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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Twenty-Six

We spent two days and two nights at Swansboro. The rain and wind were not excessive; as George was no more than a tropical depression by the time it reached Swansboro. We would not have been unsafe in an open area, but tidal and river currents, wind and reduced visibility due to rain is not conducive to pleasant or safe boating on restricted waterways such as the Intracoastal. Besides, we met a nice couple from Charleston, who were on their way to Solomons, MD and had a very enjoyable visit at the marina. We departed Dudley Marina in Swansboro at noon on the 19th and motored into the 10 to 15 knot wind heading South. By 1700 we had reached the only convenient stopping place on the waterway, which was the Harbor Village Marina. This area of the waterway affords no safe anchorages in that it is narrow with marshes on both sides that are too shallow and too close to the waterway for safe anchorage. The marina is part of a golf course and housing development and is very nice. A courtesy car is available for transients, but we had nowhere in particular to go so we did not use it. However, we did call for Chinese food delivery, which we enjoyed very much. Who says living on a boat has to be Spartan?

The next morning we got away at 0700 and arrived in Wilmington at 1500. We were lucky this time and had tides and current in our favor almost the entire trip. We spent the night tied up at the free city pier by the Hilton and proceeded to the Bennett Brothers Marina on the 21st of September, where we hauled out for a major refit. We are always impressed when we see Sojourner's 23,000 pounds lifted out of the water as easily as one would lift a bag of groceries. The process involves maneuvering Sojourner between two concrete piers that stretch out into the water. A "travelift," which is a large steel contraption on wheels then rolls out over Sojourner, straddling her. Two nylon straps are then slung under Sojourner; one forward and one aft. The straps are then lifted and up comes Sojourner right out of the water. With Sojourner slung under it, the travelift then motors off the piers and through the boat yard to wooden blocks placed where her hulls will rest until she is next lifted to be placed back in the water. It is an amazing process to observe.lived aboard while we were on the wooden blocks. We had electricity connected and fresh water, so we could shower, cook and wash dishes while aboard, but we could not use the toilets. For this, we had to walk about a fifty yards to the boat owner's restrooms. This was okay, but after a month, it really got old, making that trip in that it required climbing down a ladder from Sojourner's deck and then a climb back up. Not fun, especially at night. We learned to consume no liquids after eight p.m. You might ask what happens to the shower water and dish water? They are simply jettisoned overboard the same as we would if we were floating. Most boat yards that allow liveaboards while on blocks, deliberately put the blocks on a gravel area so any liquids dumped overboard simply soak into the ground. After all, Sojourner was washed down several times and we cleaned her hulls of the old paint, all of which disappeared into the gravel. The paint, by the way is a biodegradable ablative, which means it is supposed to slowly ablate or dissolve in the water over time, taking any barnacles and other stowaways with it.

The work that was done while we were on blocks included both major and minor improvements. First of course was cleaning, sanding and repainting the hulls. This required lots of soap, lots of sand paper, lots of elbow grease and almost five gallons of very expensive paint that is 80% copper oxide and therefore very heavy also. We needed some work done on the top of the mast. There are four sheaves or pulleys up there that were beginning to turn with difficulty. They needed major lubrication. We also wanted to install a new wind indicator that tells us the direction and velocity of the wind via instruments on top of the mast and on the instrument panel. After much discussion with the yard manager, we agreed that the mast should come down for this work. Taking down a mast that is basically an aluminum pole over 40 feet long and weighing a couple hundred pounds is also an interesting process. A huge crane is brought in and the yard's rigger, or person who specializes in masts and the rigging that holds them up, climbs up the mast and connects a belt on the mast about two thirds of the way up. The crane holds the belt. Then the standing rigging or all the cables (shrouds and stays) that hold up the mast are disconnected from the hull. The mast is then lifted up and swung over to the side and laid down horizontally on sawhorses. Once down, the mast can be examined closely and any work done very safely. After examining the wires and cables for all the lights and antennas on the top of the mast, we decided to replace all of them and when installing the new ones, put them in a PVC conduit inside the mast. This would keep the wires and cables from slapping around inside the mast, which had been an irritation for us in that on quiet nights with Sojourner gently rolling from side to side, we could hear the contents of the mast slap one side and then the other all night long. The internal conduit fixed that little problem. We also replaced our VHF antenna and installed a horn on the top of the mast. The new antenna and the new cables vastly improved the range and quality of our radios and TV reception. The horn eliminated the need to carry a small compressed air horn. A horn or some type of warning device is required by the Coast Guard. While the mast was down the standing rigging was also inspected for durability and the running rigging, or the halyards (ropes) were also replaced. I have climbed the mast several times to make small repairs or change a light bulb, and I must admit that working on the mast while it is off the boat is much more pleasant. One last mast related item, the chain plates or the large steel attachments for the shrouds and stays that support the mast were inspected for durability. When all the work was done, the crane was brought back and the mast re-stepped or re-installed on the deck and all shrouds and stays were tensioned properly. We also had some fiberglass work done on the deck where we had some deterioration due to general wear and tear. The yard did first class work and matched the gel-coat or paint extremely well.

By far the most extensive and expensive project was engine replacement. The original engines were going on 18 years old and had about 6,000 hours on them. Although this is not excessive for diesel engines, we were beginning to have irritating and chronic problems with them involving high lubricating oil consumption and leaks. We thought about overhauling the engines, but they were raw water cooled, which means they are cooled by circulating outside water, mostly saltwater in our case, through the engines. Every mechanic who looked at the engines said overhaul would result in so much time and effort, that it would be cheaper to replace the engines. So, we did. The new engines are slightly more powerful being 40 horsepower instead of 30 and of course, they use heat exchangers instead of raw water-cooling. But, as is true with most complex machinery, one fix leads to another. Our propellers needed to be re-worked and the pitch changed to accommodate the more powerful engines, plus one of the propeller shafts had to be replaced. Naturally, the new engines came with new transmissions and new instrument panels with new gauges, so all of this had to be installed also. Lots of re-wiring and lots of plumbing changes for the fuel lines and water lines. we had the engines out, we took out the fuel tanks, which are 72-gallon aluminum boxes and had them cleaned, inspected, and refurbished. This of course necessitated new fuel vent lines and new deck plates or filler caps. Changing the deck plates was really a blessing, because the old ones were rather small in diameter and so many marinas have switched to large diameter fuel nozzles that we had to use a funnel in most cases to get fuel into the tanks. This slowed the filling process and added to the risk of a fuel spill, which is highly frowned upon by the Coast Guard. In fact, any fuel spill that causes a discernable slick on the water is supposed to be reported to the Coast Guard. Most boaters feel that this is rather draconian as far as regulations go, but it does make one extremely careful. Fuel spills are taken so seriously that the marina operators will not fill a boat's tanks, they simply hand the fuel hose to the boat captain; that way if any fuel is spilled, it is the captain's fault. There have been horror stories about people spilling a thimble full of fuel, which can create an oil slick several feet in diameter, reporting it to the Coast Guard, who arrive after the slick has dissipated entirely and still fine the captain a few hundred dollars. As a result, very few people report such minor spills. Which is probably a sane approach. There aren't enough Coast Guard personnel in the world to inspect every minor spill. Anyway, we are happy with our new deck plates.

We would have been back in the water in a couple of weeks, but we took two weeks out while Sojourner was on blocks so we could visit family in Texas and Michigan. We figured that was the best time to be away from her. We just didn't want her in the water for two weeks while we were gone. We finally got launched on Friday, October 27th. The new engines are much more powerful and smoother than the old ones and the transmissions shift much easier also. At top speed, the old engines would not move us past seven knots. The new engines push us along at 8.5 knots max and cruise easily at 6.5 to 7 knots. Our new instrument panel is much improved over the old one and overall, we are very pleased with the entire refit. We now feel we can head for the Caribbean this winter with confidence that we have all systems in first class condition. Stay tuned.

Dates: ,
Locations: Swansboro, NC

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.