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.

Batteries

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.

 

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What does it cost to replace the mainsail?

Gimme Shelter is a 1982 O’day, and she still has her original mainsail. Yes, our main is 33 years old and so baggy that you could probably cut a storm jib out of it, re-stitch, and never even notice the material was gone.

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Unfortunately there is no cheap way to replace a sail. Sure, you can scour eBay and resale shops for used sails approximately the same size that might be in slightly better condition, but you’re still going to spend several hundred dollars and wind up in the same boat as you were before (both literally and metaphorically).

Therefore, I’ve begun the quest for Mary’s Christmas present by contacting several sail lofts in the area and overseas. Locally I contacted North Sails, Quest Sails, and Banks Sails. We know at least one person who has had sails made by each of those shops. Nobody gave any of them absolutely glowing reviews, but nobody gave them poor reviews. It was generally something like, “Well, I wanted local support and service, so I went with X, but they measured the Y wrong the first time, but they fixed it, and it turned out really nice in the end. I’d use them again.”

Yes, we heard tales of both a strong track being mis-measured by one company and a sail cover being mis-measured by another company. Both companies fixed the issues, but on the sail cover you can definitely see where it originally ended, then they stitched on another 18″ of fabric to make it reach the end of the boom.

To give you perspective of the sail size versus cost, our current sail has a 37’4″ luff, 11’6″ foot and a 39′ leech. A quote request was made to six different sail lofts with the following specs:

  • A new cruising mainsail for an O’day 34
  • P (height of mast from boom) = 38′
  • E (length of boom) = 11.75′
  • 2 reef points
  • Bolt rope foot
  • Logo
  • Sail numbers

Here are the results we got from the local lofts:

Quantum Sails (10% seasonal discount) $2,037.09

Construction: Designed using Quantum’s, iQ suite of computational tools, constructed from Charter 7.0 CC woven polyester. Cross Cut panels are laser cut, and assembled with oversized, tear drop shaped corner and reef patches, wide seams with triple throw stitching, extra layering and extensive reinforcement of high load areas throughout, with multiple webbing straps, stainless steel rings or Rutgerson press rings at head, tack, clew and reefs.

Includes: Hand sewn luff and foot hardware, spreader patches, pre-stretch or high modulus leech and foot cords with cleats and purchase systems as necessary, telltales, draft stripes, cunningham, sail ties, drawstring sailbag, 1 Full, 3 Mid Batten Pockets, RBS Epoxy 15mm Battens, Reefs (2), 2 insignias, 4 sail numbers

North Sails (unspecified seasonal discount) $2,170

2 standard reefs, 1 full batten, 3 leech battens, cunningham, integral foot skirt, insiginia

Banks Sails $2,230 – $2,685

We’d like to thank you for the opportunity to build a new mainsail for your O’Day 34. Our Cruisemate Plus would be great performing sail for your boat. Your sail would be constructed from Dimension Polyant’s OC, CB or AP cloth. This is a superior woven Dacron material that surpasses the longevity and performance of other cloth manufactures. The biggest difference between them is that the AP has more of a UV inhibitor (like sunscreen) to help it last longer, a slightly tighter weave and the highest quality yarns available on the Market. Dimension’s QA procedures grade their yarns in 3 categories (A, B & C). ‘A’ yarns are used in the warp and fill of the AP cloth. Our prices also include custom measurement and design to provide a guaranteed fit to your boat. Additionally, unlike other lofts, you would be welcome to stop by during construction and see your sails being put together. Also, if you have any specific thoughts about the design of your sails you can talk/visit with Trent, our designer, to have input on the sail design to get the exact performance that you desire. Also removal/disposal of your old sails and installation of your new ones are included as well. We are the only loft in the area doing 100% of the work right here in Kemah!

  • Cruisemate Plus Main Sail: Crosscut Cost
  • Mainsail @ 257 sq/ft, 4 Full Battens, and 2 Reef Points
  • 308 OC Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Standard) $2,230.00
  • 301 CB Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Upgrade) $2,415.00
  • 280 AP Cloth @ 6.5 oz (Superior) $2,685.00

Here are the responses from the overseas sailmakers:

Rolly Tasker  $1,570

Standard Mainsail Coastal Cruising                                                   US$

  • 7 oz US Dacron Crosscut                                           1,168.00
  • Luff 38:  Foot 11.75:  Area 250 sq ft 
  • 2 reefs                                                                            180.00
  • Logo (both sides)                                                             60.00
  • 4 numbers both sides                                                       48.00
  • 1 sail UPS door to door USA                                          114.00

Hyde Sails Direct $1,313 – $2,915

Note: The Hyde website has a huge database of vessels, and you can just choose your boat model and then spend hours selecting fabrics and adding all the bells and whistles to your sail. The breakout below was the the Cruising Mainsail (Challenge Hi Modulus Dacron) option with full battens.
Sail Cloth: Challenge Hi Modulus HA 7.3 Dacron
Design: Crosscut
Wind Range: Usually under 20 knots, occasionally to 25
Reefs: 2
Batten Type: Tapered Fiberglass
Battens: 4 full battens
Trim Stripes: Yes
Free Shipping
$1,628.00

Then there was the Do-It-Yourself option. We also got a quote from SailRite for a mainsail kit.

SailRite (10% custom discount) $1,126.48

Obviously the big catch to this option is that Mary would have to sew it together, which means purchasing a much heavier duty sewing machine. I’m not going to make her assemble her own Christmas present, but it is worth noting that if you wanted to make your own sails, the cost of the mainsail kit and a SailRite sewing machine is about the same as having your sails made by a local loft — but when you’re finished you still have a SailRite machine for the rest of your projects.

O’Day 34 Main Kit, 8.4oz SC Dacron, crosscut, two rows of reef points, 2+2 full battens, RBS tapered E-glass batten set, leechline, boltrope on luff and foot, slugs on luff, outhaul slug at clew, P 38’, E 11.75’
Subtotal $1,225, Custom Discount -$122.50, Shipping (UPS Ground) $23.98

As you can see, the difference in price between our local lofts is negligible, $2037 – $2,230. Yes, Banks came in highest, but they bid 4 full battens while the others bid 1 full, 3 leech battens. All of them offer a 1 year warranty on their sails.

However, the mail-order sails do create significant savings — they’re almost as cheap as a SailRite kit. The scary part with the overseas sail lofts is that if it doesn’t fit correctly, I could be looking at hundreds of dollars spent and weeks of waiting to ship it back to them for alterations. On the other hand, if the mail-order sails do fit, we’d have enough money left over for solar panels or a nice chunk of change to put towards upgrading the autopilot. Is it worth the gamble?

I’m continuing my research. I have to decide by Friday if I want 4 full battens, 2 full battens and 2 leech battens, or 1 full batten and 3 leech battens. Then I have to pick a sail loft and pull the trigger.

What would you do?

Repairing a cabin dome light with LEDs

I think we can all agree that the easiest way to convert your boat lights to LED is to just stick one of these adapter bulbs in the socket.

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However, not long after a recent “conversion” one of my dome lights quit again. I pulled out the multi-meter to see if I was getting power to the socket, and I found this.

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One of the contacts was missing. After 33 years the spring-loaded plastic bottom of the socket had become too brittle and finally snapped. While my dome lights aren’t particularly pretty, they at least all match. I was faced with either repairing this one or replacing it with a new style light that wouldn’t look like the others and would require me to drill new mounting holes.

Instead of replacing the socket I decided to just wire an array of LEDs to the switch. Since I wanted it done that afternoon, my only option was West Marine.

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The Dr. LED dome light conversion kit came with two sets of pigtails, one with bare wires on the ends and the other with a double bayonet connector. That seemed a bit unnecessary because anyone attempting this who didn’t need the bayonet could have just clipped it off and used the wires, but I guess they have to justify charging $30 for LEDs somehow.

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I turned off the 12-volt power, removed the light fixture from the ceiling, clipped the old wires, and removed the broken socket.

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Yep, it’s still broken.

I then connected the positive leads to the switch and the negative lead to ground. Then I plugged the pigtail into the LED array.

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Time to turn the 12 volt breaker back on and test the setup.

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The LED Conversion kit comes with two pieces of double-sided foam tape to stick the array into the dome. I only used one. I guess the other one is there in case you mess up.

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Then I just had to re-attach the lens and screw the fixture back into the cabin top.

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Theoretically I should never have to mess with this light again. I’ll let you know how it works out.

The easiest way to climb the mast ( … so far)

Last weekend I installed my NMEA 2000 backbone, so this weekend I really wanted to get my new wind instrument mounted at the top of the mast. After trying several methods over the past five years, this is the easiest mast-climbing method I’ve found if your mast didn’t come equipped with steps. (Well, not as easy as just sitting in the bosun chair and getting cranked up by someone else, but when you have to climb alone or don’t have someone strong enough to crank you up, that’s not an option.)

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First off, I have no affiliation with MastMate. I actually bought mine second hand from a guy in the Clear Lake Racing Association. It’s basically just a long piece of heavy duty nylon with triangles of nylon sewed onto each side and cars for the mast track sewn on one edge of it. It’s coils up nice and flat for storage.

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To use it I have to remove the sail cars from the mast track. Then I release the topping lift and lower the end of the boom to the deck.

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We only have two halyards, the main and the jib. The jib halyard is always in service holding up the roller furling, so I use the main halyard to raise the MastMate, and I use the topping lift as a safety line tied to my harness.

MastMate04

The main halyard attaches to the grommets at the top of the MastMate, and you feed the cars into the track as you raise it. If the wind is blowing hard one way or the other, you might have to tuck the steps on that side under, so they don’t get stuck in the lazy jacks or standing rigging as you pull it up. Once you get it to the top of the track, you just cleat it off.

MastMate05

With only about 10 minutes of work, you’ve got your own stairway to heaven.

Going up and down is all leg work as you keep your arms around the mast and just move from step to step as if you were climbing a ladder.

It’s still advantageous to tie off at the top, both for safety, and because you can sit down in your harness to work instead of having to stand and balance the entire time.

What’s your preferred way to climb the mast?

Winch replacement progress and roadblocks

Well, after sitting in the rain all weekend waiting for a chance to work on the boat, I finally made some progress on the winch replacement this morning. A star-headed screwdriver and vice grips finally gave me enough torque to break the set screw.

I wish I meant break it loose. Unfortunately I mean I broke the head off of it.

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Once the head of the bolt snapped, the Barlow 25 came apart quite easily. Mary worked the deck side of the screws while I went below with a ratchet, and we had it removed pretty quickly.

Instead of fighting the set screw in the port winch I decided to try removing the nuts from the bottom first. Magically, I was able to get all five off, so the port winch is still intact, but not serviceable. I think I’m going to have to spend a couple hours this week drilling out the set screws and re-threading the center of both winches, so we can sell them.

Meanwhile, I began filling the old winch holes in the deck and patching some of the cracks with thickened epoxy.

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I thought I’d actually finish this project today, but then I ran into the next big hurdle. Our replacement winches are vintage Lewmar 44st spring jaw winches with six allen bolts on top. I just assumed that when I removed the six allen bolts, the winch would come apart. Wrong.

winch-question

I’m stumped. I searched the internet for a diagram or service manual with no luck. I also posted on cruiserforum.com looking for help, and nobody has responded yet. Until I can figure out how to take these winches apart to drill new holes and bolt them to the deck, I’m stuck.

Anybody have an idea?

Update: Lewmar sent me the answer, and it involves a rubber mallet. I will post the instructions soon.

Putting LEDs to the test: Dr. LED vs HQRP-USA

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After giving in a buying a $35 Dr. LED replacement bulb at West Marine a few weeks ago, I was on the lookout for a more affordable LED option. Enter eBay seller HQRP-USA: http://stores.ebay.com/hqrpusa

HQRP was offering very similar LED bulbs, but at $9 a piece, or 4 for $35. While still not as affordable as incandescent bulbs, I found that price much more appealing, so I placed an order for one.

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Pictured above is the Dr. LED bulb, left, with the equivalent HQRP bulb. Dr. LED has 4 rows of 3 LEDs and 1 LED on the end. HQRP has 6 rows of 3 LEDs and 6 LEDs on the end. If you’re not a fan of math, that’s 11 more LEDs packed onto each bulb.

The Dr. LED bulb is 2 watt with a .18 amp draw. The HQRP bulb is 2.5 watt with a .3 amp draw.

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Like the Dr. LED bulb, the HQRP bulb showed good quality control and soldering, and all of the LEDs lit up when it was plugged in. And just like the Dr. LED bulb, the HQRP bulb put off plenty of light. Could I tell if those extra 11 LEDs made it any brighter than the Dr. LED bulb? Nope.

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Having put the HQRP bulb into the head’s dome light for the comparison test, I now had the Dr. LED light in my hand and the freedom to go change another light in the boat. That’s where I ran into some trouble.

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My light fixtures in the salon are slightly different than the one in the head, and the big ring at the base of the Dr. LED bulb did not have enough clearance. It would go into the socket, but there was a noticeable amount of tension on the bulb where it was pressing against the fixture. I was actually worried it would break the bulb if I left it in there. The Dr. LED bulb had clearance issues on all three of my salon dome lights.

Meanwhile, as I was distracted with taking apart every light in the cabin, this guy was suddenly on the table and sneaking towards the last piece of baclava.

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After reassuring Tex that while I was enthralled with the light fixtures, I was not unaware of his activities, he went back to sleeping in the blankets, and I put the Dr. LED bulb back in the head and moved the HQRP bulb into the salon.

While the diameter of the two bulbs was the same, the HQRP bulb fit better, but it had some minor clearance issues as well.

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Maybe there’s just not a way to manufacture a taper into shape of these replacement bulbs, but if I was designing them, I would lengthen the plug portion of the bulb by 2 or 3 millimeters to fix the clearance issues.

I think we’re going to order another half dozen bulbs from HQRP-USA to finish switching all of our lights to LEDs, but if you know of another good supplier that’s even cheaper, please write us and let us know.