Spirit of Gaia renovation (Part 3)

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By Hanneke Boon

Work on Spirit of Gaia continues..

We arrived in Messolonghi marina on the Spring equinox to recommence work on Spirit of Gaia.

I travelled by car and ferry from the UK with two volunteers, Dutch Michael, who helped me last Autumn (and also helped to build Amatasi in 2011) and Tony, an old acquaintance from Manchester, who built one of our early 27ft Tane designs in the 1960s, built a Pahi 31 in the 80s and renovated another Tane in the 90s, which he sailed in Greece for many years. He also crossed the Atlantic from St. Lucia to the UK in 1979 on our 51ft Tehini as a single charter guest when the boat was sailed by a different skipper and crew. They encountered a serious gale West of the Azores.

I had hoped to have two or three other volunteers, but unfortunately they were unable to come at the last moment, so it was just the three of us this time.

We had brought with us more hardwood timber for renewing the mast supports, new crossbeam end caps and wood to repair the rot in the many deck hatches.

Michael and Tony set to work removing rotten wood, first of all the hardwood mast supports, which had been made of Keruing, a hardwood that turned out not so durable. They looked terrible with deep splits and rotten sections.

Mast supports in bad condition
The Keruing mast supports looked terrible
Pile of new hardwood
New hardwood to replace mast supports and rebuild hatch coamings
Mast casing with old supports removed
The mast supports removed

Then Tony replaced four of the Iroko beam end caps, which had been chewed up by a harbour wall in the past.

Tony replaced four of the crossbeam end caps

I meantime started checking out the woodborers in the forward mast case (see part 2). The port side, which was least affected seemed to have had no further activity, no new wood dust anywhere, so fingers crossed the chemical injection has killed them all here.

I cut out a large area of the ply web on the starboard side where I had found some more wood dust on the shelf. There were indeed still some active borers eating away here, so I cut out further sections to get to cleaner wood, but I still was not sure this was going to be enough. I injected a lot more Cuprinol down visible channels, using a syringe and needle with a thin tube extension from a WD40 can. Cutting away the wood was hard work, twisted in a mastcase that was just too narrow for my hips, bent over trying to chisel away wood where the jigsaw could not reach.

Large holes cut in the mast case web to remove wood borer affected plywood.

I decided not to rebuild the woodborer affected ply web yet on this visit, I sealed the area with plastic sheeting and enclosed an open bottle of Xylene thinners to fumigate the space. Lets hope our little beasties expire in the stink. They are due to fly in May/June, so we should see if any have emerged on our next visit. I intend to buy an oscillating tool, which I am told will make it a lot easier to cut out further plywood.

The weather in March was still quite cool, there was still snow on the distant mountains. We got some rain and several days of very strong winds, which made us retire to the galley where we started on the Dyneema rigging. This was nice work, the splicing was relatively easy, once you got the hang of how to do it.

First of all we made a lot of rope shackles out of 5mm Dyneema as practice for the main rigging. We could make one in 10 minutes after practice. These rope shackles will replace the bronze hanks on the head sails, as they will not damage the new Dyneema fore stays. You can find instruction on how to make these on Youtube: youtube.com/watch?v=jH66tGsWv_Y

Making the ropeshackles from 5mm Dyneema

Before we started on the shrouds I weighed the 200m reel of 10mm diameter Dyneema rope. It weighed just 10kg. Compare this with the coils of rigging we removed last year, they must weigh at least 100kg.

Reel of rope
200m reel of dyneema

I started the splicing of the 10mm rope with a simple forestay bridle as practice, with a stainless hard eye at each end. This sort of locking splice is called a Brummel Splice, I soon learned how to do it and carefully recorded my work in photos. You can see a video here of how to make such a splice:

Another video shows how to make this Brummel splice in a slightly different way:

Making a Brummel splice

I also devised a way to splice a halyard strop. This cannot be found anywhere on internet, so I had to think up a method myself.

Making a halyard strop

Now we started the major work we came to do, this was restoring all the deckhatches. Gaia is a tribal boat, which means she is laid out like a village with a central square (the platform) surrounded by individual cottages/cabins (four hull cabins and three deckpod cabins) as well as two communal cabins (galley and chartroom). Then there are the four bow holds for storage. This makes a total of 13 entry hatches, plus the two large lifting lids over galley and chartroom.

All these hatches were beautifully made with double coamings of hardwood to the original Maurice Griffith design.

Constructing a fore hatch
Construction of a fore hatch in 1990

In her twenty years the hatches were well used and this means small cracks had appeared in the paintwork on the edges of the coamings. When laid up during the winter, rainwater was able to seep into these little cracks and with time rot is unavoidable. If we had been on board more, we could have dealt with the first signs of rot immediately, before they spread.

After five years of no maintenance it turned out that all the hatches had patches of rot, and some had extensive rot. The little patches could be simply scooped out with a chisel and refilled with epoxy mix. Others had more serious rot, requiring sections of the coaming to be completely removed and replaced with timber. Two of the hatches were so bad we will be rebuilding them from scratch.

A decrepit hatch
One of the hatches that was so bad we will be rebuilding it from scratch

The corresponding coamings on the deck also had rot to match those of the hatches, so these had to be chiselled out. Fortunately these lower coamings are glued on to the glassed decks, so rot was not able to travel into the decks themselves. In fact rot is often halted by just an epoxy glue joint.

Michael and Tony did all the work on deck as I have a sun allergy due to the antibiotics I am still taking for chronic Q fever. They chipped away for hours and a German couple who were working like slaves on their own catamaran, used to call us the woodpeckers.

Chiselling out the deck coamings, these were glued on top of the glassed decks, so no rot was able to spread into the plywood.

I worked on the hatches under the platform in the shade. I devised simple ways to restore the hatches with the minimum of work, often just replacing a worn and slightly rotten edge with a new strip of 12mm Iroko. A disk cutter was an excellent tool to cut in a straight line through the tough glass on the outside of the hatch, after which the bad wood could be cut away with a jigsaw and a chisel. The disk cutter also dealt with the bronze gripfast nails we had used when making the hatches.

Hanneke under Gaia platform
Hanneke worked in the shade under the platform
Hanneke using a disk cutter under Gaia platform
A disk cutter was an excellent tool to cut in a straight line through the tough glass on the outside of the hatch
Hatch coaming with parts chopped off
Rotten coaming cut away, ready for new wood to be glued on
Hatch, section replaced with new wood
Small sections can be replaced with new hardwood
Hatch coaming, surface layer replaced with Iroko
I often just replaced a worn and slightly rotten edge with a new strip of 12mm Iroko
Hatch clamped to a workbench
I clamped the hatch to a Workmate using a ratchet strap
A stack of hatches
Several hatches being worked on
Hatches laid out on the floor
Ten of the 13 deck hatches
Cotton bud being used to apply epoxy
A cotton bud is an ideal tool for coating the inside of a hole with epoxy

The biggest job was the large lifting galley lid, 6ft x 3ft. Three of its sides had badly rotted and the rot had crept into some of the plywood of the hatch top. There were two layers of 8mm plywood here and the rot was just in the lower layer (the glue joint had halted the spread), so I was able to chisel these rotten areas of ply out and inlay new plywood before replacing the coamings.

Hatch without coaming
This is how the hatch looked with the rotten coaming cut away, parts of the plywood are also rotten
Plywood on a workbench
Rotten plywood trimmed away, ready to be inlaid with new plywood
Hatch with new pieces of wood being glued on
New plywood being glued on
Hatch with new pieces of wood being glued on
New coamings being glued on

The hatches turned out to be such a major job that we were not able to do the painting we had planned and we had to leave the masts for final finishing at a later date.

We suspended the masts under the hulls, so we could easily sand them.

On the very last day, Michael and I spent 5 hours painting all the hatch repairs with white epoxy paint so they would not be damaged by UV before we can do the final painting next visit. I was exhausted, but felt Gaia was finally rot free.

We want Gaia ready to sail in September, so I will soon be planning the next stage of the work.