Another year and still more work. We have had to face up to the fact that the renovation of our flagship Spirit of Gaia is taking much longer than originally planned, but at last the end is in sight. We are aiming for perfection.Last autumn we flew to Greece for 3 weeks to do some more work with the help of Michael and Sigrid, in that time I had the loan of a lovely aluminium scaffold and was able to renovate the stem and stern posts, which had been kept protected under plastic covers as the glue joints had split causing deterioration in the centre layer. This was difficult work, but the Fein oscillating saw was again invaluable in cutting away the soft patches of plywood between the Iroko cheeks. I then glued in made-to-measure pieces of Iroko, which made a much better job than the original plywood core.
This springtime we returned for another 2 months in Messolonghi, arriving at the end of March. At the start we had quite a big work team, our son Jamie had travelled with us by car from Cornwall and we were joined in Italy by old hand Michael as we boarded the ferry to Greece.
On day two, after we got the boat opened up and the ‘workshop’ arranged under the centre platform, a team from the US West coast joined us. A long way to come for a week’s work, but Scott Veirs, Thomas Nielson and Scott’s 11-year-old son Liam were very keen to meet us. Scott has been the part owner of a Tiki 21 (‘Puffin’) for some time and Scott and Thomas were finishing a special Hitia 17 to enter the very tough Race to Alaska (r2ak.com) at the beginning of June. Tiki 21 ‘Puffin’ was also going to take part sailed by its co-owner. Sadly both boats retired about half way down the course, as did many other participants. It is a very tough race and weather conditions were difficult.
Scot and Thomas told us they needed no comforts; they were training to get tough for the race. Thomas stuck to that determination the whole week and first of all slept outside on the platform and when it started to rain moved into the ‘wood store’. This is one of our hull cabins into which we piled our wood to keep it dry, next to a stack of sail bags and other gear. Thomas wedged himself into a narrow slot in this pile and told us he was quite comfortable. Good for him! A narrow coffin-like hull berth in the Hitia 17 would seem like luxury after that.
The two men got to work on re-joining the forward deckpods that had been separated to work on the ‘Termite problem’ 2 years ago. All the splice plates were ready and painted (done last year) and in a couple of days it was wonderful to see that part of the boat returned to how it should be. Seeing this really cheered James, he felt the boat was ‘whole’ again.
Then Thomas got stuck into cutting scarfs for a new section of the centre platform while Scott concentrated on making up new LED cabin lights. I had bought the basic elements in the UK (LED strip, Alu housing with diffuser cover in 1 m lengths, a bag of tiny switches) and with these we could make a whole set of lights at a fraction of the cost of shop bought units. He also used the LED strip to retro fit into some of our existing cabin lights, very easy and effective.
Jamie’s job was to repair and clean up the narrow slatted deck sections (yellow cedar) on either side of the pods, and with these looking like new and back in place the boat started to look a lot better. Then he shaped/sanded the hardwood mast bearers, new steps for the boarding ramp and made some new hardwood fairleads for the aft deckpod.
Many hardwood parts, like fairleads, grab rails, mast support rails etc. were looking dreadful, eroded by UV and rainwater. We have now reached the point where nearly all these tatty looking parts are replaced with new. We are coating all this new hardwood (Iroko or Sapele) with ‘International Woodskin’, an oil-based product that is virtually the same as ‘Sikkens Cetol Marine’, which we used in the past and is no longer on the market. We have found this the best product so far in the strong UV to which the boat is exposed year round. It can be easily recoated after just a scrub down with a scouring pad; it does not peel like varnish.
We are also testing out Owatrol on the toe rails. Last year after Willie cleaned up the bow pulpit, which is made from yellow cedar, we coated this with ‘Danish Oil’ as a test case. This oil did not make the wood darker and glossy like ‘Woodskin’. Willie applied many coats soaking the wood, but after one year, we are disappointed with the result, they are already becoming grey again.
I also sanded up all the Iroko belaying pins, I then put them into a tough plastic bag and pored in Linseed oil, sealed the bag and left them to ‘marinate’ for a week in the sun. They came out looking like new.
Michael got on with fitting new hardwood wedges under the bow and stern beams. These wedges, which keep the beams lying in the right place, had been made of Galician green oak and fitted in North Spain after our first crossing of the Bay of Biscay in 1992. They were an addition when we found these two beams could move about in their troughs. After 23 years they looked a mess, twisted, split and soft in places. They had never been treated with any protective coating. The new Sapele wedges are epoxy coated and painted and blend much nicer into the beam.
We have been very impressed by the timber yard here in Messolonghi. The yard is hidden down a small side road and looks like an old shed, but then you realize it is a very efficient wood yard with good timber and excellent service. The two brothers who run it speak enough English to understand all my needs. We have bought good Okume marine plywood here and cut-to-size hardwood for grab rails, wedges etc. as well as all the wood for the new platform. Everything was cut and planed precisely to my requirements. The cost was also reasonable and all the labour of cutting and planing was added for just €15. And then it was delivered to the marina free.
We have just bought plywood for building the new Mana 24 from Robbins Timber in Bristol. This is their ‘Robbins Elite’ plywood, a pale pink Ocume. They told us this plywood is manufactured in Greece! I recon we were buying the same quality marine plywood in Messolonghi.
Besides the clearly defined construction jobs, there are those small fiddly jobs, where one sands down a damaged bit of epoxy/glass and then carefully glasses over it with small bits of sticky cloth, followed by more sanding and coating. There are dozens of such patches that take hours of work. Then finally they get painted over and all the work is no longer visible.
Our workforce reduced after a couple of weeks, with Scott, Thomas and Liam the first to depart, followed by Jamie and finally Michael. Meantime Paul, who helped us so well last year, arrived from Oklahoma. We had one day with the complete team, which was celebrated in the marina café.
Once Paul and I were on our own we got ready for the big paint jobs. The previous year Paul and I had painted the orange hull sides and masts, we were a good team. This year we did not have the loan of ‘Largyalo’ Berti’s lovely sander and vacuum extractor, so I had bought an industrial vacuum cleaner in the UK and brought an old Hitachi orbital disk sander dating back to the building of Gaia. This sander did not have a built-in dust cowl so we had to improvise one out of a plastic food bowl from the galley and a spare vacuum hose. It worked really well and Paul got started on sanding all the topsides. This was a massive job as there are many edges and corners that need to be sanded by hand.
Meantime I was doing epoxy/glass repairs along the gunnels, beam ends and wooden shroud-cleats, lots of fiddly, time consuming work, but essential to get a proper finish. I also got on with painting the bow and stern crossbeams. For this I created a new paint-pad out of a cut-up short pile roller sleeve and a specially shaped wooden handle. This tool was invaluable and we used it everywhere for either applying the paint direct, like on the beams, or to tip off after the roller on the big surfaces. I found it better and more durable that the foam brushes we had used last year. Also very cheap as you get six brushes out of one roller sleeve.
Gaia is enormous. Masking for painting one topside takes half a day. We used the (red) plastic tape recommended by Petra last year. She ordered a box full for me in France, so we still don't know if we can buy it elsewhere. The blue tape you see on the photos is standard masking tape we used to cover the hardwood grabrails. You also see the shade netting which was essential to keep the wood cool enough for a good paint job. By this time (middle of May) the temperature was in the mid 20˚s (Celcius), so painting had to be done in the early morning and in the shade.
For the topsides we used new Jotun 2-pack polyurethane paint. This paint has a 10:1 mixing ratio by volume, as against the 2:1 ratio of the Awlgrip and the other paint we used before. You cannot mix 10:1 ratio accurately by volume, so had to do it by weight, which means the ratio is different again (11.7:1) due to differing specific gravity (Jotun supply a list on their website).
We also found this paint set quicker; so pot life was short and we had to mix three small batches (320gr each) to do one topside, rather than the one mix per side we used for the orange Awlgrip paint. It is very tricky work, frequently adding a little thinners to soften the roller and compensate for evaporation in the roller tray. But after a couple of days painting we got good at it. All the topsides were painted with two coats of paint and now look beautiful.
It was not all work and no pleasure. We made a rule to relax at least 1 day a week, plus the usual BBQ held by the ‘yachties’ at Sunday lunchtime in the marina. Paul liked cultural pursuits same as James and I, so we made outings by car to ancient sites, old towns and castles. This time we visited Delphi, Nafpaktos castle (the headquarters of the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571) and the ancient city of New Pleuron, built in around 235 BC. The surroundings of Messolonghi are very beautiful and hardly a foreign tourist in sight (except in Delphi).
Then there was Easter weekend with festivities in town and once again the famous ‘Exodus’ procession through Messolonghi in commemoration of the yearlong siege of Messolonghi by the Turks and the Exodus of the people of Messolonghi in 1826; an incredible colourful event that mustn’t be missed.
With the topsides finally finished we moved on to the decks. Gaia’s decks have never been repainted since she was built; the paint had been out in the elements since 1991 (24 years!). This 2-pack polyurethane paint is incredibly tough; it gently chalks in UV light, but after a scrub down still looks good after all these years. But with the renewed hatch coamings and other scratches and wear it was high time we repainted. We wet sanded all the edges and coamings by hand and used a coarse scouring pad with a paint cleaner on the non-slip areas. Again this took about a week for both hulls, who is foolish enough to own a 63 foot boat?
The end of our stay was in sight so I had to make the decision that we could not get the whole deck paint job finished this time. Instead I painted all the edges and coamings, all the fiddly bits, which HAD to be painted. We again used the same leftover paint from 21 years ago, which had travelled round the world, which is still good! We also painted all the hatches inside and out. When we come back, painting the big non-slip areas will be quick and easy.
Reading back my diary notes of our time on board makes me exhausted, but I did enjoy the work as well, it is wonderful to see the end results, to see the boat shine again. Paul and I again worked extremely well together, Paul and James enjoyed hours of intelligent conversation on politics, philosophy and putting the world to rights, while I rested by reading a book.
Next spring must be the final stint with a re-launching in May or June. We are already dreaming of what to do with Gaia once she is sailing again. She must have a purpose; she is a tribal boat that must have a tribe to support her. She could join in the work of ‘Ocean Watch’, or do other expeditions with an ecological or philosophical theme. We can run yoga or meditation workshops. We should set up a Gaia Club or Gaia Guild, with members who help care for her and sail her.
Anyone wishing to be part of this future, do get in touch.