-part paint is toxic, but why risk it.
I'm doing the job with a regular 1.5 inch stainless scraper. I tried a real paint scraper, but it's no good. And that's because I'm scraping bubbly paint rather than stripping adhering paint.

Now, you may ask, how do you get the paint to flake (bubble)? Simple: any bare patches are a like a conduit for water and salt to penetrate under the paint and cause it to separate from the aluminum. I'm also slicing gouges into the paint to speed up the process.

I scraped all the way to the second spreader yesterday morning. I figure I'll have the stick totally grey and naked in two years, at which time I can kiss mast maintenance goodbye! I could also kiss Jakatar goodbye and get a smaller boat. I'm hungering for a small boat, I tell you.

Bare aluminum mast
It's original, it's strong and it's going to outlive me and the next 5 owners.
Future hassles

I have to renew my VHF licence by taking a refresher course and writing an exam. Utter stupidity and expensive.

Jakatar is due for its 5-year legal boat inspection in early May, which means sailing to Nazaré for a haulout (more expenses).

That also means that nearly everything else expires: liferaft, flares, medical kit, 3 fire extinguishers, circulation tax and beacon lights tax.

Even I'm expiring, so to speak. I wouldn't be surprised if the authorities start taking my pulse at regular intervals to check whether I'm still alive!!

And speaking of boneheads, I ordered a hull anode (€90) from Mailspeed Marine in the UK and they erroneously sent me this monster, which is not even listed in their online shop. Crafty way to get rid of an "unsalable" piece of metal. It doesn't fit my bolts and weighs about 6 kg. I weighed it to make sure it's made of zinc and not magnesium. I sent them an email pointing out their mistake and they never even replied. Until now I was under the impression that all British people are honest.

That's it from Jakatarland, where the new motto is go now, go small, go naked. None of which applies to me, sadly enough.

"Give me the facts. Save your whims, desires and dreams for Santa Claus."  ~ Martello Mateus

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Oberdorfer Pump Mechanic

Why does a 30-minute job take 4 hours on a sailboat? 

This is how I replaced an Oberdorfer N202M-07 raw water pump that cost me the incredible sum of €486.
($266 for the pump + $127 for UPS freight + €118 customs + €9 credit card fee).

changing an oberdorfer pump n202m
Pump housing plate, with the pump already removed from the Universal 5444 engine (Kubota 1902 block).
1. Position, light and tools
I had to work on my knees with kneepads, needed a good source of light and had to search for a number of tools stored in what could be the largest (7 x 3 feet) and most disorganized tool box ever to exist on a sailboat.

2. Corrosion
For 14 years, the pump has been intermittently dripping salt water onto the lower 1/2 inch mounting bolt. Its head has become severely corroded, deformed and slightly stripped. The stripping part probably happened in the Azores where I removed the pump in an attempt to fix it.

The 1/2 inch wrench did not work so I tried using vice-grips. The bolt did not budge, but I managed to strip the head some more. Then I tried some metric socket heads and, you guessed it, mangled the head even more. Out of desperation and frustration, I selected a metric socket that was a touch too small and started hammering it onto the head. And, by God, it worked (but now I can't extract the bolt from the socket).

3. Finding an imperial bolt in a metric country
So now, with the pump off, I needed a 1/2 inch bolt of the same length which, incredibly, I found at a nearby car parts shop. I noticed that it weighs a lot less than the original bolts - obviously it must be made of superior quality Chinese material.

4. Scavenging parts
The new pump did not come with hose ports, which I needed to scavenge from the old pump which I clamped in a vice.
The hard part was placing the hose ports on the new pump at an angle matching the hose connection directions, which implied placing the exact amount of teflon tape so that the port would be nice and tight at the perfect angle.

oberdorfer marine pump
You can see 1 of the 2 accesses to the cluttered toolbox, which occupies the cavernous space under a long settee. I also have other smaller tool areas here and there.
5. Disorganization and bad memory
Although the pump came with an engine-to-pump gasket, it wasn't in the box. I looked in my gaskets bag but couldn't find it. No need to panic, the boat is only 39 feet long and I have all day. After searching everywhere, some places twice...nothing! Then I gave the gasket bag one last shot and there it was neatly packed in a thin envelope that looked like a piece of paper. At that moment, I wished I had beer or wine aboard, but I didn't.

6. Cleaning
The plate is attached to the engine with four bolts in cavities filled with muck and goo. I cleaned them out, drenched them with WD40 and then anointed the cavities with oil using Q-tips. Then, after sanding the pate surface with 400 metal sandpaper, I was ready for the big event.

7. Assembly operation
This was actually pretty easy; I simply followed the instructions I printed out from a website: Align engine slot with the pump slot; insert pump with bolts and gasket; tighten mounting bolts until finger tight; open sea-cock and start engine at low revs to allow the pump to self-center; lastly tighten bolts with a wrench while engine is running without losing your arm in the pulley belt. That's it! 

Port of Peniche

I was a happy man watching a copious flow of water gushing from the exhaust outlet.

Time for a late lunch and a walk around the port before cleaning up the huge mess.

Peniche Port Entrance

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Deck Leak - Quick Fix Artist

On a rainy Thursday afternoon, I was in the boat talking to the Dutch Sailor about boats - specifically about living aboard in winter and dealing with cold humid conditions. 

I was bragging about Jakatar's dry warm interior when he interrupted me. "I believe you," he said, "but a drop of water just fell on my head."

deck leaks

And, in fact, a constant drip was falling on the salon's cushions, coming from one of the small skylights that were originally meant for installing ventilation dorades. I hadn't noticed the leak because the white cushions are waterproof and the water was flowing behind and underneath them.

After removing the cushions, I placed an old bathrobe (that's right, a bathrobe) on the settee frame to soak up the drip and called it a day. If you're going to get all worked up about leaks on a sailboat you're gonna die prematurely!!

That night, at home, I woke up in a sweat from a dream about deck leaks and mushy deck coring. Although it was only a dream, it got my mind rattling about the never-ending list of boat maintenance tasks. Than got tiring pretty fast, so I began repeating my fail-proof chant "I'm sleepy, very, very sleepy" and fell asleep. It never fails!

In the morning I went out to the boat determined to fix the problem or, at least, make a temporary fix. So here is the quick fix artist's solution:

1. Removed the skylight trim.

boat wood trim

2. Dried the acrylic skylight area with a heat gun. Cleaned the surface with alcohol and repeated the heat gun drying.
heat gun for boats

3. Searched for silicone. Found a large tube I had bought last summer for a tiny job (long story). Since no silicone would come out the tip, even after penetrating the outlet with a long screwdriver, I cut the tube in half near the bottom where it was still gooey. Then, with a surgical glove, I dabbed gobs of the stuff along the acrylic-fiberglass joint. I kept applying the goop with my index finger until it looked ridiculously sloppy. Repeated the task for three holes, the other three holes looked dry.
cheap silicone for boats

4. Then I made a cup of tea, ate a power bar, set up the boat dehumidifier and relaxed.

boat dehumidifier
5. Lastly, I emptied three bilge compartments: the bow bilge collects water from the chain hawser; the bilge under the mast collects water that runs down the wires inside the mast; and the stern bilge by the engine collects water from the emergency tiller connection pipe.
bilge water

The plan now is to get some real marine silicone, clean up the mess and do a proper job on a long sunny day, probably in June...if I don't forget or if other plans don't get in the way. So many plans, so little time.

It felt very satisfying to get the job done, even if it's only a temporary fix. Action is the best remedy for non-action. How's that for a truism?