Saturday, December 6, 2014

Boats that go bump in the night.

I get consulting jobs now and then on how to fix fiberglass boats that everybody else says cannot be fixed. I love fiberglass in that any boat or part made from this material can be brought back to life.
Remember that Americas Cup sloop that cracked in half? A month later it was back sailing better than new.
Three years ago, while I was building the trimaran in St. Augustine, I got a call from an old Bahamain friend of mine from Spanish Wells saying that he had just crashed into an unlit sailboat at anchor off of Egg Island . His boat, a 33' Sea Vee, had tee boned a 49' ketch right in the middle with end result of sliding up and into the center cockpit . He and his fishing partner along with 3 Hatian helpers and a load of 20 crawfishing "condo" traps had left Spanish Wells at 4:30 in the morning on their way west to the Berry islands to set these traps, move others and crawfish for the week. It's a 42 mile open water trip. It was flat calm.
I have been on many of these trips. It's always a beautiful early morning ride running along and over the clear Sandy bottom then running through the Egg Island cut and then feeling the hopefully slight swell of the ocean for the crossing over to the Berrys.
On this early morning trip they were nearing the turn to make the cut with five men in the boat looking forward when they slammed into what turned out to be a home built Bruce Roberts ketch that was painted an almost black green. 
They say they never saw a light, that it was anchored in the navigable channel.
What happen was the boat slammed into the side shattering the bow but still sliding up the side with the two Mercury engines running wide open trying to climb over the ketch. The two Spanish Wellsmen were behind the console and were slamed into it breaking the windshield and instruments. Both suffered broken ribs and cuts. The Hatians were aft and forward sitting on top of the 80 lb each condos. One was severely hurt the other two only bruised. 
My friend only remembers the shock at first of what was happening and then kicking into survival mode after having the sea water coming in over the stern hitting his feet bringing him back to his senses. He put the boat in reverse and backed off of the ketch and meanwhile startled and terrified owners of this sailboat had come on deck. The Sea Vee was sinking and his crew was bleeding so he yelled to the sail boaters his name where he lived and that he would be back to help. Going wide open he made it back to town where he slid the bow up on the beach to stop the boat from sinking.
I got his call two days later with the pictures you see here of the damage. The question was, could it be fixed locally by the men I knew, and how long would it take? He had already sent the photos to the builders of this boat. One look and they said no way, a dead boat. It was not insured. He had the last part of the crawfish season to finish and knew that there were a bunch left and he needed this money to cover the repair job. What did I think? 
I had been in his boat a lot so knew the layout but had never seen one of these boats being built.
But I know how they should be logically put together under the deck where you will never see what went on. I am not a fan of Bi Axel cloth in construction as I don't like the way it gets wet out by hand. Too much air in the laminate. That's why I belive they shatter like you see in the photos. Take one of my Spanish Wells skiffs hand laid up the old fashioned way and it would have slid right over that sailboat doing tons more damage to the ketch and all but not so much to itself. Of course I don't want to prove this point. I belive anything built in glass can be fixed. From the photos I could see from the inside layout on how to cut out the interior liner and deck to get at the insides and how to put it all back together so as to look new. I knew the guys that would be doing the work. They welcomed me to oversee them, and teach them some new tricks. 
I got a flight over the next day. The boat was hauled out and waiting for me. I drew lines across all the deck and liner areas to show where all the cuts were to be made and how to cut these lines straight with an aluminum angle and double sticky tape as a guide. I drew sketches and diagrams of what was to be expected when they would start removing all the deck pieces and how to not break anything.
Most production boats follow a similar build plan. This one sure did. Most rely on goobered putty to bond the liners to stringers and other easy landing spots. This is fast and simple but heavy and not so strong. I drew out a layup plan on how to reglass from the inside first and then to rebuild the outside last. The bow was shattered so I showed them how to screw plywood strips over the bow to hold its shape while they removed most of the dead glass from the inside. These men had grown up watching me build skiffs on the island over the years as young kids and had now filled in my old place as the local repairmen. They knew glass work on a basic level but are quick learners.
I had to get back to finishing my trimaran build so only stayed this one day. With the internet I could be reached at any time to answer all questions as they arose. Three weeks later I came back to show them how to make the new lifting strakes as the old ones had to be removed. The boat was back running in 4 weeks time with a new AlwGriped topside and saved my buddy's season.
Since then it has been through hell and back and all looks new. 
That's why I love the wonders of fiberglass.
Now back to the crash and the unfortunate sailboaters. It's a long drawn out story of both parties blaming each other. I will not get into it here, but will make an observation.
My buddys have done this run thousands of times. It never varies from port to starboard more than a
Hundred feet. Just look at the GPS tracks. They both have eagle eyes from years of looking for signs of fish. BUT they now have a big ass GPS screen on at all times and the glare from this is terrible even on low. When I go along I always sit forward looking in the wind till clear of the shore.
The Sailboaters claimed to have had on an anchor light and were anchored way off in the corner of the bay. I was shown a picture of their boat right after the collision. They had one of those old school Davis anchor lights hanging inside of their dodger. I belive they had just made the crossing and were anchored in what is a very busy traffic zone for boats. There is now way the SWs guys could have been where they claim to have been anchored after the fact. We'll never know.
This home built boat being built the old fashioned way suffered a small wedge crease in its sheer , a ruined rub rail, and a cracked cockpit coaming. They were incredibly lucky. 
In the Bahamas there are no designated anchorages. So having an anchor light on is not enough for American style litigation. Both parties went on to repair their boats on their own.
The Sea Vees repair job cost a total of just under $20,000.00
My bill for this was nothing as my buddy was the best man at my wedding on Spanish Wells .
 Anchor defensively at all times!!!!
The skin was shattered through to the inside.
This is what a bad day on the water looks like
The stern seat rocker post shoved  them right into to console pinning them there. Thy had 10 condos stored aft.
This does not show the real damage to the interior. What a mess.

The boat after three years of hard use since the repair.
Like new. In the inside you have to really look to find the seems to see where it all went back together.

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