Painting our Bottom in the Dusty Yard

After over two weeks of sanding, Villa was finally ready to paint. The final finish was far from perfect, but at least all the remaining gelcoat was solid and healthy. Ferroalquimar mostly works on government boats; draw your own conclusions. (The first picture is not all their fault, though; the marks above the taped waterline are from Curacao Marine not taping off before sanding. Though at least they finished sanding in two days.) So we cleaned all the sharp garbage out from underneath her, to protect our feet; the yard had cleaned under the boat constantly until we signed a quote in the office, but after that the guys left all their garbage as they worked and it just kept building up. We also set up a painting station because we have an organized Jazz.

The first step is an epoxy barrier coat, which is a two-part paint that needs to be mixed and then painted immediately, and which had some tendency to dissolve the foam rollers we used on the first coat. By which I mean they instantly turned into floppy, flacid noodles that projected off the ends of the rollers. Their lifespan was short enough that Jazz ended up on a late night resupply trip to the accursed hardware store.

The timings are kind of fiddly, with longer gaps between the three epoxy coats, and then a very short gap between the final epoxy and the first ablative coat. Starting in the evening, when the yard finally finished sanding the gelcoat patches, meant that we had a bit of an odd schedule. So we got the first layer of ablative on, then showered up and headed into the city to meet up with Waterhorse, who had finished most of their work and were taking a hotel break. Blow up the picture and look at how shot we all look. Yard time is the absolute worst. (Although later we figured out that we probably had extremely mild Omicron cases at the time, the only symptom being some extra tiredness that blended with all the other tiredness and yard malaise.)

In between the ablative coats the next day, we started painting the drive leg. (This wasn’t on the agenda, but as we said in the last post, their “light hand sand” down to bare metal meant we were starting over whether we wanted to or not. This meant an extra day of work for us and yet another extra night in the yard.) The same epoxy worked as a base coat, followed by a Velox primer and paint designed for underwater metal. We also got to start on the rudders. Before we’d started painting the first batch of epoxy, we’d found spots on the rudders that we’d talked about with the yard but they still hadn’t fixed, which meant that the rudders would have to be painted on a different schedule. Super annoying, especially because it meant mixing more batches of epoxy and maintaining separate stirring and painting kits.

Because we had so much extra paint, we put on three coats of epoxy and three of ablative before the yard re-blocked us to get to the other sections. After the guy did a first sanding pass, we noticed he was picking beer cans out of the trash we’d swept from under the boat, remnants of the thank-you we gave to the first batch of guys who stayed late to finish the sanding. Having to collect cans does not speak well of how well the guys are paid. (We started separating our own cans out after that.)

In other assorted yard stories, at one point we found our AC ground disconnected; this was one of the jankier electrical hookups we’ve experienced. Speaking of electrical issues, at one point they texted while we were out, asking if they could unplug us. We said, of course, just plug us back in, the cat is inside and needs the AC so he doesn’t die of heat exposure. They said of course. And we came home to find our boat unplugged. Captain was fine but the boat was over 95 degrees and we were pissed.

And totally unrelated, you should know that it is possible to buy glitter by the scoop. Jazz discovered this while picking up painting supplies, when she stopped into a ribbon shop to find material for the sunshade project.

In smaller projects but also speaking of jank, we replaced the hoses leading from the calorifier (fancy word for water heater) to the shower. The old ones seemed… not rated for the temperatures involved, and had fallen off under way one too many times. (One time was too many.)

In more productive news, Jazz took advantage of our time on the hard to rebuild our window coverings. The reflective layers had lived past their expected two-year lifespan, and about half were due for new shiny. The top window coverings, originally automotive windshield bubble-wrap, had also given up a lot of their structure. We replaced both coatings with some heavy duty reflective foam sheeting, and reinforced the ceiling ones with some plastic “peechee” folders. Taking off the shiny was a very messy process.

To attach the layers, Jazz set up a spray-adhesive station outside, which is why this had to happen in the yard. Also sprayed, but with paint, the rusting light fixtures we’d installed only three years prior. (You can see the spots where the fixtures had been in the picture above.) She only managed this picture because that rim got dropped and she had to go back to the store for more paint.

After our third coat of bottom paint, the yard re-blocked Villa, which was a bit of a saga. Andrew had a long, painful conversation with the yard manager, a young guy we assumed was a nepotism hire due to his general level of competence. By this point we had started sending simple, factual descriptions of the problems we ran into to the yard’s WhatsApp, to keep a written record. Things like “You told me the sanding would be done yesterday. It is not done.” Or “We agreed the mechanic would come at 1pm. He never came, it’s now 3pm and Boris at the door confirms he left for the day.” This was apparently a major problem for Roberto, who told us we needed to start treating him with respect, and that he didn’t really feel like re-blocking our boat any more. He kept asking “Why are you calling me a liar?” We reviewed the text messages together and he agreed that they were just simple statements of fact, and that it was reasonable for us to be annoyed that the work wasn’t getting done. So he apologized and we got reblocked that hour. (So actually, right after a conversation about how communication was important to us, in which we agreed he would reblock the boat after lunch, the travelift showed up at 10am without any warning. Of course Andrew was in the middle of putting a coat of paint on the stern drive leg.)

Note that the reason Andrew was having this conversation was that Jazz had already given up on Rodrigo. In the beginning, she was patient and reassuring through the daily stream of promises and excuses for the slow sanding, as we had to wait for Andrew’s laptop anyway. We got one full day of sanding the day after we hauled. After that, someone would sand the boat for a couple of hours, and then they would be gone, and when they didn’t come back by the end of the day, we would ask the office, and they would tell us the sanding was done. We would then look, find it obviously not done, and tell the office the next morning, at which point they’d send Rodirigo with an excuse, and a worker the next day to repeat the cycle. This cycle repeated at least three times after the holidays. When we still found barnacles on day 13, we tried to hire a contractor, who went to the office to get permission to work on our boat. This was apparently a grave insult because it resulted in Rodrigo showing up at our boat and telling Jazz she had to “respect that I know how to do my work and treat me with respect.” To which Jazz had no response, walked away, and managed not to have to interact with him for the rest of our stay. She stopped smiling at him like a subservient cheerleader, and her neutral expression apparently was an unacceptable “death glare” that “stressed him out” to the point where he asked Andrew to “have his wife stop glaring at me”. Meanwhile the office manager’s assistant promised the sanding would finish in two days, and managed to finish in three.

So anyway Andrew got Rodrigo to agree to reblock the boat, and they did, and then sanded the spots that had previously been out of reach. There were some tiny blisters to fix there, and the fiberglass guy took care of most of them. When we pointed out more, they slapped a thick coat of gelcoat over everything and left it un-sanded. When they didn’t show up to sand again after it cured that day, and we missed the window to paint before the dew started that evening, Andrew opted to get out the hand sander and flatten it himself the next morning. (Unlike the professionals, he did wear a respirator.) In the picture on the right, movement of the sling during the lift has pulled the new paint off, and we had to start over on that spot as well. (That shouldn’t happen, it means that the sling slid against the boat, which is sloppy work by the yard.)

So Waterhorse beat us into the water. We watched them go, and then got our serving of water in the cold Ferroalquimar showers. They are the most ridiculous showers. They have the fanciest showerheads we’ve ever seen, but installed so close to the doors of the tiny stalls that Jazz had to open the door to get the water to reach her hair. Short people problems, when your head isn’t high enough to touch the shower head. Water sprays onto the floor no matter what you do, and drains through a hole in the floor and out into the center of the walkway leading in and out of the yard, so if you’re showering, you’re not the only one.

Having finished painting, we could finally start on the “real” engine work. We had been worried about the visible aging of the bellows at the pivot point, but to change it we would have to drain the oil, and draining the oil before painting almost guarantees that the paint won’t stick, and painting has to happen after sanding so that the new paint doesn’t get covered in paint dust. So after sixteen days of sanding and a couple of days of painting, the leg could come off and get a new bellows. In the process, we found that the steering linkage (last picture) was the source of most of the stiffness getting the drive leg up and down. Getting that moving again involved a trip to a machinist, as the set screw was stripped and needed replacing. Even getting the bastard detached at all was a big pain, don’t believe Andrew’s lying smile. The fabrication shop was great, unstuck the joint for free (Jazz calls this the blue-eyes discount), and the guy even left the shop to go buy a new set screw for us. Good things do happen in the world! Even if it doesn’t always seem that way from the yard. And even though the new set screw was actually too long and Jazz had to go back for a shorter one the next day.

Jazz would later end up back at this shop, as the culmination of a two-day hunt around the city for acceptable plastic fittings. She bounced through dangerous parts of town from store to store, desperately hunting for a part that, due to a miscommunication, she thought was absolutely necessary for us to make water in the San Blas. Needless to say, she found a solution, when she ended up back at the fabrication shop; but they would have had to machine it out of a block of nylon with a five day lead time. When she called Andrew to tell him this was the best she could do, and he said “well let’s just do this in Panama City”, tears were involved and his life was possibly saved by the fact that it was a phone conversation. Here’s Andrew putting together a janky size conversion on the watermaker’s input strainer, to be replaced when the new fittings arrive in a subsequent order; the camera caught the moment that the hose collar bit him. We were a little high strung.

The other drive leg project was replacing the lift mechanism. We had ordered new O rings when the hydraulic jack started to fail. But when we took it off, we saw this crack; it was clear an O ring wasn’t going to fix the problem. So instead, we installed a lift rope, which was easier than it could have been because some previous owner had clearly had a similar setup and most of the hardware was still in place. We just needed a new hole in the drive leg itself, and some new pulleys and a cleat. Here’s Jazz, the steadier of hand in our crew of two, cutting a hole for the new recessed bullet block with the oscillating saw and the new Dremel routing bit, new tools bring happiness. But look at the state of her boatyard feet! Final report: the new system is much easier to use, and doesn’t require leaving the cockpit.

Most of the hardware for that new system came in an order from the states. Along with that order came a new depth/speed/temp sensor, because our old one had started reporting crazy high temperatures and we’d been told that that was the first sign of failure. We had installed it new a little more than three years ago, which is coincidentally a little more than the warranty period. And depth is nice to have, because it helps us not run aground, and figure out how much chain to drop when we anchor so the boat stays where we put her. This is a fairly simple repair, made complicated only by the fact that the wire runs through the whole salon and is only just barely long enough. Captain also got a refreshed version of his favorite toy in the order, so he was happy.

Another project was replacing the bathroom through-hull. In the last post we talked about trying to get it out, but we were unsuccessful in many attempts, even losing a pair of nail-clippers that did admirable duty as a lever before failing catastrophically. Ultimately what worked was dremeling most of the way through the through-hull to make a slot, and then a chisel to hold it in place until the through-hull sheared in half. So we got it out, and put in an brand new through-hull and valve and fitting, brass into bronze but at least this one isn’t under the waterline. This was the “five minute” culmination of a long-running project to get the bathroom pump to deal with Jazz hair, starting with a new pump back in Carriacou and slowly eliminating all the potential hair-catching choke points. Replacing the through-hull hadn’t been on the agenda, but with the extra time from our long sanding wait, we’d started “quick projects” like replacing the fitting, which spiraled a little out of control when the through-hull broke free of its sealant and started to rotate. (For non-boaters: this is a hole in your boat, which means it needs to be at minimum taken apart and re-sealed.)

Other yard stuff. In this sunset photo, you can see the tracks that the travelift left right next to our boat, passing within a foot of our nose cone. We were polishing the sides at the time, and so Jazz stopped her work and sprayed (our metered) water in an attempt to reduce the amount of dust the giant wheels kicked up. In the second photo, there’s a megayacht being lifted, and the yard has a guy spraying the dust with a big firehose. Some customers are more important than others.

As we were leaving, we tried to be responsible and fill our propane tank. We’d gotten a name from a cruising guide, but that turned out to be a lie, and Jazz spent most of the morning bouncing around in a taxi trying to figure out where to get a refill. Here’s where she pulled it off. Most of the time, yards and marinas have information like “where do you buy propane” on hand, because it comes up for a lot of their customers. But here, you’re on your own. Second picture, the ladder as the welding guy left it: the hole that was there is patched, so that’s nice, but scratches rust, and this is the state they thought it was OK to leave the work in.

We went up to the city to meet up with our friends on Caterpillar, and managed not to take a single picture together. We did, however, take a couple of pictures of their guidebook, with charts of our next few stops. We had dropped off laundry before lunch, and while we waited for it to be ready, we got pedicures to try to get some of the yard dust out of our feet.

The laundry was a good idea, though with the dusty yard we had to hang the delicates inside the boat. The pedicures we not as wise, as Jazz’s big toe got a big cut, which continued to swell and ooze for the next couple of weeks.

Still, she fought through it, and helped wax the underside of the boat, which is never the fun part. We got Villa nice and clean again, and even had some unexpected company doing it.

And that was it! Our projects were done, so it was time to launch. Even with extra coats we had had way too much paint, so we left it for another boater we’d met. Jazz was super excited to run into another lady working on her boat (yard lady sailors are super rare), and they both just stopped walking mid-yard, stared, and simultaneously pointed at each other. They had a nice laugh and chat, and days later she was excited to get enough paint for a whole coat. Lady sailors helping other lady sailors.

We’d talked with the yard on Friday about launching on Monday, but when Monday came, that conversation wasn’t in writing so it hadn’t happened. But they promised to get us out after two or maybe three other boats, definitely by eleven or maybe noon, two at the latest. We hit the water around five, too late to get anywhere and anchor in daylight. So we spent the night tied to the concrete wall of the lift ramp, with Captain doing his best to escape and explore the piles of rope on the barge next door. And we had a little bit of fun uncloging the toilet input pump, which we had forgotten to clear out of salt water and had sat stagnant for the month on the hard (which should have been ten days). Gross.

We left first thing in the morning, headed for the Rosarios. At this point, however, Jazz was feeling like garbage, because the friend who took the paint had “a little flu, definitely not COVID”, and passed it on. So we motored out of the city, sailed just a little ways down the coast, and anchored off a pleasant island. We watched the tourist boats passing by, and fielded a call from DHL that we would have missed had it not been for Jazz’s flu. Apparently we needed to answer some questions in order for customs to clear Andrew’s outbound laptop. If we’d left any earlier that could have been a big mess!

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