Schadenfreude. I know it’s German, but I have no idea how to say it. A good friend of ours taught it to us when he was telling us what great pleasure he took in seeing Phillip and I knee-deep in boat projects instead of wading in crystal green waters, cocktail in hand. “Somehow I like the idea of you two working hard instead of playing in the Bahamas. That must be the German side in me coming out. And, did you know that Germans are the only culture that has a word to express joy in another’s discomfort or pain? Schadenfreude. Says a lot about the culture doesn’t it?” He’s a funny guy, that one. So, for Conrad and all the other brutal Germans out there who would take great schadenfreude in our boat project phase, this one is for you. Misery loves company! Although I wouldn’t say Phillip and I are anything near miserable when we’re doing boat projects. Seriously! We’re usually smiling most of the time. I know. We’re those people. Don’t you just hate those people?
We don’t! We are those people!
Ahoy followers! Following our awesome voyage to the Bahamas this past season, Phillip and I definitely (as we always do) racked up a pretty extensive list of boat projects to tackle when we got home. Some were necessary repairs that we had been watching for a while and knew we finally needed to get serious about (think hauling out and dropping the rudder). Joy. Others are just for cosmetic or comfort reasons—some inspired by our cruising this past season—but we’re eager to get on those just the same.
And, if you’re starting to think we might just have a bit of a falling-apart boat because we sure spend a lot of time every year doing boat projects and maintenance, we’ll I’d have to say you’re just crazy. Plumb cRaZy. Boats require a ton of maintenance and upkeep. Even ones (well, I should say especially ones) in great condition. It took a lot of work, time, and sweat to prepare our boat this past year to take us comfortably to the Bahamas, but it was all totally worth it. Phillip and I feel privileged and lucky to own such a fantastic, old blue-water boat that we’re honored to get to work on her. At least that’s the word we use when we’re stinking, hot, sweaty, and cramped into some ridiculously-uncomfortable places while working on her. “I’m sure honored to be here pretty gal,” I will whisper. But our Niagara has definitely earned all of our spare time and money each time she cranks right up, pops out her sails, and whisks us away to another fabulous distant shore, usually steering the entire time all by herself.
With plans this coming season to likely head back to the Bahamas to truly enjoy the Exumas, which we did not have time to explore this past winter, Phillip and I are eager to dig our teeth into this summer’s list and get it knocked out so we can start the long and arduous process of provisioning and packing for our next adventure. Hooray! Who’s on board? Let’s get this party started already! Here is the actual (always growing) list:
Project No. 1: The Rudder
That’s a pretty important part of the boat, right? Next to hull integrity, a sturdy keel, along with solid rigging and sails, the rudder is one of the only things that, without it, the boat simply cannot go. In fact, without it, the boat might easily sink. I have to admit that’s one of the things I really dislike about the rudder. Its cruciality to both the ability of the boat to both navigate and remain bouyant makes it almost too connected and powerful. Like a frenemy.
If you recall, we first noticed an issue with our rudder during our voyage to Cuba.
Yeah, that passage. Bashing our way to windward for five days. That was fun. (Okay, it was, actually, but it was exhausting, too, and very hard on the boat.) That much heel and that much wind puts a lot of pressure on the rudder and, after a few days of it, we started to notice some athwartship movement in our rudder. I know what you’re thinking. That’s not a part you want to see movement in. It makes me think of the keel and how gut-wrenching it might be to watch it bend, even just slightly, from starboard to port as we heel over. Uggh. That seriously gives me goosebumps. Unfortunately, that’s what we were noticing. Each time the boat would heel with a gust of wind and climb to weather, the top of the rudder post in the cockpit would move about a quarter to a half inch from port to starboard. We had a Rudder on the Loose!
Phillip and I both spent a good part of that voyage hanging upside down in each of the lazarettos adding extra nuts to the three bolts that hold our rudder cap in place on the cockpit floor.
For this reason, one of the projects on our list last summer while we were preparing to travel to the Bahamas was an interim reinforcement of our rudder by fitting some extra wide fender washers on the three bolts that hold our rudder cap in place.
We knew this would be a temporary fix for the season, though, and that, when we hauled out the following year, we wanted to drop the rudder and really do this project right. After doing some research (which we are always thankful for the helpful and insightful fellow Niagara 35 owners on the Niagara 35 Owners Facebook Group who share lessons learned from projects like this) we found other owners head dealt with this play in the rudder as well and decided to reinforce the backing for the rudder cap on the cockpit floor. It really is a sh&*-ton of pressure to all culminate at one very small round hole on the cockpit floor, secured by three small bolts. For this reason, you will see in the photo below, one Niagara owner decided to add a very substantial backing plate around the top of the rudder post to help reinforce and secure it.
Meet Larry Dickie! Ironically named after my own people, the infamous Alabama Dickeys (albeit a slightly different spelling). After Larry posted this photo and a brief write-up about the project, we reached out to him and he proved to be a treasure-trove of information for this particular project and many, many others. Here is what Larry had to say:
Larry Dickie Niagara 35 Owners Group
January 26 near Horta, Portugal ·
“A couple of days ago I posted pics from the N35 rudder rebuild I did. I neglected to add this critical piece, applicable to all versions of Niagara (IMHO). The area in the cockpit flooring is, where the top of the rudder post exits, simply not strong enough to take the very severe and continual torque associated with long passages (or possibly even much shorter passages). I had been warned about this by another N35 owner, years ago. But this repair/upgrade somehow fell off the hundred-job list before we departed. Even though I had placed straight thickened epoxy for several inches around the area when I recored the sole, it was still not strong enough. A few days off Horta, during a dismal night watch, I noticed the top of the rudder post moving slightly as we came off each wave – boy, not a good feeling in the pit of my stomach there.
Now, let me be the first to admit this is not the prettiest fix. But in the Azores, you can only really get good boat work assistance in Horta (Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services). They made this plate for me, as per my napkin drawing; it was based on the fact that there was limited space undernearth to place thru-bolts. Yes, those hex-bolts are not the prettiest, but all that was available. If back in Canada, I would most likely have buried this whole plate within the sole and epoxied over it. All things considered, I’m more than happy with the end result – top end of the rudder now does move at all, even in heavy seas.
All this to say to other N35 owners who are, or contemplating heading off: shore-up the rudder post at the top end (assuming many of you already have).”
Did you note Larry’s location when he posted that? Horta, Portugal! That’s right. The Azores. Those magic islands Phillip and I were exceedingly lucky enough to be able to visit and enjoy during our Atlantic-crossing with Yannick. There is something special about that place, I tell you. Something indescribable.
We certainly plan to sail our boat across the Atlantic someday, stopping at both Bermuda and the Azores again, so it was nice to see another Niagara 35 making the trip. Larry was very generous to share his experience with this issue with us and his extensive upgrade. When we haul-out this summer, we plan to drop the rudder and install a similar wide backing plate in the cockpit floor, likely glassed in, to reinforce and further support the rudder post, particularly at the potential pivot point here where it is secured at the cockpit floor. Our buddy Brandon with Perdido Sailor, Inc. also advised us he has seen this issue before where the rudder post also actually becomes worn down from use and is not as tight in the bushing, allowing for play. If he finds that is the case with our rudder, he recommended we add a thin layer of epoxy along the post to literally “widen” it back up so that it is a snug fit in the bushing preventing movement. This will be an extensive project. Likely our most complicated and costly of the summer. But we never want to see movement in the rudder post again. That is a very frightening thought when your boat is pitching and tossing, trying to hold course in heavy seas. Stay tuned.
Project No. 2: Prop Shaft Key
This is key. We’ve been battling this guy for a while. And, I have to laugh because at times I have to really feel sorry for our boat. It’s like she tries and tries to gently show us there’s a problem. She wiggle a nut loose, squeeze out a few drops of fluid, or let out a repetitive thud, thud, thud which should translate to “look here,” “hey, check this out,” or “I need tightening here,” and what do we do? Wipe the drips and turn up the radio! Not really. Honestly, Phillip and I are pretty diligent boat owners, but it still surprises me at times even when we were looking and listening, as we always try to do, that we still miss the very obvious cues. So, this key. It is kind of hard to see in this photo, but it is about a three-inch long square rod, basically, that slides into a slot along the prop shaft.
In our boat, we have a v-drive transmission where the engine sits in backwards and the transmission is actually in front of the engine. When we pull the hatch back (which is actually our entire galley sink and countertop (it’s pretty freaking badass if you ask me, one of my favorite design elements of our boat for sure!), the transmission, coupling, and end of the prop shaft are immediately visible.
And, at the end, we have a key that fits in a slot on the prop shaft and helps the shaft grab and turn the coupling (in addition to a set screw and two bolts on the coupling that tighten down onto the prop shaft. All fascinating stuff, I can assure you. But, this stupid little key.
My God, the hours Phillip and I have spent dicking around with this key. The thing would not stay in. I can’t tell you how many times we have spent watching it wiggle out, sometimes halfway, other times entirely and we would have to fish around in our super clean bilge to find it, all to then hammer it back in with some Loc-tite and hope for the best. It seems like such a terrible design. Eventually we watched as the prop shaft itself began to—much like the key had—inch forward toward the bow of the boat and actually protrude a quarter-to-half inch in front of the coupling. Those were good times. And, I’m saving for you the story of what happened when the shaft creeped too far forward. My point in all of this is to hopefully get you chuckling as much as we were when we finally realized what our amazing boat was trying to tell us with all of this key business. “My coupling is loose!” she was screaming. Poor boat. She’s such a trooper when it comes to us, I tell you. While the two bolts that tighten the coupling down onto the shaft had seizing wire on them, which is why we did not suspect they could loosen, we have learned anything that rattles on a boat can loosen (and wire can stretch!). After we finally tightened the bolts on the coupling back down, the key hasn’t given us any further trouble. But! We’re thinking about having a new key machined that has a hole for a seizing wire so we can prevent any further “rattle out” issues in the future. Rattle is real, people. We’re taking measures!
Project No. 3: Some Westie Love!
Boy does he deserve it. “Westie” our 27A Westerbeke engine in the boat. He’s been performing like a champ.
While we try to take very good care of him, always looking for leaks, tightening screws and bolts that rattle loose, keeping a very close eye on his coolant system, and changing the oil every 50-75 hours, Westie is getting up there. He is the original 1985 engine on the boat with about 3,600 engine hours on him. Plenty of life left for sure, but we do need to replace the exhaust elbow that goes to the manifold and the manifold gasket, give him a super scrub down (knocking off the flaking rust) and perhaps re-paint him and reinforce his stringers as they have spread and deteriorated a bit with water leaks (particularly on the starboard side under the water pump).
We will probably also drain the coolant system and change out the coolant and replace the gaskets around the thermostat as those tend to leak often.
Project No. 4: Forestay Maintenance
As many of you are aware, we replaced our original rod rigging with universal 5/16 wire rigging when we spent three months in the shipyard back in 2016 re-building our stringers (and doing a hundred other things). Those were good times. Videos for you here if you haven’t seen them (Raising the New Rig, Part One and Two).
Brandon said we deserved a “Boat Yard 101” training certificate when we splashed back because that was an absolute hard-core crash-course in boat maintenance and repair. But, while it definitely sucked finding out the very important stringers under our mast were rotten and that it was going to cost several thousands to fix, those three months (and all the money) we spent in the yard in 2016 was the absolute best thing we could have done as boat owners. There is no way we could have learned as much as we did from dedicated, knowledgeable boat repairman, craftsmen, experts, had we not spent that time side-by-side with Brandon and his crew at the shipyard. So, we don’t regret it. Ever. And, it was time to replace the rigging anyway, so the timing actually worked out.
But, although our rigging is new (or, better yet, because it is new) during the course of our sailing the past two years, it has stretched. Phillip and I noticed a little looseness in our forestay that caused it to (for lack of a better word) “warble” while we are furling the headstay, particularly our larger 135 genny, and particularly during the last 5-6 rolls of the drum. So, we contacted Rick over at Zern Rigging and his guys came out to check our forestay tension. While one of his main guys, DJ (we love you!) inspected it and said our forestay was actually tighter than most, he found we could afford a bit more tension so he and his guys tightened it up for us.
He also noticed immediately the grinding and difficulty in turning our furling drum (something Phillip and I have noticed for a while but figured it might have to do with the looseness of the stay). DJ, however, explained that it would be easy for us, and quite prudent, to re-build the furling drum and replace the bearings inside as they just age and wear over time with salt and dirt build-up in there. So, Phillip and I will plan a day while we’re in the shipyard to do that as well and I know that will work wonders when we’re furling in heavy (or any, really) winds.
Project No. 5: Swap to a Composting Head?
We’re hoping to. At least I’m hoping to. We are definitely keen on the idea of gaining the additional storage space where our 25-gallon “turd tank” currently resides under the v-berth and the theoretical convenience of no longer having to pump out or worry about holding tank leaks (been there, done that, gross!).
Phillip, however, is a little skeptical about the size and fit of a composting head in our rather small (and awkwardly-shaped) head compartment, as well as the comfort of sitting on and using a head so tall. We’ve done a lot of research and talked to many boat owners who have switched to a composting head and have heard really awesome pros (like the ones I mentioned above) and the ease of dumping and cleaning the unit, no smell, etc. with just a few cons: the inability for urine to drain when on a particular heel, overflowing of the urine bin (if you don’t monitor it closely enough) and, to reinforce Phillip’s fear, the size and “comfort” of it. Overall, we are on board if a composting head will comfortably fit, but our floor space in the head is very small and triangular-shaped. I have been going back and forth with the Airhead guys (we believe they offer the right balance of look and fit that we want) and they actually drew a pretty to-scale CAD drawing for me showing how the head might fit (cocked slightly at an angle) and we will likely have to build a small shelf to support the urine bin.
A friend of ours (you recall Phil who bought his first live aboard sailboat, a 1992 Catalina 28 which we helped him deliver last year) recently switched to a composting head so we’ve been learning a lot from him (always good to have a boat buddy make all the disgusting mistakes first, right? ; ) and he let us borrow his head to get a feel for whether it is going to fit in our boat.
It’s going to be a game of Tetris for sure, but I would really like to make this change this summer so I hope it works out. Phillip has put this item exclusively on my list. We’ll see how Boat Project Annie does. Things might get shitty … : )
Project No. 6: The AC Inlet
The “AC Power” on the list. We honestly had so many projects piling up, I forgot what this one was and had to ask Phillip. I was worried we were going to have to re-wire our AC power system on the boat or something equally major that Boat Project Annie had decided to selectively forget because she knew it was going to be financially and physically painful. Thankfully, it’s not too bad. On our boat, we are always chasing leaks. All. Ways. And, we believe we’re getting some water in from behind the AC power inlet on the outside of the cockpit on the starboard side.
Phillip tells me it looks like a “mangled rat’s nest” in the back all gooped up with silicone and other adhesives. So, we’ll be popping that out and re-bedding it anew with butyl.
Project No. 7: Re-Bedding Stanchion Posts
While we’re on re-bedding (which it seems we are always doing). We’ve got a few stanchion posts that are looking a little red around the bed. Once we start to see rust streaks leaking out around the base, that’s a sure sign that puppy is leaking. We’ve re-bed approximately six of the ten on the boat, so this will be another 2-3 and will hopefully seal those up for the next 2-3 years. I can’t stand having unknown leak sources on the boat! We’ll keep hunting and re-bedding till we have a dry bilge darnit! Boat Project Annie is no quitter!
Project No. 8: Jib Sheet Turning Blocks
Our previous owner (Jack, you fantastic boat-owner you!) re-routed the sheets for the headsail to come through a set of blocks mounted on a stainless steel plate to improve his ability to trim and tack the sail single-handed. If you recall, our previous owner used to single-hand our boat in the Mackinac race. Pretty awesome, right? Our boat has such a cool history. We are very pleased with the upgrades he made, this being one, but over time the bearings in the blocks for the genny sheets have failed and we need to have these blocks and their brake levers re-built.
We’ve been very pleased with the products we have ordered previously from Garhauer so we will probably send them a photo or the block itself to allow them to rebuild blocks for us.
Project No. 9: The Fridge??
Hmmpffh. What to say here. Honestly, we’re not quite sure yet what we’re going to do here, if anything. Bottom line is our fridge is original to the boat, which means it’s now thirty-three years old and operates on an antiquated Freon system with inadequate insulation.
We’ve had the Freon refilled and we’ve spent some awesome Saturdays wiggling ourselves into that torture chamber squirting Great Stuff around the seams to try and improve the fridge’s insulation and ability to hold temp.
The fridge, particularly in the hot summer season, is easily our biggest power suck while on anchor. We’re going to debate dropping in a new Freon fridge this summer or upgrading to a more efficient, more modern model that fits in our boat. Stay tuned.
Project No. 10: Switching to LEDs
This has been an on-going project, but one we want to continue pursuing until we have converted all of the lights on the boat to LED. We swapped out a few of our reading lamps and fluorescent lights to LED before we left for the Bahamas and we were thrilled with the minimal output.
Think 0.1 amps an hour to light the boat. Ummm … yes please? So, we’ll be ordering and installing LED lights throughout and adding more red options where we can for better lighting options during night passages.
Project No. 11: Canvas Work!
If our time in the Bahamas during December and January taught us one thing, it’s we do not like to be wet, drizzly, and cold on our boat. Thankfully, we were not, mostly because we spent those wet, chilly, super-windy days toasty warm in our wetsuits kite-surfing! Heck yeah!
But, it did show us that the more comfortable cruisers were the ones who still had a warm, dry “living room” they could enjoy despite the wet bitter weather. They just had to zip up their enclosures in the cockpit and *bam* it was a toasty day on the boat. While we may not use them often, Phillip and I decided when you need them, you really need them, so we’re going to get a quote and consider having a full enclosure for our cockpit made so, on those occasional cold, wet days either on the hook or especially on passage, we can zip up our cockpit and stay toasty! We’ve already put in a request for a quote from our trusty local canvas guy, Tony with Coastal Canvas, for a complete enclosure (which we are sure will run us a couple thousand, if not more …. but it is what it is) as well as having him fix some of the snaps on our hatch covers that have ripped off.
Project No. 12: BOTTOM JOB!
And, of course, what do you always do when you haul out? That’s right, you got it! Unfortunately we had to scramble and pull of a bit of an emergency haul-out last October for Nate, we feel incredibly fortunate, however, that Nate was just a tropical storm. Do NOT ask me how I’m feeling about this coming season. Makes my stomach turn … But, it was a very good hurricane prep drill for us (thankfully just a drill) and also a chance to scrub the bottom, scrape off a few obstinate barnacles, and slap a few coats of bottom paint on for the cruising season, and we plan to do the same when we haul out this summer. A bottom job has to be my absolute favorite job on the boat, you? ; )
We may throw in a little buff job, too, while we’re there. She always looks so pretty when she’s all shined up!
Let’s see … what else. That’s quite a bit. You guys are going to have a mighty fine Schadenfreude feeling watching us work our tails off this summer making our beautiful boat even more comfortable and getting her ready for more cruising this coming season. While all plans are written in sand at low tide, the vague plan is to go back to the Bahamas and spend our time really enjoying the Exumas and then maybe heading south toward Grenada to keep the boat there next season. We will see. Either way, you know we’ll find a dozen other boat projects to add to the list once we get in there and that we will share with you and conquer.
It’s a boat, right?! Broke Or About To. But that’s why we love her!
8 thoughts on “Post-Bahamas Boat Projects (We’re Dropping the Rudder!)”
We had a Niagara 31 for 25 years. What great boats!!!
That’s awesome. We love ours!
As always, thanks for sharing your stories. Rudders, engines, Y-valves are little ways we relive the adventure of cruising. We had our engine out last year for a complete rebuild and that was worth every penny of cost. It was the last big thing to remove a refit. dare I say, “Enjoy.”
Did I read the word “Grenada?” Oh, yes. Did you read the book Embarrassment of Mangoes? The Eastern Caribbean may be a long beat to windward until you reach Antigua and then it is a delightful slide South. So worth the trip.
Have you considered a folding prop? What is it that Philip is painting onto the prop and shaft?
Hi Norm. We have (we even had one that came with our boat), we’re just pleased with ours and have heard some issues with the unfolding. We also keep our prop in reverse when we’re sailing not under motor, to keep the shaft from spinning endlessly. Phillip is painting bottom paint on the prop to help protect it.
Thanks Norm. I have not, I’ll have to look for that book!