The story of the crack began without my knowing. While preparing Benjamin Franklin for the voyage to Pitcairn and the Southern Ocean, I began to notice a small accumulation of seawater in the bilge each day. Not much, a few spongefuls. However, the bilge had always been dusty dry. I puzzled over this each day, speculating on the origin of the leak because I was never able to see the source. On my list were the stuffing box in the rudder gland and a weeping seacock. When the boat was hauled, I checked the stuffing box and broke down and rebuilt all seacocks. Still, water was weeping in. This weepage trickled into the forefront again in Bermuda.
Before BF was hauled, I knew there was a crack and knew its location. The outline of pinholes with small water fountains traced the outline of the skeg-hull joint on the port side, plus direct observation from diving under the boat after the seas had calmed following Hurricane Karen helped me to identify the same crack from both sides.
Stephen Page was a master welder at Leon Bean Engineering, who was as generous and helpful as anyone could ever be. I lived on the boat propped up in the air, appreciating the broad view of St. George. Craig Faries, owner of St. Georgeï¿½s Boatyard would repeatedly clump clump up the ladder, high to the deck, with fresh fruit from his garden, signaling the beginning of the workday.
The cockpit sole was cut away to gain good welding access from the top. The repair was designed and templates cut. Inside, the crack was welded shut, then three gussets placed in the pattern of the well-known peace symbol looking down from above — one midline from the gland neck forward, two wings tending outboard aft on each side at approximately 120 degrees from the forward gusset. Each gusset was approximately 6 inches high by 18 inches long, cut from three-eighths-inch aluminum. Hefty.
Working under the boat, the weld was first ground out and a clue revealed. Approximately 3 inches of the crack was oxidized, indicating its age. The crack had actually existed before the hurricane and was estimated from the appearance of the oxidation to be a few years old. It was hidden inside the weld and not visible from the outside, located an inch above the waterline. As the boat was loaded for the voyage, the crack was pressed under water and began to weep!
Athwartship gussets were placed on both sides. Then a cowling place was fitted to lay against and cover the gussets. After the cowling cover was welded all around, then holes were drilled through the plate to the gussets and plug welded. The gussets extend out to fresh aluminum. The result is massively strong and beautiful, blending into the contour of the hull.
The design work, template cutting and fabrication of pieces went quickly, about a week. Then the challenge began. High winds pressed against Bermuda day after day. No matter how I shielded the boat, welding was not possible day after day, week after week. The helium shield blew away. Page said, ï¿½I cannot send you back out to sea in a boat I would not go in myself. I will not weld until it can be done right.ï¿½ The buffeting winds were relentless. I flew home in early December with feelings of separation from St. Georgeï¿½s Boatyard, which had become home, and Page, who had become a brother.