Oystercatcher, Yard Period, 2019-20, Part I

Oystercatcher, September 2019, ready for her extended yard period

If you wish to keep your sailing vessel in good working order and looking her best, or nearly so, then it's good to set aside time each year to perform a series of tasks. In northern climes, as I have heard and read, sailors normally haul their vessels out not long after the end of the summer and then relaunch them sometime in the spring before the beginning of the next summer. This extended time in the yard gives many a sailor time on either end of the sailing season to perform the appropriate maintenance, as weather permits. In southern climes, on the other hand, as I know from personal experience, many sailors leave their boats in the water year-round and avoid hauling out their vessels unless absolutely necessary. This is the reason, it seems to me, why sailing vessels in southern climes often lack the luster of those in higher latitudes.

Ever since I launched Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25, in July of 2015, I have made a point, every autumn, of hauling her out of the water in order to keep her in good working order and looking her best, or nearly so. This annual ritual, which in keeping with common parlance, I call "yard period," normally consists of at least two months worth of late-afternoon and early-evening work on weekdays, and full days of work on the weekends, including the hauling out and the relaunching of the vessel. 

Yes, two months is the normal length of the yard period for Oystercatcher, but on occasions it is necessary for her yard period to stretch longer, and her yard period in the autumn of 2019 and the winter of 2020 is a good example, when it stretched from early September 2019 to February 2020.

I have not been as faithful to this blog as I was during the period of my purchase and refitting of Oystercatcher from 2009-2015, but no one should equate my neglect of this blog with a neglect of my sailing vessel. If you ask why I have neglected this blog, I will say simply that it is not because of my lack of interest but because of my lack of time. 
Hurricane Dorian, off Charleston, South Carolina, early September 2019

It is often the case that a hurricane threatens Charleston in the month of September, and this usually gives me an excellent reason to haul out Oystercatcher. In late August 2019 Hurricane Dorian approached the Bahamas south and east of Charleston as a Category 5 storm, and many in the Lowcountry of South Carolina began to make preparations for what looked like would be a direct hit.
As was always the case, there was a considerable amount of uncertainty in the projected track. Hoping the storm would veer off track and thus bypass Charleston, and not wanting to haul out Oystercatcher just yet, I moved her to an empty slip on the inside of the marina, thinking she would ride out any high winds just fine in this location.
Soon, the track of the storm looked more threatening, and soon my buddy and I were performing the annual ritual of hauling her out. It was a good decision. Several boats in the inside area of the marina where I had moved my boat would suffer damage in the storm, and two would sink. Above we see Oystercatcher at a public boat ramp waiting for her trailer.
The bottom of the boat did not look bad when we got her out of the water. My buddy and I have gotten good at launching and hauling out this boat, but we have made a number of errors since 2015, all of them associated with the stepping and unstepping of the mast. There are many things that can go wrong. This time we were error free.
The first thing I did when I got Oystercatcher back home was to pressure wash her hull, while the growth on the hull was still wet and slimy and relatively easy to remove.
I then parked her, as always, on a concrete slab on the side of my neighbor's house. A salty, bluewater sailor in his earlier years, he lets me put her there during storms, because it's about the old spot on the street where a tree can't fall on her.
Fortunately, Hurricane Dorian veered eastward as it neared the Lowcountry, and Charleston avoided a direct hit. Soon after the wind and rain passed, I moved Oystercatcher back into place beside my house and prepared her for her annual yard period. This involved removing the roller furler and genoa and then removing the mast.
A couple of days later I visited the marina. Four boats total had sunk during the storm, and quite a few others were battered and scuffed. 
Back before Hurricane Dorian had posed a threat to the Lowcountry, I had done some work on some winches that I had salvaged from another Ericson 25.
Some acquaintances had purchased an Ericson 25 from a local attorney. They had moved the boat to their private dock on a saltwater creek. They put about one year worth of labor into their refitting of this vessel. All was going well until one day when the centerboard line broke. The board swung down, just as it is supposed to do, whenever you let the line out. The tide was high when this happened, and my acquaintances were away from the boat and at work. When they came home, they found their boat sitting on the bottom of the creek. The centerboard, as they later discovered, had swung down and lodged itself firmly in thick and sticky pluff mud of the creek. Then, when the tide dropped, the boat had impaled itself on the centerboard. With some ingenuity they were able to refloat the boat and pull her up onto the bank of the creek for repairs. Eventually, however, they decided she was too far gone and that the best thing to do would be to cut her up and haul away the pieces. I lent at hand and ended up with the mast, the tabernacle, the boom, the traveler, the pulpit, the centerboard, and the winches. 
It took four of us the better part of a long and hot day in July to cut up this Ericson 25 with reciprocating saws and to haul away the pieces.
I disassembled the winches and then cleaned them with kerosene. At the same time, I contemplated where I might place one or two of them on Oystercatcher.
The pulpit of Oystercatcher was in bad shape from four years worth of use. In the summer of 2016, I had broken the weld on the port side forward leg while trying to break my plow anchor free from some stubborn pluff mud on the bottom of a tidal creek. Later, the starboard side forward leg worked itself loose from its set screw. There was no way for me to reinstall the set screw, because the mahogany anchor roller platform was in the way. This meant that the front two legs of the pulpit were not secured in any way to the deck of the boat.
This meant I had no choice but to remove the anchor roller and the mahogany platform to repair the pulpit.
It took a fair amount of time to remove everything. I was pleased to see that the mahogany was in good condition on the bottom side of the platform and that the deck did not have any blisters from trapped moisture.
After I had removed everything, I plugged up the holes with some of the leftover butyl tape to prevent water intrusion.
Inside my shop I used mineral spirits to remove the butyl tape that remained.
The motor mounting pad, which I had constructed out of a thick piece of mahogany and aluminum plates was in bad condition. It appeared as if saltwater had intruded and caused problems. My Yamaha 9.9 high thrust motor was also due for some serious maintenance, so I decided it was time to remove both the motor and the motor mounting pad. These pieces of equipment had been in place since I had launched the boat in 2015.
Before I could remove the motor, I had to remove the battery wires from inside the cockpit locker. This, of course, took longer than I had anticipated.
Inside my shop, I analyzed some of the wear and tear that had been visible on the outside of the motor.
The manual tilt pin for the motor was thoroughly rusted. I never used it, because I had paid extra for an electric tilt.
Other parts were also showing their age.
The saltwater that had crept between the plates and the mahogany had created corrosive pits not only in the aluminum but also in the mahogany. This was a result of electrolytic corrosion between the aluminum and the stainless steel hardware that held the motor mounting pad to the motor mount.
A day's worth of hard labor brought the hull back up to its glossy best. I hate wrestling with that Makita buffer, and I hate the way my arms and shoulders feel the next day, but I love the end results.
The boot stripes were showing wear and tear, so on another day, after I had finished buffing the hull, I taped them off on each side of the boat, sanded them thoroughly with 320 grit paper.
I gave the stripes two coats of paint, rolling and tipping, to make them as glossy as possible.
Next, came the prep work for varnishing the rails, the main salon hatch, and the instrument panels in the cockpit.
Epifanes has long been my varnish of choice. Applying it is a yearly ritual.
Proper varnishing, of course, involves proper sanding after each coat.
Ah . . . the beauty of freshly varnished mahogany.
One of the LED spreader lights that I had installed during the yard period of 2015-16 had failed due to water intrusion.
My first step in replacing it was to cut the wires, something I would have preferred not to do, but I had no choice.
Having buffed the hull and repainted the boot stripes, I could now move on to the bottom of the boat. The first step was to tape the bottom of the boot stripe.
Supplies for cleaning the hull, the second step in prepping the boat for bottom paint.
My face shield to protect me from the solvents while working beneath the bottom of the boat.
While cleaning the bottom, I noticed many scratches and indentations in it. The more I cleaned, the more I realized that these were the result of the grounding that had occurred in the summer of 2019.
I cleaned the scratches and indentations with xylene to ensure that any wax that might still have existed from the manufacturing of the boat in 1975 would not prevent me from successfully applying thickened epoxy to the damaged areas.
The scratches and indentations were scattered about the hull -- as opposed to being concentrated in a single spot, because the boat had come to rest on an oyster bank on the side of a tidal creek.
The scratches and indentations were on both sides of the hull, because of the way the boat had come to rest on the oyster bank, first on her starboard side and then on her port side as the waters of the creek ebbed. The story of how this happened goes like this . . .
My buddy and I were anchored in Station Creek near the mouth of Port Royal Sound south of Charleston. We spent our last hour of daylight plotting the course we would follow at dawn the next morning in our offshore passage from Port Royal South northward to Saint Helena Sound. At one point during our plotting, my buddy suggested that we stop and re-anchor, because it looked as if we would be too close to the bank if the wind happened to shift in the night. I suggested that we instead double check our calculations before dark, because that was more important. It was good that we invested our time in checking our math and our lines, because we had made an error -- one that would have resulted in us running aground on some of the many shoals offshore. All seemed well after nightfall, so instead of bothering to re-anchor the boat in the dark, we decided to turn in for some sleep. Shortly after we had fallen asleep, a thunderstorm came up and the wind shifted. Soon it felt like I was lying at an angle in the V-berth. Soon my buddy also noticed something amiss. He jumped up and threw open the hatch. All we could see was marsh grass on one side of the boat and water on the other. Realizing that the boat was rapidly listing more and more as the tide continued to fall, we quickly grabbed our knives, flashlights, and the large, LED spotlight. We wanted to get out of Oystercatcher as quickly as possible, because it seemed as if she might tumble down the steep bank.
When the boat seemed as if she could list no further, I went inside to get some food and other supplies, because we thought the boat might flood with water when the tide started to rise. The hammocks (full of food) inside of the boat were hanging at odd angles, and I was worried that my weight inside the boat might cause the boat to roll down the oyster bank and into the water. Fortunately, that did not happen.
One thing we needed from inside of the boat was the spare anchor line and spare anchor. We were worried that as water began to rise, it would come over the top of the starboard side cockpit coaming, and when it did, there would be no way to prevent it from entering the cabin. There was also the cut-out in the transom, i.e. the cut-out for the motor. There was no way to block this off, and the water was slowly starting to rush in from the ocean toward the stern. My buddy, with his engineering mind, thought we should do everything we could to help Oystercatcher right herself before the tide started rising too rapidly. We spent about an hour rigging up blocks and lines that would allow us to jump off the boat onto the oyster bank, run the anchor out into the marsh, and then use this anchor to support a line to the masthead that would allow us to leverage the boat just enough to prevent her from flooding. 
With everything ready, we stood on the high side of the boat, watching the water rise, not wanting to jump off the boat and run out into the marsh with the anchor unless it seemed for sure that the boat was going to take on water. The water rose higher and higher and flowed faster and faster, and when it was about six inches from the edge of the coaming and seemed as if it would soon be coming in, the boat slowly started righting herself. This self-righting action continued for about thirty minutes, and in about thirty more minutes we were at last floating free. It was then that we took the time to re-anchor the boat. This was a very long night indeed. Sometime around 0500 we went back to sleep. Needless to say, we did not depart for our offshore passage at dawn.
Another problem that I needed to address was the bent spreader bracket on the starboard side of the mast. During the previous yard period I had installed a new, Dwyer brand spreader bracket after I had hopelessly bent the existing Dwyer bracket when attempting to step the mast. The new bracket that I had received from Dwyer in the mail was itself bent, but only slightly so. Nevertheless, I did not like it that it was not in perfect condition. I called to complain, and the person at Dwyer said it was not unusual for them to have a slight bend in them. He said it was a result of the manufacturing process and that when I riveted it to the mast it would correct the problem. It did indeed seem to correct the problem when I riveted it to the mast, but then again I could not get a good view of the spreaders when the mast was sitting on the sawhorses in my yard. It was only after I had stepped the mast and launched the boat that I noticed that the spreader bracket was in fact still bent, causing the spreader to be unsymmetrical relative to the other one. Quite frustrating. 
Using a spud wrench and steel pipe as a lever, I was able to bend the stainless steel tab without damaging the bracket itself.
I used my bevel gauge to set the tab as precisely the same angle as the other bracket, which was still on the mast.
Afterwards, I tested the bracket and spreader relative to the existing ones. Not bad.
I was running low on bottom paint, so I had to order another can of Pettit Ultimate SR40. I have had a lot of success with this paint here in the Lowcountry.
I always shake the can as well as I can and then use the stirring bit in the can of paint itself, before pouring the can into the bucket, where I stir it yet again. That's the only way to get that copper fully mixed.
Normally, I just roll on two coats of this bottom paint along the waterline, since that's the area that gets the most abuse. This year, I painted as much of the bottom as I could access. It needed it, and besides, I needed to cover those areas that I had skimmed with thickened epoxy, i.e., those areas where the scratches and indentations had been.
She looked almost brand new when I was finished.
Up on the foredeck, I removed the pulpit and then cleaned up some of the residue that remained from the butyl tape I had used to seal up things.
Removing the pulpit required me to cut the wires to the navigation lights. This I would have preferred not to do, but I had no choice.
Several weeks had passed since I had done the the varnish work. Ideally, I would have removed the blue painter's tape soon afterwards. My delay made my removal of the tape considerably more challenging. So many things to do . . . so little time.
I knew that I wanted to install one of the winches I had salvaged from that other Ericson 25 on the side of my mast.
One evening, therefore, I spent some time in my shop, planning how I might mount it on the aluminum mounting pad that I was considering purchasing from Defender in Connecticut.
For a completely unrelated project, I made a trip on afternoon after work to Charleston Yachting to speak with Rand Draftz, the all-around good guy who had done the rigging for Oystercatcher back when I had spent those years refitting her. When my buddy and I were unstepping the mast as Hurricane Dorian approach, we had made a mistake and as a result had destroyed one of the pieces of rigging. Our mistake was that we had forgotten to loosen the upper shrouds before dropping the mast. This caused them to come under great strain when the mast was about one foot above the crutch over the bow. We could not lift the mast back up, and we could not move the boom on account of the tension. Therefore, we had no choice but to cut the shroud with the bolt cutters I always keep in the settee locker with the other tools.
Fortunately, I didn't have to cut the entire shroud, only the short piece of the shroud between the mast-stepping, guy-wire tang and the turnbuckle. Since this short piece of rigging was swedged to the turnbuckle, I had no choice but to replace the entire turnbuckle. Randy thought it would be a good idea to replace the other short piece of rigging and turnbuckle while I was at it, because the wire showed some evidence of "birdnesting," as he called it. This is when a piece of wire has been twisted against itself and thus loosened to some degree. Randy used his Kearney swedger to do the job.
I also asked Randy to replace the original topping lift, the one piece of rigging I had not replaced during the refitting. This plastic covered wire was rusty with age. Randy suggested that I not replace it with wire but with Dyneema, a high-tech synthetic line that is stronger than steel. While at Charleston Rigging I spotted a Schaefer brand aluminum cleat. I ended up buying this, because it looked just right for the winch I planned to instal on my mast.
Soon a package arrived in the mail from Defender. In it was a new jar of Tef-gel, something I needed for the hardware I would be installing on the mast. Also in it was the aluminum mast winch pad.
The winch pad seemed as if it was just the right size for this vintage, Barlow brand winch.
A completely unrelated project that I had long wanted to tackle was the rewiring of my emergency bilge pump. When I had initially installed this pump, I had followed the advice of Don Casey, This Old Boat. Specifically, I had not installed a float switch, by which the pump would be automatically activated in the event of high water in the bilge. Instead, I had wired the pump to a switch in the galley, by which only I or someone else could activate it in in the event of an emergency. Don Casey's reasoning was that it was better to let the primary bilge pump (with a float switch) do all the work, because if the emergency bilge pump (with a float switch) joined in, then it would run down the battery, thus rendering the primary bilge pump - and the emergency one, for that matter - useless. 
My thinking for quite a while had been that it would be good to have both pumps working automatically in an emergency, and, perhaps more importantly, it would be good the have the emergency bilge ready to work automatically if, for some reason, the float switch or the fuse on the primary bilge pump unexpectedly failed - especially while I was sleeping at night. I might not realize that the boat was sinking until the water was as high enough to wake me up. By that point, it would probably be too late. That was my thinking on the subject, and my thinking had only increased after my buddy and I had spend that night atop the oyster bank. 
The addition of the float switch on the pump in the bilge required me to add an additional wire to the existing, manual switch in the galley. This enabled me to make use of the "auto" setting on this switch, which allowed the float switch to remain ever at the ready.
I routed this red wire down alongside the other bilge pump wires, opting not to encase it with the other wires in the existing conduits.
I installed the float switch on the plywood shelf next to the emergency bilge pump. This would ensure that it would not turn on the pump unless the water was well above the primary bilge pump (pictured in yellow underneath).
Another thing that I had long wanted to do was to remove the terminal block that I had installed in bilge when I had rewired the boat in 2014-15. I never should have put it there. To remedy the situation, I installed the terminal block on this bulkhead in the lazarette and routed the bilge pump wires to this point. This would keep the ring terminals for these wires well above any water that might slosh around in the bilge.
Yet another completely unrelated project that I needed to tackle concerned the air conditioner box. In the four years that this box had been exposed to the elements it had begun to show some wear and tear. The main panel had many cracks in it, probably on account of its constant exposure to the sun in the southern sky.
The cracks were more cosmetic issues than anything else, because there was no evidence of rot on that main panel. This was not the case, however, with the starboard side panel of the box.
A month or so before I had hauled the boat out of the water I had reached down beside the air conditioner box on the starboard side to pick something up that had fallen into the crack. It was then that I noticed the starboard side panel was rotten - paper thin. I couldn't believe that the box had not collapse at some point in the summer, because I had climbed into and out of the boat many times, stepping on top of that box with much of my weight as I went.
The air conditioner itself was in bad shape, but amazingly it would continue to work just fine for me long after this time.
It appeared at first that the port side of the box was also rotten, but fortunately all it needed was a good cleaning.
After I removed the air conditioner box I installed the original, teak wash boards. These would serve me well from this moment in September until around the end of April, when I was finally able to complete my repairs of the box.
To prep the winch pad for its installation on the side of the mast, I drilled holes of the appropriate size through it.
My drill press made this job much easier than it would otherwise have been.
I used Tef-gel between the aluminum pad and the bronze winch to help prevent corrosion.
There were six screws for the winch. I was, however, only able to drill five holes through the winch pad. One of the aluminum stiffeners on the back of the pad was in the way.
Here's a good picture of the aluminum cleat that I purchase to install on the mast next to the winch.
Another project related to the emergency bilge pump that I undertook at this time was the wiring of this red, emergency, indicator light to the float switch on the emergency bilge pump. On the same trip where my buddy and I had ended up on the oyster bank near Port Royal Sound we had experienced a bit of a scare with the primary bilge pump cycling on and off in quick succession. This was two days after we had been aground. We were both in the cockpit and motoring across the Dawhoo River when I went down below and heard what I thought was the bilge pump working. I didn't think anything of it until several minutes later when I went back down below and heard it again. This was not normal. I stopped what I was doing, removed the board in sole of the main salon and investigated. The bilge was cycling on and off almost without cessation. Looking into the lazarette, I could see water running down the face of the transom. I eventually figured out that the source of the leak was the drain hole in cockpit. Some of the gelcoat from the walls of the drain hole had flaked off and exposed a small opening in the joint between the deck and the hull. I plugged it with some butyl tape, and that solved the problem for the moment. Reflecting on this situation after the fact, I decided it would be a good idea to put a light in the cockpit to let me know if the bilge pump was operating, because it was impossible to hear the bilge pump cycling on and off while using the motor underway. 
I fashioned a piece of starboard into a backer board of sorts for the light, because I figured that it would give this job a more professional appearance.
I had no choice but to drill the hole for the light in the position seen in the picture above. There were various obstructions on the interior of the cabin.
I bought the biggest indicator light on the market, because I wanted to make sure that I would notice the light even on a bright, sunny day.

I used butyl tape to create a seal.

A nice thing about this light was that replacing the bulb did not require replacing the bezel. In this regard, it was not unlike the way many tail lights used to be on cars.
I had wanted to wire this light to the primary bilge pump, but that, as I found out, would have required a much more extensive wiring job. One other thing that led me to wire it to the emergency bilge pump instead was that I already had an unused piezo alarm in place, right next to this light, and with a single positive wire I could easily join both the light and the alarm to the terminal block for the emergency bilge pump in the lazarette. I had originally planned to use this piezo alarm as an anchor-drag alarm for the GPS, but I had never found it useful. You can see the circular, black, piezo alarm just above the soap dispenser.
While all this was fresh in mind, I went ahead an ordered a replacement bulb for this emergency light. I have a plastic box with spare bulbs and fuses that I store in the one of the V-berth lockers. That way, if I am far away from home, I am always prepared.
Another completed unrelated project that I wanted to tackle during the yard period was the construction of a panel for the motor cutout in the transom. You'll recall that when aground on the oyster bank near Port Royal Sound, my buddy and I were worried that the rising water in the tidal creek would rush through the cutout and sink the boat. The boat came with a panel for this cutout (pictured right), but it was no longer suitable for the cutout, since I had altered its size when I had reinforced the transom with aluminum and wood to accommodate the Yamaha 9.9 high thrust motor I had purchased back during my lengthy refitting of Oystercatcher. At that time I had in fact created a new panel for the new cutout, and I had gone so far as to epoxy coat it and sand it several times, but I had never completed this little project. Now it was time to get it done.
I planned to make use of the aluminum on the old panel to create flanges for the new panel, but I needed some additional aluminum to create some standoffs, so that the panel would fit properly into the space. Unfortunately, I did not have any scrap aluminum of the appropriate thickness, so I had to order a plate of that thickness from McMaster-Carr in Atlanta.
I used my Milwaukee Tools portaband and my Swag brand table to rip strips of the appropriate width from this aluminum plate. Two thumbs up for Swag! I discovered Swag several years ago. Much easier to have a portaband and the Swag table than having a dedicated metal bandsaw, at least for someone like me who does not do extensive metal working.
I then used my drill press to create the holes in the panel into which I would screw the aluminum standoffs and flanges.

I used my bench top sander to deburr the strips of aluminum.
It was a perfect fit. Now, I needed to put this panel project aside. All I needed to do was to paint the panel, but this could wait until I was ready to paint the air conditioner box, and that would be quite far in the future.
At this point, I decided to return to my mast winch project. I had, in fact, almost completely installed this mast winch pad a week or two earlier. I had, however, ruined one of the heavy-duty monel rivets when I was in the process of installing the mast winch. Short one rivet, I had no choice but to order an entire box of monel rivets. You can see the red box in the photo above. Frustrating! This, though, as I learned long ago, is the nature of any sort of boat work or construction work. One screw or rivet or nail can block your progress and end up costing you a lot of time and money.
Not bad, after all was said and done.
Now it was time to install the winch itself.
I used the same techniques described on this very blog for the reinstallation of the Barlow winch. The box prevents any springs or pawls from springing away or falling to the ground.
I used a piece of dental floss to work the final pieces into place while keeping the pawls in the right position.
Ah, yes. Nice! So why did I want a second winch on the mast? Well, for one thing, it would make it easier to get good tension in the main sail, since the existing winch was dedicated to the keeping tension in the genoa on the roller furler. The main reason, however, why I wanted a second winch was because when my buddy and I were aground on that oyster bank near Port Royal Sound we needed a second winch on the mast. In our plan to help the boat right herself we had wanted to use the existing mast winch to gain mechanical advantage, but the existing mast winch was on the port side of the mast. This was the side of the boat that was listing toward the water, and due to degree to which the boat was listing it was impossible for us to access the winch without falling off the boat and into the water.
This ends this first part of the three-part article on the 2019-20 yard period of Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.

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