It is only when you start to say you are ‘finished’ with refastening one side of the bottom of the boat that you realize the refasteing is a huge job.
Initially, we were quoted $18,000 to have the boat refastened, but ultimately the yard said that they didn’t feel they could even do it, for a vairiety of reasons. That’s another long story (and primarily why we are here in Maine, refitting the boat ourselves) but since I believe that everything is the way it should be, I have no objections to our current situation.
That said, the refastening is a huge job, all the more so because we have addressed it in a way that we feel will buy the boat another 75 years. The issue the yard faced was a simple one: the boat is old (duh!) and things have been redone along the way. We think that she was originally built with #14 fastenings, perhaps even #16s. We have found a few of both, as the project has unfolded.
So the fastest approach to refastening is to simply go up a fastening size. This would be what has been done in the past, and it does work, but we are now the 4th owner, and so we are pulling out #18s. We can’t put in #20s, because there’s only so much wood to the frames. So, the strategy has been to pull the old fastening out, drill out the hole, bung it with a cut piece of oak doweling, put a little epoxy on the dowel, drive the dowel into the hole, let it set overnight, then the next day, drill the dowel to prep it for the new fastening and drive in the new fastening.
Sounds pretty easy when I’m not the one doing it! I can tell you, however, that, aside from the tedium, it is backbreakingly hard physical work, particularly during this unusually warm June and July. There is also no way that, even given an increased budget, we would have been able to convince a yard to have refastened her this way (it probably would have doubled the cost because there are so many additional steps). There is also no way that someone else would have done this as carefully as Henry has. He has been able to extract, intact, almost every screw, which in an of itself is a Hurculean accomplishment. Being able to pull out the old fastening in its entirety is rather crucial to the process, because if there’s still some fastening left in the hole, you simply can’t drive a new one in. The solution for the odd ones which have busted and are irretrievable has been to cover them, and drive a new fastening in beside them, at an angle.
The most daunting issue with the fastenings is simply one of scale. There are literally thousands of them. We have already gone through 2000 fastenings, and Henry still isn’t done with below the waterline. Granted, the vast majority of the hull is below the waterline, but still, this is a long process. For about 2 weeks, he kept telling me, ‘The bottom is done – I just have a few stragglers to finish up’ and then at the end of the day, he would count the fastenings, and he’d have pulled and replaced another 45!
For a change of pace, we have begun replacing the bungs, which, while not as physically demanding as refastening, is still a long process. When we do it together, it does progress much more quickly. Henry lines up the bung, I hammer it in and wipe any excess adhesive off. Yesterday, working together, we were able to put in about 200 new bungs before it was just intolerable in the shed with the heat.
In the meantime, I am trying to find moments when it is something less that 100 degrees up on deck so that I can keep the varnishing and recaulking of the deck moving forward. I am hopeful that I will be able to apply the second coat of varnish to both houses and the cockpit combing at some point this week. The preparation between each coat is what you eventually see in a varnish job, and so I’m trying not to rush into the next coat, but am also anxious to see what Coat #2 will yield. I am assuming I will need about 7-10 coats of varnish, so this will also be a bit of a process. The end result will be wonderful though – having the brightwork in great shape will be simply stunning, and will allow even those with little imagination to be able to see what an extraordinarily beautifuly boat Arabella is!