Spirit of Gaia renovation, 20 years after her launching (Part 1)

Home Articles Spirit of Gaia Renovation Spirit of Gaia renovation, 20 years after her launching (Part 1)
By Hanneke Boon

We sailed here (Messolonghi, Greece) last Sunday, four days ago. Before that we (four of us) spent one week in Trizonia, in the Gulf of Corinth getting Spirit of Gaia ready for the move. This meant lots of cleaning, and scraping the underwater ship to remove the encrustations of 5 years lying in harbour. While scraping from the dinghy with a long-handled wide scraper, Michael saw pieces of coral 4 inches long.

63 foot catamaran on the water

Then we needed two working motors to get out and into harbour. We had brought with us a new Yamaha 9.9hp 4-stroke, high thrust engine and also the top half of an engine the same model as our old Yamaha 9.9s (three years younger and in much better condition, but fitted with a hand start). This motor had been sitting in the Cornish engine dealers workshop for years as someone had stolen its gearbox tail. We bought it cheap, as the dealer had no use for it.

We needed to remove the old engines. The lugs on the old engines were seized and required hours of work to undo, one lug had to be sawn through as it refused to move, it had Ifor hanging head down in the engine well for quite some time, cursing! Meantime Klaus busied himself fitting the new control cables, new batteries were bought and the new engine burst into life without trouble as expected.

The platform turned into an engine mechanics workshop.

The other engine had to be rebuild, the old tail fitted without problem, the hand start system was removed and replaced with the starter motor of the old engine, we also dismantled the carburettor, and cleaned out the dirt from perhaps 15 years ago. The engine head looked otherwise very clean and we feel it had been used very little; compared to the old engines it looked like new.

Then there was a hiccup, we tried to start the motor and discovered the cogwheel on the (hand-start) flywheel was a smaller diameter than required for the electric starter motor. So the motor was hauled out again and now we had the problem of changing over the flywheels. We had no flywheel extractor!! We tried to make up an improvised extractor, but only managed to bend the steel plate, which was not of sufficient thickness.

Fortunately Reinhart, our local contact (he had looked after Gaia in our absence) knew of an outboard engine mechanic in the nearby town of Nafpaktos. This man was willing to come out to the island at short notice and do the job for us quickly and efficiently. It did take many heavy blows of a large hammer to remove the flywheel off the old engine, which was seriously seized on.

A mechanic working on an engine
The engine mechanic changes the flywheel.
Workers having lunch on deck
A break for lunch, Klaus, Ifor and Michael.

After days of being engine mechanics it was wonderful to hear two engines purring away and to clean off the grease. We now had one day fitting sails and getting the boat shipshape for sailing. We were joined that day by Michael’s mother, Jenny, who came to do the cooking and housekeeping from now on.

The sails are put back on the mast.

Sunday morning in the quiet of dawn we cast off and quietly motored out of Trizonia harbour. It was wonderful to see Gaia move again in open water, to see her come alive under sail. Soon the wind picked up out of the East and with a free wind we sailed towards the high bridge over the mouth of Gulf of Corinth. It was a beautiful sail that had us anchoring off the beach outside Messolonghi in the early afternoon where we could swim and enjoy the boat for the last day in her natural element.

Watch our video of the voyage:

Hanneke at the helm
Hanneke steers Gaia out of Trizonia.
Gaia sailing, view from deck
We sailed towards the high bridge over the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth.
Klaus at the helm
Klaus enjoyed being behind the wheel.
Jenny in Gaia galley
Jenny in the galley making us a cup of tea.
Gaia sailing under bridge
Gaia’s mast fits easy under the high bridge.
Rising sun in Messolonghi, view from Gaia
Sunrise off Messolonghi, ready to motor up the channel.

Early next morning before the wind would spring up we motored up the channel to Messolonghi Marina, ready for the lift out which we had arranged in advance. Lift out was in the middle of the afternoon, by which time it was blowing hard, but with some careful planning and manoeuvring (and two engines that behaved perfectly) we drifted Gaia sideways, using the strong onshore wind, into a narrow slot alongside the wall. Lift out went smooth and efficient, using two strops round each hull, as we had done several times in the marina in Corfu.

Next day the two masts were lifted out and we gave the boat a good fresh water wash, ready to get started on the woodwork.

Gaia is lifted out by crane.
The masts are lifted out.

Spirit of Gaia is a test case to see the durability of wood epoxy and of various design elements we used in her. Twenty years since her launching (1992), she was sailed hard during the first 6 years, including a round the world voyage. She spent the next 9 years sailing during the summer in the Ionian Sea and Adriatic and the last 5 years quietly resting in Trizonia, while we went off sailing the Lapita Voyage and had health problems to deal with.

In these 20 years she had overhauls in 1996 in New Zealand, a major one in 1997 in Australia, in 1999 in Corfu after completing her circumnavigation, another major one in 2002 when we renewed the hardwood toerails and netting, removed the bow centre boards, shortened the rudders and repainted the deckpods and the upper hullsides (Read more about this here). The last time she was out of the water was in 2005 and last maintenance work was done in 2007. Two years ago I did a survey and found various patches of rot in hatch coamings (all outside the glass covering of the hulls) and the lids of the engine boxes were becoming cracked and rotten. These parts have been heavily used as part of the centre deck and living area.

Klaus, a retired Danish engineer, specially came to work on the boat to see how she had fared after 20 years and was impressed with how good the basic boat still is. The hulls show no signs of problems, the plywood in perfect order, the glass and epoxy have kept it clean and dry. He spent his last day with us dismantling all the rigging off the masts, before leaving to go back to Denmark (where he has worked during the last 15 years on maintenance of one of the Viking ships in Roskilde).

The 50ft masts are in remarkably good condition. They were built 20 years ago, in ‘birdsmouth’ technique from Yellow Cedar, with plywood webs every 6 feet, like a giant bamboo. The outside was glassed with epoxy and they were then varnished with 2-pack polyurethane varnish. The varnish was redone in 1997 in Australia, but they have not been touched for the last 15 years. For the last 7 or 8 years they have been protected by a shade netting mast sock, which we hoisted up the mast to protect them when we were not on board. The varnish showed blisters, but still gave some UV protection to the epoxy.

Klaus’ place was taken by Frederik, a Belgian living in Spain, who is very happy to do physical work as a change from sitting behind his computer doing translations. He has spent the last day scraping the old varnish off the masts.

As the UV has penetrated the varnish the underlying epoxy has degraded on the surface, which now makes it very easy to scrape off the varnish, but it is remarkable to notice how well the varnish still adheres to the areas that were protected from sunlight down in the mast cases. The underlying glass/epoxy is still strong, a light wet & dry sanding and it will be ready for painting. We intend to paint the masts this time, as paint is much more UV resistant, which can be seen on the mast tops which were painted white and have never been repainted.

Workshop under Gaia platform
Our workshop under the platform.
Frederik is scraping the old varnish off the masts.

The deadeyes, which have now been sawn off the old standing rigging were made from 100 year old Jarrah (an Australian hardwood). These sand up good-as-new and are being soaked in linseed oil, ready to be spliced into the new Dyneema rigging.

The 20 year old original rigging wire was 10mm ‘Norselay’, which had developed cracks and some rust on the bends. It will be replaced with Dyneema.
A dremel in use
Sawing off a deadeye using a Dremel.
Wooden deadeye blocks
Deadeyes before and after sanding.

The crossbeams are all still in good order. There is one small patch of rot on a top edge, where a beamlashing had damaged the glass surface and the wood was left bare too long. This will be awkward to repair as it is partially under the corner of the deckpod, but we will find a way.

These last two days work has progressed well. We set up our workshop under the boat in the shade as the sun is still very hot. Ifor, our joiner, has got his teeth into the woodwork, replacing rotten patches of plywood and making new hardwood hatch parts. (Ifor is building his own Tiki 38 at home in Wales).

Ifor has removed a rotten piece of plywood from the top of the engine box. The remaining wood is still in good condition.

It is blowing a gale, it is raining and thundering, all work has come to a stop, everything is wet. And.. we have discovered some ‘beasties’ have been eating the plywood round the main mast case bolts, so life is not so happy today. Will report back soon.