Monday, June 5, 2017

The Sanding Arsenal

My Dad always said that "tools are half the job".  When it comes to sanding, that is for sure the truth.
If you use sandpaper that is too fine or a sander that is too small, it will take you forever to do a big job.

Efficient sanding usually involves starting with a coarse grit paper to remove the bulk of the material and then working toward finer grits to get rid of the deep scratches made by the coarse grits and leave you with a smoother finished surface.

Velcro, Softie Glue On, Hard Glue On, and Bolt On
 Here are the sanding pads we use on the 8" variable speed polisher/sander. 
Stick On (velcro) and Glue On Discs
The Velcro pad (yellow) is easy but the paper is expensive and not readily available.  The Glue On (white) is great for whatever sandpaper is locally available but 60 grit is usually coarsest available.  Sandpaper is stuck to the Glue On pads with 3M Spray Adhesive.  The Smoothie (blue) is a Glue On but is soft and normally used for surfboard finishing because it conforms better to curved surfaces.  

The last one is a Bolt On which is used with coarse resin impregnated discs for aggressive sanding.  It uses 7" hard discs that are available from the hardware stores here.  They are available in 20 and 36 grit.

Polisher, Mouse, and Dremel
The grinder on the left is an 8" cheap Chinese tool.  It is my 3rd one.  The first one died from lack of grease.  The 2nd one dies because water killed the electronic speed controller, and this 3rd one is a plain vanilla cheapest one available and has been the best.  Always disassemble and re-grease even a brand new Chinese angle polisher. 

The middle sander is a Black and Decker Mouse.  It is a vibrating sander and takes Velcro backed sandpaper which is not always available so I use 5" or 6" Velcro orbital sanding disks and trim them to size.

The last sander is a Dremel.  This is great for preparing and repairing gouges and cracks but not very useful for finish sanding.

Adapt SAE to Metric
When working in a metric country (most of the world), the spindle size is 14mm whereas the US size it 5/8-11.  If you need to buy a pad anywhere except the US, it probably won't fit.  That is why I bought this adapter on ebay.  Now I can use any attachment from anywhere in the world, on my 5/8 thread polisher.

Finally, hand sanding is how you want to finish most surfaces.  Foam blocks do a good job but if you are confined to small spaces, cutting up rubber squeegees may be the best bet.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A job we never wanted to do.

Initial Sanding to the Yellow Primer
For almost the past 2 months we have been sanding the antifouling paint off the hulls.  It has been the most miserable and dirty job we have ever done.  The paint was thick and hard but we couldn't be too aggressive and sand through to the epoxy hull and damage it.  A yellow primer was used in Grenada and now, when we were sanding, that primer coat was our indication that we were almost through the paint.

Wet Sanding to the Yellow Primer

20 Grit Sanding Disc got dull way too quickly


The Tyvek Taliban
We went through a stack of Tyvek Suits, hundreds of sanding discs, and hundreds of sheets of sandpaper.  The dirt under the boat turned blue from the river of paint slurry that the drained off the hulls.

There was even Blue under the Yellow
Blue Slurry Sludge
Most of the hull was easily accessible and you could usually sit on something.  Down lower, you were sitting on boards on the ground but the worst position was sanding the very bottom.  The sander was usually overhead and the slurry was spraying off the disc at Booker and draining onto my head.  The face shield helped but would get so dirty, it was impossible to tell if I was approaching the yellow layer.
All Sanded and Ready for Paint

I remember applying every layer of antifouling paint over the past 10 years.  Over the past 2 months, I got to see every one of those layers again. 
Never again will I let the paint build up this thick.

Spray Painting the Epoxy Primer (Jotun 87)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Out of the House

Mike and Pom

We have been house sharing a nice 5 bedroom house with Mike from FYNE SPIRIT since last January.  Mike has finished his refit and is getting ready to cruise Thailand with his Thai girlfriend, Pom.

Pangkor Island Marina and Lumut.
Booker and I don't need an entire house for ourselves.  We spend our days at the boatyard and just need an air conditioned place to sleep.  So we have rented an apartment in Lumut.  There are at least 5 other cruisers also renting at the Lumut Valley Resort Condominiums. 

Lumut is a ferry port for Pangkor Island and located just outside the Lumut Navy Base.  There are only a handful of restaurants but lots of shops that sell tourist junk.

Royal Malaysian Naval Base, Lumut
View toward town. monkeys in trees below
For $225/month, we have a one bedroom apartment on the 11th floor with a view of the river to the north.  

From our deck, we can see the Navy base piers to our left and town is to our right.   

 Yesterday we watched monkeys jumping between the trees 30 feet below us.

The house was nice, but this is great.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Wet & Wild Sanding

Most antifouling sanding is done with electric or air grinders.  This makes lots of toxic dust which is unhealthy to breathe and also gets deposited and tracked all over our boat and neighboring boats.  It also clogs the sandpaper rapidly.   

I have had good luck in the past with water sanding.  The water washes the paint off the sandpaper and keeps everything cooler so the paint doesn't melt and clump up.  In Mexico, I strapped the hose to the grinder head, made a fiberglass cover for it, and it worked well.  In Australia, Booker sprayed water on the sanding disc while I sanded.  The big problem when using water and an electric sander is the potential of getting shocked.  

Hutchinson Sander
To solve this problem, I bought a Hutchins 7544 Random Orbital Sander.  This is a pneumatic sander with water injection.  Once arranging for the use of an air compressor, we found out that 'Random Orbital" actually means "vibrating".  There is no "orbital" whatsoever.  It just didn't have the guts to sand thick antifouling even with 30 grit sandpaper.  So we need to find a plan "B".

Malaysia is a 240 volt country.  I can't use their electricity to run my power tools.  I have to use the onboard AC inverter.  This makes 110 volts from the boat's batteries and I have discovered that it acts surprisingly like an isolation transformer.  

The best way to explain this is that after doing it's work at the motor, the electricity only has one path to return to the battery, which is through the power cord.  Since there is no path to earth, it can't travel through your body and out your feet giving you a shock.  This is called a Floating Ground.   

***Please do not try this at home or tell my Mom.

Here we are doing the wet sanding.  Booker is doing the spraying and I am doing the sanding.  The green tint is from the sun shade cloth. 

Unfortunately the water sprays everywhere so we are wearing Tyvek suits and hoods.  It is about 100 degrees and we are always trying to work in the shade.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Cheap Labor is Not So Cheap

I contracted with some guys in the boatyard here in Malaysia to remove the antifouling paint.  The daily rate for a worker is about $45. That may sound cheap but when the skills that we normally take for granted are not accompanying that labor, inefficiencies result.  

I can sand with 20 grit (very course) sandpaper on a grinding disc and stop at just about any layer of paint that I want.  An unskilled Malaysian will oversand and destroy the bottom of the boat with gouges when using 20 grit sandpaper so I have to give them 80 grit.  The sander with finer sandpaper takes 4-5 times longer and also uses up that much more sandpaper.  Our Malaysian worker was able to sand one and a half square meters per day.  At that rate, it would take 60 days to remove the antifouling paint at a cost of around $2700 plus sandpaper plus I would have to add my time to supervise.  Almost the same price as I was quoted in Australia for removal via abrasive blasting.

If you're doing anything more complicated than ditch digging, cheap labor may not be the way to go.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Autopsy of a failed thru-hull fitting

Overboard is to the left, hose connects on the right

A thru-hull is a fitting that is used to connect the outside of the boat to a hose on the inside.  They are usually used for water intake and overboard discharge (In and Out).  Bronze is used below the waterline because a failure there could be catastrophic.  Plastic is usually used above the waterline on fiberglass boats.  Tortuguita has 25 fittings above the waterline and 15 below.

In order to prepare the boat for gelcoat work, all the plastic thru-hulls were removed and will replaced with new ones when the work is done.  

I really didn't suspect there were any problems but had quite a surprise and can now explain some mystery water leaks.

This is a thru-hull that is for the forward shower drain pump.  Since we don't use these showers, we didn't notice any significant leaking.  However, when a wave would splash up, it was apparently leaking in through the crack and had been seeping into the boat.

By the yellowing of plastic, these were old cracks
On the other forward shower drain, I found a broken 'tail' under the hose clamp and a crack at the outer hull.  Privilege likes to hide things like thru-hulls in hidden compartments that require quite a bit of work to access.  Since I never needed to replace one of these hidden thru-hulls, I had no reason to dig into these false compartments.

Many of the failures are from over-tightening the big nut on the back.  This cracks the plastic at the outside edge.  This particular thru-hull was also cracked at the inside edge which is usually caused by vibration or pressure fatigue.

New supply of 25 TruDesign fittings
Cheap thru-hulls like the ones that were just removed are made of nylon.  My research led me to only 2 brands of decent replacements.  Forespar (US) makes a product out of a proprietary plastic called Marelon.  TruDesign (NZ) makes their thru-hulls out of fiberglass reinforced nylon.  In this part of the world, it made more sense to go with the New Zealand brand.

Besides having a boat that is not leaking, the really cool thing about this whole project is now I know of more secret compartments to store things.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Workbench

The normal boatyard workbench, pallet style. (Australia 2014)
When working on a boat, it is important to have a table or the like where you can put  things that are being worked on.  In a boatyard, that usually consists of something scrounged like a pallet or boards and if you are lucky, maybe a sawhorse or two.

Marina Island is different.  People are here for years working on their boats, and we may be also.  After all, we made the investment to buy a car and we really do like it here in Malaysia.

If you happen to be carrying carpentry tools on the boat, it is easy to knock out a table or bench.  Our woodworking tools reached the end of their lives in Mexico and since the voltage here is 240 volts, anything that I buy will be all but worthless in the US.

I had the opportunity to buy a workbench from Andy on SPRUCE that was originally built by Jeff.  The price was a reasonable $90 US and it was even equipped with a vise.  In the end, I will end up selling it to someone else and recoup some of the cost.

Even rolling on wheels, it was a hard push
The really nice thing about the bench is that it has locked storage underneath.  Instead of chucking tools in the car at the end of the day, everything can be stored in the bench.

This thing is really heavy.  It has to weigh 250 pounds and is built from some type of local tropical hardwood.  A forklift would have been nice to move it from the shed area to Tortuguita but since there wasn't one, we examined all the options to move it about a hundred yards.  We found an engine hoist on wheels sitting around and commandeered it to do the heavy lifting.

Workbench, vise, all out of the sun and rain in our catamaran garage

Now we have a proper workshop under Tortuguita which is so much better than the rickety pallets that we have used in the past.

My only regret is that I can't keep it.  Sure would look nice at home in the US.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Too much paint over the years

Every year, when Tortuguita is hauled out of the water, the bottom gets painted with antifouling paint.  This paint keeps the sea creatures from sticking to it by a combination of biocides and ablation.  Ablation is a continual sloughing off process over time.  Ideally, after a year of cruising, all the paint should be worn off.  That way there would be no yearly build-up.  It never works that way since if all the paint ablated, there would be barnacles stuck to the boat where there is no paint.

Ablative paints are can be hard or soft.  Soft will ablate easier and is good if the boat is sitting for long periods in a marina but will wear off faster when moving.  Hard is better if the boat is moving but doesn't sand off very easily. 

Pressure washing and light sanding are usually all that is required prior to a new coat of paint.  Usually 2 coats are applied with more at the high turbulence areas such as keel and waterline.  I figured out that we have 12 layers of paint with 24 layers at the waterline.  The total weight of this paint is around 300 lbs.

I've never seen this anywhere, but from the appearance of the cracks in our paint, I have determined  that if you apply hard ablative over soft ablative paint, it is like building a concrete road on mud.  The hard paint will move around and crack.
As long as the hulls are in the water, everything was fine.  But, with the boat sitting on land in the heat of the tropics, the paints will expand and contract and the hard layers that sit atop the soft layers cracked.

The only way to fix this is to completely remove all the paint.

In Australia we got a quote of $3000 for removing the antifouling by abrasive blasting.  This process is not very accurate and also removes the fiberglass layers.  

I figured that since we were going to a part of the world with cheap labor, that I will save money by waiting so I just sanded the cracked paint at the waterline and off we went to S.E.Asia.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Is the fridge supposed to be warm?

Those words strike fear in the hearts of just about every cruiser.  Our air cooled Frigoboat AH35F refrigeration was installed by the previous owner and has worked flawlessly since we bought the boat.

The most likely culprit of a failed fridge is the evaporator plate.  It is made out of thin painted aluminum and a small bit of corrosion can cause a leak.  This is a $100 fix.

The next most likely cause is the compressor.  Either the actual compressor or the electronic controller could cause this malfunction.  These cost $300 and $200 respectively.  The good thing about these units is that one company, Danfoss, makes them and spares are available everywhere.
The compressor seemed to be running but not very hard.  The current draw, which is usually around 6 amps, measured only 2 amps.  When attempting to release some gas from the access valve to see if there was pressure in the system, nothing came out.    Could be the valve, or more likely, there's a leak somewhere.

We carry freon charging hoses and guages.  Usually you can buy 12 oz cans of R134a freon at the auto parts stores.  It's the same as used in automobile air conditioning.  Not here in Malaysia apparently.  All you can buy here are 30 lb. tanks.  I found a guy that had one with about 1/4 remaining so I bought it from him.

New High Temp HNBR O-ring Installed
I pressurized the system with a little freon and immediately found the leak.  Turns out that it was a failed o-ring at the quick disconnect fitting.

With that fixed, I did 5 fill/vent cycles to get most of the air out of the system and then did a full system charge.
Purging and Charging the System

Two good references to use for servicing these little systems are:


Evacuation Procedure without a vacuum pump
1.  With the new compressor installed, turn on the compressor and depress the access valve on the high side of the system.  Monitor the pressure on the low side of the system.  When the pressure is as low as it will go, close the access valve on the high side of the system and turn off the compressor.  This process will take about 5 minutes.
2.  Charge the low side of the system to approximately 14 psi.
3.  Wait about 3 minutes for the pressures on the high and low side to equalize.
4.  Turn the compressor on and depress the access valve on the high side.  When the pressure on the low side is as low as it will go, let the high side access valve close and turn off the compressor.
5.   Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4.  Note, on successive evacuations, the low side pressure will not go as low because of the absorption of refrigerant in the compressor oil and it’s slow release.
6.   Charge the low side of the system to approximately 14 psi.
7.   Wait 3 minutes for the pressure to equalize.  Turn on the compressor and depress the access valve on the high side.  This time, when gas is no longer coming out the high side access valve, let the valve close.  The air is now purged from the system.
8.   Charge the system with the appropriate amount of refrigerant and turn on the compressor.
9.  Make appropriate adjustments in system charge if necessary.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Anchor Chain Re-Galvanizing

Our first anchor chains were 200 and 100 ft lengths.  One for each anchor.  The standard length comes in a 200 ft drum.  That chain cost $800 lasted 3 years.  It was replaced in 2009 and ended up completely corroded in 4 months.  Fortunately it was under warranty due to a bad galvanizing process.  Our current 300 ft chain was bought in 2009 in Ft. Lauderdale from Secure Chain and Anchor for $1000.  They were really great and were able to cut the 300 ft piece from a longer 1000 footer.  The price of $3.30/ft was also much better than the chandlery price of $4.50/ft.

We have an anchor on each end of the chain and find it very versatile for using as either one very long run for deep water or splitting the difference while using two anchors for more security in more shallow water.

The chain was getting pretty rusted at the most used end but did seem to have some life left in less used end compared to other boats here in the boatyard.  It would have made it a few more years but would have taken a toll over that time with thinning and corroded steel links.

As luck would have it, the marina office was arranging a galvanizing run to Butterworth, Penang.  There were 3 of us sending our chain and 2 were sending their anchors.  My share of the transport was $.30/ft.  The chain cost $1.50/kilo ($1.00/ft) for double dip.  Sounds like an ice cream cone.

All dressed up and nowhere to go

So for $1.30/ft we are now able to keep our hard to find 300 ft length.  Keep it in better condition from corrosion, and hopefully it will last another 7 years.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Stuff's growing onboard

We've returned to Malaysia and will be doing some big projects over the next 3 months.  Keep tuned for some good DIY information.  

In the meantime, no, we didn't have a moldy boat when we returned after spending 9 months back in the US.

One of the problems with buying local food is that there are countries with questionable water quality.  One way to solve this problem is to grow your own food.  We used to have a tomato plant but the yield is low for the effort required.  Also, customs people don't like you bringing food things into their countries.  There is a great cruiser book floating around called Sailing the Farm.  It's a handy go-to guide for growing things onboard. 

Our first project from the book was so easy.  We went to the store and bought a large mason jar.  The top was then replaced with some fly screen and that was the total extent of the hardware needed.

It all starts like this
Next, we put some seeds (we used Mung Beans) in the jar and some water for 24 hours.

Then drain and wash the beans.  Put them in a dark cool place and rinse them every 8-12 hours for the next 3 days.  We lay the jar on it's side to provide better air circulation.

After 24 hours they get little shoots
After the end of the 2nd day

After the 3rd day

After the 4th day

Ready for cooking
So in the end, we end up with safe, fresh food that we can have access to anywhere in the world.  Wish we would have known about this at the 2 week point after leaving Mexico for French Polynesia.  All our freshies were gone and we were down to just canned goods.  This would have been such a treat. 
It doesn't get any better than having freshly sprouted beans for dinner

Friday, January 6, 2017

Siem Rep and Angkor Wat

By land, Siem Rep is essentially half way on the road from Bangkok, Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  Once again, by booking a hotel in advance and not knowing the lay of the land, we were close, but not directly in the heart of the action.  I initially thought that was bad but turned out quite good since we were a one dollar Tuk Tuk ride away in a nice quiet area.  The hotel had just us and a bunch of pale white Russian tourists. 

Landmines still exist here.  These kids lost limbs and play music for money.
Siem Rep is a very touristy expat type of town like others that we have seen while cruising.  The atmosphere is one of a touring backpackers stop-off and a place with foreigners wanting to live in a fun partying place where you can get 2 beers for a dollar and live well on a pension.  Similar to places like Bali or Puerto Vallarta.   

The activity centers around 'Pub Street' and we did spend quite a bit of time there shopping and eating.  We ate twice at a great Thai restaurant, another Thai place, and a Beer Garden kind of place.  Dinners were around $15 for both of us including a bottle of wine.  Not too bad considering the level of tourism there.

Our tour group in front of Angkor Wat
We took a group tour to the Bayon, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, Angkor Wat, and Phnom Bahkeng temples.  We were picked up at the hotel in a minibus and had 10 others with us for the tour.

Buddhist Monks still worship here
These temples were built in:
Phnom Bakheng - 900
Angkor Wat - Late 1100's
Bayon -1200's
Angkor Thom - Late 1200's
Ta Prohm - 1300

Bas Relief Carvings are still in great condition
They were not living quarters or palaces.  They were built by the kings for themselves and the people to come from long distances to worship their gods, which were originally Hindu but later transformed to Buddhist.  The temples gradually were abandoned and covered by the jungle by the 1600's except for Angkor Wat which has a moat to help protect it from the vegetation.

Phnom Bakheng
A restored head.  Notice the arch in the background still used for traffic
At Ta Phrom
The temples were discovered by French Westerners in 1862.  Surprisingly little damage was done to them during the civil war in the '70's.  The Khmer Rouge troops camping there burned whatever wood they could find for fires, an American bomb blew up a pavilion, and there are some bullet strikes on some of the carvings.  Most of the damage was done in the 1980's and 90's by thieves chopping off and taking the heads of the statues.

Angelina Jolie in the movie 'Tomb Raider'

Booker at the same root
The movie 'Tomb Raider' starring Angelina Jolie was filmed at Ta Prohm in 2000 and now has the nickname 'Tomb Raider Temple.

Heaps of stones needing to be cataloged for restoration
Some places look like a jumble of rocks but Angkor Wat itself has 5-10 million sandstone blocks weighing up to 1.5 tons each.  They came from quarries 25 miles away using elephants only for transport.  The Egyptians only had to bring their limestone for the pyramids a quarter of a mile.

Numbered  Stones ready for placement
These temples are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and restoration is currently ongoing.  Alot of the stones were marker with numbers.  Their shapes had been 3D scanned and reconstructed on computers to put the ancient rock pile puzzles back as they were 1000 years ago.

A nice cold coconut at the end of a hot day
Cambodia, all in all, is a really great country.  The country is safe.  The people are welcoming, the cost of living is good, they speak English, and use the US dollar.  Obviously we liked it here.  What more could you want?