Spirit of Gaia renovation, 20 years after her launching (Part 2)

Home Articles Spirit of Gaia Renovation Spirit of Gaia renovation, 20 years after her launching (Part 2)
By Hanneke Boon

I finished my last blog with this sentence:

“14th September. 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.”

It was a shock to find woodborers in the plywood webs under the mainmast. While cleaning the forward deckpods we had noticed some little heaps of ‘sand’ on the shelves and had not been able to figure out what they were or how they had got there. Then when Michael removed the big mast bolts, one of the backing pads came away as a heap of crumbs. The inner layers had been completely consumed by some creature!

Gaia mastcase
The main mastcase is formed by the 19mm plywood walls of the two forward deckpods. You can see the top bolt that locks the mast in place.
Michael holding a mast bolt
Micheal has just removed one of the mast bolts.
The mast bolt backing pad fell away to expose the work of the wood borers.
Mangled square piece of wood
Mast bolt backing pad consumed by borers.

‘Live’ creatures fell out of the wood and we captured one, which was carefully studied and photographed. We also found some dead mature beetles in the cabin. Gruber, the captive, lived for a week in a plastic pot, with a wood shaving for dinner, but when the pot fell over one day, managed to escape!

Frederik, who has a degree in agricultural science went off to the ‘office’ (actually the marina café which has a good WiFi connection, the Marina Wifi was useless) and did research on Internet to find out what it was. His verdict was that it belonged to the family of Powderpost beetles, though he could not find one that completely resembled our mature specimen, which had quite a distinct yellow stripe on its head.

Wood borer
‘Gruber’ and some woodworm droppings.
Mature beatle (dead).

I had brought a can of Cuprinol wood preservative, which when tested on the live borers was very effective in killing them, so after having cleared away all traces of ‘sand’, i.e droppings, all access holes were carefully injected with Cuprinol, using a plastic syringe. Now we have to see when we return in the Spring, if we were effective in killing them all. If there are no further traces of droppings we have hopefully succeeded. Fortunately they only seemed to like softwood, they tried a few bites of hardwood, but then left it alone.

In order to remove sections of the plywood webs that have been too thoroughly eaten by the borers, we will need access to the inner walls of the mast case, which is about 10 ½ “ wide. This meant disconnecting the two halves of the deckpods and separating them so we can climb in. Another reason for doing this was to be able to raise one half, to get access to the small patch of rot in one of the crossbeams, which I mentioned in my last blog.

Separating the pods was a major job, carried out by Ifor and Michael, as the ply webs and hardwood bars that connect the two halves were fitted with screws and bolts and Sikaflex twenty years ago. This stuff sticks far too well and the wood did get damaged as a result. So more work to restore this.

Two halves of deckpod being seperated
Ifor and Michael work hard to separate the two halves of the deckpods.
Mast case
Mast case with main connecting web removed. The base is still connected with plywood fishplates. We could not pull these free, so ended up cutting them down the middle.
Mast case
The gap between the pods is now wide enough to climb inside.

Meantime we carried on with replacing pieces of rotted plywood in the engine boxes. The routine for this was:

  • Cut away plywood using the Japanese pull saw, which gives a fine straight cut through just the plywood, leaving the timber framing intact.
  • Cut a new piece of plywood using the cut-out as a template.
  • Epoxy coat (or glass) the underside.
  • Glue piece in place.
  • Glass over the outside.
  • Trim edges with surform and sandpaper and finish with another epoxy coating.

Quite a fiddly series of operations, as you are working on a number of bits all over the boat, trying to avoid stepping on sticky epoxy. Fortunately the hot dry climate meant the epoxy set fast, without any amino blooming. It did mean you can only mix small amounts of epoxy and you have to use them quickly. Always have a number of jobs lined up, so you never waste any expensive epoxy.

One other very interesting fact to mention here! The WEST epoxy resin base I was using was as old as the boat, i.e. dated 1992. It had been kept on board during the last 20 years in the dark under a bunk. The temperature has always been warm, with top temperatures in the upper 20s. Hence the resin never crystalized, as it tends to do in Northern Europe. I had brought some fresh 205 hardener from the UK. The epoxy performed perfectly, it showed no signs of having deteriorated! I did have old hardener as well, but as this tends to oxidise and get a very dark brown colour, I decided not to risk using it. (I have tried it and it does still set the resin.)

Before and after, replacing parts of the engine box tops.
Before and after, replacing a rotten piece under one of the deckpod washboards.
Hanneke mixing epoxy in the deckpod
Hanneke mixing epoxy in the deckpod.

My description of the work sounds perhaps a bit desperate, but as I said in my previous blog, Spirit of Gaia is overall still in very good condition. Most of the renovation work is on the loose elements of the boat, like the engine boxes. The advantage of a boat, assembled from many separate elements, is that if one element suffers from rot or damage, it can be replaced or repaired, without affecting the rest of the boat. The hulls are the biggest and most important elements and these are still in very good condition.

A different problem

Not a boat problem this time, but politics. The owners of Tiki 46 ‘Apataki’, who had spent the previous winter in Messolonghi Marina, had warned me that there were some difficulties about people working on their boats. On discussing this with one of the Dutch owners of the Marina, I did not get a clear picture of what was exactly the problem. Something about paperwork that showed people working in a Greek boatyard paid their tax and National insurance? My team, however, are volunteers; they are ‘The Friends of Gaia’, they are not paid workers, so did this apply to them?

After working with my team in the yard for about a week, the unsympathetic ‘Greek’ manager turned up, and I was told that no one except the ‘owners’ of a boat could work in the marina. He claimed this was a Greek ‘law’ and could be enforced by the port police. He was not open to discussion.

So from that time on, I, as the ‘owner’ of the boat, was the one that could be seen working in our workshop under the hulls; the one using the power planer, the one working on the masts, glassing with epoxy, etc. The others kept themselves quietly busy on deck under the sheltering awnings, but it did slow progress.

This is a problem we have to face next Spring. If anyone out there has legal knowledge of this kind of situation, and a possible solution, do let me know.

Hanneke working in the ‘workshop’ under the platform, making the new ply lids for the engine boxes. These are glassed top and bottom to make them as durable as possible.
Gaia platform, new ply lids
The finished ply lids are put into place, it transformed the platform from a wrecker’s yard into a nice place to sit.

After the one wet weekend the weather stayed dry, but after the cooling rain, it gradually got hotter and hotter with a blazing sun and afternoon temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius. After lunch, we had to stop for a siesta during the hottest hours of the day. We strung two hammocks under the platform, which provided the coolest place to rest.

Jenny, Michael’s mum, was an angel doing all the housekeeping, shopping and cooking, allowing me to focus fully on the boat work. She also spent some time every day in the ‘sweatshop’, sewing new mattress covers. Coming out very hot, she would go for a quick swim off the marina wall, where a resident turtle was often seen swimming.

Jenny using a sewing machine
Jenny in the ‘sweatshop’.
Jenny on deck putting new covers on mattresses
Trying on the new mattress cover.
A turtle swimming
A turtle was often seen swimming off the harbour wall.

Every few days at the end of a hot working day we went for a short trip by car to the nearby beach, for a swim in the sea.

One day we carried on to explore the surrounding countryside, which is a flat marshland, with saltpans. A very unusual landscape, compared to the rest of Greece, which is very mountainous. While driving along a track into the saltpans to view a little church, we were amazed to see a group of people bathing in the narrow channel alongside the track. The water must have been very salty and hot and considered to be of health benefit. We didn’t feel like joining them.

The countryside near Messolonghi is a flat marshland, with saltpans in which people come to bath.
Silver plaque with eyes
I saw this little plaque inside the small church, it reminded me of our ‘Eyesymbol’
Restaurant table overlooking the water
We finished our sightseeing tour with a Greek meal in a nearby town.

One evening, watching the full moon rise over the sterns of Gaia, I spotted an unusual looking schooner across the harbour. Next day we stopped by to have a closer look. She was French from Nice, called ‘Escapade’. Talking to the owner we discovered she had been the personal boat of the French designer, Daniel Bombigher, who died in 2003. The owner had been his friend and took the boat over. She was beautiful with Gaff schooner rig. He planned to lay her up for the winter in the marina, so hopefully I will have another chance for a good look next spring.

Full moon in the harbour
Watching the full moon rise over the sterns of Gaia, I spotted an interesting schooner across the harbour.
Daniel Bombigher’s Schooner ‘Excapade’.

With only a few days left before departure back to Northern Europe, we put the finishing touches to the work. We had not done everything I had hoped to do, so more work to be done in spring. We sealed up bare wood and screw/bolt holes with waterproof tape, so no insects or water can enter, put a protective coat of epoxy paint on the new woodwork (against UV degradation), stowed everything below, or in the cockpit. We made little waterproof socks to cover the stem and stern posts, which have some splits in them, to protect them from the winter rains. I intend to work on these next year.

Finally we used our shade-netting awning to protect the south facing hull from the damaging rays of the strong Greek sun. This side of the boat has been facing the sun and various harbour walls for many years and is hence in worst condition. Next year we will work on this.

Goodbye Gaia, we will be back next year.

Gaia with shade-netting awning
We used our shade-netting awning to protect the south facing hull from the damaging rays of the strong Greek sun.
Gaia’s decks, cleared for the coming winter. Note the finished and painted engine box tops. The blue tape seals unfinished edges and covers screw and bolt holes.