Projects: Bowsprit Debacle

At some point this piece will be rewritten and condensed. For now, it will remain the way it appeared on the earlier version of our web site, a reminder of what not to do. What a waste.

With winter hard upon us, the genuinely important projects—i.e., projects that must be completed before Ariel can go back in the water, but are weather dependent: painting the bottom, raising the bootstripe, finishing her nonskid—are on hold. As a result, I’ve turned my attention to the jobs I can do in the frigid temperatures: replumbing the fuel filter set up, replacing a few hoses on the engine, installing a raw water strainer, and, most recently, refurbishing the bowsprit.

Eager to refinish and rebed the bowsprit, as well as address some concerns regarding the integrity of the clevis pin in the lower bobstay chainplate, I finally began the project last Sunday (1.11.04), figuring once the thing was removed I could work on it in the relative comfort of my garage instead of the freezing temperatures under Ariel’s winter cover. So, with Mr. Heater’s portable Buddy, the necessary tools (or so I thought), and a few hours free, I went to work.

Beginning with the bow pulpit, I easily removed the ten retaining bolts, having no trouble at all (fortunately) with the difficulty of working alone on a thru-deck project that generally requires someone below manipulating a wrench while the person above handles a screwdriver. I guess I owe the ease of my success to copious amounts of polysulfide.

The bow pulpit removed, the bobstay was next. Not wanting to disturb the adjustment of the turnbuckle, I was pleased to discover that there was just enough slack to allow the upper clevis pin that ties into the stemhead on the underside of the bowsprit to be tapped out. Tying a line to the turnbuckle, I gently lowered it until it was hanging from the lower bobstay chainplate, climbed down the ladder, and went to work on the badly corroded clevis pin.

The lower clevis pin, pitted and corroded in place from neglect, took a bit more effort to extract. Before I could get a good angle on the cotter pin heads with the pliers, I had to give the clevis a few judicious raps with the hammer to break it loose from the chainplate. Once the pin was loose and rotated, I straightened the cotter pin “tails” and gave a tug. No luck. After wasting more time than I should have with inadequate tools, I quit for the day—clearly a wise choice, my fingers and toes numb, my nose running, and tools scattered about in the snow.

Returning with a better selection of tools—specifically, a Dremel and cut-off wheel—I cut both ends of the cotter pin flush with the clevis and drove the clevis pin out of the fitting. Although the pin doesn’t look nearly as bad as I had expected, it still won’t hurt to replace it. (I imagine I’ll get a new pin from Spartan—if they sell it individually)

Knowing that replacing and matching the teak bungs that cover the eight primary bowsprit retaining bolts (machine screws) will probably be one of the toughest parts of the job—at least in terms of detail—I guess I was eager to find out just how that part of the project was going to go, so rather than first removing the inner-forestay chainplate and staysail boom pedestal, I worked on removing the two forwardmost bungs. Drilling a small hole down to the screw head in the center of one of the bungs, I attempted to lift the bung by threading a screw that—theoretically—should contact the screw head below, gently raising the bung. The approach, great in theory or when applied to a bung that isn’t firmly anchored in a bed of polysulfide, was a bust in this case. I abandoned the approach, drilled a number of holes in the bung, then chiseled it out in chunks. Although not nearly as glamorous, this method was quick and effective.

The bung removed, I scraped away a thin layer of polysulfide and began removing the screw. For some odd reason, the port side screw didn’t have a nut on it like the other retaining screws (the starboard side nut also a mystery—the end of the screw so completely caked in polysulfide it’s invisible). Whether or not the two forwardmost screws thread into the steel plate visible in the forepeak, I don’t know. It could be that the steel plate is tapped—if so, it was a smart move on Cape Dory’s part since that area of the forepeak is nearly impossible to reach.

Moving to the inner-forestay chainplate and staysail boom pedestal, I was fortunate to find that most of the retaining nuts, although caked in polysulfide and paint, were fairly easy to remove, albeit working in the chain locker, one arm in one arm out, my ribs resting on the bulkhead, was far from comfortable. I did, however, resort to heating a couple of the nuts with a propane torch to encourage them to come loose. This worked like a charm, but undoubtedly fried the Nylocs. For one of the screws fastening the staysail boom pedestal I had to clamp a pair of visegrips onto the nut and unscrew it from abovedecks because the screw laid alongside the vertical divider in the chain locker, leaving no room for the nut to thread down its length.

With only six retaining screws remaining, I should have the bowsprit off and in my garage ready for sanding by this weekend.

(1.25.04) The news for today: Anyone contemplating bowsprit removal should think long and hard about just how necessary it is; it's amazing how easy it is to work on something in place when compared to the labor involved in removing it! How naive I was to think that this would be an "easy" project. How optimistic I was in my prediction just a couple of lines above. Live and learn! I've lost two fingers and one toe to frostbite, and I've contributed my share of verbiage to the sailor's repertoire. And I still don't have the dang thing off! I am close, though. I worked on it a bit this morning and managed to get all of the six heavy-duty machine screws to spin freely--and I even managed to completely remove two of them before running out of time--the story of my life! My new goal: remove bowsprit by this evening. (Here's hoping!)

(1.26.04) Guess what! It didn't happen. I removed all of the bolts and prepared to break the bowsprit loose. Not a chance. The polysulfide bed beneath the bowsprit is maintaining a tenacious grip and will not budge. I have a plan, though. Tuesday may be the day(?) - I have to watch the boy this afternoon.

(2.2.04) Thwarted again! So far I've tried a product made by BoatLife called "Release", a heated hacksaw blade, and a short length of cable with PVC handles; and still no luck. I made some progress with the cable, quickly working it back and forth, generating enough friction to heat the cable enough to cut through the polysulfide - ever so slowly. But it wasn't long before my shoulders were jello and I couldn't coordinate my movements anymore. Something has got to give. I've spent far too much time on this already and I have a million and one other things that need doing.

For awhile now, I've been thinking that a foam cutter (or something similar) would do the trick - simply draw a heated element between the bowsprit and the deck, melting away the polysulfide. I'm beginning to think that this may be the only remaining option at this point.

(3.23.04) I can't help but feel rather chagrined about this whole bowsprit episode; I had no idea just how tenacious the bedding compound would be. Sadly, I'm forced to admit defeat. Rather than do irrepairable damage to Ariel in yet more drastic attempts to remove the bowsprit, I've decided to end this project - and my jeremiad about cold hands and tenacious bedding compound - and put things back together with copious amounts of polysulfide. For those who might be wondering how I can quit after going as far as I have, I'll just say it isn't easy. Were it not for the recommendation of people like Larry Knapp, the service manager at Robinhood Marine, and dear old dad, I would probably foolishly march ahead, working on the project long into the sailing season. Fortunately, I have their wisdom and experience reassuring me that I haven't gone so far as to create any serious problems. With that I'll reinstall the bolts and bungs and refinish the thing in place, as I should have done from the very beginning! Lesson learned. I will end by saying that I did make a bow cutter using 18 gauge nichrome wire, which, obviously, didn't do the trick. There was something under the aft end of the bowsprit that the wire kept getting hung up on. But, if anyone is interested in making a wire cutter or in purchasing some nichrome wire, let me know. I'll post pictures of the refinished bowsprit eventually. Right now I just can't face it!

And here are the pictures of the bowsprit "finished." We touched up the sanded spots with Cetol and called it done. To date we haven't had any leaks. All that effort, and for what?! Crazy.

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