Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Promises, Promises

Sailing season a quarter gone and here I am, still immersed in assorted boat projects… just what I’d promised myself wouldn’t happen this year. Weekend rain, thunderstorms and family commitments are what I’ll remember June for, and even though we got out a couple of times, quite frankly the desire doesn’t burn as bright when you’re cringing in the cockpit waiting for a bolt from the blue to zap you on the masthead.

So, I occupied much of my down time with planning boat improvements. I’ve known people who enjoyed working on boats much more than they enjoyed sailing them, but I don’t count myself among that sawdust-covered group. The fun for me lies in making the boat more efficient, both as a sailing machine and as a floating vacation home.

The machine gets goodies like new sails, a backstay adjuster, genoa cars that are adjustable under load, a mainsheet traveler that can be hauled to weather by a child in 20 knots of wind, a 3-bladed feathering propeller, an inner forestay, a retractable bowsprit.

The home gets shore power, new plumbing, a water heater, a cockpit shower, a gravity-drain holding tank, LED lights, a battery and monitor upgrade, solar ventilators, new upholstery; perhaps, one day, a fridge.

There are times when I question my own sanity, pouring all this effort and money into a 35-year-old boat. There are other times when I think it keeps me sane.

Anyway, right now I have several projects on the go and in various stages of completion. One is the installation of a retracting bowsprit, which involves the drilling of nine holes in my foredeck. As you can guess, drilling holes in one’s pride and joy is not to be taken lightly; it’s much easier to bring yourself to do it on a 35-year-old boat than a nice crisp new one, though. I haven’t actually drilled any holes yet, but that’s only because I can’t fit into the tiny space in the anchor locker to get the backing plate and nuts on the three bolts that’ll be located right up in the bows. That procedure requires the willing assistance of someone younger, slimmer, and more flexible, ie
Mrs Nielsen.

I did pluck up the courage to drill three other holes, for the padeye to which the inner forestay will be secured. Then I plugged them again while I went to drill matching holes in a sturdy stainless steel backing plate that will be linked to the anchor locker bulkhead via a spare turnbuckle and some anchor chain. Since the foredeck is cored with half-inch aluminum plate (those Swedes didn’t mess around) this should be plenty strong enough to take the rig loads.

I’m enthused about the inner forestay, because I’ve gone over to the fiber rigging side for this item. I didn’t like the thought of a length of wire banging against my new mast, nor of a hefty stainless pelican hook clunking around on deck.

So, instead of the length of 5/16 wire that’s coiled and waiting in the basement, I’m going to use 7mm Dynex Dux, a pre-stretched braided Spectra line that’s made in Iceland. This will be not only be sturdy enough to stop the mast from pumping when used in conjunction with running backstays (also Spectra), but will carry a staysail (the old #4 jib) and storm jib, which will be secured to it with Spectra “hanks.” I’ll tension the stay with a 4-part tackle. First, though, I have to actually bolt the padeye into place…

That makes two works-in-progress. The third is the VHF installation. In the interests of safety, I decided last weekend to replace the ancient VHF radio with a new DSC-capable model complete with remote microphone. After spending a sweaty half-hour with a handheld drillsaw enlarging the hole left by the outgoing radio, I finally managed to coax the gleaming new one into place.

Time was short by the time I’d finished, and so was my temper. I figured the delicate job of making the relevant NMEA connections to allow the GPS to talk to the radio could wait for another day, and just hooked the radio up to the antenna and power supply. Reception was loud and clear, but – guess what – when I hit the transmit button to call the launch, there was no response. Nada. Nope, the launch driver said when we’d finally flagged him down, he hadn’t heard us at all. We were, electronically speaking, mute.

“Hmmm,” said the maker’s tech support guy next day. “Could be the radio, could be the antenna. Best thing to do is hook up another antenna to it and see if it works. If it doesn’t, send the radio back to us.” So, my next Saturday morning is already mapped out: buy emergency VHF antenna (handy to have anyway), try VHF. I’m hoping the set itself is the problem, because it’s a lot easier to replace that than the antenna. Then there are the other projects to attend to. Sunday, I’ll go sailing. And that’s a promise.

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