Boatyard Week 1

Getting dirty. Getting it done.

We’ve been at Bock Marine in Beaufort for a week now and are feeling pretty settled. Life in the yard at the top of a 12 ft ladder is not as enjoyable as life at sea — but its still fun and very satisfying to see progress on many different projects.

The yard provides a nice clean lounge with showers and laundry facilities.

Lounge area with TV and lots of books.
Laundry machine works well even though the water is powerfully stinky.

Outside the lounge everything is dirty. The ground in the yard is not gravel or crushed stone. It is a mixture of sand and mud and the detritus of years of sanding fiberglass and wood and paint. Also, coastal North Carolina is pretty low and flat. Drainage is not really a thing here. The ground stays soft and squishy for days after a big rain.

My front door is not nearly as appealing after a heavy rain. Mud and grit get stuck in your shoes and tracked pretty much everywhere.
I got a good floor mat to catch some of the grit that would otherwise be tracked into the cabin. And I found a couple of cheap solar lights to make nighttime ladder climbing a little safer.

In the last few days I’ve cleaned and repitched the prop, end-for-ended and repainted the anchor chain, repaired some hull dings gifted by the previous owner, sealed the deck and stripped varnish from the toe rail, handrails and eyebrow.

The grease packed inside the prop is very sticky and resistant to being washed out. Which is good – but makes it really fun to remove.
The anchor chain is probably on its last year as the galvanizing is wearing pretty thin. I cut off some particularly rusty sections on both ends, swapped the working end, and measured and repainted marks at 25 ft intervals. Our 250 ft of 3/8″ BBB chain weighs 400 lbs.

The biggest job so far has been removing as much of the old crusty bottom paint as time and budget allows. Two young men from the yard spent yesterday sanding and chipping.

40 grit sandpaper removes material (including fiberglass) very quickly. The Bock guys did a good job removing the worst of the paint buildup without damaging the hull.
Not her best look.

I applied the first of 2-3 coats of Petitt Hydrocoat antifouling bottom paint earlier today. The stuff is water based so cleanup is easy and it doesn’t smell (or melt your brain) like most solvent-based paints. And it sticks to everything so there is no need to remove all of the underlying paint.

First coat of new paint. The bottom is definitely smoother than before and I’m less concerned about big chunks of paint flaking off. Maybe one day she’ll have a perfectly fair racing finish. Not today.

The weather looks great this week so expecting to do more painting tomorrow and Thursday. Then on to seacock maintenance, more varnish stripping and sanding and some preliminary work under the cockpit to prepare for running new steering and engine control cables. Good fun.

Up and Out

On dry land. Under a bridge.


Early this afternoon the Bock Marine team plucked Andante from the water, gave her a quick bath, and plopped her down in a dusty field under a highway bridge. Quite the change in environment from just a few days ago but exactly where we need to be to get some work done.

Always a little nervous to see the boat lifted out of its natural element. Also, I watch too many boat fail videos on YouTube. Fortunately these guys are really skilled and everything went smoothly.
The hull was not nearly as fouled as I anticipated. Most of the slimy growth came off quickly with the pressure washer. A few small barnacles were easy to scrape off.
I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t clear the bridge this time. Fortunately we parked just off the road before reaching the span.
All blocked up. First job tomorrow will likely be an acid wash of the hull to get rid of the nasty brown ICW tannin stains. Later I’ll give the hull a good compounding and waxing that should help prevent future stains.

After careful examination of the bottom condition there is no overwhelming reason to remove all of the existing bottom paint. No blisters were found and there is only minimal chipping where the old paint is very thick.

So instead of sandblasting and then barrier coating and then painting, I’ve asked the yard to have two guys spend one day sanding with the goal of smoothing out the existing substrate rather than removing all traces of paint. The water-based antifouling I will apply (Pettit Hydrocoat) sticks to just about anything so there are no worries with compatibility. And in keeping with our speed expectations (moderately slow) a perfectly burnished racing finish is just not worth the time and expense.

The big question now is what color? The sanding will cut through the existing green and several older layers of black and blue. Am trying to decide between green, red, or black for the new bottom paint. They all work the same – strictly a cosmetic choice. Anybody have a preference?

My front door for the next month or so. Wipe your feet please.

Phase I: Complete

That was fun.

We arrived at Bock Marine on Core Creek in Beaufort, NC a little past noon on Monday. The sail from Broad Creek was uneventful with winds 25-30 and following seas. High water due to the wind combined with a maximal lunar tide resulted in lots of flooding in the Beaufort / Morehead City area — and reduced the air draft under the Core Creek Bridge to 63.5 feet. Which we cleared without a problem. Whew.

Tied to the pier at Bock Marine just past the Core Creek Bridge

Initially we expected to be hauled almost immediately upon arrival. But the Travelift (and specifically its starter) had other ideas. Turns out the delay was a good thing as it enabled Bill and Anne to visit and actually board the boat and sit with me for a while — something that would have been far more difficult once we’re hauled and and the only access is a 20 foot ladder.

This unit has a bad motivator
Welcome aboard Bill and Anne!

I’m still getting settled in, meeting the yard staff, and learning where everything is and how things work. The facilities appear to be very good and the people are super friendly. I expect a couple of months here will not be too uncomfortable. Dirty and noisy and occasionally cold? Yes, probably. But overall a good place to get some important boat work done and prepare Andante (and me) for whatever comes next.

Latest from the yard is that we’ll be hauled mid-morning tomorrow (Wednesday). First order of business will be to get the bottom as clean as possible (pressure wash then hand scrape) so the state of the existing paint can be evaluated. My guess is that all of the old bottom paint will have to come off. Then I’ll fair the surface, apply an epoxy barrier coat and several coats of new ablative antifouling paint. While she’s out of the water I’ll also replace the steering and engine control cables, repair or replace a couple of seacocks, repitch the prop and finish stripping all the varnish from the toe and hand rails. And I’m looking forward to all of it —

One More Gale and 25 Miles to Go

The end is near. At least for now.

Yesterday we completed a relatively short hop from Belhaven to Broad Creek on the Neuse River. Along the way we passed the first (but certainly not the last) shrimp boat of the trip and a small Coast Guard station near the Hobucken Bridge.

Shrimp boat at R.E. Mayo Seafood
USCG Station Hobucken

After getting tossed around a bit in Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River we pushed as far up Broad Creek as our draft would allow and found a snug spot close to shore to wait out another gale.

Anchored close to shore. Decks cleared and everything tied down. Wood smoke and owls.
Better in here than out there.

The winds and rain should start any time now and persist through tomorrow. Hopefully by Monday morning nice weather will return and we’ll set off towards Beaufort, NC and the final destination of this leg of our trip: Bock Marine. With 25 nm to go we should arrive at the yard shortly after lunch.

While waiting for the storm I’ve made some changes to the other pages on this site. Comments and suggestions for further improvement are welcome.

Three days on the ICW

Miles 0 to 136: Norfolk, VA to Belhaven, NC

The origin of the ICW in Norfolk is about as urban and industrial as a place can be. Tall buildings, commercial activities of all sorts, trains, planes, heavy industry and shipbuilding. By the afternoon on the first day we left all of that behind.

I couldn’t tell what they were working on. But clearly it required cranes.

That is a really big crane. With a little crane on top.
There were several patrol boats around this guy so I was hesitant to take a photo. Probably shouldn’t have worried — the former USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN 635) was retired from service in 1989. She was used for many years as a training ship for nuclear engineers in South Carolina and was recently towed back to Norfolk.

On the first day we passed through 13 bridges (auto and rail) and one lock. The bridges were all different. About half of the bridges required some sort of movement (lifting or swinging) to allow a tall sailboat to pass through. Some bridges operate on a fixed schedule, others open on request. Railroad bridges generally remain open and passable until a train approaches.

Odd as it may seem, I don’t actually know the height of Andante’s mast. I’ve measured and figured in several different ways but am only really confident to +/- 1 foot. My best guess is that the tip of the VHF antenna that sticks up above the masthead is 61 feet above the waterline. Most fixed-height ICW bridges have 65′ clearance above mean high water so we should be fine — but this can vary a bit with wind and extreme tides. Bridge pilings generally have markers that show the current air draft and based on these I know we’ve successfully passed through bridges as low as 63.5′ on this trip. That’s low enough for me.

Lift bridge for cars, bascule bridge for trains.

Shortly after leaving the Norfolk area boats have to choose whether to follow the (straighter, deeper) Virginia Cut or detour into the winding, shallow, more wild Dismal Swamp Canal. I’d like to seem them both at some point — but Andante’s draft is not a good match for the Swamp route.

The turn to the Dismal Swamp Canal

Just a little further along the route the Great Bridge Lock was an interesting experience. Once an hour about 10 boats are loaded into the lock chamber and secured to the walls. Then the gates are closed and the water level allowed to rise — on this day the change was only about a foot. Then everyone filters out and loiters while waiting for the adjacent bridge to open.

Entering the Great Bridge lock
Secured to the wall and ready to go.
Loitering while waiting for the bridge to open. Most (but not all) of the helmspeople were skilled at controlling their vessels in tight quarters with wind and current. By the end of the day everyone had accumulated several hours of experience.
Out of the lock and through the Great Bridge bridge.
Clearly we need a boat sticker

Soon after leaving the tidy little town of Great Bridge we settled into a landscape that was far less manicured and far more monotonous. Swampy land, scraggly trees, and ever-present stumps and submerged logs along the banks. We tried to stay in the center of the channel all the time to avoid bumping anything. Even with GPS I would not want to transit these narrow channels at night — too many barely-visible obstacles to be avoided.

Partially-submerged stumps and logs along the banks of the canal

The first night we found a spot to anchor just outside the channel in a bend south of the Pungo Ferry Bridge about two miles north of the NC border. Later that evening I checked Maps to see what was nearby: Lots of nature, not many people.

The second day out we pressed on through northern North Carolina crossing Albemarle Sound (under sail) and the Alligator River. We spent the night in a small cove just north of the Alligator River – Pungo River canal, near the 100 (statute) mile mark on the ICW.

Mile marker 100 near the southern extent of the Alligator River

The Alligator River – Pungo River canal was apparently the final piece of dredging required to complete the 1090 mile Atlantic ICW. While it may be a feat of civil engineering, it is not a particularly exciting or photogenic passage. It is long, straight, and mostly featureless for 20+ miles until reaching the Pungo River.

The AR-PR Canal. Reminded me of those never-ending long hallways in bad dreams.

Tonight we are anchored in Belhaven, NC near ICW mile marker 136. Its been a cold and wet and windy day and more stormy weather is anticipated. As always, tomorrow’s movement will depend on tomorrow’s weather. If it looks messy (and cold rain is forecast) we may just stay here for a while.

A faithful reader of this blog asked about how I stay warm. Andante does not have a heater. Perhaps a diesel heater will be a project for next year. For now I have warm clothes, a sleeping bag, and a limited supply of refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough and cinnamon rolls. The oven is a pretty effective cabin heater so I’ve taken to baking in the evenings to make the cabin more comfortable. The engine’s residual heat also helps. I don’t yet have a solution to cold mornings other than coffee and getting active as quickly as possible.

My solution to heating the cabin. Smells good too