Remember when I said we may have bitten off more than we could chew with the boat yard projects this year? (Catch up here) Well, the decision to remove both of our hatches, take ‘em apart, and refinish them, wasn’t even on our project list so that might have been a big, big bite.
Five or six weeks ago, when we scheduled the boat yard crew to sand-blast Sanitas’ keel, Capt Mike had the brilliant idea to have them sand-blast our aluminum hatches at the same time. So we disassembled both hatches, leaving two large gaping holes in the “roof” of our cabin and salon, and threw a tarp over the holes. It really was a good idea to address the blistering paint and fix any small leaks. Except…
The yard didn’t get around to the sanding for two weeks (Island time!)
And we learned they couldn’t sandblast until after we manually removed old adhesive and glossy paint
Rainy season started immediately
And the project was much, much harder than we expected! 😳
Six weeks later, we’ve survived sanding, torrential island rains, and oh so many coats of paint. After a bit of swearing, we even figured out how to put it all back together again! What a relief. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that simply writing this brief summary is bringing on a few PTSD flashbacks. I am so relieved to have Sanitas waterproof again, and I hope I never have to do this particular project again!
Sanitas is back in the boatyard for the most active part of hurricane season, and Capt. Mike and I thought we might have a nice little vacation from the boat. You know, stay in a pleasant apartment, rent a car, maybe explore the island of Grenada, doing hikes to waterfalls and discovering isolated beaches. But no. Instead, we are up to our eyeballs in boat projects. As we walked home yesterday evening, covered in paint residue and mud and completely exhausted, I asked Capt. Mike, “Do you think we got a little bit carried away this time?”
It all started with our normally scheduled annual haul out and inspection of the hull and keel that are usually hidden below the water line. The red anti-foul bottom pain hadn’t held up as well as in previous years – we got a lot of hard and soft growth on the bottom this season, and we’d scraped the red paint all off and down to the blue layers underneath in several spots. Perhaps the Puerto Rican boatyard had applied the anti-foul too far in advance of splashing into the water last fall? And then we looked closely at our lead keel and noticed spots where all of the anti-foul and primer were gone, and we could see the exposed lead. Well, that’s a problem. We’ve got to do something about that.
So we hired the team at the Spice Island Marine boatyard to sand Sanitas’s hull. The goal was to get down to a good layer of primer so that we could reapply lots of layers of anti-foul paint and be really confident in our hull’s condition for the 2021 cruising season. But…between sand blasting and hand sanding, they took off much more than we expected. Primer? Fuggedaboutit. They took the keel down to exposed lead, and sanded the hull right down to the white gelcoat. In fact, we can even see the fiberglass in some spots. Uh oh.
So, now instead of a couple of coats of anti-foul, we have a big project on our hands. We have to finish sanding and prepping all the parts they did poorly. Then we have to epoxy all the spots where fiberglass is showing through. Next, four or five layers of Interprotect 2000e epoxy primer – with very specific temperature and humidity constraints and dry times between coats. THEN we’ll finally get to the point where we can start applying the anti-foul. And all of this primer and anti-foul contains some pretty yucky chemicals and toxins, so we’ll need to apply it wearing respirators and a paper bunny suit. I have to admit, I’ve stopped even asking what all of these jars of epoxy and primer and paint and solvent actually cost!
Oh! And did I mention that since we were having the yard sand the hull down so far, we decided to raise the water line? That means we’ll apply anti-foul a couple of inches higher this time, because I guess I provision too many canned goods and Sanitas always sits lower in the water than planned. And once we raise the water line, we’ll have to repaint the dark blue boot stripe a couple of inches higher as well? And of course we have to find the right color blue to match the other blue trim on Sanitas so she doesn’t look trashy, right?
So if you want us over the next few weeks, you’ll find us in the boat yard. Definitely sweaty, probably covered in paint, most likely hungry or thirsty, and guaranteed grumpy. I hope it’ll all be worth it and Sanitas will be in the best shape of her long life when we’re finished!
Hurricane season is our down time on Sanitas. We hunker down someplace safe, and we work on the endless list of repair and maintenance projects that have piled up during the Caribbean Cruising season. And…we shop. A lot. We shop for boat parts, we reprovision canned goods and paper products, and we replace the many, many household items that have rusted, ripped, broken, or otherwise wore out through daily use in a hot and humid and salty environment. But this year, for the first time, we couldn’t return home to the US, aka the Land of Plenty. No Walmart, Home Depot, or West Marine. Not even a short trip home, leaving with empty suitcases and coming back with them filled with oil filters, new hatches, and anchor chain. So once we’d made peace with the idea of spending the entire hurricane season in Grenada, we decided to bring the mall to us.
I’m not gonna lie, it can be expensive and intimidating to order goods to be shipped to Grenada. Back in July, we shipped the supplies for our custom canvas project via air freight (essentially FedEx) which charges by weight and volume and that adds up quickly. Also, imported goods are subjected to both import duties and VAT – the sum of these taxes is 35% to 45% of the value of the item 😳 But, I learned there are two tricks to making this somewhat affordable:
1) We found a shipping company that uses sea freight. Yep – putting a cardboard barrel or box on a ship and sending it the slow way across the Caribbean sea from Miami to Grenada. For sea freight, we paid one price of 600 xcd (about $200) for shipping and handling based on the volume of the container, not on the weight. So it was in my best interest to order enough goodies to fill that box to the very top with the heaviest items possible, don’t you think? The guys at West Tech were great – they even sent us a photo of our box as it filled in Miami.
2. I worked through the red tape and paperwork to certify that the items we bought were all “transiting ships stores.” In other words, none of the boat parts, electronics, or clothing would stay in Grenada, but would be leaving with us when we continue to cruise north after hurricane season. Getting a C-14 form to certify this took a massive spreadsheet, lots of invoice tracking, half a ream of printer paper, and a lot of time at the Customs office. But it’s worth it – it reduced our overall duty from 45% down to 2.5%
You know how you order 6 things from Amazon and they ship them in 5 different boxes? We’ll imagine that frustration over a dozen Amazon orders. In fact, we ordered so much within a 48-hour period, after ordering nothing since last November, that Amazon locked our account and canceled an order because we triggered a fraud alert. TWICE. And that’s another reason for my massive spreadsheet. I tried to track when each package had arrived at the warehouse in Miami, so I knew when to tell the shipping company to go ahead and close up our box and put it on a boat. I now know the formats of UPS, USPS, and Fed Ex tracking numbers by heart!
You know how you hear stories about slow downs at the US Postal Service? Well we finally got bit by that chaos. Our final package was an envelope of documents that had to travel from Jacksonville, FL to Miami, FL. And it took three weeks. And apparently it only ever made it to the Miami post office and not actually to the address of the warehouse. Which means it never made it into our great big box. Good grief!
All the effort was worth it because last Friday Capt. Mike and I took a day off from the boatyard to celebrate Christmas in September. Our E-size shipping container was delivered right to our apartment where it was entirely too big and heavy to fit up the stairs, lol. So we spend the rest of the day shuttling shopping bags of boat parts to the boat and kitchen items to the kitchen and perform a fashion show of my new Skirt Sports wardrobe, and try out the new Soda Stream and really do feel just like kids on Christmas morning.
Was it worth it? Hard to say. When you add up the cost of shipping items within the US, and then across an ocean, and then pay import duty on top of the US sales tax, it’s sure no Amazon Prime free 2-day Delivery. But it allowed us to acquire a bunch of specialized spares and maintenance equipment for Sanitas. And it allowed me to replace the pair of sandals I’ve worn every day for two years until they are falling apart at the seams. And if all else fails, and I need a dry place to live, I’m pretty sure I could sleep comfortably in my size-E shipping container cardboard box!
Stuck in Grenada for hurricane season, this is the time of year we GET STUFF DONE! Each year, we invest time and money into a few big upgrades or maintenance projects that will make sailing life safer or more comfortable in the years to come. This year’s big project….replacing the canvas!
When new sailing friends ask “Which boat is yours?” in an anchorage, it’s kind of hard to answer. “Well, she’s the beige boat. With a beige sail bag. And a beige bimini and dodger. Never mind. She’s the cutter-rigged double ended of no particular color.” That’s practical – light fabric is cooler in the tropical sun, and it won’t fade. But that same strong sun has taken a toll on our canvas nonetheless, and it’s been right on the edge of falling apart this whole season. A couple of times a year, we hand sew the zipper back on the sail bag….again! And the metal frame that supports the dodger is showing right through the fabric there. We’re one tropical storm away from everything ripping right off!
So we made it a priority way back in July to meet with Ever After Canvas in Prickly Bay for an estimate and to take measurements. Because, we can’t just drive to Joann Fabrics to buy the supplies for this big job. Instead, to acquire Sunbrella fabric, plastic zippers, and 100% UV-proof thread that can stand up to the harsh marine environment, I ordered everything from the US and shipped it from Miami to Grenada using the EZone freight company. No free two-day-shipping here! I placed the order; got a C-14 form from Customs and Immigration to certify that all items would be leaving Grenada on our boat, and therefore I’m entitled to lower import duty; and eventually picked everything up almost four weeks later.
Jules and Frank, of Ever After Canvas, run their business from their boat, powering their sewing machine using a Honda generator. So we picked up a mooring ball just behind them in Prickly Bay and prepped to spend the next couple of weeks measuring, fitting, and installing. Frank’s a true artist; he tweaks each fabric panel and fitting until it fits perfectly. He was able to do most of the work on our sail bag before we even arrived, so we had the first piece of canvas installed quickly.
That gorgeous new sail bag whetted our appetite for progress, and we couldn’t wait to see the finished product. Along the way, we’d even added a few upgrades to our current system, such as shade panels on all sides of the cockpit, a water catchment system built into the bimini, and better rain protection. You know how you drive to Home Depot at least once a day while you’re in the middle of a big DIY project? Well Capt. Mike dinghied ashore just as often to buy new stainless fittings from Budget Marine, or added a mile-long walk to Ace Hardware for pvc pipes and bungees. And he and Frank worked together to get each piece installed perfectly. Frank worked his butt off, and got everything completed and installed within the two-week period we had free before we were scheduled to haul out at Spice Island Marine for the worst of hurricane season. Hooray! Finishing on schedule almost never happens! (Island time, and all 😁)
I think everything turned out great! Sanitas looks better than ever, and Capt. Mike and I are really looking forward to a more comfortable cockpit. Bring on the sundowner cocktails, and beautiful tropical sunsets!
At long last, all of our hard work in the boatyard has paid off and it was time for Sanitas to go back in the water where she belongs. Back in May, we picked a pretty arbitrary date toward the end of November to schedule our put-in. It was the only entry on Google calendar, except for our flight from Puerto Rico back to Colorado for the Skirt Sport retreat. Now suddenly; after six months away, a summer spent in the US and Europe, and nearly a month of sweaty, dirty work in the boatyard, the magical day had arrived.
We went to the marina office as soon as it opened, to pay our boatyard bill and to get our wet slip assignment. Engineers that we are, we showed up at the boat with a long list of things to do before our 10:30 appointment.
Everything went fairly smoothly, so we weren’t too upset when the travel lift operators showed up early. Sanitas did the long walk to the water in reverse of her spring trip: first a ride on a narrow, hydraulic trailer, then transfer to the slings of the travel lift. We were relieved to see Reuben of RBS Marine show up to touch up the anti-foul paint and to put down plastic before the dock hands lowered her into the slings. We followed the travel lift in its slow, lumbering transit out of the boatyard and to the water’s edge.
When they lowered Sanitas into the water bow-in, we clambered over the bow spirit and climbed aboard, checking first for leaks or open throughcocks, or anything else that could cause us to immediately sink. All looked good, so we signaled the dockhhands to tie us into the slip, and to drop the slings. That’s when everything went pear-shaped.
I turned the key to start the diesel motor and – click click click – nothing happened. We checked fuses and battery settings: nothing. Capt. Mike went below and started throwing things all over the saloon the get access to the engine, the battery banks, and the switches and lots of tools. He pulled up the cockpit floor to get access to the back side of the engine. The dock master started yelling at us; “You need to start your engine or call Sea Tow. See that boat right there? They’re waiting to get hauled out from this slip.” Now it’s pretty much impossible to work through a problem in a calm and reasonable manner when somebody is yelling at you and pointing at the clock. It made me very cranky, and Capt. Mike quickly hit the limit of his troubleshooting abilities without taking time to ready the bugs or research online. We confirmed power was getting to the starter, but that’s it. So we texted Bianca, our boat caretaker, and asked if she knew of an electrician or diesel mechanic who could help us.
By this time, I’d been ignoring the dock hands or responding “ok, ok” for about 15 minutes and they were getting very irritated with me. The new threat was, “We’re going to bring the lift back and haul you out again in two minutes” an action that would have cost us several hundred dollars NOT in the cruising budget. Just then Bianca sped up in her truck and introduced us to an electrician who’d been working on the boat next to her in the yard. He hopped aboard and followed Capt. Mike below decks to investigate.in less than five minutes, he found a grounding wire that had hosted free, reconnected it, and magic! The engine started right up on the next turn of the key. We handed him a couple of 20s, helped him back ashore, and we escaped the put-in slip at last.
I’m still pretty angry about the whole thing. We had that appointment from 10:30am to 12:30pm reserved for six months. There was no call for them to try to fit an extra boat haul out during our very expensive appointment window. It’s the only thing so far I have not been happy about in our Puerto del Rey experience. But all’s we’ll that ends well, and I’m grateful that we had a good relationship established with a boat caretaker who could get us a resource to solve our problem so quickly.
AND…at least Sanitas is back in the water, in a slip, and we can start to get back into cruising life!