Refit in Auckland

To the editor: We arrived in New Zealand in November after a hard Pacific crossing from Panama. My wife Dawn and I had decided to sail the area around Auckland until after Christmas, then haul our boat and do a major refit. It turned out to be more than even we had bargained for.

Our trusty yacht Quiet One is a 43-foot Hans Christian ketch, built in 1983. She is the best voyaging boat on the oceans and has carried us faithfully for 36,000 miles, through hell and high water. We bought her in Florida in April 1991 and have lived on board full time ever since.

In Auckland we found there were several yards to chose from, but Gulf Harbour offered the best long-term rates, so on January 12 the work began.

One of the many jobs we wanted to do was to remove some small blisters from the topsides, especially the bow area, so we knew that we had to have the topsides repainted. The paintshop at Gulf Harbour had said they could do the job and had agreed to use the paint we wanted to use, Awlgrip. They also agreed to us doing as much of the preparation work as possible, to try to keep the cost down. Consequentially, we were put at the far end of the yard, in the paint row, where we were told that we could only spray when the wind was in the south and that that was the prevailing direction for that time of year.

When we arrived at Gulf Harbour we were advised that there was a man who dealt with osmosis in boats and who was very good. After phoning him and discovering his hourly rate was $75, twice that of an electronics expert, we got him to give us half an hour to run a moisture meter over the hull and answer one question. His visit did not go well and he forgot to bring his moisture meter! It was these incidents that convinced us that we were on our own, as usual.

We then decided to peel the topsides gelcoat to remove the small blisters and contacted the only person in NZ who had a peeling machine. He turned up late and started on the bow. It became obvious immediately that he had not a clue what he was doing, as the machine was ripping strands of fiberglass out of the layup. We decided to stop things then and there.

This left us with a major problem: how to remove the gelcoat. After much thought we went to the local hardware store, bought a belt sander and lots of 40 grit belts, and set about sanding the lot off. We went through two Black and Decker sanders before getting the job done with a rather heavier Makita sander. It took three solid days. However, we were left with a very smooth finish.

As there was some damp under the gelcoat, we left it to dry and got on with other things. We had decided to remove all the pumps and machinery, refurbish them, and paint all the lockers and spaces inside the boat. This ended up taking about a month and was interspersed with stripping all the fittings off the masts.

It was at this stage we realized that the waterline area of the boat was not drying too well and that despite local knowledge, the wind blew consistently from the east, so we would not be allowed to spray. Also, the paintshop would not give us a firm quote and was trying to back out of using Awlgrip. We found out later that they had no experience with putting it on since their Awlgrip painter had left the company! Dawn then came up with the amazing idea of putting the boat into a warehouse. We investigated the possibilities and found that we could do it. There was a company called Boat Haulage in Auckland and their rates were quite reasonable. By looking in the newspaper classifieds we found and secured a warehouse at a good monthly rent in an industrial area called Silverdale, which is about 12 miles inland from Gulf Harbour.

Everything went together well. The haulage company was very good and careful, and they sent a special hydraulic low-loader trailer for the boat and a flatbed trailer for the masts. The boat was put on the trailer with the travelift and offloaded in the warehouse using blocks and the hydraulics of the trailer. It was April 12 and we had already been out of the water twice as long as expected.

The warehouse was great as we had plenty of room. Before we left Gulf Harbour we looked closely at the bottom of the boat. Five years earlier in Venezuela we had stripped off the bottom of the boat and put epoxy on it to cure a blister problem. This had not worked and we now had a few blisters returning. We had hoped they would be repairable but decided to do the same to the bottom as we had done to the top. We spent three more days with the Makita belt sander getting the antifouling and the epoxy off.

While the hull dried, we set about the teak decks. First of all Dawn, using a hooked tool of the right width, pulled out all the deck caulking. Then, with more 40 grit belts and the Makita, she sanded the decks smooth. Next, we masked off the grooves and put in the Sikaflex deck caulking. Once all the deck hardware was refitted the decks looked fabulous, like new.

The masts were next, and while most of the hardware had been removed in spare moments, the track for the spinnaker pole still had to be removed. This was the last item because all the screws holding it on were seized, and not even an impact wrench could budge them. In the warehouse was an old drill press, so I set this up and drilled out each of the 88 screws.

Dawn then set to work with an orbital sander and removed all the old paint on the two masts and the three booms. While she did this I made a new pole so we had two, and also made a tang for the mast and welded it on, so we could rig another roller furler and so pole out the two headsails for downwind sailing. I also stripped down the windlass ready for repainting. At this stage we had Altex Coatings in Auckland do a spec sheet for the masts and booms. This company, and particularly Nigel Gallagher, one of their technical assistants, was very good. Their spec sheet called for a surface cleaner then a coating of Alodine, a product that turns the aluminum a light brown color in about 10 minutes, after which it must be washed off.

At this stage we decided that there was far too much dust floating about due to a workshop next door and decided to build a spray booth. This we did by stretching three ropes tightly across the warehouse and draping plastic masking sheets taped together over the ropes. The bottoms of the sheets were held to the floor by blocks. We also found that the temperature was not high enough and that the humidity was too high, so we bought a second gas space heater.

We also decided to spray the primer ourselves and bought a spray gun, even though I had never done any spraying. Luckily, there was a compressor in the warehouse. The spec sheet then called for three coats of Awlgrip 545 primer, and with trepidation we set up our spray bay and started spraying. It went well and looked good so we decided to go for the topcoat. This was not easy as the stuff ran easily when applied to thickly. Nigel helped a lot and advised us to apply several thin coats and allow these to become very slightly tacky.

As we started to refit the masts and booms with new cleats and an extra track for the second pole, new wiring for the lights, new VHF ariel, new GPS and so on, we also began to fill and fair the hull topsides and hurry up the drying process with the gas heater. We had Altex Coatings do a spec sheet on this job and it called for three coats of West System, wet on wet. These we applied at the right temperature and at a very low humidity, one of the cornerstones of a successful osmosis repair job, and incidentally, a successful new hull layup. We started at ten o’clock in the morning and put the last coat on at eleven o’clock at night, and used different colour pigments to keep track of where we were. I applied the West epoxy with a short nap roller and Dawn brushed out the air bubbles and evened out the coating.

This was left to dry overnight and part of the next day when we sanded it lightly with 80 grit paper. It was then left to cure for five days. Once the epoxy had dried we masked up the boat and started applying the 545 epoxy primer and filling any minor imperfections. After two coats of 545 we had a problem: Despite the correct thickness of the paint there were patches of filler showing through. We called Nigel and he said this was possible and advised us to apply several coats of a primer/filler to get rid of the problem. It worked, but took five coats to do it, sanding between each one. What a job! Finally, the last 545 was put on and sanded down, and it was time to apply the Awlgrip. So after practicing a bit, I set out to apply a test coat. It was a mess. There were runs everywhere, and we were very depressed.

After discussing the job we reckoned we knew that the problem could be fixed by applying several thin coats — as we had learned with the masts — altering the nozzle width and pressure, and by trying to relax when spraying! We sanded the mess down, applied more 545 primer and had another go. This time things went better and we got a good build up of coats and not a bad finish.

In getting the warehouse at the right temperature and humidity for spraying we also dried out the bottom of the boat sufficiently to begin filling and fairing in preparation for the West System. Again, we got Altex Coatings to do a spec sheet and provide all the materials. The critical part is to get the humidity 20 percent or 30 percent and keep it there with a temperature of about 20° C. The spec sheet called for three coats of epoxy, wet on wet, as with the topsides. This was left to cure for a couple of days, and sanded with 80 grit dry sandpaper. Getting the humidity and temperature the same, we next put on two different types of epoxy sealer with a second coat of the last one. When the last coat was tacky we applied the first coat of AF 3000 black and the job was finished.

It was finally time to hit the water. The boat was hauled back to Gulf Harbour boatyard. We spent a couple of days in Gulf Harbour rigging the masts. Then the crane came one morning, and with a little help, we got the masts installed in about 1 1/2 hours. We spent the rest of the day tuning the rig as best we could on the hard. The next few days we spent wiring the radios, GPS, loran, radar and lights. Then finally the great day arrived and Quiet One was lowered gently into the water. The engine fired up okay, Dawn engaged forward gear and we eased out.

As we left the slip Dawn started to make small steering corrections, and went the wrong way. Panic stations, in the narrow passage, with boats all around, we had no control. In neutral, we fended off boats and pilings and finally, with help from the wind, we drifted on to the vacant work dock. Divorce was on the cards when I discovered that the new steering cables were crossed. I had reversed them when putting them in. I quickly swapped the cables. We left the dock and went to Waiheke Island to settle down. Luckily, everything else on the boat worked perfectly.

Since leaving England, Andrew and Dawn Walker have been voyaging for more than 10 years aboard their boat Quiet One.

By Ocean Navigator