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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
4AM Canvas work & Los Testigos
Randy
01/29/2008, Los Testigos

We waited up for Johnny Sails until about 11PM last night but he did not come out to the boat. I called him at the end of the day and told him to drop off what he had because we were leaving at 5AM for Venezuela.

At 4AM we heard a knock on the hull. We could hardly believe our ears. Yet, sure enough, there was Johnny and his crew on the dock. It is not that I don't appreciate the valiant effort to complete the work before we left. Not at all. It is just that you don't take measurements for this type of work, show up and install it and walk away. You have to do things incrementally if you want to get it right and make everyone happy. Johnny knows this of course.

We allowed them to work on the boat and delay us an hour in our departure. In the end we had to cut them off. The work was perhaps half complete but to start up a new shop on the project would require a lot of effort due to the fact that the tricky bits were still remaining. I think Johnny is a capable canvas worker but I would recommend that you pay as you go to ensure the proper incentive.

We were looking forward to a long downwind sail to Los Testigos. We motored out of the Saint Georges lagoon and were surprised to see fog as we looked back! I had never seen fog in the Lesser Antilles before. The wind was light and sailing downwind made it lighter still.

Once we were clear of the port we raised the main sail, from the cockpit, on the power winch. It was so hassle free we both were thrilled with our new rig setup. We motor sailed along with one engine running at between 9 and 10 knots making up for our late departure. We wanted to be sure to arrive in Los Testigos before sunset.

On our way out a large pod of high jumping dolphins kept us company for several minutes. We saw a couple of sailboats far off to port about mid passage, going to Trinidad as best we could tell but otherwise had no contacts.

We sighted Los Testigos off in the distance a little before 14:00. They are a rocky group of islands with sandy beaches and coral crusted coves. Many birds ply the air in the vicinity. By 16:00 we were coming around the northern point of Testigo Pequeno.

Testigo Pequeno and Testigo Grande are almost connected by a sandy spit that turns into a sand bar in the middle of a shallow pass. The best anchorage we saw in the area is right between the two islands. The seas are completely broken down by the bar between the Pequeno and Grande but a little chop comes through if the waves are large. There is a fishing village on cove over to the north and we found several fishing boats anchored in the area and three or four cruisers as well.

Once settled into the anchorage I dingied over to the main pueblo on Isla Iguana Grande. You have to be careful in failing light here because the docks at Isla Iguana all have boats with lines ashore and nets and whatnot running to the dock and through the water. I ended up tying Little Star up on the windward side of the southern most dock and wading ashore.

The Guard Costa office was manned by a young man who spoke no English. I had my trusty Spanish for Cruisers book with me (which has been a life saver) but made a fairly poor showing. I did manage to get us checked in though. We were given three days before we would need to proceed to Margarita or a port of entry on the mainland for proper clearance. All they do here is write you into a big book.

The young guard of the coast wrapped matters up with a request for booze. Not what you like to see in the officials of a foreign country but not surprising given the remoteness of the location. I said "no comprendo" a lot, which seemed to get me out of most difficulties.

I dashed back across the sound as the sun set. Hideko, Roq and I enjoyed a quiet dinner and a beautiful sunset as we marveled at the picturesque islands of our anchorage. It was nice to be back out there.

Venezuela
One more race
Randy
01/28/2008, South Grenada

We were in pretty good shape for an early departure tomorrow. Johnny Sails was still saying he would come by and get things finished. This was virtually impossible but we decided to let him try.

In the mean time I took the opportunity to help out Helen Mary Gee again for the morning race. It was fun to race again with Paul and Helen and things went fairly well during the race. I needed to get back to Swingin' on a Star by noon though so that Hideko and I could wrap up things at the marina and clear out. Paul dropped me off at the Prickly Bay fuel dock between races and I grabbed a cab back to Port Louis. The cab driver ripped me off charging double what I would normally pay, but I forgot to ask him the rate up front. I was so used to dealing with the good folks of Grenada I had forgotten that there are still jerks out there.

Hideko and I finalized all of our business and got ready to sail at first light. Johnny Sails was still a no show. I called him and told him to just bring the materials over so that we could get the work completed somewhere else.

We had a nice dinner at Port Louis later that evening with Paul and Helen after they finished the races. We bid them farewell at the end of a wonderful evening and went home for our last night in Grenada.

Grenada
Project wrap ups
Randy
01/27/2008, Port Louis

It is two days before we travel to Venezuela. We have been looking forward to this trip for several months and hoping that we would have all of the boat updates and project complete before leaving the islands that we have come to know so well. It was becoming clear that this was not to be.

Our board rack was ordered so late in the game that it was amazing Technick could produce it in time at all. We certainly would not have time to install it. Nick brought it by today and it is perfect. Johnny Sails has been a no show, which is getting concerning since we gave him a fairly large deposit.

Hideko had worked very hard yesterday cleaning up the boat. Bret and Ian did a great job cleaning up after all of the glass work but with so much stuff going on in the boat you just end up with a lot of things un-stowed and a lot of stuff that needs to be cleaned up. I was of course off sailing in the regatta (a slight imbalance in spousal fun factor).

We spent the day today cleaning the boat some more and wrapping up projects. All of the rope clutches got labeled and all of the lines got hot knifed and whipped. All of the decks got swabbed and all of the tools got put away. We also got out logs ready for the trip to Los Testigos, set up our routes and all of that.

At the end of the day I felt like we were finally going into the next phase of our travels. Phase I had been moving aboard and sailing around in Florida. Just getting used to living on the boat was a big adjustment. Phase II had been the Bahamas and TCI. Close to the US and filled with American and Canadian yachts but still out in the world of beautiful islands. Phase III was the Dominican Republic, our fist time sailing in the third world with immersion in a foreign language. Phase IV was the eastern Caribbean. While each is unique, the Virgins through Grenada are all fairly similar in the big picture; small island nations with basic services and close proximity through Coast Guard, Airlines and tourism with the western world. Sailing through Venezuela with a US flagged vessel would be a new experience.

Grenada
The Grenada Regatta
Randy
01/26/2008, Grenada

We had met the folks on Helen Mary Gee a few days back when they helped us get the cross beam bolted back down on Swingin' on a Star. Paul and Helen are a wonderful couple from the south of England who have sailed to the Caribbean on their Sovereign 470. When they asked me to help out aboard Helen Mary Gee as they raced in the Grenada regatta I happily agreed. I'm not a big racing talent but I always enjoy helping out. We were in the cruising class so things would be focused on the fun side of competition, but competition all the same!

There were two other crew members aboard Helen Mary Gee, Matt who had crossed the Atlantic in the ARC with them and Georgy, the Mate on a charter racing Beneteau 40.4. Matt is about seven feet tall and knows the boat backwards and forwards. Georgy normally races on her Beneteau, Combat, but it was fully crewed for the Regatta with the Captain and the charter guests. This was fortunate for us because Georgy has considerable racing talents which were very valuable to the Helen Mary Gee team.

Paul came by at about 8AM, swung the port beam of HMG close enough to Swingin' on a Star for me to jump aboard and we were off. Most of the races take place on the south side of the island so we had to motor for a ways to get into the start zone. There were several Beneteau 40.4s in the racing class. They seem to have almost a one design popularity. The obligatory J Boats were involved, an open 60 was there for fun, many local boats were participating in their own races and there were several cruising boats.

The races were a lot of fun. We had three to run today. The crew was pretty motley and though our skipper tried hard to whip us into shape it took most of the day for us to get into a groove. We had some pretty clean tacks working by the last race and finished in decent standing. I don't think anyone aboard really cared how we did, it was all about the joy of racing just to race.

Paul brought HMG back to the Port Louis dock as the sun sunk low. Everyone was tired and ready for a cold drink. Within moments after we tied Helen Mary Gee up in her berth Paul and Helen produce some icey cold beers, the end of a perfect day.

Grenada
Rigging Finale
Randy
01/25/2008, Port Louis

It is Friday and we have three more work days to go before we have to take off on Tuesday. While I hate to admit it, we have gotten more work done on the boat than I expected at this point, even so we were a bit behind on several fronts. The fiberglass work had taken longer than expected do to the difficulty of the work space, the extra grinding required to remove the glass laid up over the hulls gel coat and the large amount of clean up.

Johnny Sails was supposed to start on our project Wednesday but has only stopped by once to re-measure some things. This worried me because it is easy to imagine how a sail maker during regatta week could be distracted. I was still hoping he would come through though because he is a wonderful guy who uses the best materials (Sunbrella, UV safe thread, etceteras) and really understood what we wanted made.

On the bright side I met Nick of TechNick, who runs the steel fabrication shop in the Spice Island Marine complex. I asked him if he could make me a water-sports board rack on short order. I couldn't believe he said yes. Since our great experience wind surfing, Hideko and I have been trying to find a place to stash a windsurfing board. While at it I figured I'd make room for my old 8'6" surf board that Thomas is looking after for me.

We considered several locations and finally decided on making a rack to bolt underneath the hard bimini. The Saint Francis hard top is so far off the deck that I can't touch it reaching over my head. This gives us plenty of room to install a rack and still have ample head room for 6 foot plus folks. My only hesitation was that the boat is so clean as is and I don't want it to start getting it cluttered. The Saint Francis 50 has so much storage space that nothing intrudes on decks. No jerry jugs or solar panels on the rails, no lines or hardware on the side decks to obstruct the walk way, just a clean layout. Unfortunately the board lockers, which although awesome, are only 7 feet long, just a bit too small for a windsurfer.

I wanted to wrap up the rigging tasks today to ensure that we will be ready to sail on Tuesday. Some of the jobs left to do involved putting holes in the mast but I didn't have a tap set. I had searched most of the island and found some taps but no drivers. Richard accidentally snapped off a tap when installing a pad eye earlier in the week and that was using a good tap set. It was a bear getting the broken tap out without damaging the threads. I wanted to make sure that any holes I made in the mast were done carefully and correctly, which meant a proper tap driver. The only way I could think of to finish the project would be to borrow the tools from Turbulence rigging and I wasn't sure they would do such a thing.

Later I wound up in Island Water World across the lagoon to pick up some more things for Brent. IWW had already told me that they had no tap sets but I decided to scrounge around in their locked case anyway while I waited in line. Lo and behold, there on the bottom of the case, under a couple of packaged drill bits I found a little yellow box. I opened it and inside were the exact taps and drill bits I needed with a nice T handle driver. I guarded it with my life on the way to the check out counter.

Back at the boat I carefully installed the pad eye for the topping lift block and the foot block for the main halyard. The Main halyard is a special case. It must bear a lot of load the entire time the boat is underway, and thus anything in its path must be strong and secure.

When making the rigging mods I wanted, in so far as possible, to leave the operations at the mast intact. In other words I wanted to make things accessible from the cockpit but also allow the old mast operations to function as well for double coverage. Thus the line jammers for the reef leach lines are still in place as are the clips and tack rings. To do the same thing with the halyard I needed to leave it running through the mast jammer. To make this run fair I had to lead the halyard under the winch mounting bracket to a block on the side of the mast. A footblock worked best here and only required the removal of a single cleat to make the run back to the deck organizer. Once installed it made a perfect run.

The topping lift goes on when the main is down and off when the main is up. It is rarely used otherwise. This and the fact that the topping lift comes down on the port side of the mast where the winch feeds on the aft side made a pad eye with a Dyneema loop and block a good solution. The topping lift no longer runs through the mast jammer but this is fine because the topping lift is not really a critical system as long as the compression post is functioning.

During all of this the compression post was a big consideration. I wanted to make sure that all of the lines were unobstructed on any point of sail. Using the Dyneema attached blocks allowed us to get the block outboard and as far up under the boom sheaves as possible. That combined with the most outboard installation of the deck organizer as possible keep the line paths clear of the post under almost any trim of the boom. If you let the traveler all the way down and let the sheet out until the main's battens are bending on the shrouds you can touch the compression post to the lines, but I doubt most folks would be willing to treat their main sail so.

Next I ran all of the new Dyneema lines for the topping lift and reef two. I watched Richard do this and picked up the trick, which was butting the two lines together and then putting three loops of whipping twine through them with a sail-makers needle to connect them together like a train. Then you pull the existing line out as the new line feeds in. The main halyard was already long enough to reach back to the cockpit. Saint Francis put a very long halyard on the boat to give you flexibility and it saved me a lot of money here. In fact when we finally had things situated I cut some of the halyards tail off we had so much extra. The extra length would be good if you used the main halyard to haul things up over the rail but we either use the davit block and tackle or the Spin Halyard for that type of thing.

As the sun sets on the lagoon we usually get a calm patch. When it came I quickly raised the main to see if I had flubbed up any of the line lengths. They all needed a little trim but the reef lines I installed had so much extra that you could only call the installer (me) paranoid. The old tails are now nice spare Dyneema lines in our line locker. It was a joy to see the primary project we have wanted done on the boat since we bought her flapping in the calm breeze. Hideko and I dropped the main and couldn't wait to go for a sail on Tuesday.

Grenada
Bow reinforcement
Randy
01/24/2008, Port Louis

Bow reinforcement. This was one of those jobs you really don't want to do. We have always had gel coat cracks around the cross beam attachment points and the cracks have grown somewhat from the time that we purchased the boat from Saint Francis. Grinding off all of the gel coat inside the small bow area to check the fiberglass is no trivial task. In the end, if the glass looks fine, you may have just wasted a whole lot of time.

Yet we are headed into the South Pacific. The crossings there are much longer than those in the Caribbean and the boat services are much harder to come by. With a couple of exceptions, everyone I have talked to, including the factory, suggested I add a few layers of glass to the area to be sure there wouldn't be a problem.

Before we started we examined both bows in detail. Upon inspection it became obvious that a layer of glass had already been added to the cross beam attachment points after the boat was assembled. My suspicion is that the addition was done in Exuma not at the factory. There was fiberglass on some of the electrical conduit (which would not have been installed until all of the glass work was done at the factory) and the patch was laid on top of the interior gel coat without grinding. Glassing on top of gel coat is discouraged and greatly reduces any benefit that may be gained by adding glass. My greatest disappointment was that the factory did not inform me of the repair at the time of purchase or anytime leading up to this work.

We had to remove several bits of hardware to get the area ready for grinding. Three or four tramp track bolts had to come out, a stanchion backing plate had to be removed and the wiring conduit for the running lights had to be pined out of the way. Oh yeah, and of course the cross beam backing plates had to come off.

Catamaran rigs are pretty simple. You have your swept back shrouds and you have your forestay. You may have lowers and an intermediate fore stay as we do but the point is a huge part of your mast's stability relies on the cross beam. To unbolt this baby is a delicate thing. I prepared the boat for this by taking all three of the forward halyards down to bow cleats, two on one side and one on the other. I then sequentially winched each halyard up nice and tight but not too tight. Next I loosened the cap shrouds a bit.

Once prepared, we said a prayer and removed the backing plate on the port side. The cross beam immediately broke the residual hold of the bedding and rose up a good four inches. Everything stopped there, I began to breath again, and all was well. Ian went to work grinding off the last areas of the bow interior. The cross beam would stay disconnected for more than a day while the work was finished.

The grinding took longer than expected because we had to not only grind off the gel coat but also the fiberglass and additional gel coat layer of the after factory patch. In the end we had a clean area of factory glass cleared all around the backing plate attachment area. This gave us an area with four connected planes to reinforce: both sides of the hull, the bottom of the deck and the bulkhead.

Once we had the glass cleared I looked for cracks in the glass itself. Neither Brent, Ian nor I found anything concerning in the actual factory fiberglass. There may have been no strength issues in the first place. Then again there may have been early stage issues or small amounts of fiber cracking, hard to detect in the laminate at present. Though I was happy and reassured to see that the hull looked fine, my reinforcement plans would go forward regardless.

After considering several exotic alternatives I decided to use 1808 biaxial glass fabric for the reinforcement. Some folks have suggested Carbon Fiber or Carbon Kevlar cloth hybrids but after careful analysis I think that 1808 biaxial is the right material for the job. It is heavier than some of the exotics and in some ways not as strong pound for pound. Some of the benefits of the exotics are not relevant to this task however and the glass is far easier to work with. The area where we would be reinforcing has several 90 degree bends and there are places where the glass will need to be applied overhead. Kevlar in particular is famous for being tricky to wet out. All factors considered I was happy to be using epoxy and glass.

Brent carefully measured and pre cut the cloth into several layers. The first consisted of two large sheets that met at the top of the bow with a four inch overlap, covering the entire hull area that had been cleared. The second was a smaller pair of sheets that ended three inches or so from the edges of the first layer to ensure that no point loading would take place. The final sheet was a patch about six inches larger than the steel backing plate itself.

Brent and Ian used acetone to clean the surfaces and then pre wet the area to be covered. They then carefully applied the pieces of glass and rolled on additional epoxy carefully eliminating bubbles. Each layer was given time to setup before the next was added to ensure good adhesion, especially in the overhead spots. When they completed the hull layers they tabbed in the bow bulkhead area reinforcing the bulkhead, which had cracked at the bottom, and the entire bow laminate.

With the fiberglass work complete, the standard approach would be to gel coat the area to seal it. Instead I asked them to seal it with a layer of epoxy, just as many folks do to their bottoms before applying bottom paint. This is not as cosmetically appealing but it is extremely waterproof and also transparent. This way if I ever get paranoid I can just climb up there with a flash light and relax. No one would otherwise see this part of the boat.

The next task was to bed the backing plate with epoxy and 404. Any application of fiberglass on a curved surface is going to create a less than perfect plate bed. To avoid point loading the fiberglass with the edges of the plate you must create a perfectly flat bed for the plate to rest on that is mechanically connected to the rest of the laminate. The 404/epoxy mixture worked perfectly here. The guys placed a light layer of release wax on the plate to allow it to be removed once the epoxy had setup.

Once everything inside was set we re-drilled the crossbeam bolt holes through the new laminate and prepped the surfaces to be re-bedded. Now, how to get the cross beam back down to the level of the holes...

This was an issue I went over again and again in the day or so that the beam was floating nearly half a foot above its permanent home. Brent suggested we install the backing plate and the hull plate by removing the single bolt that attaches the beam to said plates. This was a great idea. Now we had only one bolt to slip into place once we got the beam down into position.

I had spent a bit of the day loosening the shrouds quite a bit in anticipation of this task. My next step was to scour the dock looking for people who looked like they could balance on a cross beam. In the end I turned up the crew of the Helen Mary Gee and a couple of Marina employees. I told them beer was involved and they briskly joined me at the work site.

Next Ian and Brent aligned the beam as they hung on it and I added one person at a time to the cross beam, lowering it bit by bit. When I finally had enough humans balancing on the cross beam to line it up I slid in the big bolt. It was a tricky operation due to the bushings and washers and such but we finally secured things and tightened the final bolt. The celebration began shortly thereafter.

The starboard side was trickier than the port due to the cramped quarters created by the washer/dryer but easier because we kept the cross beam in place by leaving two bolts in with washers and nuts at all times. My beer supply couldn't take another press gang and my blood pressure couldn't take another floating cross beam.

At the end of the day, the work Brent and Ian did was impeccable. The fiberglass layup in the bows of our boat are a model to strive for. They never settled either. When the bolts for the backing plates were long enough but not all the way into the nylon locking threads, they bought longer bolts instead of using the old bolts. That type of thing. If you are in Grenada and need to have some fiberglass work done I can not think of anyone I would recommend more highly than Brent and Ian. You can reach Brent at 418-6311.

Grenada
Deck organizer install
Randy
01/23/2008, Port Louis

The deck organizer installation was a challenge much like the rope clutch installation. If we drilled a hole in the deck it was going to come out right in the middle of the leather finished saloon roof. I like to see backing plates on everything, yet installing a backing plate in this application was going to be messy because the interior ceiling here had not only the foam/fiberglass liner but also a piece of ply covered in leather every few feet. The organizers needed to be installed in a spot that would cover a leather slat, a bare spot and another leather slat. After looking into the structural makeup of the internal headliner we discovered that none of this stuff is structural and thus could not support a backing plat anyway.

After considering many options I decided to leave the interior untouched. The approach we took was to mark the deck where the organizer bolts would need to be installed, hole saw out the top skin enough to be able to clear out the foam core in the general vicinity, and then replace the core with epoxy and high strength filler. This attached the inner fiberglass skin to the top skin with a solid core of epoxy creating a strong and incompressible area of the deck. When pouring in the epoxy we set in the bolts with nuts and washers attached so that the nuts and washers would become a permanent part of the deck. We coated the bolts with release wax so that once the epoxy set up we could remove the bolts and cut them to size so that they were secure in the nuts and pressing firmly down on the deck organizers.

Brent and I installed the port side first. We used various tools to clear the core out from around the bolt holes but a bent nail in the cordless drill seemed to work well. Once we had the four holes cleaned out we layered in the West System epoxy/404 blend in half inch batches. This kept the temperature under control as the mixture kicked off. Once set up we removed the bolts and taped up the holes to protect the installation from the inevitable over night rain and let the whole thing cure for 24 hours. After curing we installed the deck organizers with 5200 bedding and used the Harken isolator washers to protect the organizers from the stainless washers holding everything down with bolts.

The starboard installation required one do over. When cleaning the core out on this side we discovered that a screw driver worked very well also and we ended up creating one large hole connecting all four bolt areas, instead of four separate holes as was the case to port. Unfortunately due to the slant of the deck, the epoxy mix amount that was fine on the other side all ran down into the lowest hole this time, making a pool about an inch and a half thick. Anyone who knows epoxy knows that an inch and a half with standard hardener is going to get really hot really fast. We rapidly cleaned out the epoxy as it vulcanized itself. Our second, much slower pass on this side worked out perfectly.

In the end we had two sheets of fiber glass connected by a solid plug of epoxy with perfectly threaded holes and embedded lock nuts against the bottom skin. Initially I wanted a through bolted solution with backing plates but ultimately this installation seems to be effectively equivalent. The bolt would have to rip out the entire epoxy plug to tear a nut free, much as it would with a backing plate. You could argue that the lower skin is not in play but it is epoxied to the entire assembly and it is fairly thin anyway. On the other hand the lateral strength of the assembly is impressive and this is the strength required by a deck organizer. Only someone accidentally tripping over the organizer would threaten to pull it up through the deck. The working force of the lines will be a lateral load. The bolts act as cemented studs keeping the organizer from slipping sideways, and the epoxied plug allows both layers of glass to contribute to the systems stability.

We installed the organizer so that the lines run as close to straight back as possible. The main sheets barely touch the sheaves which is great because they are always under load when sailing. The lines from the mast do have a bit of deflection but are still pretty fair. Once finished I was very happy with the result.

Grenada
08/20/2014 | Alfonso Ruiz de Lobera
Thank you very much for sharing. Smart solution. Very intelligent and well explained.
I have to do some works on my 20 ft where I have a double skin on deck with void space in between with the exception of particular spots.
08/20/2014 | Randy Abernethy
Hi Alfonso, Thanks for the note. Good luck with your project!

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