Fixing your boat in strange and wonderful places!
Dry rot is not so dry.
One of the benefits/problems of cruising is that sometimes when you boat has a problem, it has to be fixed in a place where you lack parts, skilled workers with experience on sailing vessels, and the tools to make or modify a part.
We discovered on a routine boat inspection which I perform when ever we are taking the boat to sea, that the wood at the base of the bowsprit was on the verge of failure.
Spiritus is a ketch. It had a 4 meter piece of wood that forms the bowsprit. This is the piece of wood that sticks out of the front of the boat for those of you who do not know older sailing vessels. In the case of Spiritus, it adds 7-8 feet to the length of the boat.
It is a critical piece of the sailboats standing rigging. It provides the attachment points for the whisker stays, the Bob stay, and the front stay to the main mast. In simple language, it is the thing that keeps the main mast from falling backwards onto the boat.
It does this by acting as a compression post for all of the forces generated by the genoa, the furled sail in front of the main mast. It also bears the forces of the main and foresail when sailing into the wind. That is a lot of force.
The dry rot was not evident on a visual inspection. The original piece of wood that formed the bowsprit was 8 layers of 1×8 glued together. I am guessing from the age of the boat that the wood was probably Sitka spruce. The piece was then spun on a lathe to shape the end and a stainless steel cap was added to the end for attaching the rigging attachment points.
I noticed a crack in the epoxy paint that covered the wood. Seemed a minor problem until I stuck a pocket knife into the crack and it simply disappeared. When I then pushed it into the wood near the crack, the results repeated themselves. Then I took my fingertip and pushed and uh-oh I could dent the wood.
Can we spell problem.
From where we are in Barra de Navidad, the nearest ship yard with knowledgeable workers is La Crux or Puerto Vallarta. Both are two or three days sailing. The sailing involves rounding Cabo Corrientes, which can be very interesting even with a strong boat. It is not a trip one would take with a crippled boat.
But, I also remembered that this is the harbor from which the expeditions from Mexico to discover the Philippines were made in 1545. If I can’t get a boat fixed in one of the oldest ports in on the West Coast of the Americas, then I deserved to be stuck for being unimaginative.
Corrective actions. We work with what we have.
First, the problem with all this is that the main mast structure is compromised. Fix that first. Two years ago, we had the boat totally re-rigged. Part of that process was the removal of the stay sail rigging. I kept for parts.
Using what I have, I climbed the mast and reattached the stay sail stay. It can support the main by itself if it has to. But the boat is still weakened.
Second, we arranged to have the bowsprit removed. We did this by hand because no one her owns a tool more powerful than a hammer, sledge, wedge, pry bar, and various screw drivers.
In other words, it has to be doable with hand tools only.
Three, before removing the bowsprit, we have to secure the main mast for an estimated 40-50 mile an hour winds. This involved taking the jib/genoa halyard and bringing it down to the cleats and tying off the mast on one side ob the bow. Then we took the main-sheet, reversed it thru the rollers at the top of the mast and secured it to the cleat on the other side of the bow. We left the bowsprit stainless pulpit attached to the bow and used it to tie the furler to so it would not bang around in the wind (if we had any).
Forth, satisfied that the mast is secure, we arranged to have the original bowsprit wood taken to a local furniture builder carpenter shop. The qualifier here was he had to be able to get good wood and he had to have a lathe capable of spinning the 12 foot piece for shaping the end of it.
Fifth, find the wood!
This was actually the most time consuming part of the process. We settled on using a single piece of primivera, which is also called Mexican White Mahogany. The piece had to be a piece of heart wood meaning the core of the tree.
The first piece we tried looked perfect until the very last planing when a center crack was revealed and it had to be discarded. Back to the drawing boards. Second piece was kiln dried, housed out of weather, dried again in his shop for two weeks as he worked it in his spare time.
Using the old piece, he made a duplicate. The original was painted but we decided to varnish the new one because it is a beautiful piece of wood on a beautiful old boat. Nuf said!
About four weeks total from the original start date, we finished and remounted the new nose. Spiritus now has a new beak!
Total cost other than our time. 4,000 pesos times two for the wood. 2,000 pesos for the wood working. 2,000 pesos for the unmounting, remounting, and refinishing with Epiphines varnish. This involved a skilled carpenter, and three and sometime four boat workers.
Oh, and two really long days in the sun taking out the old one and putting in the new one.