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