Yes, that's the Ranger in the shed.
A boat on the hard -- up on stands -- still has a tremendous majesty. A dismasted boat on the hard, well, she looks like she's wearing the silly front-only hospital gown, prepped for surgery. Vulnerable.
A boat in the shed... well, she's stretched out on the table waiting for the surgeon to set up the sterile field, take out sharp knives and start poking around inside. I feel the urge to sit beside her and give her some comfort. Maybe read to her. When I had my car accident back in the 90's, Cindy Ann came down the hospital and sat with me.
The Ranger is beyond antibiotics and home remedies. She needs hospitalization. This isn't a surprise -- we knew she had an old injury up near her hawse-pipe.
Indeed, fixing this kind of thing is a significant part of boat ownership. There's a lot of satisfaction in a job done right: a job that puts things back the way they were supposed to be.
The Core Difficulty
There's a bunch of very specific (and very nautical) problems that need fixing.
A word of background. The hull of Red Ranger is a wall of plastic that's over an inch thick. It's tons of resin and fiber in a matrix that's tough and resilient and virtually indestructible. She can crack, leak and sink, but that plastic will be largely intact until the end of time.
Unlike the hull, the deck is a sandwich. There are some plastic layers surrounding a core of wood. There are no condiments -- it has to be a very dry sandwich. On one hand this core makes the deck stiff: as firm underfoot as the floors of a house. On the other hand, any compromise in the plastic means you could have water mixed in with the wood, sealed up in a dark, warm plastic box. You can see where this is going.
A boat is covered with "deck fittings" -- nautical bits with meaningless names -- cleats, blocks, stanchions, pad-eyes, fairleads, chainplates, scuppers, stemheads, hawse-pipe, windlass. (I could make up nautical sounding words, who would know? Marthambles.)
Here's the important part: deck fittings have to be bolted through the deck to a backing plate under the deck. So the plastic deck is punctured with dozens of holes. Each is -- theoretically -- sealed up with polysulfide sealant. Should there be any crack in that calk, a hole will admit water to the core material. This leads to rotting wood sealed up in a dark, warm plastic box. Think of your fridge after the power goes out.
Also, this means that the headliner (the "ceiling") has a fair number of blocks of wood or steel with big locknuts. They're part of the decorative theme in the cabin.
Treatment and Therapy
So, the symptom is a kind of squishiness right there. No, a little further forward. Ouch! Right there. It's a kind of bacterial infection of the core material.
The diagnosis is leaky deck fittings.
The treatment is major surgery. First, to correct the symptom -- squishy deck -- but also to correct the cause -- the bedding for the fittings has started to leak. Generally, every single deck fitting needs to be replaced periodically. It's an ongoing job: plastic is flexible and stainless steel isn't. Fittings -- eventually -- leak.
There are two ways to do the surgery. One way is to work out in the yard, where you wait for warmer weather, put up a tent, and dig in with sharp tools. I've done this -- in a small scale -- on my previous boat. The other way is to put her in the shed right now, break out the tools and cut her open.
The big problem -- as everyone who's visited a doctor knows -- a diagnosis is a really good, well-educated guess. The problem has all the symptoms of a bacterial infection of the core. But, how far does it spread? How far past the hawse pipe? What else has to be removed?
The Basic Procedure
There's a pretty standard outline for this kind surgical procedure. Unbolt the relevant deck fittings. Take out the circular saw and cut through the top layer of the sandwich and lift it off, saving it for later. Poke around to see how far the wet wood goes. If necessary, cut another piece of the sandwich until you find dry wood.
Once the extent of the rot is known, there's a bunch of things to do.
Replace the core material with something structurally similar to what was there. Probably some kind of foam board. This is a fair amount of cutting and fitting to replace the rotten wood.
Put the deck back in place, and redo the fiberglass: more fabric, more resin. There are some pretty cool techniques for grinding down the edges of the old surface and layering the fabric and resin to create a structure as tough and resilient as the one layed up in the factory back in the 80's.
Put on a waterproof barrier, called gelcoat. This can have a non-skid structure molded in. Sometimes they'll paint a non-skid layer over the gelcoat. Then paint to protect it from ultraviolet light. Then wax to protect the paint and make it all shiny looking.
Rebed all the fittings with new polysufide sealant. There's a cool trick to this also. You put the fitting most of the way together. After the sealant sets up, you tighten things down to smash the sealant together.
This is a huge job. Think new kitchen counter-tops and all the labor and materials that goes into a job like that.
As Long As You're In There
The basics are pretty clear. But... as long as stuff has to be removed, let's look at other work that can be done.
The roller-furling drum is badly worn. So badly worn that it's almost unusable. Either it needs a lot of replacement parts, or we just we just need to replace it. The rigging guys point out that it is pushing 30 years old. Homeowners: think new furnace.
The windlass can be send back to the manufacturer for a total rebuild. It is, after all, pushing 30. It's rock solid, but we may as well pay UPS to take it back to the factory to rebuild it.
The bottom paint is -- at this point -- layers and layers over layers and layers. It's flaking off in places. It's time to soda blast the bottom, check the epoxy barrier coat, and layer on fresh new paint starting more-or-less from scratch.
The mast had to be taken down to get her into the shed. That means some mast-head work can be done. In particular, we can replace the bulbs on the masthead light with thrifty LED's that use less power than the old incandescent bulbs that were up there. Okay, that's just changing two light-bulbs.
Finally, we can look at replacing the wire-rope combination halyards with all-rope halyards. The steel wire was the ideal low-stretch solution back in the 80's. Some modern aramid fibers are almost as strong as steel and a considerably easier to deal with, so we'd like to replace our halyards while we're at it. This is mostly an exercise in cleverness in threading the line through that 50' long mast.
I've heard that EZ-Off oven cleaner is the preferred way to take the painted-on name off the stern of the boat so we can rename her officially. Then we can file the Coast-Guard paperwork. And we can also get new radios with DSC calling that shows the boat name. And we can put a name on the dinghy ("Scout").
That's about it for this hospital stay. That will fix the biggest of the problem she's got.
Then we can start to tackle the dozens of other jobs once we've got her in the water.