Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in tools (4)


ten days to go: excellent time to sawzall the fuel tank

Yes in deed, the 36 year old fuel tank started leaking a few days ago. What great timing! I mean, I was so bored with nothing to do before we left and I'm really excited that the boat gods decided to give me this project.

Even better is that the steel tank can't really be removed, so instead I got to empty it today and then spend hours with my Sawzall ripping this to shreds. The smell is horrible and probably cancerous, the work dangerous, and at best we'll be left with a fuel tank that's maybe 1/4 of the original size.

In all honesty, it's nice that this happened before we left for Mexico. This job, however, sucks. Thanks to Overmyhead who is actually on a Union Polaris 36 and went through the same problem a few months ago. He saved me some time and gave me the pro tips on how to best cut the steel.

The boat is fairly ripped up and will be until I can finish all of this tomorrow. Of course I have to be at work 8am tomorrow, but such is life. 

I'd make some reference to "when it rains, it pours", but that's a little too on the nose since it's going to rain for the next couple of days as well. 


working on the teak decks, coming full circle

At this point in my life, working on the decks shouldn't warrant a blog entry. It's about as common as buying groceries. You don't "fix" teak decks. You constantly maintain them, akin to painting the Golden Gate Bridge. When you're done, you turn around and start all over again. 

However this particular iteration is special because it marks the gutting of my first repair which was probably two years ago. The job I did was sloppy, stupid, and far too time consuming for the mediocre benefit it provided. As I've learned however, that's essentially what you need to expect from everything the first time you do it. If it's more complicated than a ham sandwich, trust me: your first attempt is going to be laughable compared to where you'll be later.

These days when I tackle a teak deck, I am armed with exactly the right tools that I have dozen (hundreds?) of hours of experience with. I know rot that's bad and rot that can wait. I know what's important to do and what can be done when I'm retired. I know what the winter will bring. I know how much I can reasonably expect to get done in a week's time, working in the evenings after my job and still with a baby at home.

And I know all these things because of the terrible job(s) I have done on the boat, where I have slowly but surely learned valuable skills and techniques. I've seen the consequences of shotty workmanship, and I appreciate my decks for the beautiful composite system that they are. Armed with the tools in the photo, a few square feet of marine plywood, and a sheet of teak, I can essentially repair almost any part of my deck within a few days.

So it's with a certain joy and rewarding feeling that I'm able to circle back to my horrible deck seams, cut out a bunch of junk, pull some boards, and do things properly. The contrast between where I was and where I am is something that makes me smile as I continue my ritual of keeping the water out.


Using the Fein MultiMaster for removing caulking

I was talking to my friend Ryan the other day about how I think I found the worst job when it comes to boat maintenance: removing caulking. It's slow, you're on your knees, it requires precision, and if you do a bad job you'll have to redo the whole thing and start from zero again.

On our Hans Christian, the caulking is everywhere. The little black lines between every piece of wood, and between wood and fiberglass is caulking. Technically it's polysulfide, and one of the big aspects of this type of sealant is that it's flexible.

Unlike a home, boats flex. They are under considerable load, and the hull will flex quite a bit (check out this sailboat in a storm to imagine the load on the deck). So when you're sticking two pieces of material together, you need to make sure that it (A) forms a water tight bond, so you don't get leaks and that (B) it can flex so that the material doesn't snap in half the minute the boat gets twisted by a wave.

Overtime, the flexing and shifting of the materials on either side of the caulking causes the caulking to separate from wood (or fiberglass, or whatever). When this happens, the caulking must be removed, the materials must be prepped for caulking, and new caulking applied. If applied correctly, caulking should last around ten years. If done poorly, you'll need to redo the whole thing as soon as it's dry and start over again from zero.

There are various ways to remove the stuff, ranging from a bent screwdriver, to a tool that looks like a bent screwdriver, all the way up to the Fein MultiMaster. Coming in around $400, it's not a cheap instrument. However, it saves an amazing amount of time.

Coupled with a wood chisel and a tool that looks like a bent screwdriver (but was made for the job), I've had pretty good success as of late. In fact, it's not my most hated job anymore. The worst job, by far, is still replacing the sanitation hoses for a head; that task should be banned by the Geneva Convention.

As a middle class white kid from the city who works in a super corporate office environment, I have a lot of "urban" friends and associates. My friends drink wine, or a nice high end beer, and consider ourselves city intellectuals.

I have to admit, I like the feeling of my collar turning from white to blue a bit when I do some of this work. I like knowing what a *real* work day is all about. I like knowing that I'm able to do something that you can't wing it on. You can't pretend to know how to be a craftsman, and you can't bullshit your way through a hard day's work.

I've got a lot to learn on my journey through manual labor and using my hands to create things. I've learned a new found respect for those people who are covered in grease and are able to keep the gears of industry alive and well. Think it's easy? Try it sometime. If you think smart kids go to college and dumb ones become diesel mechanics, let me tell you first hand that a communications major is a piece of cake compared to truly understanding the beauty and complexity of a marine diesel power plant.

Okay, so I've moved off topic a bit from the Fein MultiMaster. I'll just close with these parting words.

There's a barrier to entry that gets bigger the older we get. When we're young, none of us are good at anything, so it's an equal playing field. But as we get older, we get specialized in our jobs, habits, thoughts, and lifestyle. Venturing outside of those realms causes problems. As children, w didn't need to worry about other kids being any better than we were. But as adults, where would you even start if you wanted to get into, let's say, diesel mechanics? The idea sounds so absurd that we write it off immediately.

The problem is that the knee jerk reaction of "sorry, that's not my thing, I'm sticking to what I know already" isn't just about our jobs, it extends to our vision of this world and how we see others. That barrier to entry that keeps us from starting projects that will lead to initial bouts of awkwardness and discomfort, is the same barrier that keeps us from understanding other people and embracing different cultures and lifestyles.

And yes, I thought about all of this while scraping caulking using my (borrowed) Fien MultiMaster. 


Another thing that is done differently on boats: phone jacks


Sigh. We thought we had it all planned out. We called AT&T, and go our new DSL service setup in advance. Then we called over and got the guy to punch the line in from the marina office down to the dock. I have the router and modem, and enough brain power to set that up. Then I take my regular "modular" phone jack, and discover that SURPRISE!!! BOATS DON'T USE NORMAL PHONE JACKS!! THEY HAD TO BE DIFFERENT / MORE EXPENSIVE!!!

Turns out they use a three prong design (like a mini shower power connection). I hunted around everywhere, finally spotting a cable in Defender's catalog that matched mine. I looked up the manufacturer, and it's Marinco. Not Marineco, mind you, that would be too obvious and easy.

After hunting around a bit further I spotted the adapter in the picture. Maybe I'll get the real cable later, but it seems kind of expensive. The 50' modular cable (regular phone line) costs $2.49 at the liquor store, and a 50' "marine grade" model is nearly $200. I'm not saying it wont do a much better job, especially since my shore power line has to hang out underwater (routed under the dock in a pipe), but I'd need to replace it about 80 times before the expensive one would get more economical. We'll see. Either way, I'll get the adapter on order tomorrow if I can't find it in supply anywhere.

Stupid boats.