Offshore Log: Trapped in Paradise
The crew of Calypso makes last-minute upgrades before heading west to Venezuela and the Panama Canal.
You would think that after a decade of construction and almost two years of full-time cruising, we would have Calypso pretty much finished. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No cruising boat is ever really finished. Cruising sailors prowl the docks and anchorages, shamelessly stealing ideas from each other. Just when you think you have the right solution to a problem, someone comes up with a better idea, and back to the drawing board you go.
By the end of August, Calypso had been tethered to the dock in Trinidad for almost three months, part of our leisurely plan of moving westward for a passage through the Panama Canal as early in 1999 as possible. This has not been idle time.
Trinidad may well be our last really good source of boat supplies and services for the next year. We have been busily conducting an inventory of everything aboard, trying to foresee our needs for a long, long time. How many cans of varnish will we use up? How much thinner, masking tape, sandpaper? How many engine oil changes will be needed? How many fuel filters?
Fortunately, we stocked up on many parts before leaving Newport, Rhode Island almost a year ago. Spare engine water pumps, impellers, freshwater pumps, engine V-belts, alternator rebuild kits, head rebuild kits, wind vane rebuild kits, and enough stainless steel and bronze fastenings to practically build the boat again are stowed away and inventoried.
You can’t carry spares for everything, however, and Murphy’s Law says you won’t have the right thing on hand when something really serious happens.
We have also wrapped up a number of projects that were either partly finished or not even begun before we headed south late last November.
The new Robertson AP300X autopilot that we half-installed in the last few days before leaving Newport is now actually hooked up, and dockside tests show that it appears to do what it is supposed to do. We won’t really know until we can conduct serious sea trials, which for us means the day that we head west towards Venezuela.
Additional engine ventilation, including a bilge blower, a project begun a year and a half ago, has been added. The job was stymied when we switched to wheel steering. The original routing for the vent hose was usurped by the complex gear box and drive shaft installation of the Whitlock Mamba steering system.
What was originally a straightforward job became complicated beyond belief, requiring almost a week of lying scrunched up under the cockpit in a space the size of a large suitcase. With an ambient temperature well into the 3O’s Celsius (about 95°F), and similar humidity, I felt more like a Central American kidnap victim squashed into the airless trunk of a Mercedes than a “rich American yachtsman.”
We also replaced the old-style Nicro Powervent 3000 exhaust fan over the galley stove with the new version of the same vent, which has replaceable batteries—a vast improvementl. Marinco, the new maker of these vents, will make this exchange free to all owners of the old style.
Canvas Repairs and Upgrades
Our on-deck canvas was a bit the worse for wear after a winter in the strong winds of the Caribbean, and required a lot of patching. Sunbrella synthetic canvas is a great material for awnings, dodger and equipment covers, but it has little chafe resistance, and must be protected with patches of a tougher material whenever anything moving can touch it. Just the slight vibration of our lazy jacks against the mainsail cover at anchor had resulted in a lot of holes.
We also decided that the time had come for a serious tropical deck awning. We have gotten away for almost a year with our sailing Bimini and cockpit dodger, which when joined with a zip-out connector provide very good shelter in the cockpit at anchor.
Likewise, our forward deckhouse is protected by a small awning, keeping it cooler in the tropical sun and allowing us to leave the big foredeck hatch open for ventilation when it rains.
The main deck, however, bakes in the tropical sun, and real downpours chase us out of the cockpit. The big awning should solve these problems, as well as providing a means of catching water. We will report on the success or failure of this design when we have had some experience with it.
Furling System Changes
The original furling line guide arms of the Profurl C-42 headsail reefing system were changed over to the cage-type line guide used on non-racing versions of the Profurl. This required detaching the lower end of the headstay from the stemhead. That should be a simple job, right? Not necessarily.
First you take the genoa off the headstay, only to discover that a lot of green mold has been lurking inside the rolled-up sail. Time to clean that puppy. Then, the backstays are slacked off completely so you can pull the rig forward. No big job, you say. Not so in our case, as it meant disassembly of the Questus backstay antenna system to get to the turnbuckle. Unfortunately, we forgot to apply Lanocote to the assembly screws of the Questus, so taking it apart was more of a chore than it should have been.
All the carefully coiled-up and secured excess wiring for the antennas had to be undone to raise the Questus—not a big deal, except in our case, where the wiring is just barely accessible. And whose fault is that, you say?
While the Questus was apart, we decided to re-route its wiring to conform to the new instructions for the unit. Our original wiring method may have been at least partially responsible for the damage to the radar cable we experienced last year.
A simple notation on the work list—”change furling line guide arms”—ended up taking three days to complete.
The biggest change of all was the replacement of our removable inner forestay, used for the storm staysail, with a furling system. More on the new Furlex system later, starting on page 10.
Bits and Pieces
Of course, there were lots of small jobs, too. We added several grab rails to the head compartment, so that you don’t risk life, limb and other body parts when trying to relieve yourself in a seaway.
Other interior projects included additional shelving in underutilized spaces.
Having found a good metalworker and machinist—German, of course—we decided to improve the somewhat temporary solution we had come up with to seal the rudder drive arm of our steering system where it exits the topsides. Like most things, this was more of a job than it first appeared to be, and we’re still working on it.
We also struggled to find a way to carry a rigid-bottom inflatable dinghy on deck. The AB and Caribe RIB’s made in Venezuela are so superior to fold-up or roll-up dinghies that we will somehow manage to accommodate the greater bulk and weight of one of these new-style dinghies. Of course, we’ll keep the old folding Achilles “just in case.”
Unfortunately, finding someone with the time to fabricate a substantial set of chocks for the new dinghy proved impossible, so we’re waiting until we get to Venezuela to do that job.
Calypso is sinking lower and lower in the water. We raised the waterline almost 4" before launching the boat over two years ago. At the next haulout, the bottom paint will climb higher still.
Did I mention we were hauling out? It’s time to repaint the bottom. With the excellent facilities available in Trinidad, this is the time and place to do it.
All Work, No Play?
Projects, projects and more projects. Sometimes it seems that cruising, as the old saying goes, is little more than working on your boat in exotic places. We aren’t complaining. There’s no shoveling snow for us this winter. And the only traffic jam is at the marina shower.
We have taken some time off.
We spent the night in an old plantation house, now a nature center and a haven for international birders that is located high in Trinidad’s northern rain forest, sipping rum punches on a huge screened verandah with other yachties late into the humid, tropical night.
We spent a Saturday night in one of the pan yards of the Amoco Renegades, listening to the astonishing sounds of the steel drum—the “pan,” the national musical instrument of Trinidad.
We wake before dawn to the screech of parrots, which tear overhead in huge flocks, always flying in pairs—mates for life.
A few days ago, a big, big treat arrived. The brother of a friend arrived from New Zealand with a very large roll of pristine charts for us. The Seahorse Bookshop in Auckland had assembled all the charts for our Pacific crossing. The Marquesas, Tonga, Fiji and Tahiti began to take on life and form. We dug out the Sailing Directions for the Pacific Islands and began serious cruise planning.
In the evening, we watch the news on television. Yes, we have TV here, and get CBS, NBC and ABC. The news of the world is depressing, and seems to consist of little more than political scandal, international terrorism and volatile financial markets.
Aboard our snug floating home, it is almost exactly the same distance to the Galapagos as it is back to Newport. Which direction would you go?