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We spent our first 6 days in Tonga acclimating ourselves back to boat life, cleaning the bottom, and starting the myriad of small projects we brought the parts for. When we sailed from New Zealand to Tonga, we discovered a few issues that would require us to haul out in Tonga. Thankfully, there’s one boatyard in Tonga, the new The Boat Yard Vava’u in Neiafu.
The Haul Out
The Boat Yard has a fancy new trailer, a Sea-Lift diesel-hydraulic trailer. We approached the ramp at high tide, and the crew got in the water to help guide us onto the trailer. The ramp is on a hill, which is very steep, but Joe and his team did a great job getting us up the hill and settled.
As we made the passage to Tonga, we, unfortunately, found a leak in our port aft head thru-hull. The leak was resulting in saltwater (and probably black water) in the bottom of our bilges. The holding tank was empty and we’ gave it a good cleaning before we left SH in Neiafu. The harbor of Neiafu is flat calm most of the time, so the leak wasn’t too concerning. The thru-hull itself is actually right AT the waterline – just enough that we have to haul out to fix it.
We ordered a replacement thru-hull while we were in the states and brought it back with us. There are several parts to the holding tank system. There is a vertical hose from the deck down to the holding tank. The holding tank is mounted to the hull with a few brackets. There are hoses coming off the sides to the head. From the bottom of the holding tank, there’s another large white hose. This hose connects to the black 90-degree valve, which is screwed into the thru-hull. All this is incredibly tight. There is hardly any wiggle room to separate the system and pull the tank out.
But, we did manage. We took apart everything below the holding tank. This allowed us to inspect the system for clogs. This holding tank frequently gives us trouble, and we found the culprit – a cut out from the original installation, that was dropped into the tank and no one fished it out. For more info see here.
Back at the thru-hull I scraped the wet balsa from around the hole and applied a heat gun to dry it out. Then, we put epoxy in the core, sanded it down to fit the thru-hull, and put a sealant in as we reinstalled the thru-hull. We don’t know why it was leaking really – it must have been the sealant because the thru-hull itself was fine. Fortunately, the core of the Helia is small squares of balsa, each square lined with epoxy. This ensures leaks don’t permeate throughout the hull.
Sail Drive Damage
We got a pleasant little surprise when we went to clean our hull last week. We wanted to scrub off the small amount of growth before we hauled out. David popped into the water to clean off barnacles and noticed that our sacrificial anodes were COMPLETELY GONE. Not only that, but they’d been gone for so long that there was some damage to our sail drives and rope cutters.
To those unaware, all boats have sacrificial anodes on them. Often, they are just called zincs, their primary material. When you have multiple metals underwater, and there is an electrical current in the water (which there always is), the weaker metal deteriorates through electron loss. Zincs are weaker than most metals commonly found on boats (weaker than the aluminum of our sail drives), so they erode away first. Usually, we replace our anodes once a year, and this is something David can do with a bit of free diving, although we typically do it during a haul out. We installed these anodes in Whangarei, so they lasted less than 4 months.
Once they were gone, the aluminum of the sail drives was weaker than the bronze of the propellers or the stainless steel of the shaft. Why did this happen? There are two possibilities. One is that our boat is having an electrical issue, and is producing a stray current. We’ve done some testing with a multimeter and we don’t think that’s the case. The second possibility is that there was a stray current somewhere where we were staying. Unfortunately, we didn’t check our zincs before we left the boat in Neiafu. So, we don’t know if the current was in New Zealand (they are doing construction in the Opua Marina) or in Neiafu (where I don’t really think anyone is paying attention to it).
We took apart our propellers and cleaned everything. The yard applied etching primer and then primer and we added back on our Pettit Vivid antifoul, the same stuff we applied in Whangarei. We had to have the rope cutter repaired, by machining a new post for the fixed blade and welding it on.
When we arrived in Tonga, David did the routine rigging inspection and noticed that one of the wires in our port cap shroud was broken. This is a pretty big deal – the shrouds hold our whole rig up, and should last 10 years. We filed a warranty issue with Fountaine Pajot and they filed with Zspars, the manufacturer. Zspars denied the claim, saying the cap shrouds must have been installed improperly. Fountaine Pajot stepped up to the plate for us though and sent us new shrouds.
The best part was that FP was able to ship our two new shrouds to Hawaii. These were the two boxes we took on the flights with us. The shrouds were actually fairly easy to replace with some minor help from the yard; David up the mast, me working the winch, and two people to guide the shroud up or down to the ground.
We don’t know why this damage happened. David checks the shrouds all the time and makes sure they are tightened to FP specifications. We are very pleased that FP was able to ship to us so quickly.
Main Sail Repair
Before we left Tonga we took our sail off and left it at Vava’u Canvas Repair. Phillip repaired the torn part and we put the sail back on by ourselves. Going on went much better than coming off! Now that we knew what we were doing it was a lot easier. You have to de-tension the shrouds, to allow the mast to flex forward a little bit. Then, using the removable track, you move the cars one by one off the mast, while being careful not to lose any ball bearings.
We lost 3 ball bearings taking the sail off and 1 installing it, but thankfully we’d bought two bags of ball bearings (12 each) while in the states.
Spinnaker Head Block
On the Helia, the top of the headsail rigging is attached via a U-bolt with rivets. In our regular inspecting, we noticed the rivets had corroded away, so we needed to come up with a replacement system. We had a welder here in Neiafu (Friendly Islands Fabrication) construct this piece for us and rivet it to the mast.
Weather in Neiafu
The weather in Neaifu has been pretty tricky. There was allow pressure system crowding out a high-pressure system, causing persistent, dribbling rain and high winds. We had to delay painting the sail drive due to rain. Due to the clouds, our solar panels couldn’t keep up with the fridge and freezer. We had to shut everything off. Once the system passed through, the yard is in the lee of Mount Talau and it was dead calm and HOT.
Thankfully our friend Kjell put us up at his hotel, Mystic Sands. This place is amazing. It’s small and quiet, with just six rental units. Our back porch leads directly to the beach, and there’s an infinity pool, kayaks, snorkel gear, and a palapa. If we don’t leave early for the yard, Kjell arrives around 9 am and sits to chat with us for a little while. And, bonus, it’s just a 10-minute dingy ride to the yard!
Now we’ve been pretty productive. There are still a few things to do around town, but our hope is to launch Tuesday and leave for the Ha’apai group in a few days.
All Haul Outs
- Nanny Cay, BVIs
- Grenada Marine
- Norsand, Whangarei, New Zealand
- The Boat Yard, Vava’u, Tonga
- The Boat Works, Coomera, Australia
- Phithak Shipyard & Services, Satun, Thailand
- G&T Boat Yard, Phuket, Thailand