Archive for the ‘Building/Maintenance’ Category

Efate

August 3, 2016

We finally found our maintenance bay. In the north of Efate is one of the most protected harbors in Vanuatu. Famous for its role as a staging point for the American fleet battling the Japanese during World War II it is today a calm backwater and Aluna has been laying at anchor in absolutely calm waters for almost a week now, lazily allowing a few alteration projects to slide off the to do list into the realm of reality. The watch bunk in the cockpit is seeing greater use lately as we are much more on the move as during our previous cruising life. Since in its original design it allows for one person to nap we have ended up taking turns between the two of us during passage making. By adding a 20cm extension in front of the bunk we have now a not quite queen size double bunk and can huddle up the two of us if the need arises. We will be testing out the practicality of this new arrangements tomorrow on our passage to Epi Island.
Parallel to this work on creature comfort a crucial advancement has taken shape towards Aluna’s ever present efforts to go greener and greener. Her port motor well has been serving the peaceful purpose of fresh water storage since the abandonment of our two cranky outboard second hand outboard motors and their replacement with a single but brand new 6hp motor back in American Samoa. Now in a process of multi-functionality it will share that space with a new electrification experiment. Already back in New Zealand two sizeable 6V lead acid batteries have managed to sneak in there after being rescued from the marina dump in Opua. Those have now received their very own battery compartment, as close as possible to the location where a 62lb electric trolling motor should soon find its home. I hope it will provide our vessel with minimal maneuverability in the zero pollution realm. As mentioned cautiously, this is an experiment, advancing slowly amongst many more urgent tasks, but you should hear more about its achievements as it receives greater attention in the near future. 
This being the tail end of our experience on Vanuatu’s main island Efate there’s much more to talk about than maintenance and repairs. Once we had made our way out of our peaceful hideaway on the South Coast we found ourselves anchored on a shallow sand patch sprinkled with amazingly virulent coral heads right off downtown of the capital city of Port Vila. It is a noisy corner and we got our share of marching along dusty roads, breathing in plenty of pollution from the frantic minibuses that clog them all day long, and even at night the pounding beats blaring out from tourist friendly restaurants across the harbor waters cut deeply into our sleep. But once you force yourself to overcome the shock about Vanuatu’s exorbitant prices of just about everything there is a practical side to all this. We are after all once again provisioned up for a good while to come. 

As for the experience of it, this town with its laid bare opulence is in sharp contrast to the humble life we have been witnessing in the outer islands. There is no doubt that Vanuatu’s society is a feudal one with very few living on the backs of many. While not easily visible corruption must be rampant to say the least from what one hears behind the curtains and reads beyond the surface. Public moneys are pocketed, tampered with, speculated with and generally used and abused in a whirlwind of back room deals that never see the light of day. Subsistence farming on fertile volcanic soil keeps the lower classes busty but well fed and quite apparently allows this creaming off to continue unabated without major drama. It seems that for the time being revolution has all but subsided and given way to dull resignation.

We did get an interesting insight into the dirty entrails of Vanuatu politics during our joyful visit to the charming folks at Wan Smol Bag Theater troupe. They reside in a sizeable cultural center just outside of Port Villa town and for a staggering 25 years this British couple have been producing cutting edge community theater right here in this cultural waste land. Their center sports a no nonsense reproductive health clinic for local youth and Peter, the director told me with considerable pride that they provide salaried employment for no less than 140 hungry mouths. 

This example of performing arts deeply engrained in the fabric of the community was for us all too good to be true and we sat through their full slate of cultural offerings during our week and a half stay in the capital. First off was a set of health education plays produced by their group of disabled actors. Between rolling laughter and well-versed songs we learned of the importance of washing our hands and keeping our toilets clean. These short half hour plays will tour the schools and community centers of the islands and I’m convinced they will breach the threshold of functional art and make a difference wherever they go. 

Two nights later we were back for more and saw a professionally produced feature film titled “Yumi Go Kale”. The story line was about a family man caught in the web of blatant corruption, where a new minister grudgingly kept a single one of his promises, but only to cover up his dismal splurges of substance abuse, rape and related forms of cultured violence. No happy end covered the trail of revelations, skillfully left in suspense the spectator got out of the projection venue with strings of thoughts planted in his brain that continued to unravel for days to come and cannot help but sharpen the perception of what he’ll find around him. 

As if that tumultuous revelation was not enough we thought it worth the effort to mobilize our small circle of cruising friends for the Saturday night presentation of Wan Smol Bag’s latest oeuvre of stage craft with the catchy title “Hotel Kalifonia”. We arrived with one small gang of eight and soon took our hard wooden seats up in the steep rafters of the semicircular seating arrangement. During the following two hours we endured a crash course in Bislama, the third of Vanuatu’s national language besides French and English. You might have already spotted its clever phonetic annotation of English terms, where California becomes Kalifonia, and One Small Bag transforms into Wan Smol Bag. A densely crafted comedy unraveled in a mock-up of a local restaurant, where an impromptu birthday celebration for the minister quickly turned into a tenacious struggle for power with shifting alliances, outrageous fits of jealousy, drunken bouts of geniuses, hilarious revelations of highly visible secrets and even some hints of truly visionary leadership. Once stripped of the powers of public office our ‘minister’ turned its attention to a gang of lowlifes for a new following and soon returned to challenge the status quo dressed clearly in a different uniform. Once again the treacherous happy ending of cheap comedy was narrowly but very cleverly avoided, which left our amused giggling with a dissonant ring, pointing a persistent finger on our own encrusted status quo, where much work is left to be accomplished in order to stay awake and responsive to the many social misfits in our own environment. In short: what an awesome delight to find such elaborately engaged art of the performing kind amongst the rubbles of colonial South Seas abandonment! 

Our stay in maintenance bay is now winding down with the epoxy cured and functionality added. It’s once again time to hoist the sails and weigh the anchor to continue our trek north. We’re now arriving at the bifurcation in Vanuatu’s Y-shaped cluster of islands, where the eastern branch runs up with another active volcano island named Ambryn, then the two thin strips of land, famed Pentecost and Maewo Islands, and ending up in the Bank Islands, while the western arm sports the fatter isles of Malekula and Espirtu Santo before tattering out in the Torres Islands. Plenty of things remain to be seen and explored!

Working Hard on the Hard

April 27, 2016

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!

Captured by the Spell of the Vessel

February 5, 2016

Boats do have their famous ways to grab your attention in its entirety and dominate the doings of your daily living, exterminating without mercy any trace of free will. I guess that is what exasperated and exhausted men mean when they say the boats are worse than women and when boats are called upon to give their proverbial promise of freedom, I’d like to caution that this does come at a very high price! To cut a long story short we are now in the midst of paying our dues for having abandoned Aluna to the elements for a good twenty months. Boats by their very nature do make their home on the water, and that is a very unforgiving element indeed!

I mentioned in my last post, it could have been an awful lot worse and we certainly are grateful for that. But the transformation of two cheerful vagabonds jet setting across half of the globe and paying delightful visits to friends and family along the way into, once again, scrubbing sponge and epoxy brush wielding maritime construction workers does grind away at the ever meager resources of the psyche. For all of you leading the stable fantasy of a normal life, let yourselves be warned: There is a price to be paid for freedom, and rightfully so. The irony of this statement can not be expressed with any emoticon!

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Here’s a short list of what’s been done since our return and what awaits eagerly at the pole positions of our various lists. The bottoms have been almost freed of the astonishing amount of marine growth, banging away at it from the dinghy with an aluminum scraper on a long stick. This latest and greatest form of cardio workout has helped to raise Aluna out of the water a good inch and a half. The shells of those admirable beings that made their filtering home on our boat hulls sport a density similar to that of rocks, after all they are sand waiting to be ground under pounding surf somewhere on the fringes of our earth’s oceans.

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The aft netting beam came off its two sockets atop the sternposts with the intention of fixing a couple of cracks in the fiberglass. Chiseling away on its ends at Ted’s shop a soggy mess of not very nice smelling dark grey wood soon appeared and before we knew it, the option of constructing a new beam had emerged as a far more reasonable approach to the problem. A short trip to the lumber yard with our newly acquired little wine red Honda Logo with three five-meter-long boards strapped to its fragile roof on the way back provided with the necessary materials for the task at hand. An I-beam with a slightly curved top similar to the Tiki 38’s main beams was deemed the best design, after discarding the temptation to purchase a piece of round aluminum extrusion due to the three times heavier material costs.

alunajan16 - 7 alunajan16 - 8The three boards, two 19x140mm vertical grain and one treated construction grade 2×6, were first glassed before gluing them together. Cutouts where made on the contraption to sit in the sockets and extra layers of fiberglass were laid on the places where the lashings will try to gnaw their way into the delicate timber. Three pads were then added at carefully measured positions to accommodate the blocks for suspending the boarding ramp. The vertical board was a good meter and a half longer than needed. I decided against cutting these ends off, thinking they would make good supports for adding two little catwalks outside the tiller arms. Two one inch holes were finally drilled to either side of the rudders to serve as fairleads for the bridle of our sea anchor, which should help us ride out any serious storm. Finally, three coats of gleaming white marine enamel paint culminated the fabrication and by now Aluna’s newest member sits proudly aft, all that is left to do is attach the bridle for the steering lines and the netting that spans between the center catwalk and the starboard hull before checking this task off the list.

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While I’ve been busy with these testosterone prone activities, Beatriz let her estrogen flow freely by tidying up Aluna inside out to make her livable again, chasing grime and slime and spider webs away sending them off to find happiness somewhere else. The joy about the absence of seagull guano on Aluna’s decks on our return was somehow tempered by the discovery of swarms of swallows who made their agile flybys just before sunset, cruising at breakneck speed under and in between the two hulls. Christian, our neighbor and owner of SV Donella and the mooring Aluna is still tied up to, was swearing out his full German self about their nesting under his sail covers, messing up the sails underneath. The crevices between Aluna’s hulls and decks soon turned out to have received ample decoration marked by the little critter’s poop. But that was an easy clean up, as it became soon obvious, having all dried to little hoops of black dust.

What we had to keep an iron fisted secret though was the discovery of two small nests the swallows had built behind beam number three, just underneath the step I had glued there to be able to walk back and forth behind the cockpit, because we had seen what happened to the poor critters should they end up in the hands of Christian. Little black thingies dangling from SV Donella’s lifelines when observed through our binoculars turned out to be the lifeless bodies of our swallow’s siblings hung by their feet as scarecrows against those undesired intruders.

We granted our guests a two-week extension to their lease while we went for our house sitting stint down to Auckland over the holidays. On our return the three tiny little eggs in one of the nests had turned into fat balls of dark brown plumage slumbering away during daylight while their diligent parents where out and about snapping up enough fluttering critters to come home and feed their brood at dusk. Within a couple more days those fat balls of dark brown plumage had again transformed into aspiring acrobats of the airways, each one of them making the most important leap of faith to adulthood without stranding in the lethal waters below. It was now time to unmount the nests from their inopportune location to contemplate their intrinsically mudded engineering.

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Next up will be the transferring of the big main sail from its old and tired spars to the new bamboo sticks we had glassed just before leaving for Europe on May 2014. These are much more solid than the old ones and will hopefully provide our mainsail with added stiffness, to be able to leave it up in stronger winds to provide ample power of propulsion to our vessel. For February 24 we have booked a date for Aluna to be hauled out of the water at the Norsand Boat Yard in Whangarei, as her bottoms are in need of urgent care. This implies a short sailing stint of about 60 miles down the Northland coast, where those new spars will have to prove their worth. Plans are to sand the underwater parts of both hulls free from the lime stone residue down to the copper epoxy substrate and recoat with an additional coat of this up to the chine line. The failure to do so due to having fallen prey to the persistent myth of the waterline has been given ample payment by scrubbing green algae sludge from supposedly white top side paint. An additional ailment to be cured while on the hard is the port hull’s rudder blade, which had been knocked off its centered position because the ropes of its classic Wharram hinges had not been glued in properly. Aluna has limped across the watery Pacific this way since shortly after we left Hawai’i.

Then, finally and hopefully, once this string of sweaty labors will have been completed, we will be able to turn our attention to planning for the travels ahead. This, of course, is where all the true excitement lies. In the meantime though, the brain must not fall ill while the brawn does its mindless duty!

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Bamboozled by Bamboo’s Beauty

March 10, 2014

Oh, the subtle elegance of bamboo! Its slender culms, its lush, green foliage, its supersonic growth, its dry rustle in the slightest of winds, its ever-expanding rhizomes underground, its million practical uses, its formidable stiffness, its poetic representation in Japanese ink drawings, the simultaneous flowering of a all members of a species across the entire globe, well, I could go on and on and never even approach the essence of this simple grass, witch obviously has clear aspiration of wanting to become a tree.

As you must be aware, bamboo spars are an integral part of Aluna’s aeolian propulsion system. The slender pine saplings from the dense Humboldt County forests I originally tried proved to be not only heavy but much too bendy to give the crab claw sail an efficient shape. The stiffness of the bamboo culm is essential to make it all work, and its minute weight makes it practical to wield the bundled sail across Aluna’s heaving deck and raise it up the mast without breaking your back. The dimensions of our main sail are so big that not just any bamboo will do. Its vertical spar is a good thirty feet long and the lateral loads on its top third are substantial as the wind increases. To find a bamboo culm that is still at least four inches thick at thirty feet of height has proven to be a serious challenge. Only thanks to last year’s mishap while sailing close-hauled into stiff south easterlies with Aluna’s hulls a bit too fouled for comfort are we now closing in on achieving this goal.

You must remember the mainsail’s vertical spar breaking at the point where the halyard attaches and the following temporary repairs from last year’s post in mid-May. At the time our good friend and master ceramic artist Peter Yates had kindly donated two splendid specimens of phyllostachys latiflora culms. That species happens to be one of the best timber bamboos available on the face of the earth. After carefully cutting them down with minimal lesions to its naturally protective waxy coating, we had put them to dry slowly in the shady twilight under Tony’s porch, right up the hills of Opua and overlooking the almost always windy Kawakawa Inlet. A good half of a green bamboo culm’s weight is in the water it contains. But that water has to be extracted slowly. If the culm dries too quickly it will split between the nodes, which would immediately compromise its lateral stability.

So while we were basking in the tropical sun up in the Fiji isles, that excess water evaporated little by little out of Aluna’s new spars, and when I went up to see Tony and the long and skinny temporary protégés of his under the porch, I was pleasantly surprised to see the two culms dressed in a splendid yellow. I pulled the first one out from its shady winter nest. It was light! We easily carried it down the hill through the winding path in the bush underneath his house. Though turning corners with a ten meter long stick in dense underbrush isn’t exactly a piece of cake. We ended up down on the old railroad track, where in ancient times meat was ferried from the abattoir in Kawakawa to the Opua wharf. That track had also had its subtle transformation over the winter. Now covered with a layer of thick metal it had been converted into a bicycle path. For those of you unfamiliar with the quirks of Kiwispeak, metal here refers to grey split rock, which is used extensively as a road surfacing material. I had brought Ted’s bicycle there previously. All that was left to do now was to strap the long stick on its side and I could walk it the half-mile or so to the shop. I must have looked like a kind of present-day Don Quixote, stubbornly spearing invisible windmills while riding his tired old mare!

So here’s how you transform a simple bamboo culm into a high-tech sailing machine: The waxy top layer of the bamboo, as beautiful and naturally protective as it may be, has to go. Epoxy does not like it at all and will refuse stubbornly to adhere to it. Out comes the belt sander and with a good 80-grit belt and many swaying sinusoidal movements of my forearms that outer layer is completely removed and while doing that, the crested ribs at the nodes are also shaved off. Before the end of the afternoon a first coat of neat epoxy is painted on. With energetic brushstrokes I slap the sticky liquid onto the culm but all of a sudden I notice with horror that the couple hours of naked exposure to the burning New Zealand sun had been enough to initiate splitting in three or four places. There are fortunately only slender hairline cracks, but they are growing fast. I turn the culm over half way every ten minutes or so to distribute the heat, and hurry on with the epoxy coating. Soon enough the sun has moved overhead and down to the east. The long stick is now safe, resting in all its splendid length in the shade.

bamboo01 bamboo02There are many ways to skin a cat and many ways to glass a spar. The fiberglass socks I had used to glass the pine saplings are definitely my favorite. Once cut to length you bundle them over your forearm, slide it over the spar and then pull from both ends. The diagonal fibers now squeeze tightly around it for a perfect fit. But here in the New Zealand hinterland I had no access to such refined materials. A leftover roll of 6oz cloth left over from the building of Aluna still lives on in her bellies, so that’s what has to do. I cut the meter-wide cloth into four strips of a little less than a foot wide, with the idea to spiral wrap those around the spar with just a small overlap. For that to work without ending up wrapping that strip of epoxy soaked fiberglass cloth all around yourself in despair, the spar needs to rotate freely, so that you can apply the cloth always on the top. I screw a plate of scrap plywood to the bottom end of the culm and insert a strong screw into it at precisely the pivot point. This screw I then suspend in a notch on a stand, while the upper end of the culm is free to roll on a horizontal one on the other end. Yet another quickly fabricated stand serves as a helping hand to put down the roll of fabric while epoxy is applied.

bamboo05 bamboo07 bamboo06Good fortune is it that Tony had offered to come and help with the operation. It would have been a heck of a challenge to do this on my own! Once we have worked out the methodology of it all, it works beautifully, just like a charm. A soon as we have covered about a third of the 10 meters with cloth, and the epoxy starts to get tacky at the beginning, my very own cellophane trick needs comes into play. A roll of simple kitchen wrap is spiral wrapped tightly over the still wet glass cloth. This not only squeezes the epoxy down through the cloth into the underlying wood, but also shortcuts the laborious process of fairing and sanding. If done with sufficient dexterity it leaves an almost smooth surface behind once peeled off after the epoxy has hardened. On a flat surface the perfect tool to apply the fairing mix is a stiff squeegee or a trowel. I’ve experimented with many different things to be able to do the same thing on a rounded surface. This time I stumbled upon the ideal tool for the job. A simple length of round electrical cable of about a foot is held with both hands and pulled along the top half of the spar with the fairing mix spread on irregularly. Once again a certain amount of dexterity is needed, and practice creates the master. If you do it right one, round of fairing and sanding is all that is needed to make a good-looking finish. I was so enthused with my new invention that I used it also to apply the primer. I’m never after a glossy finish in anything I build, so I’m quite happy with how it has all turned out without having to sweat excessively and waste too much time for jus the looks. Two coats of white enamel paint should provide enough longevity to our new spars to justify the quite taxing workout!

bamboo03 bamboo04 bamboo08 bamboo12 bamboo11 bamboo10 bamboo09Once the spars are coated and painted I carry them on my shoulder down the same new bicycle track to the little beach under Tony’s house, where little Alunita is waiting to play the role of a tugboat. Both spars have a rope tied to one end and I slide them into the water. Before the little wavelets push them over to the rocky shore where their still tender enamel paint would be scraped and scratched, I paddle out with the canoe and the two long white sticks in tow. I’m unsure of what literary figure I might resemble now, but soon they pulled up over the hullsides and come officially aboard their new home on the decks of Aluna.

Business unfortunately calls out again for another stint down south to Auckland soon. Beatriz will take a course there to become a certified Pilates instructor, transitioning from the wild performer she used to be, to a diligent reformer of human bodies. I therefore do not have time to assemble the new mainsail before leaving. I’ll have to report back to you on how it all ended up. But there is just enough time to tackle another little project that has been sitting on the list for what seems to be approaching eternity. It all comes out of nowhere and is finished in a fleeting moment.

Back to Building Again

March 2, 2014

Human things seem to be made to break, some sooner, some later, but eventually all of them do. If you happen to be an optimist, those are times of opportunities. They provide you with chances for making improvements to those things while you repair or rebuild them. One of the major challenges when building Aluna way back when was the difficulty to imagine the precise use and the corresponding structural needs for many of the details on the build. After having been out there with our vessel in the big and wild blue and having had to suffer through every one of its shortcomings, it’s much easier to come up with ideas for design and engineering improvements.

Alunita, our tender and by birthright a Gary Dierking outrigger canoe, while being a very sturdy means of getting to and from our ship for the last couple years, has also been a bit of a headache in many ways. It’s ama, which is the Hawaiian name for an outrigger canoe’s stabilizing float, was just marginally efficient in stabilizing the craft. While heavy enough to prevent a capsize to starboard, it could be easily driven under water when leaning on it or when sailing with wind on the opposite side. On top of it, this ama, which was no more than a log of heavy wood with successive coats of desperate paint slapped on it at various times, had become quite waterlogged and worm-infested over the last year or two. Then a week after arriving here in the Bay of Islands back in December in the chop of a nasty Southwesterly the aft iako, one of the beams that connect the float to the hull, broke just where it attaches to the ama while the canoe was being banged about while tied to Aluna’s side. It was clear now that there was yet another building project firmly established at the top of our ever-swelling list of maintenance chores.

With time being of the essence I decided to build from a plan, which is always faster than coming up with your own design. Gary Dierking in his excellent book Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes proposes to build an ama out of thin plywood by making an elongated box float on one of its edges as a keel and with the two ends drawn upwards forming a perfect canoe shape. The first order of the day then, as soon as I was back up here in the Bay from our stint into the urban wasteland, was to procure a good sheet of 4mm plywood. Ever helpful Tony had volunteered to drive me around for the shopping spree. As much as I would have liked to get a sheet of certified marine ply, this proved to be wishful thinking in the lonesome backwaters of economically depressed and politically abandoned Northland. After some searching in the area’s building supply stores I had to content with interior ply, fortunately enough one with a very smooth finish. I knew I would have to be generous with the epoxy on it, so as to make sure there could be no possibility whatsoever of water infiltrating into the wood.

Remembering what I didn’t do during the building of Aluna, I gave the whole sheet of plywood a good epoxy coating on both sides, before even thinking of cutting it up. This is a hundred times faster than laboriously having to coat every piece of the build. The finished ama was supposed to be 3.6m long, one and a half time the length of the sheet, so each side panel had to be scarfed. Four 15cm wide panels were soon cut out and five square bulkheads, also with 15cm sides. Two each of the former were glued together at right angles to make the top and bottom half of the ama. I then made up two little stands for the future float to sit in upright.

ama b 03 ama b 02 ama b 01 ama a 4 ama a 3 ama a 2 ama a 1At this stage it was necessary to bring to a definite end the long nagging haggling about which connection method I was going to use to join the new ama to the iakos. The outrigger canoe’s float is essential to the stability of this craft and you don’t want to lose it once you’re underway on the water. This connection has been the subject of intense studies over the many years since the Europeans had first ventured into the vast waters of the Pacific and with wide eyes had to acknowledge a shockingly abysmal inferiority in their naval technology. Depending on which region of the world you’re in you’ll find a whole range of ways this engineering problem has been tackled. From a direct connection to a iako that is bent into a down-sloping curve to touch the ama directly as used for instance in Hawai’i, to all kinds of arrangements with a number of sticks that distribute the substantial load on the joint, to the clever ‘quick connect’ method used in the Marquesas, there are hundreds more variation on the theme.

ama a 5 ama b 04 ama b 05 ama b 06 ama b 07 ama b 08 ama b 09Having a second look at the broken iako I was again amazed at the lightness and sturdiness of these natural branches. There was no sense in building new iakos, I mused, there must be a way to bring these trusted pieces of equipment back up to specs! An hour or two of sanding later the worn and tired old iakos were stripped to the bare wood, with the nice, light beige color of their wood making me think that they had just been picked up on some azure blue beach up in the tropics. Obviously, since one had its end broken off, the distance of the ama to the canoe was going to have to be reduced a bit. Their downward bend brought me to favor the Marquesan style connection, which is precisely what Gary proposes in his book. Once again the ease of working with plans had gained the upper hand!

ama b 10 ama b 16 ama b 15 ama b 14 ama b 13 ama b 12 ama b 11Two slim boards are inserted into the top of the ama with a slight slant towards the canoe. Holes are drilled into these boards a couple of inches above from where they emerge from the amas. Pegs inserted into the ends of the iakos enter into these holes and the top end of the board is then pulled towards the canoe with a rope lashing. This effectively locks the two parts together while allowing for the slight flexibility needed by any multihull craft busy with finding her wavy way across the waters of the world.

Pretty straightforward kind of stuff, really, but as usual, the devil happily resides in the details. Once the basic shape was assembled it had to be faired, then glassed, faired again, then sanded, then faired a little more and then sanded a little more, primed, sanded even more and finally two coats of enamel paint had to be applied.  Soon enough, after a fair bit of patience and persistence our canoe was reassembled and could be carried to the water for a first testing the new setup.

ama b 17 ama b 20 ama b 19 ama b 18The re-launch was done without too much fuss at the boat ramp just South of the Opua Marina’s F-Dock. That’s always a choppy stretch of water, especially when the tidal currents run at their fullest. I paddled out into the wacky waves and it felt good. A little wiggling and waggling though made it clear that the reincarnation of Alunita was a wee bit tippy to port. The weight of the new ama was obviously much less then the old log from before. And as it turned out my guess at the height of the hole where the pegs enter the boards sticking out of the ama had been a good bit too high. Just as well I had saved the plugs from when I had cut those out! The next day the ama returned to the shop to glue those plugs back in to the existing holes and to drill new ones about two inches further down, just above where the struts exit the body of the ama in fact. In addition I shaved some wood from underneath the little supports where the iako is lashed to the hull on the opposite side of the ama. In reality the hull of the canoe has to lean quite a bit towards the ama when floating empty, so that when sinking lower once fully loaded it will end up sitting about vertical.

ama b 21 ama b 24 ama b 23 ama b 22Two days later all the pieces wandered back to the beach for the launch of version 2.0. This time all went smooth and Alunita was finally back in business. She is now much more stable towards the ama side, the new one providing ample floatation. You can lean out and put your weight onto the iakos without pushing the ama underwater as used to happen before.

Check! First item off the list! Next in line are Mama Aluna’s new mainsail spars, the giant bamboo sticks that have been slowly drying over the winter under Tony’s porch. Tomorrow we’ll go and check up on them!