The Silence of the Desert

Milagros stands in our corner of the boatyard and is an eye-catcher with her conspicuously piebald hull. She has been completely naked for more than 6 weeks now and there seems to be no progress at all looking from a distance. But even though it neither looks nor feels like it, we’re actually making progress. And we pay a visit to the dunes in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Biosphere Reserve “El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar”.

We made it – Picture by Marla

The blisters are history

We have filled numerous drill holes with thickened epoxy, and sanded and fiberglassed countless osmosis blisters. We processed around 8 square yards of fiberglass cloth cut in small rondels in painstaking work. The 26th of March was therefore a day to celebrate. After a tough 3 weeks of almost never-ending blister patching, we finished the fiberglass work. Yeah well, we had finished glassing the osmosis blisters at least. To proceed with the fairing, we first had to close the no longer used thru hulls and reinforce the seam.

Reinforcement of the seam

When Milagros was built 43 years ago, the two halves of the boat were glassed together from the inside, but only puttied together from the outside. The filler in this seam is old and therefore brittle. To prevent water from leaking in there, we filled the cracks with thickened flexible epoxy. Then we reinforced the seam on Marga’s advice with two strips of fiberglass of different widths – one 2 and one 4 inch wide. We initially wanted to cut the two layers out of our 7½ oz cloth ourselves. But after measuring the length of the seam, we figured that we didn’t have enough cloth. Luckily, boatyard dealer Cavu Dave had a 10-yard roll of 4-inch fiberglass tape on offer. Said and done or bought and glassed.

Can you do it alone?

I dared to do some seam glassing on my own for a few hours one day, as Dave was occupied with very important duties. The weekly online playdate with his buddies back in Switzerland was due. Glassing the seam itself required some preparation and coordination as we were handling three different epoxies here. This works pretty well with two people because the difficulty is always having enough, but not too much, of properly mixed epoxy on hand.

A bit sticky

I would say my glassed seams turned out quite passable. But: everything was sticky afterwards – every single utensil. Because to attach the 1-yard-long strip, for example, you have to press it down with your fingers. That means epoxy on the gloves and everywhere afterwards. And the wind tipped over the cup with epoxy and thus the brush handle was epoxied, too. I think you can guess what it was like. Maybe like baking with young children.

We are proud of the result

The reinforced seams looked nice and we patted each other on the shoulders. Well done Pati, well done Dave. Well done. Tap tap tap tap. The three weeks of practice on the blisters paid off. Instructor Cavu Dave and inspector Alegría Mike were happy too. It was good to have a sense of achievement again. But frustration was already lurking around the next corner.

Thru hull repair

Next up were our thru hulls. We did some research about possible options for repairing them. The decision fell on an option in which we used a puck that filled about half the thickness of the hull. The puck should be made of a suitable material. This can be, for example, G10, a high-pressure epoxy resin laminate or COOSA, a polyurethane foam reinforced on both sides with fiberglass. We found something on the boat that looked like G10. Perfect.

Dent theory

When the puck is in place, layers of 1708 fiberglass are laid from the inside. After 24 hours, when the epoxy has hardened, the laminate on the outside is ground back on a 12:1 bevel. The bevelled area is then filled with a few layers of 1708 fiberglass until the hull thickness is built up again. For example: If the hull is 1 inch thick and a ½-inch puck is inserted, then ½-inch of the hull thickness remains. From the edge of the hole, a 6 inches bevel is then ground back, which leads to a bevelled area with a diameter of 14 inches with a hole diameter of 2 inches.

How we wanted to repair our thru hulls

Preparation for work

We numbered and measured all the holes to be closed and prepared the respective pucks with a hole saw. In addition, we removed any residues of the sealant from the old thru hull fittings in and around each individual hole, sanded all of them and cleaned them with acetone. The pucks were also sanded and cleaned with acetone.

For once, no complications

We decided to fix the pucks in the holes with thickened epoxy, and then to immediately glass the three layers from the inside. Also, we only patched up four holes to be able to correct any possible systematic mistake for the remaining holes. In the repairing process, Dave has taken on the role of epoxy mixer and puck inserter on the outside, and I on the inside that of the glasser. At the end of the day, we were satisfied with our result. Therefore, we decided to plug the remaining pucks, too.

It was a bit of a hassle to directly glass over the puck, as Dave had to press against it from the outside to prevent air bubbles between puck and fiberglass. Consequently, we sealed the holes from the inside with duct tape before we plugged them. This way we made sure that the pucks were glued flush with the inside of the hull while drying. And then we could continue with the glassing the following day.

Too soon, too soon

The next day, for a test, we ground back the 12:1 bevel on two holes. And somehow one of the dents seemed pretty steep to us. So, we asked inspector Alegría Mike for advice. He agreed that this particular area needed a bit more grinding. And he also found that the supposedly suitable puck material was not at all suitable. Oops. So, a whole day’s work was gone. All pucks had to come out again! The hole saw did that job and we were back to zero. So, a camping trip in the desert for Dogfish Marga‘s birthday came in handy.

A camping trip

The trip to the dunes was planned for the Easter weekend. Getting out of town was much needed because all hell is let loose here during Semana Santa. On Good Friday, for example, there was a traffic jam around the boatyard until late in the evening. The party took place in and on the cars and everyone wanted to drive through the tourist streets next door. The party mile was packed with people and the music in the bars was turned up. Since we only had incomplete camping equipment on hand, we borrowed a tent and sleeping bag from other Cabralians and took the mattresses from our forward cabin with us.

A little detour

Together with Dave and Marla from SV Cavu we drove to the campsite about 35 km away and stocked up on the essentials (water and beer) on the way. We also made a little detour to Autozone. SV Alegría’s van got stuck in the sand and they needed a tow rope. After all we didn’t buy one, as one of the pickups trucks arriving later was equipped with it. But we took the opportunity anyway and bought Loctite, a metal adhesive for screw locking. I mean, why not? When we got to the campsite, we were pleased to find that we were alone on the campsite. No other people, just us 12 sailors and 3 dogs. So, we could set up our camp as we pleased.

Salvation is near

The sun beat down relentlessly from the sky. Everyone huddled in the shade of the easy-up, except Mike, because he had to shovel free the rear tires of the van. When Jo and Barry from SV Boomerang arrived with their pickup truck, the rescue mission could begin. This dragged on because, among other things, the tow rope broke and a park guard wanted to collect the camping fees. With our combined forces we finally managed to free the van.

The rescue – Picture by SV Boomerang

The dunes of El Pinacate

El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar is the largest area of active dunes in North America. For the evening a small sunset hike to these same dunes was planned. From the campsite you could follow a signposted path around 3 km through the desert and at the end climb the dunes. We left about an hour before sunset and enjoyed the tranquillity of the desert. The many different colours and the play of shadows were wonderful. Unfortunately, we had to hurry towards the end of the path because it took us longer than expected. Sunset was at 6:54 p.m. and by then we had to be up on the dunes. Most of us made it in time – Alegría Mike just saw the last 3 seconds of sunlight.

It was worth it

The view was gigantic. On one side dunes as far as the eye could see. On the other side the lava fields and the Sierra Pinacate. You could also see the Sea of Cortez on the horizon. Unfortunately, we had to start the way back far too early because it got dark pretty quickly. We covered the last part of the way in almost complete darkness. We ended the evening with a barbecue and sitting around the fire. Emma and Daniel from SV Indy even unpacked their ukuleles and sang for us.

Back to life

It was really good to “hear” real silence again – Puerto Peñasco is really noisy. We would definitely like to go to the desert again, preferably for a sunrise hike. However, since the gate to the dunes only opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. in the evening, we would have to plan an overnight stay at the campsite. We will see. But for us it was time to get back to work. Our open thru hull holes were waiting for us …

Now that was a hot blog post, wasn’t it? We’re a bit dried out from the desert! You can buy us an ice cold beverage by clicking the button below (no account needed!) or heading over to our Patreon! Thank you very much!

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