Thursday, September 6, 2018

One year after Irma

So much for our promise to keep you updated. We thought it fitting to post this long overdue blog on September 6th, one year to the day since Irma made landfall in the BVI. It will bring you up to date and recap (both for us and our readers) much of what's happened since Irma and Maria (fondly, or not so fondly, referred to as 'Irmaria') hit the Caribbean a year ago.

Since Skip is the one who’s made multiple trips to VG to stay on top of the situation, I’m turning the blog over to him for what’s sure to be a mega update/recap blog post. We left you with Saralane upright and Skip will pick it up from there.

In a nutshell, I made 5 trips to Virgin Gorda since Irma hit - to pick up the pieces and get Saralane afloat again. Maddie has documented to process to get her upright so I'll begin with my March trip. First, a few comments... though this post is just about Saralane I do not want to minimize or overlook what the islanders have gone through and continue to deal with a year later. Progress is being made but there is a very long way to go. I think many publications have painted a rather rosy picture of the state of things there, and indeed, progress has been made. But make no mistake, beyond the compounds at Nanny Cay and the Moorings, there is still a long way to go. One had to be there to appreciate the scale of destruction.

Mid October was the earliest I could get a flight and I was able to catch a ferry from St Thomas to Roadtown. The ferry dock was a mess so ferries from the USVI were using the cruise ship dock where they had set up a temporary customs tent.  

Road Town ferry dock
Tortola cruise ship pier
Arriving in St Thomas, ferrying to the BVI and taxiing to Nanny Cay was a very sobering visual experience. Here are a few shots from the drive from Nanny Cay into Road Town.

Ted & Claudia, whose boat Demeter survived the storms with minimal damage, were kind enough to give me a berth aboard at Nanny Cay so I commuted daily to VG by ferry.

When I arrived in VGHY the next day I headed to where I remembered leaving Saralane. Seeing nearly every boat  knocked over was quite disorienting, but I was able to make my way to her, stepping over boat stands, rigging, flybridges, dinghies, and personal stuff from deck boxes and cockpit lockers – snorkeling gear, gas tanks, canvas, cleaning supplies – anything you can imagine. Most disconcerting was that there was no one from the yard there, only a few other owners like me. I learned that all of the VGYH yard personnel had been let go immediately after Irma. 

Debris everywhere
A few others trying to straighten out the mess
There were a few folks like me in the yard; some were camped under tarps or between hulls of downed catamarans or in tents they brought with them. It was hot. The only water was in a tank at the plaza where Scotia Bank is, and the mozzies were unbelievable by 1500. Maddie's November post details what I found and what was accomplished.

In order to catch the single round trip ferry Speedy's was running between Road Town and Virgin Gorda, I was more or less on a 0900 to 1500 schedule, and I was DONE by 1500. It was hot and buggy and working at a 50 degree heel was physically exhausting. But we had taken the first step, all was not lost, and we hoped our insurance company would be cooperative. Not knowing when an adjuster might arrive, I put together a list of replacement parts, with costs, that we needed to make ourselves “whole” and I documented everything with photos.

About a week was budgeted for each trip and I returned in December, traveling with friends from Vermont who were also heading to Tortola, flying in to St Thomas. We arrived too late to get a ferry to Tortola so we spent the night in Red Hook at an AirBnB. No water, no electricity, no windows or screens, but it was within walking distance to the ferry dock – and what do you expect for $230? I again planned to commute to VG from Tortola, this time staying with Ted & Claudia on a friends' fishing boat (Demeter had been hauled for repair)that was rather sad looking on the outside, but was fine inside.

Banged up exterior, but all good inside
 When I got to VGYH I was relieved to see the yard crew had just come back to work and were slowly beginning the task of righting boats. Similar to my first trip, it was days of drying, cleaning and sorting, still at a 50 degree angle. I did have the advantage of returning to Nanny Cay each night for a touch of comfort. After a week of work I was ready to head home. When I first arrived it was very windy and rough so the ferry was the only option to get to VG. I wanted to bring our outboard back to Nanny Cay for repair and conditions had calmed down significantly by my last day there so I borrowed Ted and Claudia's big RIB and went up on my own. Then, rather than spending my last day continuing cleaning and sorting, I said "screw it" and put the tarp back on until my next visit, threw our outboard in the RIB and headed out to North Sound to look around. 

It looked like all the pictures we'd been seeing online, but seeing it close up was startling. There were a few people on Saba Rock and a few at the Bitter End - burning piles of the wreckage. YCCS was relatively intact but shuttered. Their massive concrete docks were completely gone; it was as if they never existed.

YCCS - sans docks
There was a lot of activity at Nail Bay and today you have to look closely to see that there had been any damage at all. Clearly the folks who have money (or insurance money) are well along in their recovery. Those that don't are still struggling and will be for some time. 
Damaged home near Gun Creek, North Sound VG
Geof and Chris Cooke in VG had made great progress righting boats when I returned in mid January. This time I was staying on VG with my good friend Clinton who sadly lost his lovely Gulfstar 60 to Irma and also lost much of his house and belongings. At this point his house repairs were far enough along for him to host me on the couch and eliminate my daily commute from Tortola. I had plenty of company with Clinton's four legged housemates, Marble and Simba. And some local fare was enjoyed by all! The good/bad news was that without the 1500 ferry curfew I could work much longer days!

Clinton's house, viewed from the road (FYI for scale - the blue car is a toy car!)...

... and viewed from the beach
Dining room... sliding doors couldn't keep Irma out
Marble the sweet pup
Simba the mischievous baby cat
Local lobster
Maddie's last blog captures the righting of the boat - what a relief to work on Saralane on an even keel! 

As an aside, I found that a week was about all I could handle physically and mentally it was extremely depressing to be exposed to endless destruction. I don’t know how the locals handled it but it’s a good guess that alcohol may have been involved. For many I think it has become the "new normal".

March trip – I was staying with Clinton again and brought down a demand hot water heater for his house. There had been no hot water to date and it’s amazing how chilly cistern water is.  I had to scramble to catch two of the three flights on my trip down and my luggage didn’t make the third flight. It turned up on the ferry the next day and Clinton and I were able to install it.

One of my goals this trip was to settle up with the yard. After a little wrangling and some uncertainty we got a full settlement with our insurance company while I was home (they never did send anyone to look at Saralane) and we decided to keep and repair her even with her yard liabilities and necessary TLC. I was forewarned about the cost to clear the rigging and to right her, but was unprepared for the 25% VGYH tacked on as a “commission”.  VGYH was also charging for damage to their boatstands ($1200/boat) but I was able to negotiate it down to $600. What really irked me was the storage charge. We'd paid for storage through November 1st and we owed for November to April. VGYH had neglected to tell me (or anyone else) that they  decided to raise the monthly storage rates on November 1. I was pissed, and had little choice but to pay it. It would have been nice to have known about it in November so we could figure it into our decision making but at this point it was either pay it or they wouldn’t launch the boat. All in all, the bill was just shy of $9,000. A current rate sheet could not be found and the VGYH website was taken down immediately after Irma. The website is still not functioning though they do have a Facebook page where they say how wonderful everything is and how pleased they are with all the brand new boat stands they (we) bought.

With the $$ issue behind me I wanted to get Saralane out of VGYH ASAP, so getting her ready to splash was my priority. The top 2/3s of the mast were on the side deck and were too heavy to handle without a crane. In anticipation of this I’d brought a SawsAll and a handful of new blades with me, planning to cut this part of the mast into manageable pieces. It worked like a charm and I only needed two blades. The cut portions were added to the growing "woodpile" of alloy tubes littering the yard.

Cut up mast on the side deck
Cut up mast
The bimini bows were badly bent and twisted, but the tubing hadn't collapsed and I was able to get the bows roughly into shape using boat stands to lever them straight. We had numerous broken or bent stanchions and I'd brought along several lengths of 1" stainless steel tubing as well as some made up stainless steel parts to cobble the bent stern rails back into usable condition.  
L to R - damaged, repaired and undamaged stanchions
First cuts on the bent rail
New stanchion sections
New rail coming together
Mix of old and new parts on the stern rail. Still missing the lower rail though.
The rails were key, as they support the bimini frame. By cutting the least mashed parts of the rails and stanchions, I was able to sleeve the new pieces to the old ones and managed to get all the rails and stanchions back into shape. To my relief, the bimini still fit pretty well - even on the not-so-perfect bows.

Bimini up on tweaked bow rails
Our bow locker was badly stained from the old rusty chain and big old rusty storm anchor. I tossed the anchor over the side and it broke into about six pieces, so I guess it was time for it to go. We’d found/scored a large Fortress anchor in Antigua a few years ago, and it will become our new storm anchor. I sanded & painted the inside of the locker, as well as the insides of all the cupboards below that had standing water in them in the fall. Once the paint dried, I loaded the new chain, and moved the Fortress from under the v-berth to the chain locker too. All of our salvaged stores were then re-stowed in the freshly painted lockers below.

Freshly painted anchor locker
The previously submerged Inverter/Charger was removed and chucked (a new refuse pile was developing next to Saralane) and I installed a new one that I’d brought with me.  Ever optimistic, I had hoped there might be power somewhere nearby in the yard, but it would take another month before that happened, and then it was inconsistent at best. I removed the old bow rail and installed the new (consignment shop) rail that I’d shipped down in the fall, which fit remarkably well. A few tweaks and an angle grinder helped. 

Bent original bow rail
New bow rail
My last big project was to repaint the bootstripe and the bottom. I had the paint, rollers and brushes aboard, and at the end of the day, Saralane looked ready to go!

Fresh bootstripe

Freshly painted
Our solar panels rest on our bimini bows, and Clinton gave me a hand securing them in place. I felt better about leaving Saralane with a trickle charge topping the batteries. I was scheduled to leave early Friday, and as I was closing up Saralane on Thursday afternoon I thought I would give the engine a bump to make sure the start battery was OK. The battery was fine but the engine would not budge – it was seized!  Lying bow down and hard on the starboard side for months, water from the muffler had trickled into the exhaust manifold and into the cylinders. I found out later that about a dozen other boats had the same issue. I was flying out the next day and had no idea what I was going to do when I returned in April.

April – Our winter had been so disjointed that we had difficulty making decisions and felt tugged in different directions, but we’d made our commitment to Saralane and wanted to make her whole again. We have a new mast on order with Selden, but we're waiting until after the upcoming hurricane season to have it delivered. The engine was the latest big hurdle. While back in RI, I talked to as many knowledgeable folks about ‘unsticking’ a stuck diesel. The general consensus was to remove the fuel injectors and fill the cylinders with a variety of serums, then rig a large breaker bar on the crank pulley and work it gently free – it sounded easier than I anticipated it would be. The most consistent piece of advice was "be patient".

I returned to VG in early April with the intent to get launched even if I was unable to resurrect the engine. I'd arranged for a tow if needed, but I wasn't sure where then to put Saralane when she was in the water. An inexpensive mooring was available in Coral Harbor St John, but there are few services there and it would have been a bit remote if the engine needed a rebuild.  Everything was uncertain except getting Saralane wet. I was staying with Clinton as usual and I'd ferried another hot water heater to him in my luggage so now he'd have hot water in the kitchen too.
Clinton's house has a roof again

And Simba got bigger!

Upon arrival, I removed the old injectors and injected PB Blaster into the cylinder tops with a modified syringe/WD 40 straw/heat shrink contraption, and tried to engineer a breaker bar on the front of the engine to lever/rotate. Our friends Dan & Jackie from “Chill” were just arriving from Antigua and offered their assistance in all departments. 
Jackie stays cool while she patches John H

Dan gets the generator going
Just having someone to bounce ideas off was a great help. Jackie reconfigured an outboard bracket to fit the still slightly bent stern rail, then got to work repairing John H, who was still suffering from a slow invisible leak. There was still the mast stump in the boat with the boom and knowing that we would be very rolly without a mast – I wanted to stay it a bit. We also needed some kind of halyard arrangement with which to launch and lift John. Using a VERY steep and rickety ladder (with Dan holding) I climbed to the top of the mast stump and passed a light chain through the mast tube at the lower spreader point to create an attachment point for “shrouds” that would not chafe on the ragged aluminum. At the same time I hung a block for a dinghy lift. 

I scored a small 800W generator that didn’t run, but Dan worked his magic on it and got it going, so now I had a working power source if the engine was terminal. In addition, they were a great help troubleshooting some solar gremlins and generally cleaning the cockpit/deck after months on her side.

On day two I tried to ‘bump’ the engine with the starter – nothing. I squirted in more PB Blaster and waited a few more days. To apply direct pressure to the crank, I took out the starter to access to flywheel. This required taking off both alternators and some plumbing – only to find out it was too cramped to get the lever in and engage the teeth of the flywheel. So the entire mess had to go back together again, but it killed some time waiting for the PB Blaster to do its work. My on-line research also suggested a blend of acetone and hydraulic oil, but I decided I would save that blend as last resort. I have gotten advice that Marvel Mystery Oil (a little less volatile) was a good choice to free a seized engine, so after another day and trying with the starter again (still nothing) I turned to the Marvel Mystery Oil, and filled the cylinders once again. Over the course of about 8 days, alternating PB Blaster and Marvel Mystery Oil, I was still nowhere but I was scheduled to launch in a few days and had to make a plan. Dan & Jackie offered to provide a tow, but the question was – where? At this point I was anticipating having to take the engine out. I knew I could get it out of the engine space and into the galley area and then use the boom to get it from the boat onto a dock. Also, around this time I’d heard from some friends who were keeping their boat at Manuel Reef Marina, just east of Nanny Cay, who said the monthly rates there were very reasonable. I called them and yes, the rates were reasonable and they had plenty of space. So plan A was to get towed to Manuel Reef, get the engine out, and have it sent to the local Kubota dealer for a rebuild. Hopefully the dealer could rebuild in a months time, while I went back to RI.

The launching went without a hitch, aside from the yard having to move a large totaled motor yacht to get to Saralane, and we tugged Saralane to a slip at VGYH for the night. Later that day Dan came aboard and said, “let’s try the engine one more time”, and it moved! Just a fraction, but it moved. More PB Blaster, and more patience. The next morning Clinton tugged us outside to the mooring area where a towline was passed to Dan & Jackie on “Chill”. Fortunately the wind was light and all went well - we were down to Tortola in less than two hours. Once in a slip at Manuel Reef (with help from Ted in "Hades", Jim & Ann on "Ubiquitous" and Bob & Mona on "Continuum) Dan hit the starter and the engine moved half a revolution! More fussing and it was spinning over! In went the new injectors and after much more cranking/firing/quitting she ran!!! Horrible noises, plumes of smoke, but after a while we got it to run steadily and it sounded less like a bucket of bolts – not great, but better.
The next day I changed the oil & filter and ran the engine for a long while, then changed the oil again. She’s been running like a top since. Patience....and persistence.
Trailered into the Travelift
Eight months after Irma - Saralane finally gets wet
View from Saralane during tow
Chill's view of Saralane under tow
This is probably a good place to stop for now.... next time we'll pick it up from Maddie's arrival at the end of April. Just to bring you up to date though, we're now stored on the hard at Nanny Cay, and have our fingers crossed that there are no Irmas or Marias this season. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

She's up!

Just shy of five months after Hurricane Irma, Saralane was lifted off her side and set back on stands. First, a few photos of the lift... then I'll backtrack a bit.

Still a little wonky but happy to be upright at last
Skip has been to Virgin Gorda twice more since my last post, but with nothing new to report until his most recent trip, I held off on a blog post. By sheer coincidence, he was on his way there when he got an email from the yard saying they were working in Saralane's area and could lift her the next day. The timing was perfect. Skip arrived on a Wednesday and she was righted on Thursday morning.

Big kudos go to Chris Cooke and his right hand man, Shaggy, who expertly lifted Saralane off her side and set her upright again without incident. VGYH then moved Saralane to her to a new spot with their trailer. Chris and his father Geof Cooke have been instrumental in getting rigging untangled and boats righted. With the absence of any meaningful communication from yard management, Geof's wife Candy was the primary conduit for information about what was happening there. Without the Cooke's crane, their professionalism, persistance and determination to help however they could, the yard would still be a mess of tangled rigging and toppled boats.

Back to some photos from Saralane just before she was righted - this view across the yard from her tilted deck gives a sense of the scope of the work still to be done. Not a single mast was upright and most were broken.

Top of our mast, tangled with rigging from a neighboring boat
To get an idea of the power of wind at 200+ miles an hour, take a look at the twisted ends of one of our 3/8" solid steel stays. It was bent into a U shape at the spreader and twirled together as tightly as a twist tie on a plastic bag. Crazy.
Unsalvageable things headed for the trash bin

Skip captured a wave for me from Maurice.... hi Maurice!
Broken masts tagged with boat names and lined up in the yard
Broken palms at the entrance to the yard. Irma tore the second floor (the yard office) off the building.

VGYH fuel and water dock, with upside down catamaran
One view of the marina at VGYH
Broken docks and boats
'La Boheme', our friend Clinton's 60' Gulfstar where she sank in the marina
La Boheme's mast
Where Buck's grocery store used to be
Shops of VGYH all boarded up
Skip had an opportunity to take a friend's dinghy up to North Sound and brought back some images from there as well as from Trellis Bay and Nanny Cay on Tortola. We've all been seeing photos of the damage for months now, but it's still shocking. Some of these are from his second trip down in mid-December and some are from the most recent trip just a few weeks ago.

Masts in Nanny Cay
A boat stand punched through this hull in VGYH...
...and this one in Nanny Cay.
Even this boat in a cradle in Nanny Cay was badly damaged
Saba Rock
Bitter End
Bitter End
Bitter End
The Fat Virgin Cafe
Work boats tossed up on the shore
Peg Legs at Nanny Cay
Our favorite new laundry in Trellis Bay was reduced to a concrete pad and a few machines covered with tarps.
Trellis Bay shoreline
Trellis Bay

Aragorn's studio, gallery and shops in Trellis Bay
Trellis Bay
Trellis Bay
Once Skip pumped all the water out of Saralane, things stayed pretty dry below. After the critical things had been tended to, he decided to try to salvage our old boat records that spent several months underwater.

Files drying out on a friend's boat, weighted down with a block and flipper and tape
His attempt at drying things in the Caribbean sun was thwarted by rain showers, so he tucked the whole soggy mess into his backpack and brought them home to dry.

Which begs the question.... will we ever actually look at any of this stuff again? Or was it simply a need to rescue a bit of our history? Either way, we have piles of mildewed, crumpled, stained paper that chronicle the making of Saralane.

We're feeling good about having made some progress on the ground in Virgin Gorda though things inside the boat are still a mess. Next step for us is a battle (er... "negotiation") with our insurance company.

I'll leave you with one last look at Saralane as Skip left her, and a promise to post updates as things change.

She's the only one standing in this photo