Monday, January 15, 2007

Pop! goes the riveter

Sunday morning we had breakfast and eventually sorted outselves out to go to the state parks parking lot and work on Black Magic. Conditions were chilly and we had to bundle well to cope with near-freezing temperatures and a steady northerly of about 10 knots. At least conditions had moderated; it had been rather windy on Saturday, with a small craft warning flying all day, and even into the first few hours after sunrise on Sunday.

Carol Anne, Tad, and I got more rigging done on the Etchells but still couldn't get everything needed done; in particular, drilling out some old rivet heads and trying to remove a bent, but rather inaccessible gooseneck pin consumed far too much time and energy. So, we decided to launch without the boom; the small motor had a full tank and we could always launch a jib if we needed to sail out of trouble. The Etchells doesn't have a reefing mainsail, but is quite docile and predictable under jib alone, even if it can't be tacked as easily or tightly without the main and requires a minimum bit of care to avoid pinching and resultant leeway or going into irons. Also, even without reefing, the Etchells offers many avenues to depowering the boat in heavy conditions; at Dillon last summer we were able to keep sailing and stay upright even when we saw some boats around us being knocked down pretty hard by the Dillon "flyswatters".

After positioning USA 125 on the ramp, chocking the trailer, installing the third wheel on the front of the trailer, and tying on about seventy feet of heavy rope, I moved the truck up to pull the boat and trailer off the chocks. Then Carol Anne moved into the truck while I boarded Black Magic for the launch. Usually I'm the truck driver, and this was the first time for me to be on board during a USA 125 launch. Tad and I sat on the bow to keep weight over the trailer tongue; we were about nine feet above the ramp as the boat and trailer began their descent into the water.

Once the Etchells was afloat, Tad and I released two lines to free her from the trailer and motored a few boat lengths to the courtesy dock to do some more rigging and tuning. Then, Carol Anne drove to the apartment to drop off the trailer and look for a Dremel tool. Tad and I motored south with Black Magic and returned her to her slip at Rock Canyon Marina. Despite the more settled conditions, we didn't see any boats on the lake anywhere outside of their marina slips. Except for the cool temperatures, sailing conditions were really nice with a steady 7 to 8 kt. NNE breeze, so it was a huge pity we didn't yet have the gooseneck fitting repaired.

Carol Anne arrived, but without the Dremel tool, so after doing some more work, we left Tad behind while we went in search of more tools. We returned with a couple of hacksaws and a small bolt cutter in time to help Tad, who had borrowed a hacksaw in the meantime, finish cutting a bent stainless steel gooseneck pin and drill out some old pop rivets.

The pop rivets were being used to install a new bracket on the mast, which was to be used to hold a bracket and gooseneck pin that would connect the boom to the mast. The old bracket and gooseneck pin had been too flimsy, causing the bracket to work loose and the gooseneck pin to bend or break. The rivets were 3/16-inch aluminum ones that hadn't held very well. Previously, we and a friend had used hardware-store hand pop riveters to install rivets. But, the small hand riveters couldn't handle stainless steel rivets. A larger pop riveter had been too large to handle the 3/16 rivet size. So, our previous rivet installation hadn't worked very well.

This time we'd bought a heavier-duty pop riveter, and it worked out quite nicely, though even this new, long-handled riveter needed a lot of force to set the rivets. Now, the rivets should be there for good. The new bracket is nicely installed. To set a rivet, one of us would insert the long, slender pop rivet mandrel into the nosepiece of the pop riveter, then insert the rivet end through holes drilled in the items to be riveted. Then one of us would squeeze the riveter handles while pressing the rivet into the hole. Sometimes we'd have to squeeze multiple times and push harder until we could feel a lot of pressure building up in the pop riveter handles; then, as we pulled the handles back apart we'd hear a noticable POP! and the rivet was set in place and severed from the rivet mandrel.

Unfortunately, we were running out of time to get new fittings on the boom, which is a disadvantage and hazard of boat work during short winter days. The screws that held the old end plate and bracket on the forward end of the boom wouldn't budge, so we de-rigged the boom and took it home to Albuquerque to work on during the coming week. After leaving the marina, we went by the apartment to feed our cats and selves (lots of leftovers needed to be eliminated), then load the cats in the carriers along with our gear and Tad's cello. Tad got to drive north, with us stopping in Socorro for fuel and a refill of Carol Anne's growler with a half-gallon of India pale ale.

Sunday evening we ordered a few more boat parts. I think some of the boat chandleries are getting used to us making a new order about the beginning of every other week! We still need to research and order parts and supplies for other boat projects. USA 125 has a diaphragm tear in her manual bilge pump, still needs a new tiller, needs spinnaker pole holders installed on her boom, needs to have some paint dings touched up, and needs to get a mast-butt mover installed. Our recent acquisition needs to be painted on her topsides and deck and have hardware re-installed, so we'll need some $80 per gallon epoxy / polyurethane paint. Then we'll need to repair cracked floorboard supports, order some more gear to make her fully class-legal, and, in the long term, replace her mast, which is sleeved over a crack near the mast butt. When the weather is warmer, we'll need to do some work on the floorboards and supports of both racing boats. And, then our MacGregor needs lots of minor repairs; re-installation of a bimini track (knocked off by a careless boater at Heron Lake last summer), replacement of a hatch handle, repair of some dings and scratches, trouble-shooting a radio circuit, and general clean-up. And, if we can get to it, the Sunfish flotilla needs some work, including new lines, sail repairs or replacements, and replacement or re-carving of a couple of centerboards and rudders. Oh yes, the rowing dinghy could use some teak work and the bottom of one of the kayaks needs a good scrub. Ah yes, the pleasures of yacht ownership.

Carol Anne is quietly and carefully recruiting crew in a very low-key way (I tend to be much less subtle), especially for womens' sailing. We've learned the hard way that the best way to have crew come on the team is gradually, with folks going along for a fun ride on a non-race day just to see how they like the Etchells and whether they and the skipper and other crew are a good fit and have good feelings about the experience. Having crew show up for the first time ever on a race day doesn't work nearly so well; it's far better for crew to get used to each other and the boat, which has quite a lot of complexity, in a less frenzied and pressured setting.

As a new racing program, and as sailors in the wilderness of New Mexico, we don't necessarily expect or want to recruit highly seasoned old salts. No matter how experienced, a crew member who can't be counted on to show for races, practices, and boat work, or isn't supportive of the team, isn't worth much. Our priorities are commitment, enthusiasm, the courage to try new things, and the ability and willingness to learn. A crew member who shows up consistently will gain the needed experience and a crew member who is positive and eager to learn will fit in quickly with the rest of the team. If we can get crew members who are also athletic, energetic, eager to excel, and able to travel and enjoy sailing in a variety of places, that would be a great bonus.

Various strengths and talents are welcome and useful in different crew positions on the boat and for different kinds of sailing. Athleticism, agility, timing, light-footed grace, and the ability to recover from various minor emergencies are at a premium on the foredeck; strength, a sense of the wind, and unbreakable concentration are the hallmarks of a spinnaker trimmer; and quick cool thinking under pressure is a treasure in a tactician. And, as we grow our program gradually, bit by bit, we'll welcome people who might not be commited to being racing crew, but would like to be support crew, or learn to help with race committee duties, or help teach young people and members of other special groups to sail.

Also, and especially as we get the boat we've just acquired ready to go back in the water, we'll have more crew slots open and the ability to take both boats out for fun, practice, two-boat tuning, or fleet practices with the other Etchells race boats. And, we can go out just for fun and to introduce novice or seasoned sailors to the Etchells or share the joy of a beautiful day on the water.


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