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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

News from Loon County early June 2012

Hi D and acolytes,

Once more, happy integer rotations around the Sun since your birth! I am not going to say anything anodyne, but what I always say is: "All I want for my birthday is another birthday."

Not much except routine stuff happening in the village . No dramatic reappearance of the Russian Princess. She flies in tonight, I understand. All parties are on emergency alert. RP's husband, visited our lawyer to be told that, no he didn't have to and shouldn't leave the house, and that if she called the Children's Aid Society about him, he was to file a complaint about her neglect of the children...stay tuned for more drama.

In other news, we have been going to the boatyard every day for 4 hours or so. It's coming along very nicely, we have (I think) solved a couple of problems with the original construction - both annoying and both involving water. It might be obvious that, with a boat, most of the problems are of the water-related kind. However, it may not be obvious that the type of water that is the trouble is not the stuff that the boat floats in. It's the stuff that falls from the sky, even on the finest night. Rain, fog, dew...our problems are two. The first is a day one problem with the boat, the other was a day one problem compounded by our earnest attempts to "improve" things.

I am not sure are you familiar with the ancient engineering wisdom, called the Problem Solving Flowchart? This was one of the first attempts at an ascii drawing that I remember seeing, working as a young new grad in an engineering office in the '80's. Engineers thought it was hilarious in those happy, simpler times; but then, and still, engineers tended to have a less-then-refined sense of humour and think that jokes about body functions are wonderful. I actually survived with minimal brain damage and was only hit on by two marketing men (engineers in the natural state are far too shy to actually talk to women, hence the fart jokes...) 

I am not sure if Geoff or Shelagh can read the chart out to you, but basically it says that if you fuck around with something that's a problem, now you are responsible for the problem. So the problems that we had on the boat were (as I said) two: number one; there was a puddle that used to collect on the step just outside of the main hatch, because it was angled towards the hatch and not away, towards the drain holes. Should not be a problem, you perhaps say. What's a few ounces of water on a step? However the times that I, or Don, early on a fine sunny morning, drew aside the hatch, lifted out the boards to get out and appreciate the lovely day, took a deep breath of clean, cool air, and stepped, usually in stockinged feet, into that puddle, is too large to number. Often, both of us would do this, twice in the same day (the dew drops down just as the lovely stars come out...)

You might not think that this is source of exasperation. However if you are travelling in a boat, the number of dry socks that one can pack is limited, and the opportunities for drying them are also limited. Truth be told, one only gets a single sock wet at a time, and we always buy a pile of the same socks each, so it's not like we are walking round with mismatched socks. But it is demoralizing when the expedition is taking place with a large number of socks festooned around the cabin in the rather pathetic hope that they will dry in a constantly moist atmosphere. It's like a Youth Hostel in a particularly damp climate, (Snowdonia in Wales, springs to mind. A whole room, optimistically labelled The Drying Room, filled with the gently mouldering reek of scores of unwashed warmish, wet woolen socks and assorted other garments. Shudder.) Anyway, the step had to be modified to slope slightly outward. Don has filled it with a plywood wedge embedded in epoxy, and has spread a thick layer of epoxy on top. My job is to sand it smooth, fill in the bumps, then paint it with a non-skid paint. 

Incidentally, we have found a fantastic, waterproof, non-skid paint! (I warned you, previously, that boaters, are monomaniacs on the subject of paint, did I not?) This product is called KiwiGrip (made in New Zealand) and is a kind of latex paint the consistency of soft butter. You trowel it on, use a textured roller to get a pattern of random small peaks and let it dry. Really good on a sloping surface even when covered with water (...I warned you I could bore the legs off any quadruped on the subject of paint.) Only downside is the price (eek!) which is considerable. The man at the Chandlery smiles his approval when you heave a gallon of this stuff onto the counter before him. Nothing's too good for your cherished boat is it?

The second problem is the one we fucked with. All the authorities on restoring a boat, publications with titles like This Old Boat (or "Don Casey" as in "Don Casey says that you should...", The Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual (referred to as "Nigel" or "St. Nigel says...") and From a Bare Hull (which, although it has a vaguely erotic ring to it, isn't; except if you're one of us paint and caulk-stained wretches, dressed in rags, buying paint at $200 per gallon); all of these worthy publications refer, repeatedly, to "pulling the chain plates" as the absolutely most important part of a serious refit of an old, tired boat. (It is sometimes called a "thirty-year refit" for obvious reasons, I suppose, but, like a house, you don't want to do more than one of these in a lifetime. This is our second. Happy sigh.) 

The chain plates are pieces of stainless steel bar that are attached to the ends of the rigging wires. Basically they keep the mast from falling down. They attach to (we hope) a strong point on the boat, usually the sides of the hull interior. To get to there from the outside, they have to pass through the deck, at three points on each side of the boat, and at the very end of the bow and stern. So we have a basic mechanical system. A strong stainless wire, under considerable tension, is attached to the mast top at one end, and to a stainless bar at the other end, which goes through the fibreglass deck (about 2 cm thick) and is then bolted with four large bolts to a bulkhead built out from the inside of the boat. All fine. So we are back to the water problem. When we bought the boat, two of the six side-deck chain plates leaked rain water into the lockers, both on one side of the boat. 

Oh, I forgot to say that the reason that you have to "pull the chainplates" is that, unlike popular belief, stainless steel does rust. Not easily, and hardly ever when exposed to air. However, if air is excluded, say by a glob of caulk to try to make the chainplate hole in the deck waterproof, it can rust. If the corrosion gets bad enough, the chainplate can break and the mast will fall down. The kind of life-threatening excitement that we boaters try to minimize, I'd say...

So we pulled the chainplates (obviously when the mast was down), there was some pitting, which is common, but no cracks or crevices (we used a kit of oil-based dye and a sticky white powder to check for this; more money to the nice men in the marine supplies business). We polished them up and reinstalled them. This involves caulking them where they pass through the deck. All looked lovely.

We then have the mast put up again, reattached and re-tensioned the rigging.  The first rainstorm exposes the same inevitable pools of water in the lockers. But this time it's on the other side of the boat as well! Another thing sailors are known for is colourful language...

I forgot to mention that two of the chainplates protrude below decks in quite inconvenient places. One is in the head (toilet) compartment where we have to remove the toilet, dismantle the sink, bathroom closet and such to get at the bolts; the other is inside a hanging locker. A locker that you can hang about six jackets in and which is so narrow that you have to twist your hips to sit down in it. Then the bolts are conveniently so high that you need to stretch up slightly beyond reach with a ratcheting socket, feeling around and with a flashlight balanced on your nose to undo the bolts. They say the CIA tortures people with "stress positions" for hours at a time. Even doing this for 10 minutes means we come out feeling pretty "uncomfortable" as the medical profession would have it.

In short, we were not best pleased. However, we put up with the leaks last year by putting things inside plastic boxes. The extra moisture didn't improve the wet sock situation at all. When the boat was hauled last year we said we would try to fix the problem. It seems that we had had no leaks before we put up the mast, but we did when we tensioned the rigging. Probably the pressure caused the thin layer of caulk to separate from the deck allowing water in. We think we have a solution to the problem, but the fun thing about this kind of repair is that you get to try it only once a year - it costs $300 to the very nice man who owns the marina, to take down the mast and then another $300 to put up the mast again. I swear that there are very few Pirates of the Caribbean these days; they are running boating repair shops, marinas, and, of course, waterside drinking establishments where boat owners go to drown their sorrows and argue about paint.

So that is the long, boring tale of life on the ocean waves. As if. We hope to launch before July.

Other than that, and two dramatic deaths in the Township, not much else to report. Usual rowing, cat wrangling, and hilling up the potatoes.

Neither of the deaths has been classified as suspicious, much to the chagrin of the local OPP members, who have to hearken back to a shocking, still unsolved shooting of a police officer in the village during the '60's to really feel like they are detectives. However, it's always refreshing at my age to talk about someone else dying. And it seems to get more interesting the older one gets - we are still in the race to nowhere and someone else dropped out, I suppose.

About 10 days ago, a couple of divers found a body, off the village beach. This is exactly the kind of excitement that the diving geek loves. The deceased turns out to be a man from Lanark County, who had wandered away from home, hitchhiked to the St. Lawrence and ended up drowned. He was reportedly a sufferer from a mental illness, poor man, so the death is presumed suicide, "while the balance of his mind was disturbed" as British Coroners used to say to grieving relatives, so that Church authorities would bury their loved one on consecrated ground. There is now a driftwood cross at the beach where he was pulled from the water. Very sad.

On Friday last, a body was found on a track behind the marina. Another sad case. As related by a marina worker, with more than a little relish - gossip is great currency in these parts. We got the full story. The deceased was an older man, who hasn't been the same since his wife died 25 years ago. His habit was to cycle daily to the cemetery by the Seaway Lock to visit his wife, then cycle home via the LCBO to pick up his comfort. Presumably he lost his license to drive years ago. This is the main reason the local people here use bicycles. Other than children and yuppies, that is. He would bike through the rough track alongside the marina (which was a railway before the Seaway was constructed). It is mosquito-infested and overgrown but basically passable. When he didn't get home on Friday, his son drove to the cemetery at 1am, expecting to find his father passed out. No sign of him. The next day, Saturday, the son set out by foot and found his father dead on the track next to his bicycle. Poor man. He called the police, lots of commotion, yellow tape etc. and then they waited 5 hours for the paramedics to arrive. I would suppose they consider removal of a dead person to be lower than an emergency. Needless to say, our informant was much exercised by the authorities' "not even covering him up in all this heat and flies and everything" - with some justification I think. Then a boater's wife came into the marina office where people were talking quietly to the man's son, and made a crass remark that anyone would think there was a dead body out there, there's so many police cars about... to their credit, they said, "Yes, it's the father of this man here." Swift retreat of loud-mouthed lady...

Anyway, that's quite enough gossip and dramatic paint-drying stories for one letter...

See you guys soon, we hope,


Sue & Don.

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