January 1, 2015 - June 16, 2015


* If it's Tuesday this Must be Australia

* OMG -- More Boat Projects


We thought that this would be a light season maintenance/project-wise but wow were we WRONG. We not only added some significant equipment, but we replaced several complicated systems as well.

But before we get into all of the boat projects, we wanted to take a little diversion to Australia. We took a very short trip to Oz in late January to allow us to renew our New Zealand visas.

January 21 - January 28, 2015

Trip To Oz

We knew about the Sydney Opera House, of course, but we hadn't realized what a radical innovation it was. The architect and engineers who won the project with their innovative design actually had no idea how they were going to build it! Not surprisingly, it was completed ten years late and about 1500% over budget. People thought it was a disaster.

And now it's an icon, one of the architectural wonders of the world. You just never know...

Probably the pyramids were over-budget too.

We were lucky enough to get tickets to a performance of "The Artist" at the Opera House, and it was fabulous. The Oscar-winning silent movie, with a live orchestra, led by the team that composed the movie's score, inside the world's most famous opera house.

Most good views of Sydney include the Opera House:



We spent most of the week in the city of Sydney. The streets were busier at 11:00 pm at night than at noon, and everyone looked like they were about 20. We felt kind of .... old.




So we sought refuge in the Royal Botanical Gardens.






But we were careful not to touch, because practically everything in Australia is prickly. And/or poisonous...







We even learned from a Garden employee that you can get a drug-resistant infection if you get poked by a thorn that has ibis poop on it.






The city was a bit edgy, especially after the 2014 attack at the Lindt Cafe. There was a bomb scare while we were walking near the ferry terminal at the main wharf in Sydney Harbor and we caught part of the news conference...


Turns out a package (used as part of training for bomb scares) was inadvertently left at the terminal leading to a full-fledged scare!






Actually Australia seemed downright paranoid sometimes. The Harbor Bridge is a famous and (from a distance) beautiful structure, but ... concertina wire?





We watched some young skateboarders honing their skills on a long alley stairway. They tried difficult moves, they failed over and over, and they didn't quit.

Sometimes they succeeded.

Sometimes they didn't...




We ventured over to the fish market one day and ogled the catch.








But wow, the tuna prices were astronomical. No wonder we aren't seeing much tuna on passage anymore.





And frankly, given all the time we spend underwater with live fish, the fishmarket seemed a bit macabre.

Sydney Zoo

We decided to look for some animals that weren't dead, so we went to the Sydney Zoo, a short ferry ride from downtown Sydney, and also to the Ferndale Wildlife Park.




Some of the animals seemed perfectly content.


But the monkeys weren't very happy. Sometimes being smart just helps a body understand how bad things are...




The Zoo also had huge, mechanical dinosaur replicas. They move their bodies and claws in a life-like fashion, make lots of noise, roll their eyes, snap their jaws, spit water, and are generally scary!

Unlike the monkeys, they seemed pretty tuned in...




Blue Mountains

Australia is about as big as the continental US, but has only 23 million people. Most of Australia is just empty.



We took a tour to the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, and peeked into the void




We would have loved to get out and really hike into the wilderness, but we didn't have time. So it was mostly just a tourist experience.





At least we got to see our first "selfie stick" in action.




January 29, 2015 - June 16, 2015

Back To Real Life -- Fixing Eagle's Wings

Then it was time to get back to reality -- working on the boat.

You would think, with all of our experience, that we could get ready for sea in less than six months. But this year we were almost two months late leaving New Zealand -- because the boat wasn't ready.

Two reasons for that. First, we had our usual ambitious list of new projects. We've been working on Eagle's Wings for fifteen years, and we keep thinking she'll be ready to go cruising any day now.

Second, we had a thing or two go wrong. Maybe you've heard the nautical version of Murphy's Law "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Unless you're on a boat, in which case it has already gone wrong and you just haven't noticed yet."

Here's a partial description of the things that happened to us or the boat this year:

(1) Steering Failure

First, and most dramatically, our Edson steering system completely failed. When we got back to the boat, we couldn't turn the wheel at all! Imagine if this happened at sea!

It took Ken three days with hammers, penetrating oil and a block and tackle to finally get the steering pedestal apart.



One of the bearings came out intact and the other came out in pieces. Can you guess which is which?




Turns out that the stainless bearing races had reacted with the aluminum pedestal and been crushed by the swelling aluminum.



Here you can see the little ridges that formed as the steel buckled. Not exactly the right thing for bearings!



We ordered a whole new pedestal from Edson, but that shipment took months to get to NZ. In the meantime, we needed a way to steer the boat to the travel lift so that we could haul.

It turns out that a plastic salad-dressing bottle was a perfect fit for the wheel shaft.


Ken fashioned a "bearing" from the plastic neck and substituted that for the needle bearings on the shaft -- the looser tolerances of the salad bottle could handle the bumpy bearing race..


The plastic bearing wouldn't have lasted thousands of miles, but it worked just fine for getting to the lift. Ken loves this kind of thing!

Note to Edson -- the cheap Chinese knock-offs of Edson products use plastic delron bushings instead of needle bearings. So no stainless to aluminum contact. Maybe this is a better solution...?


When our pedestal finally arrived from the States, Ken installed the new one, and replaced the throttle controls (which had also broken). And the chain and steering cables for good measure..



(2) Forward Looking Sonar

We know several boats that love their EchoPilot forward-looking sonars and told us we should have one.



Typical EchoPilot display. The stuff right in front of EW is a sonar image of the anchor chain.




We wanted one, but we could never figure out how to mount it in EW. Ken wanted it to be retractable -- to reduce drag and because these things get broken off by mooring lines and anchor chains if they're mounted near the bow. But it had to be easy to retract, without picking up floorboards. So we didn't get one...

Then we bumped that reef in Fiji... (See our 2012 update.)

So we asked our local boat genius, Steve Eichler, for ideas.

Steve suggested running a long piston inside a standpipe. This would allow us to mount the probe in our forward compartment and retract it without getting to the bottom of the boat. (Manually -- we're not talking about hydraulics.)




Beth holds the standpipe and piston. The standpipe will get permanently mounted.







The transducer screwed into the end of the piston.






Of course, Steve had to drill a big hole in the bottom of the boat near the bow to glass in the standpipe. Here he's reaming out the core.





Here's a closeup of the transducer protruding from the bottom of boat. Our friend Ann on Charisma told us that "it looks like a dog's pee-pee". So now that's all we can think of when we see it.

Thanks Ann!



We can retract the probe into its hole, or we can remove it and insert a blank, flush piston.


Beth made a sunbrella "envelope" to contain and protect whichever piston was not in use.





Here's Ken with the final installation. The standpipe is tucked into corner of a locker -- supported and protected by strong aluminum rails.




(3) Spectra Watermaker

We ordered the new, latest and greatest "Z-Ion" system for our Spectra watermaker. This do-dad puts copper ions into the membrane and filters (but not into the drinking water) at the end of every run to keep bacteria and fungus from growing. We know that big ships use this kind of technology, and we wanted it.



Note to us. Never buy the "latest and greatest" of anything. Ken spent weeks unofficially beta testing this thing for Spectra, and it still has some bugs.





(4) Propeller And Shaft

We just wanted to align the prop shaft -- seems simple enough.

But it turns out that our boat should have had a whole second "cutlass" bearing installed to support the prop shaft. When the first owner modified the engine mounts (he added a universal joint under the engine) he also needed to change the shaft supports. He didn't, which explains a lot of problems...

That meant we (meaning our very good mechanic, Tim Brown) had to remove our prop shaft, which meant removing the propeller and dropping the rudder...



But the prop shaft had been damaged by an earlier mechanic, so getting the prop off was a big deal.






And dropping the rudder means digging a big hole in the ground.







With the prop off, the rudder down and the shaft out, Tim could cut out the old cutlass bearing.

Tim replaced the bearings with a very high grade plastic -- "Thordon" -- instead of the old bronze and rubber bearings.



And now we decided that, since we had the rudder down, we might as well change the rudder bearings. That sounded simple enough...

But it turned out that, when our boat was built, the upper and lower rudder bearing tubes were not aligned properly. It was a HUGE mission for Tim to install the new Thordon bearings with proper alignment. If we had to do it over, we would bring in a big boring tool and re-drill the rudder tube to be true before fitting the bearings.



Tim, getting ready to fit the new giant lower bearing.






Lower bearing after placement on rudder shaft.







Tim and his buddy fitting the upper bearing into the rudder shaft hole.




Tim used shims epoxied into the thin gap between the bearing and the shaft support tube to align the rudder perfectly true. If any of that epoxy had gotten between the bearing and the rudder shaft -- Yikes!



Tim did a superb job with this very difficult project. We marveled at his tenacity and good humor throughout.

Anyway -- our new bearing are now properly aligned, so they should last for decades.

Do you remember that all this started with a simple propeller shaft alignment?

Oh yeah, one more thing -- When Tim put the prop back on, Ken only gave him part of the documentation (we missed the "special addendum" sheet). So the prop ended up over-pitched and couldn't rev up over 900 rpm's. We had to haul again to fix the problem.

(5) New Frigoboat Compressors

We installed new Frigoboat air-cooled/keel-cooled refrigeration and freezer compressors. So now we can operate our fridge and freezer on the hard with air-cooling and in the water with keel-cooling. We were mighty glad to have the new compressors when our 2 week haul out turned into 6 weeks.


This all sounds straight-forward, but it took days to fit the new compressors into their very cramped home, and Ken is still fiddling with the refrigerant charge nine months later.



(6) Spice Racks

Storing our spices in the cabinet with the compressors didn't work very well -- really hot in there. Russ and Gwen on "A-Train", a sistership to Eagle's Wings, gave us a great alternative idea. They had mounted a spice rack to the inside the door of their main galley cabinet.

This is every cruiser's dream -- to suddenly discover a whole bunch of extra storage. Wow, what a breakthrough!




Steve built 7 teak racks for the galley door, with special teak separators between the bottles so that they wouldn't rattle at sea.





(7) Here's A "Minor" Problem

One of the macerator pumps mounted under the floor boards has an exposed, spinning axle. That axle chafed through the insulation on one of our wires!

Fortunately we caught it before anything really bad happened and fixed things so it couldn't happen again.



(8) Operator Error

In the process of attempting to back up her computer, Beth wrote over the main disk with an older backup. She lost 3 months of work.

But this disaster happened the same day we got excellent news on Steve's successful surgery. And Beth decided that this was some kind of karmic tradeoff -- her screw-up helped Steve.

Ken would prefer if she didn't try to help anyone else this way.

(9) Cracked Tooth


Beth bit down on a seed, cracked a tooth completely down to the root and lost the tooth -- it had to be yanked out with pliers.

She thinks that dentists should bring their tooth-pulling technology into the 21st century... Pliers... !!?





Beth sporting her new gap-tooth smile while she waits for the implant root to grow into the bone.




(10) New Dinghy

Our camera and dive gear had grown to the point where we could barely fit into our old dinghy ("Kestrel").


So we got a new Mercury Ocean Runner, which is longer and wider than Kestrel. Basically we got the biggest dinghy we can fit on deck. We named her "Falcon."



We modified her by opening up the anchor locker, and by adding additional handles, lots of tie down points and an additional seat aft -- since this dinghy is so wide that you can't sit on the pontoon and still reach the motor.



Here's the open anchor locker.





Fully loaded dingy -- which includes two fuel tanks with a total of 36 liters of gasoline, a 5 kilo Manson anchor, 15 feet of chain (the same chain size we use for EW), 180 feet of anchor rode (in a two-part tackle), paddles, a radio, a GPS, a hand bearing compass, masks, fins and snorkels, two dive tanks with BCs and regulators, two huge soft coolers to hold our camera gear and strobes, and an emergency kit with tools, a knife, a strobe, flares, a dye marker, and emergency blankets... And us.


We need all that stuff because we sometimes dinghy for miles and then anchor in 60 feet of water for diving. When you come up, you REALLY want the dinghy to be there!

(11) Replacement Of Bimini With Hardtop

The Bimini:

Finally, we have the ultimate example of a small problem morphing into the mother of all projects.


When we got back to EW after a year in Wisconsin, our bimini (the canvas sun/rain cover over the cockpit) had a little mold on it.






Actually, it looked kind of like a Jackson Pollack painting.




We tried cleaning it, but it was just hopeless. So we needed to get a new bimini.


Ahh, but here was a chance to re-design our crazy, heavy, bimini supports. They had evolved from a folding bimini, beefed up over the years to support solar panels, and just weren't what anyone would design from scratch.



In the past, we had thought about building a carbon fiber hardtop. It would be neater, and it wouldn't mold or leak, but it wouldn't save much weight over canvas and steel, so we never did it.

However in early 2014, the Chinese started making efficient semi-flexible solar panels. These panels make as much electricity as hard panels, with about 20% of the weight. Our 800 watts of hard panels weighed about 123 lbs. We could replace them with 980 watts of flexible panels that would weigh only 31 lbs.

But the best surface for supporting the panels would be something flat. Like a carbon fiber hardtop.

So -- because we had a little mold on our bimini -- we ended up building a carbon fiber hardtop, with new stainless supports, and new solar panels -- a project which consumed most of our summer.



We worked with Lawrence Brock-Smith, a local fiberglass and carbon fiber craftsman to build the hardtop. Lawrence's friend, Peter Bellanham, also helped at critical points in the project.





Terry and Victor from Alloy Stainless Marine built all new stainless supports.

We consulted with Pure Design in Auckland for the layup protocol. We bought the solar panels directly from Shine Solar in China. (Our first experience ordering direct from China.)

Here is a tour of the project:

Beth got an evaluation copy of a CAD program called Rhino 5 and learned just enough to be dangerous. Although she never created a 3D view of the boat itself, the top was 3D and the design showed how the hardtop would look on the boat, where to place the stainless supports, what size solar panels would fit, where to position the panels, and how much material (carbon, resin, and foam) to order.



We ordered M60 Corecell foam, epoxy resin, and carbon fiber material (twill, double-bias and some uni) from various suppliers in New Zealand.


Here's the very beginning -- a wood frame for the shape, and some cardboard cutouts to test the size of the solar panels.




Our good friend Don Barker arranged a hanger at the Whangarei airport for the layup and volunteered to help with the layup work as well. We all got to wear cool-looking work suits.

Here, Don readies another layer of carbon fabric for placement on top of the wetted surface while Beth mixes epoxy resin.

At left below, Don (left) and Lawrence (right) apply the resin. At right below, everybody gets into the act of rolling the resin onto the carbon.

Lawrence "vacuum-bagged" each step, crushing the laminate together with a vacuum pump to squeeze out extra resin and to make sure that the bonding between all the layers was tight and uniform.



After the first two layers of carbon fiber cloth, we added a layer of 20mm foam.





Which then got covered by two more layers of carbon and epoxy -- making a foam and carbon I-beam. Light, stiff, and incredibly strong. Strong enough to walk on, and strong enough to withstand 80 or 90 knots of wind. At least according to our calculations...



After the basic layup was completed, we rented a glass panel transport trailer to move the top from the airport hanger to a tent at Riverside Marina, close to our boat. Early one Sunday morning, before the wind got up, traveling very slowly, we moved the top. Standing on edge, the hardtop made a great sail -- even the smallest amount of wind would have been trouble.

Here's Lawrence and Peter doing the first fitting of the partially completed top:



Next, the top went back in the tent and Lawrence installed a foam edge (later covered with carbon) around the entire perimeter.

Notice how much bigger the top looks when it's NOT on the boat.



The edge did four things. It:

(a) Extended down to hide the track for canvas,

(b) Extended up to provide a lip for catching rain water for our water tanks,

(c) Stiffened the edge of the top itself, and

(d) Created a "spoiler" to disrupt airflow, helping to reduce lift (this thing looks like the wing on a 747, so lift is a big issue).


We (our references to "we" really mean Lawrence and Peter) also added three ribs underneath -- just long strips of foam, covered with carbon -- running from port to starboard for extra strength. We put holes in the ribs for clothes lines.




And we embedded stainless plates with bolts welded to them to provide attachment points for the supports. (We replaced the foam core with plywood under the plates, so that the bolts wouldn't crush the foam.)



We also added two fore and aft ribs on top of the bimini, in the center. These further disrupted lift, and also provided a "tray" to hide most of the wiring.

You can see the wires from the top, but they vanish behind the tray when you look from the side (on the right).


And then it was time to make the stainless supports. Below, Victor of ASM does the welding (with a little help from Beth -- who is carefully not looking at the blinding arc welder).

But the top wasn't done yet. In early May, Lawrence and Peter created a giant box to heat cure it.

Chinese Solar Panels:

We really depend on our solar panels, so we took a big gamble by switching to the new, semi-flexible technology.



Here's what the panels look like:




And we took an even bigger gamble by buying Chinese panels, direct from China. Our friends said we were crazy. We hear that a lot, actually...

But look at the numbers. Solbian, an Italian company, has the only similar product -- but they want $1200 for a 112W panel! For comparison, we paid $160 for a 110W Chinese panel.!!!! (Had we bought the Chinese panel through a NZ distributor, we would have paid about $300.)

So at those prices, we felt we could take some risk.

And the Chinese guys were easy to deal with. For example, their panels had 15mm margins around the edge. We thought that was too small, because we wanted to drill holes through the margins to screw the panels down. Ben, our Chinese contact said "No problem -- how big do you want the margins?"!



Fastener in the 30mm border.




And we didn't like the way they arranged the electrical attachments, because they used too much space on the panel. "No problem -- how do you want them?"

That's remarkable service, considering we aren't big industrial buyers -- this was an order for 10 panels (we planned to install 8 panels but bought an extra panel of each size for spares).

Of course, we couldn't be sure the panels would work. So when our contact, Ben, said they couldn't deliver on schedule because of quality control problems, we got worried. And when they delayed again because the second set of panels didn't work right either, we started thinking about how to use our old panels.

But, on the third try, Ben said the panels tested ok. When they arrived, we immediately tested them ourselves -- and they worked! (And now, in August, about six months later, they still work fine.)

Probably they won't last as long as the hard panels, but at these prices, they don't have to.

Lawrence came up with an ingenious idea for attaching the panels to the hardtop, to avoid drilling dozens of holes in the top. (We also did not want to glue the panels directly to the top, because we wanted to be able to get them off.)

Lawrence suggested using "tee-nuts," Tee-nuts have an internal thread and we could attach the nuts to the bimini with epoxy and carbon patches.

This would be a very labor intensive operation, but we loved the idea of no holes in the top.



We had never heard of a "tee-nut" but here's what one looks like.

Peter cut off the 4 vertical prongs on each nut, allowing us to slide the carbon patch, and the hole in the panel, over the post.





Ken drilled over 100 holes in the 30mm margins (that the Chinese company added) for the tee-nut fasteners.





Beth and Ken worked on the layout of the solar panels.

We were able to overlap the long edges of the panels, saving real estate and reducing the number of tee-nuts.




Here Peter attaches the carbon fiber patches for the tee-nuts.






Our friend, Ann, from Charisma took this picture with us and the solar panels on top of the hardtop. We love that the top is strong enough to hold our weight.



By mid-May, the top was ready for the final painting. Gavin of Pacific Gloss, put together a skilled team for the work.

The painters did a great job, despite many days that were too humid for painting. The top was finally ready for installation by the first week of June.

We are absolutely ecstatic with how well the whole thing turned out.


Ken completes the wiring installation for the solar panels:


The top fits the boat so well that now we can't imagine Eagle's Wings without it!


A view from up the mast:


Finally, with our projects completed, we could start thinking about moving on.