Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Phoenix's Origins

For years, all we knew about Phoenix was that she was a “custom 48’ ketch” built in the mid 70s by a “Mr. Kim” in Pusan, Korea. Not really much to go on… But leave it to 2 super sleuth researchers to uncover the true pedigree of our “little” gem!

Fast forward a few years and Bill sees a boat for sale on E-bay that looks remarkably similar to Phoenix. This was a ferro-cement hull rather than fiberglass like ours, but the design similarities were striking! That boat – Eager Dreamer (ED) – is a Bruce Bingham 48’ Andromeda ketch. Armed with a few key pieces of information from the ad, Bill and I set out to unravel the mystery behind Phoenix's origins.

We decided to divide and conquer. Bill discovered that ED was built in Seattle by a man named Gary Wiles, and found his contact info online. I hit the message boards and found that Bruce Bingham is living in Florida and got his contact info. Bill called them both and what we learned excited us both!

Phoenix is, in fact, a Bruce Bingham Andromeda, and 1 of only 2 ever made in the factory under Bruce's supervision. For all intents and purposes, she is hull #1 of the 2, and was commissioned with an additional 6 foot bowsprit and staysl rig. There are other Andromeda's out there, but only 2 built under Bruce’s watch. The hull was made in Korea, and she was shipped to Seattle where she was finished and delivered. Gary saw her there in 1976, and she was the inspiration that led him and his wife Lana to build ED!

Bruce's book entitled,  Ferro-Cement, is almost an "Andromeda manifesto" as I like to call it, and he spends a good part of the introduction discussing his then-current philosophy on boat design that culminated in the Andromeda. Gary was kind enough to send us copies of the original blue prints which gave us invaluable pieces of Phoenix's puzzle.

Phoenix has had several owners, a hand full of names, and many modifications over the years. We've seen remnants of bulkheads, shoveled out bags full of woodchips and epoxy that settled in her keel, and uncovered a variety of paint colors as we completed the re-decking and paint job. But now we could really see where she came from, and amazingly that many of our modifications hark back to her original design!

Bill contacted her previous owner Dieter to share the news, and he in turn offered pictures of the boat from the mid-90s. At that point her teak decks had be replaced with Ipe (aka Brazilian walnut). The compromised foredeck had been leaking badly, and Dieter ripped all of the Ipe -- and even the cabin tops -- off the boat. Dieter re-beamed the foredeck and began a Herculean attempt at reviving the boat before running out of steam and putting her on the market.

The Ipe and cabin tops ripped off!

View of the main cabin from the deck...

How she looked when we got her

We picked up where Dieter left off and are rounding the corner towards her completion. Bruce, Gary and Lana will most likely be here visiting this summer, and with any luck she will be ready to sail for our honored guests. At 36 years old, it is time for Phoenix to rise and shine!

Phoenix today

Monday, February 27, 2012

Replacing Wire-to-Rope Halyards

Perhaps it was because Phoenix sat so long in Detroit (10+ years on the hard with her masts down), or perhaps it was because of how the masts were stored, but her halyards were riddled with meat hooks that wreaked havoc on our hands! Plus the lines were all quite worn, so we decided it was time to replace them all.

The main halyard is all wire, making that replacement relatively easy. Except the guy who sold us the stainless wire didn't give us oil-free stainless, so it made a huge mess all over the deck until the oil finally all came off. Suffice it to say we were not happy, especially when it came time to wash the decks and get all the gunk off!

The mizzen, mizzen staysail, and two headsail halyards are wire-double braid line, so some splicing would be in order. We could've purchased pre-fabricated wire-to-rope kits for the two mizzen halyards, but the headsails didn't fit the pre-fab mold and would have to be custom. Shopping around Annapolis, the going rate for a rigger to do a wire-to-rope splice ranged anywhere from $50-$100 each! Perhaps out of naiveté or the fact that I love a challenge and to learn new skills, I volunteered (or maybe Bill volunteered me?) to learn how to do the splices. We are, after all, always looking for ways to become more self-sufficient.

It's amazing the reaction you get in the chandleries when you say you're going to splice the wire and rope yourself. Blank stares, hushed voices, wide-eyed recoils and disbelief while they wish you luck, tell you how hard it's going to be, how these splices are a nearly lost art... Almost enough to make you feel like a Jedi knight looking for Obi Wan! But I was non-pulsed; I've been braiding hair since I was a little girl, how hard could this be?

We did our normal internet searches, watched some YouTube videos, knew I would need a Swedish fid, and had the basic concept of splicing down, but I'll be the first to admit that my first attempt was a hot mess! Mistake #1 -- assuming the splice was anything like braiding. In fact, this was probably my downfall as I attempted to weave the line against the lay of the wire, like you would with a braid or most 3-strand splices. While presumably strong enough, it certainly wasn't a smooth taper, was difficult if not impossible to slide the cover back over the wire and core splice, and definitely did NOT neatly spiral around the wire like the professional splices we've seen.

Determined not to accept defeat, we purchased Brion Toss' book -- the Rigger's Apprentice. I dove in, but his descriptions seemed to be clear as mud and I was again frustrated. We grabbed some old 3 strand line off the dock and sat at the dining room table for hours with the book and line, practicing and trying to figure out how to get the elusive spiral down. I was even dreaming of splicing! Finally my epiphany came, I could visualize what Brion was talking about, and I was ready to attempt my next splice.

While not necessarily elusive, the splice takes some technique and some patience to complete. In addition to the Swedish fid, you'll need a table and vice, cable/wire cutters, a measuring tape, electrical and/or masking tape, scissors, a hot knife, an awl, bee’s wax, some good lighting and a few hours per splice (until you get the hang of it).

It did take a little practice, but here’s the finished splice. Supposedly this is one of the harder splices to learn and now I feel confident that we can do the splicing ourselves once we're out cruising.

One thing to keep in mind is that with the finished splice, the wire tip will be about 18" or so inside the line, depending on the length of your taper. There are several schools of thought as to where this wire splice should hit when you hoist your sail, and I have to say that we fully agree with Brion's recommendation. When your sail is up, the wire tip inside the line should be just shy of and never wrap around the winch. If it does, the stress of wrapping around a winch will force your wire to wear and chafe the line from the inside, thus shortening the life of your halyard.

Now that the wire-to-rope splices are done, we can focus on replacing the spinnaker and staysail halyards. Those will be all line and need eye splices, but that will be the subject of a different story!

Then comes the fun of installing them all.....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Food for Thought

We recently received a forwarded email with "6 Principles of Life" that struck a cord with us both. The more we think about them, the more motivated we are to finish this project, start unraveling our ties to land life, and really start our cruising adventure.

So with that, here are the principles that may hopefully inspire you in some way as well:
  1. There is no point using limited life to chase unlimited money.
  2. There is no point earning so much money you cannot live to spend it.
  3. Money is not yours until you spend it.
  4. When you are young, you use your health to chase wealth. When you are old, you use your wealth to buy back your health. The difference is that, by then, it is too late.
  5. Happiness is not determined by how much one has, but how little he needs.
  6. There is no point working so hard to provide for the people you care about that you have no time to spend with them
It's so easy to daydream about cruising from the comfort of your office; the hard part is actually pulling the plug and embarking upon the adventure. Psychologically, we're both ready; now we just need Phoenix to be...


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cockpit Cushions

Phoenix’s coaming walls were removed as part of the extensive re-decking project that began before we bought the boat. This gave us the opportunity to decide how wide we wanted the cockpit seats to be and the overall feel of the cockpit in general. Since we’re planning on doing most of our cruising in warmer weather, we decided that we wanted wider, more comfortable seats that we could lounge and even sleep on if the temperatures got too warm down below.

Even though we now have the hard top bimini and high freeboard, water penetration was still a consideration. The cushions had to be firm enough that we didn’t bottom out – either sitting or sleeping – and soft enough that our butts didn’t fall asleep like they do on many closed cell (CC) foam cushions. If they could double as a floatation device or even floating “bread crumbs” in an emergency, that would be a bonus. 

So, like Goldilocks we set out looking for cushions that would be “just right.” The Foam Factory in Michigan (www.foambymail) is our go to place for cushion foam – both open and closed cell. They have the best prices we’ve seen and free shipping on anything over $75. We bought 1 ½ sheets of the 1” “gymnastic rubber” (generic Ensolite) to serve as the CC base layer of the cushions, and 12 yards of 2” thick (27” wide) Nu-foam (densified polyester batting) from Joann Fabric to layer on top. We compared the Nu-foam density to DryFast foam, and it seems less likely to compress yet still has the flow-through characteristics we were looking for. Plus the Nu-Foam was MUCH cheaper than DryFast! We could probably replace the Nu-Foam three or more times before equaling the cost of DryFast, so it was almost a no-brainer. Of course, this is another “experiment” on our part, but the cost savings made the decision easy.

We chose a forest green outdoor canvas that would match all of the Forest Green Sunbrella we have on deck. We went with a less expensive outdoor canvas for this project since the cushions won’t get as much UV exposure as everything else on deck. And even though the Nu-Foam is flow-through, if any water gets inside the fabric it will just sit on top of the CC foam, so drainage had to come into play in the design. Some people recommend drilling holes in the CC foam for drainage, but we didn’t love the idea of turning our cushion guts into Swiss cheese. After talking to Dan at the old Sailrite (www.sailrite.com) store in Annapolis, we decided make the zipper panels out of Phifertex Plus (Holly Green). The tighter weave of the “plus” won’t allow you to see the different foam layers, and if the cushions get wet we can simply set them on end and let any water drain out through the Phifertex panel.

We opted for 5 cushions – 2 long cushions on both port and starboard, and three abeam aft. The two smaller cushions on P and S can be removed for our chairs, or can double as back cushions if we want to stretch out. We wanted the cushions to have a finished height of 3 ½ inches to keep them below our coaming cubbies. (I know, 1” closed cell + 2 layers of 2” Nu-foam ≠ 3.5”, but once you compress the densified batting it makes for the firm, overstuffed look we were going for).  

We used our teak cockpit grating as a pattern, laid them upside down on top of the CC foam, and traced them with a Sharpie. Half an inch was added to all sides (for that overstuffed look and to allow for possible shrinkage over time) then Bill used our Clauss 8” bent shears to cut the foam. (These have come in handy for cutting everything from fiberglass to FRP!) 

We weren’t able to get full runs for each cushion out of our sheets, but 3M Super 77 adhesive spray does a wonderful job of adhering both CC and the batting together. We sprayed the edges of each piece, let the adhesive tack off for about 5 minutes then pressed them together. Two 1x2” furring strips were placed on each side, and we used pipe clamps to keep pressure on the seam for 24 hours. Placing a little wax paper under the seam does wonders, otherwise you’re cushions could stick to whatever surface they’re resting on. 

Closed cell foam glued together

The CC foam was then used as the pattern for both the Nu-Foam and the cushion tops and bottoms. To make it easier to get the foam in and out of the cushions, the Phifertex zipper panels extended the full length of each cushion back, plus 3 inches on each side, with hidden, locking zippers (YKK #5) that won’t scratch the Awlgrip or teak trim. 

CC foam with 2 layers of Nu-Foam

Canvas for top, bottom and side "boxing" cut out

Notches used to align the pieces

"Hidden zipper"

Sailrite has a great (free, but long) how to video on making cushions, which I pretty much followed for this project so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. The key – which made this project MUCH easier than my interior cushions – was to take the time to notch the top and bottom pieces, attach both to the side panels, and make sure everything was aligned before sewing anything together. Another key aspect was to remember to open up the (locking) zipper before I sewed everything together – or good luck getting them open to stuff!

Stuffing the finished cushions is always the fun part (or not!), especially when you purposefully went with a tight fit. I slid the CC foam in the bottom first then wrestled the Nu-foam layers in place, trying to smooth them out and keep them even as I went. Laying, tugging, wrestling, whatever was necessary to get the cushions in place (and amuse Bill) before zipping them up, and the job was done!