Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Highs and Lows

I don't know where I heard it, perhaps on a number of blogs I read, but the general idea is that cruising is filled with highs and lows that are a bit more extreme than those in a more "normal" lifestyle.  I think my lack of posts recently was due to one of those lows.

After arriving in Brunswick, I had a list of items in need of attention. This seems to be a common theme aboard boats...what do they say...something like "if you don't have something to fix on your boat, you aren't looking hard enough".  There were lines to replace, electrical issues to troubleshoot, and other minor repairs on top of the items that were never completed by the boatyard.

One of the items on my list was a fiberglass repair.  While en-route I noticed a crack where it appeared the interior and exterior fiberglass skin of the hollow arch on the back of the boat was separating and no longer a single part.  After posing the question to the Leopard owners group I found this is fairly common and the repair isn't particularly difficult.  The repair consists of cutting the crack to make a wider gap and then filling the gap with a thickened epoxy (making a better bond than the original fiberglass resin). I found a pre-thickened epoxy at West Marine as well as syringes and this part of the repair went fairly well.  I injected the epoxy into the crack with a syringe and then sealed it up with cellophane tape as I went to keep the epoxy in place as it cured.

Crack cut open for repair.

Of course, after the epoxy had cured, I needed to refinish the edge of the arch.  I had some color matched gel coat from a couple repairs back when I was in Palm Coast. The color matched stuff wasn't quite the right color since the sun had bleached the gel coat and the panel we could remove for the color match was in a more shaded location.  So, to get a better match, I added some white gel coat and came up with a pretty good color match.  While doing the color matching, I discovered the plastic cup I was using to mix the gel coat are a poor choice and the gel coat started to dissolve the cup and dribble onto the deck of the boat.  I quickly poured my remaining mix into a paper cup to preserve my work and then cleaned up the gel coat that had spilled out of the cup.  Fortunately, this was before I had added the hardener, so cleaning up the dribbled gel coat wasn't too big of a deal.

In order to spray on the gel coat, I should put up some plastic so I wouldn't accidentally spray neighboring boats.  Being a good neighbor, I constructed a plastic tent around the area where I would be working.  I added the hardener to the mix and a little acetone to thin it all for spraying.  About the time I was finishing up the application, in my usual luck, the wind started picking up and shifting direction.  The wind managed to rip one corner of my tent loose and it, naturally, made a beeline for my wet gel coat.  The flapping corner managed to slap the wet gel coat and then apply it to other areas I hadn't intended.  Cue the next scene from Laurel and Hardy.

After re-securing the tent corner I quickly grabbed a rag with some acetone to remove the unintended gel coat application.  While cleaning up, the tent came loose again and while fighting with it, I dropped my rag full of acetone...right onto the name we applied to the boat during the renaming ceremony.  In addition to cleaning and thinning gel coat, acetone apparently does a really good job of removing the color from vinyl lettering. As a result, our 10 month old lettering was now ruined. I finished cleaning up the errant gel coat and the smear of color from the lettering that made its way across the adjacent surfaces. I tried applying a bit more gel coat, using a brush, to the area that was thinned in the plastic tent attack, but brushing on gel coat doesn't produce a nice even coat.  I gave up, removed the tent, and allowed the gel coat to cure.  Not a very good start to my first gel coating attempt.

After a couple of hours, I noticed that the gel coat wasn't curing particularly well.  By this point it was getting cold and dark, so I thought maybe the cold and damp air was inhibiting its progress and it would cure overnight.  But somehow, given the way the day had gone thus far, I had a feeling that may not work.  So, that evening I researched how to deal with gel coat curing problems.

If you are unfamiliar with gel coat, it is a rather strange substance to use for a coating as it can only fully cure when air is absent...not a great characteristic when using it here on planet earth (unless you are applying it to the inside of a mold that will be covered with something else).  To combat this, they make a version of gel coat with a "wax".  As the gel coat starts setting up, the wax works itself to the surface and provides the needed barrier to the air so the stuff will properly cure.  At least that is the theory.

I don't know if it was the fact my gel coat was about 8 months old, or if I failed to mix it properly (after shaking the can for about a half hour), but it seems that the "wax" wasn't doing its job in my application and the gel coat was still not cured by the next morning.  To try and salvage my already somewhat messed up gel coat, I ran around town looking for a chemical called poly vinyl alcohol (PVA or mold release).  This stuff, when sprayed on gel coat, acts like the wax is supposed to act by blocking the air.  I applied it to the top of the gel coat, and then for good measure, covered it all with plastic wrap in hopes it would cure.

Finally, after letting it sit for much of the day so the warmer daytime temperatures and lack of air would give the stuff the best chance possible, it did cure.  Now I had cured, albeit a terribly uneven, coat of gel coat.  After sanding the stuff down to a somewhat more even surface, there are some pretty thin spots but at least the repair is coated.  At some point I will have to readdress this gel coat and make it a better looking repair, but I think I've had enough of gel coat for now.  If/when I do, I think I will use the PVA and not assume that the wax will work. And on the bright side, the color match is much better than many of the prior repairs you can find on the boat.

Fixed, for the most part.

Not being very successful with the gel coat, I turned to another outboard engine.  Thanks to the previous owner leaving old gas in the motor, it has never run very well.  So, I started looking into what it would take to clean and rebuild the carburetor (the necessary task when you let gasoline sit unused in a carburetor for a long time).  While working with the engine, I noticed that I had failed to reconnect the shift rod when I had replaced the impeller about 6 months ago.

Well, in the 6 months since that repair, the brass nut and steel bar had made an excellent demonstration of dissimilar metal corrosion and had stuck themselves together.  I tried using penetrating oil to work the nut loose, but ended up breaking the shifting rod while trying to get the nut to budge.  Ugh.  I find a parts catalog on the internet and order the replacement bar and nut.  The parts are only $25 so I consider myself lucky that the mistake of not reconnecting the bar wasn't more costly.

Of course, my luck din't last very long.  After the parts arrived, I put the engine up on the cockpit table and begin the "surgery" to replace the rod.  I pull the lower unit, remove the carburetor and finally manage to get the bar free from the other linkage.  But the bar won't come out of its channel along the back edge of the motor leg.  The rod has a bend at the top end and in the engineers apparently thought it would be funny to make the hole the bar passes through just slightly smaller than the bent part of the bar.  The only other way to extract the shift rod is by removing the entire engine (power head) from the cowling and leg assembly and pull the rod out from the top.  Since I don't have much experience with outboard motors, I decide that completely disassembling the motor to remove it was beyond my current capabilities.  I resign myself to taking the motor to a shop so they can replace the rod and I put everything back together to make sure all the parts get to the shop.

That's two failed repairs and one new bit of damage.  Not exactly the direction I want to go.  And it all had me feeling a bit down. I'm feeling better now, and making some progress in the right direction...but the details of that will have to wait for the next post.


  1. Oh wow Mike! That's a classic example of "if it's not one thing, it's another."

    Hang in there, though. I'm sure things will get better!

    Just remember that most successes are preceded by many many failures.


    1. Thanks Mike. At this point the engine is repaired and runs nicely...albeit for more than I wanted to spend. I've been working on the gel coat repairs and more on that will be in an upcoming post.

      You are right though...If at first you don't succeed...try try...try try...try try again. ;-)