Stage 2 of Welding our Aluminum Boat

Wednesday September 23, 2015

DSC01330

It’s finished, it’s finally finished!!  The main areas of welding to the floor areas of the head and the galley are now complete.  Aside from a few humps in the beginning where it took a little time to properly shape the new panel on the front of the keel that wrapped around both sides; and having a hard time removing some of the corroded aluminum from the side of the keel because of the lead in our keel directly behind it (an issue that was quickly fixed with the help of an air chisel), things have been moving swiftly along the past few weeks.

Since I can’t comment much more on the welding job itself since I am not a welder and not performing this project, this post is really more a photo documentary of replacing one of the panels as well as answering some questions we’ve been getting on this process.

One popular question we get is ‘Why don’t you take a few classes and do this yourself instead of paying someone an hourly rate to do it for you?’. The simple answer is because of the location of the welding.  As Matt likes to tell the people in the work yard who ask us this question, If it were all areas above the waterline or on the deck that required welding, sure we’d probably take the courses and learn to do it ourselves.  It would probably be a handy still to have.  But because all of the areas we are concerned about are under the waterline it is imperative they are done right.  As far as our beginner skill level for carpentry and whatnot on the interior, it’s fine if we mess up a little bit here and there.  If an angle isn’t at 90° or if we need to add extra trim because we over-cut a board, it’s not going to kill us. But if there are mistakes in the strength of the hull or keeping it water tight…well, that’s a bit of a different story.

‘What kind of aluminum are you using for the replacement panels?’  When we had our ultrasound done back in June it was estimated that the original panels were 1/4″ thick where there was no corrosion and we’re following that thickness with new 1/4″ 5086 aluminum.  (For someone who had asked, no we are not using airplane metal as that is not made for corrosion resistance).

‘Is this more work/welding than you were anticipating?’  Yes, absolutely.  Nothing we can’t take on, but more than we were *hoping* was necessary when we first started.  If you remember back to when we were debating on if this boat was worth the time and money needed to fix it up, welding was the big thing stalling us from diving right in.  The problem being that most of the issues are not visible just by first glances on the outside.  Some of the corrosion areas we were not even aware of until we began ripping apart the interior.

I don’t know if it had been mentioned in any previous posts, but our original intention had been to have the boat brought to Hinkley Boat Yard in Stuart to have the welding done.  At the same hourly rate we were finding everywhere else, it seemed only logical that we put our boat in the hands of people who work on boats just like ours day in and day out, and are used to all the odd shapes and curves.  With all their fancy equipment and large crew, they’d be able to expertly diagnose the areas to be replaced and have the new panels installed in a flash.  Luckily this is not what we did, because at that time we weren’t aware of the areas in the head and galley that needed to be replaced.  We would have spent all that money to have it hauled there and back only to have more work done anyway.  Going the slow and steady route has actually paid off.

‘How much is this going to cost you?’  Uh….we’re not quite quoting figures on the boat work just yet.  But don’t worry, we are keeping a tally and once everything is finished we’ll have a nice little page dedicated to what this refit cost us.  But hey, look at all the scrap metal we’re collecting.  We could probably turn it in for $5.  :)

So there you have it.  I wish I had more information or more to say on the process itself, but as I mentioned in our Stage 1 post, I usually wander off and play on my computer while any work is being done since I’m of no use or help to it.

There are still just a few more very small areas to be taken care of, but we’re going to give ourselves and our welder a much needed break from focusing on them right now.  All I know is with the floor areas of the galley and head replaced with shiny new plates we can begin work on those areas and keep up hope that we’ll actually finish the interior of this boat one day!  Next project on the list is building our own box for our refrigerator.  Stay tuned as I’m sure it will be a fun lengthy process.

**Don’t worry, we never looked at the welding in progress.  For the one photo that shows it I looked away and held the camera out in front of me while I took the shot.

scrap aluminum

Matt inspecting the boat

placing the new panel

welding new aluminum panel

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Trans-Atlantic Q&A

Wednesday August 20, 2014

Fort Lauderdale from the Gulf Stream

Three thousand four hundred miles.  I still can not believe we sailed that distance from Miami to where we sit now in Horta.  I still remember how daunting it all seemed for weeks, even months, before we left.  I spent way too much time over-thinking all the things that could possibly go wrong, and all the rest of my time with my head buried in the sand so I didn’t have to think about it at all.

Yet here we are two months after departing, and we made it across, all in one piece!  To all of you that have told us we’re an inspiration and make you feel like you might one day be able to complete the same passage, thank you so much for your kind words and positive thoughts.  I kind of still can’t believe we made it all the way across here ourselves!

For those of you asking, how did you do it?, rhetorically I’m right there with you.  I’m not sure how we did it either.  Especially for little ol’ moi, who’s not that particularly fond of sailing passages.  But for those of you who had real questions, you asked, and I’m answering!  Here are the most asked questions on our Trans-Atlantic crossing.*

 

Did you bring enough booze?

In short, yes. Unfortunately for me since I enjoy a good sundowner, we have a pretty strict ‘No drinking’ rule while on passage. Matt always wants us at the top of our game so that we can handle whatever might come up while we’re on the water, so getting tipsy is not in the cards. Plus, one good sized drink will pretty much get me there these days. That’s not to say I didn’t sneak in a glass of wine on day 39 though, since I needed a little something to look forward to at that point.

 

Since there is only 2 of you, how did you split up sleeping?

Ever since our first overnight passage on Lake Michigan we’ve been trying to find a sleep schedule that works best for us. We started out with 3-hour-on, 3-hour-off shifts way back when we where headed down teh east coast of the US, but mostly because at that time I didn’t want to be in charge of the sails for any period longer than 3 hours since I didn’t know how to properly trim them myself. The three hours allotted to sleep however was never long enough to fall fully asleep and feel properly rested, so we switched to 4-hour-on, 4-hour-off shifts in the past year, and they’ve worked out well for us.

Matt & Georgie sleeping on passage

 

Did you run into any storms? How did you deal with them?

Between our total 46 days of sailing from Miami to Horta we ran into 4, what I would call storms. The two we had way offshore, on Matt’s Birthday, and halfway between Bermuda and the Azores, were cold fronts passing through. Normally we’d get about 24 hours of winds in the 25-35 kt range, along with seas of 8-12 ft. These ones we actually didn’t worry about so much because we watched them on our Weather Fax and knew they were coming. They built slowly and gave us plenty of time to prepare for the worst part, battening everything down and reefing the sails.

Our 2 storms off the coast of Florida, however? Completely different story. They were both quick, ferocious, and came out of nowhere. The first one we didn’t even see coming until it was on top of us, winds going from 12 knots to 62 knots in a matter of seconds, and then sustaining itself in the mid 40′s for the next 2 hours. For the second one we were given about 30 minutes warning, a broadcast over our VHF that it was moving from inland out to sea. This storm was about 30-40 minutes of 45-50 knot winds and took down all sails and motored directly into it (as best we could) until it passed over.

 

Did anything break?

No. And we are so thankful for that. With that being said though, it’s kind of because we took the coward’s route.  Going south of Bermuda until we reached it and then taking the rhumb line from Bermuda to Horta. Even that didn’t quite work out though when we added an extra 400 nm to our trip by going from 37° North down to 33° North just to avoid a stationary front. While all other boats were taking the most popular route of following the Gulf Stream North until they reach 40° North and then heading East, following the trade winds and currents but also encountering many more storms and strong winds along the way, we stayed in the lower latitudes, hanging out in the Bermuda/Azores high where everything was calm.

storm clouds over the Gulf Stream

Did you ever worry about running out of important supplies? If so, which ones?

I’d say the only supply we were really worried about running out of was diesel which is why we never turned on the engine even though we spent days on end drifting through dead calms, sometimes only covering 35 nm in 24 hours. We only carried 45 gallons with us, and although we refilled in Bermuda, we didn’t want to find ourselves nearing the Azores, in desperate need to use the motor, and finding out we had no more fuel on our hands. We were pretty content to drift in those glass calm conditions though; cooking, reading books, watching movies; so it wasn’t all that bad.

How did you plan for food and water?

The water issue was fairly simple for us since we have an HRO Seafari watermaker on board. We made sure to keep one of our tanks full at all times in case of emergencies, otherwise we’d run the watermaker for 3-4 hours every three days or so to fill up the second tank.

The food took a little more thought and planning. Back in Miami I tried to estimate how long it would take us to reach Horta, ending on 30-35 days, worst case scenario. (Boy was I wrong) From there I planned out meals and how far each of them would get us. A batch of chili could feed us for two days, a homemade pizza would cover two days, naked burritos could go for 1-2, ect. I also planned for days that conditions would be too rough to cook and made sure we had cans of soup, ravioli, or things that could be simply heated up.

I won’t lie, things were looking pretty bleak in the end. Not only did the crossing take 46 days of sailing instead of 35, but we also had 10 unexpected days in Bermuda to feed ourselves through. Plus the only provisioning we did there was a 5 lb bag of rice since that’s about all we could afford. By the time we reached Horta there were still some bags of chicken or ground beef in the freezer to make entrees out of, but the snacks were just about gone and I’d sometimes find myself eating a single dill pickle spear to get myself through to the next meal.

calm day on the Atlantic Ocean

Going non-stop for so long, did you get to spend any time together as a couple?

This question kind of makes me chuckle because most of the time we’re getting asked the opposite question of ‘Didn’t you get completely sick of each other after spending so many days non-stop together?’. But Julie, who asked this question, totally gets the reality of it. The truth is, during this crossing it felt like we never got to see each other at all. Due to sleep schedules alone we were only awake together about 8 hours day. Add a few naps to that number since we never felt fully rested, and that number was much closer to 4 to 6 hours together a day. In our at-anchor life, we spend 14 to 16 hours together a day.

The truth of the matter is, it was actually incredibly lonely out there. Weeks on end with only four to five hours a day to share it with someone. There were so many times I felt like being selfish and waking Matt up before his sleep shift ended just so I could have the company. I was like that mother that pokes her sleeping child, just so it will wake up crying and she can then spend her time soothing it back to sleep. I never did, but I came close a few times.

Did you ever feel your insignificance as this small little spec during your crossing?

During our crossing I kept waiting for this poinient moment. The one where you realize how expansive this earth actually is, or what a small role you actually play in it. For all the deep philosophical questions to come to mind of Why are we here, Are we the only ones in this vast emptiness of space? and so on.

I never experienced these, but then again, maybe I never had the chance to feel cut off. Our boat was full of electronics, and we used them all the time. My afternoons were spent choosing from hundreds of downloads on my e-reader, nights were spent listening to downloaded podcasts. Every two days we’d send out a text message to family members via our satellite phone, and receive messages in return.

We were never cut off. Therefore, we never felt completely alone, utterly insignificant, or hell, even have time to ponder why we’re here.

 

*With a few last minute questions coming in, I’ll probably be posting a Part II.  Let me know if you have more questions and I’d be happy to answer them along with the ones I couldn’t get to in this post. And to the gentleman who asked what’s the most we’ve traveled in a day in all our days sailing, it was 176 miles while riding the beginning of the Gulf Stream from Isla Mujeres, Mexico toward Key West, Florida.  If only they could all be like that.

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