17. December 2023

On the hard II

It’s finally time to reassemble and the screws are turned clockwise. However, there are still many jobs to be done. The entire deck has to be sprayed with gelcoat and anti-slip coating, the now completely ruined hull has to be completely repainted and the teak in the cockpit has to be regrouted and sanded.We clean the boat and the sofa cushions, bring food and books from the bungalow back on board and Esmen installs the generator. Then it’s time to say goodbye to the Rio Dulce, to Martin and Rikki, Kira, Naia and Thomas, to the boatyard, to Guatemala and our temporary life on land. Although we are still moored at the jetty, we sleep on board again, then it’s off down the river to Livingston, where we clear out. Our next destination is Providencia, a small Colombian island 600 nautical miles away. The trip is the first general test after the refit on the Rio Dulce. We still don’t know when the sailboat refit in Guatemala will be completed, when we will be able to re-inhabit Mabul and when she will be swimming in the waters of the Rio Dulce again.

If you haven’t already read about how Mabul became a major construction site, you can read the first part here.

Let’s start with the paintwork. This was completely ruined by the shipyard’s poor internal communication. Although we had not yet given the OK for the paintwork, the workers rushed to start stripping the paint. Back at the negotiating table with Daniel and Karen, the shipyard managers, we now have room for manoeuvre. In the end, we get a complete repaint including all the necessary preparatory work for a few hundred dollars more. That’s a great deal, considering that the rest of the paint could have fallen off the hull at any time. In addition to negotiating the paint job, we talk again about the working conditions in general and the deduction of wages – Joel and Kevin had accidentally cut cables on Mabul – from our workers in particular and what the shipyard actually has insurance for, if the workers cannot benefit from it.

The beginning of an unwanted paint job

After two hours of intensive discussions on a Sunday, the turnaround finally comes.We still don’t understand exactly what happened in those two hours, but since then we seem to have made a huge leap up the shipyard’s list of priorities. In any case, a lot of things are now happening in parallel and Daniel comes round once a day to ask if we are happy.

Before the workers tackle the repainting, the decking is put on the deck. We are replacing our old, worn teak with gelcoat, which is (white) coloured, UV-resistant polyester resin and often forms the outermost layer of many GRP boats. The deck has already been sanded and leveled several times, so all that remains is a thorough acetone cleaning and the amazingly complex masking. Around eight layers of gelcoat are sprayed on in just one day. At this heat, such thin layers bond almost immediately on contact, but the material remains “open” so that several layers can be applied without sanding in between. This is followed by the extremely time-consuming sanding of the new surface.

The gelcoat is on, now comes the sanding, sanding, sanding…

Joel and Kevin start with orbital sanders and 100 grit sandpaper and sand all surfaces flat and up to 320 grit. This is good enough for the large surfaces on which the anti-slip coating will later be applied. All white surfaces and edges that will later be visible are now sanded by hand and wet one after the other with 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000 grit to a high gloss. 2000 grit is almost like polishing… After 3 hours, my fingers would fall off my hands, or the skin off my fingertips.

In the meantime, Daniel arrives with good news. The radar reflector, whose cables the workers had cut, has arrived. I go to the office to pick up the newly arrived active radar reflector and see it at first glance: It’s the wrong version. We want the dual-band version (X- and S-band), but Daniel has saved 100 USD and ordered the X-band version without being asked. I explain to him that the S-band is very important as it is used by commercial vessels. After all, I want to use the reflector to ensure that the large container ships can’t miss us. In the end, Daniel makes a big fuss, saying that he had bought the item himself and that there would be no returns. But he didn’t realise that Fiona and Ian from SV Ruffian had called me shortly before and cursed the marina because they had ordered the wrong Echomax for them. So Daniel tried to get rid of the wrong reflector he had ordered for SV Ruffian. But we remain firm, Daniel has to order the right reflector, even if it will probably take weeks again.

Masking the anti-slip coating is extremely time-consuming

Back on deck, everything is neatly taped up. It’s unbelievable how much tape, film and paper is needed for this. For a harmonious look, we choose the same shade of grey as the existing deck structure. A Marina employee comes on board the day before with three pots of paint, gold-brown, black and white, and mixes the colour by hand. He hits the colour very well straight away, applies a drop to the old coating and lets it dry. Then he mixes it again and tests it – the man knows his craft. Then the anti-slip coating is sprayed on in three thick layers with two different particle sizes, after one night everything is set and we can climb back on board.

The result is impressive, we are delighted and happy that this milestone has finally been reached. In the meantime, I have also glued in all of the thruhulls with 5200 and installed the new sea cocks. What a dream! It took a lot of detailed work and, above all, a lot of preparation. I went through every detail with Martin and then glued in the thruhulls on both boats together with him. So Mabul is slowly becoming more buoyant again…

The tape is off again, anti-slip on. The fittings can come.

Now that the deck is ready, I can bolt all the fittings back on piece by piece, and the boatyard workers immediately take on new projects. The fibreglass team starts with the enclosure of our Bauer diving compressor. Carpenter Raul starts restoring the teak decking in the cockpit and Joel and Kevin scrape and sand the paint off the hull. There is so much going on on board that I can hardly work on my countless micro-projects. So I take care of refurbishing the bow and stern cleats, the exhaust outlets and all the other attachments and fittings. Every now and then, I bolt another fitting to the deck and seal everything neatly. I won’t be able to get to many of these bolts once the ceiling panels are back on.

The new Lazybag already looks fantastic when trying it on for the first time

Tailor Nery also returns to Mabul with the first work. He has finished tailoring the Genoa UV protection and the lazybag. We install the lazybag on the boom together and put the sail in. There’s a bit too much material at the top, the openings for the reefing lines need to be enlarged and a metal eyelet needs to be pressed in here and there. Nery takes the lazybag back to his sewing loft and promises to return within a week with the changes and the remaining parts. What we have seen looks like good, meticulous work.

In the meantime, Mabul’s hull has been stripped of its blue paint and now shines in bright white. A strange sight, even though most sailing boats are white. Joel and Kevin have filled a few spots and sanded everything smooth again. Then the dark grey, matt epoxy primer was applied, again with a few coats sprayed on. It’s actually a great look, this matt grey, but unfortunately not UV-resistant. Then it starts to rain and we have to wait. We can only paint when the weather is dry and sunny.

The paint is off and Mabul stands there naked

Leo, the master carpenter, arrives with the first results. The cockpit table looks like new, and the hatch frames have also been sanded and painted. Now Leo’s men below deck are sanding down the handrail in the galley, removing a few water stains and replacing a rotten wooden board behind the mast. The puzzle pieces of the housing for the diving compressor are taking shape in the workshop and I am making good progress below deck with the re-hosing of almost everything.

Then a good weather window is finally announced, which is enough to paint the hull. On the first day, as usual, everything is masked off and cleaned. On the second day, the scaffolding is erected around Mabul, a final clean with acetone and paint thinner, then the master painter loads the spray gun and sprays a first, thick layer of Mabul Blue. Over the course of the morning, the hull is painted with a total of four coats, the finish is brilliant. Not absolutely perfect, but how could it be when painting outside in the sunshine? But we are infinitely relieved that this step has now also been completed. Now we have to wait a few more days, then the white trim strips on the waterline and window line will be painted.

Painting at last

Tailor Nery was also back. The customised lazybag now fits like a glove, and the side panels for our bimini don’t have a single wrinkle. The major textile projects have now been successfully completed; the ceiling panelling in the saloon and one or two mosquito nets are still missing. Nery knows what he’s doing and we know that we can rely on his quality.

Raul, on the other hand, seems to be re-grouting teak flooring for the first time. After two weeks of work, the result only looks good at first glance, his grouting with the black, silicone-like stuff is horrible. He also damaged the surrounding gelcoat everywhere when scraping out the old grout with the chisel.

That could also look better

But as we have moved up the popularity scale since our conversation about the paintwork, Karen immediately apologises to us when we show her pictures of the work. Of course it will be done again professionally. First the gelcoat is repaired and then she sends two experienced teak experts instead of Raul.

And then there’s the matter of the correct radar reflector. This has still not arrived – weeks have passed in the meantime. The keel should also have been sandblasted a long time ago. “You’re the next boat in line,” Daniel has been telling us for months. After another heated discussion in the marina office, Karen makes a phone call and lo and behold: on the same day, a Sunday, Jose, the sandblaster, turns up and the old copper coat is finally removed from Mabul’s keel. Jose is delighted to get a Sunday bonus. As he gets to work, I quickly realise that dry sandblasting is one of the worst shipyard jobs I’ve ever seen. The air is filled with sand, epoxy, copper and fiberglass particles and noise. At least Jose is wearing a good mask.

Enveloped in a toxic cloud of sand, copper, epoxy and fiberglass particles

Jose spends two full days sandblasting the keel. Mabul has an iron keel, which means that it immediately starts to rust due to the humidity in the air. The timing of this work is therefore very critical and the first anti-corrosive primer must be applied within minutes of sandblasting before the keel oxidises. Once the first full coat is on, Jose relaxes, saying it is no longer critical. Another layer of the same primer follows, then a few layers of intermediate epoxy primer, which then provides adhesion for a ceramic primer. In the end, there are an incredible number of different layers until the coppercoat is really on.

Another project is our shaft. After it turned out on Arturo’s lathe that our shaft had an unrepairable bend, I had to order a new one in the States. Now all the new parts have arrived and the engine mounts, shaft and shaft bearing are ready for installation. Esmen, the mechanic, arrives at Mabul late in the afternoon and we get started straight away. After two hours of hard labour, the engine is mounted on brand new stainless steel engine mounts. The next day, we install the new shaft and shaft bearing together. It’s all very straightforward and Esmen does the first rough engine alignment. This is crucial for smooth running of the shaft and the life expectancy of all components.

It can’t be done without lifting the engine

Later, when I want to turn the last two fittings onto the seacocks below the gearbox, I realise that I can’t turn a 90 degree angle fitting because the gearbox is in the way. Turned all the way down, however, it would have fitted as planned. Damn! But what good does it do, I call Esmen and tell him what’s going on: the shaft has to come out again so that we can lift the gearbox and engine slightly. That’s the only way to screw the 90 degree piece onto the valve. But that’s no big deal either, we’ve done it all before. Finally, the drive is finished for the time being, all the seacocks are in. Mabul is afloat again! Only the exhaust still needs to be connected.

Meanwhile, work is progressing in the cockpit. The teak experts are doing a fantastic job and are working overtime to get Mabul ready in time for our launch date. Finally, Karin’s friend Eleanor comes to visit and we want to sail with her out of Rio Dulce to the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. This time, the grouting between the teak decking looks perfect. That’s how it should be! The two of them quickly sand down the handrails on the companionway and repaint them. Leo’s paintwork is completely faded after just three weeks, but that’s another story…

These guys know their craft

Now that Mabul is being well looked after and my big projects are largely completed, we have time to take care of our dinghy. It has become extremely slow over the last few months. Even on my own, I’m struggling to get it planing, normally two of us can manage that easily! So we pull the dinghy onto the jetty at our jungle bungalow and clean the underwater hull. After a quick scrub, we see hundreds, even thousands of pimples on the underside of the Hypalon rubber. Not good, they are all bubbles, full of water, dinghy osmosis so to speak… Unfortunately, cleaning is not enough and so we throw the dinghy back into the water, start the engine and drive over to Hugo, the dinghy doctor from the Rio Dulce.

He explains to us somewhat pompously that he knows how to do it and can patch anything. You have to sand off the first layer and then apply liquid rubber, he says. The cost: a lot. A few hundred USD, too much for my taste. But what’s the point, the dinghy is our bike and car, it has to be healthy and we’ve heard good things from Hugo, so we negotiate the price down a bit and arrange a hire dinghy so that we can stay mobile. We get a mould that is actually intended for laminating boats as a dinghy. It is incredibly flimsy and hopelessly overpowered with our 10 hp engine. So while our dinghy is in the boatyard, Rikki sits down at the sewing machine and mends the dinghy’s sun protection in many places. Thanks for that Rikki, it should last a few more seasons.

Our overpowered mould – the replacement dinghy

I tackle the last major deck fitting project with Martin. We install the four-metre-long hollow point tracks for the headsails. There are 40 screws per side to seal and tighten so that the sandwich stays dry and the rail stays on deck. I generously spread the 4000UV sealant on the underside of the rail and we start with two screws on one side while the other remains raised. Now I bend the rail sideways into shape and Martin inserts a screw in the centre and two more at the other end. The first rail now sits bent and flat on the deck and the sealant spills out satisfyingly everywhere. We start tightening the screws, one above deck, the other below. Communication takes place via a WhatsApp call and works perfectly. At the end, we remove the excess sealant and wipe everything clean. It was easier than we thought, so we move straight on to the other side.

Joel is working tirelessly on deck with sandpaper and gelcoat

So now all the deck fittings are on, and the ongoing rain test at least reveals no obvious leaks. Kevin has been taken off Mabul since the paint job, as there is no longer enough work for him on Mabul, and is now working on a catamaran. Joel, on the other hand, spends the whole day dashing around the deck, removing tape residue from the masking, touching up the gelcoat on the toerail, removing paint residue from the anti-slip coating, polishing something to a high lustre and removing the burn hole that Nery’s workers left on deck with a hot knife…

Then, months later and visibly relieved, Daniel brings over the new active radar reflector. This time in the right version and even the replacement VHF antenna is there. It works after all. I reattach both antennas to the dinghy arc and pull in the two new cables with Karin. The pulling cables are already prepared, so the job is done quite quickly. I install the new control unit from the reflector directly into the instrument panel below deck and carry out a test. It works.

The ceiling paneling is glued to the front edge

Meanwhile, our new teak experts are completely finished with the cockpit and have even sanded and oiled the floor boards. Now that the hollow point tracks are finally in place, they can reinstall the ceiling paneling in the kitchen. I cut out this laminated plywood panel together with Joel many weeks ago, as removing the entire ceiling panel would have meant completely dismantling the upper kitchen unit. The most time-consuming step is to make a panel for the dividing joint that moulds to the curves of the fitted cupboards. The two quickly prove that they have their craft under control and we are more than satisfied with the end result.

Hugo proudly announces that our dinghy is finished and ready to be picked up. When we arrive at his workshop, next to a huge, half-sunken catamaran, we are greeted as usual by his bloodhounds with loud barking and bared teeth. Then Hugo arrives with our dinghy, which actually looks like new. The entire underwater hull shines in new rubber splendour, even if the surface is not perfect everywhere. But hey, it’s our dinghy and it’s good enough. Little do we realise that just a few weeks later, the first layers are already peeling off again…. Hugo has also installed the thick, two-inch thruhull in the transom, which will drain the dinghy semi-automatically in future. At last we are rid of the flabby rental dish and the first trip reveals that we are fast again. Perhaps faster than ever before.

I fit the last fittings on deck

All the major projects on and below deck have now been completed, with only minor finishing work still to be done. Now it’s time to tidy up and clean. However, we won’t clean the cushions until Mabul is moored at the jetty near our bungalow and we can start moving from the bungalow to the boat. Eleanor has now arrived in Guatemala, but Mabul is really behind schedule. Eleanor spends a week in the Guatemalan highlands while we try to get Mabul into the water as quickly as possible. She should now be completely sealed, all hoses and cables connected and all systems ready to go.

The underwater hull is still missing. Jose grinds out a small osmosis bubble near the bow thruster channel and laminates new layers of fibreglass in the area. Karin scrapes thousands of small barnacles from the hull and starts to activate the copper coating with sandpaper. The keel already has a brand new copper coating, but the rest of the hull still has the now almost 19-year-old coppercoat on it. So we touched up areas where the primer was already showing through and activated the entire surface. We use 180 grit sandpaper, a orbital sander, a full body suit and a breathing mask. It’s not a pleasant job. As soon as we’re finished after days of sweaty work, with Karin doing most of the work, Karin sees a hole in the laminate aft of the keel at the transition to the hull. Damn, what’s happened here? We don’t know.

Jose removes the rotten laminate

One thing is clear: all the rotten laminate has to be removed, the hole has to dry and then it can be laminated again. Jose gets to work and does a great job. I hardly have a head for this unexpected project as I’ve just discovered that our anchor chain is ready for the scrap heap. I was aware that it was due at some point, but when I measure the weakest links, I find places with a diameter of less than seven millimeters on a ten millimeter chain! It’s impossible to get a replacement in Guatemala in a rush, but we can’t use the old one either. Without further ado, I cut a 35 meter long, completely rusted middle section out of the chain and connect the two good pieces with a suitable chain lock, but 25 meters of chain is not enough for us. So we can only anchor safely up to a water depth of 5 meters. Martin helps us out again. They have many metres of chain on board and he lends us just under 20 metres of 3/8 inch chain, which I connect to our 25 meters. We then want to buy a new chain in Panama and leave the borrowed one there in a marina for Martin.

We need a new chain and we need it soon

Our friend has now arrived in Rio Dulce, is staying in a bungalow next to us and is starting to wonder whether we will be able to sail. A legitimate question, but one that is difficult to answer. Sailing to the Bay Islands now seems unrealistic, even if Mabul is launched as planned. The overhauled diesel generator, a deep clean below deck and, last but not least, our move back on board are still missing. Sailing in Lago Izabel seems to be a more realistic scenario.

Finally, after four and a half months in the boatyard, the work is complete. I can hardly believe that we have actually made it, albeit with a lot of delay. It is a rainy morning when Mabul is due to be launched and so everything is delayed again by hours. Then, shortly after midday, Mabul is hanging in the slings and the travel lift slowly drives her towards the water.

Mabul is floating again

Martin has come over especially to check all of the thruhulls for leaks with me. As soon as Mabul’s belly is hanging in the water, we jump on board and go through all the thruhulls. Everything seems to be tight on my side, Martin has water running out of a hose somewhere in the front of the bathroom, but it’s coming from behind the seacock, he turns off the valve and the problem is solved. The drive shaft is also tight, first sigh of relief. She floats!

Then Esmen comes on board and we do a test sail with Eleanor on board under engine power. The engine alignment probably needs some fine-tuning, and I also want to see that the shaft seal remains tight under load. We hear and feel slight vibrations, but after Esmen has done a bit of tweaking, the entire drive is quieter than ever before – across the entire rev range. What a relief! We bring Esmen back and then sail to the other side, where we moor at the jetty in front of our place. Wow. Mabul in the water, soon we can move.

Mabul at the bungalow, that’s something to celebrate!

As we realize the extent of the work still to be done over the next few days, we also realize that the test sail will be Eleanor’s only trip on Mabul. She only has a short time left, her vacation will soon be over and understandably she wants to see and do something other than wait until Mabul is really ready for action. So she leaves Rio Dulce heading north again to immerse herself deeper in Guatemala.

We clean the boat and the sofa cushions, bring food and books from the bungalow back on board and Esmen installs the generator. Then it’s time to say goodbye to the Rio Dulce, to Martin and Rikki, Kira, Naia and Thomas, to the boatyard, to Guatemala and our temporary life on land. Although we are still moored at the jetty, we sleep on board again, then it’s off down the river to Livingston, where we clear out. Our next destination is Providencia, a small Colombian island 600 nautical miles away. The trip is the first general test after the refit on the Rio Dulce.

You can find more photos of the Mabul refit here: Refit Part 1 and Refit Part 2.

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