Monday, April 16, 2018


The Westsail Sistership next door

They parked a nice looking Westsail 32 right next to Emma and me last week. Today a marine surveyor showed up to do an inspection for the new owner's insurance.

“I don’t know if they set it right there to inspire me or to taunt me,” I said.

“Well, yes, she’s a pretty boat,” he replied, “She’s a Westsail 32.”

“Yeah,” I smiled, gesturing toward Emma, “ … same hull.”

“Oh my goodness! Would you look at that.”

Emma was neglected enough that I could afford her and lately I've been sanding 3 or 4 mysterious
layers of paint off her hull. I don’t blame him for not recognizing her. He went on to tell me what a solid ocean-capable design I had - very rugged boats he said. I explained that I had found her in Miami with no engine and brought her here because I knew the marina and the people who ran it.

“How did you get her up here,” he asked.

“We sailed her -- about 120 miles; overnight. It was a glorious sail.”

“With no engine! Gosh, that’s brave,” he exclaimed, “You’ve got to have a certain confidence in yourself and your boat. Well done.”

I didn’t tell him that it was the first time I had ever sailed her. It is only unusual to sail a boat with no engine because most skippers wouldn’t do it. It is not so brave; not some heroic endeavor. People were sailing boats without engines for thousands of years. It had to be done and Pete and I did it.

He inquired what engine I had bought for her and raved when I told him it was an old Perkins 4.108.

“That’s perfect; a wonderful engine for her,” he said.

And as if by magic, just as we were talking, the marina guys pulled up with my Perkins engine to drop it in the boat for a dry fit. The surveyor had a couple Westsail questions for me during the afternoon and we chatted a few more times. I helped him find the other boat’s fuel tank and took a good overhead picture from up on my boat for his report.

I can’t wait to get Emma back in the water. We are going to be one hell of a team.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The venerable Perkins 4.108

Aveling & Porter Steamroller
Frank Perkins and Charles Chapman were working on a high speed, lightweight diesel engine at Aveling and Porter, a British agricultural engine and steamroller manufacturer when the company went out of business. The two engineers were convinced of the potential for diesel engines - a new technology in the early 1930s -- and started F. Perkins Limited in June 1932. The company became Perkins Engine Company Limited, is still producing diesel engines today and is now a subsidiary of Caterpillar.

After World War II, Perkins found they needed to make smaller engines to fit the smaller post-war cars of Great Britain. They successfully began a period of development and technical advancements in the 1950s that led to their engines running a variety of cars and delivery vans; even an Alfa Romeo. The venerable 4.108 engine came along in the latter part of that decade and found success in the agricultural equipment sector. At one point, a 4.108 was installed in a VW Transporter leading to a three year contract for a slightly larger engine while VW developed their own.

In the 1960s the marine business discovered the 4.108 and the engine’s real legacy was established. Between 1958 & 1992, 500,000 4.108s were made; many tens of thousands found in medium sized sailboats of the era. One Perkins powered Francis Chichester’s round the world Gipsy Moth IV; the first solo
Chichester & Gipsy Moth IV
circumnavigation along the old Clipper Route. The last contract Perkins filled for the 4.108 was for auxiliary power to run the air-conditioning in British Tanks during the Gulf War.

Used everywhere from tractors and agricultural pumps to British tanks and sailboats, the Perkins was known for its rugged durability and reliability. I crewed on a boat where the owner had spent nearly half again as much as he had paid for the boat to resurrect the boat's Perkins engine rather than replace it with a newer one. We pushed that engine hard all the way down the East Coast and it never even hiccuped. I kind of joined a cult on that trip. I now own the same brand sailboat and I found a Perkins 4.108 to power her.

When I found the Perkins it was too early for my project, but it had been lovingly rebuilt as a hobby project. It was torn down, cleaned up, individual parts painted or replaced, and rebuilt with new gaskets and seals. All that and it was only $1500 more than the rusty, dusty Perkins I’d have had to rebuild myself. And I suck as a diesel mechanic. I jumped on the deal and arranged for the engine to be stored here at the marina. At the time, I thought it would only be several weeks before I could get at the installation.

Fourteen months and two hurricanes later, we are measuring the engine bed to finally get my Perkins 4.108 installed. The poor thing started out just in the door of one of the shops here, but was then moved out under a carport-type of shed. We had no direct hits last season, but hurricanes Irma and Maria came close enough to strongly affect our weather. I had been stopping by infrequently to oil any bolts or fittings that had got the stain of rust on them. There was a panic when I had removed the transmission thinking it was best stored onboard Emma for the time. Luckily, I had told one of the ladies in the marina office so when the marina guys started puzzling about the missing trannie she settled them down. My engine hadn’t really been “put up” properly. Life got in the way and circumstances beyond my control caused a much greater delay than I had imagined.

Part of the delay was that Emma’s engine space had been stripped and used for storage. I had to purchase, install and plumb two fuel tanks; purchase and install thruhulls; buy a sea-strainer and all the
plumbing bits for raw water, fuel etc. But Emma and I are nearly ready. Recently, I had tried turning the engine [reminder: I don’t know what I’m doing] and was nearly distraught that it felt stuck. I didn’t [and don’t] have any idea if there is a spectrum between “stuck” and “siezed.” I had gotten a great deal, but had still spent a pretty penny on the engine. Many depressing thoughts of expensive repairs or starting over with a new engine were spinning through my brain. The marina folk had a simple idea: we should start this engine of yours before you spend the money to install it in your boat. Brilliant. However, the marina mechanic was backed up and it took nearly a month to hear from him. Just enough time me to start thinking that the reason I wasn’t hearing from him was that the news was so bad.

The best possible news has come!! This last week, Walton, the engine guru, started my 4.108 just fine and ran it for half an hour. He replaced a couple minor parts and has a plan which I have approved. The projects that were giving me the most nightmares all relate to installing the engine. Walton is going to
Engine Bed
measure the bed for an adapter, install and align the engine, test the driveshaft for length and straightness, and find me a proper propeller. Yes, it’ll cost more money than if I tried to do more of that myself, but it will be way less time. And rather than learning by trial and error, I will be learning by hanging out a bit with Walton as my engine gets installed. I will plumb all the raw water and fuel lines and wire up the control panel, but I’ll have him come check my work.

My #svEmma project has felt like it was caught it in the doldrums, not moving forward, but now with some positive news and proper forward motion I am super excited and just feel much better about everything. Life is frikkin good.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Positive Friction

My former self would just not understand. I used to be a Live Music Addict. My life was coordinated for maximum enjoyment of watching good people play good music. Many times, my pursuit of that rush of watching music made came at the expense of most everything else in my life -- budget, health, etc. I don’t regret any of it; it was almost always fantastic.

I had a ticket to see Donna the Buffalo last Friday night but decided not to go. DtB is on my see-before-you-die list, but I chose to go to bed early in order to get up Saturday morning and get back to my boatwork. My former self would be pissed.

The money I spent on the ticket was long gone; didn’t matter. I actually bought it months ago when the show was first announced (It was a band on my list playing just 45 minutes away). Yet, I had work to do and decided to keep at it. Surely, I didn’t need to spend more money on drinks and food at the venue.

Boatwork on Saturday was a little frustrating as I knew it would be. Part of my motivation to stay in and get to work was to finish investigating the strange patches I had started to uncover the weekend before. As I was sanding on Emma’s starboard side before, I had run in to a couple spots that appeared to be some kind of repair using expanding spray foam.

This weekend, I sanded the stretch of topsides that included those two patches. They must be some old storm damage -- poorly repaired. In fact, what looked like foam was a layer of some kind of caulk that had reacted strangely with the paint over it. This layer was a couple millimeters thick and peeled right off as it had not bonded to the layer below it. The lower layer is more solid but had not been sanded before the mystery layer was applied over it. I believe neither repair is structural, just really bad cosmetic repairs hidden, probably purposefully, under the thick, cheap ass paint I’ve been sanding off for two weeks.

I bought the boat from a Miami lawyer. I bought her sight unseen, as is, where is. Even if I had an issue with this latest find -- and I don’t -- I’m sure the lawyer covered his bases well. It's even possible that he was not aware. I've come to disbelieve two-thirds of the legend he told about the boat. I bought Emma for $6000 and expected some surprises; even a heartache or two. Nevertheless, these two spots are really the first ugly surprise. Indeed, there have even been several very pleasant surprises. I got a hard dinghy in the deal and many sails in decent condition. Further, I knew she had no engine, but I didn’t know what was done where the driveshaft exits the boat. Whoever took care of this did a wonderful job, saving me a lot of frustration and even more money.

Emma is my girl. We’ve already been through a lot together. I’m still working on keeping all the promises I've made her. No one should expect that a relatively minor setback would change my mind or give me second thoughts. Emma is a Westsail 32, exactly the boat I wanted. For whatever reason, I found this W32, she found me, and I’m committed to her. She’ll soon be a lovely girl again, all by my own hand.

Now for the cynics out there who read that last paragraph and chuckled, this is not bluster, not some overly romanticized prattle just to cover my ass for regretting my purchase. For those cynics, here are some practical facts: I found a strong, ocean-capable vessel that needed some love -- and an engine. I have already done a lot of the work needed and I have an engine. In fact, the marina engine guru is working right now to adapt Emma’s engine bed to my engine and begin the installation. I have only some body-work type repairs to do, some painting, the inspection and replacement of rigging components and a few minor projects before Emma can splash back in the water. Emma and I will be sailing sooner than I could start over with another boat.

I could sell the running engine, put Emma on the market as a half done project and go back to work. “Back to work,” however, means slipping back into the matrix; modern wage slavery. The more time you spend in the system, the harder it is to see how stuck you really are. I am not yet totally free, but I’ve spent the last eleven years taking the red pills. I see the system for what it is and want no part of it. Emma is my third “escape” boat. I know that starting over would mean a minimum of two more years. Even with this minor setback of a couple new spots to repair, I will have Emma back in the water and sailing in less than a year. I'm not saying that she will be perfect and pretty by then, but she will be safe and seaworthy and we will be off.

Life is good; as good as before.

Epilogue: For those of you keeping track, “in less than a year” is way past the May 1, 2018 that I had ‘committed’ to last year. For some time now, I have not been using that date in my own plans. The lucrative, so-called part-time job that I’ve had since October was no where near part-time. This has cost me a couple months, at least, which means I can't get out of Florida before hurricane season; too much yet to be done. To fix that problem, I am switching to a 7 days on, 7 off trucking gig this month.

The good is that rather than rushing toward a goal that I naively foisted upon myself, I have downshifted and will have time to do what I'm doing well and complete a few additional projects between now and sometime after hurricane season. Emma and I will both be in better shape for it. I no longer speak in terms of dates on the calendar. Emma will let me know when she’s ready. She’s as impatient to get back to sea as I am.
In the meantime, enjoy 'Positive Friction' by Donna the Buffalo: 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Better Than Homeless

Riverside Marina is really a boatyard. That sentence could have ended -- ‘really just a boatyard,’ but boatyards are important to sailors. For a vagabond like me, Riverside is an inexpensive place where I can do my own work. Often at a capital-M marina, there is only a small category of work that a skipper can do on his own. Most boatwork must be done by hiring marina staff or approved contractors.

There are a couple hundred boats here. Many are here for major refits like my Emma. Some, on a schedule, are here for a few short weeks of intense work and then go right back in the water. Many Canadians spend winters in the Bahamas and store their boats here each year for the summer hurricane season. The property used to be a cement plant and boats languish in the back of the lot, in the gravel, with fading For Sale signs swinging hopelessly from the lifelines. Many more poor, neglected boats here will never get back into the water. Some are literally rotting into the ground.

The “marina” part of Riverside is a man-made cut into the mainland north of Fort Pierce. This cut is lined with docks and, before hurricanes Irma and Maria, docks extended out into the water on each side
Before the storms
of the privately maintained channel. The remaining docks are occupied by a hodge-podge of boats, power and sail, in varying degrees of seaworthiness. Deep in the marina are a couple rough boats tied to the wall. Each day I walk by and marvel that they are still afloat.

Both boats are occupied by gentleman who would probably otherwise be homeless. Apparently, however, they are paying the slip fees and have enough to eat (and drink). One boat appears to be a Dreadnaught, a first cousin of the Westsail 32 like Emma. I actually haven’t seen that guy in some time. The other boat is a 1970s production boat with some curious modifications and no mast. I’ll call the guy that lives on the second boat Dan. I used to park just above Dan’s boat in the lot. At the time, I was coming and going at all hours of the night. I’m not sure he always appreciated that, but whenever I saw him during the day we would wave. I’d say “Good Morning” and he’d answer “It’s a beautiful morning” with special emphasis on the ‘bee’ of beautiful. I never heard many other words from Dan.

After Irma & Maria
A couple days ago, I was just starting a boatwork day, when I realized that I needed more gloves. There is a fiberglass supply shop very nearby. I grabbed my trash (always multitasking) and hiked out of the boatyard toward the dumpster and then my car; perhaps a hundred yard circuit. The last leg took me along the main driveway and past the two sad derelicts. Dan was sitting in his cockipit in the morning sun. He was the vision of a certain archetype Floridian: boonie hat, nicotine-stained mustache, old t shirt, ragged shorts and flip flops.

“Good Morning.”

“It’s a bee-utiful morning.”  And then unexpectedly, “Are you going by AJ’s?”

I’m not sure I had ever heard two sentences right in a row from him. After the jolt of it, I presumed that he meant the little gas station up the road.

“Sure,” I said, “I’m off to buy some gloves. I can take you that far.”

Just then I stubbed my toe on an uneven board in the dock. With a two-step and a twist, I managed to remain standing. Dan was struggling to stand up and step out of his boat on the same dock.

“I’ve been looking for that nail sticking up.” Dan said.  As he slowly joined me on the dock, I got the
The basin
idea that he was already half in the bag that morning. There was an empty case of Bud Light on the floor of his cockpit, but he was walking, so I assumed that couldn’t have all been from this morning.

At my car, I moved the sunshade to the backseat and grabbed a couple loose bottles off the floor to make room. Dan folded his lanky frame and joined me in the car with an awkward, hesitating motion. As the wind blew through our open doors, I got a pretty strong shot of dry sweat, stale urine and maybe that last beer or two. I had assumed he was living on the edge, but poor Dan was living more roughly than I thought.

On the way toward the store, Dan asked how my boat was coming along. He asked if I was getting gloves for fiberglassing and chuckled when I said I was stripping paint. He knew what that was like from helping friends with their boats.

I took the back way on Old Dixie Highway and drove up the hill toward U.S. 1. Dan corrected my navigation as I wasn’t quite right about where AJ’s was. I use the little gas station across the highway coming home from work, but AJ’s is the party store on the other side; nearer to the boatyard.

Couple hundred boats
Dan climbed out of my car and stood on unsteady legs. “Well, I would wish you a wonderful day,” he said with a smirk, “but with all that paint stripping, I know you’re not going to."

He marched toward the store with a carefully clumsy, day-drinking stumble that kept perfect time with his uneven coughing laughter.

I couldn’t help but smile myself that a guy like Dan, just barely better than homeless, was enjoying a laugh thinking that he was going to have a better day than I.

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...