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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Biggest Wind
09/04/2008, Raiatea

It was really windy today. In the evening the high wind alarm started going off. I usually set it to 30 knots. I upped it to 35 so that it wouldn't be so bothersome (we were trying to watch Star Trek for heaven's sake). It still kept going off. The wind was not blowing steady 35, more like 15, then 20, then 25, then 20 then, 30, then 25, then 35, then 20. I ratcheted the alarm threshold up to 40 to be done with it. About an hour later it went off again! This crush zone with the stationary sheer line above us was really kicking it up. The Gribs report almost 10 days of high wind counting the days already gone by.

The seas have also been 4-6 meters the last couple days. This makes the lagoon passes very interesting. Even the stretch between Raiatea and Tahaa (which share the same lagoon) can get pretty crazy with this kind of wind. The diagonal angle exposed to the southeast creates a fair amount of fetch and up to a couple feet of sea on the Tahaa side not to mention the wind velocity created by the squeeze between the islands.

Not to be slowed by a little breeze we got a few more projects done today. Fred finally got all of the parts for the diesel fitting swap out. It went well and the new bronze parts will last the life of the boat. We used a 90 out of the tank shut offs to a T that provides all of the appropriate connections with good European A4 stainless hose clamps. It was a little tricky ensuring all of the shut offs had swinging room but it all worked out nicely. One shut off arm needs to be shortened a bit but we should have that in hand tomorrow, after which we can finally go visit Tahaa!

French Polynesia
Bigger Wind
09/03/2008, Raiatea

We are still waiting to get our diesel fittings all sorted out. In the mean time Hideko and I have been working on other projects such as rewiring the power cable for the washer dryer (the plug inside the unit seemed corroded but certainly was making poor contact and ultimately burned up), cleaning out rarely used parts of the boat, moving all of the food stashes we created for the big Pacific crossing back to the pantry (no need to have potatoes and onions in the bilge anymore), etceteras.

Another item we had been needing to address was the final cockpit canvas setup. We had a cockpit windscreen made by Beaver Brand Canvas in Fort Lauderdale two years ago and this has been wonderful. They used good materials and the windscreen is in great shape for its age. The side curtains on the other hand have had four different shops work on them. We finally have them the way we want them, almost. The side curtains are now square and roll up nicely. The quarter panels that connect the sides to the wind screen can be zipped up to create a winch access area or you can unzip the area next to the side curtain to open a walk trough.

Unfortunately, while the starboard curtain reaches the arch snaps that secure its aft edge the port side does not. Curious that. We didn't have enough cloth for Leonardo, the local canvas guy, to work with so he made us some nifty snap extenders. They are little nylon straps with a male snap on one side and a female on the other side at the other end. This allows us to snap these into the trailing edge of the port curtain and reach the arch snaps. A little hokey but it works. We will of course get the curtain extended properly as soon as we are in a place that has our Sunbrella in stock. The thread available locally is also not UV resistant so some of the recent mods will need to be re-stitched in a couple of years anyway.

It has been raining here and there today but we have left the cockpit enclosure up mostly to keep the wind out. It has been howling for a few days. The wind is fun but if you are not careful it will steal things from your boat. The curtains make the cockpit a nice area you can actually leave things in with the wind up.

French Polynesia
Big Wind
09/02/2008, Raiatea

Wow, it is windy today. We have been getting gusts over 30 and the skies have been fairly overcast with little stints of sun and little stints of rain mixed in.

The wonderful folks at Raiatea Lodge invited us to visit and have lunch on them at the end of our stay so we decided to take a chance and dinghy over. Hugging the coast we managed to stay pretty dry. They had just hosted a dinner for the President of French Polynesia so they had some interesting stories to tell since our departure. It was great to see them all again and we met a really interesting guy named Kevin who lives on his catamaran in Hawaii. He takes a break from the rough life in French Polynesia!

We got a lot of internetting done and had a wonderful lunch. We will miss the Raiatea Lodge and its gracious owners.

French Polynesia
Diesel Fittings and Mooring Shuffling
09/01/2008, Raiatea

I went ashore to see about getting Fred to swap out our diesel fitting in the bridge deck lockers and to clear our stay on the new mooring. The mooring we had ended up on was owned by Raiatea Marine (the yard right next to the Carenage). I went over to see about paying them and after determining that I was a Carenage client they told me I had to go. "I understand", I said, "you have a client coming in?" "No.", they said. "The mooring is too small for our boat?", I said. "No.", they said. "So what is the problem?" "You are a client of the Carenage", they said.

I was blown away. The Raiatea Marine folks apparently have a very serious case of petty. After a little more digging Fred found me a private mooring that a client of his was not using. So we moved, again.

Fred came out to look at our diesel shutoffs in the afternoon. The shut offs and the tank fittings are both good stainless. The hose fittings that Saint Francis used are mild steel though. When they delivered the boat to us the fittings were already heavily corroded. I tried to get the factory to take action but I got the sense that they liked those fittings and didn't see that any change was necessary.

I should note that in the engine rooms use these fittings and that they are fine there. Unfortunately this is not the engine room. In fact the tank fittings are mounted just above the bridge deck drain for the deck locker above. This means that when you are at sea salt water is splashing all over them continuously.

I had tried on a few occasions to find a solution but getting no support from the factory and finding no obvious fixes in the Caribbean I had sort of accepted the situation for the time being. Right until last week. As we were preparing to launch I was going over the underside of the boat to make sure that everything was in good shape. As I looked over the bridge deck I noticed a greasy looking sheen leading back from the bridge deck locker drains. The "rub you thumb and forefinger in it test" revealed corroded metal and diesel. The fittings were finally leaking as they ultimately had to do.

I am now committed, involuntarily, to change out the lot of them. They are just oozing a drip here and a drip there right now and we are keeping up with paper towels.

French Polynesia
Diesel Service
08/31/2008, Raiatea

I did the 250 hour service on the Westerbeke Genset and the Port Yanmar today. The Yanmars are so nice to deal with. Pump out the oil out, change the oil filter, change the fuel filter, add new oil, check the coolant, drive leg oil & flexible mount, engine belt and the impeller (all of which have never been an issue) and off you go. I have never had a part fail on either of our Yanmars (both have over 1,000 hours now). We changed the belts and impellers only because you're supposed to at 1,000 hours. It seemed a shame because the old ones were in fine shape. The only "what were they thinking" experience I have ever had with the Yanmar's is the silly seacock setup that is seize prone and gives you no visual indication as to whether it is open or closed. We replaced these with 90 degree shutoffs and have had no complaints since.

The Westerbeke is another matter. When it is working properly I like it, though it vibrates more than I would expect and is a little loud. We have the Westerbeke sound box but our install only has one set of isolators (inside the box). I would like to try double isolating it at some point as this seems to make a big difference. Perhaps I am spoiled. Our genset is mounted aft of the engine in the starboard hull, which is fairly far back in the hull, giving the shimmy some leverage. My favorite genset is the one on our friend's yacht, Kelp Fiction, a 53' Amel. I'm sure that mounting the genset directly on top of a 15,000 pound lead keel has some sound and vibration advantages that light weight catamarans will never be able to achieve.

The service side of the Westerbeke is more work than the Yanmars. First there are two fuel filters, a filter and a fuel element, and the element is mounted such that it is hard to get to and can interfere with the sound enclosure. The fuel filter is mounted in a tricky to work on location also and makes it very hard to see what is going on with the gaskets that must be lined up properly. A normal fuel filter mounted high on the engine is an easy to access spot would be a welcome change here.

The oil dip stick is also hard to get to. Would be much better if they had made the stick and the tube 6 inches longer so that you don't have to contort to check the oil.

The heat exchanger zinc is a problem. The manual asks you to check it but if you attempt to remove the zinc after more than 50 hours it will break off. I have never been able to pull a zinc for inspection once installed. This is a hassle because even if there is a good bit of zinc left it will break off and now it is floating about fouling up the heat exchanger (hopefully dissolving along the way when in contact with the housing).

We have had a lot of impeller problems with this particular unit. The service spare parts kit we bought from Westerbeke for our exact genset came with the wrong impeller. This is the part we thought we were supposed to have so we purchased several spares. The part fit but required the center pin be removed (we had to reuse the original). I knew something was wrong but could get no support. I have sent three unanswered questions through the Westerbeke web site. This impeller also never lasted more than 250 hours, at most. The problem being that you start the genset, everything is fine, then after a while the impeller goes and the genset overheats and shuts down. The shutdown feature works well but the overheat is no good for the plastic bits. Our plastic air intake box is warped and no longer mates with the block keeping the air from filtering properly (waiting for the part). One shut down also melted our coolant overflow line and damaged our pressure cap. Only the actual Westerbeke replacement pressure cap seems to work properly (we have tried several).

I was wandering through a chandlery in Panama one day when I found an impeller just like ours but with a different center pin. It had a different part number but I bought it anyway. When I contacted the Westerbeke distributer to see what was up they said, "oh, that is the correct part for your genset". I installed it and it has worked like a charm for nearly 300 hours (a new record). This was my first service without changing the impeller! I have come to believe that if yacht and systems manufacturers would just talk to their clients and answer their questions in a timely fashion, even over email, cruisers would have far fewer frustrations. Unfortunately there is a long way to go before the market reaches this mark.

As I was wrapping up the service a big Fountaine Pajot charter boat showed up and asked why we were on their mooring. Hmmm. The sun was setting and the wind was up. Fortunately a neighbor, Bruce on Top Cat, came by and told us there was a mooring available on the other end of the field. I buttoned things up and we motored over and picked up the last mooring in the bay.

French Polynesia
Boat Clean up and Clean out
08/30/2008, Raiatea

It is amazing how dirty your boat gets just sitting in a boat yard. Hideko and I spent the day putting things away and cleaning up on deck. It was pretty windy today and it is looking like it will stay that way for a week. The high pressure/low pressure squeeze causing this is supposed to bring rain and overcast as well but so far it was a nice day and we are getting things ready to go so that we can take off for Tahaa later in the week.

French Polynesia
Never Launch on Friday
08/29/2008, Raiatea

We are finally back in the water. We probably could have been in on Monday if someone at the yard were actively managing the process of working our boat. Many things that required two days of waiting and two hours of working fail to start until the previous task (similarly structured) is completed. If yards had a little project management function where someone kicked off several wait oriented tasks simultaneously and then actively communicated with the clients, things would be smoother for the clients and the yard would process more boats, thus, making more money. This is not the island way though.

I would recommend this yard but I would strongly suggest establishing everything you need up front face to face with Dominic and then running everything down at least once a day. If you are not all over your projects they will all happen serially and often with a pause between each. You also need to insist on a liaison who speaks your language during critical operations (my experience is that the guys in the yard will just ignore you if they don't understand you).

We sent the yard a list of projects we needed to get done three weeks before we arrived when we made our appointment. I sent two follow up emails to see if they had received this and none were answered. I called to get price estimates and viability and Valeria, the office manager, indicated they had received the email but she couldn't say more. I had to corner Dominic to get rates once I arrived in Raiatea. Dominic, Fred and Valeria are wonderful people and truly want to take care of you. There are simply no business processes in place and everything is taken as it comes (probably the way they like it).

The rates here are high but not outrageous. That is with the exception of certain parts and supplies, in particular bottom paint and batteries. We had paid $300 for a gallon of Micron 66 bottom paint in the western hemisphere (US and Carib). This is the list price and certainly not cheap. Not thinking I could possibly be charged any more than this I told the yard to use Micron 66 on our boat (6 cans for two coats with lots of extra on the leading edges and waterline). The bill (after the paint was on the boat) came to $3,000 US, about $500 a can!! As it turns out there is a huge duty on bottom paint here to protect the environment. This is why locals don't paint their boats, they raise their boats out of the water when not in use. It's better than bottom paint and a whole lot cheaper. Hopefully my $1,000 bottom paint vigorish is going toward helping the environment.

We were launched with no one who speaks English present contrary to my request. I told the guys not to untie the boat until I could check the transmission, props, bilges, etceteras. They went from guys in the water swimming near the drives to all lines off and everyone over the side, leaving me alone on board. Good thing the motors engaged, there is a nasty reef just to starboard as you come out of the slipway and nothing would have stopped me from blowing down on it if the boat had failed to go into gear.

Once the boat was floating I turned on all of the electrics. The port bilge alarm went off. I couldn't check it immediately because I was busy staying off of the reef. The yard was supposed to come out to the boat on Monday to help me wrap up a few more things. I asked them where they wanted me to put the boat and they showed me a mooring to take.

After a quick single handed mooring pickup I checked the bilge and discovered the port hull had 8 inches of water in it! I invoked as much calm as I could and checked both engine rooms and the starboard bilge, they were all fine. I rechecked the port and it was draining. Once drained it stayed drained. Whew! Upon later investigation I think the bilge outlet was acting like an inlet when the boat was backed into the sea. The stern doesn't lift until they back you in far enough for the buoyancy to pick the boat up and they go necessarily slow. This ties into the problem with following seas pushing water into the bilge. I would have these outlets raised were I to build a new boat and I would put a flap on the aft facing scoops to shut out most of the following seas.

Regardless, you never launch a boat and send it off without giving it a thorough check and standing by to re-haul her if need be. It was 4PM on Friday though and the Carenage crew were not hanging around. We later found out that the mooring they gave us wasn't theirs to give and we had to move after sunset when the owner arrived. The anchorage is 90 feet plus and we had 30 knot winds forecast over the next two days leaving us to find another mooring or anchor in 90 feet at 3:1 scope and try to find swinging room for 300 feet of chain.

After a frustrating launch I piled into the dink and headed over to Raiatea Lodge to pick up Hideko. As always seeing her lovely face made all of the frustration go away and we had a wonderful evening, happily back aboard our floating home.

French Polynesia

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