Tech Talk No. 1 – Getting Ready To Go Cruising

A bit of a rough trip to Fremantle

After 40 years in the mining industry, of which the last 8 ½ involved flying to Africa on a regular basis, it was time to move into the next phase of Suzie’s and my life, cruising in our Nordhavn powerboat ‘Opal Lady’. The plan was that after finishing work at the end of March 2019, we would do some regular maintenance on Opal Lady, get her ship shape and head off by the end of May.  At the same time, we would also sell our house and move aboard. Easy, what could possibly go wrong? As part of our budgeting we had allowed $100k for upgrades and maintenance work. But for the pre-cruising work I had thought about $30k, with other upgrades to be done as we travelled. We got that wrong too! As has been described in many articles and blogs over the years, this phase invariably takes longer and costs more than people generally allow.

This article is to describe our pre-journey and the reality of getting a boat ready for ocean going, a boat which had been effectively used very little for 5 years (due to the extensive travel involved in my work).  As we all know boats are made to be used and when left for extended periods do not perform well.

The Plan

We planned initially to take the boat down to Fremantle boat yard in late April, from her home port of Mindarie. Of course, the only day we could organise that fitted with tradies and the boat-lifters meant our having to travel in 4 hours of head on 20 knot winds, gusting to 30knots, with short sharp seas.  So, we were very glad to arrive at Fremantle and have ‘Opal Lady’ safely on the hardstand.

Multipurpose rod holders

The planned list of work included:

> Hull cleaned and anti-fouled

> Polish hull from gunnel to waterline

> Fix slight ding on starboard rubbing rail from an earlier docking learning experience

>Install rod holder under rear canopy to get fishing rods out of front shower cubicle and make the Admiral happy

> Install two new shelves in stairs cupboard and en-suite cupboard to increase usable space

> Service tender & outboard motor

> Change all zincs

> Propspeed applied to main and wing running gear

> Have the Murphy gauge checked as it had been freezing.  It was sent to Sydney. All checked and ok.

It was important that the work was done over a short time, as during this period we also moved out of the house and were staying in a hotel in Fremantle to minimise travel time, so expense would quickly add up.

All of the above went well and additional work completed while on the hard included:

> Fitting a Johnson 4000 pump into main bilge to replace the ineffectual Jabsco 34600 and a spare pump ordered

> Installing a larger thru hull for the increased bilge pump capacity

> While talking pumps we found the Edson manual bilge pump was corroded and replacement parts were ordered (this is not to back up the emergency pump, we just use it to keep the bilge dry

> Replacing all bronze screws on HF plate (these were found to be badly corroded)

> Tracking down a stray current issue, which was found to be a broken grounding wire from rear zinc to steering gear (more on this later)

> Installing smoke detectors

>Replacing the (out of date) life-raft

After two weeks ‘Opal Lady’ was back in the water motoring on flat seas to Mindarie. This is when the fun really began. As part of tidying up maintenance jobs, we had the hydraulic fluid for the steering topped up and the system purged. While doing this work the mechanic noticed something very wrong with the rudder. The rubber gland was stuck fast to the rudder post and twisting badly when the steering was turned. This also explained the broken grounding wire which had been causing the stray current issues. After a number of consultations with various experts, it was agreed by all that to prevent the chance of copious amounts of unwanted water appearing unexpectedly inside the boat and the associated stress and risk that would involve, no more movement to the steering should be made and the boat would need to be towed to the nearest boat yard, Hillarys, for repair. This was to be an expensive exercise as with a full fuel load we were very heavy (32 tonnes according to the boat lifter in Fremantle) and we would need a commercial tug to do the job.  One of the issues we faced was that to be towed the weather had to be fair and we had a series of storm fronts coming through, so the waiting began. We had returned to Mindarie on the 13th May and were finally towed down to Hillarys on the 20th June.

Opal Lady being towed

While waiting for the tow we made the most of the time and had the following works completed:

> A 380 watt solar panel was fitted, which works a treat

> The Intellian I9 satellite system was checked over, wiring upgraded and a larger smart TV was installed (yay)

> Arrangements made for upgrading of the software on all our Furuno gear. (This was to lead to our next major problem)

> The water maker was removed for a complete service (we had not needed to turn it on since we bought the boat)

> Changed all the oils on main, genset and wing engines

> Replaced the elbow on wing engine exhaust

New composite gas bottles

> Replaced gas cylinders with new composite bottles (when we went to refill the existing ones, we found they were non-compliant with Australian standards)

> Replace the corroded aluminium water sight gauges with an industrial stainless-steel model

The Rudder Project at Hillarys Boat Yard

Support shoe in place and rivets nearly all removed
The shoe removed, but the rudder still in place

The first job was to get the rudder removed. After cutting all the brass rivets and removing the shoe from the bottom of the boat, we found the rudder would not drop down.

Jesse and the blowtorch

This was resolved by the judicious use of a blow torch in the lazarette, which I can tell you made me extremely nervous.

The rudder finally dropped

This took about three goes before the rudder finally dropped down.

Everything was cleaned up beautifully, including new stuffing and a new stern gland. While we were at it, we repacked the wing engine stuffing box.

What had us beat with the rudder was why rivets were used on the shoe, but we figured there had to be a reason so decided to use rivets again. The question was how do you install them? The solution involved contacting the Blacksmith Association of Western Australia who kindly agreed to assist.  Again, more waiting while a length of copper rod was machined to the correct diameter and the rivets were prepared

While we waited, we serviced the bow rollers for the anchor.  We found the main stainless shaft was nearly worn through (the worn channel on the right of the thread) and was so completely burred up we had to cut it through to remove it.  As we always use a snubber when anchoring this shouldn’t be a recurring problem.  But the fix was bigger than the simple regrease we had expected.  It involved much driving all over Perth to find firstly stainless-steel rod, and then the right size stainless steel rod, and then get it drilled for split pins. Finally, both rollers were fully refurbished, but it is amazing how each small job became more complicated.

Everything laid out in the order it came off

The other job we completed was maintenance on the Maxwell anchor winch which went relatively smoothly.

Back to the Rudder

4 holding bolts and 6 rivets done

Finally, on the 2nd July, the blacksmith Ken (a retired teacher with a blacksmithing hobby) arrived along with Andrew, the owner of S2S who was providing us with all the mechanical assistance and who had chased down the solution for the rivets. What an interesting process it was? Essentially, we used threaded bolts to tighten the shoe in place and then the rivets were sequentially installed.

Ken working the copper into a rivet

What was fascinating was how the 20mm of rivet protruding from the shoe was then steadily hammered down into a fully finished rivet head. All done without heating.

Ken had done a great deal of pre-site work. Making up the rivets required him to first make the tools for this specific job.

Andrew manning the sledge hammer

The only small hiccup was my having to head out to go and buy the biggest sledgehammer I could find, to provide a backing for the other side of the rivet to take the force as Ken steadily hammered away.  I even got a chance to do one myself to give Ken a rest. 13 rivets, 2 smashed fingers and 4 hours later the job was done.

The next day Andrew was back at the yard. After changing out the Walbro fuel transfer pump, which had also given up working, ‘Opal Lady’ was put back in the water, the glands on the rudder post and wing engine shaft were tightened up and we were off back to Mindarie.

On the way we noticed an error message on the stabilisers saying we were in reverse, but after consulting the manual (and in the firm knowledge that we were not going in reverse) we bypassed the alarm and continued on to Mindarie. Upon checking later, we found the sensor at the transmission on the engine had some oil on it (probably from when an incorrectly sized cable clamp was replaced to prevent the throttle from getting stuck).  Cleaning of the oil solved the issue.

So back at Mindarie, what next?

The Electronics

As part of upgrading the electronics we knew once we were back in the water, we had to calibrate the Autopilots (we have 2) to the steering. We also needed to change out the Simrad AIS which had stopped picking up targets and as it was an old model, we decided to replace and upgrade.

Lesson – Be careful where you store things

The autopilots were behaving erratically when we first headed out and the compass bearings disagreed.  Once we located the compasses (under a panel at the bottom of the guest wardrobe – not the first place we looked) the problem was easily traced to the magnetic disturbance caused when we stored the spare bilge pump on the ledge outside the wardrobe.

So began a long saga. With the help of Greg from Taylor Marine, we found a significant number of issues, partly due to the age of the equipment but more importantly due to the fact there was no wiring diagram and the system was not set up correctly. It took over a week of Greg patiently working through the maze of wiring to ensure all Furuno units were talking to each other correctly and the newly installed ICOM AIS was talking to the Furuno plotter and radar. As a matter of interest our electronics include:

> 2 x Navnet vx2 10”screens > 1 x Navpilot 710 autopilot > 1 x Navpilot 500 autopilot > 2 x GP-32 NAVIGATORS > 1 x LS -4100 echo sounder > 1 x Furuno 24” Raydome radar > 1 x ICOM 500TR AIS > 2 x ICOM VHF units > 1 x Codan HF unit > 1 x Intellian I9 satellite TV system

By the end of this exercise, including repairing some tiny wires where I had drilled a screw through the new GPS cable (many bad words were said), we had a fully functioning system with associated wiring diagrams. We still have the VHF interfering with the AIS and the music radio can be turned on without flicking the power switch, both of which we assume is due to the nest of wiring that we just didn’t get to.  Ultimately, when we get over to the east coast we will probably look at upgrading the Navnets and other electronic systems.  Many thanks to Greg and his boss Karl for their assistance through this trying process.

The Gas System

Finally, while the electronics were being sorted, we realised we needed to renew the gas certificate for ‘Opal Lady’. No problems we thought, new gas bottles, all good. WRONG! It turned out our whole system was completely non-compliant.  This even included the stove, which was a full-blown household stove, but had no flameout detection which was going to be too costly to retrofit, so it had to go.

The solution was to purchase and fit a new standard marine stove and re-pipe and wire the gas system. The boat actually picked up a list to starboard as the new stove only weighed 40kg as opposed to the 120kg of the old one. Of course, to install the stove, new woodwork and stainless-steel surrounds had to be manufactured to size, which all took time and money.  But the end result was brilliant and we ended up with an extra storage drawer underneath for the pots and pans.

The gas system was tested and signed off on the 31st July.  The refurbished watermaker was also reinstalled that day.  Along with our electrician helping with the gas detectors, it was a busy boat that day. 

Lessons learned

The final bill was around $90k, not far off my original estimate.  But we had to upgrade things earlier than expected and also accommodate the unexpected issues (rudder, gas, electronics) that came up. My original estimate was based on the experiences of others, which I think is why it turned out to be quite accurate, but we found out how quickly things add up.

The Big Lesson was ‘use the boat’! As a lot of these issues would have shown up earlier if we had used the boat more regularly. Unfortunately like a lot of people, when you are flat out at work this is easier said than done.

Don’t be tied to a schedule. Although we had originally wanted to leave at the end of May, realistically we were flexible, so this relieved a lot of the potential stress. Having said that we found we did have to keep reminding each other that we were flexible.

Use good people. We were very lucky and had a number of excellent tradies, which proved invaluable.  They were all very happy to explain, in detail, what they were doing.  So the whole exercise became one long teaching lesson. We did not have one bad experience, which over the period and large amount of work involved, we found remarkable. A special thanks to Hugh from Perth Marine Electrical, who was involved in the whole process.  Hugh knows more about our boat than anyone and is a good friend with whom I have spent a number of evenings having a beer as we solved the worries of the world.

Lastly, keep your sense of humour!

and keep track of your tradies
Too late! The boat has eaten him

For those interested in how much maintenance a boat requires, below is the complete list of works that have been carried out on ‘Opal Lady’ since she became ours in 2014 (she was built in 2009).

Excerpt from the maintenance log

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