Thursday, October 8, 2015

Returning to "Normal"

Well, the rains from the past days has finally subsided.  During the rains I intended to do some research on solar setups, but something else intervened.  Namely my back.  Our berth mattress is in dire need of replacement so we were looking into options in hopes we could get something shipped while we still had a mailing address here at the marina.  As it turns out, figuring out what might be a comfortable 5 inch thick foam mattress isn't as easy as it sounds.  You can't just go to the local boat mattress store and try out all the options, so it is a bunch of guessing and research.  In the end, I think we are considering buying a regular queen size mattress and cutting it to fit...but the jury is still out.

What foam(s) should we use for our mattress?

Meanwhile, we managed to move the hardtop out of the shop and back to my little space in the boat yard.  This time, instead of carrying it by hand, the yard helped us out by balancing it on the forks of a forklift to walk it back.  I have to say it is much easier to move that way.  After getting the top back on its table (the table was never moved, just covered with plastic), we had to reassemble the canopy and tarp walls.  I forgot how long it took to assemble it the first time, and I hope I don't have to do that again.

The top survived the move pretty well.  A couple of the PVC edges (that were only temporarily glued in place) came loose, and one of the foam detail pieces was squished a little bit, but the main structure was fine.  So, the first day "back at work" was spent re-gluing the PVC and adding fillets to the joint where the PVC meets the top.  It is amazing how long it takes to apply a thin bead of thickened polyester resin.  I could only apply about one ounce with my trusty Popsicle stick before it would start to cure.

Today we actually made some forward progress.  We started applying fiberglass to the PVC.  Instead of the 1708 fabric we used for most of the structure thus far, we have switched to a 10 ounce woven cloth.  This cloth can bend around the edge detail much better than the thicker cloth.  It still won't do compound curves but does an OK job with the relatively straight runs of the rail.

The 10 ounce cloth is much easier to wet out than the 1708, but it was still a challenge.  On a larger or more horizontal surface, you can just lay this stuff down and then apply the resin.  But when wrapping it over an edge so half is hanging upside down, that doesn't work very well.  After trying a couple techniques, we determined that pre-wetting the fabric on a piece of plastic and then applying that to the edge worked the best.  We still had to work pretty hard to get it to stick to the underside, but we think it turned out OK.  Guess we will see what it looks like tomorrow after it has had some time to cure.

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but we are really trying to push to make some progress.  While staying at this marina has been all right, we are both getting pretty antsy to be on the move again. As it is, we are starting to wonder how cold it will be on our trek south and we still have a fair amount of work to do.  Hopefully from here on out, the weather will be a bit more cooperative.

One can always hope.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

No Joaquin, But Lots of Wind and Rain

Well, we dodged a bullet with Joaquin as it heads toward Bermuda instead of the Chesapeake.  But the weather has been pretty unsettled here anyway.  Glad we took the sails down and added extra dock lines.  The wind has been a pretty steady 25 to 30 knots according to the poor little bit of plastic spinning at the top of my mast.  The tides here have also been really high as the winds push water into the bay.

Screen capture of Joaquin and the east coast from

What is normally high tide here seems to be low tide these past couple of days.  The high tides have been washing over the lower fixed docks and causing the floating docks to push the ramps from the higher fixed docks into the air. It also floods the two roads in and out of the marina enough that there are times they are impassible.

Hmm...the ramp seems a bit ineffective at this tide level

Yesterday we decided we should get off the boat and go do something to take our minds off the bad weather.  We invited our friends from The Retirement Project to come along and we ended up going to see a movie.  Having a home theater when we lived on land, it has been an extremely long time since I've been to a theater.  They were playing The Martian in 3D.  Theaters seem a bit more comfortable than I recall, but overall I think I still prefer watching movies in the comfort of my own home.  But we had a nice time and the movie was pretty good (neither of us knew much about it, so we didn't really know what to expect).

Today, when the internet cooperates (internet always seems to be an issue at marinas), I think I'll be doing some research on solar.  Needing a new mattress in our berth, I'll be looking into that as well.  So keeping busy while the wind and rain blow.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Top Details and Hurricanes

The past few days have been very long, with little time or energy left at the end of the day to write a blog post.  But, as I sit listening to the rain pouring outside this morning, I find myself with much less to do today.  So, to catch up....

After getting the PVC glued in place, the next step was to make transition pieces for the raw ends of the PVC pipe.  I had thought about trying to use PVC fittings, but the shapes are not right and it wouldn't look good.  So, I was left with the only option I could figure out...sculpting them. Fortunately I have plenty of scraps of the Divinycell foam from which to make my little sculptures.

I started off by rough cutting a small block of foam so it would fit the gap I am trying to fill.  Holding it in place, I would do my best to trace the outlines of the final desired shape.  In some cases, I simply had to make a freehand guess, as in the case of the inside of the curved piece below.

Using a razor knife, I cut the basic shape out of the foam block, leaving a little excess in case I should make a slip with the knife.

Since the block of foam is 1 inch thick and the half PVC pipe is less than half an inch high, I used the razor knife to "whittle" the block down closer to the rough shape of the final piece to save on sanding time (and dust).

Finally I would sand the piece into it's final shape, test fitting it every so often to make sure I wasn't too far off of the desired profile.

The sand and test process was repeated more times than I care to count for each piece, but in the end I had 6 pieces I needed to transition between the tubes on the top and bottom as well and taper the ends on the top.

After that, it was just a matter of using some thickened polyester resin to glue them in place.  Even upside down, the thickened resin would hold the lightweight blocks in place without the assistance of clamps or tape.

Of course, all of this was done in between rain showers because of my usual luck with the weather. There has been a stationary front parked over most of the eastern US for several days and has kept the weather rather unsettled.  The weather, combined with the recent full moon has led to some tidal flooding in the area.

Then, just so Mother Nature is sure I'm paying attention to her, she introduces me to Joaquin. At first, all the tracking models were all over the place (the reason they call them spaghetti models, I think, is because sometimes a map of the predicted tracks from all the models would look like a plate of spaghetti).  But after a couple days, the models started to converge and, naturally, they were converging right on top of our heads.  Great.

Work stopped on the top and we switched to hurricane preparation mode.  This is the first time we have ever had to do this, so I'm sure we spent a lot of time figuring things out.  We removed the sails and stack pack (and the sails once again remind me how heavy and stubborn they can be).  We put out just about every dock line we have to make a spider web of lines holding us on all three sides of the slip.  Not trusting some of the cleats on the dock, we even tied a few lines around the pilings that hold up the dock (because if the dock goes, we are screwed anyway).  We deployed all the fenders we have.  I tested the bilge pumps and floats to make sure all is working (and find another broken bilge pump hose courtesy of those fine folks in Deltaville).  We even booked a hotel in Richmond if we needed to evacuate.

And then there is my top and workspace in the yard.  Pretty sure the $50 canopy and tarps won't withstand a category 2 hurricane.  We also don't want the top to become a giant frisbee out in the boatyard.  So yesterday, with the help of many friends in the boatyard, we move the top into a safe spot in the boatyard shop and take down the tent.

Apparently hiding the top in the shop was what Mother Nature wanted. When we awoke this morning the forecasts now show the hurricane heading out to sea and not as likely to make landfall.  We will still keep the boat hurricane ready and the top in the shop until the possible threat passes, but at least things are looking a bit better this morning.

Oh, and did I mention that my friends at The Retirement Project stopped by for a visit? I think they wanted to come see this top I've been talking about and ended up getting stuck in the middle of this little storm event as well. They had originally anchored out, but came in to the marina when it looked like Joaquin was going to be a direct hit. It was nice to see them again, but I only wish it ended up being under better conditions.

I'm glad forecasts seem to be improving, but feel really bad about the Bahamas since they are getting slammed by the storm.  I hope the storm turns away from them soon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fiberglass or Plumbing

One of the tasks I've been struggling with on this hardtop bimini build has been how I was going to apply the edge detail.  I wanted to use PVC for all the reasons I had previously mentioned (makes a good handhold and can integrate supports for the enclosure) but thus far my attempts to get it to follow the curve at the front of the hardtop have been foiled.

I decided the only real option I had if I wanted to use the split-in-half PVC pipe was to use heat to attempt to curve the pipe by hand.  No tools or jigs, just the heat gun and a flat piece of board.  I did trace the curve from the top onto the board to help use as a guide, but that was it.  I would heat up the pipe until it was somewhat flexible (but not so hot it would deform or flatten on its own...which it will do at the right temperature) and gently curve it along the line.  Every so often I would take it over to the top to test the fit.

The result was a curve that wasn't perfect, but using clamps I could get it to stay in the right position along the edge of the top.  I had heard that superglue could be used to hold it in place until it was glassed over, but the texture of the raw fiberglass made me wonder if it would stick well enough.  Not having any better ideas, I gave it a try.  The superglue did the trick and I was able to glue each section of tube down in 5 or 6 places using clamps.  After a couple minutes I could remove the clamps and the tube stayed put.

So, now I have all the PVC pipe attached to the top and it looks like it will work just fine.  So, I guess my stint playing with plumbing is over for now. Next, I need to create the finishing pieces for the ends of the PVC.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rain Delay

The last few days we have been working on some of the details on the underside of the top.  I mentioned in the last post that we added the support beams and wire chases and started glassing them into the top.  That work was completed yesterday.  We used the 1708 fabric to create a good structural fiberglass skin and tabs to secure the new structure to the top and distribute weight. Where there are tight corners and other places where the 1708 wouldn't conform to the surfaces, multiple layers of chopped strand mat were used.  As a result, except for the edges, the structural glass is complete.

Next on the agenda was to work on the detail around the side and front edges of the top.  For this, the plan was to take 1 inch thin wall (schedule 20) PVC pipe, split it down the middle lengthwise, and glue it on the top and bottom of the edge to create an oval shape around the edge.  The PVC would then be glassed over to create a convenient hand-hold. A slit would be cut along the bottom to accept the bolt rope for panels of a dodger (enclosure) set.  Unfortunately, I found that the split PVC would not bend around the front curve as I had hoped it would.

Guided by the suggestion of a few blog readers, I tried using heat to bend the pipe and that allowed me to reshape the PVC.  I tried to create a template or jig to help make a uniform curve by hammering a bunch of nails into a board along a curve.  Unfortunately I found another issue with this approach.  While the curve appears fine to the eye, it is not a constant curve in two-dimensional space (remember it was drawn along the curve of the arch using my string-compass technique).  This means a jig that replicates a curve segment won't work for the entire curve.  Best guess now is that I may have to slowly curve it by hand until it is "close enough" and then use clamps to hold it in place while the glue dries.

And that brings us to today.  A storm that was predicted for this weekend seems to have arrived.  It includes high winds and rain and makes work in a tent made of tarps assembled in a boatyard almost impossible.  So, instead of working directly on the top, today was spent doing some shopping.  We went looking for a paint sprayer I can use to apply PVA once the gel coat non-skid texture is applied to the finish.  We also went looking for a new baking sheet for our propane oven after figuring out that a pizza we had wouldn't fit directly on the rack in the tiny oven (the oven box is only 11.75 inches deep by 17 inches wide). I also needed a new pair of sandals as my current ones were starting to fall apart.  So, getting some things done...but just not a lot of progress on the top right now.

The weather is supposed to be a bit touch and go for the upcoming week, so it will be interesting to see how much we can accomplish.  I have to say I'm more than just a bit anxious to get moving again, so I find all of these weather delays a bit annoying.  On the bright side, some friends are supposed to be coming for a visit soon and we have been forced to take a few breaks and be more social...which have been good things.

In an unrelated note, I saw this while shopping today.  Is it just me or is Kohl's jumping the gun a bit on the Christmas shopping season?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Well, the Weather Is Different

After my last post, the weather has continued to deteriorate.  The temperatures have been nice both for living and for getting fiberglass work done during the day, but it has been overcast with random rain showers, fog, and mist.

I've done my best to get some work done in between the worst of it, but it continues to be slow. After attaching the foam and channel to the top, I hand-sanded the foam so it matched the curve of the PVC post and would allow the heavy fiberglass fabric to curve around the edges. I'm using the heavy 1708 fabric to cover as much of the structure as I can since it creates a strong laminate without too much bulk.

On one day I cut a couple small pieces of cloth to glass in part of the structural beams and wire chases. Just as I added the catalyst to the resin and started mixing, the rain came.  I managed to get them done without getting anything wet, but cutting any more cloth or trying to do any more work would likely result in water contamination.

Today we got one more piece in place and then it started to rain again. So, at this point, we have the beams and chases about 70% glassed in place.

The shaped partially glassed beams hiding from the rain under the tent.
One evening after the rain let up, I tried shaping one of the cut PVC pipes to match the curve at the front of the top.  A few readers had recommended, either via blog comments or private messages, that heat would work to bend the stubborn PVC.  They were right, heat does make PVC soft enough to bend. I was able to curve the C-shaped pieces but it wasn't easy and I didn't get the curve quite right.  The heat gun makes the PVC very flexible, and if I wasn't careful, it would flatten or fold or warp. And did I mention that when it is in this state, it is a bit hot to touch? I'll need to come up with some sort of jig that can hold the C shape and form the proper curve in order for this to work...but I have high hopes that it will.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


I know, it's been a week.  But how many different ways can you say that we battled weather issues and laid up large pieces of fiberglass?  The weather has improved slightly the past week.  We've gone from way too hot to laying fiberglass during the day to it being too cold for fiberglass to cure at night (oh, and the battle with the dew on the canopy is a daily task, deploying heaters under the tent at night and in the morning). And then there is the occasional rainstorm that halts work from time to time. But we have been able to complete the two main layers of 1708 fabric that cover both sides of the foam as of yesterday.

In the process of completing this task, we've had to come up with some tools to allow us to reach the center of a 9 foot by 12 foot structure.  We've also had to figure out other tools we needed.  The usual tools like fiberglass layup rollers, plastic spreaders, and polyethylene mixing cups are always needed.  Paint rollers to spread resin are also needed, and trying to figure out what covers are compatible with polyester resin was fun.  In the case of the roller cover, we quickly gave up on the idea of cleaning the covers and determined the cheap foam rollers at the local Lowe's work well.

Fiberglass table, bucket on a stick, and more traditional tools.

To get a plastic spreader to the middle of the top, we found a cheap stain spreading pad that could be screwed to a painters pole and then taped, yes duct taped, a spreader to the end.  To pour resin at the appropriate spot in the middle of the top, I needed to create a bucket on a stick.  I found a large scrap hose clamp at the boatyard and screwed it onto the end of a scrap piece of wood.  I could then attach a quart size or smaller mixing cup and reach past the middle of the top from any side.

Tools aren't the only place where thinking outside the box is handy. I've probably mentioned it before, but one of the design features of the top is to have a couple of integrated wire chases (for lighting and solar wiring).  But how do you make a 2 inch by 4 inch hollow rounded rectangle on the underside of the top.  Wandering the local big-box hardware stores, we were asked several times if we needed help.  Unfortunately I've found that most people employed there aren't very good at thinking outside the box, and when I describe what I'm trying to do I usually get the "deer in headlights" blank stare.  So we wander the aisles and try to come up with inspiration.  What we found was a 4 inch square hollow plastic fence post.  If we cut it in half lengthwise, it should make two forms we can then fiberglass over to create the channels.

Jig for splitting PVC pipe into C shapes.

Another feature of the top is that I would like to make integrated hand-holds around the edges of the top.  I'd thought about taking some of that foam pipe insulation and sticking it over the edges of the top and then glassing over that, but discovered a better idea.  I was told of another blog, via a comment on one of my posts, where the couple built their own hard top.  They had the same idea for handholds, and they used PVC pipe split in half to create the form.  The neat thing about this approach was that they could then cut a slit in the PVC to create a bolt rope holder for installation of a dodger.  I quickly decided this was a great idea and incorporated it into the design.  But how do you split a piece of PVC in half lengthwise.  The other blogger I think used a hacksaw (and obviously a lot of time) to make the cuts.  I know I wouldn't be able to cut it straight enough by hand, so I came up with another option.  Using some scrap wood from the build of the form, I was able to create a jig I could clamp onto a tablesaw and it worked perfectly to split the tubes in half.

Of course, this presented a new problem I need to figure out.  I thought the thin wall PVC would be a bit more flexible once it was split, but I don't think I can bend it to match the compound curve along the front of the top.  I tried making some cuts in the C shaped PVC to see if I could get it to bend better...but if you think cutting a tube is hard, try cutting the sides of a C shaped bit of PVC.  I'm sure I'll figure out something, but it is another problem to deal with.

Meanwhile, I've got wire chases and other structure to install while the weather continues to somewhat cooperate.

Update: You are reading this fairly late because we were invited to dinner by new friends at the marina.  Yes, while the focus has been to get the top done, we have taken a few breaks. They made a multiple course Indian dinner that was absolutely awesome...thanks Stuart and Julia! The picture below shows the wiring chase and other structural foam just before I glued it to the top with polyester resin.  Hopefully tomorrow we can start glassing that in place.

The split "fencepost" and additional foam structure.