Hauling out in Cartagena for New Years

Oh, Ferroalquimar. You are so close to being a great yard, and yet…

We hauled out in the morning on December 28th, with Villa looking like a little toy boat in the yard’s 200 ton travelift. (Compare to our last haul-out, at Carriacou Marine, where she barely fit in the lift at all.) The team that lifted and blocked her was deft and professional, which we took to be a good sign. And wow, there are some big boats here! Pictured, us with a propeller that probably weighs more than our dinghy.

The office had assured us that they were working up until the holiday, so we moved into a hotel for three nights, to get away from the dust while they sanded. This was maybe not the worst hotel either of us has stayed in, but it was definitely one of the smallest and bleakest, with only one tiny window (in the bathroom) and paper-thin walls that did nothing to mask the sound of the feral children in the hallways. Still, it was the only option in walking distance of the yard, and we figured it was enough to get Captain away from the sanding dust, even if there wasn’t a lot of space for zoomies. Plus, they served dinner.

So they started sanding, and we started working on our indoor projects, like putting larger fittings on the shower bilge through-hull; here, see the first morning’s sanding progress and Andrew trying vainly to get the fitting off the bathroom seacock.

For some of the other projects, the first steps were finding some parts and things up in Manga, which meant an excuse to take the 20 minute taxi towards town and get lunch. Notable here, a very homemade screen at our lunch stop, presumably to keep rats out of the air conditioner, a pretty building, and sunset around the time we left the yard for the night.

On day three, we dropped off Andrew’s damaged laptop in the city, and paused in some other errands for a big but ultimately mediocre lunch at a restaurant recommended by our taxi driver. We got back to the boat to find sanding had progressed to the end of the port hull.

That evening we went into the city and met up with the crew of Dorothy Rose, taking a break from their time on the hard in Aruba to tour Colombia by land and air. We had margaritas and palettas, and tried unsuccessfully to find salsa dancing that started before the Veritas family bedtime.

New Years Eve (aka Old Years Night) brings with it a huge spike in hotel prices, which we just couldn’t bring ourselves to pay for the Ayenda. So we moved back into the yard, even though the sanding was not yet finished, and set up the air conditioner. So began many days of long walks from the boat to the bathroom and back.

Jazz and Annelise spent that day shopping for fabric, and were informed by their taxi driver that New Years Eve required a cake. So he dropped them off at this shop, which had a long line, at the end of which they were informed that cakes have to be ordered in advance.

New Years also requires a party, so we headed into the city to celebrate with Waterhorse, who’d hauled the day before us. We started out in Getsemani, and walked through what would eventually become a huge outdoor party to find a place for dinner.

We left the city early like a bunch of tired sailors, and came home to find the Waterhorse kids partying with another boat’s kids. Somehow this led to some of the adults setting off their old flares over the bay. Happy new year. Also there was a cake, even if it was from the grocery store.

In the morning, Captain started to get acquainted with his new neighbors in the marina. But when we saw the trail of paw prints in the sanding dust, we realized he would have to be an indoor cat until that phase was done. He never did figure out why he wasn’t allowed outside.

To compensate, we started bringing him with us to the “wifi room”, where we did dishes and the Waterhorse kids “played with him” aka spoiled him with lots of treats.

This is approximately the part where things with the yard started to go off the rails. It’s hard to measure, because progress stopped happeing, but for a while there was a steady stream of reasonable-sounding excuses. We had basically half of our boat sanded, but it was the holidays, so work paused. Fine, fair enough. We concentrated on installing the new battery monitors and inverter-charger control panel, and eating nutritious yard lunches.

Jan 4th, workers continued to be scarce, so we had to put on hard hats ourselves. Actually, this was just a requirement to be in the yard, which we found mildly annoying: we were required to buy them and frequently nagged about it, but the on-site store was closed for the first week we were there. So eventually we solved the problem, though we couldn’t find one to fit Captain.

Jan 5th, we found out that we could order the same lunches as the workers, so for 10k pesos and a little bit of styrofoam-usage-angst, we could not worry about making food. Meanwhile, the “light hand sanding” we requested on the stern drive leg turned out to be a machine sanding down to the bare metal, but only on all the big flat surfaces and not in the crevices where the (tiny) paint chips and ensuing corrosion were. Super annoying, because now instead of just two coats of antifouling we would need to clean it super well and put on at least five coats with various primers, because paint and metal aren’t good friends. The Waterhorse kids made Jazz a sculpture to cheer her up.

Progress sanding the boat remained slow. This was around the first time the yard told us they were done, which a 30-second inspection showed was not remotely true. They hauled another boat, though, as if to give us a nice reminder of how bad we didn’t have it. Those mussels are a little small for eating, but only a little. Here’s Jazz carrying that night’s dishes down the ladder in our trusty ikea bags.

So we moved on to the inverter-charger project, which involved running control cables past the area usually occupied by the starter battery, and replacing the old floor-mounted unit with one that would hang on the wall. We like having AC power in the house because it drives the air conditioner, so we got everything in place and then switched the wires over in a final sweaty hour.

January 7th, we were again told that sanding was done, and brought the yard manager out to show off the barnacles and flaking paint. Meanwhile Waterhorse was also almost done sanding, and we snapped this pic of the typical yard work ethic. The incentive problem, in brief: the yard charges us by the job, but pays workers by the day. “Solve for the equilibrium.”

By this point we were developing a pattern of having a “catty hour” in the wifi room after we all stopped working for the day. Which, of course, was always a few hours after the paid workers stopped, because at that point we could do things like wash the accumulated sanding dust off the top of the boat.

With the boat freshly washed, we let Captain try to chase the birds off the boat before the workers got in for the day. As you can see from the droppings right in front of him, he was not very successful. He did enjoy getting a good stare in, in the evenings, at the passing yard cats and raccoons.

We caught a fiberglass guy in the morning and asked him to fix some blisters in the rudders. This went quickly, teaching us that the fast way to get work done was to ask the workers and let the yard bill us after the fact. Manageable tasks took the form “fix these specific blisters”, but tasks like “find and fix all the blisters” seemed to be too complicated and would simply not happen.

We also started the project of moving the watermaker’s input further back in the boat. The old input had a tendency to breach while under way, sucking in air and stopping the water flow. This meant installing a bigger fitting on the through-hull in question. However, when we went to take the fitting off, first the sealant broke away from the hull and the through-hull stared rotating. The next attempt to unstick the fitting resulted in the through-hull breaking completely. So now we would be shopping for a new through-hull. We were able to find a through-hull with an integrated scoop, though unfortunately not one of the ones with an openable cleaning hatch. So, sorry future boat owners; this was the only option available.

Also Saturday morning, we took delivery of our paint. Colombia’s environmental regulations are, maybe not better but different than other places, severely restricting which paints are available. We had had another boater offer us a deal on some “surplus” paint, but after several days of waiting, that fell through. In hindsight we realized that that paint was most likely going to fall off the back of a government boat, and definitely would have been government-red. That left us with only the Hempel dealer as a potential source, so our paint choices were red or black, ablative or silicone. We agonized about the silicone for a while, but ultimately decided to go traditional, as we’re not quite fast enough for the boat’s motion to activate the “fouling release” where growth just slides off. More importantly, we wanted to retain the ability to beach the boat without damaging the paint, because we’re bound for the pacific where there are tides. So we bought the smallest unit of paint available, 20 litres each of paint and primer, and hauled them up into the cockpit where they would be both shaded and unlikely to grow legs. Also pictured, the gate to the facility, where the guard was very insistent that everyone wear masks… in the areas covered by the camera.

Feeling somewhere between ambitious and frustrated with the yard’s lack of progress, we spent the afternoon shopping for painting supplies and food for the week. (In part, to replace the extremely aged marshmallows we found in our rice krispy kit.) Shopping is unpleasant at the best of times, so most of our “shopping” pictures are of our sustenance-micheladas. There was also a random giant squirrel outside the mall. And we thought it was notable that the grocery store sold meat, frozen, just thrown into a bin.

Sunday, having washed the boat, we discovered that the paint dust had sunk into the freshly waxed deck, leaving stains we would have to polish away. We also did a check to see how the sanding (definitely done) had gone. And we found a mess: lots of places where there were still barnacles, and a bunch of others where they had broken through the gelcoat to the fiberglass below. Meanwhile, lots of the remaining primer was still chipping off.

So instead of starting to wax the freeboard, as planned, we opted to run the new hose for the watermaker. This involved drilling a number of new holes, using a new hole saw we’d bought the day before. We have yet to regret buying a quality tool, and we have immensely regretted buying our first cheapo hole saw kit.

Monday morning we talked to the yard about the work, and they said they’d get it done. By evening, it was not done. We went to polish the freeboard after the workers had left, and found that our polisher was not going to participate. Pictured, Andrew hand-polishing along the waterline, where our Santa Marta crew hadn’t been able to reach well due to it being partly underwater.

Tuesday also did not bring completion to the sanding project, though it did bring Andrew to the marine store down the road with a long list from another boater in the yard. “Hey, are you going to a chandlery today? Can you grab a few things? I wrote a list….” We didn’t realize that this was not a traditional retail store, but a warehouse with a desk agent who takes some five minutes to go into the back and hunt for each. Individual. Item. One at a time. At this point we were pretty cranky with the world, and took an evening out in Cartagena to de-stress. We had some pretty excellent food at a gastropub we’d almost reached on a previous evening in the city. We were dirty, with grease under our chipped nails (shown by Jazz), and we didn’t care because Andrew had mushrooms and Jazz had an excellent glass of wine.

Over the course of dinner we came to the conclusion that “remove all the bad paint” was too complicated an instruction, and we would have to simply go down to gelcoat everywhere. On Wednesday morning we approached a contractor another boat was using about finishing our sanding, and that seemed to kick the yard into motion, because they promised to finish in two days. From the morning to the evening, they got the port hull and some of the nacelle down to gelcoat. This was also the day that the yard had no running water, so we stashed some bottles from the boat for flushing the wifi-room toilet. Ah, yard life.

On Jan 13th, they had two guys working all day, and managed to almost finish the sanding.

Meanwhile, they also got the welder who’d quoted us a small fix on our ladder to start working, and our fiberglass friend helped build up a flat base for our new through-hull scoop. And then he insisted that we needed a longer screw for mounting it, and broke through to the gelcoat on the inside. (He patched it.)

Of course, we couldn’t find the proper bronze fitting anywhere in Cartagena, so we had to put it together with a brass fitting and order the bronze one from the US. Final pictures, the shame-fitting, and Andrew putting it in in a relatively ergonomic spot (for a boat.) Jazz took nearly two days trying to find even this fitting, bouncing from store to store with each new piece of advice, sometimes on the back of someone’s motorcycle, carrying a sixpack of beer and handing out cans to people who tried to help.

That evening, we washed the boat, and found a bunch of places where the sanding had gone too deep and the gelcoat would need patching and more sanding before she really was finally ready to paint. So, one more day. A sixteen day sanding job is a real record for us, and the process of getting to that point left us with a sour enough taste about the yard that we would be doing our own painting. And everything else we possibly could.

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