Post-Bahamas Projects 2023: Cushions, Boom Vang, Back Stay, Davits, Oh My!

For Ubi, in 2023, April showers brought many project hours.  After all that holiday island-style fun in the Abacos,

Phillip and I planned to spend a good bit of the spring in sunny Ft. Lauderdale—where we were keeping Ubi at a friend’s dock for the season—tackling some long overdue projects.  

Let’s face it.  It’s a boat.  There’s always a list.  But, it has an hierarchy.  Some projects lay hidden, hoping never to be found, while some tend to bubble their way slowly to the top, and others storm to it and crash through like a man on fire.  “Surprise, I’m broke!  Fix me first!”  It’s the boat who gets to decide, really—what projects are safety issues, what projects will get worse if not conquered now, and what can wait.  After the boat makes those decisions, we peons (the owners) get to make our “want” versus “need” decisions and add our desires to Ubi’s needs.  

Here’s the list we had formed on Ubi for Spring 2023: 

  1. Replace the failing shocks in the boom vang;
  2. Rebuild the leaking hydraulic backstay;
  3. Have a new halyard for the mainsail made;
  4. Have new running backstays made;
  5. Replace our sail cover with a stack pack;
  6. Have new hatch covers made and our sagging filler taken in;
  7. Replace the blue ultra-suede interior cushion covers with cream ultra-leather;
  8. Repair our fridge/freezer lids where the powerful shocks were cracking and pulling out; and
  9. Repaired a busted pickling fitting on our Cruise RO water maker.

Nine items.  That’s a respectable list.  Some essentials.  Some simply quality of life and/or sailing upgrades.  You may be thinking, why not add one more to make it a round ten?  Turns out, Ubi felt the same way.  Let’s dig in.

No. 1 – Replace the failing shocks in the boom vang

In the fall and winter of 2022, we had noticed our boom was starting to drop a little lower.  At first, I just felt like I had to keep retightening our tie-downs that hold the boom in place (traveled over to port) when we’re not sailing.  But then, the boom itself started to make contact with the bimini.  Very light, but enough to signal to us that the shocks in our Sparcraft boom vang were failing.  We called on Florida Rigging and Hydraulics to assist.  They took the vang off the boat and sent it away to have the shocks replaced.  Phillip and I opted to re-install the vang ourselves to save on some labor hours, something we had never done before.  

We eventually proved capable, but it took a lot of head scratching and wrestling before we finally realized the boom itself was really the only thing strong enough to push the shocks down to the right fit.  Once we finally raised the boom to an ungodly height—cocked at an angle like a catamaran—we were finally able to get the pins in for the vang install and then lower the boom back down to its normal position.  We learned replacing these shocks is something that typically has to be done every 5-7 years, so it’s now on the rotating list of things to keep an eye on.  

No. 2 – Rebuild the leaking hydraulic backstay

Like the boom, we had noticed while in the Bahamas that our hydraulic backstay—on the starboard side of our split backstay—had been leaking just a touch of hydraulic fluid onto the seat in the starboard corner of the cockpit and, over time, slowly releasing some of the tension we had cranked down.  We knew it was time for a rebuild.  We brought Florida Rigging and Hydraulics back in to assist again with rebuilding the hydraulic component.  However, trying to stay as hands-on as possible, Phillip and I opted to take on the removal of hydraulic piece as well as the re-install, which proved—again—to be doable, albeit with a wild learning curve.  We rigged up several halyards from the top of the mast aft to help support the mast while the hydraulic backstay was off.  For the re-install, we deployed a Dyneema line through several shackles to our genny winch to help pull the starboard side of the backstay down again so we could get the pin in on the hydraulic backstay.  It was a day’s work but we eventually got it done.  

No. 3 – Have a new main halyard made

Our main halyard on Ubi had been chewed up a few feet aft of the shackle, likely caused (we assumed) years ago by a strike with our wind generator on the starboard stern when attaching it to the dinghy davits behind the cockpit.  It also had a shackle that did not have a captive pin, which made transfer of the halyard from the mainsail or forward deck to the dinghy davits a bit trickier.  We called in Florida Rigging and Hydraulics again to make us a new halyard, as we wanted both a higher-tech, no stretch line as well as a shackle with a captive pin.  That decision was a game-changer.  Phillip and I congratulate ourselves now every time we move that halyard (often an every-other-day occurrence) on our super smart shackle choice.  “Kudos savvy sailors!” we say.

No. 4 – Have new running backstays made

On Ubi, we have two permanent Dyneema lines that run from the mast aft that we can rig up as running backstays, as needed, to help support the mast when we’re pumping downwind.  The two lines we had for this purpose had also suffered a few snags and blowouts and had become compromised, so we wanted to have new ones made to be sure they were at the peak of their strength for Ubi.  We had Florida Rigging and Hydraulics make these up for us as well and they turned out rather nice.  

No. 5 – Replace our sail cover with a stack pack

When we bought Ubi in 2021 (can’t believe that’s coming up on almost three years now – time freaking flies!), she had a Dutchman system installed in the main sail (a system we had never used before) and a sail cover that was, unfortunately, far too large.  But, she was turn-key, ready to go cruising, which was our primary goal, so we decided to try the Dutchman system for a while to make up our own mind about it.  We did not end up liking it.  While it promises a perfectly flaked main falling right down onto the boom every time, that was not our experience.  The mainsail would often flake improperly or fall off the side of the boom, threatening to stretch and break our Dutchman fishing lines.  We also did not like all of the openings and potential chafe points the Dutchman puts in the main.  

Phillip and I also know we LOVE a stack pack.  Drop, stuff, zip, you’re done.  No sail cover to haul up and down and snap and zip over the mainsail (a rather large sail on Ubi).  We are aware of the extra attention required when raising the mainsail to ensure the battens don’t snag the stack pack lines and the visibility lost at the foot of the sail when the stack pack is on, but we find the simplicity and aesthetic of the stack pack system outweighs these cons.  We swapped from a sail cover to a stack pack on the old boat early on in our cruising and we’ve always found it was the right choice for us. We were thrilled to see the stack pack that Mack Sails installed on Ubi.  It’s sleek, well-made, and a great improvement to the boat.  

No. 6 – Have new hatch covers made and our sagging filler taken in

We had a fellow cruiser recommend a gal in Ft. Lauderdale to us who does boat canvas on the side, and we got her lined up to start our canvas work over the course of several months in the spring while we would be flying back and forth from Pensacola, FL to Ft. Lauderdale.  One thing we had really been putting off, but that nigged at us daily, were the hatch covers on Ubi.  They definitely served their purpose in keeping the harsh UV rays off the portlights and providing shade inside, but they often did not stay on properly and had not been professionally finished.  Ubi deserved better.  We lined up our canvas contact, Cindy, to make us some new “toast” Sunbrella hatch covers.  What a difference that made.  This was one of the first projects Cindy finished for us, and we were thrilled with her work.  The seams on these covers are a work of art (ignore the bird turds!).  

Our filler also had a sag in it that was aesthetically displeasing and also allowed rainwater to pool and drip right onto the upper seat of the coaming, adding to our wet cockpit.  We had Cindy tack the filler up to fix these issues, and it looked and worked exceptionally better after she worked her magic.  

No. 7 – Replace the blue ultra-suede interior cushion covers with cream ultra-leather 

While the vivid blue ultra-suede cushions original to Ubi were pretty, Phillip and I wanted to go with a more neutral color when we switched to give us more flexibility with colors in our throw pillows, artwork, and decor on the boat.  Like the Dutchman system, we decided to try out and blow out the blue cushions the first few years of our cruising on Ubi before we switched to something that suited us more.  One of the best aspects about Ubi, when we bought her in March 2021—many thanks to her diligent former owner, Jim, she was ready to leave the dock and take us to really cool places.  She was not a project boat.  Ubi was comfortable, capable, and ready to go!  When it came to the cushions, Phillip and I knew we’d spill things here and there and stain them.  It was inevitable.  What we didn’t expect was the speckled black look that began to appear and grow on our saloon cushions over the last two years.  He and I are still not sure whether it was caused by mold or spores from the AC, but Phillip and I spent too much time, unsuccessfully, trying to scrub, rub, even steam clean the black specks off—to no avail.  It was time to upgrade the cushions.  

Cindy did a bang-up job.  This has been one of our favorite upgrades on the boat in 2023.  The ultra-leather is butter-soft and cool to the touch.  The ultra-leather is also quite durable and stain resistant, particularly to red wine.  Ask me how I know that, lol.  We also love the “champagne” Sunbrella material that we chose and purchased from Sail Rite which gives the interior of the boat a lighter, brighter look.

No. 8 – Repair our fridge/freezer lids where the powerful shocks were cracking and pulling out

The shocks that lift and raise our fridge lids are quite strong, which is nice.  They’re heavy lids.  But, the shocks are also so strong they were beginning to crack the underside of the lid and pull out of their screw holes.  Before they caused a large hole and worse damage, we decided to remove them, fill the holes and cover the area with epoxy, then remount the shocks.  They’ve been holding now for six months with no issue and frequent, rigorous daily use.  

No. 9 – Repair a busted pickling fitting on our Cruise RO water maker

Rich at Cruise RO has proven prompt and incredibly helpful to us on several occasions.  We did not have a water maker on our Niagara 35, so we had many questions in the beginning that Rich patiently fielded and handled.  Phillip and I also had to replace the water maker’s membranes when we first bought Ubi, and Rich’s videos walked us right through that job.  When we pickled the water maker in preparation for our plans to leave the boat in Ft. Lauderdale for a bit to fly home for family visits, work, and play, we found the fitting that feeds the pickling material in was busted.  Rich hooked us up.  Sent the parts we needed and—with a quick Annie fix—we were back in business.  Thank you Rich!

No. 10 – Replace our busted davits … SAY WHAT?!  

Poor Ducky (our dink).  

I can’t imagine what that terrifying rainy night was like for him, watching torrential rains pound him merciless for 24 hours as the 2” steel arms that hold him up slowly began to bend and fail, threatening to send him crashing, which they eventually did.  Phillip and I were back home in Pensacola on April 13, 2023 when Ft. Lauderdale was hit with an unprecedented rainstorm, dropping nearly 26” (TWENTY-SIX?!) of rain in 24 hours.  The winds were also howling.  It was a wicked storm.  When the owner of the dock where we were keeping Ubi sent us this picture of our boat after the storm passed, Phillip and I were shocked.  How the hell did that happen?

You can see in the photo the plug on the dinghy was clearly out.  But, the rains were relentless and the wind had the boat heeled over pretty hard to starboard for a 24-hour period leaning against the dock, also dropping twigs and leaves and debris into the dinghy.  We believe a combination of the drain hole clogging from debris and enough heel of the boat to starboard to allow the body and bow of the dinghy to fill to a point that the starboard davit began to fail and bend.  Once the weight tipped enough the dinghy could not drain, the relentless rain just kept filling the dinghy with thousands of pounds of water that the davits simply could not hold.  It was kind of a freak accident, but we did blame ourselves in part for not putting the dinghy on the deck.  Lessons learned.  

The real take-away from this story was the comradery of fellow cruisers!  Phillip and I were in Pensacola, hundreds of miles away from Ft. Lauderdale, and couldn’t really tell from the photo whether the hard aluminum bottom of our dinghy had fallen and cracked Ubi’s stern.  Was Ubi taking on water?  Was she in need of immediate, urgent help?  Being away from your boat when you believe she’s in trouble and needs you is a sickening, gut-wrenching feeling.  I know boats aren’t people, but I akin them to pets.  Imagine if someone sent you a picture of your dog, clinging to a rock in the middle of a raging river and you are hundreds of miles away.  To us, it feels a bit like that.  

We needed someone to go to Ubi as fast as possible to make sure her stern was intact and get the dinghy down and secure.  At first we tried Boat U.S., but were having trouble placing a call for a rescue of our dinghy, not the actual boat, but either way they were going to charge us a hefty price.  Boat U.S. was working it up the chain of command when Phillip had the brilliant idea to utilize our new membership in the Ocean Cruising Club, a community of fellow, qualifying cruisers (the qualifying passage is a continuous ocean passage of at least 1,000 nautical miles) poised to assist and advise one another.  After years of coaxing, and a generous offer to sponsor, from our incredible cruising friends, Russell and Lynne on s/v Blue Highway, we had finally joined the OCC (ironically) just a couple of months prior, but this is a testament to not only good friends and luck, but also timing.  Phillip remembered the OCC has a Members’ Fleet Map on their website where members can search and find other OCC members.  This can be helpful to reach out and ask questions about the port you’ve just reached, or seek assistance with boat projects, or just connect with fellow adventurous, like-minded cruisers.  On this day, we wanted to use our OCC connection to call in a big favor – one we would be happy to pay forward three times over, but that we needed to cash in for ourselves today.  

On the OCC Members’ Fleet Map, we found John and Alexis on s/v Ashling, a stately, impressive Atlantic 47 that we had met previously in Annapolis.  They were in Lake Sylvia, a spot we had frequented numerous times during our east coast travels.  Lake Sylvia was also just a short dinghy ride from where Ubi was docked in Ft. Lauderdale.  We didn’t know John and Alexis well, but that’s the beauty of OCC members.  Whether you’ve met them yet or not, you can bet they’re resourceful, smart, capable people willing to help.  Our instincts were right.  We emailed John and he responded immediately, with an offer to help.  Even though a squall was about to come through Ft. Lauderdale—that Phillip and I were sure John would have preferred to hunker down on his boat for—John offered to leave Alexis on the boat and quickly dinghy over to Ubi to assess our situation and get Ducky secure if he could.  John even offered to grab a friend of his, a fellow cruiser, on a nearby boat in Lake Sylvia.  Who would that be, but our very own friend, Jamie (and Sheryl) on s/v Pacific High—whom we had crossed wakes with several times up and down the east coast and had just spent time with in New England the past summer.  Hell yeah!  Somehow we had scored!  Now we not only had a team going to Ubi’s rescue, we had managed to round up two smart, cruiser savvy sailors who would know how to handle the situation probably better than Phillip and I might.  This gave us confidence that no further unnecessary damage would occur in the rescue.  These were smart guys.  Ubi was a lucky gal!  

Phillip and I were thrilled when a friend at the dock was able to get us all on Face Time when John and Jamie arrived, and we could watch and see John and Jamie work through the situation on our boat.  How it all happened—exactly—was still a mystery, but Ducky had definitely severely bent both davits, primarily the starboard davit, before breaking his bridal and crashing down.  But … Ducky hadn’t struck Ubi, just scuffed her on the way down.  “Just a scuff,” I heard John say and my thumping heart immediately slowed.  John and Jamie were able to get Ducky down and secure and assess Ubi.  Her davits were busted for sure, but that was her only injury.  She wasn’t taking on water.  She was sound, dry, and safe.  Surprisingly, other than a terrifying night I’m sure, even Ducky hadn’t suffered any permanent injury in the ordeal.  Phillip and I immediately agreed: we could deal with the davit repair/replacement and make a new lifting bridal for Ducky once we returned.  All was safe for the moment.  Ubi and Ducky had survived 26” of rain in 24 hours alone with only minimal damage.  

When we flew back to Ft. Lauderdale and returned to Ubi a week later, we were thrilled to have Collection Yachts (the company that bought Outbound around the time we purchased Ubi) completely had our backs.  They were responsive, resourceful, and prompt in assisting us with having new davits shipped from China, and custom welded to fit on Ubi.  By the end of May, Phillip and I had completed a pretty extensive repair list—with our biggest, and final, repair: Item No. 10!—coming as a complete surprise (welcome to boating!).  We were now super eager to get this boat moving and start heading north back up the east coast in June.  New England was beckoning us for the summer again.  

Next up on the blog, we start our jaunt north and face some of the worst offshore weather we’ve endured on Ubi and the east coast.  Stay tuned!

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