I just came out of a long yard period, almost two months on the hard. That was a long time in such an environment. Place Mabrouka high and dry on a concrete slab the size of a football field, with tumbleweeds of used blue masking tape and shredded polyethylene wrap collecting around her paint-splattered support stands, then add heat averaging around 90 degrees with enough humidity to make your bones soggy and you'll imagine only the half of it. There were desert-like drifts of sand that piled up around any obstruction that would disrupt the wind, except it was made up of the toxic detritus of bottom paint, gel coat, and fiberglass that had been ground off Mabrouka's hull and those of her neighbors. Mabrouka was only one in a restless herd of boats being tended there, shuffled about by boatyard cow pokes driving a big yellow tractor and their huge 50 ton boat lift, coaxing sail and power yachts of Mabrouka's size, smaller and much bigger, in and out of stalls that lined the perimeter of the yard. Small sport and fishing boats gamboled around the bigger crafts' keels on trailers like calves hoping to suckle a quick meal.
Mornings typically started with a coffee drip-brewed through my one-cup Melitta filter, then doctored with a teaspoon of unbleached sugar and a slosh of milk. If I'd overslept or just lazed too long in my bunk, the start of the day would be announced by the heavy rattle of the industrial door rolling up around it's spindle above the Mazatlan Marine Services' shop entrance. I was usually up by six-thirty, though, slouched in my camp chair on the flat deck of Mabrouka's cockpit sipping my Joe and prowling through the morning's Facebook posts in time to witness Rick, Mazatlan Marine's owner and manager, glide up in his golf cart to his shop at seven to open it for the crew. He got used my addition to his routine, too, usually tossing a look up over his shoulder and calling out a friendly, "Buay-nos dee-aahz" as he rolled by below.
If I hadn't actually been awakened by them first thing in the morning, potential plans for the day would usually have filtered into my mind between dreams during the night. I tried to keep them submerged long enough for Rick to at least have lit another in his already long line of morning cigarettes, but it was never much more than five minutes before I'd climb down my ladder and amble up to discuss the day with him. He was unfailingly amiable and often over-optimistic about what would get done toward completing the list of jobs that had grown since before Mabrouka had come into the yard in mid-June.
The big task I'd built this yard period around was to pull Mabrouka's masts to inspect, repair, and paint them. While the masts were out, we'd also planned to inspect the chain plates, repairing and/or replacing them as required. Ultimately they were all replaced. The masts required only minor cosmetic repairs and all the hardware was cleaned, inspected and polished, replacing clevis pins wherever they were the least bit suspect. Having the rig down at ground level provided an excellent opportunity to install some new LED lights I'd bought the last time I was up States-side: an anchor/tri-color/flasher atop the main and a pair of spreader lights for each mast. A loudspeaker for the VHF radio's PA function was also installed on the mizzen so now I can yell at people and take advantage of its automatic fog horn.
Of course, it's kind of pointless to haul a boat out of the water and not do bottom paint, but what was intended to be a plain vanilla job grew serendipitously into stripping the hull down to the gel coat, then grinding out and resealing osmosis blisters. Mabrouka has had blisters in her gel coat since before I bought her, but they were a smattering of dime-sized blemishes that have remained stable for fifteen years so I had not intended on doing anything about them. The yard labor had different ideas, though and, in a spate of unsupervised zealotry, got carried away with their grinders and left divots all over the hull wherever there'd been a blister. Since I hadn't commissioned the work, the yard was obligated to fill the holes and apply new barrier coat before doing the bottom paint. I let them do it, ...for free. From there it was straight forward add-on work to include a professional respray of the red boot stripe I'd masked off and hand painted when Mabrouka was in the yard two springs ago.
Rick's operation is one of at least four in the facility that, between them, kept things buzzing for the duration of my mid-June through mid-September stay. Although I dove into quite a bit of the work done on Mabrouka myself, enduring the drifting clouds of fiberglass dust and soaking through stacks of tee shirts with my own well-earned sweat, I would often invoke the privilege that goes along with my retired, cruiser's status and enjoy a cool drink in the shade while others worked away in the hot sun. Taking such opportunity as I desired to observe the yard from my camp chair in Mabrouka's cockpit, I could sit fifteen feet above the fray watching and listening to the sounds below, safe in the relatively dust free atmosphere above the caustic cloud of overspray and sanding dust that was swirled among the keels and hulls in tidal ebbs and flows by the hot breath of the summer wind. An inescapable hubbub was built from the high-throated whir of air-powered grinders, the motorized chuffing of sanders pitting their 80-grit strength inexorably against doomed paint and fiberglass, the rapping of a three pound hammer knocking some sense into a cold chisel in an effort to convince an obstinate cutlass bearing to relinquish its grip on its bronze shaft strut.
Involvement with my own projects taught me several practical things: The use and application of epoxy filler, "pasta" in the boat yard's vernacular. Except that it's green and not molten hot, that stuff is like gooey lava that hardens into plastic granite to fill unwanted holes. Discovery of a couple of patches of dry rot provided the opportunity to use Smith's Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer, which soaks into rotted wood to harden it for another incarnation as a structural component. I'd never much used anti-seize compound to put bolts together before, but once you've had a stainless steel nut seize itself onto a stainless steel bolt, you'll never forget to use it again. Did you know that, if your tap breaks off in a hole you're trying to thread, give it a sharp wrap with a hammer and a punch to shatter the obnoxious little remnant out of the hole? Forget trying to drill it out, the metal is too hard for that.
Those were all easy and, to the craftsman in me, fun learning experiences. The harder lesson was about my need to manage the work mo' bettah. Rick is an unbelievably deep resource in boat maintenance and repair of every sort. It may be that I detected him bullshitting his way through a topic or two, but even then his spiel was so eloquent and confidence inspiring that I wouldn't have dared call him on it. His expertise is also his downfall, though, because it requires him to be too many places at once. I'm sure that's what caused him to miss that his labor was getting carried away grinding Mabrouka's hull. I think it also tends to make him hurry through his own tasks with a little less thought than might be necessary. He never hesitated to make the work right, though and I didn't detect any bill-padding that might have attempted to make up for the extra expense. If pressed I could point out a few incongruities in the finished product that are due to retrograde modifications, but none of them will jump out at the casual observer.
Rick seems to have decided that it's usually not worth arguing with his customers. Wikipedia hesitates to attribute the slogan, "The customer is alway right" to any particular entrepreneur, but successful department store retailers like Marshall Field used that or similar phrases. Field was directly quoted as telling his employees to "Give the lady what she wants."
There was one time that Rick gave me what I wanted and I wish he hadn't. Before I owned Mabrouka, her masts had been sprayed with linear polyurethane paint. That was over sixteen years ago and they only recently started to show deterioration up top above my ability to easily mitigate the effects of burning sun. Now THAT's a good paint job. I'd originally thought I'd repaint the masts myself, so I'd gone to some trouble imposing on a friend to import several quarts of regular Interlux polyurethane paint. Even though I'd later decided to have the yard do the painting, I stipulated that they use my paint. Now, seeing how sensitive the Interlux was even to the slight abrasive abuse it suffered while being handled in the yard, I wish that an argument had at least be presented in favor of the more rugged two-part epoxy paint that, as Rick later admitted, he would otherwise have recommended.
The inspection of Mabrouka's chainplates resulted in replacing all of them. I could have kept a few of the originals, but with all the work invested in pulling them out for inspection in the first place, that would have been silly. Maybe the idea of chainplates needs to be explained. The masts are held up by stainless steel cables, called shrouds (port and starboard) and stays (fore and aft), that secure by various means at their upper ends to the masts and by chainplates at their lower ends through the deck to the hull.
In Mabrouka's case, these are quarter-inch thick by two-inch wide by however long stainless steel straps that are bolted in. Instead of actually bolting them into the hull, the Tai Chiao yard bolted the chainplates to some heavy teak boards, then fiberglassed the boards into the inside of the hull. Then, of course, they proceeded to build in all Mabrouka's cabinetry to make chainplate inspection even more of a thrill. If you can picture this arrangement, you'll note that it captured the heads of the bolts between the hull and the boards so that, once the nuts on the inboard sides were undone to remove the chainplates, we couldn't get to the heads of the bolts. You can imagine that, after 35 years of sailing around, some of the nuts refused to come off because the bolts just turned along with them. Those recalcitrants had to be cut off, thus eliminating our ability to reuse any of the bolts for that chainplate.
Our solution was to put new bolts in slightly offset from the old, but to go all the way through the hull. To distribute the load on the fiberglass, we added backing plates on the outside of the hull. Okay, so new bolts had to be arranged, but we couldn't find what we needed in Mexico and had to order them from the US. That took a week or two, so when some of the bolts ordered were in the wrong quantity, had the wrong diameter or the wrong length or didn't have enough thread, we ran into roadblocks and delays. I'm sure he wouldn't have minded and I think I could have saved Rick some money and both of us some heartache if I'd exercised a bit more of my owner's prerogative to officiate over the specification of replacement bolts.
In the end I'm pretty happy with the results of this haul out. There are a few places where, if I were to dwell on it, I could get grumpy about details of execution, but I think that we've eliminated a significant source of potential disaster with the work the yard did and I will sail off over the horizon with much greater confidence in the trustworthiness of Mabrouka's rig in the face of a storm at sea.
The yard personnel were all gems. Here's a quick gallery:
Sergio (left) and Rick (right) working on the new mizzen step:
Sergio already got his picture posted above, but I liked this one so much I put it in here, too:
Gustavo in his Donatello (Mutant Ninja Turtle) disguise:
Richy in HIS Mutant Ninja Turtle disguise (painting outfit), but he doesn't fill the role as well as Gustavo does:
There were several other workers, but they seemed to be floaters (Miguel and Manual) or only showed up in the last week or so (Edi and Ignacio), so I didn't get pictures of them. Sorry guys.