The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Tuesday, September 01, 2007

About a month ago we took Vilisar up on a makeshift tidal grid here in Bahía to paint her bottom. We picked the month’s highest tide: about three days after the full moon our tables told us we could expect 2.8 metres around dawn on July 17 and a little more the following morning. The second high tide on painting day was predicted to be 2.6 metres.

We had successfully leaned Vilisar against the same wall at the Bahía Yacht Club last year. In fact, back then, with a 3-metre high tide we had waited for about one and one-half hours before we even began touching bottom. So, we were a little surprised and disconcerted last month to find that we were touching almost as soon as we had tied up. We did in fact get all the work done on the port side. But we were unable to get off on the afternoon high tide. That night the boat sat peacefully on its keel and we had a great night’s sleep without the high-tide tango that we had been experiencing of late at anchor in our mast-free vessel. Both Kathleen and I were slightly haunted that night, however, by the thought that we might find ourselves neaped and spending a month or five weeks leaning against that wall. We did in the end make it off the next morning. But only just.

We decided, prudently, to wait for the end-August highs to paint the other half of the hull. Those tides promised us 3 metres. October highs would have been even better, but we think we might be gone from Bahía by then. Furthermore, as we noticed in July, we should not be putting off getting the bottom taken care of soon. We had slapped lots of red, self-polishing Hempel Olympic 89600 anti-fouling paint on the hull last year. But it had meanwhile been nearly completely ground off: the 3 to 5 knot currents here in the estuary are not only highly nutrient-rich, they carry lots of sand down from the Andes which also serves to scour away paint at a rapid rate. In plenty of spots, we could see not only the blue bottom paint from San Carlos, Mexico, in summer 2004 but, indeed, bare wood here and there along the bow and rudder and along the waterline. The port side alone soaked up nearly two local gallons (8 litres) last month and I had had to travel to Manta to buy two more gallons for the starboard side. The paint at present costs $78 for 4 litres at Zambrona paints (near the waterfront and near the Manta main bus station). Last year we paid $55 so the high price of petroleum is working its way through the paint products too.

The good news is that the whole operation went (you should pardon the expression) swimmingly. With the high-high tide expected at 0615, we pulled up the dirty and slimy anchor chain and motored around to the wall to be there on time. Once tied up temporarily, Brian of S/V Ikarion (Vancouver) was there with his inflatable to push the bow around 180 degrees while Philip and Penny of S/V Sisiutl (Seattle) helped us on deck or on the narrow ledge that passes for a dock at this makeshift grid. Even after we had her swung around and had lines arranged we still had to wait nearly an hour for Vilisar to touch. We had two old tires, painted white (to keep our topsides from turning black), to act as fenders. They functioned perfectly. With the boat secured, we all stood around on the appropriate side of the deck, drinking coffee and making sure the boat was going to lean a bit towards the wall. I also added a few heavy water and fuel jugs to the wall side of the boat just to be sure. Everything went perfectly.

Once Vilisar had settled thoroughly and our helpers had departed, Kathleen and I lugged the heavy cans of bottom paint over to El Meastra paint shop on Avenida Simon Bolívar. The manager had offered to agitate the paint on his machine. It took about 30 minutes of continuous shaking to get the copper thoroughly mixed. While this was going on, we stopped into Paolo’s restaurant for a cooked breakfast to give us strength for the work ahead.

Before using the grid we had always had the bottom cleaned by Carlos and Raimundo of Puerto Amistad. To save some money ($1 a foot or, in our case $41) and because we estimated we would have lots of time to clean and paint only the starboard side, we decided to skip the divers this time. When the water went down we could see that the nutrient-rich Rio Chone had given us a very heavy crop of barnacles. The propeller and metal parts were also heavily coated, which explained why the vessel had seemed so sluggish when we were motoring in. With Victor Suarez, the night watchman at the Bahía Yacht Club, to assist we got to work with spatulas and scrapers to clean. Fortunately we only had one side to do! The old paint was pretty thin but there was very little of it that was loose.

Long before the tide was fully out, Vilisar’s starboard hull had been scraped clean, sanded with 80 grit paper, washed down with fresh water and left to dry. We had used a clamming shovel to expose the keel more completely in the hard sand to help the water drain away. This is one disadvantage to a sandy grid: it is hard to get at the bottom of the keel and the worm shoe. We had damaged the worm shoe somewhat in backing over some rocks and I wanted to have a good look and, of course, get anti-fouling paint on as much of the keel as possible. Whenever I saw a need, I also mixed up some Z-Spar underwater putty and filled in cracks and cavities: one or two of the wooden plugs covering fasteners, for example, had disappeared so those holes were filled too.

Finally, the actual painting started. While up north we had calculated about 1.5 gallons to paint the whole bottom, we were using at least twice this amount down here. In fact, we used four Latino gallons (i.e., 16 litres) of bottom paint this year! Victor was rolling on paint (he had never used a roller before and needed repeatedly to be told to slap lots of paint on instead of spreading it economically) and Kathleen was “pointing”, i.e., touching up and adding more paint by brush to needy areas.

I meanwhile addressed the issue of the bobstay. Since, with all our gear on board, Vilisar is so low on her lines, the galvanised shackle and lower chain links of the bobstay are nearly constantly submerged in salt water. Joe May, a previous owner, had installed a strong bronze fitting where the bobstay attaches to the hull. The next link up from that has been a large, heavy-duty galvanised shackle followed by galvanised anchor chain. The big shackle, however, had been eaten away by electrolysis within less than a year! So, it was either add more bronze, change the shackle frequently or install a small zinc anode. Fortunately, I had purchased some second-hand, heavy-duty, bronze turnbuckles from Ebay last year. Our bobstay now has a bronze turnbuckle at either end and I can probably stop worrying about electrolysis there. I then spent time mousing turnbuckles and shackles for the bobstay and boomkin and making some adjustments to the Cap Horn windvane steering. I also removed the Bruce anchor for re-galvanising and installed the plough anchor on the chain-gipsy roller. In six years we had yet to use the plough anchor.

By this time the bottom painting was completed with plenty of time to spare. Part of the time was used in washing down the whole boat with a hose and then stowing painting supplies and the like. It seemed to take hours before the water came back up and we could start to feel the boat getting lighter. About 1845, we could finally motor off and head back to our anchoring spot off Bahía Yacht Club. Exhausted and stiff, our fingers and hands raw and cut, we were in bed and asleep by 2000.

As we spaced out the next day, loafing around for hours in the morning while we sipped espresso coffees on board, we realised that, except for last-minute water and provisions, Vilisar is basically now ready to put to sea. (With our old suit of sails, admittedly.) If only we actually knew where we were going! We have always made vague plans and adhered to them rigidly. I guess this will be no different.

(Note. This year’s bottom painting cost us 16 litres or 4 Latino gallons of Hempel Olympic 89600 bottom paint @ $78 per gallon plus various rollers and brushes. It’s not available in Bahía so you have to get over to Manta. Zambrano carries Hempel.

(A permiso to put a boat on the beach must be acquired from the Port Captain. (Probably only for foreign-flagged boats but I am not sure.) It costs a flat $3.70 (and some waiting) but the fee is for any length of time that you need/specify. Take your passport and boat papers. The Port Captain signs it himself so I guess it’s important. In fact, any time you move your foreign-flagged vessel, you have to at least notify the Port Captain.

(The Bahía Yacht Club charges $10 to lean your boat against its wall, a cheek really since there is nothing to tie up to [i.e., no bollards or rings, for example] and you have to arrange all your own ropes a day in advance so you have something to tie to when you arrive. But at least you can use the Club’s freshwater hose [be sparing as fresh water is in short supply in town and the Club’s cistern can be emptied quickly] and electricity if you need it (not a safe marine connection but only a household plug despite the fact that it is outside and near water).

(The sand beach is very firm except right at the extreme low-water mark where it is very slimy. I think next time we might consider careening on an appropriate beach: we have never done it and I reckon it is high time we did. It would certainly save us $20 at the BYC. We also saved $41 this year by cleaning the bottom ourselves. We paid Victor something for his help too. If you have divers clean your boat, $5 extra will get your chain cleaned too, which, let me tell you, is well worth the price. If the bottom and chain are very badly fouled, give the guys a generous tip.

(Last year we hired some professional painters. They normally do houses. They did a good job though they were an ecological nightmare, cleaning brushes into the sand and seawater, and leaving empty paint cans, old brushes/rollers and painting rags around for the next tide to carry off. Reckon with about $150-$200 for them to clean, sand and paint. They also painted our topsides at the same time.)