Spirit of Gaia renovation (Part 4)

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By Hanneke Boon

In my last blog on Gaia’s renovation I said we wanted Gaia ready to sail in September. However, the fates decided otherwise. Last summer became a sad and stressful time culminating in the death of Ruth (Wharram) in September.

In May James and I visited Sète in the South of France, where we attended the meeting of the ‘Golden Oldies’, a big meeting of early racing multihulls from the 1970s and 80s. We stayed on a sister ship of Spirit of Gaia, the ‘Largyalo’, a beautiful German built Pahi 65 (slightly enlarged by the builders to achieve more luxury guest accommodation).

Largyalo owners on a boat
Petra and Berti, builders/owners of ‘Largyalo’
Largyalo under sail
Largyalo sailing at the Golden Oldies meeting (photo F Monsonnec)
Hanneke at the helm of Largyalo
Hanneke steers ‘Largyalo’ out of the harbour of Sète. Note how Largyalo’s pods are bigger and higher than those on Spirit of Gaia.

At this meeting we were happy to meet Dick Newick again and it turned out for the last time, as he died in late August, shortly before Ruth. Several journalists from French and German yacht magazines interviewed James. Die Yacht published an article in their issue 16/13 (July or August).

Racing multihulls in thr harbour
Some of the early racing multihulls that took part in the gathering
James, Hanneke and friends aboard Largyalo
Marc van Peteghem, Hanneke Boon, Dick Newick and James Wharram meet on board ‘Largyalo’ (photo F Monsonnec)
James being interviewed on the deck of Largyalo
James is interviewed by a French journalist

We also met with many Wharram enthusiasts, including the Pierret brothers on Tiki 38 ‘Pilgrim’, the boat they built in New Jersey (USA) and sailed to France in record time in 2011. Our stay in France was cut short by the news that Ruth had suffered a second stroke. We rushed back to be with her.

Tiki 38 next to Largyalo in harbour
Tiki 38 ‘Pilgrim’ is moored alongside ‘Largyalo’
Tiki 38 Pilgrim heading out for a sail
Tiki 38 ‘Pilgrim’ going out to sail
Tiki 38 Pilgrim sailing
Tiki 38 ‘Pilgrim’ sailing fast alongside ‘Largyalo’

After great sadness one needs to pick up life again. The best way was to return to our soul ship ‘Spirit of Gaia’. James had not been aboard for some time, so together with Michael, my faithful helper from Holland and Sigrid his girlfriend we headed out to Greece (by plane this time) to spend two weeks at the boatyard in Messolonghi.

James stepped aboard and felt renewed, memories and past emotions came flooding back, reminding him of our travels and the beautiful times we have had aboard her. He quickly adapted back into living aboard, climbing the ramp, descending down hatches.

The view from the deck of Gaia in Messolonghi marina was exquisite on a sunny day

Moored in the same marina was sister ship ‘Largyalo’, there for the winter and soon to be lifted out for maintenance. We were sorry to have missed Petra and Berti, her owners, but were given permission to use their boat to relax on. James was happy every morning to pick up his writing pad and head over to Largyalo’s comfortable deck pod saloon and write more pages of his book (yes, he is finally writing the definitive story of his life!).

On Gaia Michael, Sigrid and I set to work. With just two weeks to work in and the weather not quite reliable this late in the year we had to be selective. First focus was the ‘woodworm’, this had to be dealt with once and for all. The other most urgent job before the winter rains was sealing the damaged edges of the bow crossbeam; chafed by anchors and ropes for years there were bare edges that could let in water. Now was the time to deal with them before rot would develop. Sigrid picked up her Fein multi tool and got sanding.

Sigrid sanding a crossbeam
Sigrid picked up her Fein multi tool and got sanding.

Working like this on a 21 year old boat teaches you many things about the durability of materials. We found that the crossbeams that were built with laminations of good quality Douglas Fir timber are very durable. Even with the glass cloth worn away along some of the top edges and water able to soak into the wood, barely any rot developed (just a couple of very small surface patches). The surface was sanded clean, the wood left to dry in the warm sun and dry Greek winds, and a double strip of glasscloth applied to seal the surface. As there was no time to paint over the fresh epoxy, we protected it from UV with blue waterproof masking tape.

The weather, after a first wet day was sunny and warm and working outdoors pleasant. On the first Sunday a BBQ was arranged by the live-aboards in the marina, a jolly group of various nationalities, French, Spanish, Italian, Brazillian and English. We took the afternoon off and enjoyed ourselves.

People gathering for a barbecue in the marina
Sunday afternoon BBQ at the marina
James, Michael and Sigrid having lunch
Michael, Sigrid and James enjoy their meal
People gathering for a barbecue in the marina
The French, Spanish and Italians gathered at one end of the table

While Michael and Sigrid got on with sanding, I started worrying about the wood borer problem once again. In the Spring I had soaked the infested ply panel with wood preservative (Cuprinol) and then sealed it carefully with sheets of plastic and tape. Wood borers fly out once a year to mate and lay eggs back into a crevice in the wood.

On inspection I immediately saw some must have survived the chemical attack and tried to fly during the summer. They were trapped (dead) behind the plastic with long wings clearly visible. On careful examination of the interior of the deckpod I found a few ‘kick-out’ holes in the floor panel and the lower front panel, areas I had never closely examined before. This was worrying, as I had thought the problem had stayed within the one main side wall. I did not want to cut big chunks out of these other parts of the deckpod as replacing them would be a nightmare.

Back in England I had bought a ‘Fein’ oscillating multi tool. This is a most fantastic cutting tool that can cut neatly in all tight and awkward corners. With this we started to cut away a large part of the main affected ply panel as well as a section of the floor that showed signs of borers. I could cut the panel loose from the shelves it was glued to without damaging them as well as get into the most awkward bottom corners. It was reassuring that we found no life borers in the plywood that had been chemically treated last year (we split it open to check).

Michael cutting a panel
Michael starts cutting the big side panel with the Fein saw
Deckpod with panel removed
With the Fein oscillating multi saw we were able to cut the ply panel loose from the supporting shelves without damaging them.
View from inside of deckpod after panel removal
View from the inside after panel was removed
Hanneke cuts away the final edges of the panel, so we can glue a new panel straight on to the internal stiffeners

But what to do with the other affected areas? We went into Messolonghi to look for a better solution to eradicate them. Messolonghi is a very agricultural town as the flat lands around it are intensively cultivated. This meant there were shops selling agricultural chemicals. James and I walked into this store that looked rather like a medical dispensary, with shelves full of specialised fertilizers and pesticides. We were very fortunate that the female manager spoke excellent English, was a graduate in agricultural science and passionate about her subject.

Together we started to look on internet to discover the precise species of borer we were dealing with and to our surprise it became clear it was not woodworm, but ‘dry wood termites’. This is a species that usually lives in the tropics and mainly in South East Asia and Australia, but also in the Southern United States. So had they come on board while the boat was laid up, close to trees, in Trizonia in the last 5 years (termites do live in Greece) or had they been there much longer, maybe they had come aboard in 1997 while Gaia was laid up for 9 months in a boatyard in Brisbane, amongst the mangrove swamps?

Back on board I did further studies on internet, into the life cycle and habits of the dry-wood termite. Their colonies in fact do not grow very rapidly; it takes many years for their numbers to grow, so maybe they had indeed been there since Brisbane? Judging by the amount of wood eaten it would have taken them quite a while, but 15 years is a long time.

Termination of the Termites

Anyway, what was important was to get rid of them once and for all. There are two main ways to eradicate termites. One is to seal the whole object they are in and fumigate it with poison gas, the other is to inject insecticides into the wood. The latter seemed the most practical in our case (the other options are microwaves or super cooling).

I read a study done in the Azores, in which they tested 5 different insecticidal treatments. The active chemical (propiconazol) in the Cuprinol I had used last year was one that was considered effective on termites, but the best insecticide all round was fipronil (the active ingredient in ‘Termidor’) as it does not repel the termites, so they will not avoid eating the insecticide soaked wood. Unfortunately my kind lady in the shop did not stock fipronil, but advised me this is also the insecticide used to treat pets with flees and ticks, so I was able to buy a bottle in a local petshop (€30 for 500ml).

I then drilled small 4mm holes in the affected panels, into the inner ply layers, but not through to the outside. In some places I hit termite galleries, which I marked with a pen, in other areas the wood was solid. I drilled holes well beyond the affected areas, to be sure to be rid of all. I then injected the chemical with a syringe. The fibronil was in a volatile solution, which smelled like ether, not in water, which I was glad of, as I did not want to soak the inner layers of epoxy sealed plywood with water, as this might create a rot problem later. I kept adding more chemical, as much as the galleries could hold.

Injecting wood panels with termite killer
I drilled small 4mm holes in the affected panels, into the inner ply layers, but not through to the outside. Note the exploratory patch I cut away to see the damage to the inner ply layers, which was not very much and would not weaken the plywood. To replace this ply panel would involve lifting the pod off the boat, a costly and time-consuming affair.
Injecting wood panels with termite killer
I injected Fipronil into all the holes with a syringe.

There was not enough time to start replacing the cut away plywood, so we again sealed off all the wood with plastic and we will review the problem in Spring, but I do think we will have terminated the termites.

There is just one more thing we can do if they ever come back, which is to sail North into a colder climate. Apparently a good frost will kill them all!!

Termites can be a problem for any wooden object in a hot climate. Sealing wood with epoxy and glass cloth is a very good protection, as termites need a crevice to enter the wood. In our case it was the holes drilled through the plywood for the mast bolts that were the weak spot. These were sealed with epoxy, but the narrow space next to the bolt gave the termites a good sheltered starting point to get their teeth in!! And just bad luck that they landed on our boat and found this spot. There is NO evidence that any other area of the boat is affected!!

I would like to mention a previous case of termites in a boat. Many years ago Andy Smith our professional builder in the Philippines was accused of using wood borer (buc-buc) invested plywood when building his first Tiki 38. However this boat had been left moored in a river surrounded by trees for a couple of years, after which the borer infestation became evident. Eventually the boat was sold, sailed to Darwin, where the problem was tackled and it was discovered that the infestation was also termites, so would not have been in the plywood before building, but would most likely have infested the boat while laid up after it was launched. Andy Smith now treats all his wood with insecticides.

Next Spring (starting in March) will be the last lap in restoring Gaia. Most of the remedial woodwork is now done, just two hatches to rebuild, refit the cut-out ply panels, glue on various hardwood rails and repairing stem and stern heads. Then for the big paint job to make her look beautiful again. Also there will be the rope work; the Dyneema rigging to finish and new lashings on all the beams, plus some electrical work.

We are looking for more volunteers that would like to join us, to make Spirit of Gaia the ocean going Wharram Flagship again. Anyone interested with useful practical skills, or wanting to learn more, please contact us. Hanneke and James will both be there to impart their knowledge of boat design and building. We hope to be sailing by mid May.