Sunday, October 22, 2006

Etchellian repair thoughts

Background: USA 125 is elderly as Etchells go; sail number 125 puts it well within the oldest 10% of the members of its class.

The boat has floorboards in the cockpit, which class rules require be removable, and which have to meet certain specs for weight, size, and position. They can be attached to the hull only in certain ways and places so as to not change the stiffness of the hull.

The original Etchells, I am told, had a round post that came up to provide an attachment point for the mainsheet. Subsequently, sometime in the class history, the Barney post was replaced by a rectangular console, which had room not only for the mainsheet cleat, but also for several other cleats and lines, enabling the helmsperson quite a bit of control from the steering position. Our console housed controls for such items as the the mainsheet, backstay, vang, and spin pole.

However, it seems that the console may not have been original to USA 125, but rather a retrofit, and perhaps wasn't installed properly. The old fiberglass should have been cleaned carefully and roughened with sandpaper before new fiberglass was applied to attach the console. But, once the floorboard supports failed, depriving the console of lateral support, the base of the console peeled right off the hull. For a while, a fitting on the tail end of the mainsheet held the console, but then it, too, failed, with its bracked pulling right out of the keelson board.

After we bought the boat, and begain sailing her late this spring, w e had been noticing that the floorboards were working loose and were a bit "springy". More recently though, things became more serious: the aluminum tubes that supported the floorboards began to fail. When we looked below, we could see that the 3/4-inch aluminum box tubing had corroded. Apparently, the tubes did retained salt water during the boat's more than 30 years in salt water, and the 3/4-inch tubing was too flimsy to support the weight of a bunch of sailors. One of the cross members snapped into three pieces! (Etchells class rules limit floor supports to a width of 1-1/4 inch (35 mm), with no more than five athwartships supports, and only the four corners can have a small, glassed-in attachment point to the hull, along with attachments to the central keelson board and keelbolts, as we understand the rules.) Some previous owner of our boat had emphasized lightness instead of strength, choosing relatively flimsy supports.

So, when the floorboard supports began to fail, the console lost some of its support and began to wobble. Because the console had not been well glassed to the hull, it began, unnoticed by us, to work free from the hull. A couple of weeks or so ago, while we were sailing, it finally failed in dramatic fashion.

Because we live far from shipyards, and the few boat dealerships and repair shops in our area specialize in motorboats, figuring out how to fix it has been a challenge. A fellow Etchells owner knew of a great fiberglass guy, so we brought the boat 150 miles south of the lake to El Paso, Texas. But, when the guy was located, it turned out that the company he'd worked for was shut down, and he was in a hospital in Mexico with terminal cancer. Yikes. And, while we were in El Paso last weekend, in the driveway of another Etchells owner and friend and preparing to take a crew of hungry sailors across the border for lunch, our Expedition's fuel pump and relay gave up the ghost. So, we spent another night in El Paso and got to pay $692 for the privilege of ransoming the truck.

We considered re-attaching the console by ourselves, or with the help of some of the other Etchells folks, but Carol Anne agreed with one of the skippers who thought that the console, which receives a lot of loading from the mainsheet, really should be glassed in by a professional. This skipper, Jester, also knew of good fiberglass work done at a local boat shop, but it was open only on weekdays, so later this past week he towed USA 125 to the shop.

Another skipper had thought that he or we could do adequate work, but it seems like his plan would have involved fiberglassing the hell out of the floor supports to glass them to the hull, which would be hard to undo if we ever needed to make the system fully comply with class rules. With older, noncompetitive boats in a remote backwater of the world, it seems that a lot of skippers don't worry about the finer points of class one-design rules. Still, we're trying to do things right, or at least as correctly as we can with our limited knowledge of the class and limited resources. Even if the boat never goes to high-level one-design regattas, we'd like to think that we took good care of her, preserved her re-sale value (such as it is for an older boat), and would leave the boat better than we found it and not create a problem for a future owner.

And so, it'll soon (we hope!) be time to open up the wallet/checkbook in El Paso. The decision to spend a lot of cash, and more than we could reallly afford at the moment, on an older boat was particularly hard on Carol Anne. Suffice to say that, while she enjoyed learning about fiberglass work and welding this year, enduring financial sacrifices while losing time on the water is NOT a lot of fun. And, losing one of her students wasn't fun, either.

Then we'll need to bring the boat to a place at the lake where we can do the rest of the work needed to reinstall temporary or permanent floor supports and do a lot of other boat maintenance and upgrades. While Black Magic is up on the hard, our MacGregor will be in the water to do committee boat duty and let us at least have a sailboat-like object to go out on. Notice that I was careful in that description; after we'd been sailing the high-performance boat, the Mac, with its old sails and cruiser lines isn't quite so thrilling, even if it was a wonderful boat to learn on and so easily trailered, rigged, and launched. So, we'll be making it look pretty and putting it up for sale before too long.


At 8:17 AM, October 23, 2006, Blogger the skip said...

Gray Jay is an older J/24 as well. We spen most of this year re-working the controls and deck hardware. As we push the boat harder it seems to show it's age and repairs seem to be a constant ritual.

I think while the Mac served it's purpose you are right. it is just not as exciting!

Hope all works out with the floorboards and repairs!


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