Saturday April 30, 1995 is a date for me to remember. At around midday and with a clear sky, the temperature in the 80's and a cooling Southerly breeze of 15-18 knots, my Rival 32 Melos set out from Clear Lake on another adventure. But I was not aboard. In my place was my girlfriend Janet Grobe and our two friends Bill and Jeanette. Together they are taking the boat to the east coast of Florida from where the real adventure will begin, as Janet sets out alone across the Atlantic, taking Melos back to a port in Portugal that I visited 7 years ago before my east to west crossing. But more on this second single-handed Atlantic crossing aboard Melos in a later issue. This article is about the changes we made aboard the boat; improvements undertaken and equipment changed because things were worn or needed replacement, and changes made as a result of my experiences aboard Melos as well as on other boats.
It was about a year ago that the initial plan was formed and our first target was to ready Melos for the Harvest Moon Regatta last October in which she was crewed on the way down by friends and on the way back by me. After this short passage our lists of to-do's increased dramatically and work began in ernest last November. Initially our lists were divided into those projects we considered essential, those that were desirable and others that would be nice to have done. The initial plan was to complete them in this order but as our work progressed one job seemed naturally to lead to others until eventually we had done them nearly all. But here I want to divide up our tasks another way: those that related to the safety of the vessel and her crew; those that added to comfort; and those that were essentially cosmetic.
Changes and improvements relating to safety
When preparing for my atlantic crossing I had to weigh up which was the more important; a satellite navigation receiver (satnav) with which to fix my position or a ham radio with which to get assistance. My initial choice was the satnav as I figured it would help me stay out of many dangers, but in the end I didn't have to make the choice because I was given an old big-ships satnav and could then afford to buy the radio. Well satnav is old technology these days and so we removed the 20 pound lump of electronics from the drinks locker (which was the only place it would fit) and Janet purchased one of the latest Magellan GPS units which we mounted at the nav station.
Another big decision related to radar. Perhaps the most worrying time for me when single-handing was when I was asleep as there was nothing to alert me to the approach of an oncoming ship. At the time small boat radars were hardly available though radar detectors were around. I had neither. But if I were to do the trip again I would like to have a radar and use its guard-zone and alarm while I was sleeping. Janet agreed and we then had to decide which model to buy. I prefer the Koden radars (marketed under the Sitex brand for recreational vessels) for their power consumption and loud internal alarm but fitting the large CRT display was almost impossible and so we opted for the smallest Raytheon radar with its LCD screen which enabled us to install it right next to the GPS above the chart table. And because it was possible, we interfaced them together which enables the radar to show position, waypoints etc. How well all of this works in practice we will have to see.
Another piece of new equipment installed was a 406MHz EPIRB. Borrowed from a friend Rudy Gonzalez, who himself has made a single-handed Atlantic crossing, the EPIRB is there just in case.
We didn't choose any other new safety equipment but some that I already had needed to be replaced. First was the ham radio which had become water damaged when one of the ports leaked. I returned it to Kenwood USA for repair but they somewhat peremptorily returned it to me as beyond hope. This meant we had to find another radio and around March of this year we were able to buy not just a radio but a radio and automatic antenna tuner from a returned cruiser. The other major item was the liferaft. Purchased by me second-hand in England before my departure, it was now 20 years old and its performance questionable in my mind. But Mike Goforth at Triad Marine had no such doubts when he looked at it. Two years ago it was borderline; now it failed. Again we had to look for a replacement and Janet put up notices around the marinas but the response was minimal. We had all but decided on a new Switlik raft when we got a call on one of her ads and she ended up purchasing an Avon raft with a double floor that fitted right aboard the mounting blocks on Melos without modification. Another task completed.
These major items required the most expenditure but relatively little work in installation. The most complicated of them was the Radar which took a little over a day to fit with most of the time spent routing the cable up the mast and around the cabin.
But our other tasks were more time consuming. Last fall, before the Harvest Moon Regatta, I had checked the fuel tank for signs of dirt and algae and found none. But now we had to check the engine. By borrowing the necessary equipment from John at Competion Marine and Bill at Lakewood Yacht Service We were able to confirm that the engine compression was OK (low but OK) though signs of oil leaking into the aft cylinder did mean that our valve guide oil seals needed replacement. Then Janet performed a full service on the engine changing fuel filters and bleeding the fuel system, changing oil and oil filters, replacing the pump impeller and cleaning the intake strainer. That done and the transmission oil topped off we ran the engine for a few hours and all seemed well.
but we still had no alternator as the original 35 amp. one had failed on our way back from Port Aransas last fall. The cost of Volvo spares is such that we did not even consider a genuine replacement though I did give some thought to a new Volvo alternator in one of the consignment stores close by. But in the end we got a rebuilt 75 amp. alternator build to our specifications and ready to fit for just $49.00 from A-Alternators in League City. To this was added an Ample Power smart regulator and we had an improved charging system at a reasonable cost. My earlier alternator bypass device (a not-so-smart-regulator) was left installed as a manual back up should the Ample Power device fail.
Perhaps the most tedious repair was to the water tank. Located below the floor boards in the main cabin, I had never previously been able to remove it because it was first necessary to dismantle the port settee berth. But this time I decided to do so. Once we got the tank out we saw numerous places where electrolytic corrosion had been at work and though not actually holed, something needed to be done. Two machine shops took one look at it and declined to do anything other than build a new one. But then we decided to coat it ourselves with fiberglass and merely replace the aluminum inspection hatch on the top. Jackie who owns Custom Rails based in Watergate Marina made us an excellent stainless steel replacement.
A large area of concern for any planned offshore trip is the rigging and sails. Our first thoughts were that we should replace all the standing rigging which has been on the boat since I bought her in England, but as I began to delve more into the subject and to speak to those who work with wire rope from manufacturers to riggers I came upon an almost universal response that there was no reason to replace the rigging so long as it all looked OK. And it did. We checked all of the swaged fittings for signs of swelling, rusting or hairline cracking and found none. And so we left it all intact, though Janet did work each of the turnbuckles to make sure that they had not seized and then lubricated then before re-tapping around the cotter pins. Here we were careful to leave space below the tape for water to run clear, as perhaps the quickest way to cause deterioration in the rigging is allowing it to remain soaked in its own little bath of water. As for the sails, they were all in pretty good condition apart from the spinnaker which had ripped along the luff tape during the race last October. One wet morning Janet unstitched the old tape and reattached it to the sail, a tedious but not too difficult task. We did have to replace several of the piston hanks on each of the headsails as, in the course of sailing Melos, some had worn considerably, and in replacing these we also replaced some of the eyes. A few minor stitching repairs were done and the wire swages on the storm jib were checked but that was all that was needed.
One of my last jobs aboard the boat before she left was on the electrical system. Though essentially pretty simple, we had been having a few problems with the fuse holders which had become corroded inside and we decided it was time to modernize Melos and fit circuit breakers. Perhaps if I had had sufficient time I would have rebuilt the panel with the type of breakers most often used here in the US, but I did not, and West Marine now carry a line of breakers that can be used to replace fuses. These breakers do not incorporate a switch so the existing switches remained but new breakers were installed. And then, to tidy things up a little, I moved a few wires around and then applied some spiral wrap to make it all look as neat as possible given my time constraints!
For the majority of my sailing aboard Melos I had used as safety jack lines, plastic covered stainless steel wire of the type normally used for lifelines. With swaged end fittings attached to stout stanchion bases fore and aft, these had always given me a great sense of security, especially when sailing alone as I was always conscious of what would happen should I go overboard. But the plastic coating on these was quite worn in places and we decided to replace them. Though strong, these wire jack lines did tend to roll underfoot creating perhaps the only major hazard in going forward, and as I had been impressed with the webbing type jack lines I had used on other boats we opted for this type. Janet purchased an ample supply of webbing and the plan is to use it attached to fore and aft cleats when at sea but to remove it in port to protect it from unnecessary chafe or deterioration. The use of flat webbing for jack lines has two big advantages. Firstly it does not slip under foot and secondly it is unmistakable for other lines that run forward and so should reduce the times that I go forward at night only to find myself mistakenly attached to the genoa sheet or preventer!
Other repairs and replacements included making new dogs to hold down the lazarette locker which is otherwise prone to letting water in, fixing the windlass and marking the anchor chain (which had been re-galvanized a year or so ago) with paint every 10 feet. Though not too enthusiastic about his daughter setting off across the Atlantic by herself, Janet's dad made a new tiller for Melos which fitted perfectly and looked great. He even repaired and epoxied the old one which has now become the spare.
Improvements in comfort
With my emphasize on safety before I left England, a number of comfort projects were left undone and others that had worked OK were now in need of refurbishment. The first thing to attend to was the leaking ports, one of which had resulted in the early demise of my ham radio and another that had inflicted a chinese water torture on the sleeping occupant of the port settee berth. In all we had to repair three hatches. Last fall I had removed sufficient of the head liner in the main cabin to get to the bolts holding the main hatch and we had removed this completely so that the seized stainless bolts in the aluminum casting could be reworked. Once this had been done, I remounted the hatch combings with a liberal supply of sealant and then reattached the frame itself. The last job was to seal in the acrylic panel to the frame. All went well until this last stage. I applied sealant around the rim of the hatch, lowered the acrylic into place and then found that the bolts securing it would not tighten down. What had happened was that sealant had gone down into the closed holes and was preventing the screws from doing so. At the time we waited until the sealant had hardened and then cleaned out the screw holes before putting them in. It did secure the acrylic but it was still not watertight. And so this job had to be repeated. At the same time Janet set about resealing the fixed cabin ports, and with some help removed some rotted plywood around two of them and then replaced it. With all the ports resealed Melos should be as watertight now as she was when I set out: I guess Janet will find out when she encounters her first big seas!
Next on the list for comfort was a dodger. I had wanted one before I left England but it would have eaten into my cruising fund and so I decided I could manage without it. The result was that I had to wear my foul weather gear almost constantly when beating, and after my passage across the Bay of Biscay the sores on my butt resulting from the damp conditions meant that I had to sleep on my stomach for a week!. And so now we decided to fit a dodger for Janet's West-to-East crossing. Melos already had a small worked coaming for one and so when we met with Rodney Young from Boat Fashions, he proposed a traditional style dodger using this coaming. As for the frame, we agreed to use the larger 1" sized stainless tube and I insisted that all fittings be welded rather than held with those small hex bolts usually seen. All was fine until the frame was fitted and we realized that the mainsheet would chafe as it passed over the aft supports and so we designed a custom fitting for these supports which Jackie at Custom Rails made for us. One final addition was an awning running from the top of the dodger to the backstays. We had spurned the idea of a bimini both because it was hard to design one that would both work and look OK so this was a compromise. This small awning can be used at sea (so long as you don't need to tack) and promises to work fine and provide some shade during those long offshore passages. But we will have to wait and see how it all works out in practice.
Other comfort projects included new lee cloths which Janet made to the pattern of the old worn ones, and new cockpit cushions. Cockpit cushions for use at sea really need to be made of closed-cell foam which, though not as comfortable as normal cushion foam, does not become saturated and water logged. Our first plan was to make some new cushions ourselves but time was short. Then we investigated both the cost of having them made locally and the cost of those custom foam cushions made in Rockport TX. But in the end we made a compromise. West Marine had their one-size closed-cell foam cushions on sale and because of the small cockpit size on Melos we found then to be just the right width but a little long. And so we bought these, cut them down and installed them in the covers which I had made in England. They didn't look new but they were the right size at the right price! We could perhaps have used the foam cushions without covers as they are intended to be, but a problem with this is that being so light in weight, a strong wind can blow them away. And hence the use of the covers which added a little weight.
Below decks we wanted to reupholster all the cushions but in the end our list of projects was such that this had to be shelved. Instead we removed the existing covers and Janet washed them (several times) until they looked OK. Then with a few zipper repairs, replacement of the bottom liner on two of them and with new heavy duty 4" foam in those that had worn most, they were done. Neither of us like the pattern much but the color does not show the dirt (!) and the material is so hard wearing that it was hardly worn.
Our final comfort project concerned the toilet. The original one had been repaired numerous times and was now in a terminal state. Add to this the uncomfortable seat and we decided to replace it. Janet had a hardly used Lavac head from a previous boat and so I decided to install this. It was a relatively major job requiring removal of alot of wood and fittings surrounding the old one. Then I constructed a plywood base which would fit against the curved surface of the hull and provide a comfortable height for the user. This was sanded, fiberglassed with epoxy and then glassed onto the hull. Once fitted and painted it provided an ideal base with cut outs enabling easy access to all bolts and fittings below (something the earlier one had lacked). All that remained was the need for new plumbing and, in order to comply fully with Coast Guard requirements, we needed to fit a holding tank (something Melos had previously lacked). We resented the loss of storage space this would entail and the additional cost but nevertheless we decided to proceed. Our initial consideration of holding tanks made us realize that this may prove a practical problem and so we sought the advice of the experts, Don and Barbara Currie from Marine Sanitation. Not only did they know exactly what we needed, Don gave us lots of good advice regarding the installation and helped install the fittings on the Vetus bladder tank we had opted for. Then all I had to do was fit the various hoses. This was without doubt the most difficult and tiring job that I undertook. Fitting the hose onto the necessary fittings with an arm extended at some obtuse and unbelievable angle requires considerable strength and dexterity. I nearly gave up on this especially when one hose that I had been proud to re-use from the old installation turned out to have a leak and had to be removed again!
Improvements in appearance
Last year we hauled Melos out of the water for a new bottom job and at the time we went ahead with replacing the cove stripe along the sheer. It was not an easy task but when we had done it we were pleased with the results. Now we had to repair a few places along the cap rail and we had the outside looking pretty good. Not perfect by any means and with the teak unvarnished it looked salty rather than attractive but we settled for the practicality of this. Below decks we went a little more to town. As is the case with so many boats, the head liner does not allow access to the areas above. Aboard Melos the vinyl had been glued-on and was looking a little seedy so we decided to replace it. Removing the vinyl let us see the individual ply panels that it was glued to. Each panel had been screwed in place and all screw heads and joints faired to make a seamless surface before the vinyl was attached. We chose a different approach. With each of the panels removed we cut a sliver from each side, sealed the existing screw holes and then covered each panel separately, tabbing the vinyl around the sides and onto the panel back. With all the panels completed this way, we reinstalled them with new screws and finish washers. Now the screws show clearly but each panel looks new and each can easily be removed for access above. A much more functional and seamanlike solution.
To complement the head liner we fitted new cabin lights as well. Janet had a number of Alpenglow lights intended for an earlier boat and so we fitted these in the navigation area, the galley, main cabin and head. In each corner of the main cabin were small reading lights, two of which didn't work and all of which would have looked better on a barge. We jettisoned these in favor of four Vetus reading lights. Rather than buy two more Alpenglow lights for the forepeak which I had used only for storage as Janet was also doing, I refurbished two of the old florescent fittings, making teak end plates to replace the cracked and broken plastic caps. The result was two functional lights that looked better than ever before.
But the biggest improvement resulted from our new cabin sole. The kind of imitation teak and holly vinyl that used to be on the sole was pretty unusual. When originally fitted it must have looked reasonable (I guess) but recently the curled up edges and scuffed floor looked better with the seedy carpet over it that I used. All of this was thrown out. We removed all of the old vinyl as best as possible and then went up to Houston to buy a sheet of 1/4" teak and holly ply. Then I set about cutting out the pieces for the galley, nav area and main cabin. It took quite a while especially trying to match the stripes but in the end I achieved a satisfactory if not perfect result. Before attaching the ply to the existing sole I took advice from a number of people and eventually opted for Brad Dawsons recommendation of using epoxy. The advantages are a solid floor that cures quickly though the need to weigh down each piece and each corner is important. Again I achieved a satisfactory rather than perfect result. We glued down the ply just a day or so before I left for Florida to bring back a boat, and so Janet was left with the task of finishing the floor. We had talked of applying a coat of epoxy to the finished surface before varnishing it but the risk of messing up was such that we abandoned this in favor of many coats of varnish. The results were impressive and the interior was something that at last I could be proud of. Too bad that Janet would be taking the boat away so soon after it was finished. Of course, as with any project, I didn't get it all done and the sole in the head still has carpet albeit a new piece!
With the new headliner, cabin sole and lights, the interior would have looked a little strange with the faded yellow curtains that I had grown accustomed to. Janet had very early on decided on replacement and so last winter we had purchased some new curtain wire in England (a strong spring wire covered in plastic that is not available in the U.S.) and now we installed this together with the new curtains that Janet had made. This finishing touch was impressive.
As with all projects, the tasks expanded to fill the time available and more. When we look back at our original lists we see that we have completed nearly all the tasks we set out to do including many of the cosmetic improvements that we had not expected to complete. However not everything was done, for if this had been our goal then Melos would still have been tied to the dock for it seems it is never possible to complete every task aboard even a relatively small boat. There is still no teak and holly cabin sole in the head, no dining table in the main cabin and. We would have liked to have refinished all of the interior brightwork and I would have liked to have replaced the veneer on the aft bulkhead, replaced the teak on the galley drawers, fitted new slides on the chart table, built a new electrical panel and the list could go on... and on! All of these are jobs that can wait but there were two tasks that perhaps we should have undertaken. As with many boats, the floor boards are not secured and in a knockdown (or worse) these can come loose. Ideally we should have fitted locking devices to these. A similar problem would occur with the seat locker covers in the main cabin which have no positive locking arrangement. However, the water and fuel tanks are both securely fastened as are the batteries and the heavy tools. Hopefully none of these devices will be tested at sea.
As I write these final words, Melos is now in Florida, and probably as you read this she will be underway somewhere between West Palm Beach and Lisbon, Portugal. Not many sailors get to cross the Atlantic. Even fewer do so alone. Fewer still are female! Next month (or perhaps a month after that depending on winds and weather) I will report on this single-handed Atlantic adventure. On how Janet fared alone at sea, and on how all of the equipment worked in practice.