Surviving The Boatyard—Part 1

"Pelerin" on the road to the boatyard.

The cruising life is a great and generally relaxed one, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few eternal challenges. Undoubtedly, the endless cycle of routine preventative maintenance is one prime example that will certainly try your patience.

Then there’s the hassle factor of stripping the boat down prior to hauling ashore—packing all of her gear away in the sad reflection that the season is over. Dealing with endless lists of needed spare parts and kit for repair, to be delivered to a myriad different service stations, while desperately trying not to miss anything. Then, finally, seeing her suspended in the air as the moment of truth arrives, an experience neither Lou nor I have learned to love—and we know we’re not alone.

This is all bad enough when close to home, in a boatyard you’re familiar with and where you and your boat are a known quantity. Far from home in a foreign country with very different ways and means and with (perhaps) a language barrier, what is merely an unwelcome hassle at home can become a really daunting obstacle.

Having spent a considerable amount of my life in boatyards, both in the UK and many countries abroad, I know from bitter experience that things don’t always go as planned.

Emphatically, this is one area where it really doesn’t do to just leave things to fate and hope for the best. What is needed is good planning and firm resolve to ensure that things will go well.

Assuming that you are planning or even enjoying a long-term cruise and are on an average budget and so carry out at least some of your own maintenance, these two articles are aimed at you, although even our most well-heeled hands-off readers will find something useful here, too.

So in the hope of saving you time, money and tears, here is a simple guide on how to select, manage and (perhaps?) enjoy your stay in the boatyard, wherever it may be.

Homework

Is your visit going to be for just a quick pit stop, or for more of a minor refit? If the former, then a simple web-based check to ensure that the yard facilities can cope with your boat—whether or not the haul-out equipment will be adequate, for example—may be all you’ll need to know.

Websites such as Active Captain and Noonsite often have useful information in the form of first-hand reports from other sailors, but it is wise to check when these were posted, as yards, like any other business, do change hands or management from time to time, with variable results.

We sailed a long way towards an old and reputable yard one summer, emailing them as we went and getting no reply. On the grapevine we heard that this was not unknown, but when we arrived we found that the owner had simply shut up shop some few weeks earlier and the yard was now totally closed—always do your checks well in advance.

Find out what you can expect in advance. The boatyard at Maragogipe has limited lifting facilities!

If you plan to be out of the water for more than a few days and have considerable amounts of work in mind then the list of necessary checks becomes much longer.

It's worth bearing in mind that small yards in out-of-the-way places may not be set up to handle the unique requirements of long-distance yachts and their crews, although, as we shall see later, there are honourable exceptions.

On the other hand, at the main sailing ‘hubs’ of the world where such yachts gather, like the Canary Islands and the Caribbean, yards that cater more specifically for transients like us are more likely to be found. But even then, availability of services can vary wildly as can the quality of work.

So wherever you are, here are a few things to consider:

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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Marc Dacey

I look forward to Part 2 and the advice of “watching the yard crew move or hoist boats” is one I wished I’d known in 2007 when some idiots dropped ours off the trailer.

Colin Speedie

Hi Marc
thankfully such accidents are rare, but it’s true that you can learn an awful lot by going and watching a lift or launch first…
Best wishes
Colin

Drew Frye

Working climbing the mast or working any distance above the deck is almost uniformly forbidden. If you are doing anything that invokes significant sanding or grinding (in some yards any), be prepared to capture all the dust, generally by a combination of vacuum sander and tenting (not fun in the summer, bordering on dangerous). Some will loan or rent simple tools that cruisers don’t carry, like extra extension cords and vacuum sanders–you won’t know until you ask.

Colin Speedie

Hi Drew
so much depends on where you are in the world. A good rule of thumb is that the closer you are to ‘civilization’ (i.e. lawyers?) the more burdensome the yard rules. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, as long as the rules are driven by a real need for safety at that level and not just butt-covering!
Best wishes
Colin

Eric Klem

Hi Drew and Colin,

One thing that it took me a while to learn is that some level of common sense rules can be really helpful even to the most avid DIY’er. There is nothing like trying to work while getting covered in the bottom sanding dust of the next boat over since they are not using a vacuum, being terrified that an owner is going to set your whole yard on fire while doing their own shrinkwrap, worrying that the boat next to you will fall over due to the roller furling sails being left on with approaching wind, etc. For the last 9 years, we have been going to a little yard with almost no rules but there are only about 5 boats in our part of the yard and we all know each other and have agreed upon what is appropriate so it works but I have had plenty of other bad experiences with no-rule yards or ones where there is no enforcement.

Eric

Richard Stevenson

Hi Eric,
We are frequently at a different yard each winter: some more DIY than others. I either observe that boats have roller furl sails up on the hard or I ask. If allowed, I always stipulate to the manager and yard crew that I need to have no boats near me have their rolling furling sails left on. The yard always understands my request and have complied without a problem.
If all boat owners did this, the yards would get the message.
Negligent and/or dis-respectful neighbors in the yard are a harder problem. My pet peeve are those that grind steel and my topsides are mottled with rust dots the next morning in the dew. Sometimes a gentle education helps, but more often the best I get is a begrudging acquiescence, especially as I am not a “local”.
And, thank goodness, I have never come across DIY shrink wrap.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Colin Speedie

Hi Eric, Dick
very god points. I have seen sandblasting carried out that has coated very other boat nearby with absolutely no recourse available. As far as roller headsails are concerned, I’ve noticed (increasingly) that owners who are lifting out for short periods are less likely to drop the headsail than those who are out for long spells – but not always, which is a worrying trend.
Best wishes
Colin

Philip Wilkie

Now I’m feeling really guilty. At the last moment we decided to store the boat on the hard instead of returning it to it’s pen. And guess who’s forgotten to take down his roller foresail. In the middle of a cyclone zone to boot.

Sighs … one more thing to worry about. Hopefully I’ll get back up there in a week or two and put matters right.

Drew Frye

Once I hauled out for assorted painting projects and they put me within ~ 100 feet downwind of the power wash bay. There was lots of other space, but I guess the lift operator did not feel like driving any farther.

I was told I would have to work on weekends, because they didn’t wash on weekends, but then just as I finished painting the deck, some guy showed up with an unscheduled “special.” He said he couldn’t wait, he was in hurry. I said I had wet paint and was told the bay was out of service until Monday. He started to wash again and I said something sufficiently harsh that he stomped off to the yard office. He scowled when he came back but didn’t talk to me.

The best reason to recover dust is courtesy. You never know who may be painting.

Richard Stevenson

Hi Marc and Colin,
You can certainly learn by going and watching a haul/launch of another boat while choosing a yard. When it comes to your boats turn, you can make problems or damage far less likely, in my experience, by being there when any boat movement or work is being done. You can raise the likelihood of good work relationships by being as helpful as the yard crew allows and is comfortable with: this varies yard to yard. For some I have worked alongside, for others, just stood aside or fetched coffee.
This actually goers for all yard work: everything will go better if you are there. I have only experienced one yard where I felt OK with not being present when work was being done.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Colin Speedie

Hi Dick
amen to that – it’s always best too be there if you can, and certainly a helpful attitude iAds the process. But I’ve been in yards where there has certainly been a negative response to owner involvement and it wasn’t pleasant at all. There’s a macho culture in some countries that I could do without!
Best wishes
Colin

Richard Stevenson

Hi Colin,
I have heard of yards that shun owners being around, but have yet to have to deal with one: likely I would move on to another yard if possible.
My favorite yard, when I drove up to check it out, had a sign in the guest parking area which went something like: “Our insurance company had a stipulation that owners were not allowed in any areas where work was being done. We fired that insurance company and hired another. Please visit any work area and ask any questions of our crafts people.” I knew I had found a new home for Alchemy when I read that sign.
I learned a lot looking over shoulders in that yard.
My best, Dick

RDE

Re: Macho culture:

Here is the scene: The 70 foot race boat we’d refurbished in Seattle has just arrived on an ocean going barge in Honolulu harbor. The rest of my crew were delayed in arrival so it’s just me and my right hand man. The boat is loaded crosswise on the end of the barge– which is full of double stacked containers. As the unloading proceeds the problem becomes clear. A two foot swell is running into the harbor that is designed to be protected in the winter, so the barge is rising and falling relative to the dock. A large crane is booming out to reach all the containers and basically just jerking them off the barge. Our boat is on a welded steel cradle that had taken it all over the world and was many times stronger than the boat bottom. When we are ready to unload I get a bow and stern line on board which two of the Samoan Teamsters insist on handling. The crane operator lifts our boat about 12′ out of the cradle and then stops. Suddenly I understand the whole picture. The guy running the crane is a trainee, getting his instructions from his boss who is standing beside me on the dock. I yell “pick the m*********r” at the top of my lungs which startles the operator into yanking back on the controls and jerking the boat up about 6′ but clear of the steel cradle. It is now oscillating wildly, threatening to swing into the crane. The Samoan teamsters are both dreaming of lunch breaks with their mistress. My crew and I exchange glances and simultaneously each grab a 300# Samoan and throw them off the lines. When we get everything quieted down and the boat in the water we are not exactly home free. My crew has to run around unhooking us so I end up at the helm. Of course I’ve never driven the boat and know it has a very minimal rudder size. And in order to get the boat in the water all the shore lines to the barge had to be untied and the 120′ ocean going tug has its engines running to hold the barge onto the dock, creating a giant prop wash. We are in a narrow slot behind another ship and the barrage. Full speed astern, pray for the rudder to bite, but a 4′ miss is still a miss!

Its good that I didn’t have the opportunity to watch a previous launch off a barge or I’d never do something so stupid. LOL And probably have another 10 years before every hair on my head was white!

Colin Speedie

Hi Richard
I’m sure all of us who have worked in the yachting field have been intros or similar straits at one time or another. Which is why I always try to go and watch a lift in advance! I was once involved in a launch with a crane where the driver thought it was funny to extend the jib to the maximum out at 45 degrees with the boat (and crew) on the end – and left them there while we argued over the price with him. Not the best of days….
Best wishes
Colin

RDE

Hi Colin,
Did I mention that the shipping company had erroneously bid the job as an international voyage rather than a local one thereby subject to the Jones Act? If it had been bid as a stateside delivery the cost would have been $15,000 more for the same voyage. There was a reason I wanted to get the hell out of there rather than argue about price!

Kind of reminds me of how hospital costs are set in the US….

Philip Wilkie

Very timely article for us, Burramys has spent the last four weeks in a yard for a sandblast and bottom paint. The previous owner, while meticulous in many aspects of his maintenance, had clearly run out of the money needed for the bigger ticket items and the anti-foul was long, long gone. We had a coral reef hanging off the bottom and when it was water-blasted quite a bit of the old paint came off as well. What we both failed to do was to look at the water pressure being used, (which he later claimed was 6000kPa). This may have been a factor in what happened, but after the fact neither of us can be sure.

That was an awkward moment, the previous owner clearly couldn’t afford to fix it properly, while I was very close to walking, leaving him with an unsaleable boat. But on the spot I made the call, the hull (steel) could never go back into the water with so much missing and delaminating paint. And as I was primary beneficiary, I made the call for it to be blasted and painted below the waterline at my cost. I could’ve been a lot more hard-nosed about it, but the agreed price at that point was already way down on the original ask, and negotiating it down even further was just going to get ugly.

It wasn’t the right way to buy a boat in hindsight, but sometimes you just make a call and live with the consequences. The price was fair in the end, and the boat itself is well-built and structurally very, very solid. Sister hulls have been sailed to the Antarctic and she has many of those important details which make for a very safe heavy weather boat. She’s a way better sailor than I am.

So while the yard was quite clear they didn’t need me to assist with the work, I made it clear I was going to be present so as I could see and understand what was being done. Fortunately I had the time available and I think this has paid off in a number of ways.

I was able to keep track of the hours spent on each task, I now know exactly where the blasting stopped, how much fairing was needed and where, I was able to find two small holes and repair them thoroughly. We could talk through any questions I had, and I could see what paint and how much was used. I got to see how the yard worked, and made a point of having a quick meeting each morning with the yard bosses to understand their plan for the day. When several bigger jobs took priority and delayed work on mine, I quietly negotiated how this would factor into the price.

Also just hanging about watching and talking with the guys working I’ve learnt a lot, and spent a bit of time in the chandlery getting a better sense of what things cost and how I might plan my budget.

It was of course all money I didn’t want to spend, but when it came to paying the bill I was a lot happier as I had confidence in exactly what I was getting. That’s my key point; arguing the toss when the invoice lands in front of you is way too late. Being involved and informed through the whole process has worked so much better for me.

Colin Speedie

Hi Philip
good job you were there – at least that way you can call a halt to the proceedings and work up a better plan if action as you suggest – good luck with the boat.
Best wishes
Colin

Anthony Miller

Aloha all,

Boat Yards are very dirty places and you can spend weeks trying to get your boat clean after you re-launch.

One trick I learned is to clean the deck good before haul out and liberally spray woody wax or 3M nonskid sealer all over the deck and deck gear before going to the yard. Do not wash off as the instructions on the bottle say.

A simple hose down after re-launch and all the dirt and steel shavings just wash right off. No more rust marks to deal with. If the nonskid is too slick after launch just use a little soap and brush to remove the wax.

RDE

Great tip!

Colin Speedie

Hi Anthony
it’s always good to find new tips like this, one of the reasons that our comments section is so valuable.
For this year, Pelerin is cocooned in a shrink warp (and no, we didn’t do it ourselves!) to ward off the snow in Nova Scotia, but this is a good idea that we’ll try in the future.
Best wishes
Colin

Marc Dacey

I would be interested to hear if you have any hull work done in Nova Scotia. We are thinking of deferring our “back to bright metal” hull recoatings (galvanize, two-part epoxy barrier coat and hard anti-fouling, plus any remedial plate and/or welding work) for the facilities in Nova Scotia, where the fisher folk squeeze pennies. While I could probably handle this work myself, it’s better done by pros as a fast process, I think. And then back into the drink!

Colin Speedie

Hi Marc

I think that the yard we’re currently in, East River Marine, should be able to handle your needs, and yes, wherever there’s a fishing fleet you should find these kinds of service.
Best wishes
Colin

Marc Dacey

Thanks, Colin…it’s in the logbook!

petter ;)

I can strongly attest to your recommendation of Sopromar in Lagos (PT), Colin. Excellent facilities, well suited to live on the vessel while on the hard, you will be allowed to do all and any work on your boat, skilled tradesmen available to undertake any job, and complemented by a fenomenal chandlery. Lagos itself is also nice and 5 mins. walk away.

Greetings from Las Palmas, which also is decent.