Believe it or not, it’s coming up on 6 years since we first received Sophie in a shiny new package from the Lagoon factory in Bordeaux, France. Actually, she didn’t come in a shiny new package, she came covered in soot on the deck of a freighter from Belgium. But she was new, she was ours, and she arrived the same week as Hazel.
Since then we sailed Sophie for 5 happy years in the Pacific Northwest, and after that sailed her 7,000 offshore miles from Seattle to New Zealand on the first leg of our family adventure. Over the course of our Pacific crossing we encountered in aggregate about a week and a half of heavy weather sailing involving 30+ knots of wind and 5+ meter seas.
We have met friends on other boats who did the Pacific crossing over the last year and lost things like their mast, rudder, sail drive, autopilot, self steering, windlass, and navigation systems. Sophie has held up extremely well and suffered no catastrophic damage. But now that we are in New Zealand, we decided to take advantage of the skilled local workforce and have Sophie undergo a bit of a refit after all these years. Let’s walk through some of the work we are having done.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we experienced some problems with the bulkheads (walls) in the forward lockers behind each trampoline. The pounding over the course of our Pacific crossing caused the walls and floors to separate, ultimately allowing a decent amount of seawater to drain into our starboard bilge on our last passage, from Fiji to Opua. This is a phenomenon cruisers try to avoid. We use these lockers to store spare anchors, anchor chain, and piles of extra lines and rope which all became quite heavy when wet. I now believe this added weight contributed to the damage.
We asked a local builder, Peter Sowman, to do the repair. His guys, including “Big Rob” shown here, had to grind out the bedding and glass in the lockers to prepare them for the repair.
He reglassed the walls together and sprayed hardening foam under the floor for extra support. The result is a pair of lockers that are now stronger and drier than the original.
As part of this repair we asked him to fabricate and mount four stainless steel rails on each side of the lockers. These will enable us to hang lines in a manner where they will be able to stay dry (and therefore remain much lighter.) We also won’t use these lockers to store chain or spare anchors any more.
Aft Vent Covers
On Sophie’s transom are 2 plastic covers that partially protect the intake for air vents that go down into each of the engine rooms. They are mostly cosmetic but unfortunately over the last 5 years had faded into two different colors. One became tan, and the other became whitish. Having two-tone rear panels became annoying, but the Pacific Ocean solved this problem for us by ripping off one of the covers on the passage from Bora Bora to Rarotonga. Peter replaced both covers in matching white.
Over the course of the journey we developed identical leaks on either side of the main salon, right where the stairs go down to the port hull on one side and to the owner’s cabin on the other side. It’s fairly normal for cruising sailboats to develop little leaks, but it can be a real pain to find them, because water can travel a long way from the hole it uses to enter the boat to the hole it uses to enter the cabin. The leak on the port side was worse and usually occurred when we had a strong wind/wave action on the beam, which happened on our passages to Rarotonga and to Opua. Just this last week we had a violent and torrential rainstorm with swirling winds right here at the dock, and both leaks occurred simultaneously. We knew we needed to get them fixed.
So the next day Jenna and I removed ceiling panels in each hull and started doing some leak sleuthing, a process involving spraying jets of high pressure water on different points of the boat while hoping to spot the hidden location where water drips in. We were relieved to see that water wasn’t coming down from the flybridge because that could have been a much bigger problem to find and fix. After a while we spotted the problem: water was coming in from the seal around the panoramic side windows in the salon and then through a bolt hole used to hold the flybridge to the deck.
And here is a closeup of the hole in the window seal. It’s amazing how such a small pinprick in the window seal can result in such a large amount of inflow when you are offshore in beam seas.
Once the water gets inside of the window seal pinprick, it travels along the fiberglass base of the window in search of any kind of opening that gives it the opportunity to enter the cabin and make the floor slippery and wet. We found a tiny hole in the seal right here, where a bolt goes through the fiberglass in order to connect the flybridge to the deck.
We will have the inner and outer seals resealed this week.
Sophie’s tender is way more than just our “dinghy”, it’s our car, pickup truck, ski boat, and remote fishing/beer-drinking platform. We use it a lot, and it’s never let us down.
Except for when we punctured one of the air tubes by bouncing off a semi-submerged steel plate protruding from a concrete pier in Tonga. Or when the engine’s choke cable seized, resulting in our having to pull the cord 15 times to start the engine in the morning or late at night. Or when we left the dinghy in the water overnight a few times in Musket Cove, resulting in a nice shiny green undercoating on its normally bright white hull.
Back in San Diego we had a canvas cover fabricated for the dinghy. It preserves the life of the inflatable fabric. Unfortunately in the Marquesas — Hiva Oa to be precise — I left the dinghy tied to a stone jetty, and in 10 minutes a hole had rubbed through the canvas cover on the port bow. Over the course of the summer this hole increased in size and was joined by 2 additional ones at the forward davit strap and on the starboard bow.
Needless to say there was a need for some serious dinghy love. So here in Opua we had the dinghy engine completely serviced, including re-drilling the screw holes on the bottom cover (remember those, Dan?) so we can now remove and change the oil filter. More importantly, we had the canvas cover repaired and added a new insulated canvas cover for the engine. It’s teal, matching the color of Sophie’s lettering. I also scrubbed off all of the green from the hull. Overall the dinghy is looking pretty sweet and runs great.
Sophie’s aft cockpit table has been the gathering point for many really fun dinners and some late nights over the years. We use the table so frequently that we simply leave it out all of the time, and the tropical sun combined with the Pacific’s salt has not been kind to it. So here in Opua we had the table stripped and re-varnished.
We will also start leaving the cover on most of the time.
While we were table-less, our friends Jeff and Melody from Double Diamond came over for a drink and brought their Lagoon 440’s aft cockpit cocktail table with them. It fits in the exact same holes as Sophie’s big table and was a fun alternative, creating more of an aft cockpit lounge vibe. So we are going to look into having a small cocktail table made, either from a small surfboard or wakeboard, and use that for special occasions. We need to have this ready before Randy and Susan’s next visit.
Sophie still has it’s four original sails – mainsail, jib, code zero, and spinnaker — and all of them remain in very good shape. The mainsail is big (almost 1,000 square feet) with a full roach, full battens, and 3 reef points. If you recall, we put a small tear in the main on the passage to Rarotonga, and the repair we had done there has held up well. However we did experience significant chafe along the upper batten pockets where the sail had rubbed against the shrouds while running on a reach.
There is a new North Sails loft here in Opua, and they replaced the mainsail batten pockets with stronger material (above), and also added a reef block and a batten car attachment point.
I am now convinced that the leading source of damage to sails offshore is the use of electric winches for reefing and trimming. All of that extra power in the wrong hands can cause things like canvas, lines and blocks to break. That’s how we lost a reefing line on the Marquesas passage, how we tore the sail on the way to Rarotonga, and how I broke a downhaul in Fiji. Personally I have become much more gentle in how I use the electric winches offshore, relying way more on a sense of touch rather than brute force.
Anyway, taking down or putting back up our mainsail is a half-day job. Here is Jenna with an allen wrench and some pins.
The jib needed some work as well. North Sails replaced the tape that runs along the foot and leach, repaired some damage to the sunbrella, and reinforced and enlarged a chafe patch where the sail can hit the spreaders.
Later this week we will decide whether or not we will reconfigure our code zero and leave it permanently rigged to our bowsprit. Having multiple furling sails is becoming increasingly popular, including on all new Lagoons, because it provides added flexibility. For us to do so on Sophie will require at least the addition of a strip of sunproof fabric along the edge of the sail. We will also need to rig a permanent solution for the continuous furler, and some of our guest crew have given us some good suggestions on how to do this.
Our spinnaker that we have used extensively, made with love by Carol Hasse’s team up at Port Townsend Sails, needs no work and is still a wonderful sail.
The jib is rigged with a Facnor furling system that includes an aluminum foil that extends up the entire length of the forestay.
This foil is fabricated from 6 foot long pieces of extruded aluminum that are bolted together using inserts as connectors. Over the course of a lot of miles some of the holes in these forestay pieces and the holes in the inserts worked a little loose.
This looseness caused some aluminum dust and stains would appear on the jib after heavy rainstorms. More importantly, looseness increases the risk that the entire furling system could break, which could result in bad things happening to Sophie in a heavy storm.
So we had some local riggers remove our forestay and furler, and then remachine all of the holes in the foil pieces and connectors in their machine shop.
It’s all back together now and as good as new.
I must confess it was a little disconcerting being on Sophie on a dock for a few days with heavy winds blowing and listening to our mast creaking back and forth because our forestay was in a machine shop up the street.
We had 3 halyards tied to the crossbeam to help stabilize the mast, but it still wasn’t the same as having a forestay. And it wasn’t just me and Jenna feeling a bit of unease, some of our neighbors joked that they were worried Sophie’s mast could come crashing down on them. But everything worked out OK.
The riggers found a few more areas that needed attention. They re-machined the gooseneck fitting where the boom meets the mast, eliminating a bit of play that had developed there.
They replaced and/or repaired the sheaves at the top of the mast, at the end of the boom and on the traveler. They replaced the main halyard (chafe at the top of the mast) and the spinnaker halyard (too stretchy, especially if we are going to rig the code zero permanently). They now look nice and are Christmas colored. Here is the spinnaker halyard:
And here is the main halyard (with a new block).
It’s amazing how prolonged exposure to the sun and salt can damage canvas. Back in Seattle, we had a canvas and vinyl enclosure for Sophie’s aft cockpit, and we would use this from late August to late June. But we put it away in San Diego, except for one small piece that protected the area directly behind the aft cockpit sink. The zipper, canvas webbing, and threads on this one piece were destroyed over the course of our crossing, so we had a local canvas shop repair the entire enclosure. We’ll probably put it away again until we return to Seattle, but we will do so knowing that it is intact and ready for to keep us warm in 10 months of cold rain per year.
We also have a flybridge bimini on Sophie, and historically we used it from late June to early August in Seattle and then put it away for the rest of the year. Well, the bimini went up in San Diego and has remained up ever since. The tropical sun damaged some of the stitching and canvas webbing, so we had the local canvas shop replace them. The bimini is back up now and looks great.
We also have a mainsail cover made from the same Sunbrella fabric as the bimini. Over the course of the crossing the cover crept forward along the boom, causing the forward edges of the cover to come in contact with reefing lines, which resulted in some significant chafe damage.
We had the local North loft repair the chafe damage, and we will do a better job in the future to secure the mainsail cover to prevent creepiness.
When we were in San Diego, we went to a Home Depot and bought some inexpensive deck shading material, and en route to the Marquesas we fabricated some makeshift aft cockpit shades. These turned out to be ugly but practical, and a lifesaver during late afternoons when the temperature was still in the high 90s. We decided to splurge and have the local canvas shop fabricate some permanent sunshades using the same fittings used by our winter cockpit enclosure. We hope to have these done and in place in time for the after party we’ll wind up hosting on Sophie after we attend the Boxing Day races with in Auckland with Misti Landtroop in a couple of weeks.
Like most US sailboats, Sophie is a 110 volt boat in a 220 volt world. Because of this we haven’t been connected to shore power since San Diego, putting 940 hours on our genset since March. Needless to say, we enjoy the creature comforts that 110 volt electricity brings to our lives.
But we are on the dock here in Opua so we decided to save wear and tear on the genset and switch to shore power. Fortunately when we commissioned Sophie we installed an isolation transformer that protects Sophie’s metal from marina-induced corrosion while also offering the capability to convert 220 volt Kiwi shore power to 110 volt Sophie power. So we hired a mechanic to reconfigure the transformer and we assumed we were all set to plug into New Zealand’s power grid.
But we weren’t all set. It turns out that New Zealand’s government requires all boats that connect to shore power have a government-issued “Warrant of Fitness” for their electrical system AND their power cable. Now back in the US I am all for liberty and freedom and all that “don’t tread on me” stuff, but it turns out in New Zealand they enjoy all of those freedoms AND have lower boat insurance rates and virtually no electricity-induced marina fires because the government makes sure that all boats are properly wired. It’s a good system and I like it. We got our sticker and plugged in.
But our problems didn’t end there. We kept tripping the circuit breaker on our transformer when Sophie asked for too much power from the dock, something that usually occurs when we turn on the clothes drier, dishwashers, or Nespresso machine. We used to encounter this problem on the floating docks at Point Hudson Marina back in Port Townsend and would simply adjust down the amount we would draw from shore until the transformer would stop tripping. Except that here in New Zealand we tripped the transformer so often that we wore out the transformer’s circuit breaker in a couple of days. It turns out that part wasn’t designed to trip more than a handful of times.
It was clear that our isolation transformer was undersized, limited to just 16 amps @240 volts. The local sparkies (Kiwi term for marine electrician) offered to upgrade our transformer to a 32 amp version of the same unit and install it at a good price, all on the next day. We agreed, but when the sparkies inspected the new part they realized that it wasn’t internally configured according to the documentation and the model number painted on the outside of the box. Victron Energy, the manufacturer, has recently relocated their manufacturing to China and are experiencing some teething pains as a result. It also turns out that the local sparkies are really really good at what they do. They got a loaner part from the manufacturer for us to use for a few months, installed a separate galvanic isolator, and we no longer lose shore power when we brew a long shot. Our new permanent and properly configured replacement is on order, to be installed after the holidays.
We used Sophie’s watermaker to produce all of the fresh water we consumed from San Diego to New Zealand, with the exception of one tankful in Rarotonga (dirty harbor) and then another right before we left Fiji for Opua. The general view held by all of the cruisers we meet out here is that it’s not a question of whether or not your watermaker will break, it’s a question of when. Overall we are extremely happy with the performance of our system, and the need to make fresh water is a main reason why we ran our genset so frequently. But as we prepared to leave Fiji for New Zealand, the throughput of our watermaker fell from 22 gallons per hour down to 8 gallons per hour and then it basically stopped working. Its “energy transfer device” — a system of pistons that low-power watermakers like our’s use create enough pressure to strip the salt from salt water as it is forced through a series of filtering membranes — wore out and needed to be rebuilt. That’s been done. We also needed to rebuild the 110 volt Catpower pump that drives the water into the system. It turns out that it suffered salt and sediment damage, and we will install an additional 25 mm prefilter in front of the 110 volt pump to prevent that from happening in the future. All of this should be up and running by the end of the week.
We have a Webasto diesel cabin heater that we ran for 4,000 hours over our 5 happy years in Seattle, and it stopped working the day we left San Diego for the South Pacific. This wasn’t an immediate problem for us when we were sweating in the Marquesas, but it was COLD when we reached New Zealand a month ago and we missed our heater. We thought it was simply an electrical problem, but the local sparkies took it apart and learned that the burners had basically worn out due to 4,000 hours of usage combined with some water damage. We had installed the heater without a fuel-water separator (Racor filter) in the fuel line between the tank and the unit, and water from the fuel tank occasionally wound up getting mixed with the fuel that was being burned, and this is apparently not good for a diesel furnace.
Since there is no one in New Zealand who can rebuild these systems, it wound up being easier for us to simply (and reluctantly) order a new unit from Seattle. Our friends Ian and Becky hand carried the diesel furnace on their flight to Auckland, cleverly disguising the unit as a pink handbag.
We are having the new heater, along with a new fuel-water separator, installed this week.
We love our Fischer & Paykel dishwasher, and Kiwis love them as well because they happen to be designed and manufactured right here in New Zealand. We also looked forward to using it every day in New Zealand, now that we were going to be attached to shore power and shore water for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, the day we arrived in New Zealand was the day Hazel engaged in some liquid soap/jewelry making/stuffed animal parade game, and to clean up her mess she inadvertently put her liquid soap covered cups into the dishwasher. As the dishwasher began to run, it produced a funny noise, wouldn’t turn off and displayed an “F1” error message.
I looked it up on the web, and the F&P F1 error message indicates machine flooding, and some life hacker sites described how you could fix the problem with a hair drier. So I took the drawer out, dried it with a hair drier, and the error persisted. After a day or two, I called Fischer & Paykal customer service. When I described the problem to the woman who answered the phone, she said “Oh, it’s flooding. You’ll need to get a technician out there with a hair drier to fix it.”
She referred me to a couple of local firms, and we finally got one of them to come out to the boat. (Their appointment was conveniently scheduled right as some of their friends next door were about to go out fishing, and they finished on Sophie at the exact same time as when the beer arrived on the neighboring boat. Kiwis have a high quality of life, you know.) Anyway, there were two repairmen, an older guy and his apprentice. They disassembled the dishwasher drawers (turns out more could be disassembled than what I had done), looked at the pumps, then looked up at me and asked “Have you got a hair dryer, mate?” They pulled out a circuit board, used the hair dryer to dry it off, then put it back into the machine. Repair done, and no new parts. I now know how to repair an F&P F1 error.
A Better Boat
That wraps up the main list of things we had addressed here in Opua over the last month. We also had the boat detailed, polished and waxed. We did a thorough spring cleaning of the interior and examined the contents of every cabinet on the boat. We reorganized how we store food and spare parts. All of the wine and liquor now fit in just one of the forward bilges — there has been some shrinkage, as they say in the retail industry. Most importantly, we feel that we know the boat much better now than we ever have in the past and are learning how to live on her full-time.
We are so lucky to be doing this trip, and to have a boat that holds up so well. Next stop, Auckland!