A week in the yard, going well

It’s been a busy week here at Svendsen’s, the bulk of the heavy lifting is done, and now I’m at the other end of the project – waiting for the sun to warm up the air sufficiently to continue rolling on bottom paint and roll-and-tip the transom paint.

The blister repairs have proceeded normally, grind out with Dremel, tape off the divot, apply fairing, sand with the roloc to knock down the fairing compound, remove tape, and then the remaining small square of fairing is quickly brought down to be fair with the hull using the Makita random orbital sander.


Blister divots ground through to the underlying polyester fairing compound, then surrounded with 3M green tape. The tape minimizes final sanding as the only part I want to sand is the divot repair, not the surrounding hard epoxy bottom paint.

One approach to fairing in the divots is to smear the epoxy and microballoons fairing compound over the divot with a putty knife, as this saves all the time it takes to put on and take off the one and a half rolls of green tape I went through when applying the masking.  The downside of not taping the holes is there is a lot more sanding to do to get the hull shape back to what it was before the fairing was applied.  As Joakim pointed out to me a long time ago, it’s much easier to put on and take off tape than it is to sand.


More green squares on the port side of the keel…


And finally all the little green squares are in place, ready for fairing to be squashed into the divots.

After the tape is on it’s an easy job to use a 1″ putty knife to press in the epoxy and microballoons, then wait 12 hours for the material to harden.  The tape also handles issues with shrinkage – the fairing is a plastic and shrinks slightly as part of the curing process.  It’s no fun to lay down the fairing flush with the hull surface only to have all the repairs then dishpan and shrink to be no longer flush with the hull (if that happens, you get to apply fairing twice and wait another 12 hours).  Fairing flush to the tape means that when the tape comes off your repair is slightly proud of the hull and ready for sanding.


Spooge applied (no need for it to be nicely flat, the sander will take care of flatnitude later). The 407 microballoons make the semi-clear epoxy look pinky-red.


Tape removed, leaving little thin squares to be knocked down flush to the hull.

With the blisters well under way, it is time to work on the transom paint.  The paint is Interlux Brightside one-part Polyurethane in Matterhorn White (which has a slightly grey cast to it), it goes on over a two-part epoxy primer that is a paint to work with as the primer is thick with solids.


Third round of fairing in place on the transom and surrounding aft end of the hull. I’ve made lots of modifications to the stern over time, and the paint has protected the underlying fiberglass work from UV degradation.


Final primer in place, it took two coats to fill in the orange peeled surface, and then another day of sanding to work out the brush marks.

For some reason that makes no sense to me, I decided to attempt a roll and tip approach to the primer.  This was a mistake, as the primer goes on super thick and doesn’t like to flow even when thinned as per Interlux’s instructions.  The result was primer with fairly deep brush strokes in it, all of which had to be sanded out.  The final prep surface is supposed to be 220-320 grit paper,  which is getting pretty smooth (much smoother than the initial 100 grit prep for first coats primer, and 150 grit for second coat primer).

There are at least two ways to sand a surface; if you want to change the shape of the surface then you use a hard pad, and the pad will cut down high points and leave low points untouched.  I have lots of those kinds of pads as most of the time one is sanding in order to alter the shape and make it fair.  The other way to sand is when you don’t want to change the surface’s shape, but simply make the entire surface uniformly smooth.  For that, I need a soft foam sanding pad that will follow the contours of the hull and cut into both high and low spots (particularly when dealing with compound curves typical of a boat hull).  Svendsen’s had the perfect kind of pad for this (they would, as they specialize in sanding boat hulls), but they did not have any 220 grit gold sticky-back 3M paper in stock… and then they found a roll of 240 grit, which worked fine except that it takes even longer to sand sound brush marks in primer when each swipe of the sanding pad is taking off a really really thin amount of paint… so I sanded for five hours and got out the brush marks.  Note to self: next time, do not tip off the rolled on primer.


Apply this…


Mixed with 15% of this…


And you get this. First coat on, two more to follow.

The application method for the paint was a 4 inch foam hot dog roller, thin to 15% (manufacturer says no more than 10%,  I can’t get the paint to flow at 10%), roller on a thin coat in a vertical strip about two roller widths wide, use a 3″ foam brush to tip the paint horizontally and knock down the air bubbles from the roller, and move quickly.  The polyurethane paint skins in less than a minute and you have to a) knock down the bubbles and b) get the adjacent strip of paint on.  Goes pretty fast, and came out much better than the older paint.

And now I’m waiting for it to get warm enough to apply the second coat of polyurethane to the transom, and continue with bottom paint.  Tomorrow Tim is going to suspend Beetle in the travel lift slings overnight and that’s when I can work on the areas of the hull where the cradle pads are, and also the bottom of the keel.  So it’s going to be a fun day, no sanding, only painting!

– rob


In the yard, Day 2

It’s kind of funny to be living in a tree-boat, way up high above the ground.  Conveniently the yard has real stairways that roll around, much like steps one would roll up to an airplane, only these steps are industrial metal things with lots of foam padding and duct tape all over them so they don’t hurt boats if they accidentally get banged into one while being pushed around the yard.

It’s was a good day, got through my project list and Beetle is looking better – well, mostly, though actually the boat looks less good as I’ve been grinding out and opening blisters at the moment the hull looks a bit like having chicken pox.  The blisters form when water is drawn into the hull laminate or fairing, particularly in places where polyester resins were used, air gaps exist (as in the laminate was not thoroughly wet out with resin), or fairing compound has absorbed water.  The water reacts with phthallic acid in the polyester resins, forming acetic acid – and this in turn creates a pressure bubble beneath the hard epoxy paint that creates a physical blister that pokes out.  The blister is the clue that all is not well beneath the paint.

The boat originally was entirely blistered (when I purchased it), and the best fix available was to sand away the entire gel coat below the waterline, let the boat dry at Nelson’s yard while I worked on the hull for several months, and apply a high-solids epoxy paint barrier coat to the hull, and it’s over that barrier coat that the bottom paint goes.  So far there have been varying numbers of small blisters that need to be ‘fixed’ at each haulout.  It’s been five years since I’ve worked on the blisters as at the prior haulout in Ensenada I was not allowed to work on the hull and I did not want Baja Naval to do the work.   So no blisters were dealt with then.  This time I can work on the hull and I asked the yard’s bottom sanding guys to sand the bottom down hard and go through the blisters – which they did – and this makes the blisters easily visible as a color variation in the paint (usually with a small white dot in the center). Also removes several layers of built-up epoxy bottom paint from the hull.

Now I’ve gone back over the hull with the Dremel tool and opened up the blisters to inspect the interior.  All except two are blistering in the fairing, and are easily dealt with – grind back to dry material (usually the size of a dime, sometimes a nickel, depth is 1/16″ inch), wipe with acetone, and let sit for a couple of days before filling in the divot with epoxy & fairing compound.

There are two blisters that are more the size of a quarter, and they involve the original polyester fairing compound used to construct the boat, plus the top layer of glass.  These are annoying blisters as they need more time to dry and grinding deeper into the laminate is not something I want to do – so these two will probably reappear at some point in the future!  Things to look forward to.

I also sanded out the transom paint and applied fairing compound around the waterline where there are some dings.


Extra shiny prop and shaft as the sun sets behind the DOER underwater robotics and submarine building behind Beetle.

And lastly, Beetle now has the shiniest propeller in the yard, at least until the next guy polishes up their propeller.  The yard guys like to use fine grit sand paper on a tiny pneumatic sanders and they can clean a prop in 15 minutes – only they also change the shape of blades slightly and leave a rough surface behind; I really don’t like that, as I figure the prop manufacturer spent a lot of time working out the shape of the blade and I don’t want to change that shape, plus perhaps the roughed-surface makes it easier for barnacles to adhere?  I don’t know, I’ll have to ask a barnacle about that.  Instesad I use soft green nylon roloc discs chucked into an electric drill and that’s sufficient to remove barnacles and marine growth without removing the bronze metal.  Takes a while, but it does work, and the metal comes out polished, not sanded.

Today’s plan is to acetone wash the blister divots, place tape around each divot to limit the spread of fairing compound when I fill the blisters, sand the final round of transom fairing, mask the items bolted to the transom, and apply a coat of Interlux 2000E epoxy primer.  This is the same primer I used on the dodger and the dodger paint job came out fairly well, so I’m shooting to duplicate that on the transom.

– rob

Svendsen’s haulout – day 1

Beetle is up on the hard at Svendsen’s Boat Works in Alameda, the plan is to put on fresh bottom paint and re-paint the transom and fared-in section of the topsides aft (the funny white section of the hull at the back).


At the travel lift ways. The brownish material on the transom is the 407 fairing already done in the slip – the 407 and epoxy sands very easily.

The haulout itself went very well, Tim is really good at operating the travel lift and he worked out how to place the rear strap such that it lands between the prop shaft and the watermaker thru-hull clam shell.  The clam shell acts as a scoop to bring in sea water to the watermaker, and the small bronze clam shell isn’t easily removable as it is glued in place.  I installed the clam shell at Baja Naval in Ensenada, and this is the first haulout since them.  Unfortunately I had placed the clam shell in an area that the travel lift slings normally would land, but it worked out there is plenty of room aft of the clam shell and forward of the prop shaft.  Trick I learned on haulout – when the aft sling tightens slightly, have someone at the transmission to make sure the prop shaft spins freely – if the shaft does not spin then you know the strap is bearing on shaft and you need to move the strap.  (Tim never landed the strap on the shaft, so that’s a good thing for the strap and for the prop shaft).


Up and out of the water. Tim is driving the lift and watching for strain on the straps. There are load cells on the slings, and he likes to have the weight evenly balanced between them.


Strap placement for getting the aft sling in the desired position – just aft of the stanchion and half-way to the deck padeye. Conveniently, this keeps the strap off the painted Cicindelidae beetle.

Svendsen’s is where I have always hauled out Beetle over the years I was in Alameda, with the sole exception of Baja Naval, and it is fun to see a lot of familiar faces again.  At this yard the bottom paint is dry-sanded using large dust extractors hooked up to the pneumatic 3M sanders.  The yard requires that they do the sanding (bottom prep), and the fellow got on the job relatively early – so far one half the job is done.


Svendsen’s uses big welded cradles to support the larger boats while on the hard. Jackstands without cradles are used for the smaller boats on the other side of the yard. One does need to be careful when walking around under the boat, as the cradle is something of a tripping hazard – you do not want to fall on one as the steel is not at all forgiving. On the plus side, there is no chance one of the jackstsands will slide and let the boat fall.

There have been a lot of complaints about paying the high cost of yard labor to do simple work such as sanding the hull.  In the past the yard allowed the do-it-yourself boater to wet-sand the hull, as the water would trap dust, turn blue (in my case, as I use blue bottom paint), rain down onto the yard tarmac, turn the area under the boat into a giant blue puddle, and that water would run to drains that were then fed into a large filter and drying system to extract the dust and turn it into hazardous waste cakes to be disposed of.  That was inexpensive for the boat owner, and tended to turn the yard into a multi-coloured pond that would track everywhere as you walked through.

Without the wet-sanding it’s significantly more expensive to do the bottom, but it’s really nice to be here and not track blue paint all over the boat.  I also don’t turn into a Blue-Meanie and I’m not covered head-to-toe in paint .  The yard fellows operating the sanders are quite good, know not to hit the hull with the sander’s edge, and are doing a good job of preparing the surface for repainting.


Lowering Beetle onto the cradle. Tim puts half the boat’s weight onto the keel, then they crank up the jackstand to take the other half. As the jackstands are not adjustable in position (being welded to a common frame), it takes a bit of skill to get move the boat around with the travel lift to have the boat land evenly on the cradle.

I’ve been working on the transom the last couple of days while in the slip, and have two rounds of fairing in place.  With the boat out of the water I spent several hours scrubbing to remove the built-up dead algae under the transom – algae sure is tough stuff, even the yard’s pressure washer wouldn’t remove it.  With the green out of the way I got in with the random orbital sander and 100 grit paper to knock off oxidized paint from the starboard side of the fairing paint, also using the Fein triangular sander to get into narrow corners – that sander is amazing.


End of the first day’s work. The algae is gone, and sanding continues apace.

Today’s plan is knock out the hull blisters on port side, while the yard completes sanding to starboard.  Also to oxalic-acid wash the port side fairing paint, 100 grit sand, and apply epoxy and 407 microballoons to fill in small areas where paint adhesion failed, plus fill in a couple of dings.

All goes well here!

– rob



Out on the Ahbra Franco with Jack

On Friday Jack telephoned, he happens to be the engineer on the 104 foot 414 ton 6,800 horsepower twin Rolls Royce z-drive ship assist tug Ahbra Franco here in San Francisco; they had a short job to do and Jack knows that I have wanted to see his boat for years now – and today was a perfect opportunity to do so – so he called to invite me along to see the run.  So I pedalled over on the bicycle to arrive at the Starlight Marine docks on the Oakland Estuary, arriving early as there was no way the boat would wait for me.

Here’s the picture-story from the afternoon’s run:


Tug Ahbra Franco

This is Jack’s tug, he’s the engineer for Starlight on the boat Ahbra Franco, and I got to ride along for the job. We’re going around to the other side of the terminal and pull a ship off the pier and help rotate it so they can head out. Then we’re going back to the Starlight floating barge dock.  (This image is from Starlight’s Ahbra Franco specification sheet)


Galley to port

The galley is on the main deck level, the door aft to the stern winch deck is to the left in the picture. This is a full-size house-style galley, as the crew of four will live and work on the boat for their two weeks on. The tugs will run continuously if needed, so the crew stays with the boat – don’t plan on going home for the evening!


Jack serves up root beer soda

Looking forward from the galley is the passageway forward to stairs going down to the engine room and up to the bridge. Jack is standing directly on top of the engine room. The wood column is a wire raceway from the engine room up to the bridge.


The everything table

If you turn around from the galley you’re at the table. There are four people to run the boat, and this is the table where you eat, do paperwork, sign in the guest log – it’s a popular place.


Pantry to port

Adjacent to the galley is the ship’s pantry, squeezed in beneath the stairs leading up to the bridge. There are a lot of low overheads on the boat, and they are wrapped in pipe insulation to protect your head as one moves about the tug.


Stairs down to engine level

The stairs are steep compared to house stairs, not quite a ladder but close. These are the stairs down to the engine level, and also the cabins.


Jack’s cabin

At the stairway landing are doors to the cabins. Jack’s cabin is directly forward; turn around and there’s a big metal sound-proofed door into the engine room.


Looking back up the stairs

Looking back up the stairs you can see it’s low clearance. The engine room door is to the right.


Jack’s cabin

The cabins are shared between crew; Jack has this cabin for two weeks, and then he’s off duty and his replacement uses it for two weeks – so normally only one of the double-bunks is in use. As the engineer, all of the equipment manuals are on the shelves above his desk.


Jack’s bunks

Turn around in the cabin and there are the bunks. Right now Jack’s gear is in his small black duffel, as he’s headed off the boat and home the next day.


Into the engine room

To get ear muffs we had to go back to the galley (they were at the table). Stepping outside aft thru the big locking metal door we’re on the aft deck, turn left and there’s a stairwell down to the engine room. Lots of metal everywhere, do not fall down the steps!


Cat C-175 engine

This is the starboard Caterpillar C-175 engine; it’s 16 cylinders, weighs in at 28,000 pounds, and generates 3,400 horsepower. Jack mentioned the engine has to get up to 140 degrees internal temperature before you can put it in gear, and with 300 gallons of lubricating oil running through it that temperature rise takes about 30 minutes at idle – so the engines are fired up well before the boat is needed on a job.


Engine in beta test

These engines are new to use on tug boats, and the boat is sending engine data back to Caterpillar in real time through a wireless modem hooked up to all the motor instrumentation. As an example, each injector has a sensor and if anything reads out-of-band an alarm is sounded (quite surprising when you’re on the bridge and the siren goes off) – so they are still working out the kinks.


Fuel flow manifold

There are diesel fuel tanks all over the boat, some 70,000 gallons in total. Jack figured we’d burn 400 gallons on our 3 hour job. They had just taken on 18,000 gallons of fuel earlier and that new fuel was being polished through a set of filters before being placed into the main reservoir tanks (the day tank that actually feeds the engines is 1600 gallons). The fire hose pump is to the left in the photo.


Closeup of the fuel polishing

There’s a lot of piping to move fuel around, and gauges and pumps to move the fuel through filters. One of Jack’s jobs is to keep track of it all – lots of data logging going on in this engine room; every filter change is logged, fuel flow is logged, most things are logged for reference and determining preventative maintenance schedules.


Fire pump setup

This tug is also used for offshore rescue and recovery work – Jack mentioned one job took the boat out 500 miles off the coast to drag somebody back in. The boat carries fire nozzles, one each front and back, and this 250 hp engine powers the circular pump that pushes sea water through to the nozzles.


How to start the fire pump

And just in case you weren’t certain how to start up the pump, there’s a handy sign right there!


Electrical cabinet

The ship runs on generators, not batteries, and to that end there is always a generator running (there are two to choose from). The power is managed in these grey cabinets.


The big generator

Here’s the big open AC generator for tug power. it’s fairly noisy, so Jack prefers to run the quieter generator in the sound-proof box set aft between the main propulsion motors.


The sound-proofed generator

Here’s the generator they prefer to run while at the dock. With this generator running and the doors closed, you can’t even hear that it’s running while upstairs watching a movie on the big screen TV.


Headed back to the propulsion room

Jack is opening the bulkhead door aft to the Z-drive propulsion room. The port side engine shaft alley is visible to the right as the square shiny metal box. The engine shaft rises up above the motor and connects to the ‘Z’ drive located under the aft deck. The engine room uses a CO2 fire suppression system, big tanks of carbon dioxide that floods the area, displacing the oxygen. The tanks are fired from the pilot house and are only fire when all dampers and ventilation is sealed and everybody is out of the engine room.


Port ‘Z’ drive

Now we’re crouched down under the aft deck, where the tops of the ‘Z’ drives are located. The drive shaft goes through a 90 degree gear box and down to the propeller, while simultaneously spinning very large drive belts that power the hydraulic azimuthing pumps through the black hoses. Spare parts are stored outboard in cardboard boxes set on the shelves behind the ‘Z’ drives (a set of spares for each drive).


Starboard ‘Z’ drive

And the other drive. The props are 9 feet in diameter, and have their own 90 degree gear box located under the boat. The props are housed in a metal cylinder or cowling and can be independently rotated 360 degrees, allowing the tug to drive off in any direction, including sideways, at full speed.


Overview of the ‘Z’ drive space

Looking aft from the door into the ‘Z’ drive room, the drives are set port and starboard behind each propulsion engine, the shafts enter and connect to the drives. The place is kept really clean.


Back to the engine room

Now we’re back in the engine room, having just closed the ‘Z’ drive door behind us.


The engineer’s station

Jack is going over to the engineer’s station located in the center of the engine room to check on how things are going with the motors. They have been running for 20 minutes now and are still not quite up to temperature.


Fuel log on the white board

A running log of fuel in each tank is maintained on the little white board. If there’s anything you don’t want to do on a tug, that would be running out of fuel. It’s not like one could run to the gas station and fetch another 5 gallon tin of diesel.


Up on the bridge

This is where all that power is controlled from. Jack’s in the captain’s chair, with the ‘Z’ drive controls located port and starboard. There is no wheel, as there is no rudder; instead, the engine throttle is controlled by the thumb pushing the lever forward or backward, and the propellers angle (azimuth) is controlled by rotating the control.


Microphones all over the place

There are three VHF radios on the bridge, and the captain has microphones suspended above him so he can keep his hands on the engine controls while talking on the radio. There are push-to-talk buttons set on the table right next to the azimuth joy-stick, so he can hit the button with his thumb and lean over towards the microphone for the radio he wants to use.


I got to sit in the chair

I was invited to try out the chair, and was darn careful to not touch anything. The engines are running, though the ‘Z’ drives have not been engaged yet. There is a clutch to the drives, and engaging the clutch is hard on the ‘Z’ drives – they find sheared bits of metal in the ‘Z’ drive cooling oil. So once the drives are engaged they are left engaged until the engines are shut down. To ‘stop’, all one does is point each drive outboard, engage the autopilot, and the boat will simply hover in place.


Lots to look at when operating the boat

There are lots of controls for the tug – forward winch is managed from starboard panel, aft winch from port side , all the engine data is brought up, radars, chart plotters, paper charts, wind speed and direction, depth, and perhaps the most important control – forward winch strain gauge so you can tell how hard you’re pulling.


Overhead panels with buttons as well

There are even more switch and breaker panels located overhead, for things like lighting. Spot light controls are overhead as well, plus an extra VHF radio.


The ‘office’

Behind the captain’s chair is another chair and the ‘office’ with the tug computer and chart table, and the boat’s intercom phone. The bridge stairs are to the left in the photo, and when the tug is operating we stand to the left and right behind the captain so we don’t block his view.


Aft deck winch

Looking aft is the rear deck winch and engine dry stack exhausts. This boat as air conditioning and fresh air is drawn into the boat from aft of the pilot house. The slightly smaller Z-Three Starlight tug is tied up just behind us.


Aft deck view without the fisheye lens

A more normal picture of the Starlight tug boat base. I’ve gone past this dock hundreds of times with Tiger Beetle, and it’s fun to see what it looks like from the tug boat’s perspective. We’re 35 feet in the air in the bridge, which provides a completely different view than when 6 feet off the water in Beetle.


Waiting for the engines to warm up

So we’re hanging out, waiting for the engines to come up to temperature. There are four people on the boat for today’s short run. With this boat two captain’s are required to be on board, plus the deck hand/mate to handle the tow line, and the engineer (Jack) to manage the engines.



And now we’re underway, off the dock, and being up in the pilot house is much like being in an office space – it’s quiet, pleasantly warm with the heating/cooling running, and we motor slowly out the Oakland Estuary past the shipping traffic and activity. Our job is in the outer harbor, to pull a ship off the dock and spin it around so they can head to sea.


Cap Palliser being docked

We pass two tugs moving the container ship Cap Palliser into position on the dock. The ship’s now plug-in to the dock when in port, so they do not run their engines. This means the ships have to be placed just-so in order for the power cables to reach shore-power. Jack mentioned that some times they need to adjust ship positions by one foot to get the power cables to reach.



Starlight’s Z-Four working

This is Z-Four, one of the Starlight boats, working away on Cap Palliser. They are working the bow, we will be working the stern when we get to our ship around the other side of the port.


Powering along

The wake thrown by the tug is very turbulent compared to what I’m used to from Beetle’s motor. We’re spinning two enormous 9 foot diameter propellers down there, and even at low RPM they move an amazing amount of water.


Dave at the helm

When moving, most everybody hangs out on the bridge. Dave is the captain, Rich to the right is the mate and will handle the tow line, and we have two maritime academy students on board to observe. Dave has his hands firmly planted on the ‘Z’ drive controls as we power up the estuary.


San Francisco to port

Rounding the end of the terminal is San Francisco. It’s a grey overcast day and is due to rain tonight. The wind is up, 20 knots or so, and the bar pilot on board the ship has called in a third tug for the move, as he’s concerned about the ship’s windage pushing him over to the shallow mud that the ship needs to negotiate.


Telling stories

There’s not much to do while driving along, the ship is quiet and we’re just tooling along. A great time to talk story. Jack flies out home tomorrow, Dave is looking for a place to have horses, and lots of tug boat goofs are brought up as there are guests on board (like me) that haven’t heard them before.


Our ship is beyond Ever Charming

This is the outer harbor, our ship Mol Competence is aft of Ever Charming and facing the shore (so they did not spin Competence when bringing the boat in to the pier). The mud flats are close by off to the left in the picture.


Getting close

When we get close to things Dave pays a lot of attention to what’s going on around him. The tug is enormously powerful, so it’s relatively easy to break stuff – such as the pier’s concrete that isn’t designed to handle a tug boat pushing hard on it. He does not like to break things.


High resolution radar

The radar display is mounted outboard of the captain’s left knee where it is easy to glance down and see. The resolution is fantastic when zoomed in like this, he can spot every post and pole and marker in the water. We’re in the center of the display, and that’s a portion of the Bay Bridge to the left.


Hanging out for a bit

Tug Z-Five is already on station when we arrive, and we join up to wait for the ship’s bar pilot to be ready for us. To hang out Dave presses the bow up against one of the rubberized fenders bolted to the concrete pier, points the azimuths outboard and slight aft, leaves the engines in idle, and turns on the autopilot. The boat will hang like this for as long as we want, and we don’t have to risk damage to the ‘Z’ drives by disengaging them. The motors are so quiet you don’t really notice them.


That’s our ship job

Beyond Z-Five is the blue-hulled Mol Competence. They are departing and we’re here to help them out.


Tug no. 3 arrives

Here comes Tug no. 3 to help with the job. Normally only two are used, except this time the wind is up higher than the bar pilot would like. This tug is from AmNav. The tug boat companies share jobs as needed to keep the ships moving, so two tug companies are involved in this move.


Hooking up

We’re the stern tug on this move. The ship’s crew are on the machinery deck, preparing to take our tow line through the chock and to a towing bitt. We’re told via radio that bitt is rated for 74 tons – so Dave notes that down and has to be certain he does not exceed it. He mentions that the older ships are often not equipped to take the strains the newer tugs can deliver. It used to be that 40 tons was all the tug could do, then 50 came along, and now this tug can pull 90. So we watch the strain gauge to make sure we don’t go over 74 tons.


The chock we’re pulling through

The chock is the big, strong (we hope), metal oval welded or bolted to the ship’s deck. The load on the chock can be twice what the load is on the bitt if we pull sideways on the ship. The fellows on the ship are wearing hard hats and ear plugs and safety harnesses and high visibility overalls.


Rich on deck sending up the monkey’s fist

Rich puts on his hard hat and life jacket and heads out to the bow, ready to toss the monkey’s fist up to the ship. The tow line is 4″ diameter spectra and while way lighter than a steel tow line, is way too heavy for a person to throw. The ship crew will pass the monkey’s fist through the chock, and then three of them working together will pull the tow line up and drop the spliced eye over the bitt.


Pulling the monkey’s fist through


Hook up complete


Backing around to the side of the ship

With our line attached, Dave starts to free-spool the forward winch and we back out and around the ship, to set up on the port aft quarter. When going backwards you have to look behind you, and there’s Z-Five moving past us.


Waiting for the bar pilot

Now that we’re connected for the pull, we shift around to the aft quarter and wait for the bar pilot to be ready, perhaps twenty minutes are spent hanging out and telling more stories.


All lined up and ready to go

The two bow tugs are set as well, we’re all pressing up against the ship and holding position. When the bar pilot wants to pull in their dock lines he asks all of the tugs to push ahead low and keep the ship pressed up against the dock. We’re now starting to work.


Pulling off the dock

The first part of the job is to pull the ship off the dock. We’re in a direct pull, with the tow line running straight out from the deck winch, through the ‘U’-shaped staple, and up to the ship’s chock and bitt. Dave listens to the bar pilot’s call on the radio, and he wants everyone to pull straight off the dock.


Coming off the dock

Dave is keeping a strain on the tow line and we’re moving the ship. Our tug is significantly stronger than the two on the bow, so we’re told to not pull as hard in order to keep the ship parallel to the dock as the ship comes out sideways. The bar pilot has spotters fore and aft on the ship to radio positions to the pilot, and the pilot then radios to the tugs on what he wants the tugs to do.


Swinging to pull to starboard

Now that the ship is clear of the dock, the next job is to spin the ship 180 degrees to get the bow pointed towards the bay. We swing sideways and start to pull the stern around to starboard. There’s relatively little room to do this, so Rich is looking out the back of the tug to watch clearance behind us. Of the two tugs at the bow, one is pulling and one is pushing. The bar pilot wants the boat to swing fast before the wind catches it, and asks us to come up to half power.




Watching the strain gauge

Now we start watching our strain gauge. Even with engines at half power there is almost no shaking or movement on the tug, we’re just pulling and there’s no sense we’re pulling hard. So we look at the gauge and it’s already at 34 tons. Dave checks his notes and asks Rich to not let him get over 74 tons, as the bitt might fail at that point.


Pulling harder

Now we’re up to 3/4 power and you can finally feel the engines running two decks down on the tug. Jack has gone down to the engine room to keep an eye on things, leaving Rich and Dave on the bridge. (and the backup captain on the tug is down stairs watching TV – he’s seen all this a lot and would rather watch the news).


And pulling harder still

Now we’re getting to loads where Dave gets interested. The max load I saw was 61 tons on the line, the picture shows 51 tons on the gauge, and we’re rumbling a little. We’re still pulling in line with the tow, minimizing load on the staple.



Bow tug working

Then we swing off to the side and go into an indirect pull where we have the tug pointed forward, with the tow line off at 90 degrees to port, and engines opened up to keep strain on the tow line. From here we can see one of the bow tugs, with mast down, pushing on the bow of the ship to swing the bow through. The tugs have to be careful about aerial clearance when working under the ship, as it is possible to get wedged in under the overhanging ship and crunch the mast and bridge – not a good thing to do.


Following the ship out

With the ship rotated, we’re asked to follow along while still attached. The concern is that we’re going to pass alongside the Evergreen ship tied to the pier, and the passing of our ship can suck Evergreen off the dock, so we have to go by very slowly. At slow speeds the Mol Competence has little steerage way, so the tugs are retained to help steer the ship.


The ship’s wake is large, too

The ship’s engine is turned on, and these are direct drive ships – there is no transmission, when the motor starts the propeller turns. The propeller is huge and throws a large, uneven wake at slow speeds. Dave prefers to not get caught up in their wake as it makes his tug difficult to steer. Much easier if you hang slightly off to one side.



A spotter on the starboard mechanical deck

One of the ship’s spotters come over to the starboard mechanical deck door to check on the ship’s position, and radios that information back to the bar pilot. We’re doing fine now, just going slowly and holding the ship in the desired pathway between the mud shoal to starboard and the Evergreen ship to port.


Holding our indirect tow position

We’re still holding off in an indirect tow position, mostly to keep the tug out of the confused water thrown by the ship’s own propeller – which is turning now and pushing the ship forward. The bow tug is holding position, motoring backwards.


Lining up to recover our tow line


Ready to cast off the stern tow line

The bar pilot no longer needs the stern tug, so the ship’s aft crew prepares to drop the tow line back to us. There’s a another group of the ship’s crew up at the bow preparing to do the same thing.



Bringing in the tow

Dave pushes up against the ship’s transom and Rich goes back out on the forward winch deck to recover the tow line. The ship’s crew lifts the eye off the bit and lowers the line back to Rich, and we’re clear of the ship. Rich then carefully lays out the tow line and coils up the monkey’s fist so it’s ready to go. Their next scheduled job is at 4AM in the morning, though other jobs may pop up unexpectedly.




Headed home

The Mol Competence is headed for sea, we turn and head down the Oakland Estuary for our dock. The whole process took 3-1/2 hours start to finish. The tug will tie up for the night, with Dave, Jack, and Rich sleeping and living on the boat for their two weeks on with Starlight.

French Polynesia long stay visa


French Polynesia civil flag.  I’m not yet certain if I’m supposed to fly the French national flag or the French Polynesia civil flag as the courtesy flag.  Things to find out…

Part of next year’s cruising plan is to spend time in French Polynesia; most travelers will arrive by air, be in the islands for some weeks, then fly home.  It’s a bit different for slow-moving Beetles that take 3 weeks just to get there.  If I simply appear out of the blue I can obtain a 90 day visa, which is kinda short (but not a show-stopper) at Beetle-speeds.  France has a long-stay visa, which essentially allows one to be in the country (in this case French Polynesia) for up to a year.  You can’t apply for a long-stay visa upon arrival, instead the preparation must be done in advance.  So I’ve been preparing.


The French national flag and civil ensign.  French Polynesia is an ‘overseas collectivity’ of France, somewhat similar to Guam being a US ‘organized territory’.

The paperwork isn’t all that involved, though it is specific: select the French Consulate that serves the area in which you live that also handles long-stay visa  (in my case, the French Consulate in San Francisco covers Washington state), and collect the paperwork:

a passport.  I got a new one from the State Department as mine would have expired before the end of the year in French Polynesia, which is a no-no.

obtain a letter of good conduct from the local police department.  Sheriff Ron Krebs wrote one for me, the letter arrived here in California a week later.

obtain a letter from my health insurance company stating I have health insurance while in French Polynesia. This letter arrived in five minutes – they must write a lot of those.

write a letter that I will not engage in any paid activity while in French Polynesia.  Oddly enough it doesn’t say that one cannot work,  but rather that you can’t be paid.

bank account statements demonstrating sufficient funds to not starve whilst in-country.

receipts demonstrating that I have made living arrangements; this was something of a stumper to me as I will be staying on my boat and don’t need reservations to do so.  I read about this on another person’s log of their experiences and they presented the boat’s US Coast Guard documentation to demonstrate that they in fact had a boat – so I did the same for Beetle.

plus fill out several copies of the visa application form, get passport photos (the local FedEx shop prepared the photos for me), and make lots of copies of everything.

The kicker is that all this needs to be translated into French, of which I know essentially none.  Luckily I discovered that not only does friend Brigette know French, she is French.  Brigitte spent an evening translating my letters into the desired language and sent them back to me, and I now have an assembled packet a 1/4″ thick to deliver to the French Consulate in San Francisco.  At which time the Consulate will send everything on to Tahiti for approval (I hope they will approve this).

Apparently the Consulate used to be first-come first-served for visas and therefore had something of a reputation for being a zoo in the visa section.  However, turns out that today one makes an appointment for a specific date/time (Tuesday morning, in my case) to appear and present the application – so no long lines anywhere in sight.


The buses are clean, quick, and the drivers are super nice as regards answering the usual question of, “Does this bus go to where I need to get to?”

Tuesday morning I headed out with my backpack full of papers.  First stop – catch the bus to Oakland’s BART station, ride the BART train under the bay to San Francisco, and find the French Consulate.  For $5 you  can get an all-day bus pass, which is much more fun than constantly stuffing $1 bills into the ticket dispensing machine that’s on board next to the driver.

BART is the local metro light rail transport system for the Bay Area, and runs on tracks above ground, through tracks in tunnels below ground, and even in a tube/tunnel drilled under the bay between Oakland and San Francisco.


Here comes the BART train in an underground station.  The yellow rubber strip is where you’re not supposed to be when the train comes in, and green mat with the foot marks indicates where to stand so you’re in front of the doors when they open.

The train makes a ‘boop boop’ noise with its horn when entering the station, and the train pushes a lot of air ahead of it when running through a tunnel – hold on to your hat when a train comes zooming in.


The trains can have at least 10 cars hooked together, and still look to be in good shape after 44 years of running, thought I do not know if these might be the original cars.


There are maps on the wall inside the train telling you the name of the various stops.  I’m going to Montgomery in San Francisco.



A fair bit of seating inside, plus grab rails overhead.

And then the train goes Boop Boop and I was at the Montgomery Station, on one of the main drags in San Francisco, Market Street.  The French Consulate is somewhere in a building up the block, so I went there to make sure I had the correct place and find out where in the building they are.


Somewhere in here is the French Consulate – you’re job: Find It!  (hint – try the 6th floor on the left…)

It was a short wait at the Consulate, there were only two people waiting for help (myself and one other person), and then it was 15 minutes with a most pleasant fellow on the other side of the bullet-proof glass as we went through my paperwork together.  He also decided that my US passport was in error, as the passport said my name was ‘MACF ARLANE’ and he felt it should be ‘MAC FARLANE’.  I suppose if you squint hard enough there is a bit of space between the ‘F’ and ‘A’ on the passport, but you also need a pretty good imagination to see this.  So he corrected my name, printed out my visa payment receipt ($110), and that’s when I realized he was talking about the letter spacing and it dawned on me that this would screw everything up if the names didn’t match up… so I handed over my Washington driver’s license and that’s when he realized my last name in fact had NO spaces…  At least I’m back to my original name, at least as far as the French are concerned.

And then I was back on the street, back to the boat, experiencing BART and buses again (only in reverse this time).  The packet that was reviewed and assembled by the French Consulate in San Francisco is now sent on to Tahiti, for review there.  The Consulate notes that the process will take 1 to 3 months.  In the meantime I have back my passport (they would prefer to send the original passport to Tahiti, but I pointed out I needed it with me).  Hopefully the Tahiti folks will think it is a fine idea to have Tiger Beetle in their country for a year!

– rob/Beetle



Fleet Week and Baseball

Fleet Week was held last week here in San Francisco Bay, a military parade of ships that later dock and are open to visit, and the air show follows on Friday, with the planes flying again Saturday and Sunday. In the past Beetle has usually been out on one race or another, and therefore I don’t usually get to ever see the air show in its entirety. This time I did not need to be at work on Friday, plus Kristen was available so we took the boat out to see the event.

The parade wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring in that it consisted for three ships: an American amphibious transport dock (USS San Diego), an American guided missile cruiser (USS Mobile Bay), and the USCG cutter Mellon. The Canadians were here too, though I must admit I did not see their ship – the HMCS Calgary; perhaps the Canadians were already in port having a great time before Beetle made it out to the bay.


One half of the Blue Angel sneak pass pilots, banked way over on his side, making a tight turn above the boats – this is on crackling afterburner and really loud when you’re under them – you can smell the jet fuel as they go by.

The air show was very impressive. The planes fly low directly in front of the Golden Gate Yacht Club (and the San Francisco city front), over a ‘box’ in the bay that is devoid of traffic. The folks like us that went out to watch the show are kept at bay by a fence of law enforcement vessels of all shapes and sizes, most running flashing blue or amber lighting, that are stationed around the box perimeter every couple of hundred feet. Given that this was a Friday, the bay was relatively empty – perhaps 5-600 boats? were out, which is a huge improvement over the Saturday/Sunday fly-overs when it can literally look as though a gigantic marina has appeared overnight out in the middle of the bay.

So we hung out on the perimeter, a bit west of Alcatraz Island, under toasty warm sun, little breeze, and a mild flood. Then the show started:


Brand new USCG long range patrol plane, complete with the helicopter for picking folks up from the water.

The US Navy parachute team did its thing from a big slow airplane, with a half-dozen or so people jumping out of the plane and landing on the city front. The USCG appeared with a C27-J surveillance/search and rescue aircraft and two rescue helicopters flying alongside at the wing tips – they did what I think was a man-in-the-water recovery directly in front of the shore, which was on the far side of the ‘box’ from us, so I didn’t see all that much as people are pretty small from that far away.

And then there were two amazing planes that flew: the RCAF Team (Royal Canadian Air Force) and a US F22 Raptor.


The Royal Canadian Air Force was present at Fleet Week, here he is, zooming along above the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was funny to read about the RCAF Team; this seems to consist of a single plane flown by an amazing pilot and he put on the best aerial performance of the day, all by himself! He had that plane (a CF-18 Hornet, sort of the same aircraft the Blue Angles fly) zooming all around the place at low altitude and super noisy. I also suspect we may have seen the entire Canadian Air Force, if he (Captain Ryan Kean) is the RCAF team. I can imagine a phone call to the RCAF – “Is the air force ready to launch?” “Not today, as he’s on vacation and won’t return until Tuesday. But we’ll get the plane fueled up and ready to go for when he gets back.” So I think I saw a lot of the Canadian Air Force – most impressive.


Two of these planes are doing something different…

And then the F22 Raptor performed a single aircraft demonstration of capabilities. The plane is loud loud LOUD what with two engines running on afterburner. Kristen and I put on the ear-muffs, that’s how loud it was. The plane also reminds me a lot of a Common Murre attempting to fly, what with it’s little feets sticking out flat behind them – that’s what the twin horizontal tail/stabilizers remind me of. And we could easily see the flame from the afterburners when the plane was climbing and turning and doing all sorts of fighter jet things.


Neat to see the range of fighter planes, from World War II to the present day – in one fly by.

The neatest part about the Raptor demonstration was when the plane flew out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge and banked left, at which point a small black streak zoomed up and hooked up with the dark grey military jet. The streak turned out to be a P-51 Mustang, which took up position in what appeared to be immediately below the bigger jet and the two of them did a fly-by in formation over the boats, and then separated. I had no idea a P-51 could fly that fast (at 380 knots) or that the Raptor (a Mach 2.2 aircraft) could fly that slowly. Very cool to see.


The F-22 does look like a bird flying with feets splayed back…


The Blue Angels flying impossibly close together.  While you’re watching these four, the other two are off setting up for a sneak pass and go roaring by overhead when you’re not ready…

The Blue Angels were out and doing their diamond formations and sneak passes and having all sorts of fun, the French fliers in the Breitling Team were there, and then it was all over. Almost. The Blue Angels flew away, and that’s usually a signal the air show is over. Boats turned around and headed for home, and I approached on the perimeter enforcement boats and asked if it would be OK to cross the box and he said, “No! – real soon now, but not yet.” That’s weird, I thought, the show’s over, but OK, it’s not 4PM yet so the box must still be in place. We motored along slowly, and then suddenly a gigantic United Airlines Boeing 747 cruised in over the Golden Gate Bridge, dropped down to the water, and flew through the box – no wonder we weren’t allowed in there! After all the noise and afterburners from the military jets the 747 seemed essentially silent. That is one huge plane to see flying along down low across the bay.

So that was Beetle’s air show – mucho fun!


The stadium all lit up at night is an impressive sight.  Even more impressive is the noise the crowd makes when things happen!

And then there’s baseball. The Cubs have not won a World Series in 107 years… and they are in the running to see if they can finally pull off a win and break a most dubious streak. And this week they have been playing against the San Francisco Giants, two games at Chicago’s Wrigley Field (which the Cubs won), followed by two games at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. So of course we gotta go and urge on the Cubs to do well. The neat part about AT&T (formerly Pacbell) Park is that it is built right next to the bay just south of the Bay Bridge – there’s a small cove now deemed ‘McCovey Cove’ that’s a bit shallow for Beetle, but one can anchor out a bit and listen to the game on the radio and when something big happens the deafening roar of the crowd in the park a 1/4 mile away drowns out the radio entirely.


By late night it was chilly out there.  And we were sprayed down the SF Fire Boat that came in for a display just before game time; Beetle was completely drenched…

The game started at 6:30pm, we lasted until the end of the 9th inning which was in a tie, and by the time the 10th inning started we were anchor up and headed back to Alameda – only to find that the Cubs lost to the Giants at 11:30pm in the 13th inning. (On a positive note, the Cubs beat the Giants the next day – so the Cubs continue towards a World Series appearance!).

– rob

Alameda activites

It’s been a busy three weeks since arriving in Alameda, several significant projects have been completed.

First project done was to re-bed the big foredeck hatch; this is the hatch that is used to send sails up and down, and it’s an aluminum/magnesium alloy frame built by Bomar.  The hatch is incredibly expensive, therefore one wants to be really careful when extracting it from the deck as you absolutely do not want to bend it.


The foredeck hatch is 31″ x 31″ with four dogs to hold it closed. This is a wet part of the boat, so having a hatch that seals to the deck is useful if you don’t want a saltwater rainshower belowdecks.

I expected there to be a big long drawn out delicate fight with the adhesive/sealant bedding the hatch to the deck… yet when I pulled out the 20 bolts, the hatch simply lifted up with no pressure at all.  Turns out the old sealant had simply dried up and died, leaving behind nothing to keep the water out.  That was easy!  A couple of tubes of 3M 4200, an hour or two of cleanup using stainless steel dremel wire wheel brushes, and some sanding of the deck to clean off the area the hatch flange sets onto, and everything was back down and in place.  Nice to have a project go well.


The polyurethane adhesive/sealant formed a nice even bond between the hatch flange and the deck.  Lots of tape was used to minimize cleanup of the sealant after it had cured.


The sail locker is directly below the hatch, and being large it’s relatively easy to send sails down through the hole.

Next up are the fuel tanks and Racor filters.  Diesel is an oil and when it gets loose in the boat it tends to behave like an oil – it stains, it sticks, is stinky, and is difficult to get out of wood and cloth.  To that end monkeying around with the fuel system means that first you have to move everything well away from the fuel and surroundings, which in my case means rolling up the aft bunk foam cushion, removing all bedding, and clearing everything out that is adjacent to the aft day tank.


Racor filter setup at the beginning of the clean out.  Transfer filter is on the right, ganged filters on the left, with the fuel transfer pump in the middle.  The valve to the lower left selects port or starboard reservoir tank to pull  fuel from.


Lots of sediment in the filter bowl.  Not so good, but it does means the filter is doing its job – I do not want that sediment to get into the motor.

There are three fuel tanks on board, two large reservoir tanks that are filled via deck fittings (this is where the fuel dock diesel goes in), and that fuel is pumped aft through a 30 micron filter into the day tank located slightly above the engine (gravity will carry fuel to the motor if the electric fuel pump dies).  From the day tank fuel runs through a ganged pair of Racor  500FG filter housings, each with a 2 micron filter that is also supposed to not pass water into the engine (though I hear anecdotally that water can get through).

Out came the Racors, bowls were cleaned, fuel lines blown out with air, the day tank was emptied of diesel (fuel went into the jerry jugs Beetle carries), and finally I can see what might be in the fuel tank – which isn’t much, a variety of small brown dried diesel gunk.  No water, that was good.  My guess is that some of those flakes got wedged in the tank’s fuel line ball valve and that was the problem I experienced coming down the coast from Newport.


It’s a tight squeeze to get at the inspection port on top of the aluminum day tank.


Trying to keep the diesel under control with fuel lines opened up is not easy.

I read up on the Racor filters, and re-routed the fuel lines to have the Reverso fuel transfer pump pull through the 30 micron Racor into the day tank, and when I went to take apart that filter housing realized that it was the 40 year old design 500FE.  Off to Svendsen’s to purchase the 500FG housing, and swapped from a 30 micron filter to the 10 micron filter.  That should trap more debris than before, which might keep the day tank cleaner still.

That took two days to do, as access to the day tank is difficult because it is tucked in aft and up near the cockpit sole – lots of flashlight and mirror activity to look inside the tank while working around the quadrant cables, water maker pumps, deck drain lines, and the engine exhaust – all of that runs right through the space the day tank occupies.


Done.  Bowls clean, new matching Racor installed for filtering fuel into the day tank, and the plumbing is revised to pull through the day tank filter.


The vacuum gauge on the 2 micron ganged filters.  The black mark at 22 inches of Mercury is where the motor ceases to run.

With that done it was time to remove the port and starboard settee/dinette furniture to get at the inspection ports set into the top of the reservoir fuel tanks.  At least these tanks are easy to work on as you can easily sit there and look down inside the tank.  The butyl gaskets are still good, and then there was a most interesting beige sticky paste/film on the bottom of the tanks.  Very sticky, and it required a lot of scrubbing with blue paper towels dipped in diesel to remove the material, which turned out to be asphaltene, which forms as diesel breaks down.  First time I’ve ever had that in the tanks, and I believe that goes back to the bad fuel I got in Humboldt Bay that clogged the 2 micron filters immediately – ran through a lot of those filters on the way north to Newport in 2014, where I was able to put in good diesel.


Port fuel tank is epoxy and fiberglass (I built it on the dock next to the boat), with 2 inspection ports.  It’s easy to work on once the settee bench is removed.


Similar is starboard, the fuel tank is forward, water tank aft.


Asphaltenes inside the fuel tank. The dark area to the left is what came out of the fuel, the clear area to the right is where I have wiped it down to remove the deposits.  Takes a while to make the entire tank clean.

So those are the major projects so far.


A proper cruising boat has a low-cost bicycle hanging out against the lifelines.  Hopefully this one won’t rust too fast.

Beetle also sports a new accoutrement – the bicycle!  Alameda is darn near flat as pancake, and the marina is not near the grocery store, or much of anything else other than Svendsen’s.  So where does one get an inexpensive bike?  By asking friend Joel if he knows where I can get an inexpensive bike, he asks if $80 is considered inexpensive?, I say yes, he says go to my boat and take the bike off the back – it’s yours!  So I have an inexpensive get-around bicycle.  It’s perfect for going to the post office, FedEx, Pagano’s Hardware, the big supermarket, the Outboard Motor Shop…

– rob