Thursday, December 25, 2014

Tornado Boat Repairs Are Done!

After our 2 summer trips, it was time to finally release "Help Me Rhonda" to J's Landing in Muscle Shoals for repairs, hoping that she would be ready for a late fall trip of some sort.  We said our final farewells to all of the staff at Joe Wheeler State Park and Lodge.  We had come to know all of the folks there by name and one of the dining room staff even made us a "Goodbye" banana pudding. The story - the dining room's most common dessert was cobbler but it was not one of our favorites with too much cinnamon. On the other hand, they had a killer banana pudding but it was very seldom on the menu. So, Haley decided she would make us a treat.  She somehow managed to drop the first one she made coming down the stairs, so she made us a second one!  Thanks Haley, hope to see you and the others again (but glad to be moving back to the condo for now!).

Wheeler was a great place for temporary quarters as temporary quarters go.  It was only about ten minutes from the condo, we were able to dock the boat there, the dining room and menu were good, walking trails, bike riding, lots of boats, nice pool, and occasional special events to break up the monotony of living in one room for 5 months! The deer have come to trust visitors to the park and are always in the area.  The golf course was closed for the summer for repairs so a good spot to catch the deer out grazing was on the course.

One of the special events was a Shrimpfest and BBQ, sponsored by Baumhower's restaurants to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Alabama's State Parks.  The food was great and the band was pretty good also.

Another event was an antique "woodie" boat show - you get the idea.

Did I mention that the condo was ready for furniture again?  It had been a long and tiring few months. Contractors, sub-contractors, and insurance companies make it difficult but it turned out nice.  We especially like our new floors.  The last ones were oak and I was personally very tired of that look. So, we took a leap and went with an "exotic" floor - Brazilian Tigerwood.  Here's the living area close to being ready and before the final trim work was done.

Anyhow, back to the boat.  We were barely small enough for their travel lift and they had to turn it around backwards to accommodate the vertical clearance limits but it worked.  They got her inside and all blocked up.  This would be her new home for a couple of months.  

The service facility was very accommodating and allowed me to come over anytime I wanted to oversee the process and help out as well.  So, I chose to redo the swim platform and ladder myself. My friend, Bob Hopson, helped me cut new teak steps for the ladder in his workshop, and I applied twelve coats of varnish on our back deck at the condo - turned out nice.

I forgot to get a shot of the swim platform before I started the work but let's just say it was in rough shape as a whole. Also, the tornado had damaged one corner and the ladder had pulled loose from the platform, damaging some of that teak board also.

Take a close look at all of this surface area.  Every square inch had to be sanded and taken down to the original wood - top, bottom, edges, and inside all of the slotted openings.  I sanded for a week working 8 hours a day just to get it ready for finishing.

I happened across a product I had never used before - Deks Olje' which is basically a teak oil.  Teak oil generally looks great but does not last long at all.  However, Deks Olje' has a different twist to it. Not only is the teak oil (Deks Olje 1) much heavier and penetrating (made in New Zealand, which has no EPA regulations), but after you soak the teak in the oil until it will not absorb any more (for my project, 5 heavy coats over two days), you then add 3 to 5 coats of Deks Olje' 2 which is teak oil with a FLEXIBLE VARNISH!  Never heard of such a thing but it looks great.  We'll see how she holds up but a service yard in Ft. Myers, FL that has used it for 27 years assured me it will with a couple of fresh coats of the #2 every year (and that is in the salt water and steady sun of south Florida).

"Help Me Rhonda" got lots of repairs, but the big ticket items were all new hull paint from the rub rail down, 4 coats of Interprotect 2000 barrier paint, 3 coats of Interprotect Micron Extra bottom paint, new cutless bearings, new dripless shaft stuffing boxes, new water intake grilles, new handrails along the walk-around exterior deck, and new canvas and isinglass on the aft deck.  Here's the boat after the Interprotect 2000 coats.

And the finished product.

The progress on the marina here at the condo has been very slow after the tornado (primarily insurance delays) and it will be spring before any docks are ready and available.  In the meantime, we have rented a slip at the City Harbor Marina in Florence, AL to be  "Help Me Rhonda's"  home for the winter.

We took the repair opportunity with all of the improvements to go ahead and get a new survey for the boat.  While she was out of the water at J's Landing, we had the surveyor come over and complete that portion of the survey.  A couple of weeks later when were able to get over to Grand Harbor Marina in Pickwick, TN, he completed the in-the-water part of the survey and she got a great review with only a couple of recommendations to get done - things like up-to-date inspections of fire extinguishers and posting a trash disposal plan in the galley, nothing mechanical or structural in scope. The surveyor had never surveyed a Gulfstar trawler in his 20 years or so of experience.  When completed he said; "This is quite a tough old boat, she is built like a tank!  She is in great shape and has lots of good years left in her."

We agree.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Well, At Least The Entire Summer Was not A Bust - 2 Short Trips

As I noted in the previous post, we did get two short trips in after the tornado and before giving the boat up to the repair facility for a couple of months.

Our first trip was about 100 miles up-river to Goose Pond Colony in Scottsboro, AL to join friends from our previous association with the Huntsville US Power Squadron group for the July 4th weekend.  For those unfamiliar with USPS (not to be confused with the US Postal Service), it is a national boating organization with a long history of recreational boating emphasis and lots of training courses to improve one's boating knowledge. I've personally taken the Seamanship, Engine Maintenance, Marine Electronics, Piloting, Advanced Piloting, and Navigation courses.  The squadron had a dinner planned for Friday at the local "Docks" restaurant, BBQ at the pavilion on Saturday afternoon, and marina fireworks that evening.

The Tennessee River is almost 800 miles long, originating at Knoxville, TN and ending close to Paducah, KY where it feeds into the Ohio River.  The scenery and "characteristics" of the river change frequently and this stretch is a very pretty section. The river in our home area is primarily residential with wide open areas of the river, some almost 3 miles across with no shallow water to be concerned about, great for boating and water sports. Leaving our home and heading upstream, you pass through a heavy industrial area around Decatur, AL. While the river is still very wide through this 20-mile stretch, the channel is narrow with lots of shoaling on both sides. There is no avoiding the railroad lift bridge for boats with much height at all, but we caught it at just the right time and with no delays.

One Decatur claim to fame is the Meow Mix facility.  Have you ever noticed that the name is in the shape of a cat?

Shortly thereafter you pass underneath I-65 and about 30 miles of "nothingness," primarily due to some designated wildlife areas, farmland, and Redstone Army Arsenal owning most of the riverbank.  Below, Rhonda at the helm approaching the interstate.

There are lots of rolling hills and rock cliffs along the way, just nice easy scenic cruising.

The city of Huntsville has only one marina on the river, "Ditto Landing," and it is several miles south of the downtown area. We have been in and out of here so many times we just didn't take many pictures, but we did get a shot of HMR at their new 60-foot transient slips.  They have some nice walking trails, nice facilities, and an RV park.  Even bought a T-shirt since lots of my many Loop shirts are beginning to look a little worn.

However, I did take time to take a picture of my entertainment for the evening - watching all of the folks loading and unloading their boats at the ramp. I noticed at least two couples that drove up by car and just parked to watch it also.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary had just dropped off one boat they had towed in.  There's always the guy who forgets to raise the engine and then drags the foot of the outboard across the concrete. One guy had obviously just completed some engine maintenance on his, so he backed in and just ran the engine about 30 minutes while at least 30 or 40 other boats were waiting to use one of the ramps.  I'm sure many marriages and relationships have ended at the boat ramp. You kind of had to be there, but one was particularly funny - the guy driving the truck was obviously new at it and there is an art to it no doubt.  He was backing up to load the boat and was still at least 200 feet away and just stopped like, "OK, what do I do now?"  His friend hollered from the boat and said, "Come on back just a little bit more."  Like I said, you had to be there to sense the humor and sarcasm.  Remember, it doesn't take much to entertain me, especially after a long day on the water.

Lots more rolling hills as you continue upriver eastbound.

The highlight of those hills is known as "Painted Rock."

And from a distance.  Have you noticed how nice the view is now with the glass windows instead of the old isinglass?

There is one lock to transition into the Guntersville Lake section of the river and we had no delays. Guntersville is a high-rent district with lots of fine homes and enclosed boat houses.  After about 20 miles of that, there's the entrance into Goose Pond Marina.  Goose Pond is a first-class marina with lots of amenities - bought another T-shirt!

And for some reason, we did not take any pictures of all of the festivities, I guess just busy having a good time reconnecting with the power squadron members and meeting some new folks as well.  Another Gold Looper couple was there, Bob and Liz Staggs, so we had fun comparing notes and swapping stories with them.

And here is my favorite shot of this trip.  I'm picturing in my mind their conversation the night before - something like, "Hey guys, what do you think we should wear tomorrow?"  Like I said previously, doesn't take much to entertain me. 

Anyhow, a good time was had by all and it was a welcome 5-day reprieve from the tornado recovery.

Before our second trip, I also managed to get in some time pursuing an idle problem on our starboard engine.  It just doesn't want to handle much load at all while at idle and will sometimes choke down, usually at a very inconvenient moment, you know, like docking!  So, I had City Diesel in Decatur rebuild the fuel injection pump and they challenged me to put it back on myself!  Always up for a challenge (and it would save about $300), I called my good boating, church, and dominoes friend, Bob Hopson, and invited him to assist with the challenge and offered a free breakfast before we would start.  He was glad to help, with or without the breakfast, and after about 5 hours in the engine room and a test run afterwards, it appeared to be a successful venture.  Thanks to City Diesel and Bob.

Our second trip was a short distance, 35 miles downstream to Florence, AL.  There are actually 4 towns in the metropolitan area - Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield. When you combine all 4 towns together, it becomes one of the largest metropolitan areas in Alabama behind Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, and Huntsville.  They host a week and a half long music festival every year in honor of WC Handy, the first person to pen blues music to paper. So, we decided to take a few days and enjoy some of the festivities, good food, and entertainment.  You guessed it - bought another T-shirt.  We docked at the Florence Harbor Marina, and Bob (now my boating, church, dominoes, and diesel mechanic friend) and Barbara joined us in their RV.

We were a little early for most of the WC Handy music but Rhonda and I did catch a large jazz band, "River City Jazz," and I just happened up on a music seminar and jazz performance by Norris Jones, a prominent lead guitarist from the area.  I have decided to fulfill a long-time desire of mine to play the bass guitar, and I went shopping for a bass and accessories at Counce Music Store in Muscle Shoals. Norris was performing and conducting a seminar there.  Norris is obviously quite talented as are all the members of his band, most of which are family.  My music past is in percussion and keyboard and the bass guitar is just one of those bucket list kind of things.  There are some lulls in the condo repair process, and giving up the boat for 4 to 6 weeks was a serious formula for boredom - I don't handle boredom very well.  It will also be a nice winter project. So, check out my new Fender jazz bass and accessories.  So far, so good.  I decided my plan of attack would be to choose a few songs and use those to get the basics down and become comfortable with the general mechanics of it all first.  I'll tackle the more complex stuff this winter.

Back to the boat trip.  Wilson Lock and Dam is close by (third largest/tallest lock in the world at 93 feet). Also associated with this federal project was a plan to use the limestone nitrates for ammunition needs in WWI.  The war ended before the project was completed and the feds were not sure what to do with it. Henry Ford tried to buy it and lots of the surrounding area to use the cheap power from the dam to produce fertilizer from the nitrates and expand his automobile factory plans. The feds decided to keep it as a government project and later turned it over to what is now the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Ford took his money and plans and expanded what is now Detroit. (And for that Mr. Ford, Alabama is grateful.)

We did lots of sightseeing with Bob and Barbara, even though the rain tried to discourage us. Briefly, here are our stops. The University of North Alabama (UNA) has a beautiful campus and the special attraction is their 2 mascots, Leo and Una. We headed over early to try and catch them outside before it got too hot.

There is a "ceremonial" Indian mound that is listed as a tourist stop so we checked that out.  It is basically a 42-foot high mound with nothing at the top. There is also a museum across the street but the charge didn't seem to justify viewing nothing but a lot of arrowheads and let's just say the attendant on duty was "less than enthusiastic" about his job. Probably will not go back for a second "experience."  

Speaking of enthusiasm, we had 3 other stops that were very interesting and made more so because of the attendants and guides.  I did not get a picture but the marina and RV park has a new visitors center that is nicely done and provides much detail about the area.  

We were fortunate to have a retired history teacher on duty when we toured Pope Tavern.  He spent a couple of hours with us and went room by room with all of the details.  The top floor was used as a hospital during the Civil War.  The most enthusiastic of all though was Tom Hendrix, author of "If The Legends Fade," the story of his great-great-grandmother, Te-lah-nay, taken from her home and Yuchi people in Alabama to the Indian Nations of Oklahoma.  The tribes of the area spoke of the "songs of the Woman in the (Tennessee) River" and Te-lah-nay, who also had special medicinal abilities, longed to return to her native land, eventually escaping from Oklahoma and walking back to Alabama on a 5-year journey. In addition to writing the book, Tom wanted to build a memorial to Te-lah-nay, so he built two stone walls in her honor. Folks, I'm not talking about small projects - he has personally handled every stone in the walls and has been constructing them for 30 years.  One wall, symbolizing the journey to Oklahoma, was short and straight.

The other one winds through the woods for about a half mile, ranges from 4 to 5 feet high and up to 10 feet deep on each side, and has special stops along the way, just as his great-great grandmother made.  Every stone has been laid by hand, somewhere around 3,000 tons of stone.  That's a lot of rocks! 

Tom is on his 23rd wheelbarrow and he noted that it keeps him in pretty good shape - he is 82 and hasn't been to a doctor in 60 years!

We drove by Helen Keller's Home on our way to Tuscumbia but did not stop.

Close by is a pleasant city park in Tuscumbia with rides for the kids, waterfalls, wood carvings, AND ICE CREAM!

The other claim-to-fame for the area is "Fame Music Studios" in Muscle Shoals.  Though small and out of the way of the main recording locations of the American music industry, FAME has produced a large number of hit records and was instrumental in what came to be known as the "Muscle Shoals sound." Started in the 1950s by Rick Hall, the studio is still actively recording, and the history is fascinating with recording artists ranging from Wilson Picket and Aretha Franklin to The Rolling Stones.

So, as you can see, the area has much to see and do, a great tourist town.  On the return trip home, the city was allowing tourists to view Wilson Lock (normally not available to the public since 9/11) so we had a little fun with the kids and broadcast on our loudspeaker to "smile for the camera."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Still In "Recovery" Mode - Boat Projects and Repairs

It has been 3 1/2 months since we were hit by the tornado, and we are still in temporary quarters at Joe Wheeler State Park Lodge.  Our contractor is still forecasting finishing up the condo by the end of August, so we are getting close!  In the meantime, thought it would be good to summarize the past few months.  

We intentionally kept "Help Me Rhonda" in service until a couple of weeks ago - she had lots of cosmetic damage, but structurally and cruising-wise she was fine.  So, we managed to get a couple of trips in and some boat projects completed before the summer temps got too high.  We did finally surrender her to the service yard 2 weeks ago for some major work that will take about 4 to 6 weeks. Here she is getting the bottom sanded and prepped for 4 coats of Interprotect 2000 barrier paint and 3 coats of Interlux Micron Extra bottom paint.  The hull is also being painted from the rubrail down.  Other repairs will include all new canvas and isinglass for the aft deck, repairs and replacements to the handrails and stanchions, repairs to the teak swim platform, and an assortment of other things.

If you recall before the tornado, I was in the process of enclosing the flybridge with glass and sliding glass windows.  After our Loop trip, the isinglass and canvas were in need of replacement and quite frankly, we don't like isinglass.  So, enclosing the flybridge became my fall/winter/spring project and I was about halfway done when the tornado hit.  One of the advantages of having our temporary quarters at Joe Wheeler is that they also have marina facilities here, so it was convenient for me to keep the flybridge project going to completion before the serious summertime temps kicked in. It was a huge project as I had to basically design a square-framework plan to adapt to a "nothing-is-square" flybridge.  I'll spare you all of the details and just show a few pictures of the final project.

Before, anchored at the Bustard Islands in Georgian Bay, Canada

After, docked at Joe Wheeler

I went back and found a shot of the flybridge from inside right after we bought the boat to compare it to all the changes we have made over the years.  Lots of changes!  Have never understood why some owners want to cover up all of that beautiful teak.

Back to the window project - The two side windows in the front are fixed glass and the center window is hinged.  All window panes are custom-cut tempered glass and had to be measured and ordered precisely (within 1/8 of an inch) in order to fit correctly.  I used cypress wood for all of the framework and trim because of its light weight and resistance to decay.

Both sides and the aft windows are a 3-piece sliding window design and also required very exact measurements so they can slide but also not allow much "extra" movement.  I also had to come up with a plan to strengthen the framework to counter rough seas when they occur.  So, the tops and bottoms of all the windows are either completely framed in or have 1-inch teak on both sides.

The teak I used for the trim is darker than the original teak on HMR.  I actually got about 120 feet of this (5 inches wide and 1 inch thick) in a trade for a dinghy years ago.  We think the contrast in shades turned out nice.  There are about 8 coats of varnish at this point, more to come in the fall when we get the boat back.

A few shots from the outside.  Notice I tried to keep the angles of the framework the same as the existing lines on the boat. And needless to say, the view is quite nice now, the protection from the elements is wonderful, it's a permanent fix, and I was able to do this for about 1/4 the cost of new canvas and isinglass which would have to be replaced again and again in the future!  Quite pleased.

While she was "under construction," I also took the opportunity to install a new stereo/CD player.

Flood lights for the outside.  Note the old canvas and isinglass was still in place at this point.

And refurbished the top of the aft deck with new paint and new carpet/trim for the dinghy platform.

Well, that turned out longer than I had planned, so I'll cover Wheeler and our 2 boat trips in a separate post.