Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

 June 3:



     Starting a new project on a boat is always a bit treacherous.  As soon as you empty out a bilge or stick your head in some dark space to start the first project, more often than not you find some other surprise that needs attention as well.  It's not at all uncommon to have your "to do" list keep getting longer the more work you do.  So I was quite relieved to be seeing my work list get shorter every day lately.  I had accomplished all the major tasks onboard and was, in fact, opening the engine room hatch to put my tool bag away and start cleaning up my messes.   When I opened the engine compartment I noticed that one of the two alternator belts on the main engine had broken.  So, no problem, I can add that to my list.  But I also noticed a fine brown speckled spray pattern running across the top of the hatch that covers the engine room.  The spray pattern was oriented fore and aft which means that something was dripping onto the generator's belt as it spins.  But maybe the two were related, I hoped, so after wiping down the hatch and bicycling into town to get a new pair of alternator belts, I ran the generator.

     Everything looked fine, but after closing the lid for a few minutes I could see that dirty spray pattern again.  Now with the generator running and a good bright flashlight, I could see a little drip coming out the shaft of the fresh water pump.  One drip every 5 seconds or so...barely enough to even notice were it not being broadcast to the white interior ceiling of the engine room.  By now I am unfortunate enough to have experience with this sort of thing.  The same problem happened on our main engine when we were in Columbia a couple of years ago.  So I recognized it right away as a sign that the seals on my fresh water pump had failed and the pump would now have to be replaced or rebuilt.  So I unbolted the pump and took it down to the mechanic's shop here at the marina and was assured that he could send it off to be rebuilt and have it back by the end of the week.  Though, sadly not for the $40 that some back-street-automotive-water-pump-repair-shop- guy in Cartagena charged me for the same job.   

    Whenever I've had the opportunity to peek into the engine room of some big fancy yacht with a full time engineer looking after her, the engine room, if not the engine itself is painted a pristine white.  I used to imagine that their megalomaniacal captains & owners probably sent the poor engineer's mate in there with a glass of soapy water and a tooth brush every Sunday just to keep the engine looking as pretty as the topsides...just because.  But now I've come to realize (well...I had heard it before but I guess now I really believe it) that a clean engine and white walls helps you see tiny leaks and problems before they become BIG problems.  So now with my other projects finishing up and not much to do while I wait form that pump to get rebuilt...I'm eyeing that toothbrush and wondering if I have the courage to start just one more project.   


June 5:


    So here's a gallery of some of the things we've had done in New Zealand:

The headliner throughout the boat was badly in need of replacement.  The headliner is basically vinyl with a thin foam backing attached to strips of plywood.  After 15 years in the marine environment, the foam backing had disintigrated and the vinyl drooped down from the ceiling.  The same upholsterer who re-upholstered our seating did this job for us while we were away.

the old headlinerthe new headliner and stained glass

    Several small areas of wood panel inside the boat had begun to rot from water leaks getting in.  So after repairing all the leaks, we hired an excellent ship's carpenter to chisel out the bad wood, replace it with new plywood, and then put on a new veneer and varnish to match it up to the original surrounding wood.  We knew it would never be be honest I had sort of resigned myself to it thinking, "well, that's what you get when your boat gets old enough".  But Kathleen talked me into giving it a try and I'm really glad she did.  It's not perfect if you look close, but we're really happy with how good it turned out.

pilothouse aft portside corner before repairsame area after wood repairs

     I spent much of last season struggling with a leak on our old, worn out dinghy.  After finally successfully re-repairing the same hole for the third time, we finally lost our sentimental attachment to the old beast.  So we sold it last fall at the local used marine goods store and put in an order for a new one.  I had admired a nice looking aluminum RIB in Tonga with a label that said Gulf Harbor Inflatables.  They are a small shop that builds and repairs inflatable boats.  When they didn't have just the features we wanted in their stock dinghies, we were delighted to find that they could custom build us a new RIB with exactly the features we wanted for about the same cost as buying one off the shelf anywhere else.  So last week when it was too rainy to do anything else on board, I rented a truck and drove down to pick up our new dinghy.  So far I'm thrilled with it.  The bow locker ended up being a little smaller than I'd like, and they only make tubes out of PVC here, where I think I'd have asked for hypalon if I could get it.  PVC has a reputation for being less resistant to UV and wearing out sooner.  The PVC boat builders swear that the newer PVCs they have nowadays are just as good so we'll see.  But to be safe, we also had a canvas shop build a canvas cover to match the rest of the canvas on Uliad.  I even brought some silver reflective material for accent stripes to help reduce the chances of getting hit by a drunken sailor roaring through the anchorage at night.

new custom dinghy & cover

    When we bought Uliad over 4 years ago, I promised Kathleen that we'd eventually replace the blinds onboard which were stained with mildew.  What I didn't realize at the time was that these were OceanAir blinds, custom made to fit the odd angles of the pilothouse windows and specially engineered for yachts to hold their position no matter what wild motion the boat is under.  Oh, and they also cost more than gold.  But a promise is a promise so we finally bit the bullet and put in an order with the local OceanAir distributor to replace all 10 blinds.  The installer drove all the way up from Auckland last week to put them up and get them adjusted properly and now they look just as you'd expect thousands of dollars worth of blinds to look:  f**ing perfect!


    And finally to top it all off, my brother the craftsman gave Kathleen a stained glass panel for Christmas that he custom built himself to insert perfectly into the window sill at the aft pilothouse window.  So now I just have to fabricate a few trim strips to hold it securely in place. (you can see the new stained glass panel in the photo of the new headliner above) That and I've been putting on a fresh coat of varnish throughout the whole interior while there's nobody around to get fingerprints on the wet varnish.  Soon as I finish that we'll be a floating palace again. 


June 10:


     After a month of hard labor, on Uliad, I wish I could say that the time has come for us to sail off into the sunset and enjoy our refitted boat.  Instead, the time has come for us to go back to Alaska for a few weeks and finish paying for all this work.  So this morning I closed the seacocks, locked the hatches and loaded the (mostly empty) suitcases into a waiting cab to begin a long day's journey back to Juneau.  Leaving is always a sad moment for me, but this morning there were enough things to do and an early enough flight that I really didn't have time to pout about it.

      Interhemispheric travel can be a bit discombobulating, going from mid-winter to mid summer in one day.  But this should be made a bit easier by the fact that a summer day in Juneau is pretty much the same as a winter day in northern New Zealand:  60s and rainy.  The big difference will be adapting to the nearly 21 hours of daylight up there!  Maybe that will make it easier to get up for work each morning.

      Money aside, we're also on our way back because Juneau seemed like a fun place to be in the summer, so by now I'm actually looking forward to getting back and seeing some bears, fishing for some salmon, and working with all the great people I met last winter there.  New latitude, new attitude.


June 21:


    Today being the summer solstice, the sun came up in Juneau at 3:51am and will set at 10:08 pm for a grand total of 18 hours and 17 minutes of daylight.  Of course the sky gets light well before 3:51 am.  In fact, the sky never does get completely dark here.  I was coming home from the hospital late the other night and realized that not only was their still some light in the sky at 1am, but the brightest part of the sky was actually to the north!  Now this makes perfect sense from an astronomical perspective, but it seemed surreal at the moment.   All homes here seem to come well equipped with blackout curtains.  If they fail, any of the many drive up espresso shacks about town stand ready to help. 



June 28:


     Along with blackout curtains, my apartment here in Alaska came supplied with a few books on the shelf, including one titled "Alaska Bear Tales".  This gem carefully chronicles all the various attacks, maulings, and outright devourings that Alaskan bears have inflicted upon humans over the 20 years or so before it was published.  It is not a short book.

     With time on my hands, I started reading "Alaska Bear Tales" last week.  I told myself that the book would probably have some useful knowledge for a stranger to these parts; perhaps I'd learn how better to avoid getting devoured myself while hiking in the woods.  Instead it led me to seriously consider just staying home and watching TV.  But of course, cable TV is no better up here than it is in the rest of the USA, so eventually I had to face my fears and go for a hike.  My first destination would be the Mendenhall Glacier.  This is a nice accessible spot at the end of the road where tour busses full of cruise ship travellers are continually shuttled to throughout the summer to see the glacier as it tumbles into Mendenhall lake.  Much to busy for bears, I presumed.

     I was still a mile away from the parking lot when a mother black bear and her three cubs strolled across the highway in front of me.  I felt pretty safe inside my car and all, so I pulled over to fumble in my pocket for the camera on my cell phone.  Unfortunately, they had all disappeared back into the woods by the time I could get my camera running. 

    So I had a nice hike out to a waterfall near the glacier--whistling and scuffing my feet to make bear-repelling noise as I went.  I eventually made it safely back to the parking lot and was about to go home when I noticed another trailhead on the other side of the lot.  It ran along a small stream where salmon spawn in the summer and I decided to take a look.  After a few loops and curves, the trail opened up to a low bridge across a spread of marsh grass and there, 15 yards away, was the black bear with her three cubs again.  They lolled about, nibbling on the green grass and looking like very contented and docile bears.  After a quick glance around to be sure I was not between Mama and a 4th cub (the book was quite clear about that), I settled in to watch nature in action.  Eventually a few other quiet tourists and a park ranger came along to enjoy the show.  After 20 minutes or so,  the bear mother finally grew tired of all the attention and she calmly gathered up her kids and marched them right under the bridge beneath us and back up the stream, presumably as disappointed as I that there were no salmon in the stream yet.

Black bear and cubs near Juneau

    After that charming little encounter, I think I'm ready to put my bear fears in proper perspective.  Which is good, because nobody should travel to Alaska just to sit home and watch "Deadliest Catch".  The real thing goes on right outside the windows here.



                                                                                                                             created by Steve Erickson 2007-2012
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