Laughing at Disaster

“Go simple and go soon” is the ancient sailor’s adage espoused by Shane Acton who became famous after his 1972 – 1978 circumnavigation in an 18-foot wooden sailboat. He had limited experience, few resources, and jerry-rigged equipment. He also had determination. With this humble toolbox, he arrived home a hero who had a world record (and a 20-something Swedish girlfriend). In short, he became the role model for many future sailors.

Project Chaos

When we purchased Caprica, the boat was in excellent shape and far exceeded the humble backyard woodshop craftsmanship of Shane Action’s boat “Shrimpy.” We blasted our budget on 200 feet of chain and a Rocna anchor which expressed our dedication and desire to make it to our summer destination: Belfast, Maine. Our good friend “The Rayman” volunteered to head north with us. Over our brief preparation period, we loaded Caprica with 70 days worth of food, supplies, provisions, spare parts, and rum to sustain us throughout our big adventure. We ran new running rigging, installed LED lights and new batteries, changed fluids and completed an assortment of maintenance related tasks. Before we knew it, Caprica was underway in mid-June, and I was standing watch in the ever-darkening Atlantic.

Lights appeared on the horizon, like floating cities shimmering at the edge of our world. Without radar, it was next to impossible to determine what those lights were. I knew they were boats of some nature, but were they fishing trawlers or freighters? What direction are they traveling and at what speed? We spent our nights on constant lookout and under constant stress of those questions. Freighters usually appear as dim lights, but the fishing vessels have deck lights that outshine their faint navigation lights. To complicate matters, the trawlers make large sweeping turns while they tow huge lengths of netting behind them. Radio calls we make usually go unanswered, and so we are often left to wonder and prepare to occasionally dodge a blue water bullet.

Then there’s fog – the type described in a spooky Stephen King novel. Unrelenting and omnipresent, it appears without warning and defies every forecast. Large sport fishing vessels, ferries, and the occasional pirate-looking ships have suddenly appeared just off Caprica’s bow in pea soup thick fog. On our way south through the Gulf of Maine, we sat for half a day outside of a set of shipping lanes waiting for the weather to clear. I was unwilling to cross the channels in zero visibility, so we sat and waited as the lines creaked and the boat gently swayed in the calm sea as I carefully scanned my horizon for boat wakes or hazy ship silhouettes. These stressful periods are when I lament the issues we face by not having radar. We are literally a sitting duck in a foggy pond populated with fast moving sharks.

So this year when had a sale, and I had a credit card, Alison said: “Do it!” The girls headed north to Michigan for visits with family and friends, and I hauled Caprica to undertake a week’s worth of maintenance, improvements, and (drumroll, please…) radar installation. This is our division of labor. Alison takes the girl away for a week so that I can complete repairs and upgrades. The goal is to have the boat back together by the time Alison and Eleanor returns. She enters our home tired from a long week, and I try to justify my failure to accompany her with photographic evidence of my work.

New Spoiler and Radar

During our last spring break (2017), we hauled the boat in our cove, and I spent a week under the keel with a grinder. When we purchased Caprica, her keel was deeply pitted from electrolysis. The workers at the brokerage marina removed a motor lift from the starboard stern and in the process, dropped two live 30 amp cables in the water where they remained for over a week. When the original crew of S/V Caprica arrived for the short delivery sail from Deltaville to St. Mary’s, we found the power cords in the water and dragged them out. As the cords came out of the water, they immediately burst into flame. My thought at the time was literally “Houston; we have a problem.” The damage was done. Several of the thru hulls had extensive corrosion, and the epoxy coating on the keel was gone. So I sat under the boat for the better part of that week with a large grinder and a diamond cupped masonry bit. I sat in a hazmat suit, respirator and struggled against the grinder as clouds of rotten metal lifted from the iron keel.

My neighbor delivered several gallons of epoxy free of charge; leftover material from his project. I had never worked with the material, but he assured me it was the best. “It’s what they use to coat oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. I mixed the industrial epoxy in the shade and over two days, applied a thick bulletproof layer of the chemical to my keel, hoping for the best and trusting the word of a fellow liveaboard on a product that I knew little about. I know that hope is not a strategy but the lack of information on the internet about this epoxy gave me faith in the true industrial nature of the compound.

One year later: this spring break I hauled Caprica at a nearby local marina for a brief propeller and zinc job. I sat under her stern, sanding, scraping and painting. Satisfied with the work, I then stood back to admire her graceful curves and strong lines. In the failing light, I saw something unusual sprouting from Caprica’s keel. Small patches of cream yellow epoxy appeared in ever-growing blotches. I stepped closer and saw the chemical adhesion between the epoxy and the bottom paint fail exponentially. The paint dried, curled and flaked off in huge swaths. My liveaboard neighbor was right; this was amazing stuff. I checked my watch and the temperature. It was going to be a long night.

With the shop vac, I simply vacuumed the paint off of the keel. It was amazingly efficient for a process that usually requires a horrendous amount of sanding. With a roll of duct tape and a few drop cloths, I tented her hull and began the epoxy prep. It was a night of sanding, applications of primer and heavy duty epoxy based paint complete with 45% cuprous oxide. The temperature was marginal, but under the tent, things warmed up.

Early in the morning, the makeshift tent came down, and I was satisfied with the results of the night’s work. A few short hours later, Caprica was in her slip, and my next major project was set to begin. Picture me working in the space under your kitchen sink, but there are fuel lines, exhaust hoses, electric motors, a diesel furnace, and power tools. I spent almost two days in an area like that running power, assorted cables and mounting heavy duty backing plates to build my Simrad navigation system. In some instances, I used the camera on my phone to see what my hands were doing in the dark, crowded caverns with wrenches and silicone. My legs burned, my hands shook, and my muscles twitched into rapid-fire cramps from the strange articulations that I forced my body into.

Keel work at the lift

Throughout the process, fellow G Dock citizens arrived with tools, strong backs, expertise, meals, and positive attitudes. Some volunteered days assisting me building the radar arch, shuttling me between marinas while others spent their evening tracing circuits. We laughed at the disaster that I was living in and shared drinks when project milestones were met. We engineered, problem solved and stood in awe and approval under the new arch.

The radar project is now only a few steps from completing, but with an anticipated warm weekend ahead, the probability of success is high. This project would have been impossible without my G Dock friends and family. When people ask me what the Republic of G Dock is like, I have a standard line. The community we are a part of is special. It’s what America was like before air-conditioning and TV.

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