As per my all too lengthy previous posting with my overview of the past year, I’m going to start posting a weekly update while I’m working on Learnativity here in Vuda Point Marina in Fiji. You can cut and paste the lat/long coordinates of 17
I hesitated to post much for the past few months or the next few going forward as I’m completely consumed by the major boat jobs I have underway here in Fiji and that’s about all I’ve got to report on. But after receiving more and more inquiries and finding more and more of you wanting details of what’s going on, I’ve decided to post these weekly updates and pictures. You are all smart enough to read as much or as little as you’re interested in and so I’ll do my best to keep it so an overview and provide lots of pictures to make it easier and hopefully more interesting.
A BIT ABOUT the good ship Learnativity
First I guess it would help some of you to have a little bit of background to put this all into context for you. Learnativity is my 50’ steel monohull raised salon sailboat and full time home. She was originally built and launched in 1994 by Kristen Yachts in Sidney BC just outside of Victoria on Vancouver Island. I found and bought her there from the original owner in the summer of 2005, spent just over 2 years refitting and equipping her for “blue water” long distance and single handed sailing and finally cast off on this grand adventure in March 2008. She is built like a tank, and I mean that in a VERY good way in that she is way overbuilt being all solid steel and teak and she takes me everywhere and anywhere in great safety and comfort in spite of my complete lack of boating or sailing experience prior to buying her. I don’t come from ANY nautical background, never wanted to sail before and just got more and more curious, learned as much as I could from others (online, books, charters) and then decided as is my norm that if I was still curious the only way to really learn was experientially. And BOY what an experience it has been!
I am now pretty much completely self sufficient with only diesel fuel that I take on less than once a year for my main engine and generator as I supply all my own power with wind and solar (haven’t used the generator in over a year), and propane for my stove. I am otherwise self contained and self reliant as I do things like make all my own water with the water maker I installed, look after all my navigation (with the assistance of net connections via Wi-Fi and sat phone), look after all my own sewage, cook all my own meals and am a floating workshop and tool store to look after all the many repairs and maintenance it takes to keep such a floating “city” up and running, and to it all while at sea often thousands of miles from any land, let alone stores or services.
Over the past four years we have sailed over 25 thousand nautical miles and made it down the west coast of north, central and south Americas, across the Pacific with stops at countless and mostly remote islands and now back for a second time to Fiji. While she is in great condition overall, the exterior being all steel was vividly showing signs of the wear and tear of so many miles and being in such salty tropical humid conditions. It is not just a great song but an altruism that “rust never sleeps” and so I had been fighting a loosing battle trying to keep the rust at bay all by myself and with so many other jobs that keep filling up the “must do” list on a live aboard sail boat. So I had been figuring out where and when to take on the major task of getting rid of all the rust and repainting all the steel.
I was thinking I would need to go back to New Zealand or Australia where they have such good marine work facilities and craftsmen but as is the norm in my charmed life, I serendipitously discovering last year that there was a marine company here in Fiji, Baobab Marine that does very good paint and boat work. After talking with fellow cruisers who had work done by Baobab Marine, inspecting boats they had painted over the past 10 years and meeting with the head foreman,I decided this was the perfect place to roll up my sleeves, spend more time in my beloved Fiji and work with Baobab to take on the task of a 20 year repaint and renovation of Learnativity. I had Learnativity hauled out on September 5th 2011 and put up “on the hard” on stands here at Vuda Point Marina and have been working with the great crew from Baobab Marine ever since.
The original plan involved three major paint jobs and the replacement of my bent propeller shaft which is another story in itself. The three paint jobs were as follows:
1. BOTTOM: Sand blast from the water line down to the bottom of the keel, repaint with new epoxy primer, barrier coat and anti foul paint. Although I had already done all this back in 2006 after I bought the boat, there turned out to be a problem with the zinc that was used in the epoxy primer and was continuously causing small bubbles to form between it and the anti foul bottom paint. The only solution was to take it all off down to bare metal and start over again so that is what we are doing.
2. TOPSIDES: This is the sides of the hull from the waterline up to the deck. The paint itself was holding up well and only a few dings from the past 18 years of use but was loosing it shine and needed to be repainted. The plan was (changed recently as I’ll cover in the updates) to just sand down and fill the chips and dings that had happened, repair the “tsunami souvenir” I had from the great tsunami of 2009 in American Samoa that we lived through. (3 part fully detailed story here on the Learnativity blog if you missed that adventure!) and then repaint the topsides with new polyurethane paint and trim. I also decided that I’d take this opportunity to change the colour of the hull from white to Royal Blue as I’ve always like the looks of dark hulled boats and thought this would make it seem like a truly new boat after all this work.
3. DECKS: This is all the horizontal surfaces for the most part that includes not only the deck that you walk on but also the cockpit, and dodger (hard cover over the cockpit) or pilot house as it is sometimes referred to. It is the largest job of the three by far as literally everything that isn’t welded on has to be removed so we can remove every bit of rust by sand blasting, grinding or needle gunning. Then it all gets treated with metal prep, epoxy primer, and then lots of filling and priming to fair in all the surfaces. We will then paint all of that gloss white and then mask off and spray all the areas you actually walk on with anti skid by mixing in some special sand like material so that all these surfaces are a bit like sand paper and grip your feet well when everything is wet and at angles as you sail.
All three of these jobs involve different equipment and different people helping out so it is quite literally a three ring circus for the last few months as work proceeds on all three at the same time. However the people working with me are great, very conscientious, learn well and are a treat to work with and get to know. They are both native Fijians and Fijian Indians who make up almost 40 percent of the current population of just under one million people. They range from young men in the 20’s to more experienced men in the 40’s and after five months now we have gotten to know each other very well and this has added to my love of Fiji and its people. They truly embody the saying they have here of “ne senga ne lenga” which essentially means “Don’t worry; be happy” as they are always laughing and singing while they work, always in great spirit and take on whatever new challenges and work that comes along.
There’s a HOLE in my boat!!!
The biggest new challenge that has come up so far has been the discovery of some severe rusting in the bottom of the hull that have eaten all the way through the hull in two spots, one at the bow and one just behind where the propeller shaft exits. I’m still not quite sure what has caused this but it appears to be a problem from when the boat was first built in that it is a combination of some drain holes in the ribs not being large enough and so over the past 18 years they have clogged up with debris and rust and trapped any water that entered or formed from condensation, and the paint applied to these interior steel surfaces was not applied to clean surfaces or has otherwise broken down. These are in remote, essentially impossible to see areas under some of the floors and just off either side of the center line of the hull that is left open (not coated with foam as is the rest of the hull) so that it forms a bilge drain channel that flows into the lowest sections where the bilge pumps take care of the water. A steel boat rusts from the INSIDE out as it is relatively easy to keep the outside covered with paint and anti fouling coatings and is easy to see and inspect the whole surface. But inside, and especially with a custom built boat like Learnativity, there are a few spots along the centerline that you just can’t get at or see because the flooring and equipment is covering them and these spaces are only a few inches deep at best. I had always kept a close eye on the 95% of this exposed steel areas of the bilge and while there was some surface rust it was nothing to be concerned about and the plate steel is very thick. For reasons I still don’t fully understand though there were these spots that somehow allowed the rust to start to form and over the years had turned into that layered flakes of rust and especially in these tropical climates these areas never dry out as the water is wicked in between all these fine layers of rust and it just stays “alive” and eating away at the steel beneath, forming more layers, trapping more moisture.
This discovery of such seemingly random areas that had actually rusted through the entire hull came as quite a shock as you might imagine and so upon confirming that the rust was this severe in these two sections I cut my Europe trip short and came back to Fiji last month to look things over and figure out a solution. I’ll cover more of that in the weekly updates to follow. The good news about steel is that it is relatively easy to repair and repair well by simply cutting out all the rusted steel and welding in new panels, so that is what we are doing.
Weather is the other major factor in all this work as it is the rainy season here in Fiji (their summer) and lasts through about March or April. As almost all the work is outside and involves things like welding, sanding and painting, we can’t work too well in the rain but so far (knock on wood/steel) while it does rain pretty much every day, the pattern is that it doesn’t start till the late afternoon or evening and so it is dry and hot during the work day. And I do mean HOT! Usually over 35c/100F and with all the rain it is very humid so you sweat just sitting and it just pours off you as you exert yourself with the very physical nature of most of the work with sanding and grinding. However great progress is being made and that feels great! For all of you who have asked me about my “fitness program” and why I’m in such good shape, now you know; just do lots of physical labour in a sauna, drink lots of water, eat lots of fresh produce. Sure is working well for me!!
Well, hopefully that will have given those of you who are interested some background into the work I’m in the midst of what what’s keeping me busy of late. As those of you who know me well will understand I’m very happy in these situations as I love working with my hands, will take hot over cold weather ANY day and it feels great to see such daily progress towards having an even more solid, prettier and shinier Learnativity to continue wandering and pondering the world one nautical smile at a time!!