Just finished a week in the boatyard getting some planned – and unplanned – maintenance completed. While this is a routine part of living on a boat, it was all new to us and a learning experience.
You may recall from a few blogs ago that we were struggling to find people to do some upgrades on the boat dating back to June. After a tip from a guy named Otis, we finally had someone lined up. But with the well-known supply chain issues, it would take weeks to get all that was needed. So in July we left for three-plus weeks cruising the lower Chesapeake Bay, with the plan to start the anticipated week-long installation when we returned to Norfolk in August.
In mid-August, Jim the Installer arrived on a Monday morning and by noon the place looked like a construction zone. Ceiling panels were taken down to expose cables and wiring. The helm had gaping holes where old monitors and electronics had been removed. Cabinets were emptied for access and contents stacked on any horizontal surface, along with new equipment and tools. Roxy and I kept getting displaced from wherever we perched. Even the master cabin had cabinets pulled away from the hull to run cables for an added monitor. And with the heat and humidity of the mid-Atlantic summer we had to keep everything closed up to run the AC and couldn’t hang out on deck to escape all the activity.
Jim the Installer was quite a talker, telling a constant stream of stories and bad jokes in his slow Kentucky drawl as he worked. Tuesday he was back and started cutting holes in things to install other things. I’ve got to admit, when you live on a boat the sound of a saw cutting is rather unnerving. He worked all day, and as he was packing up he rambled on about how he had swallowed a bug that morning while feeding his chickens and it left him with a sore throat that was getting worse. Wait a minute — did he just say he’s had a worsening sore throat all day? Yup. He called in sick the next day, and a few days later we got the not-unexpected call that he was hospitalized with COVID. The good news is that both Dave and I tested negative the next day and felt fine (thank you, Pfizer). The other good news is that he recovered after a week in the hospital. The bad news is that the electronics installation was now at a halt for several weeks. I had to just shake my head that as cautious as we have been – and still are — the very first time we have someone we don’t know on the boat we get exposed. (For the record, he had said he was vaccinated but that turned out not to be entirely true.)
So there we sit with all our navigation equipment removed and we were supposed to be leaving to cruise the Albemarle in two weeks. What to do? Enter Problem Solver Dave, who loves nothing more than tinkering with this kind of stuff, and he was a man on a mission. He figured out what he could do himself and got to work, then reinstalled some of the old nav equipment so we could get underway. Took him about a week, but the silver lining was that we saved a ton in labor costs by him doing a big chunk of the work. There were still a few things for which he needed their expertise, but those could wait until after we returned. So off we went for almost three weeks. (See the last three blogs for the tales of our travels.)
Then on the final day as we returned to Hampton Roads, we hit a deadhead – a submerged log. Once at the marina, we could see a small area on the port bow just below the waterline where the top layer of epoxy over the fiberglass had cracked off – kind of like cracking a hard boiled egg and a piece of the shell comes off. It wasn’t a major structural problem, but with it right on the bow we worried that if we continued to cruise, at higher speeds the force of the water could continue to peel the ‘shell’ off the ‘egg.’ Plus we didn’t know what other damage there might have been down lower where we couldn’t see, particularly to the propeller and drive shaft. We could have a diver go down and look, but since we knew we had the bow damage and had been planning to haul the boat out in the spring to repaint the bottom and some other work we decided to just go ahead and haul it out now while we had the time. We could inspect and repair anything from the deadhead, and do the stuff planned for the spring so we wouldn’t have to haul it out then.
But once again we were faced with trying to find people and facilities with short-notice availability. Here is where the Great Gods of Boat Maintenance finally took pity on us. For one, it turned out that some of the marina regulars we had come to know during our month there were trying to parlay their collective skills and experience into a boat maintenance business, and it included all that we needed to have done. Additionally, they found a boatyard that could haul us out in a few days. Everything fell into place and four days later the boat was sitting on blocks, high and dry.
If you’re wondering how they get a 50 foot, 13 ton boat out of the water and up on blocks, it’s surprisingly simple but terrifying to watch as a boat owner. You drive the boat into a ‘slip’ with ground level platforms on each side. They have a hydraulic lift on wheels that they drive over the top of the boat on the platforms. They pass two giant straps under the boat to form a sling, and then the lift raises the straps and the boat comes up with it. This lift is then slowly driven into the boatyard with the bottom of the boat dangling a couple feet above ground and then lowered onto blocks and support stands. It looks quite precarious, but isn’t really. We then have to use a tall ladder to get on and off the boat. I’m not a big fan of ladders – or at least not a big fan of going up and down them – but not too many options here so up and down I went.
We spent seven days in the boatyard. Besides the small area of damage to the bow that we already knew about, it turned out that there was NO damage at all to the prop and drive shaft. The skeg that hangs down in front of the propeller to partially shield it had done its job (whew!), but in the process had taken a hit and had more of the ‘eggshell’ broken off and needed to be repaired. The guys made swift work out of the repair, sanding, and painting of the bottom, cleaning and polishing both hulls, as well as adding some underwater lights that Dave had been hankering to have. While they worked on all that each day, Dave and I were up in the cabin doing a bunch of stuff there, such as conditioning wood surfaces, finishing up some simple electronics, and cleaning the dinghy, painting the bilges with really stinky stuff that gave me a headache. Roxy hung out in the truck or lay nearby, supervising everyone. It was some long days, and we were tired and sore at the end of each one, but we got a lot done. The hotel life and eating all meals out got old fast, but not many options. Roxy did like having the sofa and bed for her belly-up naps and the geese in the parking lot to chase. I was partial to the opportunity for a long shower with unlimited hot water, especially after our days of grungier work.
We got lucky with mild weather, until the day we put the boat back in the water (called ‘splashing’ in Nauticalese) when it turned gray and drizzly. This is pretty much the reverse of hauling it out, but I still found it rather nerve-wracking. Watching the boat swing slightly as they made their way back to the water, held up just by the two straps, I had Doomsday Visions of it just sliding right out and breaking in half as it hit the ground. As her hulls touched the water, I switched to Doomsday Visions of the straps being removed and the boat continuing to go down and sinking because we had somehow left a gaping hole somewhere. Fortunately I only had about 15 minutes of imagination run amok and then See Level was tied up at the dock and looking good.
After checking that everything was working properly, we had a three hour trip back to the marina through the intermittent drizzle. Shortly after we got underway, Dave asked me to take the helm for a minute while he went back for a quick engine room check after everything had been disabled for the week (they were fine). When he returned, I told him I didn’t want to give it back to him and proceeded to drive for over two hours as he taught me the tricks of negotiating through a busy channel like the Elizabeth River. Now that Dave is comfortable driving the boat, it’s time for me to learn. It’s challenging but fun, following all the gizmos on the dash, constantly looking out for other boat traffic, and identifying the various markers and buoys. We did notice how many boats were headed south while we went north; the migratory season is well underway.
Back at Little Creek Marina, work has continued. A fully-recuperated Jim the Installer was back here the day after we returned to finish up the electronics, which means everything is torn up again (though not as extensively as before) and Roxy and I are fighting for turf. There’s some routine engine maintenance being done. They’re finishing up the cleaning and polishing of the exterior decks and making See Level look pretty. And Dave’s new underwater lights work great!
In two weeks we will head back down the ICW to Jacksonville FL. Between now and our departure, we have ‘life maintenance’ things to take care of as well as finishing up all our boat projects. Routine doctor and dentist appointments, stocking up on food and supplies (have to get in all those final Amazon orders while we still have brother Chuck’s home address for deliveries), and Dave really needs a haircut. All the Halloween decorations in the neighborhood when we walk Roxy pronounce fall, which means it’s time for us to join those chasing 70 degree temperatures south.