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Living Aboard Argonaut II: In the Boatyard

Updated on July 21, 2020
Argonaut II in the slings of a Travelift
Argonaut II in the slings of a Travelift

It was time for Argonaut II to get hauled out

We had not been out of the water for four years. It was time to redo the bottom paint, replace the zincs, get a marine survey (for insurance purposes), get an electrical survey, and see what was going on below the water line.

How often a boat is hauled out for maintenance depends on many factors including the following: the material the boat is made of, the age of the boat, the environment the boat is kept in(salt or fresh water), any problems the boat may have, and, last, but not least, the financial condition of the boat owners. It's expensive! We learned on this boatyard visit that four years between maintenance haul-outs may be too many for a 92-year-old wooden boat, even though we moor in fresh water.

It wasn't our first time in the boatyard

In 1998 my husband Jerry and I quit our jobs and sold our house and most of our possessions to buy a 57-foot Seine boat that had been partially converted to a live-aboard. We lived on the boat in Canada in a boatyard called Shelter Island for about four months where we replaced the deck and did a lot of other more cosmetic work. It was brutal, grueling work--but I loved the boatyard, the other boat owners, and the guys we hired to work with us. Note, I don't say FOR us, but WITH us because we learned so much from these people, and they became friends.

Unfortunately, for many reasons, among them that there was very little living space on the boat and the dark, gloomy Canadian winter really got to me, we ended up selling our boat, moving back to New Mexico, getting our jobs back, buying more land, and building another house. But we never stopped thinking about living aboard and cruising. In 2006, Jerry found the perfect boat for living aboard, Argonaut II , and we did it all again: quit our jobs and sold our house and most of our possessions. Are we crazy? Maybe, but what a ride it's been!

We bought Argonaut II in May of 2006 and in July we hauled out in Port Townsend(a wooden boat haven) for "a little bottom work" recommend by the marine surveyor. That little bit of work turned into a complete refastening and recaulking of the hull below the water line which took 50 days out of the water to finish. Again, though it was grueling, we found great people to work with.

An example of a marine railway
An example of a marine railway

Now, four years later, it was time to haul out again

The top-sides paint and boot stripe were looking shabby, our marine survey was due to our insurers in April, and there was some very suspicious looking "fuzzy" wood in the bilge, indicating electrical damage.

We initially decided to stay in Seattle to haul out. Since Argonaut II is very heavy and very old we need to be careful. Many classic yacht owners use a system called the "ways," a boat moving railway, for a haul out considering it safer.(example shown above) The ways are safer for older boats, putting less stress on their hulls. The disadvantage of the ways is that only one boat at a time can be worked on. This means long waits for those further down the list if a boat in front of them has unexpected problems. This ALWAYS happens.

We were on the list for a marine railway here in Seattle, but month after month went by, so we decided to visit a Seattle boatyard to make an appointment for a travel lift haul out in the slings. However, when we described our boat and told them its age, they refused to haul us out!

Time to go back to Port Townsend--wooden boat heaven. Though not strictly required by the size and weight of Argonaut II , we used the largest travel lift (certified for 300 tons--Argonaut II is 70 tons) with 6 slings. The haul out crew in Port Townsend is very knowledgeable and conscientious. We had no problems.

Here's Jerry pressure washing the hull

Once the boat is lifted out of the water, the travelift moves it into a location to be pressure washed. After four years in fresh water, we had accumulated a thick coating of slime. A boat that has been in salt water will be more interesting with barnacles and other growth. Though salt water "pickles" the wood, preserving it, there are also wood damaging organisms such teredos, a wood-boring worm.

The debate rages on among wooden boat owners--fresh or salt water moorage? It is agreed that the best situation is what we have--spend most of your time in fresh water, going out several times a year into salt water. Since our boat spent its first 80 years in salt water, the hull is pretty well "pickled," and being in fresh water keeps the teredos out.

Argh! Our rudder shows damage from electrolysis!

As we cleaned off the rudder, it became apparent that we had a real problem. Marine electrolysis is an extremely serious, complex issue. Both the rudder and the propeller were affected with deterioration. This is usually caused by improper electrical wiring resulting in stray current transferred between two metals, eroding the lesser metal. The addition of water, especially salt water, to the system essentially creates a battery!

A little off the subject here, but because electrical problems are relatively common on boats, a marina is a very dangerous place to go for a swim as I see so many people doing during a hot summer day. Don't get in the water in a marina. You could be electrocuted!

This damage had occurred in the time that we had owned the boat, and Jerry had worked on the electrical system. He was sure his work was done correctly but had checked and rechecked his work when he started to see signs of electrolysis, e.g., fuzzy wood in the bilge. Since Dave Thompson, who did the recaulking of our hull, had come over to see us when he saw Argonaut II lifted out of the water, we had a recommendation for an excellent marine electrician before we finished pressure washing.

If you're in the area and need a marine electrician, I cannot recommend Chris Brignoli highly enough. This guy really knows his stuff! If fact, everyone at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op is just great.

Then we're moved into our location in the yard,

And Set up on Blocks and Supports.

We were placed right in front of the marine supply store, across the street from the Shipwrights Co-op, and

Right Next to This.

The W.N. Ragland, once owned by Neil Young(and maybe now owned again by Neil Young), is an awesome sight. The unvarnished teak of the wheelhouse, deck, stanchions, and handrails is unbelievably beautiful. Below deck looks like some kind of groovy grotto where the party that started in the 60s never ended. It was a thrill for me to be in the yard next to this vessel.

I had seen Ragland on previous visits to Port Townsend. Around two years ago she came through the locks and was moored for a time near Fishermen's Terminal. Rumors were going around that she had been sold and the buyer later reneged on the sale. I don't know the truth except that in April 2010 in the Port Townsend boatyard, she was owned by a boat broker who was in the process of a sale. Later, after purchased, she was dismasted, and, last I heard, she was again in the possession of Neil Young. Boatyard gossip!

Quick and dirty

Since I have no mechanical, electrical, or tool using skills, I do the scraping, sanding, and painting. We ended up painting just the starboard side green paint, the yellow boot stripe on both sides, and the bottom paint. Jerry worked with me part of the time, but also worked on the electrical issues and the rudder. I had originally put together a procedure for top-sides painting as well as the bottom paint procedure you see below. However, on second thought, there are so many variables that must be considered for our quick and dirty method, I really need to publish a complete hub devoted just to this matter. Bottom paint is a lot simpler.

A Bit about Bottom Paint

Some people feel that a wooden boat, kept mostly in fresh water, does not need bottom paint. Bottom paint is designed to stop teredos and other wood damaging organisms from attaching to the hull. However, though bottom paint does not stop algae and slime growth, it does retard it.

There are two main types of bottom paint: soft or ablating and hard. To use the newer style paint that dries to a hard surface, we would have to completely strip all old paint off the surface and prime the surface before adding several coats of paint. In addition, it is very expensive and contains even more toxic, dangerous ingredients than ablating paint. However, once hard bottom paint is in place, it is, overall, less labor intensive than soft paint.

After much debate and research we decided to go with the type of bottom paint that has been on Argonaut II since 1922--soft, ablating paint. It is less expensive: we bought navy surplus at about $350 per 5 gallon can. The main toxic ingredient is copper, a heavy metal. This paint can be applied the day you go back into the water because it never really dries completely.

The first time I used bottom paint was 1998, on our first boat. At that time I wore cut-offs, a tank top, and flip-flops. I had sunglasses on, so maybe that qualifies as safety glasses. Now that I've done some research, I wouldn't dream of painting the bottom without safety equipment. This is some nasty, toxic stuff! Yes, safety gear is uncomfortable, awkward, and dorky looking--use it anyway!

Bottom Paint Procedure


2. Gather materials: safety gear, paint, drill motor and stirring attachment, paint roller on long handle.

3. Don safety gear: disposable painting jumpsuit, gloves, waterproof shoes, head covering, safety goggles (not glasses, these need to be closed in all around), and respirator. Don't even bother with a dust mask for this job. A mask does not keep you from breathing volatile, toxic, carcinogenic, organic compounds--such as the fumes from bottom paint.

4. Stir paint. Use an attachment on a drill motor, not a stick. You really need to stir the paint well.

5. Dip your roller in the paint can rather than pouring the paint in a pan. Yep, that's what the pros do. Just dip, try to distribute the paint somewhat evenly on the roller, and roll. Yes, it's extremely messy. That's one of the reasons you're wearing safety gear. Dip and roll, dip and roll--quick and dirty. Use a brush if you have to on areas you can't fit a roller into. I had to use a brush behind the keel cooler.

6. When the boat was picked up by the travel lift, we ran over and painted the bottom of the keel and the areas covered by the supports. That's a common boatyard practice; just be sure the crew knows you're there first.

Now we needed to deal with the electrolysis issue

The rudder was sandblasted and painted with six coats of two different kinds of 2-part epoxies designed to produce an electrical barrier
The rudder was sandblasted and painted with six coats of two different kinds of 2-part epoxies designed to produce an electrical barrier
Then the rudder was coated with bottom paint and new zincs attached
Then the rudder was coated with bottom paint and new zincs attached

Our propeller had been scientifically tested by two boatyard experts and was pronounced sound, though the ends of the blades had thinned out due to the electrolysis. The test? Hit the prop with a mallet and listen for a satisfying, clear pong. Must be a pong, not a ping. All that was needed was to grind down the razor-sharp edges of each blade. The rudder was coated with epoxy as shown above to arrest any further damage. Now we needed to find and stop the cause of the damage.

Chris, the marine electrician, did an electrical survey--going through the boat and "mapping" all electrical wiring. When Argonaut II went back in the water, he also measured any electrical current in the water. It's important to have a certified, experienced marine electrician, experienced in working with wooden boats do this work. The perfectly capable, marine electrician who was mostly experienced with fiber glass boats, looked for our problem earlier in Seattle, and was unable to determine the cause.

Chris, however, found very quickly that the shaft brush was not making good contact. A shaft brush is a spring-loaded electrical connection which connects the current from the shaft to an outside zinc. Without this connection, stray current would destroy our rudder and propeller. Easy fix! Problem solved!

Finally! We're done!

Argonaut II looking good with fresh paint
Argonaut II looking good with fresh paint

Marine survey for insurance? Check

Electrical survey? Check

Electrolysis problem solved? Check

Top-sides green paint completed? Starboard side only. The port side can be done from the dock.

Yellow boot strip painted? Check

Bottom paint completed? Check

New zincs attached? Check

We were done and ready to go home to Seattle. However, the work had taken over two weeks. Normally this type of work wouldn't take us more than a week. What happened?

Port Townsend in the springtime is what happened. The day after we arrived the weather took a turn for the worse. Cold, rainy, and really, really windy. I've been tossed around a bit in a boat on the water but never in a boat on land. The wind blew so hard that at times the boat would shudder and shake. The hull made groaning and creaking noises as it does in rough water. There were several days when no work got done anywhere in the yard. Locals told us this was completely normal for this time of year. We will definitely wait until summer next time we need to haul out.

© 2010 Lee A Barton


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