2016 is the year in which Gaia has finally been relaunched after 4 years of renovation work. Two months work this Springtime, sandwiched between hard work to build the new Mana 24 in Cornwall, gave us insufficient time to launch, so we returned for this in the Autumn. Part 8 will report on the launching and first sails soon.
Spring 2016 saw us back aboard in Messolonghi, this time Paul, our trusted helper from America, had flown out to Cornwall to help us with the building of Mana. After 4 weeks of intensive work in our workshop Paul, James and I flew out to Greece. Paul had been looking forward to driving with us through Europe, which had been the original plan, but this takes a lot of time and money and we were short of both, so it was Easyjet once again.
We arrived mid April and were joined a few days later by a lovely couple, also from America, Bryce and Jen. Bryce had been writing to us for several years hoping to come to help, but every time things did not work out. Bryce is an experienced rigger and has captained square-riggers and other big ships, including tugs in Alaska. This was the best year for him to join us, as we were now ready for some serious rope work.
This season’s job list was: get the beams lashed on, rig the masts and raise them, finish all the paintwork on the hulls, renovate the bowwalk, slatted walkways and centre platform.
While Paul and I concentrated on finishing paintwork on the decks, Bryce and Jen concentrated on getting the beams ready to be lashed back to the hulls.
For Jen this meant raising each beam in its trough (with the help of Bryce and a carjack) checking the hardwood and rubber pads the beams rest on and in many cases removing the old manky rubber, scraping the wood clean, cutting out a new piece of rubber, abrading and degreasing it and carefully gluing it in position. This may sound simple, but working in a narrow slot, under a beam, day after day for more than a week demands dedication and determination, which Jen showed she had plenty of. She never complained and just kept on with the job. She used PU glue as we have found this is about the only glue that will stick rubber, so fingers crossed they will stay put.
Meantime Bryce worked on checking/fitting metal protective strips to the tops of the beams over which the new lashings would run. These stop the lashings cutting into the wood when there is a lot of movement and strain. Some of the old copper ones were still OK, but he also made new ones from stainless steel.
When all these preparatory jobs were finished they started on the new lashings. Jen measured out the ropes and patiently melted the cut ends over the gas burner (if you don't do this thoroughly, taking your time, the ends will fray). We use 10mm polyester on the middle beams and 10mm nylon on the bow and stern beams where there is more movement. Then Bryce added a whipping to each end for good measure. Large waves sweeping past the hulls will work lashings loose and fray the ends. There are six cross beams with four lashings each, this adds up to 24 lashings with two cut ends each, 48 ends to melt, 48 whippings!
Painting decks and more repairs
I concentrated on painting while supervising the other work. We masked and painted non-slip paint over most of the hull decks, until the paint ran out. Preparation and masking takes longer than the painting as we like to make neat radiused corners and run the edges exactly parallel to the deck edges, to get a professional finish. I mix special non-slip particles (available from various yacht paint manufacturers in different grades) in the 2-pack polyurethane paint and apply it with a roller. This makes a very hard and durable deck finish.
While preparing to paint the tops of the engine boxes we again found some more rot. Paul got stuck in to replacing these bits. With hindsight we should have removed the complete tops of the engine boxes right at the beginning (four years ago) and made them new. Now they are a patchwork of spliced in pieces of plywood and new bearers. We will likely have to do more of this over the next years.
Tying the beamlashings
With all the ropes cut, Bryce and Jen started making the beam lashings. Bryce is big and strong and with the help of a mountaineering ‘ascender’ (gripped on to the 10mm lashing rope) on a rope strop into which Bryce put his foot, he could put his full weight on each turn of the lashing. To tie off the lashing, softwood wedges were slid under to make space for several frapping turns, which pull the lashing real tight.
The Greek weather was not always nice, so on rainy days we retreated to the galley and worked on the splicing of more of the Dyneema rigging. We finished all the shrouds, forestays and bridles with only a few feet of rope left out of the 200m reel, then I made the halyard block strops. No design for these was found on internet, so I invented one myself using the principles of the ‘brummel’ splice. Making one of these has already been shown in part 3.
When all the stays were finished we pre-stretched them on the ground to settle the splices using a 6-part purchase pulley (our main sheet) tied to a bollard. Bryce then concentrated on getting the masts rigged, electric cables fitted for navigation lights and VHF areal, and everything checked and double-checked.
As has been our custom, we relaxed at the weekends by going on little field trips to archaeological sites and to enjoy beautiful scenery, which there is plenty of close to Messolonghi. One site was of particular interest as here there were ancient ship docks carved out of the hillside as part of a fortified town complex dating back to the 4th and 3rd Centuries BC (Oiniadai). The harbour is now surrounded by land due to silting and changing sea levels. Freshwater turtles live in the remaining ponds.
We were ready to raise the masts on 11th May, the marina crane was ordered and a team of helpers moved the masts to the outside of the hulls from where the crane could lift them. It turned out Paul was a pro at directing the crane driver with hand signals, so the whole operation of lifting both masts in went like clockwork.
Our helpers were the crew of our sister ship ‘Largyalo’, which had again spent the winter in Messolonghi marina. Largyalo was close to being lifted back into the water, but first we had to celebrate James’ birthday on the 15th of May. It now was a tradition to eat a ‘Swartzwälder Kirschtorte’ (Black Forrest gateau), specially made by Petra of Largyalo. This was the third time we were celebrating James’ birthday together with one of Petra’s fantastic cakes. Two days later we all assembled to watch Largyalo being lifted in by the crane. Always an anxious moment, but all went well.
Slatted platform and walkways
Gaia was now close to being a seaworthy vessel again with hulls painted, beams lashed and masts raised. It was great to stand back and see her fully assembled. This just left us with beautifying the ancillary bits. This meant renovating the bow walk and slatted crosswalks fore and aft of the deckpods, as well as replacing a section of the slatted centre platform, all of which looked tired and had patches of rot.
The bow walk is where the two anchor rollers are fitted, with two large killicks (anchor cleats) to belay the warps, plus a locker for the main warp and chain. We follow the traditional American system of short (10m) chain and nylon warp (100m), rather than the British system of all chain, which is very heavy. This bow walk also gives easy access to the head sails. It looked bad, the paint and wood was battered, the slats had rotten or soft bits and the main anchor killick had splits and rot and needed replacing.
Last year we had bought hardwood planks to make a new section for the centre platform, which Thomas, our Canadian helper had been working on (see part 6). However I was not happy with this choice of wood, the wide planks were heavy and had grooves in them, which were impossible to line up when scarfing the planks to their full length.
When visiting the timber yard again, we discovered enough Okume timber to make much lighter slats for the centre platform, so we decided to use the heavier grooved timber to replace all the slats on the bow walk as well as replacing them on the little cross walks fore and aft of the deckpods, which were in a similar bad state.
When removing all the old slats and killicks, more rot patches were found and a section of plywood had to be replaced. All was then recoated/glassed with epoxy and painted. New stiffer and stronger slats were made from the nice grooved hardwood. Each slat had to be measured separately as the whole structure tapered towards the bow. The end result was beautiful and well worth all the hard work.
All the short slats for the other walkways were also prepared. About 70 pieces, all needing to be cut, drilled, ends radiused and sanded all over. Bryce, Jen and myself set up a production line in the shade under the platform and worked our way through the stacks of wood. Paul, our inventive machinist, rigged up the drill stand for efficient and accurate drilling of the bolt/screw holes. He also cleaned up all the 6mm stainless steel machine screws that were removed from the old walkways and platform, so we could reuse them. At €0.45 a piece to buy new locally, this was well worth it.
Here is a useful bit of information on the removal of old Sikaflex. Earlier Paul had removed the rope clutches from the boom because they were stiff with corrosion. He soaked them in vinegar to try to clean the corroded aluminium. As a result we discovered that the vinegar had also softened the old sikaflex on their base. After a couple of days soaking it just peeled off in rubbery strips. So all the old machine screws, which were clogged with sikaflex where the nuts had been, were thrown in a pot of vinegar, after which they were easily cleaned with an electric wire brush.
Problems in the marina
What has not been mentioned so far is the problems that were affecting all the boat owners in Messolonghi Marina. This problem already existed, on and off, since 2012 and I mentioned it in part 1. Due to political scheming by the Greek shareholder in the marina, the fact that the marina did not have an ‘Environmental Licence’ became a lever he used for his personal benefit. This year this had escalated to the point that officially no-one could do any work inside the marina.
Pressure washing and applying anti fouling paint were a particular problem. Whenever someone was seen to be doing this or any other ‘work’, ‘someone’ complained to the port police, who were then obliged to investigate and fine the offending person. This is a long story, which I cannot fully explain here, but the Dutch owner/manager and the very helpful marina staff were on the side of the yachties and did all they could to help, including paying the fines incurred. They are also working hard to get the application for the Environmental Licence through the Greek bureaucratic machine, which is a long process.
We had been lucky so far, we were shielded by several other boats and could work on deck out of sight, or under the platform camouflaged by some washing strung on lines. Other boat owners set a watch (even the marineros armed with VHF would do this on occasion) so they could quickly hide when the port police drove in. It was like a Meercat colony, with watchers giving the danger signal. Poor Petra was summoned to the police station after having been seen with an industrial vacuum cleaner and sander under her boat. Petra is a powerful woman, but even she could not avoid being fined. The marina compensated her.
Making a platform kit off-site
So when we had to make a new platform, involving cutting many scarfs with a noisy power planer, we felt we would be pushing our luck trying to do this inside the marina. We were very fortunate in having a timber yard with extremely helpful and friendly owners. They allowed us to use their workshop as our own, to cut the scarfs and glue them on site. Then after they had run the slats through their planer, we could make up the whole platform as a self-assembly kit before transporting it back to the marina where it was screwed together in a few hours. I don't think ‘health and safety’ would ever allow this in the UK, but this is Greece and it is wonderful.
Assembling the platform was the last thing we had time for. Then it was back home to Cornwall and more frantic work to get Mana finished for Brest and Douarnenez. (See our Facebook page, June 27 and July 7).
Part 8 will follow soon, with news of Gaia’s launch and first sails!