Wednesday, October 28, 2015

60 Degrees and Raining

My usual luck with weather returned yesterday.  I think the high may have been 62 degrees at sometime around 3pm and the gelcoat says don't apply below 65 degrees.  And while it doesn't explicitly say not to apply it in the rain, I think that is a safe assumption.

Fortunately version 2.0 of  the camp gave us the ability to apply a little gel coat anyway.  While some of the tarps are getting a little worn, one was still pretty waterproof and we were able to raise it enough to access one side of the top.

We mixed up some gelcoat, catalyzed it at the high end of the range (the bottle says to use between 1 and 3% MEKP) and brushed it on the starboard edge and the first couple inches of both sides of the top.  Then we fired up the heater to bring the temperature inside the tent to about 75 degrees.  Once the coat started curing, we turned off the heater, mixed up some more gelcoat, and applied it over the first, brushing it on at a 90 degree angle to the first coat.  Started the heater and let that cure for a little bit and then did one more coat. After all three coats had cured a bit, I brushed on some PVA (this is laminating gelcoat) and let the heat complete the cure.

Gelcoat curing under the heated tent.

Today the rain continued and I spent most of the day sanding and shaping the gelcoat after washing off the PVA.  I think it was due to the temperature, but for whatever reason, the gelcoat didn't flow as well when applied the day before and so a lot of sanding was needed to make everything smooth.  Since I don't have a real longboard sander, I'm using a drywall sanding block and it worked really well. As it turns out, even with 3 coats, there were still thin spots once everything was sanded smooth.  So, at this point, the edge shape looks really good but I will need to apply another coat and try not to sand through it.

The rainy weather is supposed to break tomorrow, so hopefully I'll have a bit better luck getting the gelcoat to flow and can get a nice even 30+ mil coat applied to the rest of the edges (so when I sand there will still be 20 mils or so left on the top).  With any luck, maybe I can get the rest of the edge done without sanding all the way through the gelcoat and having to reapply more.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Love to Sand, I Love to Sand...

I read somewhere, don't recall where now, that if you want to work with fiberglass you should get up every morning and look into the mirror and say "I love to sand".  Well, ever since my last post that is what we have been doing.  Sanding, grinding, or whatever you want to call it, a LOT of it needs to be done if you intend to finish the surface and have it look anywhere approaching nice.

Normally one would sand the entire surface smooth, apply the marine equivalent of body filler, then sand some more until everything was nice, even, and smooth.  Sanding would include use of a special hand sanding block known as a long board to make smooth curves, and I've heard this can be quite tedious.

In our case, we don't even have to sand a lot.  Outside of the fiberglass seams and the pattern of the weave of the fiberglass cloth, everything is pretty smooth. Most of the top side of the new bimini will be coated with gelcoat using a non-skid technique that will be thick enough to hide just about anything.  Most of the bottom side will be textured to reduce glare (yeah...that's the reason...definitely not because I just don't want to grind more fiberglass).  So, the only bits that really need to be rather smooth are the handrail edges of the top and the beams underneath.  And, for the most part, that is all we have been sanding...all week.

Sanding the top.

The problem I'm having with sanding has partly to do with the type of resin I am using.  There are two different types of polyester resin: laminating and finishing.  Laminating resin is standard polyester and, since polyester won't cure in the presence of air, the surface stays tacky so additional layers can be easily added and will chemically link together.  Finishing resin is polyester with an additive (a wax of sorts) that rises to the surface, cutting off exposure to the air, and this allows the resin to fully cure at the surface.  When building the top it has been advantageous to use laminating resin so I can stop at the end of a day and resume the next day (or two).  And since gelcoat is nothing more than polyester resin with color added, the laminating resin bond would be helpful there as long as you didn't need to do much sanding.

...and more sanding.

Sanding laminating resin where the surface hasn't fully cured tends to gum up sandpaper quckly.  I could have used a finishing resin for the last coat (or added wax to the stuff I have or use PVA to seal the surface) so it would be easier to see, but then I would lose the chemical bond that will occur between the unsanded portions of the top and the gelcoat.  I'm not sure which is actually a better way to go, but this chicken-and-egg problem I decided to bite the bullet and just try to sand the laminating resin.  This took a lot of time and a lot of pieces of sandpaper.

The remainder of the pain was just from sanding fiberglass itself.  Fiberglass is rather tough stuff to sand, and the dust produced is, as I previously mentioned, extremely itchy. Every day for the last several days I thought "I'll finish sanding today and can start applying gelcoat tomorrow" and yet I would find more to sand.  This is where being a perfectionist is definitely a detriment.  One of these days I will learn that perfect is the enemy of good.

This afternoon I finally reached the "good enough" point...or was it sick enough of sanding...and decided it was time to apply some gelcoat.  At about 3 PM we applied some gelcoat to the back of the mounting flange.  It was a good place to start and test any techniques since it will be mostly hidden once the top is mounted.  Using a chip brush I applied two coats, making sure to brush the stuff on in different directions for each of the coats (I've been told this gives more even and complete coverage).

Finally, a little gelcoat.  Oh yeah, we also cut access holes
for the wiring chases.

The gelcoat I am using is a laminating resin as well, so after applying the stuff and letting it set up a bit (about 45 minutes), I had to apply PVA in order to seal out the air and let it fully cure.  The PVA was also applied with a brush, this time a cheap foam brush.  It did a good job of applying a thin layer of the PVA as best I can tell.  By this point, the temperature was dropping below 65 degrees, so we broke out the space heater to help it cure.  I think everything went well, but I guess we won't know for sure until we try cleaning off the PVA in the morning and try sanding the gelcoat smooth.

And that, in addition to applying more gelcoat, is what will be on tap tomorrow...if the weather permits.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Refugee Camp 2.0

For a while now I've been joking that my work area in the boatyard is reminiscent of a refugee camp.  A canopy with tarps tied to it as a make-shift shelter just doesn't inspire engineering confidence.  Well, yesterday we ended up re-configuring our shelter.  Unfortunately, we have been here so long that the summer temperatures have turned into late fall temperatures (in the course of about a week).  So, instead of fighting high temperatures that would cause the polyester resin to cure too quickly, we are now fighting low temperatures that prevent the resin from curing at all.

Improved? camp.

To combat this issue, I reconfigured the tarps attached to the tent so it could be, at least partially, closed in to trap heat.  The result is far from an insulated work space, but using a propane forced air heater, it can manage to trap enough of the heat to bring the work space temperature up about 15 to 20 degrees above the ambient temperature (depending on how windy it is in the yard).

A little heat to help things cure.

With the new and improved work space, we were able to apply a weave fill coat of resin even though the official high temperature here today was only 56 degrees Fahrenheit and was measured at a max of 65 in the yard. After applying the resin, I was able to bring the temperature of the tent up to a high of 80. Even with the temperatures outside dropping as the sun set, the resin was able to cure.

A litle more resin to try and smooth things out a bit.

So, tomorrow we will be again sanding fiberglass...oh, yay.  But being able to make progress today was it sounds like more colder weather will be heading our way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Best and Worst of the Project Thus Far

Anyone who has ever installed fiberglass insulation has experienced the itchy nature of said material. Well, it has nothing on fiberglass dust.  And that has been what we've been dealing with the last couple days.
A bit hard to tell, but the edge is glassed.

After finishing the layers of glass on the edges of the top (two layers of 10 oz fabric with chopped strand around the complex curves at the corners and end caps), we were trying to figure out the best (read fastest) way to smooth some of the rough fiberglass edges where layers of the 1708 fabric overlap.  Since we will be applying a texture, the top shouldn't need to be completely smooth, but the ridges at the edges of the fabric do need to be smoothed out a bit.

So, the last couple days we've been grinding off part of that fiberglass we spent so much time applying to the top (and then spending a lot of time in the shower trying to wash the irritating dust off...glad we have access to a shower with unlimited water right now).  We have been feathering the rough edges, mostly where the beams were applied to the bottom side using 40~80 grit sandpaper.  Today we will be putting a single layer of 10oz cloth over them to further smooth out the surface and provide the final layer for the beams.  After that, we will use a small amount of resin to help smooth the pattern in the various fabrics (or as they call it, filling in the weave).

Edges of the fiberglass feathered mostly smooth

Once all of that is complete, it will be time to add the cutout for the sail viewing window and applying the gel coat.  Sounds easy...but I suspect it will take a bit of time.  Time is one thing we are running out of in a hurry.  The weather is getting cooler, so we need to get moving to get this project done.

As I think I mentioned briefly in a previous post, my friends over at The Retirement Project came by for a visit and to see my little project just before the threat of hurricane Joaquin popped up.  While I wish it had been under better circumstances, it was really nice getting to spend a little time with them (despite most of the recent content of my posts, we do occasionally take a break from the top).  But as is the case with cruisers, the wandering heart and lure of warmer waters beckons and they departed this morning.  Safe Travels Deb and TJ.

The Kintala crew preparing to depart.

Heading off into the sunrise.

Their visit has given me a bit if a lift though, and with any luck we will have the new top installed and be following them south soon.

If you haven't checked out The Retirement Project, I highly recommend it.  Deb and TJ are good writers and it is one of my favorite reads.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Did I Say Normal?

Well, things are truly getting back to least from the perspective of the weather causing me problems.  Today it is overcast, rainy, and cool...none of the qualities you want in a good day for fiberglass (OK, I'd like the overcast, but the 60 degree high and intermittent rain can go away).

We toyed briefly with the idea of running up to the boat show, but decided that the things I would be looking for were probably easier to find and figure out online.  So, thus far I've been playing with various solar panel configurations trying to come up with a design that is cost effective while maximizing the power output.

From a cost perspective, when looking only at the panels themselves, it seems that $1 (U.S.) per watt is considered a good price for rigid panels.  There are flexible and semi-flexible panels as well...but these are newer technology, less efficient than their rigid counterparts, and more expensive. Having spent a lifetime in the software industry chasing cool new high-tech stuff, I've learned to appreciate trailing edge technology.  The tried and true and usually cheaper options than the latest and greatest.

But price obviously isn't the only criteria, even if it is an important one. Even on a catamaran, there is only so much space where solar panels can be mounted. In my case I'll (hopefully) soon have a nice new hardtop that can support a number of panels.  There are other, and possibly better, places to put solar on the boat, but I'm not interested in taking on more structural changes to the boat right now, so for this discussion, I am limiting the location to the available space on the hardtop.

Trying to leave a space along the top to provide a walkway for dealing with the boom (and maybe a place to set the boom to avoid some shading of the panels), I came up with several potential placements.

I started by looking at a rather large Kyocera panel. Their 325 watt panels are just over 65 inches long and almost 52 inches wide.  There is only enough room to fit two of these on the top.  I was hoping for a bit more than 650 watts and at about $1.20 per watt, I was looking for something a little better in that category too.

65.5" x 39" panel placement, such as Renogy 270's.

Next I looked at panels in the 270 watt range.  Taking a look at the Renogy Monocrystalline panels, I was able to place 3 of them on the top while maintaining a walkway and access for the helm sail viewing port.  This would give me 810 watts of solar (theoretical...I know actual will be less) for about $765 plus tax and shipping. Under a buck a watt, not too bad.

47" x 21" panel placement, such as Renogy 100's.
While on the Renogy web site, I also looked at the size of other panels, in order to get to an option that would allow me to increase the number of panels, I had to step down to their 100 watt option. There are a couple variations on the placement, but it comes down to the fact I can squeeze 9 panels on to the top.  That is 900 watts.  A good amount of power.  Unfortunately, the smaller panels tend to increase in price per watt.  At $150 per panel, that is a total panel cost of $1350 or $1.50 per watt (all prices U.S. not including taxes or shipping).  And all of those panels would increase wiring cost and complexity as well.

62" x 32" panel placement, Grape GS-S-195 panels.
In between the two above options, I found the Grape 195 watt option. I seem to be able to fit 5 of these on the top, with some limitation to the access walkway (only 1 foot 3 inches between panels and one panel blocks the aisle).  This configuration gives the highest total wattage at 975 (again theoretical).  And these panels are exactly $1 per watt.  Unfortunately, I know nothing about Grape clearly more research is required.  But chances are even if they are an unknown, there are probably other manufacturers with similar specification panels.

While there are a lot of different panels out there with varying sizes and specifications, it seems that many of them are pretty similar in dimensions so I figure one of the above three placements will likely be what I end up doing.

In other news, the past two days have been good for fiberglass so we were able to get glass laid up on the PVC handhold/dodger holders.  There is at least one layer on everything, with second layers applied to the rails along the sides. We used the 10 ounce fiberglass for the straighter runs where the PVC was used and chopped strand for the more difficult complex curves of the corners and other foam details.

So, I guess things are normal...getting work done, in between rains, bad temperatures...and hurricanes.

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.