A typical weekend on the Gyrfalcon

As we shift from Phase I (work done by Lake Union Boatyard, checks written by Nancy and Peter) to Phase II (work done by Nancy and Peter – at a much slower pace), every free weekend is a work weekend. We have a long list of tasks to complete, which only seems to get longer,  no matter how many items we successfully finish. Here are several stories to illustrate:

Peter’s Weekend

The first item on my list was “Put up Christmas Lights”. I love the way boats look at night with Christmas lights, and had been looking forward to putting them up almost since we got the boat. We couldn’t have lights last year since the boat was still under the tent, but this year we were in the open and on the ship canal where people would see the lights, so it was time. I figured this would be a fairly easy task, and should be completed by lunch time. I already had the lights, so all I had to do was string them up. We spent Thanksgiving in Michigan with Nancy’s family, but came home Saturday evening, so that we could spend Sunday working on our To Do List.

On Sunday morning, the temperature was in the mid-fifties, it was not raining, and there was not much wind – what could go wrong? My plan was to run a string of lights from the bow to the crow’s nest, a second string from the crow’s nest to the stern, and a string along each of the railings on the top deck.

Each string of 100 lights (white LED bulbs for minimal power draw) was 43 feet long. The distance from the bow to the crow’s nest was around 40 feet, so I unpacked the first string of lights, plugged it in to make sure that it worked, tied one end of the lights to the bow, took the other end to the wheelhouse roof, and climbed up the mast to the crow’s nest. I had only been in the crow’s nest once before, and it was scary getting up – it’s hard to see the rungs on the side of the mast when you are climbing up, and impossible to see them when you are coming back down – you have to drop your foot and hope that you find the next foothold. Once you get into the crow’s nest itself, it’s a little better – there is a solid railing all the way around and a small platform to stand on [picture of crow’s nest]. You are, of course, 20 feet in the air on a swaying mast, trying to keep one hand on the railing while you maneuver and fasten a string of Christmas lights with the other, but at least it was a decent day.

I got the forward string up without too much effort – I used plastic electrician’s locking ties (aka plastic handcuffs) to fasten the string to the crow’s nest railing, and they really helped with the one-handed scenario. I climbed back down from the crow’s nest, and discovered that it wasn’t quite as scary as I thought  – by holding on to the railings with both hands, my feet found the next step fairly easily, and after that I could see the remaining rungs.

The second run of lights was a little longer, so I had to connect a 43 foot string to a 22 foot string in order to get from the crow’s nest to the stern. I unpacked the next two strings of lights, checked that they worked, took a free end of the log string up to the crow’s nest – the trip up the mast was less scary this time – attached the new string to the string already there from the bow, climbed back down the mast, got the loose end, and attached it to the shorter string so that I had enough length to come off the stern and extend down to the fantail where I planned to plug the lights in.

When I had completed that string, I realized I did not have any AC power on the outside of the boat on the fantail. I cut the plug off the end of an extension cord so that it would fit through one of the holes in the lazarette cover [picture] , fed the extension cord through the hole, wired it into the fortuitous  AC already in the lazarette, plugged the lights in, and went back up onto the coach house roof to admire my handiwork.

It was the middle of the day, so the lights weren’t terribly bright, but I could imagine how they would glow at night. The line from the bow to the crow’s nest was perfect, the line from the crow’s nest to the stern looked… wait, there was a 10 foot section in the middle that didn’t light up. The string must have been defective.

While I was standing there, my friend Gordy came over to the boat, and said, “You know, Pete, you’re supposed to check the lights before you put them up.” But I had – how could I have overlooked a 10 foot long dead spot? I was, as you might imagine, not pleased. It looked like there were only two wires in the dead section instead of the three that are needed to maintain the string if there is a bulb burnout. “Hmm”, I thought, “crummy Chinese QA procedures – trying to save a few RMB.”

After a few more choice words to myself, I got another long strand out of the box – checked and rechecked it to make certain that every bulb lit, climbed back up to the crow’s nest, removed the faulty string of lights, installed the new string, climbed back down from the crow’s nest, plugged in the new string of lights, and everything was good. Lights from bow to stern – she was going to look great.

Before I started on the railing lights, I saw that a few of the bulbs on the forward string had gotten turned during the installation, so I reached up to adjust a bulb, and another ten foot section of lights suddenly went dead. That’s when it hit me – there was nothing wrong with the lights – it was total operator error. Strings of Christmas lights are not designed to take the stress of a forty foot run – you need to run a line (aka rope) to take the stress, and clip the bulbs to the line (that’s probably why the put the little clippy things on the side of each bulb). All I could say was, “Duh.”

So I climbed back up to crow’s nest (it was getting easier and easier to make the climb), took down both the forward and aft string of lights,  and climbed back down the mast. I went inside and had a quick bit to eat (it was well past lunchtime by now). Then I got in the car and went to the store and got several more strings of lights and some nylon line to complete the project. The lights had gotten cheaper since I first bought them – if I have to keep doing this, they’ll be free by the time I finish.

Back on the boat, I cut a line long enough to go from the stern to the crow’s nest, clipped the bulbs to the line, took the line up to the crow’s nest, tied the line to the crow’s nest, came back down the mast, and plugged in the lights. I wanted to make sure that the new technique worked before I put up all the lights.  All of the stress was on the nylon line and not the bulbs, so it looked like we were finally in business. Next I clipped the forward lights to a length of nylon line and (is this beginning to sound repetitious?) climbed up the mast, tied the line to the railing, attached the two strands of lights, and back down the mast.

Everything stayed lit – it appeared I had solved the problem.

The next task was much easier – all I had to do was string the lights along the deck and fasten them to the underside of the railings using the plastic ties. I started in the stern, and when I got to the forward end of the railing,  I still had lights left over. Actually, it looked like I had enough to run a string up to the crow’s nest.

By now, you know the drill. Grab the ends of both strings. Climb up to the crow’s nest. Attach the lights. Climb back down. By my count,  that made seven trips up to the crow’s nest. I was getting comfortable with the climb, which was good, since the last trip up was in the dark – the day had gone, the sun had set, and the only light came from the LED bulbs.

I went on to the dock and admired my handiwork.  The bulbs looked great outlining the Gyr. Christmas lights on a big vessel look really festive and really say “Christmas in Seattle”

And it only took a full day. Piece of cake.

We did not get a picture of all the lights on before Christmas. At some point during the winds and rain of a Seattle winter, one half of one of the long strings between the crow’s nest and the stern quit working properly – some nights it is completely lit, some nights it is dark, and some nights it is vaguely on. Here is a picture of the mostly festive boat as of Jan 15. We haven’t taken the lights down yet. Perhaps we should start thinking about next Christmas

Gryfalcon at night, with most of its lights on

Gryfalcon at night, with most of its lights on

Nancy’s Weekend

Nancy’s task for this weekend was to finish tiling the counter in the guest head. This task actually began around 6 months ago. One of the very first things we did was to buy new fixtures for almost all the showers and heads. In the guest head, there was a built-in laminate vanity top with a sink in the center. We bought a nice new sink of the same diameter as the old one and faucet set, and got a piece of cement backer board (Durock) from Lowes, cut it size to fit in the head (remember nothing is square in a boat), used the opening from the former sink to cut a hole for the new sink, and then applied mastic to attach the new board over the old vanity top. It worked out well – we didn’t crack the backer board, and the mastic held the whole thing solidly together.

We ordered cobalt blue tiles from an outfit in San Diego and were ready to go. Then we decided that there was a lot of construction ahead in the guest quarters and head, and that it probably made sense to wait until we were a little further along before we proceeded with the tiling. (Remember, this was when we thought the entire project would be completed in a few months time). So the boxes of tile got moved from storage space to storage space, and the whole project aged for a few months.

Nancy decided that the first task on her list was to finally finish tiling the vanity top. Painting and construction was completed in the guest head, and it was embarrassing to tell guests that they had to go to another head to wash their hands. The next scheduled guests were Nancy’s Mom and her husband – and you always want your house to look good when your Mom comes to visit.

On our way home from the airport after Thanksgiving, we stopped at the hardware store and got a manual tile saw, a tile nipper, mastic and grout, several bags of the plastic spacers that position the individual tiles, and sacrificial generic white tile.

Nancy's collection of tiles and tools

Nancy’s collection of tiles and tools

The next morning, Nancy got up and started cutting pieces of tile to fit on the vanity top. It was a fairly steep learning curve, with a number of tiles (mostly the white generic kind) sacrificed to the process, but fortunately, she had ordered enough tile to account for the losses. When she went to start fitting the pieces on the top, she realized that she had gotten the wrong size of plastic spacers, so she had to make another trip to the hardware store. When she got back, she got all the pieces in place and it all looked good, so she was ready to apply the mastic to attach the tiles to the backer board.

Tile in place with correct sized spacers

Tile in place with correct sized spacers

Nancy preparing to apply the mastic

Nancy preparing to apply the mastic

But before she spread the mastic, she decided on one last check (She wouldn’t be Nancy if she didn’t). When we bought the new sink, we had been told by the plumbing supply store that it would fit the same opening as the original sink–it was the replacement model for the older 1980’s vintage sink.   Guess what – the cutout was different on the new sink.  The original opening was about a half to a quarter inch (depending on the side) larger than required for the new sink. Although the new sink would fit (i.e. – it wouldn’t fall through the hole), it didn’t have enough surface area to support and be bedded properly.

So the project came to a halt. There followed several days of research to figure out the best way to deal with the issue. We could:

  1. Find a sink that would fit into to original opening. We tried for several days, but could not find one that would fit perfectly – apparently, “standard” had changed since the original sink was installed.  Interestingly, it’s impossible (without CAD software) to get printouts of the cutouts from sink manufacturers, and the cutout info is not listed on websites.  All of the manufacturers will send you a hard copy of the cutout template for whatever sink you want with 2-3 week delivery timeframe. It amazed us that in today’s digital world, sinks still used paper technology.
  1. Rip out the new concrete backer board and old laminate vanity countertop and start from scratch. This approach would solve all the problems, but it would be a tremendous amount of work.  Besides, there are lots of pieces and parts that go into boat plumbing, and some were attached to things attached to the top of countertop.
  1. Remove the concrete backer board and replace it with a new one cut to the correct dimensions. We weren’t sure if we could get the backer board off cleanly (Nancy was sure we couldn’t), and it would still leave the issue that the new board would be smaller than the original hole, and not too strong structurally (all that would be supporting the weight of the sink would be the new backer board.
  1. Don’t rip out anything, but put a second backer board with the right size cutout and hope that would support the sink.  However, this would increase the thickness of the countertop too much.  We had v-caps to install over the edge and a second concrete backerboard would mean that the old laminate would show on the edge of the countertop.
  1. Put a new thinner backer board on top of the current backer board, and figure out a way to fill the void where the new and old boards matched (or in this case, didn’t match)

Option #5 sounded like the best, but we couldn’t come up with good way to fill the void. I talked to Ben, who suggested that we could fill the space with epoxy and it would be structural and solid.

Here was our solution:  Nan found a thinner non-cement backer board (Hardie) that was also easier to work than the original Durock, cut it to size to fit over the Durock, and then cut out the correct sized hole (using the template that came with the new sink). Then she cut the same sized hole in a piece of plywood, and attached that piece to the underside of the vanity top – making a sandwich with the correct (smaller) hole on the top, the larger vanity top in the middle, and the correct (smaller) hole on the bottom. This created a form that would hold the epoxy in place while it was hardening.  One more trip to Fisheries to purchase epoxy and a medium weight filler to keep it from being too runny, and she was ready to go. This process took the better part of a week.

Tile on the new backer board with the gray epoxy filling the void space

Tile on the new backer board with the gray epoxy filling the void space

Well, it worked like a dream. The epoxy bonded to the upper and lower boards, and formed a solid, structurally strong piece. There was enough extra tile left to be able to recut the necessary pieces for the smaller sink and still have everything look right (and enough left over to tile the bedstand in the Stateroom 1). Nancy finished the tiling up the following week, and it looks absolutely great. Plus, if the Gyrfalcon should hit something, this sink will not be the least affected. (This sink won’t sink – sorry).

As long as we were completing the head, we installed a wall-mounted hair dryer for guests, put in a stainless toilet paper holder, and a small  mirror. We think the whole thing is gorgeous.

Completed vanity with tile and new sink

Completed vanity with tile and new sink, hair dryer, toilet paper holder and mirror.

We are continuing our tasks – baseboard (Nancy), floor transition piece (Peter),  wall panels in the forward staterooms (both),  etc. etc.

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2 Responses to A typical weekend on the Gyrfalcon

  1. Just think how proud and satisfied you’ll feel when you’re done and can step back and look at it knowing how much of the work you did yourself. Good job!

  2. Larry Schneider says:

    MV Gyrfalcon
    Hi Peter and Nancy,
    My name is Larry Schneider and I just wanted to thank you for your blog on the renovation of MV Gyrfalcon. I was very interested in Triton when she was for sale but not in a position (at that time) to make a move on her. Never the less, I am happy she is in your good hands and I am thoroughly enjoying watching your progress as you restore her.
    In May of this year I will be retiring from the Los Angeles Fire Department after 37 years of service. I am a Fire Captain and am currently assigned to Fire Boat 4, the oldest fireboat on the West coast. I will try sending you a photo but I am not sure if will work on your blog.
    Anyway, I have been sailing for many years and currently own a CT54 Ketch berthed here in San Pedro but now I have decided to switch into power boats. I am actively searching for a large wooden fantail similar to Gyrfalcon and plan on following your footsteps in renovating her for my personal use. If you know of any such boats please let me know. Also, my wife and I visit friends on Orcas Island every spring and we would just love to stop in for a quick visit to meet the two of you and see the work you have done on Gyrfalcon. I will return the favor and find you a slip if you ever stop come to San Pedro.

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