Installing LED headlights on a 1967 Mercury Cougar

I like the warm, yellow glow of vintage halogen headlights. Unfortunately, they’re not so great for actually seeing at night. The go-to fix for the past 10 years has been High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlight conversion kits. Of course, these bulbs draw much more power than the originals, which wasn’t great for vintage wiring that was never meant to handle that sort of amp draw in the first place. The solve that issue, it required the installation of a headlight relay and some new wiring to alleviate the load. Otherwise, turning on your brights might result in a fire.

With LED technology becoming so commonplace I figured there had to be a better solution. We converted all the bulbs in our boat to LED years ago. Surprisingly, there still wasn’t a great LED solution being carried by any of the major restoration and parts shops.

Projector LEDs are by far the best option, but most of them are really funky looking. I wanted something that looked as original as possible. My search led me to a site called dapperlighting.com. They have a projector LED headlight called the OE7, which still looks like the vintage 7” glass lights used on Mustangs, but it has a projector housing inside with an LED bulb. Unfortunately, my 1967 Mercury Cougar has four 5.75” headlights.

Dapper Lighting also sells an array of 5.75” lights with various halos, colors, and even options to make them change colors and work as turn signals, etc. It’s neat tech, but it’s not what I needed at all. My headlights don’t even show unless they’re turned on, so having halos that come on with the parking lights or turn signals built into them would be a complete waste of money.

My search moved on to eBay. I found a vendor called Stark Lighting that was selling stock looking 5.75” glass bulb housing with an H4 bulb socket on the back paired with LED bulbs. It was a plug and play solution, but I was hesitant to purchase them. Being a non-projector bulb and housing, I was really worried about the glare. I can’t stand those cars on the road that put the HID bulbs in a housing that was never meant for them and blind everyone on the freeway.

After much debate and a drive home from the grocery store during which I couldn’t tell if my headlights were turned on or not, I finally decided to give them a try.

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While the Stark Lighting eBay listings proudly display the Sylvania logo, there was not any sort of logo to be found on any of their packaging.

The housings are real glass, but they don’t have the same concave surface as the stock lights.

The bulbs have a large heatsink and fan on the back. I have my questions regarding the longevity of those little fans, but we’ll see.

The metal retaining rings took some finagling to seat over the H4 housings, but there were no issues with the bulbs protruding out of the back. There was plenty of clearance for everything. All four bulbs have high- and low-beam capability, so you just leave the center blade exposed when you press the connections together on the high-beam only plugs.

The result was a stock looking headlight with a very white light.

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I drove the car around for a weekend with stock headlights on the driver side and LED headlights on the passenger side. There was a dramatic difference.

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I could see much further down the road with the LEDs.

I was hoping that after the conversion I would be able to just change the bulbs from the rear of the housing instead of removing the entire housing, but there is a retainer clip over the bulb that can’t be opened with the housing installed in the car.

I don’t feel like these lights cause crazy glare for oncoming drivers, but I aimed them down more than what the manual specifies just in case.

Now even in a well-lit parking lot at night, I can still tell my headlights are on when I pull the switch. This has definitely been one of the best modifications I’ve made to the car.

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Tips & Tricks for Installing a Lokar AOD Transmission TV Cable Kit

The 1967 Mercury Cougar project came with a 1980s Ford AOD transmission. This conversion is a nice upgrade over the original C4 if you plan to do much highway cruising.

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However, the craftmanship of the original conversion left a bit to be desired. The person had used the factory AOD throttle valve (TV) cable, which didn’t really connect correctly to the carburetor. They had also fabricated a cable bracket and spring return that wasn’t holding up too well. I had noticed quite a bit of flex in it, and when I attempted to unbolt it from the intake manifold to investigate, it disintegrated.

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The Lokar TV cable kit for AOD conversions came recommended from several different car magazines and forums online, so I decided to give it a shot. I won’t go into detailed instructions for the installation because there are a couple great videos about that already.

However, I will mention a few problems I encountered during the install and my solutions.

The first thing I did was add a Geometry Corrector to the Holley carburetor. While some people said they connected the Lokar cable directly to the carb with no issues, this piece creates an even pull from idle to WOT.

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Then I tackled the transmission end of the cable. The shift lever went on with no problem, but the cable bracket was a trick. The Lokar kit comes with a longer bolt to replace the original pan bolt. It goes up through the pan and has a nut that goes on the back of it to support the tension.

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On my car there was not enough space between the hole and the wall of the transmission to get the nut threaded onto the end of the bolt. If I had been doing this project with the transmission on a bench, I might have been able to hammer in the housing a little or bend the lip down a little to create enough clearance, but neither of those things were going to happen in the car. Instead I grabbed the dremel and shaved down the back edge of the nut.

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With the flat side against the transmission case, I was just able to get it to thread. That stupid nut was the hardest part of the project.

Once I had the transmission end put together, I tackled the spring return bracket on the carburetor.

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The Lokar bracket that comes with the kit is really engineered for a throttle cable, so I had to adjust the bracket all the way in towards the carburetor, and it still barely has clearance for the throttle rod. However, the rod has full travel and the bracket isn’t causing any binding, so although I’d like a little more space, it seems ok. In the photo above you can see the Lokar adjuster tool that comes with the kit on the cable between the snap connector and the stop adjuster.

Strange fact, the allen wrench sent in the Lokar cable kit did not actually fit the set screw in the stop adjuster. I had to dig one out of my toolbox. Not sure how Lokar let that issue sneak past QA. Not a big deal, but then again, it’s not much of a confidence builder either.

Once the cable and all the brackets were installed, I screwed the pressure gauge into the TV test port on the passenger side of transmission and started the car up to set the TV cable tension.

With the car in neutral and absolutely no pressure on the cable, I was still getting 40 psi on the gauge. After several google searches and various tests, I finally pressed my finger against the shift lever and found it moved just the slightest bit. The gauge instantly dropped to 0. I let my finger off, and the lever slowly moved back out a few millimeters and the pressure came back up to 30 psi.

I have no idea why the lever wants to move by itself. This was not really discussed anywhere in any of the instructions. However, on some forums people had claimed that the Lokar cable spring wasn’t heavy enough to return their transmission to neutral while others defended it as being great. It definitely wasn’t strong enough for my transmission. I fabricated a little bracket and hung another return spring on the system, and suddenly, all my pressure readings were exactly where they were supposed to be.

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I used vice grips to hold tension on the cable and tighten the set screw with the Lokar spacer in place to 35 psi.

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Then as soon as I pulled the spacer, the cable would snap back and the pressure would drop to 0 psi.

As soon as I removed the pressure gauge I took it for a test drive, and the shifts were much smoother and not as late as before.

One step closer to being on the road.

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Does your boat have eyebrows?

I’ve never really understood having eyebrow rails on boats. Does it make them more expressive? Ours just seemed to catch dirt then get broken when people slid off the cabin top and caught their feet on them.

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Within weeks of buying Gimme Shelter, a section of our starboard eyebrow rail had snapped off. Then another and another. By the time we rang in 2017, we were missing several sections of the trim on both sides of the boat.

Since O’day has been out of business for decades, there were no readily available replacement eyebrow rails. I had a discolored strip of gel coat with exposed screws sticking out that needed to be addressed.

From the beginning I knew I didn’t want to use screws to install the replacement. I looked into buying teak boards and cutting my own, but it was expensive, and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I looked into PlasDeck and NuTeak to see if they could replicate the originals for me, but they said they would have to make the rails wider and the plastic would require screws because an adhesive wouldn’t stick to it. I even thought about skipping the teak altogether and just putting a blue pinstripe on the cabin to cover up the stain.

It was by pure coincidence that the local boaters resale shop happened to have a set of never-installed eyebrow rails for a Catalina 34 for $99. (They’re $203 from CatalinaDirect.com.) The O’day rails were 14’4″ while the Catalina rails are only 14′, but they were pretty similar.

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I removed all the screws, filled the holes with epoxy, and stuck the new eyebrow rails on with 3M emblem adhesive — the same stuff I used to replace the fixed ports.

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The entire project was painless, which was such a relief after the nightmare of our heat exchanger replacement.

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The only downside was that the new eyebrow rails made our hand rails and toe rails look terrible. We spent the entire next day sanding them down and oiling them to make them match.

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Gimme Shelter is looking great.

Chasing leaks

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I was in my favorite seat in the boat when I thought I felt something on my head. I looked up just in time to feel a very cold drip down my neck.

Last year we had replaced the two large cabin windows, but it was time to chase leaks again. This time we had water coming through the handrails on the ceiling, so we swore we’d actually commit a nice weekend or two for repairs rather than just sailing around while our boat continued to leak.

I wasn’t excited about dealing with all the wood plugs that were hiding the screws, but there was nothing to do except start drilling.

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Our rails were through-bolted from the inside of the cabin to the rails on the cabin top with the screw heads inside and the nuts outside.

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Unfortunately after 35 years, most of these screws didn’t want to budge. We managed to break about half of them loose, but then I had to deal with the tedious process of drilling the heads of the other half.

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After much longer than expected, we finally managed to get the rails loose.

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I made a trip to West Marine for new hardware, but of course the screws weren’t a standard length, so I had to buy longer ones. Meanwhile Mary was sanding the rails to clean them up. When I got back we gooped up the holes and started bolting everything back together.

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In retrospect I wish I had taken the time to paint the black spacers while the rail was off, but it never crossed my mind until we had it back on the boat.

The interior rails had the screw heads, so it was easy to get those holes plugged and leveled. We then rubbed the rail with teak oil, and it was looking pretty good.

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On the exterior I had to grind the extra length off all the screws, which wasn’t as terrible a job as I thought it would be. It took about 30 minutes to get all of the screws cut down. Then I started tapping in plugs.

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This was my first time to use plugs, so it wasn’t a flawless operation. I chiseled them down and then sanded them level, but I had two or three that split wrong or came apart and had to be redone.

Finally, I got it all sanded smooth and added another layer of teak oil.

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You would think that would have been enough leak fixing for the year, but we also finally tackled the broken opening port in the V-berth. When we bought the boat fit came with a tupperware container under that window to catch the water. A year ago we bought a replacement window. I guess after four years it was finally time to do something about it.

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The new window was the same size, but the interior screw holes weren’t in the same places, and the exterior trim had no holes at all.

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There was a long debate whether or not to drill holes in the new trim to make it match the old trim rings, but it was finally decided to mount it with sealant only the way we had mounted the fixed ports. If we really need it to match we can always glue screw heads on the trim.

On top of all that work, Mary also sanded and oiled the companionway as a bonus project.

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The good news is we’ve got no leaks from the re-bedded rails or the new window.

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The bad news is that our mast is leaking again. Guess we’ll tackle that next year because I need to do some sailing.

 

 

 

Group Projects aka the Weekend of Hell

Last weekend many of our boat neighbors were able to make it down to the marina. We had exciting dreams of anchoring out at Redfish Island or chilling at the pool all day. Unfortunately nobody’s boat was really in sailing condition. Our boat needed to have the new dodger fitted and installed, and the new sunbrella on the jib needed to be unstitched, flattened, and then restitched. Folie a Deux was still sans rudder after an unfortunate trip back from Offats Bayou and needed their bimini altered and restitched.Meanwhile Celtic Cross aka “Big Nasty” was in the middle of a windlass replacement and needed to remove and replace several hundred pounds of chain. We gave up our dreams of having fun and decided to tackle these projects as a team.

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First we set my sewing machine up on the dock and proceeded to fit the dodger onto the boat. It has some handles that go into both bars of the frame that are a bit difficult to get on, but with one person pulling on each bow I was able to poke a couple holes in the canvas and stick the handles on. Maybe there is one extra hole in the side of the brand new dodger from a miscommunication, but it’s barely noticeable …

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The biggest setback came when we tried to cinch the dodger into place with the decades old straps, which immediately snapped in half. Fred went and bought new strap material, and I re-used the buckles to make new ones —  not too bad.

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So then the guys took the jib down for me and Jen to work on while they headed over to Folie a Deux to assess the rudder situation. The screws holding the lower gudgeon had sheared off during TJ’s last voyage, which left him with no steering in the middle of Galveston Bay.

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The replacement gudgeon had to be special ordered from DRMarine. Fred distinctly said, “Do you want to tie a string to that?” as they started the project. Another neighbor, the captain of Ketchup, confidently said, “Nah, I’m not going to drop it.”

Three minutes later everyone was changing into their swimsuits. Thankfully Fred is trained, and well practiced in rescuing things from disgusting marina mud. He tried to explain to everyone how to perform a “lost bathers drill.”

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Then he dove in and found it first try.

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Unfortunately that was just the first of a chain of destructive events. Once the screws and holes were properly sized for the gudgeon, TJ climbed down into the lazarette to secure the nuts from inside the boat. However, he somehow managed to stand on exposed battery connection terminals for quite a lengthy time without noticing until smoke was coming up out of the boat. The cables ended up welded to each other, and the battery terminal completely melted off the battery!

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With the project nearing completion, the guys only needed to set the rudder pintles back into the gudgeons. Unfortunately, as TJ was leaning over the back of the boat while holding the rudder, he put his knee on the gas tank. Suddenly there was a loud crack, and the smell of gasoline filled the air.

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The cracks were in the top of the extremely full tank, so it wasn’t leaking unless anyone tried to move it. However, the rudder was in place and with that project more or less stable, the guys decided to call it a day.  We cooled off in the pool, then decided to head across the lake via dinghy for dinner.

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Kelly and Jen were smart enough to do all the projects on Celtic Cross without any help from the rest of us — they went off without a hitch.

Sunday morning we reinstalled the jib on Gimme Shelter, which is now flat with no bunching in the sunbrella stitching. However, the wind was so strong I thought it was going to flap me to death as we raised it.

Then Fred helped TJ put the adjusted bimini back up on Folie a Deaux, replace the battery, and move all the gasoline into a new tank without creating an environmental disaster — although Fred did destroy a handheld pump during the process.

By Sunday night, everyone was exhausted and completely fed up with boat projects. However, they were completed, and we’re all ready to set sail!

A Sacrifice to the Sun god – replacing the Sunbrella on our jib

Since I have been exiled to life indoors while my face heals up, I’ve decided to put the time to good use and work on finishing our Sunbrella transformation.  So far we’ve replaced the sail cover, the bimini, and all of the small canvas items on the boat with new marine blue Sunbrella.   Only the jib Sunbrella and the dodger remain a moldy pacific blue.

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Sailrite has an excellent video describing the step-by-step process of adding sunbrella to your jib, but I wanted to add some little tricks I found along the way as well.

The first thing we did was spend several DAYS, not hours, removing the old sunbrella.   After breaking my seam ripper I got frustrated and googled “best seam ripper ever.”  This is when I learned that for ripping seams on heavy canvas an X-Acto knife works wonders.  This really sped up the process for us.

Once I had removed all the old Sunbrella, I started to cut the new panels of Sunbrella with a hot knife to prevent fraying.  I didn’t want to spend the extra money on the Sailrite hot knife, but I found this one at Hobby Lobby that worked very well. It also doubles as a wood and leather burner, and it has all kinds of stamp type attachments.  Pretty cool.  After using my coupon, it was only $13.

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If you’re installing panels onto a new sail, see the Sailrite video for exact measurements of panels, but if you’re re-covering a sail, it’s easier to use the old panels as a pattern.

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We set my sewing machine on the floor to keep the sail flat. This is really important when it comes to connecting the panels together.  There were a couple areas along the foot, where towards the end of the project I got tired and sloppy.  Just a small mistake can make for some very obvious bunching when the sail is up.  Next weekend I will be taking it all back down, seem ripping those seems and flattening it out.

If I was to do it again I would have done a lot more pinning.

All in all the finished product is not too bad.  It needs a bit of adjusting, like all of my projects so far, but at least it matches the rest of the canvas.

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Just for reference, the estimated cost for this project from one of our local sail lofts was $650. Although we did have to spend every evening for a week ripping stitches, our total out-of-pocket cost for the project was under $200.

Involuntary boat repairs are the worst

I really enjoy boat projects — when it’s a nice update or upgrade that I chose to undertake. I just don’t have the same enthusiasm for the inconvenient, unplanned projects that seem to be popping up on a weekly basis.

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Last Saturday we arrived to find a flooded bilge thanks to a dead float switch. We also discovered that there is an air leak in the manual bilge pump line, so we had to resort to the old cup-to-bucket-to-overboard method of emptying the bilge. I spliced in a new switch. Not especially fun, but an easy fix.The manual bilge pump is still on the to-do list.

This weekend we arrived and kicked on the air-conditioning to get nothing but a small trickle of water coming out of the through-hull. It was running, but just barely.

I went to work checking the strainer and cleaning the raw water system. As I checked each connection I noticed a drip of water coming from the connector on the bottom of the pump. The plastic hose barb that screws onto the pump had split. I removed it and sent Mary to the store to match it while I continued to clean the system. Unfortunately, no place open late Saturday evening had a match. Mary returned with a Frankenstein of adapters from Home Depot. Thankfully there was just enough clearance to get the longer adapter on, and it held pressure. However, I could not get the system to prime.

I made one last ditch attempt to get it running by sticking the shop vac on the through-hull to suck the water up through the system. It actually worked! After sweating completely through our clothes for two hours, we were back in business with a nice, strong water flow and the vents blowing cold air.

Sunday I finally tackled our house battery situation. I’m not sure if we have a bad cell or if our batteries have just gotten old and unhealthy, but while they will power everything for a 4 – 6 hour day sail around the bay, they can’t keep the refrigerator and anchor light on overnight. A while back our friend Rene donated two NAPA Commercial Heavy Duty batteries to us, but I just haven’t been in any hurry to pull 60 pounds batteries in and out of the engine bay.

With the Harvest Moon Regatta approaching, I finally decided to make the battery swap. If the free batteries get us up to 24-hours of sailing time on the house bank, we’ll attempt it this year. If not, we’re going to have to pass for budget reasons.

I was dreading the actual physical battery swap which would require lying on my back and lifting out the old batteries, then lowering in the new batteries. While it wasn’t pleasant, that ended up being the easiest part of the project.

The new batteries were larger, so the old #2 cables to connect them to each other were not long enough. Then I had three cables made for batteries with posts instead of screw terminals. Then none of my old wires with screw terminal connection rings were large enough to fit over the new, beefier screw terminal posts. I spent quite a long time re-sorting cables and replacing the ends of them.

We made a run to West Marine for some #2 cable and terminal rings. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask anyone how I was supposed to crimp on the new terminals. All the tools on the boat proved woefully inadequate.

Mary made a trip to Home Depot while I worked on other things and came back with the heaviest duty crimpers they had, which were still far too small. We then made another trip to return them and tried O’Reillys. They had pre-made #4 battery cables in various lengths, but no crimper. We called our diesel mechanic friend, who showed up with clamp on post terminals. He just shook his head when he saw what we really needed crimped. He referred us to Blackburns, which unfortunately was closed.

In a last ditch effort, Mary called West Marine again, where we’d already been twice that day, to see if they had crimpers. They said they didn’t have one for sale, but they had one we could use, so we packed all the cables and connections into a bag, and made our third stop there.

The guy at the customer service desk led us to aisle 1 where there was a huge crimper bolted to a table. He said the staff was not allowed to crimp cables for us due to liability reasons, but we were welcome to crimp away.

Five minutes later we were headed back to the boat, and 15 minutes later I finally had everything reconnected and running.

I won’t know until next weekend whether or not our battery situation is really resolved, but I’m crossing my fingers we won’t have any more surprise projects this year.

 

Installing new acrylic fixed ports

I finally tackled the leaking fixed ports this weekend. Removing the old leaking windows took much more effort than I had anticipated, but other than that, the entire project went well, and I managed not to stain the deck with too much black Dow Corning sealant.

Step 1: Remove old fixed ports.

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The screws came out easy, but the sealant did not want to let go. As you can see, I didn’t manage to get either window off in one piece. Note that the factory method for mounting these windows required painting the edges and the center black, so that you couldn’t see the sealant through the window. However, that means you’re now bonding to the paint instead of the acrylic, so we decided not to do the painting. We also decided not to use screws.

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The center sections were completely coated in sealant. While this made the old windows ridiculously hard to get off, it did nothing to actually keep them from leaking.

Step 2: Scrape and clean the mounting surface.

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Step 3: Apply 3M mounting tape

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Step 4: Level the new plexiglass window and pop it on the mounting tape.

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Step 5: Mask around the freshly mounted fixed port.

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Step 6: Goop it up with Dow Corning 795.

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Step 7: Smooth the sealant into all the cracks, wipe up the excess, and then pull the tape and peel the paper off the plexiglass.

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Step 8: Admire your new fixed ports that no longer leak when it rains.

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Removing the radar tower

After literally YEARS of deliberation, we finally decided to remove the radar tower from the cockpit of Gimme Shelter. The aged JRC Radar 1000 still worked but was hard to read, and the tower support poles caused a major complication when it came to designing a new bimini.

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The entire process was relatively painless. I had to clip the plugs off the ends of the cables to slide them down through the helm, but once they were clear, I was able to just unbolt and lift out the pole.

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Then I had to mix up some thickened epoxy to fill the holes.

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I was extra careful to mask around the holes after I got in trouble for dripping epoxy on the gel coat while replacing the winches.

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The only tricky part was bending my arm down through a hole and back up into the transom to tape up the bottom of the big hole, but even that worked out.

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Next weekend I’ll have to add just a little more epoxy to the big hole to build it up even with the rest of the stern. Then we can sand everything smooth and gel coat back over the repairs.

When the budget allows we may eventually add a Garmin radar, but if we do we’ll use a self-leveling backstay mount that won’t take up a bunch of space. In the meantime, the cockpit is now clear for our new bimini project!

When did you last inspect your rigging?

We had several blocks and lines meet the end of their useful lives during this year’s Icicle Series, but it wasn’t until we finished race four that someone on my crew said, “Hey your forestay pin is really bent.

Sure enough, the furler and the forestay had loaded up the pin that held it all together and put a nice curve in it. There was no pulling it out.

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Since I know very little about rigging, I consulted our friend Alex over at Bahama Rigging as to why the pin bent and the best course of action to take, so that it doesn’t happen again.

He suggested adding a toggle and re-tensioning the forestay. Then if there was still a little bit of slack, he could adjust the backstay. It might rake the mast back an inch or so, but it was the most inexpensive option.

Normally I do all the boat work, but we had a huge crew of people coming to sail with us the next weekend, so I let Bahama Rigging have at it.

Apparently cutting out the forestay pin and adding the toggle wasn’t too bad. However, the backstay adjuster was completely frozen. It also had to be cut out. Then the backstay had to be re-swaged with all new hardware.

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Lesson learned: Always check and lubricate your standing rigging!

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But we now have a beefier pin in the bow as well as the correct toggle below the furler.

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And the backstay is once again adjustable.

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I made sure to clean and adjust all the shrouds before we went home. I prefer to keep the mast in an upright position.