From Loon To London
By Peter Baumgartner
Copyright ã 1999 by Peter Baumgartner All Rights Reserved.
She slipped into the sea after 11 years of only sailing through backyards and boatyards. As the sea caressed her hull, I was full of questions. Will she stay afloat? Will she leak? How will she sail? I had never done anything like this before. Had I tightened all those clamps enough? Used enough bedding compound? Had I made a huge mistake? What had ever made me think I could buy a neglected boat and make her whole again?
She was launched in Quincy, Massachusetts a historic New England town on the southern side of the broad sweep of Boston Harbor and it was in Quincy where I first saw her in the early summer of 1998. She lay uncovered in a back yard under an oak tree. She had been there for ten years. Her mast lay atop. Stains streaked her sides. Mice lived in the mast and the halyards lay green and rotting, strewn every which way. The cockpit was full of leaves and stained with their rot. The teak was now many colors - black, gray and green. Peeling duct tape covered the holes where her instruments had been. There were lots of bugs and spiders. "Loon" was a 1977 27’ Cape Dory with an 8hp single cylinder diesel engine, hull number 35. The broker was dumping leaves out of the cockpit when I arrived. He apologized for the condition of the boat. He said he had not seen her in years. I said nothing. She was everything I wanted! Standing room, inboard diesel, full keel and probably cheap. It took all summer to negotiate the price down to what I thought she was worth, all winter to get her ready for a spring launch.
We live about 20 miles from the ocean, northwest of Boston. Before "Loon" arrived on Columbus Day, I got the chain saw out and removed a few trees behind the garage. It was a good spot and the one favored by my wife, Nancy, because she would not be able to see the boat from the house. So, with a shovel and a rake I smoothed and packed the ground to make a large flat surface. There was a shed along that side of the garage for storage of gear. It had a huge workbench. I organized my tools. Power and water were close by. I was ready to begin. When the tractor-trailer arrived, the driver exclaimed "What a great spot for a boat!" and backed her in. After he’d left I stood in the street for a long time motionless, just staring at her, taking her in.
I started by taking absolutely everything out of and off the boat from the boom to the anchors, flares to cushions, life jackets to silverware. It all landed on the ground and was either cleaned and stored in the shed or put in a pile for a final trip to the town dump. I picked up two dock lines and climbed up into the trees near the boat and tightly strung one line above her deck across her bow and another equally as high across her stern. I strung some additional lines between these lines running overhead and the head and tail of her mast.
Then I went into the house and found my 13-year-old daughter. We each grabbed one set of lines and hoisted the mast up into the air, pulled it out parallel to the boat and lowered it to the ground. As my daughter ran back to the house, I began to clean - first with a broom and a shop vac and then with a hose and scrub brush. This went on for a long time. All that day and the next. And the weekend after that.
The weather stayed mild through November and I worked on her whenever I had free time. During this period I slept well and awoke stiff but purposeful. There are few tasks more satisfying than scrubbing dirty and stained fiberglass, you can really see progress. My dog lay near the boat chewing sticks and watching.
Up on deck with a hose and scrub brush I would sometimes stop and sit on the cabin top in the warm afternoon autumn sun and gaze out over the garage roof to the wet meadow beyond, where the tall grass waved in an afternoon westerly breeze. I imagined myself at sea. I was very happy. It was ridiculous. So far all the work had been cosmetic, I had not even started on the boat’s systems.
I found that for cleaning the fiberglass above the waterline it was best to first wash off the gross dirt by scrubbing with a solution made up of a cup of bleach and some TSP in a bucket of water. I would use a scrub brush and a Scotch-Brite pad and wear rubber gloves. I then hosed the surface off and applied On & Off, a powerful acidic fiberglass cleaner, according to the manufacturer’s directions. You use a natural bristle brush to apply On & Off, as it will soften and dissolve the artificial bristles of a paintbrush. You must wear gloves and eye protection and avoid breathing the fumes. It is a good idea to keep a hose nearby to flush your skin of any splashes. I would sometimes help the cleaning process along by rubbing the surface I had painted with On & Off by scrubbing it with a wet Scotch-Brite pad. The manufacturer does not recommend this, but I found it very effective. I would finish up with a good water flush of the area, and a further polish of any remaining stains with bleach & TSP again. A little Ajax Cleanser on a Scotch-Brite pad can really help here as well. I had no stains that stood up to this treatment. The fiberglass just gleamed.
There is a lot of teak on a Cape Dory. I began by removing all the hardware cleats, snaps for the dodger, plates, etc - and put each set with its screws into a separate plastic baggy and stored them in the shed. I scrubbed the teak, again with that combination of bleach and TSP using what was becoming my favorite Scotch-Brite pad. After the wood was dry I used my power orbital finishing sander to sand it all down. A number of the teak plugs along the toe rails were extruded or broken. These I removed and replaced with new teak plugs I purchased at a marine store, set them in place with two-part marine glue, and sanded flush. I then hand sanded all the teak with fine sandpaper, vacuumed and wiped all the dust away. By the time the weather finally turned colder, I had a couple of coats of semi-gloss Cetol on all the teak and the exterior fiberglass was clean. I had also cleaned the name "Loon" off the stern.
It was time to begin plumbing. This would take me most of my time for the rest of the winter. I had to learn as I went, for although I had been sailing for years, I had never done any maintenance of this sort, much less whole replacement of systems. Fortunately there are a number of excellent books you can read, I’ve listed my favorites at the end of this article, and I had the good fortune to have chosen a boat with an active web site newsgroup to which I could turn in times of crisis or doubt. Often I would often receive a number of responses to my message board queries, sometimes with pictures, by the very next day. Even with the manufacturer out of business, Cape Dorys command a lot of loyalty and pride.
I started my plumbing projects by pulling out all the freshwater, cockpit drain and head hoses. I removed those heavy wire-reinforced hoses by using my Dremel’s fiberglass cutting tool to cut the wire strands and carefully slice the hose around the pipe it is attached to without cutting into the underlying fitting. Leather gloves and eye protection are a good idea during this process.
Then I looked at the seacocks. Cape Dorys are fitted with bronze tapered plug style seacocks. They are large, heavy and impressive. There is one that sits in the back of my head compartment, which looks like it belongs on a North Sea oilrig. Wilcox-Crittenden made my seacocks. In later boats I understand they are made by Spartan Marine. Every single one of the seacocks was frozen in the open position. I consulted my source books on boat repair and then my new friends on the Cape Dory web site. Dealing with frozen seacocks is a popular topic on the site and there are a number of different methods described there for getting the tapered plug out of the cylinder it has been so embracing for the last 10 or so years. The application of WD40, backing the nut out to the end of the threaded stem (to avoid damaging the thread with the hammer) and then tapping the nut is probably the most popular. A heavy hammer helps. I used a brake puller on several where I had room. This allowed me to apply pressure without impact and pop the tapered plugs out.
From the web site bulletin board I also learned how to get an eleven dollar "radiator Spud Wrench" #8618 at Home Depot and use it to unscrew the thruhulls from the boat. I soon had all but two of the seacocks out of the boat, polished and regreased. I had broken the tabs in both of these remaining seacocks’ thruhulls with the radiator spud wrench so they would not unscrew. These last two were both under the cockpit. Water running out the cockpit drains of the uncovered boat for the last ten years had left them badly corroded. The seacock on the port side finally yielded its plug with a pop - to WD40 and a sledgehammer. The starboard cockpit drain seacock would not yield. Finally I gave up and cut it out of the boat. I used my Dremel Tool with a cutter bit to remove the outside flanged portion of the thruhull and then knocked the remainder up into the boat. I cleaned up the hole, made a new tapered backing plate, coated this with epoxy and then installed a new thruhull and seacock well seated with bedding compound. I then reinstalled all other the rebuilt seacocks and thruhulls I had removed from the boat.
To redo the freshwater system I removed the plastic tank from boat and cleaned it - first with a bleach mixture, then a flush, then a baking soda mixture, and then flush again. The tank had no deck fill so I added one and ran the fill hose into an opening I cut into the tank and fitted with a barbed thru-tank fitting. I removed the old hand pump faucet and replaced it with a simple Fynspray spout. A new Whale foot pump was installed near the sink to pump the fresh water through an Aqua City 1-micron filter and out the spout. This system worked great all through the summer.
On a cold day, when there was a strong breeze blowing, I removed the existing holding tank, which I regret to say was not empty. I also removed some other bits that were ruined, tossed them and then washed the whole area with the TSP and bleach solution. Then I took a shower.
I wanted to make the waste system compliant, so everything from the head is routed into the holding tank. A 1 ½" exit hose runs from the holding tank to a Y-valve which allows the waste to be pumped overboard or vacuumed up through a deck port. It took some time to find a holding tank small enough to fit with all its plumbing under the port forward berth. I eventually bought one of those polyethylene tanks on which you install the fittings and seal with 3M 5200 adhesive. This worked well. I removed the manual Whale waste pump, cleaned and rebuilt it, and reinstalled it in the boat.
Before buying this boat I had it inspected. I think this is essential and the best money I spent. For the most part, because of the survey I would know where my problems and strengths lay. On those dark days when things were not going so well, I could comfort myself with the knowledge of a sturdy hull, or an intact crisp mainsail. The surveyor had made a number of recommendations and I went through them one by one, but the Yanmar diesel engine was determined to be in excellent condition. It had been completely rebuilt before the boat had been laid up. I had only to replace some of the worn out hose and filters. I became somewhat complacent about this part of the overhaul. I would pay for this later.
I replaced all the Yanmar’s cooling hoses and added a new seawater filter. All the rubber fuel lines were also replaced and a new Racor fuel filter with a water separator was installed. I had been told to drain the old fuel out of the tank. After I did this I could see an amazing amount of crud and growth inside the tank. It looked more like the bottom of some dark primeval tide pool than a tank. There was no access port, so it was not economical to get it steam-cleaned as the surveyor had suggested. I found a new one almost the same size and spent a pleasant weekend hanging upside down in the cockpit, a power jigsaw in hand, enlarging the fuel tank enclosure and mounts, installing the new tank. Once that was all done, there were only four more things left to do in the bilge. Then I could stand up again.
The old grounding plate had been painted over, so when Colin, my teenage nephew, was visiting, we replaced it and reattached the ground and lightning wires. I also got him to climb down into the cockpit locker and remove and replace two clamps around the stuffing box hose. This was an awkward position even for him, but a handheld power driver made the job go quickly. The little paddle wheel for the speedometer was thick with years of paint. I took this out of the boat, disassembled it, cleaned and greased it and put it back. I added an automatic electric bilge pump and ran a new bilge hose to a thruhull above the water line in the stern.
It was now becoming spring. The weather was getting warmer. My friend Rich asked when I was going to launch my boat. I clearly had no idea, but by the time we were done talking, it was to be in May. He cleared the day to give me a hand. Having a launch date really focussed me on getting the job done.
During the winter, I had measured the three old rotting rope and wire halyards and ordered New England Rope Sta-Set 3/8" line to replace them. I spliced thimble eyes into these using the Unifed Rope splicing kit. Since I had never done this before and did not trust my splices, I took one of the new halyards outside and wrapped one end around a tree and hooked the other end to a come-along style winch fastened to another tree and gave it a good tug. Then I knew these would hold. Now I rove the three of them through the mast.
Although during the inspection, we had not been able to get any electricity flowing because the positive wire to the fuse panel was broken, the work needed by the electrical system was straight forward. I learned to use a simple volt/ohm meter to test for continuity, and current flow and checked out all the wiring. It was all intact, but nearly all the connection points had to be redone and re-soldered. I also bought new battery boxes and batteries to go in them. The navigation lights were all out. One by one I took them apart, resoldered the connections and polished their metal pieces with my Dremel. I put new ends on the VHF coaxial cable and installed a new antenna. At the same time I put an anchor light at the masthead and ran new wires through the mast to it. I stocked up on fuses. My sister and her daughter Hannah helped polish the mast and we were ready to go.
Before I could call the truck to take us to the water, I had to get the mast off the ground and back up 10 feet in the air onto the top of the boat. The mast is surprisingly heavy. My daughter and I might have been able to get it down, but there was no way we could get it back up by ourselves. So one evening, after work my friends, Bruce and Mary and her husband Josiah came by to help. My daughter and wife also came out to help. I had the head of the mast rigged up with a couple of blocks to the lines overhead, but did not have enough blocks for the deck end as well; so at that end I just took a few loops around the overhead line and then the base of the mast for extra purchase. As you might imagine the head went up onto the boat easily, but the foot of the mast we only got back on deck with determination, many hands and a few lucky heaves.
In a few days, we were at the water edge. Before she was launched I sprayed her bow with English Ale and then said a few words of blessing. The truck driver, crane operator, and crew were smiling. I passed around the some of the rest of the beer. It was May 19, 1999. I wanted to go through this simple launching ritual because I had renamed the boat from "Loon" to "London" when I had applied for the documentation change. Since this is reputed to be bad luck, I wanted to make amends. Bass Ale seemed appropriate. It seemed to work.
When the boat was launched, water ran in through the stern tube in a steady stream, but after perhaps an hour settled down to a steadier drip and one that I, the batteries and the new automatic bilge pump could live with. Afloat and tied to the dock I was getting used to the sensation of her moving under foot as I knocked around down below looking for leaks. Other than the stern tube - not a drop! And so it would stay through her first season.
That evening my friend Pete came by the dock. He helped me get the boom and the main rigged. We ran the engine for a while, but stayed tied to the dock, stowing supplies and getting everything shipshape. It was a warm, still evening. The dock I had rented for two weeks of commissioning was way up a tidal river, almost at the limits of it navigability, away from the open expanses of Boston Harbor and very sheltered, but this evening you could still smell the ocean, a mile or so away. Our side of the river was densely developed. The narrow drive into the marina passed between a muffler shop and a body shop off a busy highway, past boats sitting among cars in various stages of rebuild. Four huge green oil tanks overshadowed the eastern end of the marina shoreline, but the view across the river was to a protected area and entirely green with open marsh and scrub trees.
The next day when Rich arrived, I started the engine, he untied the lines, and I backed her out And then quite suddenly, and as if we had been doing it forever, we were off, cruising down the Town River toward the open harbor. This much anticipated instant of actually being underway - in this sailboat I had worked on and obsessed over for so long - was missed somehow in these first moments, but by the time we had traveled down this short stretch of river and made the turn out into the open water, I was really feeling great. Better than great, I was soaring. The motor was on and the main sail was up, pulling just a bit. The bow splashed through the salt water and I felt the first gentle breezes from the sea on my face. It all hit me. The pride in this accomplishment, the joy of being on the water, the sudden realization that I now actually had my own boat after all those years of standing on docks and looking and yearning. I became ecstatically happy.
It should have gone on like this for the rest of the day. Rich and I should have gone out through Hull Gut and on to at least Boston Light, but things don’t go as we might expect, or even think we deserve. Before I had even hanked on the jib, the engine quit. It refused to restart. We were adrift in the ferry channel to Boston. The afternoon began to take on a different aspect. A little chillier. I got the jib on and hoisted up before we drifted into the shallow water, and we soon had her sailing and under control. As we turned and sailed back the way we had come, the breeze came up suddenly in our face. We ended this first sail in my new boat with an awkward spread-eagled landing at the marina slip.
I would basically spend the next 3 days on my knees in the cabin with my head in the engine compartment - learning to bleed the engine. The consensus was that after all the work I had done on her fuel system, there was still air in there somewhere, or maybe I had a bad fuel pump. Don Casey says in his book something to the effect, that the problem with gasoline engines is keeping the fuel in and the problem with diesel engines is keeping the air out. One of my neighbors at the marina, off a nicely rebuilt 28’ Ericson, who had generously helped me with a few other problems, was now telling me about the virtues of gasoline power. As he spoke, a large pirate’s flag flapped behind him in the breeze from his mast. I had heard the coastguard had boarded him a few days before and stopped him for flying it underway. One slip further over a recently launched wooden cabin cruiser had an emergency pump in her bilge and was now wired to the power mains. Every 30 minutes, she would shoot a stream of fresh water out of her bilge with the force of a jet engine, enough water to fill several bathtubs, and lift again several inches on her lines. It was spring in the marina. We all had our problems.
After bleeding the system, I would let the engine run. It would run for 15 to maybe 30 minutes and then just quit. It would not restart until I bled it again. I would go through the process over and over, trying something a little different each time. Early on Saturday morning, on my way to the marina, I stopped at a marine store and read another book on the subject of bleeding. I realized I had not been bleeding the complete system. I raced back to the boat and tried a new method. By early afternoon, the engine had run for an hour before I had shut her off. That was done. I felt another surge of pride at solved a difficult problem and fixing it myself. The rest of the weekend was spent happily tinkering and then a successful Sunday sail with my wife, friend Bruce, and his son.
I had her all nicely cleaned up and had rebuilt the last pump on the boat the manual bilge pump when it was time to move her to her summer mooring in Buzzard’s Bay. With my friend Pete, we would sail out of Boston Harbor and then turn south to cruise just off the coast past the old coastal towns of Cohasset, Scituate, and then Plymouth to the entrance of the Cape Cod Canal. Once through the canal, we would go down Buzzzard’s Bay, almost to New Bedford, to where my summer mooring lay. It was a distance of about 80 nautical miles. We planned to take our time and enjoy the trip, spending two nights sleeping on the boat. Sailboats are required to motor through the canal and to make good time you want to hit the tide right, because the current averages around 4 knots. We left early to catch that evening’s ebb tide at the canal entrance.
We had a nice breeze all day out of the west of maybe 20 knots. It was a changeable day, with rainsqualls off Plymouth beach in the afternoon. London really showed her stuff. We seemed to be averaging better than six knots. This was the one thing that really surprised me about the boat - she would actually go faster than I ever imagined. I had expected her stable, full keeled shape to provide us with a comfortable, but somewhat stately ride instead we could often coax her into a brisk run.
The wind was with Pete and I until we rounded the Mary Ann Rocks off Manomet Point. We decided to power the last 8 miles to the canal in order to make the tide and have daylight through its length. Not far from the canal entrance mark, the engine quit and would not restart. While we drifted, I bled it again. And again it ran. I thought that was behind me. My heart sank. We went through the canal with Pete at the helm, and I standing near the engine with my wrenches laid out on the bunk, ready to bleed her again at a moments notice. We were lucky, she ran fine right through the canal.
This is how it would go over the next few weeks. Most of the time the engine, who I am now calling "Old Reliable", in the hope that this incantation would somehow induce a consistent performance, would rumble on, but at those moments, when the most seemed to be at stake, she would with a cussedness which would almost drive me overboard, cough, sputter and then stop, with a rattle and a shake. I began to associate that last mechanical shudder with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
On my first solo sail in London, at the entrance to Wood’s Hole, just as I standing at the mast lowering the main for the passage through that ornery current, and just as I am thinking "This would be a terrible place to loose power", I notice it has gotten very quiet. Looking at the rocks to my lee with resignation and a sigh, I quickly raised the main and tacked my way into a cove, dropped the anchor and went down into the cabin to kneel before "Old Reliable" and bleed her again.
With my friend Bruce, on a day when the small craft warnings are up, and we are making that dogleg in the channel back to my mooring, right where it is the narrowest and shoal to either side, she quits again. He makes, what is now becoming that familiar rush to the bow, to toss the anchor over, and I go below to relieve "Old Reliable" of that offensive air again. Bruce says to me "You have got to get this fixed."
So with new resolve, on a day Nancy and I would spend on the boat at the mooring waiting for the wind to drop from gale force, as London tacks back and forth on her pendant, we try something new with some tape and a bicycle pump. I disconnect the vent hose from the fuel tank and seal the opening with duct tape. Then I attached a needle valve on the end of the pump hose and used it to pierce the duct tape covering the vent. While Nancy gently uses the pump to pressurize the tank, I assume my position in front of the engine. The air pressure forces the fuel into the system as I feel around the fuel lines and filter with clean paper towels, looking for leaks. We figure if it leaks fuel when being pumped, it will leak air when the fuel pump is sucking under load. We find leaks around the fitting to the new fuel filter. The fittings and clamps are as tight as they can be, but the fuel is leaking out around the metal threads of the fittings. I remove all the threaded fittings from the filter, spread liquid rubber gasket on their threads and screw them back in nice and snug. I bleed the engine again.
"Old Reliable" would now run through the summer and fall without any further trouble and as the summer progressed into fall, the mechanics of the boat finally settled into the background of my thinking. I was now focussed on cruises along the Southern New England coast, on what to eat, and who to have aboard, and where to anchor during London’s first season afloat.
It is only now, as I write this with snow outside the window, and London again standing next to the garage, that I have begun to think about the next set of changes to the boat but that’s another story.
Complete List Of Work Done To London (nee Loon) from Oct 98 to Oct 99
Sand all exterior teak to bare wood & 2 coats of Cetol
Remove everything from boat and scrub inside and out - 3 times
Add anchor line rope pipe to foredeck
Repair cosmetic fiberglass around keel
Replace all extruded bungs in toe rail w/ teak plugs
Replace all the 3 halyards with NE Ropes 3/8" Sta-Set X Polyester Braid
Replace masthead/steaming light.
Add anchor light at mast top.
Replace VHF antenna.
Remove water tank, clean and reinstall.
Add deck water fill and pipe into water tank.
Replace all fresh water hoses with series 168 reinforced clear tubing
Add new 1 micron Aqua City water filter.
Replace water faucet with a new Fynspray Galley Spout
Replace water pump with a Whale foot pump. (Gusher MKIII)
Replace sink drain hose.
Remove sink drain thru-hull and seacock, rebuild and reinstall.
Remove existing holding tank and destroy.
Remove all existing hoses and replace with all new hose.
Buy and install new holding tank.
Remove, rebuild reinstall Whale Gusher 10 manual pump
Remove out-take 1 ½" thru-hull and seacock. Replace seacock & re-install.
Remove in-take ¾" thru-hull and seacock, rebuild & re-install.
Install new 1 ½" bronze vented loop
Install new Whale Y-valve.
Purchase Headmate spares kit for boat.
Remove in-take thru-hull and seacock, rebuild & re-install.
Install new Groco seawater filter
Replace all cooling hose
Engine Fuel Systems
Remove existing fuel tank & replace with new 12 gal. Skyline metal tank.
Install new Racor 120 diesel filter w/ water trap
Replace all flexible fuel lines
Purchase complete parts kit for boat
Replace existing pressurized alcohol stove with new non-pressurized Origo 4000
Rebuild manual Whale gusher
Add new Rule automatic electric fuel pump
Install 2 new batteries
Clean all and test all connections
Install new grounding plate
Install 2 new halogen berth lights in main cabin
Rewire & restore navigation lights
Rewire spot light
Replace cigarette-lighter light & socket with new
Replace antenna coaxial lines & connectors for VHF radio
Instruments & Navigation
Install new Raytheon Autohelm ST+ 2000 auto tiller
Install new barometer in main cabin
Remove & service speedometer impeller
Have leech line of little jib repaired
Book I Used:
This Old Boat - Don Casey
Boatowner’s Mechanical & Electrical Manual Nigel Calder
Upgrading The Cruising Sailboat Daniel Spurr ( I need to check exact title )
Sea Sense Richard Henderson
Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats Henry C Mustin
Sailboat Maintenance Eric Jorgensen
The Cape Dory Web Site:
Copyright ã 1999 by Peter Baumgartner All Rights Reserved