Hello crew! This is the final video from our time in the shipyard with Perdido Sailor in 2018. I know many of you have been very curious about our swap from a manual to a composting head, and I wanted to share with you the install process in detail. The ventilation system turned out to be the trickiest part (mainly because we wanted to utilize old, obsolete systems to hide as much of it as we could for aesthetic results). But, other than removing the … smelly items, this was really a rather simple install, one I was able to handle primarily on my own while Phillip was tackling the rudder post reinforcement and other projects, and one we are very pleased with.
Phillip and I have been weekend cruising for about six months now using the composting head and have found it to be a wonderful new addition to our life goal of keeping things simple. There is no more pumping after each flush, no more pumping-out at the dock, no more head smell in our boat, no more sloshing (could bust a seam any day) turd tank, and we’ve opened up plenty of new, now much more freshly-smelling lockers for storage. Oh, and we closed a thru-hull (the one for the macerator). So, we are down to only four thru-hulls now on our boat and thrilled about it. I told you our motto: K.I.S.S. If any of you are considering changing to a composting head, Phillip and I highly recommend it. I can tell you this: We haven’t heard of a single sailor going from composting BACK TO a manual head. That should tell you something.
As mentioned in the video, here is the link to the detailed blog post I put together laying out all of our research and reasons for swapping to a composting head: https://havewindwilltravel.com/2018/09/15/shipyard-project-no-6-swap-to-a-composting-airhead/. This includes the pros and cons we found and the rationale behind our decision to go with an Airhead, versus the Nature’s Head or C-head, and links to helpful articles, like this one from RV Lifestyle, that helped to educate us and inform our decision. So, feel free to peruse that helpful source before you watch the install if you would like to know more about our decision.
Then dive into this fun shipyard project video! The composting head has been a fantastic live-aboard lifestyle upgrade for us.
If you have any questions about our composting head, feel free to shoot them our way via HaveWindWillTravel. Enjoy the show!
As promised in the video: a link to the Squatty Potty unicorn commercial (hilarious). You’re welcome ; ).
And, a link to buy the Coco Bliss coco pith bricks for the composting head (which is roughly $4/brick and each brick lasts 3-4 weeks, we’re told, for live aboard cruisers).
Also, for my “strictly blog” followers, you actually get TWO videos this week. I realized when I shared our “Six Years Sailing at HaveWindWillTravel” recently on YouTube and Facebook that I forgot to share it as a blog post to my email-only followers. So, HERE YOU GO! A very fun six-year video re-cap in the new “Our Journey” tab on the website for you as well below. Enjoy both shows!
That’s what Brandon calls a bad install on a boat … one that must have been done by a lazy worker on a Friday afternoon. This was such a fun treat to come home to! To find one of my articles in SAIL Magazine. Love those guys. If you haven’t picked up a copy of SAIL Magazine’s January, 2019 issue, go snag you one and check out this piece covering the work we did last summer reinforcing the rudder post system on our Niagara 35 under the cockpit floor. Brandon, Shane, and the entire team at Perdido Sailor, as always, did a bang-up job and were a lot of fun to work and learn with (even when we were crammed for hours on end in the engine room!). Our rudder is now stronger than ever! You can read more nitty, gritty details (with photos for my boat project gurus!) here or watch the video here. But, let me know if you’ve seen the article! I don’t care how silly it may seem, I never tire of seeing my name in print! : ) Enjoy the piece! Heck, read it this afternoon!
And, I loved the pretty pink sail they featured on the cover of this issue! With two ladies rocking it out. Way to go Women Sailors! And, nice work with this issue SAIL Magazine!
Calling all boat project fanatics, this one’s for you! Boy, did we have a time trying to get our engine aligned. While Phillip and I knew we had some kind of issue going on with our prop shaft, the key that fits in the shaft (which was always coming out and we were hammering back in, brilliant plan!), and our coupling, we didn’t know it was quite as bad as it was.
Watch along as Brandon, Shane, and the great team at http://www.perdidosailor.com help us diagnose and solve many issues relating to our prop shaft and how it seats in the transmission. We had a machinist re-engineer our old coupling and make us a new one. We also re-bedded the strut and replaced the gutless bearing.
And, just as boat projects always do, the boat had a lot of extra hidden work in store for us in the form of a rotten engine stringer portion (under the raw water pump on starboard, no surprise) that we had to repair along the way. Fun, fun! Misery loves company! Give it a watch! More photos and write-up available at http://www.havewindwilltravel.com.
I hope you all have been enjoying these shipyard videos while Phillip and I were off galavanting across the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll have plenty to share from that adventure once we get our heads back on straight. It can be hard, at times, to transition from offshore sailors back to full-time lawyers/marketing gurus. But, the work is always worth it. In exchange for all of those photos and videos of us out sailing and traveling the globe, enjoy seeing us here all grimy and greasy wedged down in the engine room on our boat! You’re welcome! B.O.A.T., am I right? : )
Maybe they should change that B.O.A.T. saying to “bonded or about to.” The hardest part of our rudder drop was getting the stinking quadrant off! Heat, impact, cheater bars, nothing would work. So, the creative guys at Perdido Sailor had to come up with a different fix, and boy did they!
Ahoy crew! Shipyard Vid #2 coming at you, from Cascias, Portugal nonetheless! I put this video together a while back so you all would have something fun to watch while we were embarking on our second Atlantic-crossing helping deliver a new Lagoon across the pond from France to the USVIs! I know how you all LOVE boat project videos, so here’s another one for you from our interesting work at the shipyard this past summer.
While I wrote about this project several months back here, some of my followers love to see the video! This one’s for you! Phillip and I always enjoy working alongside the guys at the yard because we learn so much. They point out problems we didn’t even know we had and teach us fixes we didn’t even know were possible.
Watch here as we (finally!) get the quadrant off and make the necessary modifications to do that, check on our G-flexed keel seam from 2016, replace the cables for the throttle and shifter (because, according to Video Annie, they sounded like “Grandma’s panties coming down”), and shared some fun lighthearted joshing at the yard!
We hope you are all enjoying the shipyard videos and having a great time tracking us along while we are sailing back across the Atlantic Ocean. Follow on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/havewindwilltravel for real-time updates and locations via our Delorme!
At first, we couldn’t really get our “heads” wrapped around it, but once the system started to make sense (a simple composting unit vented to the outside), and we realized all of the nasty things we were about to remove from the boat, Phillip and I were all for it! As you can imagine, we asked around to many, many boat owners about the pros and cons of going with a composting head, and the really far-fetched cons we heard came from boatowners who didn’t even have a composting head on their boat! Psssshhh …
From those owners who had swapped to a composting head (including Andy and Mia from 59-North), the only true con that was noted was the head is a bit taller and there is the occasional hard-over tack that might prevent urine from making it to the bin. “But, in the rare event that happens,” Mia told me, “you just straighten the boat up for a minute while you do your business, and that’s that.” Most owners with composting heads told us they were thoroughly pleased with the function and smell (which for most is non-existent, but even those who did not vent theirs told us the light mulch smell was far preferred over the previous smell of the holding tank and it’s many nasty hoses). And, I don’t think I’ve heard of a single boat owner with a composting head going back to a manual toilet and a holding tank, which should tell you a lot. In addition, many RV’ers raved about their composting heads, so helpful articles like this one from RV lifestyle helped to inform our decision as well.
While the install was a little tricky for us (mostly because we wanted to route the venting in a way that turned out very clean using the old channels that were designed for the propane water heater that was previously on the boat), it was really not that hard. I did most of it on my own with little oversight. Is it a stinky, shitty job? Yes. The removal, anyway. But, it’s no worse than changing out your holding tank hoses which has to be done every so-many years, and you can take great comfort in knowing that is the last time you will ever have to experience the pleasant feel of having your hands covered in your own … stuff! You’re welcome for that odorific memory. That was a fun day on Plaintiff’s Rest.
Phillip and I have also been using the new composting head on the hook after our install and we are thrilled with it. I will admit, the urine bin (we opted for the small one) is a bit small, only a gallon. And, it turns out, after an evening of wine, that’s about equivalent to Annie’s bladder. So, I do have to empty that bin a couple of times a day, but it’s like a 30-second chore, so no big deal. Regarding the “mulch,” we were told each coco brick lasts about 3-4 weeks with regular use. You can get five bricks for around $20 through Amazon. So, the cost is roughly $4-5/month. Each brick is about 8” long, 4” wide and 2-3” inches tall. So, a six-month supply likely fits in the size of a milk crate. I can assure a full year’s supply would be a mere fraction of the space our 25-gallon holding tank previously occupied.
A good friend and fellow captain and his wife (Russell and Lynn, hello!) who have used a composting head for years advised you soak one brick in one quart of fresh water overnight. It expands to about twice its size (roughly two gallons worth of material). Then you break it up into the composting bin and you’re set for about 3.5-4 weeks of use. When you notice the bin has roughly exceeded its halfway point (the crank inside is a good indicator), it’s time to dump!
Phillip and I chose the Airhead because it was the right aesthetic and size for our boat, and I cannot say enough nice things about the good folks at Airhead (particularly my buddy Geoff, shout out!) who answered my many, many, literally dozens of questions. They were very responsive and considerate (and complimentary of my install! Thanks for the kind words Geoff!). If you are on the fence about swapping to a composting head, feel free to send us any questions or hit up my buddy Geoff at Airhead, here is his email. While you are considering, it is helpful to think of the many benefits we have found (that I did not anticipate when we were merely considering it) from our swap to a composting head.
Pros of Swapping to a Composting Head
You no longer carry your shit along with you everywhere in a sloshing stinky tank under your bed (let’s just start there).
You remove an entire electrical system and thru-hull from the boat (the macerator for pumping overboard).
You gain space and better smell quality in all lockers that contained any element of your old system (the Y-valve, the macerator, the holding tank, and all the hoses).
You never have to go to the fuel dock again just to pump out.
You never have to pump out again. Yippee!
You don’t have to worry about an overflow, rupture, or leak from the holding tank.
You never again have to suffer through the smell of said overflow, rupture or leak from the holding tank.
You’ll never again have to change out the holding tank hoses or joker valve.
You’ll never again have to worry about or unclog a clogged head.
Most guests will refrain from use because it freaks them out. Yippee!
No more pumping after every donation. Whon-shee, whon-shee, whon-shee.
The whole boat smells so, so much better.
There’s less weight aboard. (For us this was particularly beneficial removing weight near the bow, where we work to counter-balance our heavy 200 feet of chain in the bow).
We never put salt water in our old head (as we heard it contributed to smell) so we now no longer have to keep a jug of fresh water in the head for pumping.
You’ll never again have to help … things … through the joker flap. Isn’t that fun?
With good aim, you’ll never again have to clean a shitty bowl. Ever. Yippee!
And, just in the pursuit of fairness, here are some of the cons we have heard about and/or experienced ourselves.
Cons of Swapping to a Composting Head
The head is a bit taller, so the “comfort factor” of having your feet lower can play a role (it does not for me, but seems to more for men).
You have to empty the urine bin often and should check it each time before you take a leak. It sucks when it overflows (yes, we’ve already done that).
Some people have told us they worry about violating some old boat regulation that requires you have a holding tank. In the U.S., a composting head is a USCG-sanctioned Type III marine sanitation device, so you’re fine here. With respect to other countries, as one follower said: “I would argue the composting head is a holding tank.” Smart guy. My lawyer brain would agree with that. We’ve never heard of anyone ever actually being cited or otherwise penalized under this alleged old regulation.
It may prove difficult to urinate on certain tacks. (But the simple fix for this I will call the “Mia Rule” above: straighten the boat out for a minute, do your business, get back on tack).
You have to find a place to dump your compost roughly once a month. While underway, you can throw it overboard anywhere outside three nautical miles from the nearest land. While ashore, you can (if you want the earth to get some use out of it) donate it to any garden, flowerbed, or natural earthy area, or otherwise safely dispose of it. Simply follow local regulations and good judgment when disposing anywhere.
So, let’s dig into this already as I want to share the full details or our install and hopefully dispel any erroneous myths you all my have about composting heads. If you may recall, this entire project emanated (ooh, great word) just as the smell did on our boat one morning when we inadvertently overflowed our holding tank. Good times.
Here is a link to that Facebook thread if you want to read everyone’s input on swapping to a composting head.
We were on our way back from the Bahamas and, after talking to many cruisers about it, primarily Russell and Lynn, we decided no more turd tank and we added it to our Post-Bahamas Boat Projects. But, simply deciding to explore the option does not make it possible on our boat. We do have a rather small area in our head. Our first obstacle in all of this was size. Was a composting head going to fit?
After researching all three major brands (C-head, Airhead, and Nature’s Head), we found the Airhead met our needs aesthetically and size-wise. The Airhead was a bit more stylish (I now know toilets can be stylish) than the C-head and was not quite as monstrous as the Nature’s Head. I sent these initial photos to the folks at Airhead asking their thoughts. Our main concern was our platform, which is approximately 12” aft, but it narrows down to only 4” going forward. The flat area we were working with was really rather small.
Geoff at Airhead got back to me immediately and asked for more information about our space back there. I did some more measuring and created this rough diagram for him.
Geoff, before he even knew we would be a customer, took the time to create a CAD drawing showing various configurations where he thought the Airhead, with the “hull shape” on the back (to match our slanted hull), would work.
These diagrams gave us confidence, but it was still a tough call to make because you cannot really tell whether the composting head is going to fit nicely in your head until you remove the old toilet. But, you don’t really want to remove the old toilet until you know … It was a bit of a Catch 22. But, we had a friend who owns a Catalina 28 (the one we helped deliver back in 2017) who had just made the decision to swap to a composting head and he let us “play around” with his (man, that sounds awful) by holding it up in our current space.
It looked do-able, so Phillip finally gave me the go. We ordered our Airhead to have it in time while we would be in the shipyard this past summer and could do the install. Annie’s first solo job when we hauled out was to remove the old head.
“I’m all over it!” Shipyard Annie said!
Thankfully, the old toilet was far easier to remove than I imagined. Day One at the shipyard, even after we hauled out, dropped the rudder and removed the engine exhaust elbow, there was still a couple of hours for Annie to get this beast off. I was thrilled to find it was only mounted with four bolts on the bottom plate and there is a hose that goes to the pump (to pull raw water into the bowl, which, like I said, we never did because we heard it contributed to smell).
And, while we, of course, pumped out entirely before we headed to the shipyard (and filled the tank with water and pumped out several times, like we always used to do when pumping out), but what we should have done was head out in the Gulf one day and run loads of water both through the toilet to the holding tank and from the holding tank out the macerator. That would have been the smart way to do it.
I never said we were smart. While the tank was as empty as we could get it, both the hose from the toilet to the tank and the tank to the macerator and out the thru-hull were not. Disconnecting the toilet from the holding tank hose and working with a Shop-Vac to “contain the spill” was not a fun day for Annie at the shipyard, but damn if I didn’t get it done!
Yes, I was that excited enough to dance with a toilet! It was a glorious day on Plaintiff’s Rest! To celebrate, I might need a little privacy … ; )
We’ll miss ya Jabsco … said no on ever!
The spot where the old toilet had been was stained a bit green from the rusting pump, but it cleaned up easily with the Magic Eraser. Thank you Mr. Clean!
This was the first time I could sit the new composting head in its resting place without the old head in the way and I was confident we were going to be able to make this work!
That was an exciting day, when I could finally set her in place and see that she fit! She fit! She fit! All of that worrying was done.
The Airhead was a little tall but not alarmingly so. I was excited to get the rest of the shitty stuff off the boat and continue with the install. Phillip and I spent a fun Saturday on the boat at the shipyard disconnecting the tank. Our holding tank (25 gallons) sits underneath, ironically, my side of the bed, on port under our vberth. Try to guess how many hoses were connected to the tank.
Five. Five stinky hoses: 1) intake from the head, 2) pump-out to the deck, 3) pump-out to the macerator, 4) overflow over the side of the boat, and 5) air ventilation up at the bow. Five hoses were pulled off the boat. And, I’ll spare you the details, but the one down to the thru-hull was the worst. Yuck. Nuff said. This here was a victorious moment on our boat!
The holding tank is gone! That’s a giant Annie “Whoo! Hoo!” right there. We also took off the macerator that day and all of the hoses. Many of our days at the shipyard looked like this. You eat when you can and work from sun up to sun down.
Alright, with all the crappy stuff gone, it was time to get back to the install. Our first step was to fill the old holes on the floor with a coosa insert (where the hose to the pump came through) and 610 in the others, so we would have a solid leak-free base for our new head.
Happy worker there! Phillip knows I love 610’ing things.
For the floor, I knew we were going to have to build a floor underneath it that would extend out to support the urine bin. Geoff at Airhead and other composting head owners had advised the bin could not hang off on its own, it needs floor support. I used construction paper first, then cardboard to make a template for Shane with Perdido Sailor at the shipyard to cut a nice, bevelled piece out of starboard.
Shane did a really nice job cutting the starboard. Brandon liked to call it our “potty platform.” Ha!
It was a perfect fit. Although we knew we (well, I mean, I, Phillip is banned from caulking) was going to have to caulk the seams to prevent water from coming in beneath the floor piece, but it didn’t need caulk for security. That thing was a perfect fit.
The next step was positioning the head exactly how we wanted it and mounting the brackets.
Then we could pull the protective paper off of our starboard and see what a nice clean look Shane had created for us.
Once the toilet was mounted, our next step was ventilation. This turned out to be the trickiest part of the install for us. Like I said, primarily because of the way we chose to run it (or hide it, I should say) in the old ventilation channel that was for the propane water heater that used to be on our boat. We removed the water heater when we got the boat to meet insurance requirements, and we’re happy to heat our water in the kettle when we want a nice toasty below-decks spa experience! Our water heater used to reside in what we call the “shower caddy,” a rather large (and very convenient) storage locker in our stand-up shower, which is just aft of the head.
The heater was vented through a tube along the shower wall up and out the top of the boat through the deck in what I called a “stove pipe.” A not very pretty metal contraption, that Phillip and I have both cut many a toe-on over the years, so we were happy to see it go! You can see it in the photo here. Say “Hi!” to Hanna Banana. And, yes, it was such a hideous rust-bomb we had a cover made for it to both cover it up and keep the occasional water we knew was getting into it.
We decided to replace it with a solar fan on top, which looks much better, and this would actually double-up on the ventilation, with two fans pulling the air out.
Unfortunately, when we pulled the old stovepipe off and started digging around we found a significant amount of deck rot where it had been leaking. We knew it had, and that was the reason we had the cover made, but we didn’t know what damage it had already done. But c’est la vie. If you find rot, you have to fix it and stop the leak. It made this project more tedious, but it felt good to catch a problem on the boat and remedy it before it got worse. And, remember, I love 610’ing!
We put a tube and a half in there. The rot extended back a good 3-4 inches on one side, 1-2 on the others. There was a lot of digging! But we got it filled in nicely and flushed up the seam and we were ready to install our new solar fan. We also chose the solar fan because it creates a watertight seal to the deck. Another biggie in the composting head install is a guarantee water will not be able to get into the system through the ventilation. If water gets in, it messes up the composting and can lead to … I’ll just say “swampy” results. So be sure you have a watertight seal for your ventilation to the outside, or build in a “p-trap” shape into your hose to make sure water cannot get into the composting system.
As I mentioned, our install was likely a bit more tedious than others because we wanted to route the ventilation system through old channels (so we would cut as few new holes as possible) and hide as much of the hose and ventilation system as possible. In most installs, you will simply choose a place out the side of the hull or through the deck where you want the ventilation to run, cut a hole for your fan cover and run the tube to the fan. Voila. Airhead has some great install videos on their website here.
Notice the very visible hose going up. It will then be connected to a fan they have mounted on the ceiling of the head where they cut through the deck and mounted a cover for the fan to vent out.
In ours, we planned to run the vent hose from the composting head through the bulkhead to the shower stall, under the shower bench (to hide the hose into the shower caddy, where we hid the fan as well), and then run through a decorative piece on the wall that previously funneled out our propane exhaust and served as a shelf in the shower for soaps, shampoo (well, not for Phillip ; ), razors, etc. This was our plan for running the ventilation:
The hose will then run up to the fan in the shower caddy.
I’m pointing to where I planned to install the insect screen. Airhead is adamant about this. The screen is needed to keep insects out. If those little buggies smell your “stuff” you are venting overboard, they’re going to be very attracted and try to find any way possible into the system. If insects get into your composting unit, well … good luck compadre. I hear it’s very smelly and must be dumped immediately and start again. You must keep the insects out. You cut the hose in an area that is easy to access and screw the male part on (the hose is self-threading which is handy) and glue the female end on.
You then check this occasionally to make sure the insect screen remains clean and clear, allowing airflow freely out but no buggies in! This was our plan, now all we had to do was implement it. Attaching the vent hose to the bowl was no big deal. Just a little PVC glue and a flap to keep the hose in place and an o-ring to contain the air. But, I’ll warn you do NOT spill that blue and purple wonder glue. It stains instantly!
I brought Shane in to cut the hole through the wall because … well, I probably don’t need to explain that. It’s a beautiful wooden bulkhead and hole saws are not my thing. I always spin out of control and make an absolute mess (yes, even after I realized you have to have a pilot drill on it). Out of the entire install, this was only the second time we brought in an expert, mainly just to make sure, aesthetically, we got the result we wanted: for both the hole through the wall and the floor plate.
I then ran the hose through to the shower caddy and began the fan install.
I did that one all on my own and I was quite proud of it. We even ran the wire through the old propane hose (for chafe protection) back to the battery bank under our galley floor and I wired it up. We put a fuse on it (as it will likely run for extended periods of time when we leave the boat) as well as, what I call “plug-and-play” connectors. It was either these or a switch so we can turn the fan off at some point when we want to. Say, when the head is empty and we will be leaving the boat for a few months. These connectors are tucked away in the locker so an easier plug-and-play install, rather than a pretty switch, was fine with me. This is the pic I sent Phillip when I first turned on the fan.
“This blows!” said Shipyard Annie.
The biggest monster we faced with this project was this guy!
Frankenstein! Thankfully, we probably won’t see him again for decades (I hope) as he will be fully hidden under this piece.
But, getting him to fit and stay put was an uphill battle. We tugged and wrestled that thing for weeks before we finally found an odd rubber PVC fitting at Home Depot that we beveled at the top to match the angle of the ceiling.
Then Brandon finally gave us the good idea to secure the weight of the PVC with zip ties. But, making sure this beast stayed put and in the exact right position for our decorative cover I can assure was not easy and took many days of cursing and sweating in the head. I’m not kidding. That’s what lead to my “Can you see evidence of Annie?” in the head post!
But, we got her done! Here is a video of me walking through the complete install:
Once installed, the Airhead folks recommend you do the “toilet paper” test to make sure the fan is in fact pulling air out of the system and overboard.
Check! It was really cool to finally finish the project and have the new head installed. We could tell instantly (even before using it) that the simplicity of it, omitting so many other systems (a manual pump, a macerator, a Y-valve, tanks, hoses, clogging flaps, etc.), was very appealing. It’s just one self-contained unit that vents overboard. That is all. Annnnd, it allowed me to clean and paint all of those lockers that used to be smelly and avoided at all costs. This is where our holding tank hose used to run forward to the vberth and where our Y-valve for pump out overboard or through the macerator was. Where this once was stinky and shunned, it’s now white and fresh as a spring daisy!
This locker that I’m painting (behind the head where we keep toiletries) was where the old overflow for the holding tank ran. We actually decided to change our sump box discharge from down the head sink to this fitting so it can now get pumped overboard and allow us to now close all sea-cocks (including the one for the head sink) when we leave the boat for extended periods. Again, this proved to be a better use of old channels leftover from obsolete systems. Win-win!
This was where the holding tank used to be. It’s quite a large locker. And where the smell used to emanate from this area anytime you simply lifted the vberth mattress, it’s now odor-free and slapped with two fresh coats of Bilgekote. I love Bilgekote.
We built a cover for the wash-down pump in there in case things we stow in that locker go to knocking about … because that never happens on a boat, right?
We’re excited to see what we can fit in there. Maybe the genoa? If not Stormy McDaniels, our storm sail, for sure. Maybe all of our paper towels and toilet paper? And, at the very least, a shit-ton (no pun intended) of coco bricks for our many seasons in the tropics! But now we will no longer be traveling with a turd tank and we’ll never have to pump out again. We’re stoked!
I hope you all have enjoyed the post about our swap to a composting head. We’ve only actually used it a couple of weekends on the boat but have been very pleased with the results so far. I will post an update as we get about six months or so in. But feel free to shoot many any questions you may have if you are considering making the swap, too.
And, for those who have already made the swap, inquiring minds want to know: What do you now keep in your now fresh and fragrant holding tank locker? Do tell!
Maybe they should change that B.O.A.T. saying to “bonded or about to.” I’m sure many of you have faced this. One of the hardest parts of a boat project is the initial disassembly. Trying to get bolts that have been in place for thirty-plus years to budge. Or how about a stainless steel bolt in an aluminum piece? I know you’re cringing now. But, at least I can say we had access to our curmudgeon bolt. I had a follower post recently in order to get to bolts he needed to access to re-bed his strut, he had to remove two diesel tanks. Just to GET TO said belligerent bolts.
Shout-out to follower, Rob Miller, who tacked that job! Rob, you’re my hero. In our case, with access, albeit uncomfortable and tight, to our bolts, I’ll consider us on the lucky side. Here’s what we were dealing with. These are the components of our rudder/steering system:
The quadrant (which is in two half-circle pieces) mounts on the rudder post by fitting onto that slotted “keyway” mentioned in the diagram, and it is then bolted together, four bolts at the base, inserted in opposite directions, which thread into opposite piece of the quadrant. You can see here, the two bolt heads on port (your right) and the two holes that the shafts of the bolts on starboard are threaded into.
We knew in order to drop the rudder we were going to have to get these two quadrant pieces apart in order to remove the quadrant so the rudder post could be lowered. For this reason, Phillip had the idea to spray (well, I should say Phillip had the idea to send his bendy grease monkey down in the lazarette to spray) PB Blaster on the four bolts under the quadrant periodically for a few weeks before we hauled out hoping that would help loosen those suckers.
But, as many of you know, when you allow two different metals, here stainless steel and aluminum, to sit together for years upon years, the metals can undergo a chemical reaction and literally bond themselves together. When the boys at Perdio Sailor got in there, that is what they found. The bolts holding our quadrant to the rudder post had thoroughly seized.
With Brandon in the starboard lazarette (which stinks, that one is super tight and uncomfortable) and Shane in the port lazarette (which is a bit more spacious, but not as much for a 265-pound guy), the boys made several attempts to get the bolts to budge. First they tried manually.
Then with a cheater bar. Then with the impact driver.
Then with heat (lots and lots of heat) followed by the impact driver.
Thankfully, three of the bolts finally gave up the ghost with heat and impact and came out, but we had one last stubborn holdout on the port side. The boys continued to battle it with the impact driver, then heat, then impact, then cursing. Still nothing. More heat, more impact, more cursing. No movement. Shane finally dropped his wrench and said “I’m cutting it out.”
Breaking a Bonded Bolt
I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly know what “cut it out” meant, but watching the guys at the shipyard—who have to deal with obstacles like this every day—think through a problem and engineer a solution is the exact reason we like to haul-out with Brandon’s exceptional team and learn from their thought-processes.
Shane’s idea was to cut the bolt head off, so he could at least pull the two quadrant pieces apart and remove them from the boat.
Then he could try to drill into and perhaps extract the obstinate shaft or, if that would not work, he could drill the shaft out, enlarge all four holes slightly and either re-tap them for new bolts, or go with through-bolts instead. Shane chose the latter and we now have four bigger, stronger, more-secure bolts, locked down with Nylocs, holding our quadrant on the rudder post.
And, it was educational for Phillip and I to learn how the crew at Perdido Sailor work around, what might seem to us, an insurmountable obstacle. You’ll also notice Shane really cleaned and spruced up our thirty-three year-old quadrant.
Thirty-three … pssssh. That pretty gal would get carded in bars. “Can I see your ID Ma’am?” : )
Proof TefGel Works
In addition, to ensure this unwanted bonding did not happen again (because you never know, we might need to remove the quadrant again someday down the road), Phillip and I used TefGel during the reassembly to ensure, this time, the stainless steel bolts did not try to bond with the aluminum quadrant.
Our tiller arm served amazing proof of the power of TefGel to prevent different metals that are in contact from bonding over time. Phillip and I installed our below-decks hydraulic auto-pilot (which we lovingly call “Lord Nelson,” because it came from a Lord Nelson boat) back in 2016 when we were hauled out to repair our rotten stringers under the mast and replace the rigging. In order to remove the rudder from the boat, the tiller arm also had to be removed. This is the bronze tiller arm mounted above the quadrant.
And, although the arm had been in place for two years untouched, with TefGel in the mix, the stainless steel bolts that hold the bronze tiller arm on the rudder post easily unthreaded. Proof: TefGel works people. Use it!
Alright, one problem solved. What’s next? Alignment of our steering cables!
Re-Aligning Our Steering Cable Pulleys
When Brandon first crawled down into our lazarette to inspect the quadrant and steering system, he noticed immediately that the alignment of our steering cable pulleys to the quadrant was not ideal. (Even though the cables are off) can you see what Brandon saw in this photo?
The base of each steering cable pulley was about one-quarter to one-half inch lower than the “seat” (the center of the groove) in the quadrant for the cables.
This meant our cables had to travel uphill to fall into the seat of the quadrant. Not something you want them to have to do.
It should be a perfectly-aligned straight shot from the pulley right into the seat of the quadrant. All of these years, and I hadn’t noticed that.
Just another reason we love having professionals, like Brandon and his team, crawl all over our boat looking for potential issues. “Look in every locker! Check anything you want! Sure, wiggle it. See if it works.” I say that because we want the Perdido Sailor guys to find anything they can that needs to be fixed while we’re in the shipyard. And I stress “need” because there is a time and money factor; no boat is going to always be in 100% pristine condition. But, we want them to find problems while we’re in the yard, because that’s when we want to fix them—when he have great tools, supplies, and experts readily available to help and supervise, rather than finding the problem when we’re out there underway with less resources and knowledge to devote to it.
And, the joking and ribbing that goes on at the shipyard is just part of the fun. Here, Phillip had missed the measurement of the additional height we would need to be jacked up in order to drop our rudder by just a couple of inches, and the guys never let him forget it. If you don’t do it absolutely 100% perfect (because we all do that, all the time, right?), they’ll pick on you. But, the more they pick on you, the more they secretly like you. Shipyard Fact No. 64.
When Brandon saw the steering cable issue, he had the idea (since he knew we were dropping the rudder which would mean the quadrant would have to come off) to lower the quadrant just a bit to make it line up better with the pulleys. I immediately laughed when he said it. Just as a knee-jerk reaction, because I knew how very little room we have between the quadrant and the aft strut. How do I know this? Because I saw that tiny little space disappear one exhausting night in a beat-down underway when our rudder had tried to make a sneaky exit out of the boat.
That was a fun night. And, a fun little video for you here of our quadrant literally grinding its way into the aft strut that supports the post, why it happened and what we learned the very simple remedy was: tighten the cockpit nut that threads the shaft up higher into the boat.
But, lack of space between the quadrant and the aft strut in order to properly align the quadrant with our steering cable pulleys did not hinder Brandon either. I swear, they don’t see obstacles, they see solutions taking shape. And Brandon certainly had one here:
Cut it. Re-engineer it. Make it work better. You gotta love that guy.
Brandon had his main guy, Shane, modify the aft strut by cutting a nice even chunk out of it that would allow us to mount the quadrant back on the rudder post at a lower spot to make it align perfectly with our steering cable pulleys. Here is a video of Brandon checking Shane’s work after Shane and I reassembled the quadrant for inspection:
And, do you know what “get in there and square that up a bit” means? Another disassembly of the quadrant by Shane and I to finalize the cut and sand it out, then reassemble the quadrant and steering cables …. again … to make sure everything worked and operated perfectly. I’m telling you, by Day Two at the shipyard, I am quite confident I could disassemble and reassemble everything on the rudder post myself. What an awesome confident feeling!
But, it will all be worth it when our quadrant now has free space and no chance of making contact with the boat if it the cockpit rudder nut gets a little loose in heavy seas (although Phillip and I now know to check and occasionally tighten that nut), and our steering cables are no longer having to step up to fall into the seat of the quadrant. Now they are perfectly aligned. Little things like this I’m sure will add years of awesome cruising years to our beautiful boat. And, while we continue to learn the more we work on our boat, I know she still has many lessons to teach us. And, I know we’ll be ready to learn them, whether they occur at the yard or out in the big open blue. It’s a great big school out there!
I know some days will look like this …
But many others will look like this …
And I wouldn’t have it any other way! More shipyard projects to come. Next up. We’ll give props to the prop shaft by re-bedding the strut, replacing the cutlass bearing, and re-engineering a new coupler. Stay tuned!
Let’s talk about our rudder. While Phillip and I are quite pleased with the majority of the systems on our boat and their original design, this was one where—if we could have been there at the factory in Ontario when the Hinterhoeller crew was putting our boat together—we would have asked them to make a slight modification to this rudder design. Here are the components of our rudder:
It is a very sturdy, yet light-weight, high-performance rudder, with a keyway to grip the steering quadrant and a very hearty nut on the cockpit floor that turns and locks down with set screws to hold the rudder tight, the only issue we had had with it is where the rudder post penetrates the cockpit floor. If you can imagine how much pressure is put on our rudder when we are steering down waves in a gnarly sea state, that pressure is magnified at the fulcrum point where the rudder fits through the cockpit floor. And the only thing holding it firm there is a rudder post cap secured with three 1/4” bolts. Here is a photo of the rudder post cap with the nut and plastic bushing, followed by one (with the plastic bushing and nut removed) and the top of the rudder post dropped down a few inches during our rudder drop.
As many of you die-hard HaveWind followers might recall, we first noticed a problem with this rudder post design during our offshore beat to windward when we sailed to Cuba in 2016.
Yep. That’s the one. Try to imagine how much pressure is on the rudder in that photo and how much of that was being translated to those three little bolts on the cockpit floor. It was enough to cause our rudder post to start moving side to side, athwartship. Which, once we saw it, immediately caused Phillip and I to go upside down in the lazarettes trying to stop it.
This is what we found when we got down there:
Just three bolts (the third, on port, is concealed behind the rudder post) with initially only one washer and one nut on each. Adding the additional two is what Phillip and I were doing down in the lazarettes on our way to Cuba. And, while the additional nuts did stop the majority of the athwartship movement of the rudder post on the cockpit floor during that passage, you can see in the photo above where we have tightened them so much they are literally starting to crush the cockpit floor. This is what really worried us: such a small compromised area holding such a critical, heavy, and load-bearing component of our boat.
We knew when we got back from Cuba, we wanted to take some measures to reinforce this area before we sailed to the Bahamas. Our initial reinforcement plan—without having to drop the rudder—was to add large stainless steel flat fender washers to help spread the load of those three bolts. Our buddy Brandon with Perdido Sailor (with whom we usually haul-out) helped us grind the washers down to fit around the cap that sits in the cockpit floor.
Annie making an immaculate cardboard template of the area on the engine room ceiling around the rudder post.
We then used the template to make custom washers to fit around the bolts that go through the rudder post cap on the cockpit floor.
We knew this would be a temporary fix for the season, though, and that, when we got back from the Bahamas and hauled out the following year, we wanted to drop the rudder and really do this project right. And, we knew we would be hauling out again with Brandon at Perdido Sailor because his work is exceptional and he and his guys are willing to allow us to tackle projects there ourselves while they teach, supervise, and rightfully pick on us … that’s shipyard culture. In researching how we were going to accomplish our rudder reinforcement, I mentioned in my Post-Bahamas Projects blog what we discovered when we talked to some fellow Niagara 35 owners through the Niagara 35 Owners Facebook Group. We found one Niagara owner, who was had just finished crossing the Atlantic, and was in the Azores at the time, not wanting to haul out and drop the rudder at the time, decided to add a very substantial backing plate around the top of the rudder post to help reinforce and secure it.
I guess you could call this a topping plate, since he mounted his on top of the cockpit floor. After discussing this at length, Phillip and I decided we wanted to mount our plate underneath the cockpit floor for cosmetic reasons. Either way, top or bottom, we knew a large plate mounted around this hole would help spread the very heavy load of the rudder and help reinforce the cockpit floor. We got with our buddy Mike, who helped us configure the initial custom-washer-fix and who is a talented machinist (and owner of a beautiful 1981 Tartan 37 – boat tour HERE! – you’re welcome! : ), about making a plate for the underside of our cockpit floor. Say “Hey!” to Mike!
And this is the wonderful piece Mike made for us!
Look at that smile. I mean, who wouldn’t be grinning from ear to ear knowing they’re about to have a tough-as-nails rudder rig-up on the boat. Heck yeah!
After measuring underneath the cockpit floor and assessing the sufficient space we had down there (the closest item to the rudder post is our rudder indicator on the port side), we decided on the following fix:
An8 x 8” stainless steel 1/4” reinforcement plate
After playing around with the plate down below in the engine room, we found sitting it in a “diamond” fashion with one corner toward the bow, one to the stern, one to starboard and one to port, would allow the plate to sit centered on the hole and not touch any other instruments on the engine room ceiling near the rudder post. Like this:
You’ll notice those holes on the cockpit floor by the binnacle base. Those are for the rudder post stops. I was in the process of re-bedding them when the plate came. We do a thousand things when we’re on the hard!
Here is the design, after the center hole in the plate was cut, mocked-up on the top of the cockpit floor:
While this fix (i.e., drilling the three necessary bolt holes through this plate and mounting it underneath the cockpit floor) seems like a pretty easy fix, Brandon spotted another issue when we were dropping and disassembling the rudder.
Pssst: This is why we love this guy and always trust him with any boat repair.
When we pulled the rudder cap from the cockpit floor this was the hole we found that was cut for our rudder post.
Does that look perfectly round to you? Hardly. That’s an amateur Annie cut right there! Not something we expected to find on our blue-water Niagara, but, as the boys at the yard said, our rudder install must have been done on a Friday shift, before a long weekend. Humans are just that. Humans. Someone at the Hinterhoeller facility didn’t really take their time making this cut. But, even if it was round, Brandon also found it was about a half inch too wide for our rudder post cap. Meaning, not only was the cap itself only secured with three 1/4” bolts, it also was not supported in this hole with solid 360-degree contact all the way around.
“We’re gonna fix that,” Brandon said, and he ingeniously came up with the idea to mount the rudder cap upside down (from the engine room ceiling up through the cockpit floor), so it would reveal the gap we needed to fill on the cockpit floor. This photo really highlights, too, the poorly-cut hole and the gap that we wanted to fill.
Brandon then advised us to coat the cap with TefGel (that way the 610 would not stick to it) and fill that wayward-cut gap with 610. That is what I am doing here:
Annie’s got her gun!
We then waited for the 610 to firm up enough to hold its shape (about four hours), then popped the rudder cap out and now found our hole in the cockpit floor for the rudder cap was a nice, snug fit, way more supportive than what was there previously.
This way, as Shane with Perdido Sailor explained, the hole for the rudder post cap, along with the cap and reinforcement plate will all “operate as a system” to hold the rudder secure in the hole, even with the tremendous amounts of pressure that are put on it when we are offshore.
After we sanded our 610 filling and smoothed everything up, we then bedded the rudder cap down with butyl. Love that stuff!
We mounted the plate underneath the floor with our three bolts, using our custom washers from last year’s temporary fix and secured it all with locking nuts. This is the complete rudder reinforcement fix:
Pretty schnazzy huh? As Phillip said to me: “Aren’t you going to sleep better when we’re underway offshore knowing this bad boy is holding everything together?”
Yes, yes I am.
And, added bonus for you Phillip fans out there. I snuck a video of him explaining to a boat neighbor of ours (ironically both in the slip and then at the shipyard as well!) how we discovered this problem and our thought-process in designing the reinforcement. Enjoy!
Phillip and I are both very grateful for the help and guidance shared through the Niagara 35 Owners groups, particularly the input from Larry Dickie, as well as our buddy Mike for the machine work, and the hard-working shipyard repairmen at Perdido Sailor, who helped us engineer and accomplish this feat. We hope sharing this fix helps some of you analyze and upgrade your own rudder systems. As always, if you have any questions about what we did here or just want to talk about it more, feel free to comment or share! Happy sailing folks!
And, don’t worry … we’ve got plenty more project posts to come this summer. Here’s the (short) list! The ones with an “A” beside them are my babies!
“Why yes, yes I do! I did long before the Tube of You. And here’s a Writer Annie gift for you!”
Okay, maybe the exchange wasn’t quite as sing-songy and rhythmic, but that’s about how it went down last weekend at our favorite anchorage, Ft. McRee, when I had a Video Annie follower come knocking on the hull, and he had no clue I wrote, too.
It’s funny. The power of YouTube. It still never ceases to surprise me. It seems this is the new learning hub of the 21st century. Reading is a long lost art. It is rare that someone “looks up” the answer to a question or learns how to do something in a textbook anymore. They Google it or, far more often, find and watch a YouTube video on how to do it. Video is the streaming source of knowledge and entertainment these days. And, while that is a wonderful thing, I still love books. I love words. I love to string them together, rearrange and massage them and bring a reader into my world. And, I especially love to read. Since I decided to stop making my own YouTube videos earlier this year, I have literally been able to read eight times as many books than I did in 2016 when I was filming, editing and publishing a 20+ minute YouTube video every week. Eight! That was not because I wasn’t motivated to read. I just didn’t have the time. If you’re curious, I always (try to) keep a running tab of the books I’ve read each year, in order of preference, and you can see the books I devoured (and highly recommend) here. Let me know if any of you have read and totally gorged yourselves on these books too. And the Sea Will Tell and Brain on Fire gave my a whole new appreciation for the art of story-telling, the intrigue of missing pieces and the power of perspective.
I believe books are a wonderful thing and still more powerful and absorbing than videos. You may not agree. That’s totally fine. It’s just my preference. I prefer a bit of a blank stage for my imagination to fill rather than a visually-complete video that leaves no room for my mind to fill in the gaps. Populating the stage myself with characters as I see them, quirks as I anticipate them and mental sights, sounds and smells inspired by the words I read is a complete thrill and—better yet—creating that stage for others by writing the words myself is the ultimate satisfaction. I’ve said it many times, and it still rings true. I believe in words. I hope you do too.
I thought this little “Video Annie Writes, Too” would be a fun story to share with you all to kick off our four-week Holiday Book Giveaway. That’s right, a free signed book every week until Phillip and I leave for the Bahamas in December. Phillip and I are very thankful for our boat, our health, our ability to pursue this amazing lifestyle and the many followers who have inspired me to keep writing and sharing and we want to give back. So, enjoy the little ditty below. (You’ll love it. Brandon becomes a lawyer – ha!). Then try to answer the fun trivia at the end to win a free signed Salt of a Sailor book, mailed right to you, courtesy of HaveWind.
So, the Blue Angels show at Ft. McRee. It’s an event Phillip and I try to catch every year because it is such a spectacular anchorage, with most of our boating friends out there along with us for the weekend PLUS a free air show. I mean, what’s there to even think about! In 2014, we rafted up at Ft. McRee five-deep for the show!
In, 2015, we rafted up again with Brandon and that’s when he came aboard and diagnosed our rotten stringers. Episode #31: The Blues Bring Bad News.
While that was a sad day on the boat, Brandon was right there with us from the start telling us “It’s not really that bad,” and “We’ll get you fixed up.” And, I’ll never forget Phillip staring at those rotten stringers, shaking his head and still saying, “This ain’t stopping us from going to Cuba.” And, by God, it didn’t! Not long after that weekend, 2015, is when we hauled out and spent an entire eye- (and wallet-)opening three months at the yard completing a pretty major refit on our boat with Brandon at www.PerdidoSailor.com. While many days in the yard were hard, grueling, frustrating and just down-right depressing, we kept chipping away at it with Brandon looking over our shoulders and mentoring, it was probably the most beneficial, productive three months of our careers as boat-owners because we learned so much about our boat, how to diagnose and repair her, how best to maintain her and—to be honest—how well-suited Phillip and I were to work together on any problem she could conceivably present us (as there were, and will continue to be, many).
Now, almost two years later, an Atlantic-crossing and a fantastically-invigorating trip to Cuba (just as Phillip had predicted) under our belts, we decided the Blue Angels show this year would probably be our last big Hoorah in Pensacola before we shove off for the Bahamas this December. So, Phillip and I planned weeks in advance to sail over and drop the hook to enjoy the air show from the view of the Fort. And, it was a glorious weekend on the boat. November temps in the high sixties. Bright, sunny, cloudless skies. An amazing performance by the Blues, right over our rigging. And, another fun weekend out with our fellow cruising friends in one of our favorite anchorages.
But, that’s what we often expect at Ft. McRee. What we didn’t expect (as Video Annie hasn’t been spotted in a while) was a knock on the hull from some excited HaveWind YouTube followers: Bruce and Chris on s/v Sea Hawk. Chris could be short for Christine, Chrissy, Christorama. I didn’t care; I like the name Chris for a girl. These two were fun!
And they were just a few boat-lengths down from us!
The view from Sea Hawk:
Turns out Bruce and Chris were anchored not too far behind our boat, which had Brandon’s Gulf Star rafted-up on our starboard side, and they had recognized the name on the back of our boat “Plaintiff’s Rest” from some of our YouTube videos. This past year, Bruce and Chris moved out of their house up in Michigan and onto their 1968 Morgan (beautiful classic boat) and started sailing around Lake Superior to get their sea legs feet wet (or freezing!). They had eventually made their way down the coast to Pensacola with their sights set on the Gulf, the west coast of Florida, the Caribbean and beyond.
Bruce dinghied up behind Brandon’s stern and started chatting away with Brandon who was out on the deck, grilling sausage. About 80% of the time when Brandon and the family are out on the boat, there is sausage of some form grilling—breakfast, lunch, happy hour snack, or dinner (and we love them for it!). I heard the words “Video Annie” and figured I had to pop up to see what was going on (and more importantly, what Brandon might say in response). Bruce—God love him—was talking ninety miles-a-minute with no one able to get a word in edgewise. He was talking about my YouTube videos, our time in the shipyard, our sail to Cuba and how he and Chris had been following my video blog for a while, how it had inspired them to finally start cruising, yachta, yachta, yachta …
I peeked out our companionway and could see Brandon smiling and chuckling to himself. Then Bruce said, “And you’re a lawyer too, right, like Annie? You guys both practice, or used to. Chris and I thought that was so funny, two lawyers become sailors.” And, Bruce continues rattling on. I’m now laughing behind Brandon’s back and seeing him try to cut in to correct Bruce, but after Bruce just kept on a-truckin’, Brandon finally said. “Yeah, the practice is hard. I have to go to a lot of depo parties.” I then let an uncontrollable cackle out. Brandon loves to call legal depositions “depo parties.” I finally stepped up into our cockpit so I could finally be seen by Bruce and he bellows: “VIDEO ANNIE!”
Turns out she lives on. That feisty old gal. Bruce, a little confused, glanced down at the name on Brandon’s stern, 5 O’Clock, then at the name on our stern, Plaintiff’s Rest, and said “Oh okay, this is your boat,” as he pawed his dinghy over to our Niagara, still chatting away about us (Brandon and I as he pointed) being lawyers and all. Then Phillip finally emerged from our companionway, and Bruce said, “Oh … ” the first moment of silence since he’d arrived. “Oh yeah, the bald one. You’re the lawyer!” Bruce shouted, and Brandon lost it. “Yeah, the bald ones are better,” he laughed.
Brandon, you funny!
Love that guy.
After a few minutes of unraveling Bruce’s confusion and him now understanding this was the same Brandon with Perdido Sailor, from all of our shipyard videos, Bruce then felt like he was truly in a celebrity circle. We had a very fun chat with Bruce and his wife, Chris, about their finding their boat, following our HaveWind blog, enjoying our videos and, even, their first big sea experience on Lake Superior. Chris was telling me that their first day out, they experienced 6-8 foot seas all day, and I told her that sounded a lot like my first offshore voyage on our boat. “Oh yeah?” she asked. And, then I asked if she had read Salt of a Sailor. Bruce perked up and said “Video Annie writes, too?”
’Course she does!
“Yes, I love to write!” I piped back at Bruce. “Do you like to read?” I challenged him, to which he and Chris both immediately spouted, “Yes!”
“Wait right there, then,” and I promptly went below to fetch Bruce and Chris one of my books from our cabin. I began writing an inscription in Salt of a Sailor for them and told them they would enjoy the story of my first voyage which I told them, as I winked over to Chris, “also involved some 6-8 foot stuff.”
“Oh, our second day across the lake, we were in 12-14 footers!” Chris responded.
12-14 footers? In a cold-ass lake! I thought to myself. Holy Moley! I can’t wait until Chris writes that story because I would love to read it! You can follow along on Bruce and Chris’s Sea Hawk’s Journeyshere.
The reason I share this fun little exchange is because while I will never have the same reach with simply my blog, Instagram and Facebook page, that I had with YouTube—because video marketing is simply the way of the future—I still always want people to know that my platform at HaveWindWillTravel started with words. It started with one of my favorite passions: writing. And, I want to share my love for books and stories as much as my love for photos and videos. Writing that, just now, I had to go back and look. Wow, here is my very first blog post, dated March 29, 2013, titled “My First Sail,” which later became my first article in a sailing magazine, Cruising Outpost. Man, how time flies!
Everyone knows the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And, most millennials would probably say: “Then a video is worth a thousand pictures.” While that may be true, I believe it’s all in the eye of the imagination-holder. My own humble view is that it is, in fact, words—with their silent draw, their open canvas, their endless possibility for interpretation—that are worth a thousand videos. With that in mind, I blew on my signature to dry the Sharpie scrawl, closed the cover to Salt of a Sailor and handed it to Chris, saying: “I hope Writer Annie inspires you, too.”
After that fun little share, I believe it’s high time Phillip and I kicked off this four-week Holiday Book Giveaway. What say you? If some of you don’t know, I have published three fun, entertaining sailing books that I love to share with followers. You can download and read free previews of each book or order copies here. Just as Bruce and Chris now hold and (I hope) cherish their signed copy of Salt of a Sailor, one of you can too. First follower, either here or on Facebook, to answer this question correctly in a comment wins! If you know the answer but already have a hard copy (or do not need another hard copy to give away as a gift), please let another follower chime in, thanks!
Book Giveaway #1:
For our first book giveaway trivia, we’re going to dig all the way back to the origin of Annie’s sailing days, back to 2013 and our first passage on our 1985 Niagara 35. Who doesn’t love the infamous Mitch, right? The answer is no one. Just no one. So, “while you’re down there” digging around in your HaveWind mental archives, what was the food item the infamous Mitch was craving right after we broke down in Carrabelle and were waiting on the mechanic to come and have a look at our engine?
And … GO!
Happy Holidays folks. Phillip and I are so grateful to have you all following along and we hope you continue to enjoy ours and pursue your own journey! It’s a big world out there. Mostly accessible by boat! : )
There they were. Dozens of bobbing boats. Striking reds to canary yellows. Their hulls glistening from the wet shine of the water. Then, hours later, they were laid over on their side in the dismal mud. Looking more dismal themselves because of it. This happened twice a day and took our breath away.
But what do I know about these seemingly disheveled boats? They must have been in shipshape! Friends, we were in Roscoff! Captain Yannick’s village back in France that we sailed to across the Atlantic Ocean from Pensacola last summer.
These photos were literally from our first few hours in France. A couple of wide-eyed ocean-crossers wandering the cobblestone streets!
And, we had the perfect built-in tour guide. Yannick himself, who took us around, showed us the fantastic, ancient churches in the downtown square, the cobblestoned streets, the beautiful waterfronts and delicious bakeries, and the even more ancient and even more fantastic castles right next to his very own home. Yes. Castles. People live in castles in France! And, before we were off to Paris, Yannick made sure we got the very best crepes Roscoff could offer.
It was a mesmerizing, humbling visit. But one of the things Phillip and I remember most about that stunning coastal village were the tides. Breathtaking tides that rose and lowered more than twenty feet at a time, twice a day. The beautiful bay we walked along every day to go get our croissant and café, a colorful, glistening pool of boats in the morning was a brown, dry lake bed of boats in the afternoon.
I’d never seen anything like it. The rather large boats were cleated to the seawall in such a fashion that they would simply sink until their hull touched bottom and then remain fastened tight and upright to the wall. The boats on mooring balls or anchor, however, out in the bay would drop down with the tide until their hulls, too, reached the bottom and fall gently to one side or the other as the water slipped away. Many of the sailboats actually had wooden props fastened to their sides to help hold them in a more upright position. They stuck off like training wheels in the mud. Can you imagine knowing your boat was going to “run aground” (although I guess that’s technically a “lay aground”) twice a day? Other than the training wheels, how would you prepare your boat for that? I’ll tell you: By keeping her shipshape.
And what does your mind automatically spout out after that? That’s right. And Bristol fashion! But do you know why?
Friends, I had the idea to write a fun blog post for you all after we finished our varnish project this summer to share some of the lessons we learned along the way. (And of course the rewards. Yes, yes. Total boat wood porn is coming I can assure you. Be excited!) I then had the idea to call it “Shipshape and Bristol Fashion” and realized I didn’t really know the origin of the phrase. You know me. I love words, and I love to learn how phrases we commonly throw around originally came to be. For example, do you know where the phrase “wet your whistle” comes from? I’ll be honest, I always thought it was because our heads are a bit whistle-shaped, with a round bulbous head and a then a thin little neck sticking off. So, I thought wetting your “whistle” (your neck and noise-maker) would mean taking a drink. As usual, I was very wrong, but happily so. Turns out, many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service.
You see? Isn’t that cool to learn? So, what about this quirky “shipshape and Bristol fashion” phrase? Phillip and I were throwing it around often during the weeks we recently spent putting many, many coats of varnish on our wood, but if I was going to write about it, I wanted to know about it. And, as a learning adventure often is, it turned out to be a very fun Aha! moment for me and a unique trip down memory lane.
The Origin of Shipshape and Bristol Fashion
Apparently over some 200 years ago, the Port of Bristol was a thriving English seaport where many large vessels came via the Bristol Channel to bring cargo to England via the Avon River. Much like Roscoff, the tidal range in the Port of Bristol was significant, rising and falling some 14 meters (45 feet) each day. Talking about having to use the Tide Tables to calculate high and low tide! Ships moored in the Port of Bristol would lay aground at low tide and, because of their keels, would fall to one side. If the cargo, goods and supplies aboard the boat were not stowed away tidily or tied down, everything tumbled and valuable cargo could be lost and spoiled. Meaning, boats that were kept tidy and in the highest standards of seamanship were considered to be “shipshape and in Bristol fashion.” I can assure you the lovely Plaintiff’s Rest isn’t quite there yet …
(as we are elbow-deep in boat projects this summer), but she will be! And, most importantly, her wood definitely is right now, as we just completed our varnish project for (hopefully) the next couple of years! Thankfully, our Niagara 35 doesn’t have a tremendous amount of wood. Frankly, for us, it seems the perfect amount. Just enough to give her a nice, classic sailboat accent but not enough to overwhelm us with the upkeep. And, we’re hopeful now, by using a new product this year (Awlwood) we’ll have to do even less upkeep on the varnish in years to come. For a brief HaveWind varnish history, we stripped the majority of our wood (the eyebrow, handrails, stern rail, grate, swim ladder steps, cockpit table, etc., everything but the companion way) bare back in 2013 and put 10 coats of Schooner’s Gold on it.
We lightly scuffed and threw a couple more coats on again in early 2015. However, this year, we knew it was time to scrape down to bare again on some pieces (particularly our eyebrow which had been flaking since last fall). But we said “Screw that, we’re going to Cuba instead!” Ha! And, it wasn’t a mistake. But, varnish was definitely high on the list this year. The handrails still looked very good. We had our local canvas guy (Tony with Coastal Canvas) make us some custom handrail covers back in 2015 and they have worked very well to protect and preserve the varnish on our handrails.
Our eyebrows, unfortunately, do not hold up as well because each time it rains, or the deck gets wet from spray or dew, the water eventually rolls down and sits until it evaporates on the top of the brow. That’s why our brow looked like this by the end of 2016:
That is definitely not Bristol fashion. Shame on you Plaintiff’s Rest crew!
Our stern rail also needed to be brought down to bare wood as it gets a lot of exposure on the back to spray and rain with no protection.
While we were pleased with the Schooner’s Gold we had used in 2013, Brandon with Perdido Sailor told us about a new product that he had been hearing good things about: Awlwood made by Awlgrip.
Brandon said he’d heard if applied right and enough coats, this stuff can hold up for three years before it even needs light coats in between. What did we say? Heck yeah! While wet wood on a boat is pretty, brightwork is not our favorite thing to do. So, we were excited about trying out this new product. While the application process was a bit tedious (because the product is designed to chemically bond with the wood, that’s what apparently makes it last so long), Phillip and I were very pleased with the end-product, the color, coats and glassy look and we’re optimistic that it will last as long as promised. We applied two primer coats (which had to cure 24 hours in between), two initial gloss coats (which also had to cure 24 hours in between), then an additional eight gloss coats two a day (just for good measure). We also scuffed and re-applied a few preventative coats of Schooner’s Gold on everything else (the handrails, companionway, grate and cockpit table). For now, the varnish on the entire boat is done. The wood is glassy and stunning and, on the outside at least, we’re proud to say Plaintiff’s Rest is in shipshape and Bristol fashion:
Now that the project is behind us, we’d like to share with you …. (drumroll please):
Our Lessons Learned and Top 10 Varnish Tips
1. Be a good stripper!
While we have heard there are products out there that help release old varnish from the wood, we’ve found a five-in-one scraper and some heat is the easiest method. Elbow grease is usually your best friend. But for varnish that is still really thick (like on our boat the section of the eyebrow that is protected under the dodger), I put about 15 seconds of heat on it until the varnish bubbles, then it comes right off.
2. Filling Cracks & Gouges
Unfortunately, one of the bad things about stripping with a five-in-one tool is the occasional gouge in the wood. While this didn’t happen to us often, I’ll admit to taking out a few chunks when I was heavy in the stripping. Sorry gal! But, aside from the occasional gouge, we also had a few cracks in our eyebrow and stern rail that we wanted to fill and smooth out before varnishing. We could have used wood putty but Brandon recommended just filling them with epoxy for a much heartier fix, so we did that.
I was worried at first, however, that the epoxy would show through the Awlwood because our epoxy patches were so dark, almost brownish-black. But, after nearly a dozen Awlwood coats all told, they completely blended and the wood now looks smooth and the color uniform.
3. Washing the Teak
The wood prep process for the Awlwood was, I’ll admit, a bit tedious but it should be well worth it if that stuff really sticks for three years. We had to strip the wood down completely bare and wash it.
Yes, wash the teak. And it was crazy to see how much orange came out of it. Like we were literally washing the orange oils out. And it was so sad and grey afterward, I was afraid it wouldn’t get back to that beautiful teak hue (but never fear, it did!). At Brandon’s recommendation, we used a half-gallon of ammonia with a half-gallon of water, a couple tablespoons of Cascade dishwasher detergent and a squirt of Dawn and it worked like a charm. We washed our brow and stern rail a few times scrubbing with a Scotch Brite pad against the grain of the wood.
4. Ditch the Tape!
While Phillip and I thought we were doing a great job back in 2013 carefully taping off all of our handrail bases and the eyebrow so we could varnish without leaving a drop on the deck, we wrong … so very wrong.
It was way harder (and took weeks longer) to pull and pick all the tiny little flecks of blue tape that remained after we’d finished varnishing. You can see them here around the handrail base as the tape would tear when we were pulling it off.
Now, did we make a mistake in leaving that tape out for a couple of weeks in rain and weather (which caused it to deteriorate and meld to the boat)? Yes, but the varnish, itself, that seeped onto it around the handrail bases and under the brow also caused it to adhere to the boat. And it didn’t even prevent all of the leaks onto the deck anyway. I spent many afternoons on anchor with a dental pick trying to get all of the little blue flecks and yellow varnish drops off. And, the worst part. The tape pulled chunks of white paint off of our port lights, making them look very un-Bristol like!
No more tape! Now we just paint carefully and keep a little wet tray of acetone- (or brushing liquid)-soaked Q-tips nearby while painting to catch any accidental dribbles. It’s really not that hard to not get it on the deck, or wipe it up quick if you do. We will never tape again!
5. Watch the Weather
But, even if you do, it’s going to rain. Trust me, it just is. It’s like washing your car. The minute you check the weather, decide you’re safe and get a good, wet coat on, thunderheads will start to appear. You’ll hear rumbles in the distance. And you’ll start frantically fanning or blowing on your wood hoping it will cure in time to fend off those mean little rain drops. But if, like us, you decide to put on many, many coats, there’s just a chance one time, right after you put a coat on, it’s going to rain!
“Fight back varnish! Hold the line!” we would tell it. And, two things we were pleased to see with the Awlwood: 1) the further we got into the coats, the quicker they began to dry (sometimes in just under 15 minutes), and 2) even if you did happen to get a light drizzle that left little pockmarks in your last coat, it was easy to sand down and lay another coat on.
6. Watch the Dew!
This was a bit of a new one for us. Because we’ve been doing boat projects around our somewhat normal day jobs, we were rising very early in the morning to get one coat of varnish on in the a.m., then returning in the afternoon/evening to get another coat on before nightfall. I will say, it did become a very nice routine seeing the sun rise over our girl’s stern every morning. Good morning pretty girl!
But, coming to the boat to do varnish in the early hours meant we often found our boat covered in drops of dew.
While that’s no big deal–just dry the wood and varnish–where we made a mistake was to just wipe the wood, not the entire deck. We often found then, while we were laying on a coat (and walking around the boat causing her to list from one side to the other), the rest of the drops on the deck would converge and come running down to our wet varnish in little streams leaving dried drop marks behind later. So, if you’re going to do the dew, make sure you dry the entire deck too.
7. Our Thoughts on Awlwood
As I mentioned, this was our first time using the Awlwood product. While the prep process and application guide were a bit of a headache, I’m thinking it’s going to be well worth it in the end. The first two coats we did were the primer and we could tell as we applied them how well they were truly bonding with the wood. The color immediately stayed “wet” and the primer left the visible grain of the wood behind which told me it wasn’t just coating but actually seeping deep down in.
Then the first few coats of the gloss started to bring out just a touch of shine.
But after all layers were applied the brow was just as glassy as the handrails and we could tell from a close inspection of the wood how truly thick the Awlwood varnish on her really is. I don’t think we’ll have water intrusion, even on the top of the brow, for a very long time!
Another nice benefit of the Awlwood product Phillip has told me is that if you get a nick in the varnish later (say something hits the brow and knocks a chuck out down to the wood), unlike Schooner’s varnish you can fill the nick with Awlwood gloss and essentially “varnish it away” without having to go down to all bare wood again. This is because the primer remains bonded with the wood, so only the gloss coats can be chipped and they can also be repaired without having to go through the entire process again. That’s pretty cool!
8. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
At least don’t sweat it out doing it outside … if you don’t have to. If you have a home, condo, garage, shed, etc. where you can set up all the portables to do coats inside, that makes it so much nicer than sweating it out doing in the hot sun on the boat. It also allows you to get more coats on after sunlit hours or when it’s raining or wet outside.
Man look at the mirror shine on the table! You can literally read the Schooner’s can in the varnish!
Sorry … I get a little excited about wet wood! ; )
One thing we do NOT paint inside anymore, though? Is these!
Our stinking swim step ladders! Why? Because we decided to …
9. Get a Little Plasteak With It
I know, I know. We’re supposed to be purists, mostly. While we do love the wood on our boat and are happy to do a little varnish work every few years to keep it looking its utmost Bristol-ey, these guys were just “Killing us Smalls!” As you all know, we have a boat for a reason. We love the water. We love to sail. We love to kite-surf. And, we love to swim. Which means our swim ladder spends a good bit of time in the water when we’re out on the hook. And we found, even when we stripped these down bare and slapped something like 12 coats of Schooner’s on, that within just 6 months (only 6?!), they were already starting to flake and turn yellow. Phillip and I finally said “screw it” and ordered up some Plasteak steps for the swim ladder last fall.
They look totally fine next to the varnish on the stern rail and we have never regretted the decision. Our steps still look absolutely brand new going on about a year and a half now.
9. “I’d Do Ten”
And you have to say that in a “Brandon voice” — all gruff and scratchy. We love that guy.
Ironically, speaking of Roscoff, that was an open-mouth selfie (Yannick’s favorite) that we took to send to Yannick in Nice, France.
And, we’ve been saying that for years. Anytime the number ten comes up in conversation, Phillip and I cock our head back and blurt it out: “I’d do ten.” Why? Because that’s what Brandon told us waaaaay back (he’s been with us from the start) in 2013 when we were just starting our very first varnish project. Phillip and I were ordering up our Schooner’s, researching application methods, etc., having no idea entirely how big the project was going to be or how many coats we would put on. I’m sure we were both thinking something like three to five. Then we asked Brandon and, after a thoughtful pause, he said “I’d do ten.”
I’m sure that’s what Phillip and I both looked like. Ten?! Are you for freaking real?? But, he most definitely was. And, so that’s how many we did the first time. And this time, we really kind of did 12 because we did two primer coats and then an additional 10 coats of gloss. But, what we learned in varnishing is that the prep work is really the hardest part. Once the wood is ready, slapping the coats on is nothing. Sometimes it only takes a quick, rewarding 15 minutes at the boat. And, if you’re going to take the time to prep the wood, why not spend just another couple of days putting ten coats on as opposed to just six or seven. You’ll be glad you did two years later when your varnish is still Bristol and banging! At least that’s our mantra. Plaintiff’s Rest’s wood is most definitely in shipshape and Bristol fashion now and we’re expecting her to stay that way for a couple of years at least. Hope these varnish tips have helped. Happy Painting Peeps!
That’s right. I’ve shared a few “hows” from our stint at the yard, now it’s time for a few “how nots.” Watch as we re-bed the bow pulpit not once, but twice (because it was so much fun the first time) for your viewing pleasure.
And … aSIDE from the book release next week, then it’s just a few days until we embark on our Atlantic crossing journey. Atlantic Annie’s getting a little too excited about it. If you haven’t yet, join the journey on Patreon. Go ahead, take the plunge!