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Mostly Boat Fixing

March 28, 2015

Another rainy day and so a good opportunity to get on with an update on our efforts. We moved into an apartment in the marina the Friday before our anticipated lift-out. We are still there! I had initially booked it for 3 weeks, but have extended for another two, and now we think a further few days to take us up to the beginning of April would be a good idea. Six weeks on land – what a luxury.

A calm day - view from our bedroom window

A calm day – view from our bedroom window

The apartment is in an aparthotel, so we get cleaned and fresh linen 3 times a week. It is on three levels with a kitchen on the ground floor, small hallway and fridge freezer. A large oven with a 2 ring electric hob fulfils our cooking needs perfectly. On the next floor it opens up into a big dining and sitting area with a door to the large balcony. A TV with satellite programmes is here, but we have not availed ourselves of this – the films that are in English are mostly on too late for us. Upstairs again are the bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom window looks out to the north west and the lounge and balcony look out to the south east and over the marina.

The dining and living area

The dining and living area

So now you are sitting comfortably I hope you are prepared for a very boring description of the work and battles against inclement weather for the past month! Skip to the end if this is not your cup of tea.
We stayed on the boat on the Friday, but by Saturday had moved most of the things we needed up to the apartment. It is about 100 metres from where Alixora was tied up and a 5 minute walk to the boat yard. The weather looked pretty bad for the day we were due to be lifted (Monday 23 February), so with the agreement of the boat yard supervisor (Mr Amor – I think!) we moved Alixora over to the slipway on Sunday and started work on the interior of the boat.

Monday waiting for the wind to drop - we don't usually lean that far over!

Monday waiting for the wind to drop – we don’t usually lean that far over!

From the picture you can see that we are being tilted sideways by the wind that picked up on Sunday afternoon.
We had moved the cushions (mattress really) from our cabin up to the the apartment for cleaning and repair, so the front cabin became the dumping ground for everything that could be stuffed in there to keep it out of the way of dust and muck. We also removed the oven and put it on the apartment balcony to be cleaned at some future point.
One task was to sand down the edges of the big curved windows in the saloon – damp seems to creep into the foam and GRP sandwich that forms the deck and seeps through the sealant around the windows making wart like protuberances. It should be getting better since we had the windows re-sealed in Marmaris last spring, but perhaps it takes a while to dry out.
A bigger task, while we waited to be hauled out, was to replace the anode in the immersion heater tank. This is located under the seating in the saloon. I had brought the new anode back from the UK last October, but had put off replacing it as it looked difficult.

The new anode

The new anode

We soon discovered that to get at the fitting the whole starboard seating area had to be dismantled. This is where we keep our tinned and dry food supplies, spare crockery – you name it and it is under there!
However while removing everything there, we finally found the new jar of Marmite that I had been searching for for a month! June and Steve on Piper had booked a holiday in Malta and had promised to bring me a pot back, so now I have enough for another year! Wonderful. Brian doesn’t like it – even better.
We had stuffed glass fibre insulation around the tank last year, so all that had to come out and be placed in big plastic bags, then finally we got access to the fitting. Of course the water had to be drained from the system too – that took a while – and Brian managed to remove the anode. Oops – what anode!

Oh dear - no anode left

Oh dear – no anode left

That took all of Monday and Tuesday – but Alixora was lifted out on Tuesday morning during a calm period. We had woken early and looked out of the window to see that the travel lift was making its way to the liftout area! (The yard starts work at 8am – a bit early for us). The travel lift isn’t as big as the one in Kas, so most boats of our size or bigger have to remove the steel cable supports for the mast that run to the back of the boat – back stays. We raced down and Brian removed the back stays. He had fixed the two halyards from the top of the mast to the deck so the mast would not fall over meantime!

Ready to be lifted out

Ready to be lifted out

Brian knew that this would be required, so had made a careful note of the position of the fixings beforehand so they could be put back exactly as they were. Getting the correct tensions in the stays is important to keep the mast in the right place.
The antifoul was power-washed and Alixora placed on a cradle with the usual supports around, and a ladder provided so we could get back on the boat. Brian put the backstays back on and then fitted the new anode back in to the water tank. He had cleaned the inside of the cupboards while it was all empty and re-organised it when he put it all back so there is now more space.

At first glance it doesn't look so bad....

At first glance it doesn’t look so bad….

As Tuesday progressed it got more and more windy. Finally I worried that the bimini was shaking too much (and shaking the boat) so I started to fold it back up – and couldn’t hold it against the wind! Brian had to come and help and as I turned around I caught a glimpse of the wind speed on our anenometer – 68 knots! At that point we gave up and went back to the apartment.

Keel before preparation.  The new anode seems to have prevented rusting

Keel before preparation. The new anode seems to have prevented rusting

While Brian was working on the water heater I had started to pick away at the cracked bits of the old antifoul and got the hosepipe set up to clean the above water bit of the hull (topsides).
Wednesday and Thursday were cold, windy and wet. Brian finished off the work on the water tank and replaced all the seating, while I cleaned the propeller. It wasn’t too bad but a thin layer of calcium deposit was hard to get off. I had managed to get a bottle of phosphoric acid locally (great for getting the rust marks off the deck and for polishing stainless steel) and used that to clean up the last bits on the propeller.
Brian’s next project was to try to release the rudder from its bearings as it has a little wobble which might be fixable.

Propeller before cleaning - not too bad

Propeller before cleaning – not too bad

However it took two weeks to get the last bolt released – stainless bolts in aluminium castings – bad news. The first three bolts came out without too much trouble (a bit of soaking in WD40 does the trick but it still took a couple of days) but the last one just didn’t want to budge.
My task was to wash the topsides and then to start polishing. In Kas we rented a kind of aluminium scaffold tower on wheels which made the work easier. Here they had heavy iron supports and rough old planks that I had to dismantle and move every time I had finished one area! The boat had been placed near the workshops, which made it difficult to use the hose while people were walking around. The yard workers disappear at lunchtime, so I could do the wet work then. Amazingly the sun appeared and the wind stopped for a short time on Friday!

View from the yard - clouds and rain approaching

View from the yard – clouds and rain approaching

In between working on the rudder fixing, Brian had removed the toilet pipes (they always get furred up). I started to bash the fur out of them, but as Saturday progressed it started to rain which got very heavy – so we abandoned work yet again. Trying to polish in the rain just doesn’t work!
Sunday wasn’t too bad but still windy and we had the yard to ourselves apart from the men fishing from the quayside. Brian started work on the keel which had lost most of its antifoul. He was able to peel off yet more of the gel coat that comes loose from the cast iron. He got out the angle grinder and got it all as far back to a stable base as possible.

Something just didn't stick....

Something just didn’t stick….

We kept sweeping up all the bits of antifoul and dust that fell off, but with the strong winds whipping the dust from the roads into the yard the boat was getting very dirty – inside and out. On the occasional calm day it was a huge relief not to have to keep tight hold of sandpaper, cloths, paint tin lids and anything else that would blow over or away. I think we lost one largish piece of sandpaper in the end. The yard is on a wide kind of pier that sticks out into the harbour – sea on 3 sides so no hope of retrieving anything.

Keel back to iron yet again

Keel back to iron yet again

Amazingly the next three days were warm and sunny (if still windy)! I had to go shopping and got more phosphoric acid and sanding discs. The phosphoric acid works on iron to seal it and prevent rust – theoretically. Brian continued working on preparing the keel by repeated applications of acid, more sanding, washing off the residue etc. He had to put epoxy on some of the more eaten away bits. I was able to continue polishing the topsides. However what I had done on one side in sunshine, the next day it had become quite hazy so I had to do it again! In between times I prodded at the increasing number of cracks that appeared in the antifoul, trying to avoid dropping bits onto Brian’s head.

Punk hair!

Punk hair!

That didn’t prevent him getting covered in red dust anyway! Punk.
A big scratch had taken off some of the white and red stripe, which had to be sanded then carefully painted to match up. More toilet pipe cleaning, this time with more acid and more banging on the quayside. I took out and cleaned the paddle wheel that is supposed to record our speed through the water. It is just a small plastic disc that rotates around a spindle in a fitting that sticks out of the bottom of the boat. It works for about a week at the beginning of the season and then gets furred up with coral worm and stops! Fortunately, with GPS, we can see our speed over ground on the electronic chart and Garmin handheld GPS device. However it is handy to know your speed through the water as the difference shows which way you are being helped or hindered by currents.
Brian sprayed the propeller with primer and topcoat of some special antifoul that the chandler here had in stock.

Antifouled propeller

Antifouled propeller

We will see if that prevents our propeller from getting coated in barnacles and coral worm this year. Last year we had to have it cleaned three times! He put some on the paddle wheel too – it will be interesting to see if that works.
We had noticed that the old antifoul gets more and more flaky the longer the boat is out of the water, so I saved the main work sanding and removing loose paint until the end of our stay on land.

Brian covers up the painted propeller

Brian covers up the painted propeller

Thursday and Friday the weather returned to being cold and very windy (40-50 knots), but I dressed up warmly in hooded overalls and a mask and started chipping and sanding. It was worse again this year, after being not too bad last year. We really must start thinking about getting all the antifoul taken off and starting again! Several boats being worked on now are having that done – it takes a long time but the yard workers seem to do a good job.
We saw waves breaking over the breakwater behind the yard – more salt spray to help stick down the sand and grit that was now covering the boat! One broke so high it washed down over a derelict hulk and ran onto the road next to it.

Lots of patches

Lots of patches

Brian meantime started to put primer on the keel – 5 coats overall this time – using some special stuff supplied by the chandler here. We had also bought our antifoul from him – but he only had black! That will be different.
We used the same primer (silver) to paint over the holes in the antifoul. I had the cunning idea of using black felt tip marker on top of the first coat, so that we would be able to check which had had the 2nd coat – that worked well. More flaky bits and holes kept appearing though.

More patches - 1st primer coat

More patches – 1st primer coat

The yard works a half day on Saturday, so we had the place to ourselves in the afternoon – fortunately a bit warmer with some sunshine but rain later in the day. We took the anchor and chain out and I replaced the 5 metre marks where they had fallen off (we use coloured cable ties) and Brian put a bit of primer on the 20 and 30 metre marks where last year we had spray painted a short length in red – that worked well. So we added another stripe at 40 metres too. The chain rattles out so fast that I often don’t see the cable tie markers flashing past.
On Sunday Brian retired with a 24 hour stomach bug – but was able to help put the anchor chain back in the locker in the afternoon after I had re-sprayed the red areas (and white sprayed the 40 metre mark). The diverter valve for the toilet (diverts waste into the holding tank when we are at anchor) had been cleaned and needed to be put back on. It is a tricky job as it is bolted through into the back of a small but deep cupboard. The contents have to be cleared out and we squeeze our head and shoulders in to locate the nuts onto the bolts, and then spend a painful few minutes tightening them up with very little space to get the spanner in!
There is a join at 60 metres on the chain and the joining link had got quite rusty, so we left that length hanging down. The next day Brian cut it off and replaced it with a new one and with some effort we managed to get that length of chain back in the locker.
Sunday afternoon it started to rain yet again, but I used the hose and brush to wash the dust off the antifoul – a mucky and wet job anyway so the rain didn’t matter! Oh no – yet more holes appeared! I marked them up for attention the next day. That night there was a short hail storm too.
The next day (again cold and windy) I sanded and primed the last holes that had appeared. Brian finally managed to get the last bolt out of the steering mechanism!

The rudder post.  A big steel  pin holds it into the collar

The rudder post. A big steel pin holds it into the collar

Hurray! So we dropped the rudder about 6” (the boat wasn’t high enough to take it out completely) and checked what was there which seemed fine. That made it easier to finish cleaning the top of the rudder. We agreed with the yard superintendent that they could start applying the new antifoul the next day. Brian cleaned the old grease off the steering mechanism and checked the sheaves where the cables run. One had seized so that had to be fixed.
At last we had finished most of the exterior work and left the yard to do the painting.

Oh, its black!

Oh, its black!

We had to put the rudder back up after the 2nd coat of antifoul was put on but that was surprisingly easy – too easy Brian thought! But now we know how it is held on and it should be easier to remove when we decide to fix the bearing.
I was at last able to start work on the oven on the apartment balcony and get the cushions to the upholsterer to be cleaned and fitted with permeable bases and new zips.

Brian took out the toilet and started to put silicon around the joins between the floor and walls while the pipes were out, then started to put the pipes back in.
Another “oh no” instance was when we found a big (2”) blister on the keel. I peeled it back – layers of new antifoul, primer and epoxy – to find an old epoxy layer underneath. Water must have got in at some stage (damned rain, salt spray etc). So I scraped back as far as possible and we stuffed more primer and then antifoul on it. Not a good solution after so much hard work.

Ready to lift

Ready to lift

Finally Alixora was ready to put back in the water on Thursday – 16 days out of the water this time! It was a fine and windless day.

Waiting to have the support patches painted

Waiting to have the support patches painted

The back stays came off, we quickly sanded and then primed the patches where the supports had been and left the yard to put on the last of the antifoul while we had a coffee. It is always a “hold your breath” moment after the boat is dropped into the water and you get back on board to check that there isn’t any water coming in – which there wasn’t. Phew.
Brian put the back stays back on to the measurements he had taken before and by lunchtime we were back on pontoon 7 – alongside this time at the end of the pontoon which is great. We were expecting to be moved, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Payment of the bill for the liftout etc wasn’t too painful – the biggest charge was the “parking” cost and he only charged us for 10 days! A total of about £250 for the whole thing although we had bought our own paint. I don’t know if they resented us doing most of the work ourselves – but they didn’t seem to mind.

The boat yard in the distance

The boat yard in the distance

We decided to stay in the apartment for another two weeks – for one thing Brian had not put the toilet back in place! And there was a lot of sanding and re-varnishing to be done which is a pain if you are living on board.
Washing the decks down was a fairly urgent chore – they were covered with grit, sand and black dust. Inside the boat isn’t much better although we did try to keep the grit out! Dust is being generated as we speak with Brian sanding cupboard doors and surrounds.

Now you can see why we can't live on the boat at present!

Now you can see why we can’t live on the boat at present!

A few days without much wind followed. But a big storm off the coast of northern Tunisia and Sicily created huge waves. We watched them crashing over the breakwater yet again and against the rocky outcrops further down the coast.
Since then Brian has been working in the boat and I have been working in the apartment. The oven finally got cleaned.

The balcony is so useful!

The balcony is so useful!

Next up were the gangplank to be sanded (on the pontoon) and then brought up to the apartment to be varnished, similarly the boards that fit in the bottom of the dinghy.
The last coats went on just before a day of torrential rain!

Only one calm day for spraying toilet seats so far!

Only one calm day for spraying toilet seats so far!

In quiet moments I have been able to have a chat with Ros in the chandlery (not Rose I discovered) where she holds the fort most mornings. She told me that about a million Libyans have taken refuge in Tunisia. That is a tenth of the population of Tunisia! This drives up the price of housing, they get the advantage of state subsidies on bread and milk and their children get free education. This is obviously taking a toll on Tunisian infrastructure. The locals are not particularly happy despite any benefits from the additional income to shopkeepers, landlords etc. We noticed it particularly in Djerba, but it is similar in all the major towns.

View from our balcony - note geranium!

View from our balcony – note geranium!

And then the massacre of tourists at the Bardo museum happened – two days before Tunisian Independence day. The mood around here was sombre as everyone depends on tourism. More police are in evidence and more of them are toting big guns. We have noticed one or two yachts leaving, but not a mass exodus. In fact one British yacht just arrived to take advantage of the cheaper rate for lift out – they are having their hull taken down to gelcoat for a new layer of special antifoul called copper coat that is supposed to last years! We have heard varying stories about its efficacy.
I took more bed cushions (from “my” cabin) to the upholsterer for cleaning, new foam and a new base to be put on. All that has been done and all five are now back in the apartment waiting to go back on the boat and look a lot better with new zips in more sensible places. The bill was about £170 for all of that – not too bad.
Our new genoa (foresail) is ready and was to be delivered last week, so we hurriedly took down the old one and I took it to the chandlery so Ros’s husband Fethi could pass it on to local fishermen for whatever purpose. In the event there was a hold-up as the customs people need more documentation to prove that Alixora is a real boat and is in a real Tunisian harbour!

Waves build up on the north shore

Waves build up on the north shore

The guy (Hedi) who came to take the measurements in Djerba is showing signs of stress as he tries to understand and comply with the new rules! Both it and the cleaned mainsail have now been delivered and are sitting in the apartment waiting to be installed.
As soon as Brian has finished the work inside the boat it will need a thorough cleaning (inside and out – more sand miraculously appears daily on the deck).
I had taken off the bimini and washed it with soapy water and a broom on our balcony – then rinsed it four times in the bath (another advantage of having this apartment) before the red sand stopped coming out!

Part of Bourguiba's mausoleum

Part of Bourguiba’s mausoleum

We still go and have a beer in the Calypso restaurant each evening before dinner, but meet other yachties in the big hotel bar on Saturday nights. Many of them are rugby fans so the recent cup matches have been a fixture on the bar TV.
It being a pleasant sunny day I went on a long walking tour of the town on Tuesday to find a dentist, get more spray paint (to refurbish the toilet seat), paint brushes and sandpaper etc. I needed to stock up on cash to pay for our washed and repaired mainsail and the cushions having failed to do so on Saturday.
The bank ATMs (DAB – distributeur automatique bancaire here) periodically decide not to accept foreign debit cards, which means getting money out can be a bit haphazard. One day we were down to our last 45 dinar (£15) which was a bit scary! The strength of the pound is making us Brits (“Britch” in Tunisian) quite cheery – the exchange rate is certainly beneficial at present.
We keep finding things to check out on the internet. One of them was a catchy little tune which is the Tunisian national anthem. It sounds a bit like a nursery rhyme – very simple and rather sweet – until you look at the translation of the words! I think you can listen to it here:

O defenders of the Homeland!
Rally around to the glory of our time!
The blood surges in our veins,
We die for the sake of our land.

Let the heavens roar with thunder
Let thunderbolts rain with fire.
Men and youth of Tunisia,
Rise up for her might and glory.
No place for traitors in Tunisia,
Only for those who defend her!
We live and die loyal to Tunisia,
A life of dignity and a death of glory.
As a nation we inherited
Arms like granite towers.
Holding aloft our proud flag flying,
We boast of it, it boasts of us,
Arms that achieve ambitions and glory,
Sure to realize our hopes,
Inflict defeat on foes,
Offer peace to friends.
When the people will to live,
Destiny must surely respond.
Oppression shall then vanish.
Fetters are certain to break.

Apart from all the work, and the poor weather there is little to report. We have seen the first swallows over the harbour – only two so far but spring must be on the way!
Meantime the wind howls and the waves crash yet again…..

Waves crash over the peninsula north of the marina

Waves crash over the peninsula north of the marina


From → Boat Fixing, Tunisia

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