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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kathleen had been planning for some time to return to Frankfurt, as she does nearly every winter, to work on a musical with her friends Debra and Sheilagh. Since I had broken off a tooth crown on the voyage to Panamá City from Ecuador at Christmas, and since the local-Panamanian, American-trained M.B.A. (Dentistry) gave me an estimate for the work that was more than a little bit above my financial means, I decided that, at that price, I could buy a round-trip ticket back to Frankfurt and have the work done by my regular dentist. (This blog is not about dentistry. But if you ever need an absolutely top-notch dentist in Germany, call Dr. Jean-Paul McCaffry in Bad Homburg. He is extremely skilled and a pleasant chap as well. 49+6172/917.798.)

My dental work completed in Frankfurt, I also decided to have a number of medical checkups just to make sure everything is all right. My GP was also very thorough and, because I was wondering about my heart, sent me also to a cardiologist for stress testing. The result? A clean bill of health with, perhaps, a slight tendency to high blood pressure under stress. This can be controlled with exercise and weight reduction. Does this sound familiar?

The only negative was that the little spots on my scalp have turned into small cancers and will have to be removed surgically. They are not in any way life-threatening but might become infected and it is best to have them removed. In addition I shall be getting some infrared-light therapy for the remaining, non-cancerous spots.

The earliest I could get into the UniKlinikum in Frankfurt was 20 April. Vilisar meanwhile would be lying at anchor the whole time at La Playita in Balboa. By May, when I would be free to travel back to the boat, the dry season and the NE Trades conditions could start breaking up, and the Vilisar could be exposed to possible strong southerlies; this would put her on a dangerous lea shore at Balboa-Amador. In addition, I had shipwrights and marine railway at Balboa Yacht Club booked to repair the rudder. Finally, Andrew, my eldest son, was already scheduled to visit over Spring Break in March. I decided to return to Panamá City spend time with my visitors and then, with the repairs also completed, move the boat to a safe anchorage before returning to Frankfurt to be with Kathleen while waiting for the operation.

The carpenters work went smoothly (a separate blog follows). While the bottom was being cleaned, the carpenteros navale spent half a day repairing the rudder. The next day, Sunday, four men spent six hours re-caulking below the waterline. They used two-part epoxy to pay out the cracks and we used half a can of Hempel bottom paint to do a temporary job of anti-fouling protection. (If you are planning to use the marine ways at Balboa Yacht Club and you want to hire carpenters or mechanics, try to avoid Sundays; they will definitely work, but you will have to pay them time and one-half. That’s still cheap by U.S. or European standards; the shipwrights are normally $4.50 an hour). But you can save yourself some money. The other good news is that, you don’t have to pay for days booked on the marine ways ($50/day for the small one and $75/day for the large) if you don’t actually use the days. The bad news is that you have to pay a “gratuity” of $30 each way to the guys operating the marine railway. There are plenty of guys who want to clean your hull. They want at least a dollar a foot, which is pretty high. Negotiate!

It was decided together with Piti, the shipwright, that Vilisar should get back on the marine ways in May before we leave for French Polynesia. Over five or six days, all the hull planking (and possibly some deck planking and coverboard) should be re-caulked and re-painted. We don’t take water when we are level. But as soon as we heel over, you can actually see water running down the inside of the hull. I think the months we spent in the desert climate of the Sea of Cortés, Mexico, dried things out a lot; the planking has never really tightened up since then. So, I regard this is as an excellent opportunity to take care of this. The prices are reasonable for shipwrights and I have confidence in the work they have done so far.

I also want to get the bulwarks opened up. Something, fasteners probably, is rusting under there and, constructed the way it is at present, I cannot see what is going on. Piti will open up one side of the bulwark and either leave it open permanently, or we will fashion a new plank that can be removed when necessary (at present they are permanently fastened).

Once the caulking and repair work are done, the hull will be completely stripped of paint and a new build-up of bottom paint will be undertaken. For the white topsides, however, we will have the shipwrights spray-paint using two-part polyurethane, a much harder and more UV-resistant paint than the enamel we have been using so far. If we have enough money and time, we might go for re-painting the decks and superstructure with white polyurethane as well.

Other projects are to replace the galvanized-wire rope used for the jib and forestays with high-grade stainless steel. The galvanised-steel wire-rope that makes up Vilisar’s standing rigging at present is much stronger than stainless wire and will last many more years. But since because of the sail hanks the headstays cannot be parcelled and served, they get very rusty. This in turn stains the sails. I have already been on the internet to compare prices. I am shopping for 20 metres (approx. 66 feet) of 8 mm (ca/ 5/16 inch) 7x7 (316 grade) stainless steel rigging wire (with two ends spliced)and 2 Norsemen eye terminals. Comparison shopping pays! But it is not only time-consuming but very difficult as well for a layman to shop online, I have found. After trying to compare prices between Europe and the USA (the European prices tend to be higher because, first, there about one-fifth of the final price is VAT (a type of sales tax) and, second, because the Euro in relationship to the US$ is very high (about $1.35 for each Euro).

I built Excel charts after shopping online with a whole range of potential suppliers. But finally, overwhelmed by it all, I gave up and called TOPLICHT, a German chandler and marine mail-order house in Hamburg to talk to their rigger. Not only did he get me focussed on the correct wire for my needs, he put together the whole order (the various bits and pieces needed in addition to teh basic elements), found me the current sale prices (most chandlers are trying to cut inventories as the economic depression deepens), compared the benefits of shipping to Panama (and thereby saving the VAT) versus swallowing the VAT while taking free-house delivery in Germany and lugging along with us when we go back. There is even a chance we can claim the VAT back at the airport in Frankfurt before departing.

In the end, for 20 metres (ca. 66 feet) of 8mm 316-grade stainless wire rope, two splices (including two thimbles), two Norseman eye terminals (with some bits that go with them) came out to Euro 396. Delivery will be overnight by DHL once the splices are completed this week in Hamburg. The package will be small enough to fit into a suitcase.

The new stainless-steel stays might be a break with the more traditional materials on the boat. But, I am sick of rusty stains on the sails and trying to maintain them like new is quite difficult and time-consuming. I have no idea where I could get new galvanised wire-rope stays made up anyway.

I used to get quite overwhelmed by new projects on Vilisar. Now that we have, in Latin America, been able to hire professional help for jobs like re-caulking and a new sacrificial wormshoe (see an earlier blog), I can relax more. The work is not only heavy, it is specialised and experts are needed. I learn a lot from these specialists and might be able to do some of the jobs myself in the future. The next time the shipwrights are at the work of caulking, I am going to try my hand at it as well.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Kathy and I did a day-long trip with other cruisers by motorised dugout canoe to an Indian village up the Chagras River. This river is the source of all the water used in the Panama Canal; instead of flowing directly to the sea, it now first creates an artificial lake from which the water for the locks is drawn.

The native people, the Imbarra Drua, are a small splinter group that moved over from the main tribe near the Columbian border. Head-hunters originally, they were notorious for their ferocity. when they arrived in this area as late as the 1960s, they drove out the existing tenants who moved over to the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean coast.

It seems a joke, but we were told that, since sometimes cruiseship guests come to visit them, the cruise line operators insist that the people cover their genitals. The native people would otherwise simply wear nothing that wasn't just decoration.