Working Hard on the Hard

The time had come to roll up our sleeves. Aluna had by now been in the water continuously for a good five years with only periodic quick scrubbings between tides to apply antifouling before major passages. Since our bottom grating adventure in Hawaii there had been some lesions to the keel shoes and I always suffered a lingering suspicion that the plywood of the keel might have been compromised.

In the early morning of February 24 we motored Aluna up the Hatea River towards Whangarei proper and turned into the little bay at Norsand Boat Yard, which at its end laps up a concrete slipway, where the sizeable Furukawa tractor was at that moment busy hauling out one of those non-descript monohulls. We made Aluna fast to the little pier at the entry and waited patiently for our turn. Once the monohull was high and dry a blue sled was lowered into the water down the concrete ramp and Aluna was diligently roped in until she floated directly over it. The sled was equipped with a clever system of hydraulics and its platform could be raised and slanted at will. Wooden blocks were then placed on that platform precisely under Aluna’s beams and while the workers went for their morning break the dropping tide set her firmly onto the sled.

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Enticed by replenished caffeine levels the tractor soon started pulling on the long extension and soon Aluna’s overgrown underbelly emerged from the waters. She was then put up on blocks amongst many others of her peers and from that moment on time was definitely money. We decided it was best to bite the bullet firmly and frantically went to work.

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A closer inspection revealed that the Australian eucalyptus keel shoe had in fact been rubbed open in various places, which had made it swell to the point of cracking the protective layers of fiberglass that encased it. Fortunately there was no sign of the inner plywood of the keel having been compromised.

I had to consider various options for repairing and reinforcing the keel shoe, but most of the fancy ones like copper or stainless U-channels turned out to be impossible to source or astronomically expensive. True to Aluna’s creative guerilla style engineering I decided to purchase a square section of standard PVC down pipe, normally used for gutters in houses, cut it in half and use it as a mold to fit a solid epoxy shoe onto the damaged keel. Applying the wetted out glass upside down came first, then the mold was filled with excessive epoxy putty made from glue mix. The mold was squeezed on the keel from below and pressed upwards before clamping it on to let the glue set. After half a day the mold could be pried away and a perfectly shaped keel shoe appeared. Having a limited number of clamps (You never have enough clamps when working on boats!) this had to be done in one meter sections. The four spots where the boat was sitting could only be done once the support blocks had been relocated.

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Before that of course a good bit of scraping and sanding had to be done to get rid of the remains of marine growth from all over the pacific. Some amazingly resilient greenish material was the toughest to eliminate, quite obviously the base of the seashells that had made their home on Aluna’s belly. We then extended the copper epoxy base upwards past the ‘theoretical’ waterline to include the splash zone where we had to wash of green algae residue time and time again. Once all this preliminary prep work was done three coats of antifouling was rolled on over an epoxy primer tie coat. The lower half of the topsides also received a new coat of paint.

We were very lucky with the weather. This year New Zealand’s Northland enjoyed an exceptionally dry summer, allowing us to soldier on stubbornly and work our way through an endless list of this and that in dire need to be done while having Aluna’s two hulls standing firm on the hard gravel expanse of the boat yard. Time compressed into a kind of narrow worm hole and before we knew it the month of March had flown past us into the collective history of mankind. Our original date for relaunching had already been postponed to April 1 and in spite of the quirky pleasure of splashing on a fool’s day we begged our hosts to grant us a couple more days of slavery. It was not until April 8, that the blue hydraulic monster returned to pick up our sailing ship and return her to the water.

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norsand - 1 (6)norsand - 1norsand - 1 (7)Aluna did look sleek when she touched her element anew and while boats are boats and you are never able to do all you’re supposed to do, I do think we accomplished a good bit, getting our vessel much closer to being ready for departure. We will soon leave this strange land of queer kiwis, who in spite of saying otherwise are still subdued to the crown of the aging queen half a world away, and hang on to the union jack in their flag in spite of the surging Chinese invasion of their fledgling economy.

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It is now time to look towards the future and of that I will tell you rather soon!

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4 Responses to “Working Hard on the Hard”

  1. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    We worked like slaves!

  2. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    I’m so happy to see Aluna again on the water!

  3. Mario Says:

    A new launching! I remember the first time it touched water in San Leandro Marina — that was a glorious day. Many thanks for the post.

  4. Scott Veirs Says:

    Love the down-spout epoxy mold trick! Brilliant!!

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