Windlass – Blanca, 29Feb2016

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Happy Leap Day!

Well, I did get started on the water system last fall.  The new water-heater, water pump and accumulator tank are mounted, and the after water tank is cleaned and resealed with its deck-fill fitting and valve replaced.  Then it got cold.  I don’t think working on a fresh-water system when it’s in the 20s is such a good idea, so that work got postponed.

Also, last fall I acquired the anchor I’ve been hoping for.  It’s a 73 lb. Rocna, supposedly one of the best.  Add to that 200 feet of 3/8″ high-test galvanized chain and you have some serious ground-tackle.  In August I placed an order for replacement parts for the Ideal Windlass Company windlass that was on the bow.  Its mild-steel case was a rusty lump, and the weather-exposed motor was also a total loss, but the inner guts were all ok.  Ideal took some time to fill the order (they had to fabricate the new stainless case from scratch), so it didn’t arrive until just before Christmas.

Here’s the “new” windlass right after I finished cleaning and reassembling it.  (The old case is next to it.) 

Last weekend I finally finished up the installation, including running the heavy electrical cables from the main battery bank up to the fore-peak.  Everything works a treat– she hauls the anchor off the bottom of the slip and self-stows into the bow roller easy as you please.  All I need now is a washdown pump and hose to clean the mud off…

Next up is a rebuild of the gally counter-tops, which became necessary when I started to replace the galley faucet and found how rotted the cabinetry really was.  Corian counter material is bought and ready for work as soon as I finish the demolition and rebuild.  More pictures to come!


Electronics Arch – Blanca, 20Jul2015

Sorry for the lack of posts– things are still progressing!  Over the winter I spent some time collecting electronics like a radio, GPS antenna, etc. and I’ve finally finished their installation.

The area above the main helm where radios, etc. were originally was this big boxy thing over your head that felt dark and crowded.  It was also slowly rotting (like everything else!) and a haven for wasps.  So, like many projects that start as a small-impact evaluation– I ripped it all out.  You can see the original in this picture from 5 years ago (boxy thing with knobs to the right of the picture, up against the overhead).

Here’s what it looked like after I removed it.  Much more open feel, of course.

After a good bit of staring and imagining, I came up with a plan.  Modern electronics don’t need anywhere near the room the old thing had.  A VHF radio from the 70s might be 12″ x 18″ x 4″, and weigh 10 pounds.  Today, a much more capable radio fits in the palm of your hand and weighs 1/2 pound.  Why do I need this huge, boxy thing any more?  I decided to make an “arch” over the helm area that would fit in with the existing arches in the salon (currently with trim removed).  I used painter’s tape to try to get an idea how it would look:

This was my first foray into building something new with teak (I’d replaced some trim and trimmed out the new AC circuit panel with it, but that was all).  So a set of Forstner drill bits for nice counter-sinks were in order– darn, I had to get new tools!  The hardest part was getting the curve up against the overhead right.  Boat-builders call this “spiling.”  It involves many measurements of the curve against a (usually straight) reference piece in order to re-create the curve with a pencil line on the work piece.  I had no way to cut the gentle curve.  A hand jigsaw would be the right way to do this– darn, another new tool!  Once I had that figured out, the assembly went quickly.

I fastened PVC board up against the overhead to make a channel, just like the existing arches.  Then a teak “box” that fits up over the channel.  The box is hinged on the starboard end and fastened up with two long through-bolts that have wing-nuts on the forward side.  That way, you unfasten the wing-nuts and bolts and the whole teak box swings down to work on it.  The hole through the overhead up to the bridge (for wiring that goes up there) was aft of this new arch, so a connecting trim-board was necessary to cover that wiring.  The last piece was a wiring “chase” stanchion on the starboard end of the arch, to carry wiring from the helm up into the arch.  Fishing the wires through that was a challenge!  I ended up with a messenger line through there to make that easier in the future.  Here’s the (not quite) finished result:

The screw-holes all need bungs, and the whole thing needs to be sanded and finished, but that won’t come until all the rest of the trim-work gets the same treatment.  The radio is installed and works.  The string hanging down in front of it is the horn– I found a momentary pull switch that makes sounding the horn more fun: it’s kind of like a truck-horn where you pull down on the lanyard.  I’ll eventually have a T-handle on that lanyard.  There’s also a button on the bridge.

I had to fabricate the stanchion on the starboard end out of four pieces of teak.  Glued and clamped, then cut to shape.  That turned on quite nice, if I do say so myself!

Next up: fresh water system!


Happy New Year! – Blanca, 5Jan2015

Happy New Year!  To take the edge off the winter cold, here’s a picture of the “new” diesel-fired cabin heater I installed last month. 

You can also see the rest of the companionway sole that’s been replaced.  I had to re-surface and paint the bulkhead behind the heater and install a heat-shield, as well as the flue-pipe and the thru-deck fitting.  Once I figured out how to tune it and clean the fuel lines, that baby pumps out the heat.  So no more electric space-heater.  And heat away from the dock when we need it!

I also completed the installation of a secondary 200-amp alternator on the starboard engine.  It directly feeds the house 12-volt system.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of it.  When the full-size battery box is reinstalled, it should show any pictures I take of that, so stay tuned.

On that note, I received delivery of 4 200 amp-hour 4D size AGM batteries for the house bank.  They’re monsters!  Thanks to Anthony at for a great price, and free shipping (it was a holiday deal).  Free shipping on 4 125-lb batteries.  That’s huge!  I wasn’t really ready to buy them yet, but with that deal going on, I had to jump.  So now refurbishing and reinstalling the battery box and putting in the new battery bank has moved up the priority list.

There’s a similar story on the refrigerator.  I had been poring through the internet, looking for a fridge that would fit in the alcove in the galley.  We found one that was close, but would require enlarging the alcove and losing a chart-drawer that’s above it.  We bought that fridge last spring and set it up in the garage at home, with the intention of moving it to the boat when the galley is ready.  It served as a secondary “beer-fridge” in the garage all summer.  Then I found another fridge online that was the right size without modifying the alcove.  Afraid that it would be out of stock by the time the alcove is ready, I jumped on that fridge.  It’s now sitting in its box in the foyer at the house.  And darn, we’ll just have to keep the first one as a beer-fridge.  So the galley alcove refurb moves up on the priority list, too!  I’ve a new 120-volt circuit installed; all it needs now is paint and new decking for the fridge to sit on.  Then we can get rid of the tiny dorm-room fridge that’s been taking up counter space in the galley.  I’ll get pictures of that when it’s installed.

So, things move along.  I need to learn to take more pictures.  New Year’s resolution, perhaps?  Happy New Year!



Electrickery – Blanca, 04Aug2014

I finished this last month and finally remembered to snap a few pictures– the DC electrical system is mostly in place.  All the heavy metal: up to 4/0 gauge cables and heavy copper bars to handle as much as 400 amps (at 12 volts). The plan is to combine the batteries in the battery bank with a “star” approach, instead of the traditional daisy-chain.  A little more money in a second set of bus-bars, but this way each battery has an identical copper path, preventing any imbalance from one to the next.

I ordered the inverter/charger I’ve been planning for– a 3000 watt Victron Multiplus.  That guy should be heavy-duty enough to handle a microwave or other heavy load (for short periods).  Along with Victron’s battery monitor and monitoring panel, I’ll be able to keep track of the batteries, etc. and have some expansion room for things like solar or wind charging.

The DC distribution panel is installed and working.  Thanks to Phil at Polaris Panels ( for that.  He’s been great with advice and quality products for my AC, DC and engine panels.

Finally, I got a start on replacing the cabin sole in the galley.  We’ve been tip-toeing from stringer to stringer so long, it was really nice not to have to look down for each step.  The companionway stairs are solid now, too, so they won’t tip.  And the railing is re-installed,  making it safer and easier to move around, especially if the boat rolls.

Next project– secondary alternator.


The Payoff – Blanca, 14Jul2014

In May, I was able to get the navigation lights all installed.  That required a “mini-mast” on the bridge for a mast-head light.  That light will move to the real mast-head when we get one.  I also installed a life-ring holder for the life-ring, complete with Blanca’s name. (Thanks,!) All set with all the required equipment.

We had a beautiful Memorial Day evening on the river, starting with a boat ride with friends for an hour or so, then anchored off the beach to watch the holiday boat-burning bonfire.

While anchoring, I snagged a crab-pot with the port prop.  It’s almost impossible to avoid them in the 10-15′ range off the beach!  The prop wound the pot-warp up like a windlass– pulled the pot up to the prop and wrapped it around the blades like a rag-doll.  Over the side I went!

After an hour or so of fighting with the mangled wire, both in swim-trunks and then with scuba, I emerged victorious, with no damage other than scrapes all over my hands.  The poor crab that was in the pot had the ride of his life, before being dismembered.  I’m an Apex Predator!!

After dark, while idling up the channel to drop off our friends at the fuel dock, I had to counter-steer quite a bit to keep straight.  Current?  Wind?  Um– try disconnected prop-shaft flange!  The struggling while anchoring made the flange-bolts work loose, and the prop pulled partway out.  Another foot and we’d have had a 1 1/2 inch hole where the prop shaft used to be!  I pulled that back together and snugged those bolts down tight at the fuel dock.  Sea-trials find problems; it’s nice to be able to fix them myself.

We anchored out in peaceful Herring Creek over night.  The loudest thing we could hear was a dog barking in the distance and the gentle lapping of the ripples against the hull.  Our friends who like to kayak paddled out to us early the next morning and quietly left hot coffee on the gunwale for us to find when we woke up.  Nice.

Finally, some payoff for the work I’ve been doing the last 4 years.  Feels good.




Warm Weather – Blanca, 14Apr2014

FINALLY!!  After an awful winter of rain, snow and cold, we finally got a decent weekend in the 70s.  Time to go boating!  Isabel rode on the bow as we took Ballena Blanca for her first little trip into the Potomac.  We cruised down to the U-1105 marker buoy (that Capt. Dave ‘n’ crew deployed on Saturday) and back, making around 7 knots against the wind, and 8 or so on the way back with a following sea.  Blanca handled nicely, with her engines rolling smoothly along at 1,700 rpms.

I spent the day before putting ID numbers and tax stickers on the bow and on the dinghy, so we’re all legal-like.  I also pumped probably 5 gallons of water out of the fuel tanks– I’m sure there’s a rainwater leak somewhere, maybe in the inspection hatches under the cabin sole.  I had opened them to clean the fuel tanks and closed them up again with new gaskets, but I think the new gaskets were thicker than the old ones preventing the bolts from tightening cleanly.  I’ll have to open them and reseal them again when I get to working on the new cabin sole.  In the mean-time, the fuel-polisher pump makes it fairly straightforward to pump liquid out of the fuel tanks until clean diesel is all you see.

I also put the new dinghy in the water with my new 6′ oars (thank you, Gander Mountain– $25 a piece, with free shipping!) and put together the trolling motor donated by Capt. Dave.  The electric motor isn’t much faster than rowing, but easier on the forearms. I’m looking into a good solution for davits on Blanca’s stern to make it easier to stow the dinghy.  We plan to paint this dark-blue tub a light green eventually.  That way Ballena Blanca’s tender can be called Sardina Verde.  Green Sardine!

Next up: finish the navigation lights and work on the bridge deck to solve more rainwater leaks.  Enjoy the summer!



Reedville – Blanca, 05Feb2014

Last Saturday we took a trip to Reedville, Virginia, to visit the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum there.

It’s not open this time of year, but I’d answered a Craig’s List ad about a dinghy for sale, and went there to meet the gentleman in charge of the museum’s boat donation program.  The museum accepts donated boats and restores them.  If they’re not really appropriate for a museum exhibit, they sell them with the proceeds going to help fund the museum.

He showed me the dinghy they had for sale.  A 7′ 11″ Dyer Dhow, reportedly built in 1975.  The result was so nice, “the guy who restored it wanted to buy it back from the museum.”  I can’t help but agree– he did a beautful job.

Philip Rhodes collaborated with Bill Dyer to design a series of dinghies for Dyer Boats, starting in the 1930s.  The original Dyer Dhow was designed for the Navy during World War II as a lifeboat; it was 9′ long and could hold 9 men.  Later, they developed this model, the “Midget”, a very popular dinghy to use as a yacht tender– exactly what I need.  The deal was done.

The bottom and sides of this boat are painted a dark blue.  I like the color, but it might end up hot on summer days, if she’s upside-down on the foredeck of Blanca.  So I might re-paint her something lighter.  Maybe a pale green– then Ballena Blance (“White Whale”) can have a dinghy named Sardina Verde (“Green Sardine”).

We spent another half hour walking around the museum property, looking at the outdoor exhibits before heading home.  They have a nice Chesapeake Skipjack on their dock, the Claude W. Somers.  The place is kind of like a miniature Mystic Seaport.  We certainly will come back when the museum is open– possibly by water!


History Comes Alive – Blanca, 10Oct2013

We finally got to Mystic Seaport in August.  We spent two days walking around the museum.  What a great place!  I highly recommend a visit.

The designer of Ballena Blanca, Philip L. Rhodes, had a long and distinguished career designing everything from dinghies up to cargo ships.  When he died in the early ’70s, his family donated his entire collection of ships plans and design notes to the Mystic Seaport museum.

For Blanca, his design #816 “Discoverer”, they had a folder with about 50 pages of notes, with everything: hull-speed calculations, equipment model numbers, etc.  I can’t understand most of it (things like calculations of the flexibility and strength of fiberglass panels, for example), but I got a copy of every page, in case I need the information some day.

They also had 18 large sheets of ship’s plans.  Copies of those were more expensive, so I didn’t copy things like wiring diagrams (which I’m redoing from scratch anyway), or the cast iron keel profile.  I did get 6 important sheets copied:

  • Inboard Cutaway
  • Profile and Cross Sections
  • Structural Laying Down Plan
  • Deck Plan
  • Rigging Schedule
  • Mast and Boom


Also, I had the staff at Mystic make me a decorative copy of the all-importand Sail Plan.  We’re going to have it framed and hang it over the mantle!

Next up: starboard engine update!