Posts Tagged ‘diy’

Two coats of epoxy primer wrap Tranquility’s deck as I walk the dock in the cold morning, the first sunbeams reflects on the pure white forming little drops of dew on the surface. The hard work is slowing paying off and the grey tormented deck is already a memory. One more coat will hide any further mark of underlayer with an immaculate cloak, then the sexy two-part polyhurethane paint will have the perfect stage to play its glossy role.

Painting and sanding punctuate our days. The weather rules our schedule, as we are doing everything in open air, vulnerable to atmospheric change. We look for dry days, the warmer the better, but this time of the year in Coastal Georgia warm means humid and we have to adapt to good enough conditions. It’s always a little too windy or too humid or too cold. We don’t have the luxury to wait for the perfect day and we do the best with what we get. Other events, from family visits to work obligations, decide when we are able to continue working. We keep pushing but we can’t always walk at the pace we would like and our March deadline is getting closer every day.

Kate is also taking the lead in re-organizing our stuff to re-enter the boat with our long discussed PileSystem©. One pile is named Back to the boat, one is For Sale/Donation, one is PermanentStorage and one is Trash. There are more complicated subpiles that I still quite don’t understand, but I have a blind faith in Kate’s skills and I simply make myself available to follow orders, which for today consists in migrating everything we don’t need from inside the boat with the same formula: Store, Give Away or Dump.

As we work to change our mindset and we go through our belongings I am feeling a profound appreciation for the place we have been living for the last two years. The itch of going back to the ocean has often disturbed my ability to see all the gifts the Golden Isles provided us with, from wonderful friends to work opportunities, all surrounded by beautiful wilderness and by the warmth of a great sailing community. We and Tranquility went through a lot during this time, more than we could have possibly hoped for when we first launch from New Bedford, MA.

My parents recently visited us from Italy. It was their first trip to the US and  we showed them around and took them to our favorite spots in this part of Georgia. We weren’t able to see them all, as they are too many. Through their amused eyes I could see once again how wonderful this coast is from many different points of view. There will a be time for goodbye and as we approach it the feelings of gratitude and nostalgia begin to pay us a visit. But it’s not time yet, we are still here and we have to keep the paint flow.

Read Full Post »

During the last month of boat works I focused on preparing the deck for painting, a job that shouldn’t require a month of full time work. In reality, this task is much more than sand the old paint off and clean the surface.

The job can be summarized by this sequence:

  • sanding
  • fiberglass jobs where needed
  • more sanding
  • more fiberglass repairs
  • fairing
  • more sanding
  • more fairing

Do, repeat and loop the sequence to one’s own standard of “ready to go”.

A “detail oriented personality” could go ahead in an obsessive and repetitive challenge until the fingertips will be scratched to the bone  before considering the deck ready for painting. Luckily I am not that kind of person. On the other hand I am a victim of creative ideas randomly rising  during the progression of the project. This modifications sometimes put a heavy hand in the plan, disrupting it totally.

Deck modifications

Before a thorough deck preparation could start I had to complete few design ideas that would help solve some issues we experienced with the original deck layout.

Columbia 29s were built with an interesting deck to hull joint that rises few inches above the deck to form  bulwarks from aft to end. This was also the designer’s signature to give a very nice sheer line to the deck. We love the bulwark on Tranquility, they help keeping your feet on deck when the boat heels as well as providing a barrier for objects that wants to fall overboard.

The drawback is that mooring lines and other overhanging hardware have to climb this protective wall incurring in the risk of chafing or making their installation difficult. This is particularly true on the bow, where the anchor roller and other deck hardware had to rest on a precarious base made of untreated construction grade lumber that obviously had rotted away and became a condo for photophobic insects by the time we owned the boat. Shame on whoever cobbled up that ridicolous solution!

The problem had to be addressed with some creativity and a lot of courage. When it was clear that Tranquility required a “nose job” I went through the anxieties and insecurities common to pre and post plastic surgery. With a heavy hand and a heavy heart I pressed on the angle grinder cutting away inches of fiberglass, trying to draw a symmetric line.  I then composed a base layer using several odd shaped teak hardwood pieces, put together with thickened epoxy and fiberglass.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Olin Stephens may be turning in his grave for the new line of his design but the occasional Yacht Club guests walking by were actually pleased with Tranquility’s new look. Our friend Brian even ventured in calling the new look “race boat like”.

Similarly I did a little modification on the transom corners to create a better surface for hardware and mooring lines.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stanchion bases

Raised stanchion bases were another upgrade we thought would improve Tranquility’s deck. A thicker and wider base would help preventing stress cracking from wobbling stanchions and keep their base raised from water puddles.

After laminating few layers of biaxial fiberglass tape I cut the stanchion base a little wider and then glassed it permanently to the deck.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New toe rail

The original toe rail was made of three pieces of teak forming an overturned U on top of the bulwark and it was  fastened with bronze screws. Age and damages had reduced the coverage and efficacy of the teak toe rail. A recent experience during a delivery raised curiosity towards the hull to deck joint on our boat and so I had to get the wood off and expose the joint. The removal job was one way and I knew that after that I needed to give Tranquility brand new toe rail. I fancied a project featuring  fancy solid teak bar bent in shape over the bulwark but after realizing that I purchased a not so great stock of teak hardwood from E-bay I had to reconsider the idea. You get what you pay for they say, so I opted for using that wood to create permanent epoxy and fiberglass toe rail that will be painted with the deck.

The project include around 100 stainless steel #8 sheet metal screws (one every 8 inches) to join the inboard and outboard teak strips as well as a huge amount of epoxy and colloidal silica and fairing compound as additives. A 6 inches fiberglass cloth was wrapped around the edge and the overhanging extremity sanded off after the resin cured.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Every project had its own portion of sanding so soon Tranquility’s deck became a patchwork. But for our particular paintjob we had to remove any trace of the one part enamel paint we used in our first refit in New Bedford MA. After giving one part paint a try we decided to go with two part that is supposedly harder and more resistant to UV action and wear. To do so we have to remove any trace of one part paint first, as it would not stand the aggressive solvent of two part epoxy primer and polyurethane topcoat and flake off ruining the paintjob.

That required a lot of scraping that we diligently executed using wood chisels. With Kate’s help we went around and scrape it all off, revealing a calico pattern formed by several layers of paint, from the original gelcoat to more recent epoxy primers.


The multicolor deck during sanding operations

While operating the chisel closely to the deck I also exhumed several fiberglass delaminations deeply buried under fairing compound and primer. A delamination happen when two layers of fiberglass start to peel apart from each other leaving a “soft spot”. Everytime the first reaction was to turn my head away and say we would live with it. But I always succumbed to the temptation of fixing them and make the deck stronger. After all how bad could it be another fiberglass job?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Going through al these pictures I see what I spent the last month doing, and I feel a little less bad about my progress. The deck is not painted yet though and right now we are dealing with our own level of perfectionism and waiting for good weather. Meanwhile: do, repeat and loop.


Read Full Post »

Sparkman & Stephens Columbia 29 Tranquility

Sparkman & Stephens Columbia 29 Tranquility

It’s been a while since the last time I posted about Tranquility. We have been sucked into different activities and duties on land, and even though projects were constantly happening on our boat, the engagement was not at the top levels. Now that we are facing a renovate wave of passion for our little craft, the levels of commitment and project management are springing back up. We may be able to resume cruising soon and this is what brings fresh to strong breeze to our endeavour, but we don’t want to say it too loud because like every sailor we are a bit superstitious.

The big event is that Tranquility turned 50 years old. Built in 1965 in Portsmouth, VA she is not immune to the inexorable effect of time passing and all our effort goes in the direction of making her a safe and pretty little boat. All across the world thousands of old boats sit abandoned in various stages of neglect, sometimes they are not even as old as Tranquility is. When we found her in a random yard of the South Coast of Massachussets two years ago, she was asking for help. Paul, the guy who sold us the boat, had a great vision for her and started a complete refit after she had been neglected for a few years. He eventually had to give up due to other projects happening in his life and put her for sale. We caught the ball.

Tranquility is the boat we fell in love with, she makes our heart sing and tickle our fancy when we imagine her at anchor in a quiet cove, floating over turquoise water. She is also the boat we could afford to buy, but it’s fair to say that she has a lot of competitors for that price range.  Both Kate and I were hooked the first time we saw her. Now that she is undoubtely the boat we own, we are trying to bring the best out of her, with our limitation of budget and knowledge.

In the past 50 years boat design and technology made great stride, as innovation never stops. Boat shows brings every year new shiny models with the latest improvements onboard. Even ten years old boats become quickly obsolete as bulding materials, safety gear and electronic components change every month, and the great circus of progress will make that boat turn in a less desiderable dream. Eventually will come the time when an expert will state that a boat has done her time and she’s not worthy to upkeep, as the price to bring her to current standards would exceed the convenience of purchase a new model. It happens with all our technology and goods: today nobody thinks it’s worthy to fix a pair of shoes, it’s easier to buy a new pair.

Why would somebody invest so much energy and money in an old boat? There is no pragmatism when it comes to sailing, at any level, and so boat restoration evades the usual categories of economical profit. Some people may think that you could recoup what you put in monetarily once you sell an old classic design in shipshape Bristol fashion. But this is just a mirage as boats have a tendency in not holding their value and they require expensive components and supplies to be kept in good shape. It doens’t matter how good is the boat. Millionaires know it too. Futuristic newly built Luxury Yachts depreciate very quickly too and chartering sometimes don’t even cover the running costs. For the haves, it is often a way to avoid taxation rather than a profitable business.

Luckily human discovered sailing thousands of years ago, and for how refined this art had become its basics are founded on simple principles. Older boat can still bring the emotions of a brand new model, for a fraction of the cost, plus an old boat can still benefit from newest improvement and accessories. With sufficient thought and effort, you will end up with a boat that satisfy your eyes and can be fitted to your requirements better than any new production could. This is the way we decided to take: starting with a bare-strip hull to reconfigure the boat as we prefer.

After coming down the East Coast with a partially complete boat we have learned two things. The first is that is surprising how little you need to enjoy cruising. The trip was in fact enjoyable and safe, even if some parts were installed along the way and others had never really been. The second is there are very important issues you want to address in order to fully enjoy your time. Trying on Tranquility we discovered what worked and what didn’t, what we liked and disliked, and that helped us establish priorities in  our project list. In the next weeks we are going to share some of these improvements, hoping that posting them publicly will help our legs keep pace with our desires.


Read Full Post »

Recently I started to feel the itch to go sailing. Since we docked Tranquility in Frederica River we haven’t been out sailing. We were too busy organizing the new life on land and too lazy to start few little jobs. We said it a couple of times, let’s take her out, but for one reason or the other it didn’t happen.

When we were still living on board but working on shore the cabin became unsuitable for sailing. We dismissed the cruisers clothes and wore the landlubber ones, using the boat as we were using an apartment, and apartments are not made for moving around. It’s enough to have a regular job and a life on land to mess up with your routine.

With this new land identity we acquired also a new social life made of friends, colleagues, events, fast internet, movie theatres and gym memberships. We move around with a car. Instead of walking for miles carrying provisions we run on treadmill and lift weights.

Now Tranquility is once again undergoing a major refit project. We had the opportunity to step out our home to house-sit for somebody else’s house and so we decided to empty the boat and destroy everything again.

This time we faced the compression post problem. The compression post is a solid post of hardwood that sustains the compression force of the mast over the deck. Columbia 29 were built with deck stepped mast and with a structural beam glassed on deck to sustain the forces generated by the weight of the boat moving in heavy seas. The compression post was then installed between the overhead (aka ceiling) and a structural beam resting over the bilge, which supported the cabin sole (aka floor) as well.

A proper designed and installed compression post would rest the top of the keel/bilge, which is the strongest part of the Hull. For reasons that exceed my understanding it is not the case of Tranquility. When the boat was built they lowered 3120 lbs (1414 kg) of lead inside the keel before sealing everything with fiberglass. That happened 49 years ago. Meanwhile, age and human lack of care made the rest.

Talking with one of the previous owners of Tranquility I discovered that there was a persistent rainwater leak from the mast that had rotten. Luckily I was able to prevent any when I stepped the mast in the boatyard. The water leak was fixed but the damaged was inherited. After the first longer sailing passages we realized that the compression post was not properly sustained by the rotten cabin sole. Kate’s alert eyes were the first to spot little signs of the compressin forces, where the paint was cracking and the rotten floor getting bending  a little more every time. We couldn’t address the problem while underway and so we kept sailing south in search of warm weather.

The rotten floor and beam under the compression post

The rotten floor and beam under the compression post

This type of repair was not possible while living onboard. The dust and mess of ripping off the floor (plus no place to step but the bilge) discouraged us to proceed. But as soon as we had the opportunity to leave the boat this and several other interior projects begun.

As first thing I ripped out the old rotten floor and all the damaged wood in the area. The more I dug the more I realized that the compression post was resting on a rotten transversal beam suspended few inches from the bilge. The beam was still holding the compression post but it doesn’t take a structural engineer to understand that this was not for long. Better late than never.

Picture underneath the compression post.

Picture underneath the compression post

At first we imagined we should try to jack the compression post back up but we soon realized that this could not happen without removing the mast itself. The best and only possible thing we could do was to avoid any further downward movement and give the post a solid foot to rest on.

Searching in the teak scrapyard (a collection of odd shaped salvaged pieces of teak from different boat projects I found a solid 3″ thick block of teak that I had to reshape to dry fit it under the compression post and sealed in 2 coats of Epoxy resin. Altough teak is very rot resistant to salt water it will rot in fresh water and you never know what is going to go in your bilge.

After all the rotten wood was gone I started to seal the exposed wood of the beam and the bulkheads with West System Epoxy and fiberglass cloth. I built some support for the beam and made sure to create a solid bedding with the hull of the boat through some fiberglass tabbing.

When everything was sealed I fitted the block under the compression post with the help of some serious hammering. I then added some Epoxy mixed with 404 High-Density filler, a thickening additive developed for maximum physical properties in hardware bonding. In this way the block is “glued” to the compression post and to the bilge with a bonding stronger than the wood itself. Another layer of fiberglass is soon to be added to the block as further shield against water penetration.

Compression post repair

Compression post repair

Compression post repair 2

Compression post repair 2

Getting rid of portion of rotten floor was like an invitation to go further and so we decided to proceed and rip off the rest of the 49yrs old floor that had been covered with a nasty sticky non-skid surface. I had to grind it off with a angle grinder and a sanding disk, a terrible job that covered all the surfaces of the boat with a black dust. I kept the good parts of the floor with the idea of fairing and painting them. With all this modification we may want to change the boat’s name at a certain point…

Next step is to rebuild the floor over the bilge a major project that will take at least one week. So after the floor will be replaced we hope to go for a sail test, because even if it’s exciting to do boat repairs, the itch is still there and I’ve been scratching for too long.

Read Full Post »

The first days have been so hard as the project looked so overwhelming. Oh my God we have to do everything! Anytime I started a job and I posed my sight on a different corner of the boat I saw an umpteenth job to do and then another one and I felt I was going crazy. Actually I did go crazy. Luckily Kate intervened to keep me focused on doing one thing at a time and to avoid compulsive shopping.


In four days of full time work we accomplished several tasks but most important we found a method. It took one fight and some snipping, we also hit dead ends or wandered around the boat (not that much walking though!). Not that now everything is under control, we learned to move slow but with a constant pace. For both of us it’s the first renovation process and learning requires time.


Another important factor is alliance. In 4 days we were so lucky to have good people around. From John and Sue who not only welcomed us in their home but also wired us up to the most useful connections around, last but not least a young couple of fairhaveners who owns a boat. It sounds like we have new friends. Their boat is much more ready than ours and that means we may be able to go sailing soon with Freddie and Heather!

Columbia 29

The biggest hassle at the moment is painting the boat and which paint to use. There are different brands (Awlgrip, Interlux, Imron, etc.) different types (one or two part epoxy or polyhuretane) and different prices, including a guy who is selling paint 10$ a gallon of the weirdest colors on earth. It looks like we are not able to make a decision right know and asking the experts only adds confusion as anyone has own different opinions. We could be very close to have the deck and the topside painted, but we miss the paint… It is just a matter of luck I guess. Anytime the situation overwhelmes me I try to focus on the small things I have ahead. There is a lot to do anyway and if we are not ready to make a decision about paint it’s because it’s not the time. Something will emerge. In the meanwhile we just express preferences… out of many possibilities.


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: