Smogen Boat Prep

There was a lot to do on the boat to get it ready for the trip home.  She hadn’t been out of the water since Turkey.  There were some problems that had developed over the last year or so.  And there were things that needed to be done as she went back into the open ocean — an Atlantic Crossing — for the first time in years.


We left this plastic cap on the boat over the winter.  Our thinking was that we only needed to keep the elements out of the cockpit, and that the rest of the boat wouldn’t mind a little bit of rain and snow.


But we were penny wise and pound foolish.  The cover, which we had already used the previous winter in Orkney, was not up to the task, and shredded in one of the strong winter storms.  The cover was completely removed when Paul got back, and he was able to tape and tie it up so that it provided some shade for the remaining time before we went back in the water.  We’d find out only later the damage that had been done from water egress.

Leander going away for the winter.

We had hit a rock in a French river, and the blow was hard enough to stop Leander in its tracks at about 5 knots.  This is a fuzzy picture, but you can see damage done at the leading bottom edge of the hull — it was not unlike a shark bite.


It repaired nicely.  Paul covered the area with several layers of epoxy, glass, and then barrier paint, to leave a sturdy and smooth repair.


It is necessary to clear calcium buildup from the lines that lead from the head out into the ocean.  Needless to say, it is not a fun job, made all the more challenging by the twits and turns that the hoses take through the hull and bilge.  When Paul took them out, we found that there was some slight deterioration in the lines, and we decided to replace them all with upgraded hose.


It was also necessary to dismantle the head for maintenance and cleaning.


The windless remote had stopped working.  The housing had always been quite beefy, and we were disappointed, when we took the unit apart to diagnose the problem, to find that its guts were not as well made.  The remote was sending the anchor down, but the up button was not working.


Paul took out a multimeter and a magnifying glass to try to isolate the failed segment.  Problem one was the connector itself. One of the wires had become frayed. Paul rebuilt the connector.


The second problem was a tiny, tiny, tiny fitting inside the unit that made a connection between the down button and the unit’s circuitry.  The tip had fallen off, either from repeated use or because a poor connection had caused corrosion.  Paul took a paper clip and flattened it down with a ball peen hammer.  He then soldered the paperclip to the broken part.  The unit was then reassembled and tested.  It worked again, perfectly!!


Paul was lucky to find a good assistant, and friend, with whom to tackle boat projects.  Mahmoud Ramadan was a recent emigre from the Palestinian West Bank.  They went back and forth from English to Swedish, and the days passed quickly.

It was cold in Sweden in May, and often brutal in June, too.


It wasn’t always easy to work outside.  May and June can be cold in Sweden.  A late-season snow/hail storm.  There certainly weren’t any days to lay out in the sun at any time before July.

The work-days in the boat yard were made much more tolerable by the twice-a-day 30-minute “fikas” in the Smogen Varvet offices.

The Swedish word “fika” is typically translated as “a break for coffee and snack,” but it is as much a state-of-mind as it is a thing to drink or eat.  “Fikas” are habitualized rituals in the Swedish culture, enjoyed by the smallest of workshops and the largest of Volvo factories.  There are books written about the practice.

What is the ritual, then, if not just coffee and cake?  Fika is a moment to slow down.  To spend some life-time in the midst of work-time.  The conversation may well focus on some intractible problem that one of us is facing on an engine project.  But more often than that, for us, it is the sharing of stories, or gossip, or plans.  The snack might be a store-bought “Kex,” but sometimes someone would bring in some smoked mackerel or homemade stew.

Those who worked in the boat-yard told me that the tradition was particularly important in the winter, when there would be little more than five hours of daylight, and the cold could bite.  The work-day, then, was not 9-5, but rather 8-10, fika, 10:30-12, lunch, 1-2:30, fika, and then 3-5.


The Smogen Varvet fika room.  Anders Abrahamsson is center, and his brother Stefan is just to the right.  


Mahmoud took on the cleaning of the teak.  To the left is the dirty, mildewy, pre-cleaning state. 

clean prop

Barnacles and other marine growth were stripped from the prop and the zincs were replaced.  


The bottom was cleaned off and new barrier paint (in gray) was applied to spots that looked thin.  


Erik Arkstedt was one of Paul’s high school classmates in the 1980s when Paul was an exchange student on the other Swedish coast, near Stockholm.  Eric came across the country in the fall, to help put the boat away, and then came back again in the late spring to help out once more.  


Paul and one of his very good friends, Erick Arkstedt, after a day of working on the boat to get it ready for the water.  Erik did the round trip from Stockholm to Smogen again to see Paul, and they had a wonderful weekend together.

Paul and Erik underneath Leander on a crisp June day.  

The engine had not been starting properly, and this had been a deteriorating problem for some number of months.  Sometimes the engine would turn over on the first click, but sometimes it would take until the second or third and, then, increasingly, until the 10th or 11th.

The electrical start wiring system runs a circuitous course through the boat, traveling from the two sets of batteries to the electrical panel, through the entire engine, to the dashboard in the cockpit, and through to the solenoid on the engine starter.  Paul had been working on the problem off and on for months.


The problem did not seem to be in the area of either of the two key starts, as the problem arose no matter which of the two key starts were used.  And the back of the dashboard in the cockpit looked pretty good.

The multimeter showed that I had strong current at the site of the starter. And I could start the engine every time if I used a screw driver to jump the solenoid and apply current directly to the engine.  The problem, then, was in the solenoid. I took it apart.


Here at the starter solenoid is definitely a problem.  Notice the burn marks on the face of the connector plate — all those pinkish splotches on what should be a smooth copper-colored surface.


The contacts themselves are equally fried.

I addressed the problem by replacing the starter solenoid with a new one, and cleaning up this one to use as a backup.  But this same problem had developed before, becoming increasingly problematic several years ago when we were in Turkey, at which time the solenoid was again replaced.  What is causing the electrical malfunction here!

I think that what was happening is that each time I started the engine, I was burning the spinning connector plate with one of these splotches.  So in the beginning, if I happened to land on a “splotch,” it wouldn’t turn over. But the next turn would put me on a clean space, and the engine would turn over.  But as I created more and more burns, I was finding fewer places to make a clean connection and, in the end, could not get the engine to start at all.  Replacing the solenoid solved the problem, and the engine was again starting regularly.

But was it not still creating these splotches?  I think that it was, and this underlying problem I have not yet been able to solve.


We had taken some good hull gouges in the Thames and then again in Orkney.  Here is one such gouge in the process of being filled.


The thru-deck fittings are also an annual problem.  Unlike a car, a sailboat and its constituent spars and hardware move and flex.  These are the fittings that go through the hull and hold the bimini in place.  Over the course of a year or two, they flex and bend and, exposed to sunlight and salt water, the calking is eventually compromised.  Water then leaks through the fittings, into the boat below, where it in turn can rot wood or knock out electrical and electronic components.  


The surface of the deck is cleaned, the gaps filled with epoxy putty, and the surface prepared for fittings.


The fittings themselves are cleaned to remove all of the old caulking.   


The fittings are then replaced, and tightened up with nuts that attach from below.  Copious amounts of calking are applied to seal the surfaces.  The excess was later removed.


The pedestal was also in rough shape, and sea water that made its way into the cockpit would sometimes leak down into the engine room.  The pedestal, the guard, and protective feet were removed and the base loosened and cleaned.  The area was then re-caulked.  

Oh boy.  Next?!  Water frequently gathers in the bilge.  Part of this comes down the mast when it rains, as the mast is hollow, keel stepped, and filled with small holes in various places where fittings join the spars.  This wouldn’t be so bad, but Leander’s bilge does not drain all the way to the back.   This is a terrible design, as it means that Leander always has some amount of water sloshing about in the bilge.  Water inside of a boat causes all sorts of problems, and one should fight to keep it out whenever possible. With the mast leak, we had created a system to funnel the water into one spot and pump it out with a second, smaller bilge pump.

But we noticed that we also seemed to be getting a trickle of water from somewhere else, too, as we’d notice water begin to collect even when we were not out to sea and it had not been raining. It can be maddening to track these leaks, especially when the boat is in the water — because the boat is constantly moving, it is difficult to back-track to where the flow is coming from.

Eventually, after much trial and error, we narrowed the leak to the forward area of the port side water tank.  Replacing a water tank is big time surgery on a Bristol.  They are built into the boat soon after the keel is put down, and the rest of the structure, including support beams, cabinetry, and teak and holly floors are built on top of them.  They are meant to last decades.  But we’re at 30 years now.  And so sometimes the tanks spring very small leaks, typically at the joints, where the tanks are welded, for three reasons.  First, the weld at the joints causes there to be a very slight differential in the quality of the stainless steel, and galvanic corrosion ensues from the difference between the metal at the weld and the metal of the tank itself.  Second, the tanks bend and flex when filled with water at sea, and the joints create both a stress risor and a natural inflection point for the metal to fatigue.  It’s a bit like a coke can that is flexed back and forth – albeit hundreds of thousands of times, rather than a dozen or so.  Third, debris — like dust, dirt, and sawdust — collects at the area where the tank edges meet the intersection of walls and floor/hull. These collect water over time, and sometimes salt water.  Add a tiny bit of electricity from a loose wire somewhere, and stray current corrosion can set in.

This time, the place from where the leak seemed to be coming was up against a wall, underneath a floor, and protected by a beam.  I began to cut away at the area to give myself access, by cutting away first the floor and then the cross beam.

Tank Start

There was not much room to work.  I needed to cut away the floor in small increments to explore what was underneath.  

With the floor and beam removed, repeated tests with paper towels edged down along the side of the tank finally isolated the leak along the bottom edge of the tank.  Halfway there — the leak has been found!  Now to fix it!

First, I cut away more of the floor and the support beam to reveal a sizable square over this area of the tank.  (The beam is not essential to the structure of the boat, but rather serves to hold internal components in place.)


I then used an angle grinder to cut away a neat square on the stainless steel tank.

One cut away, I removed the square from the tank.  I then waited until night time, and got into the tank with a flashlight, and slowly ran it along the bottom edge of the tank.  Sure enough, right where I thought, I saw a slender sliver of light shining through from the inside of the tank to the wall on the other side.


Anders then came in to spot weld the leak.

Anders hated this job.  “Not enough room,” he said.  It was difficult for him to get all of the equipment into the tank, and then position his mask so that he could see what he was doing.  Also, the tank was getting so hot that it would light the background wall material afire, and we had to keep water handy.

Eventually, however, it got down.  The repair looked great.


Now, to close up the tank.  I did not want to just weld the panel back on, in case there was ever a need to access this area again.  It took a little more work, but we created a frame for the panel that had been cut away,  welded it on, and then drilled holes in it to attach the old panel.


The panel that had been cut away was then re-installed, using machine screws to hold it in place.  The plate was also caulked.  The beam that had been cut away was replaced and fiber-glassed, and a stainless steel joint added over it for strength.  


The floor of the cabinet was then repainted, and a removable door placed over the space, and a couple of coats of paint were thrown over the whole thing.  I was extremely proud of the result.  


A picture here of how we solved addressed the risk of the centerboard cable breaking at the swaged loop.  Rather than run the metal loop itself through the hole, we use Spectra line to tie the metal loop to the centerboard.  Our thinking is that the flexible Spectra is better tasked to the job both because it acts as a shock absorber and because it allows for flexibility where the wire is subjected to repeated flex stress.  


The Orca brand LED navigation and anchor light at the mast-head had stopped working.  (A nearly disastrous complication during the crossing from Orkney to Norway, both because it was harder to see us with deck-level lights only, and because the deck-level lights were causing potentially catastrophic stray-current corrosion.)  The multimeter traced the problem to a failed circuit board on the panel switch. It could not be repaired, and so was replaced.

Up the mast

Sima hoisted me up the mast so that I could inspect things there.


The masthead sheaves through which the halyards travel had been squeeling something ferocious for a long time.  (“You’re going to anger the neighbors!” Anders joked.)  It is hard to keep them lubricated, because they are so readily exposed to rain.  I pulled them nonetheless, cleaned them up, and filled them with grease.  The noise stopped!

I also pull and tug on things.  I put my hand on the Raymarine wind transducer and was shocked to find that it slid out of the socket like a sword from a sheath. It’s not supposed to do that!  On closer inspection, I saw that the plastic housing collar was cracked at a place where the plastic was particularly thin and weak.  I called Raymarine, and spoke to someone at their oft-surly customer service desk.  “Yeah, well, that happens quite a bit.”  I had already learned, in Turkey, that they don’t sell any replacement parts for these units, such as a new plastic collar or, as was the case in Turkey, a new plug.  “You’ll need a new one,” the Raymarine representative told me.

(To get a sense of how poorly the Raymarine equipment has served us over time, do an online search for “Raymarine” and “Sailingleander.”)

At $400 plus shipping plus the delay to the tiny island of Smogen from some distant warehouse, that option wasn’t desirable. So I fixed it.


The failed transducer.


Repaired with some silicone glue.


And then coated with Sikaflex.  This repair was then covered with two thinly cut strips of duct tape.  That last part it is necessary to provide the repair with at least some protection from UV damage. 

Going back out to the open ocean, there was also a need to have the life-raft serviced.  They are supposed to be serviced every three years.  We hadn’t been in the open ocean since 2010. We had read horror stories about people who had pulled the rip cords on their life rafts in the open ocean, only to find that it had melted away to ribbons.  Or that the hydrostatic release failed, and the entire suitcase went down with the boat.  Or that the CO2 canister was dead, and the raft never inflated and, again, sank to the bottom.

But the cost again was marine-ridiculous — $3,000 to have it done by a certified technician.  When we spoke to the folks at Winslow, they laid it on thick — “This is your family’s life we’re talking about.  Do you want to take the chance.”

Well, of course not.  But nor do I want to throw away $3,000 if this is just a ruse.

We eventually found a local technician, who was a good friend of Anders’.  We spent some time with the life raft, and talked about our options. He replaced the CO2 canisters in the life raft, and on our life vests, as well as the hydrostatic release mechanisms. All that could be done for a couple of hundred dollars. The big ticket item was going to be the many, many hours it would take him to inflate, and then repack the life raft.

We had originally spent a bit extra and purchased a vacuum packed unit, which meant that it sat not only inside the suitcase, but then inside a separate water proof bag.

“Look,” he said to me.  I have serviced about 500 of these things.  About 100 of those were in vacuum sealed bags, like you have.  Of those 100, I have never found a flaw.  The bags keep them in pristine shape. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste my the additional $2,000 I’d charge you for labor to prove that was true.”

Right, I said.  With the new canisters and replacement straps, we put her back in her sleeve on the back of Leander.


Our most excellent Winslow service tech. “Save your money,” he advised. And so we did.  


Feeling like a new boat again, Leander got back into the water at Smogen Varvet. 


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