Boat Repairs & Maintenance
A saying amongst sailors is “If it floats, flies or fucks… Rent it!” If you have lived on a sailing boat for 2.5 years, you understand where that somewhat crude proverb comes from. Boats can show you a really great time. They bring you to some of the prettiest, remotest corners of this planet. But they need lots of TLC. A little tweaking here or there. The list of small and not so small repair jobs is forever growing…. Boat maintenance, the never ending story…
In the 5 months we were away from Bocas, we handled the following issues:
- Replace the battery for the watermaker
- Depth sounder – Our depth sounder monitor had stopped working a while ago. Instead of replacing the Garmin monitor and sonar we opted for a compatible transducer with an interface that displays on our Ipad. In that way we have all the information conveniently on one screen. Even though our new set up worked, it had the habit of freezing up at the most inconvenient times. For instance you are in shallow areas, move to a deeper gulley (35+ m) and back to the shallows looking for an anchor spot. Back in the shallows, at the most crucial point, you get no reading. Or you are approaching land and switch the thing on, and it refuses. Or it’s working and decides to stop for no reason. So when you really need your eye underneath the water, it hangs, and you quickly have to run inside to reboot. And reboot. Until it works. This little issue had been bugging us for a while. Especially in the Rosarios, where you are dealing with a very landscaped sea bottom with sheer cliffs, deep gulleys, and protruding coral structures aspiring to become islets or shipwreckers, it became problematic. If the sonar system bailed out during surveying trips, Pepijn jumped overboard, equiped with mask, fins and dive computer to get accurate depths and so on. But Pepijn was not going to be on board forever, and the erratic nature and the lack of a clear pattern was badgering us completely. We were dealing with three different types of brands, three different units that need to work together, and no wiring diagram was provided. After several trial and error sessions, contacting the providers, and our own experimentation the captain discovered that one of the wires should not be connected to give a consistent output. Yippie, it worked!
- Solar panels: During one of Colombia’s famous squalls, our 2 remaining flexible solar panels were torn loose and blown off and short circuited the solar regulator. As we use these solar panels for the watermaker, we had to get new ones. In Cartagena we found a solar shop and purchased a rigid solar panel and a new solar regulator. That was the easy part. Getting it back to Exodus was another matter. As we walked out in the blistering Cartagena sun carrying our new solar panel with a grumpy daughter in tow, we realised walking would not do. We hailed a yellow cab. And another one. And another one. Until we found one that could fit the panel. It was an easy ride to the dock where our kayak awaited us. A pointy panel on an inflatable kayak sounded like a lousy idea, so the captain took the shortest crew member to Exodus, while one party stayed behind, looking clueless and lost with the big solar panel on the quay. And guess what, it worked. A friendly Colombian with a panga offered to take Winnie and solar panel back to the boat just as the captain was on his way back with our tender boat. No hassle at all.
- Shortened anchor chain – In the Rosarios we experienced many interesting thunderstorms. After a few squalls Exodus’s anchor chain wrapped itself several times around an old coral rock. The anchor chain had carved some slots in the soft stone and added a few loops on top of that. The mess was that badly intertwined that it couldn’t be untied on breathhold. The captain had to get out a scuba cylinder and hack saw. Two saw blades were broken before the clustered chain was cut off. Then he attached the remaining chain and Exodus back to the anchor. Never a dull moment!
- Hull cleans: One of our ‘favorite’ pass times during our trip to Colombia was cleaning the hull. In a previous post, we explained that we moved up and down to Cartagena, which has a nice big bay with lots of dirty water. The big bay has a substantial influx of polluted river water but lacks sufficient circulation to refresh. This makes it an excellent breeding ground, or a fertilizer, for all sort of hull foulers. Add to that a busy container terminal that guarantees fresh imports of barnacles on a daily basis. Boats get shell growth in no time, even on our expensive copper coat. Clearing into Cartagena took more than a week, after which we set sail for the Rosario island. Great was our surprise when we had a peek underwater. Exodus’s immaculate green bottoms were converted into a weed infested wood. But that was not all, the whole area was covered in a rash of tiny barnacles, like a serious bout of varicella or german measles. We had to scrub with all our might to get the unwanted encroaching sealife removed, and were left with what could be described as a blue whale print or even a whale shark print, a pockmarked surface. After that first hull clean, each time we had to go back to that incubus, we could hear the limpets suck onto the hull the minute we sailed through the Boca Chica entrance to the bay. All the barnacles are lying in wait at the first channel marker, ready to jump on deck, and board any unsuspecting vessel. By the time you reach the anchorage (1.5 hours later) your hull is completely encrusted. Boats lying on anchor permanently in Cartagena bay -as well as their dinghies, their anchor chains, anything that sits in the murky green- host their own mussel and barnacle nurseries. The key is to limit your time in this cesspool…. Reversely, on the way out of the bay, just pray for a fast sail, in an attempt to rid your vessel of the extra drag. If you have a nice strong wind, you’ll hear those barnacles screaming and the limpets clenching and clinging on for dear life!
- Dinghy replaced by a canetta and pimping of the canetta – as described in the previous blog
We had the equivalent of 2 months of visitors. Most of our time in Colombia Exodus was filled to maximum capacity. Although we like having people on board, a boat is a confined space. Not quite like sardines in a can, but boats do not give you a lot of space to wriggle. And most people do not grow sealegs overnight. When you live on a boat permanently you don’t realise how much you’ve grown accustomed to that softly rocking space, how you instinctively don’t lean on this or step on that, how you always do this or that, how a slight difference in a sqeaking sound will alert you that something needs attention… More people on board meant that the normal wear and tear on Exodus was tripled for the duration of that period. Starting a non-stop list of repairs and replacements:
- Some minor house hold casualties (broken and chipped cups and plates; disappearing tubs, lids, cutlery and washing pegs; accidentally crushed laptop hinge, …)
- Splashcover: Stitching, albeit a bit weakened by UV and salt water exposure, that was still fine would all of the sudden give way. We already did some restitching in Portobelo, getting very frustrated when our sewing machine refused to stitch with the strongest twine we have on board. But several attempts delivered a result. The thing is stitched, even though somewhat messy. In Colombia, the stitching on the windows in the splashcover started to come loose and had to be handstitched.
- Kayak repairs: In Portobelo we repaired a torn seam and made a temporary plan for the corroded zipper feet with dental floss (even though the plastic zip is still intact the metal zipper feet wear away and shed little pieces of metal each time you have to open up the kayak to repair the pontoons). In Colombia we met South African canvas seemstress Michelle who provided us with one new, heavy duty zip we could mount on the kayak pontoon that did not have a zipper foot anymore. Replacing the zip, proved to be a whole learning curve in itself. Sewing tape does not work on the cheap sewing machine we have. You cannot stitch with heavy duty cotton twine, nor with dental floss. We ended up inserting the zip with fine nylon thread and hand stitching over it with dental floss. Again lots of frustration and trying, but the zip is in and won’t come out soon. We suspect the fabric will tear first before our stitching gives up :-). Apart from that we have fixed a few leaks and have given the kayak a nose job where the fabric had worn thin. We had to stitch a patch over another spot where the fabric ripped. We repaired the seats and restitched the kayak handles.
Cockpit cock up – Or how a quick repair of the cockpit deck turned into a complete rebuild.
As the only mobile network provider that offers decent data packages decided to cut us off in the middle of a month we had already paid for, and could not resolve the problem for us, we decided we were going to bolt out of Colombia and return to Panama’s unlimited LTE signal. We instructed our obligatory agent to start the paperwork for the exit procedure. This would take a week, affording us enough time to fix the two middle teak planks that came loose in our cockpit floor. This work needed to be done asap as Colombia is dry and hot, the perfect climate to do outdoor jobs onboard. Attempting the same job in Panama is not an option as you have to take the humidity and daily rain into account.
The minute our last visitors left, we started the job of cutting out the two middle planks that had come loose. We opened up very carefully as to not damage the teak and started cleaning up underneath. As we removed the Sikaflex, Arthur found a weak spot in the middle, where the fiberglass had worn thin. Oh oh, this doesn’t look good… Let’s clean this out… Oh oh, definitely not good!
To make a long story short, the gelcoat on top of the fiberglass had a hole, through which rain and dishwash water had been leaking for months. The middle layer consisting of wooden cubes was completely rotten and had to be taken out. The job required specialized materials and proper tools and was too big for us to do by ourselves.
On the same day we found and set up an appointment with Jorge, a Columbian who does fiberglass and woodwork on boats. As we live on the boat permanently and plan to do so for many years to come, we decided not to replace the teak with wood. Although we like the look and feel of teak, the nice old stuff is not available in Cartagena. Also, we needed a more practical solution. We settled on a complete fiberglass floor, which is maintenance friendly and much easier to keep clean than a wooden deck. Early the next morning, the work started. Jorge and Gregor worked for 5 days flat out. The first day the teak was pulled out, the fiberglass cut open and the rotten wood removed. It was quite heartbreaking to listen to the splintering sound of planks being ripped out and the highpitched whine of the glassfibre being cut to pieces.
The area was cleaned up and sanded and consequently sealed with fiberglass. After that the rebuilding of the floor could start. Several layers of thick material were added, each time saturated with resin. One layer did not sit properly and had to be removed, which cost an extra day of labour.
On top of the different layers, some layers of a cement made with filler, resin, and gelcoat were stacked. The whole surface was painted with gelcoat and antiskid. It took us several days to get rid of all the dust, but we are happy with the result.