Sunday, October 21, 2007

10/21/07 The Gold-lined Hole in the Ocean

Well, everyone has certainly heard about how boats are just "holes in the ocean" into which one throws money...well, I'll go (have gone) one better: how about a gold-leafed or simply gold-lined hole in the ocean called "a wooden boat restoration."

It seemed like a good idea at the time. My friends Tim and Michael were wanting to get out of their 1968 Hunter Motor Yacht (a classic wooden boat built in Orillia, Ontario, Canada), and I knew I would need a place to live once the full-time part of this Grand Adventure began. Seemed like a win-win.

So, on July 3rd, a shipyard guy and I planned to motor the boat to Newport Beach and haul the boat out for a survey and what little was [supposedly] needed. [OK, quit snickering]. We barely made in to Newport - ten minutes after leaving Long Beach's Alamitos Bay, the boston whaler hanging from davits on the stern tried to commit suicide. One of the pulleys let go, the bow of the dinghy bit into the ocean and nearly yanked the rest of the boat off its davits before we could stop. Phew! -- that was a close one.

OK, I can handle this. So we recover the whaler, use a spare dock line to keep both sets of winches from unwinding, and resume the beautiful, leisurely trip down the coast some 20 miles to Newport. Right? ....Nope.... Moments later, the port engine temperature starts to rise, its oil pressure starts falling, the rpm's die off, it shudders, and then.... silence. Lost an engine. Why? I'll get to that.

OK, I can handle this. No problem. This is why they build twin engines into some boats - like this one. Off we go again, one engine running, and in minutes, it too suddenly starts loosing rpm. Well, this is suddenly a lot less fun than I had planned on. We get on the radio, call for Vessel Assist - the mariner's version of the AAA, and tell them we "may" have a problem. They ask if this is an emergency and if we require their immediate assistance (we optimistically say not immediately), and then they ask that confidence-building question – how many souls aboard? (You know, so they know how many to look for, should something untoward happen.)

OK, I can handle this. By now, the engine rpm' s are falling from the nominal 2800 it should have been at, to as little as 1000-1200 rpm. Then, it surges up and back between 1200 and 1800, and finally settles in at about 1250 rpm -- about 8 miles per hour. At this rate, my coastal jaunt will become a [seemingly lifelong] journey.

OK, I can handle this. As a good skipper, I go forward to make sure we have a working anchor to set, in case this second engine dies. Well, the anchor is not attached to the anchor line. And, the anchor line is about the diameter of a pencil and is dry and brittle. It would last oh, maybe five seconds...or until the first real tug on the anchor by the boat. Hmmm. this is looking troublesome. We ask Vessel Assist to notify the Harbor Patrol in Newport, in case the Vessel Assist folks, who are now busy working a new problem in LA Harbor, can't get to us in time -- before we would drift into shore - and onto a beach.... not a good thing to do with a 45-foot long motor yacht.

OK, I can handle this. Well, after a couple of hours, various phone and radio calls to different folks, we finally limp into the harbor. Harbor Patrol offers assistance if needed, but we manage to get all the way to the shipyard under our own steam (well, gas, to be more accurate). Glad to be at the yard, we leave the boat without much further investigation until after the July 4th holiday.

On July 5th, we haul the boat up onto the yard using a marine lift (elevator, really). It turns out the port engine had a broken rod, which we found after a week's effort dismantling the engine and bringing it out of the boat in many small pieces -- you see, without a big overhead hatch, the motor had to be completely disassembled in order to remove it. The other engine, though it had run the whole time, but barely, had blown off the exhaust house, drowning the 6.5 kw Onan generator, the fire supression system sensors, and several other things, like the old batteries.

[Really! It is impolite to say 'I told you so'... however true.... ah, for the love of old, wooden boats.]

Since it is now October when I am writing this, I know a lot more about the boat. I'll spare you most of the details. We have rebuilt both engines and transmissions completely, rebuilt the generator, installed all new batteries, rewired the ENTIRE boat - both AC and DC -- and are having fun with other details. In addition, new screws have been added to every wooden board above the waterline to the edge of the deck. The deck has been rebuilt, and the entire boat and deck has been repainted. The varnish was redone, the ship's navigational lighting was redone to bring it up to [nautical] Code, and so on. Oh yes, I have a new frig -- this one is AC/DC -- and a new cooktop (ceramic). I have a substanial new anchor, new windlass (the thingy that drags the anchor out of the water), new anchor chains and ropes, and a new swimstep, aft ladder, rebuilt gangway, new swim ladder off the swimstep... Oh, sorry, I wasn't going to go into detail. Never mind.

I am really excited about the boat. As a purist, she is a wooden wonder - fine lines, strong construction, nice appointments, and a classic Canadian yacht. It will be a comfortable home for me, while I work my -- uh, um, while I work really really hard to pay for her upgrades and refits, and to pay for the diesel in the RV. But I love the water, have always been near it, and this is the second time in my life when I will be living aboard (as I once did for many years on Velella, a 44-foot sailboat).

In the pictures, you can see the terrible shape the bottom was in -- both trim tabs had pulled out, and the zincs which help prevent corrison were nearly shot (it was eating through these every few months) -- now I know why -- as does my electrician as well, having been shocked several times on both the AC and the DC side of his house work aboard from loose wires that were still connected at one 'hot' end!!). The thru-hulls are now all bronze, all the brightwork outside (varnish) has been redone, the hull is an admirably restored piece of wooden art with a linear polyurethane (glossly) finish, and the boat has all of its requisite safety gear, and even a few creature comforts. The rest of the comforts will come over time, once I get to move aboard -- hopefully in early November.

After three months “on the hard” (sitting on land, in a cradle), and a bunch of money later, we know own a small, movable condo that is 45 feet in length, and almost 13 feet wide. She comes with two staterooms, two heads (bathrooms), a galley and salon. The aft deck can be fully enclosed and the helm is in a raised pilothouse, out of the weather. She could easily be right at home in Seattle and the Inside Passage, or on the Great Lakes cruising the inland seas, or heading out the St. Lawrence waterway, or even transporting us down the Intracoastal Waterway on the eastern seaboard of America. Lots of future possibilities.

Of course, after our dramatic ride from Long Beach to Newport, there was still one more very unsettling moment to come: As the boat was lowered back into the water a week ago, her now-dried out and shrunken hull planking allowed so much water to come aboard that both bilge pumps kicked on immediately, and ran non-stop for almost two days. OK. I was told that this is normal for wood boats, but really! I made the shipyard temporarily add another, portable 110v bilge pump, just in case. Now swollen back to her normal shape, the bilge is virtually dry inside. Phew!

In the next few weeks, after sea trials and breaking in (I know, poor choice of words) the newly rebuilt engines, I will be moving aboard “Motor Yacht (written M/Y) Foresight.” The dinghy’s name is “Hindsight” and it is still hanging out on the stern davits, I am happy to add. As part of the Grand Adventure, we may well, this coming summer, or the one after, use the boat to explore British Columbia and southeastern Alaska... in our marine RV!

While I am working here in Orange County, I will live, most of the time, on the boat, and then travel back and forth to join the rest of the RV’ing Malkoff’s wherever they are. When they come back to SoCal to visit, we can all go diving and boating locally, or over to the island (Catalina) or even visit the other Channel Islands – something readily done in a power boat that goes 15-20 knots, versus a sailboat that zigzags into the wind and takes a small sabbatical to get anywhere… at 3-6 knots. There will be new pictures of the boat, once she is ‘dressed out’ and the interiors are cleaned up. If you can’t make it to the RV to visit us on the road, come down to the boat, and sit a spell, listening to the sounds of the sea...

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