Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Lightning Fast Restoration!

("See where I'm going with that?", says Jeff.)

When we last left our newest acquisition she was sitting in the shop, vacuumed out and on the trailer, awaiting my return from a 2 1/2 month coastwise run on Triton.

It turned out that our towing contract was cut short and I came home after a month out.  This turned out to be the perfect amount of time for Zeta to dry out a little and be ready to start work.  A conversation between Chris and I at Zeta's acquisition was referenced, and I was on the run with my promise of "two weeks to ready to sail".

The first step was to inspect the interior and structure for any damage or repairs that would impact finish work.  True to Todd's comments, she was in good shape, with no structural work required.  We cleared out a space in the shop, set up the work/spar bench and lifted Zeta off the trailer.  We then rolled her over, set her on padded milk crate blocks and removed the centerboard.  (Thank god for a large shop and access to a forklift!) 

The original plan was to just sand the hull and apply a fresh coat of paint.  Much to Chris's concerns about "scope creep", I just couldn't bring myself to just apply new paint over old, so out came the heat gun and scrapers and off came the old paint.  A few rounds of filler and sanding, then primer, and she was ready for bottom paint.

At this point Zeta was ready to be flipped, as I did not want to apply top-side paint and mar it during the righting process.  Fortunately we flipped her after a Zodiac work party, and I was able to enlist many hands (as our friend Christine Smith says: "Teamwork doesn't seem work!") leaving us a righted and blocked boat.  I should have been pretty happy, but was feeling somewhat dejected. 

Upside-down, faired, sanded and painted Zeta was starting to look pretty good.  Right side up, with greying trim, missing canvas, mildewing deck and such, I was feeling pretty grim about what remained to be done.  This was when my natural instincts as a carpenter kicked in and I began to look for excuses.  "Sure I said two weeks, but that was going to be two weeks of you gone on Zodiac and me working twelve hour days." was my first.  Chris wasn't buying it.  I guess it was time for me to get to work.

The next step was removing all the hardware, coamings, and sprayboards.  Wood parts went to the work bench for sanding and refinishing, while hardware was inspected for maintenance or replacement.  While this was going on, I started scraping, sanding and filling the ply deck.  It actually came together pretty quickly and was satisfying to see.

Meanwhile, it was time for topside paint.  Chris choose a bright circus wagon red and we started rolling on coats.  The guys at Rodda had mentioned to me that their red marine enamel came in a clear base, so would require multiple coats.  What I didn't realize was how translucent their red pigment was.  When I built Chris's kayak, the International Paints red took three coats to cover. Over the course of the entire restoration, we applied seven coats to Zeta and the topside are still spotty.  I skipped a final primer coat, on Chris's kayak the paint covered the fairing process.  On Zeta this was not to be the case.  In hindsight, a final primer coat or the additional cost of an opaque base and custom paint mix would have been money well spent.  I'm afraid there might be some repaint next winter.

Next I removed the hardware from the mast, coiled down the rig and labeled everything.  The mast was my one major concern, as it had broken at the masthead and delaminated down it's length.  I pulled out a putty knife, slipped it between the pieces and walked down the length of the mast.  The sides easily separated, leaving me with the entire mast disassembled.  Five minutes with a scraper cleaned the old glue off the parts and I pulled out the epoxy gun.  Lately I've been making good use of the System Three and West System caulk gun kits.  Just load a tube into the caulk gun, screw on the mixer tip and squeeze the handle.   It's more expensive per volume, but easy to use and perfect for small projects.  After clamping the mast to the bench and adding some new cheeks at the masthead to repair the break, all was well.  Total time to split, clean and reglue the mast was about thirty-five minutes!

The next step was to lay the new canvas on the deck.  For expediency, we used a lighter weight than was original, but I could buy it in stock, rather than waiting a few weeks for a custom order.  The deck was by now faired smooth.  The canvas was spread out then folded in half forward to aft.  A thick coat of oil based primer was brushed on the deck and the canvas was unfolded and smoothed out.  We stretched it tight, placed a few staples and started brushing on the deck paint over the canvas.  Working forward we painted, stretched and stapled.  When the forward half was done, we did it over again on the after portion.  After trimming the excess, we all stood around, beer in hand admiring our work.

Chris had been very busy refinishing the trim and it was now time to start installing it.  After a pint of Dolphinite and bags of screws, Zeta was really starting to look like something!  Chris then started on the Name.  She choose her font, layed it out and went after the transom with gold and black paint.  She always amazes me with her mad painter skills!

With the end in sight, I started remounting the hardware and rig on the mast.  The centerboard and rudder had been ground clean and repainted, so with the help of Chris and the Zodiac interns, we reloaded it in to the trunk.  It seemed a never ending process to mount the deck hardware, fairleads, turnblocks, camcleats and winches, but eventually they all found their rightful place.

The final day had arrived, it was time to step the mast and rig the boat for launching.  The first step was to lift Zeta onto the trailer in order to push her outside. 
Once in the sun, it was nice to see the red paint looked better than I thought it would.  It seemed like no matter where I looked, there was one more bolt that was needed or a missing clevis pin, but we got there.  Once the mast was stepped, Chris steadied it while I connected the rigging screws and hardened up the rig.  By this point, Zeta was really starting to look like a boat!  Every time I went into the shop for something and came back out, I was laughing with excitement!

We started to bend on the sails to make a discovery.  Zeta came with two suits and I had just opened them enough to inspect for condition, but didn't measure them.  When we bent on the main, I had chosen the sail with the more vintage looking numbers.  I had discovered during the repairs that the mast dated from 1955, and the older sail clearly did not fit.  When we bent on the newer main, it fit perfectly, indicating to me that the older sails were quite possibly the original sails from 1944!
We were just about ready to pull the trailer over to the launch ramp when Todd showed up with his father-in-law Steve.  Zeta had come to us from Steve through Todd and neither of them had ever seen the boat rigged and sailing.  They were both very happy to see her coming back to life.  Unfortunately, they couldn't stay long enough to witness the launch.
Zeta was towed over to the nearby launch ramp and backed into the water. She floated free of the trailer and onto her own bottom for the first time since the late 80's.  I pulled the trailer out and returned it to the shop.  By the time I returned to the launch ramp, I realized I had jumped the gun as Zeta was rapidly filling with water!  I retrieved the trailer and we pulled her back out.  The streaming water indicated a garboard seam that had opened up, most likely while we were walking around in her during the final rigging.  I grabbed my caulking toolbox and rolled a half thread on cotton in and we slid her back into the water.
I re-parked the trailer and returned to Zeta.  She was still taking on water, but no faster than seemed normal for a boat that still needs to swell up.  By this point, we had a full crew, myself, Chris, Zodiac's interns and mate Sam, Amanda and Kris and our friend Jackie.  We all loaded in and pushed off.  "Set your main" came the call and we sailed away from the dock.  We set the jib and manned pumping stations.  Chris and Jackie valiantly pumped, the rest of us tripped over ourselves and we had a wonderful hour and a half first sail. 

The Lightnings were designed to be raced by two or three and day sailed with up to six.  We had six and a cooler and Zeta took off at an impressive clip.  We sailed into the gap between Zodiac and the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, dropped sail and tied up to the dock.  Everyone came away impressed by the newest vessel in the fleet.

The next day, Chris and I took Juliet out for her first sail in Zeta.  We sailed around Fairhaven Shipyard, out into the bay and just had a good time.  Juliet took a little time to adjust to tiller steering, but did very well and steered us back onto the dock. 

Zeta is going to spend the late spring and early summer on the dock with Zodiac.  Her purpose initially will be small boat sail training.  Many of our crew can handle themselves in the team environment onboard Zodiac but would benefit from learning to sail a small boat like Zeta.  Having to pay attention to wind lines and shifts, boat trim and sail balance, centerboard adjustments and all the other components of small boats will make everyone a better sailor on Zodiac.  The usual suspects actually hopped in Zeta and sailed her across Bellingham Bay last night to have dinner with us.  Juliet kayaked out to meet them as they stood in the south entrance.
Once the high sailing season on Zodiac starts in earnest, Chris will bring Zeta back to the marina so she and Juliet can use her on a moments notice.  It appears that for the summer we will have Kwaietek and the sailing tender Ripple, Sugaree, Zeta and Chris's kayak all within fifty feet of each other!
I on the otherhand, will be leaving June 1 for a summer on a salmon tender in Prince William Sound.  I'll be engineer and mate, for a 65 day contract.  Upon my return we'll be making good use of all our boats together as a family and then this winter it's time to start work on Aldonza. 
Yeah, we're that crazy we have another boat to restore! 


  1. Love it! Even simple restorations always have a surprise or two in store. Plus, the moment you have one thing looking sweet, everything adjacent to it looks wretched. At least you know with a dinghy that it's finite.

    I used a candy apple red Interlux one-part polyurethane topside paint on a project recently and found that it too was surprisingly traslucent. I stopped at five coats when I ran out of paint, but could still see through it a bit to the filled areas. But the problem solved itself. Though it's still a satisfyingly deep finish, it has become slightly more opaque over the intervening year as it cured. The effect is completely uniform, no concerns about weathering. Maybe the same will happen in your case. Wait and see...

    All the best,
    Dan Razzell (former passenger aboard the Z)

  2. Tinting primers can be very useful preparation, especially for radical color transitions.

    Looks like a nice boat for a Lightning, but I'm a Thistle guy.

  3. Boat restoration sounds like a cool and exciting job! It's very fulfilling to see that you get to bring back something to life. I can sense how much you enjoy what you're doing. And before I forget, I'd like to thank you for sharing some tips in boat restoration.

  4. Thanks for sharing these steps of boat trailer. I also make my own caravan trailer by myself. And i am using that for the last two years.
    Car Trailers