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!


Heavy Metal – Blanca, 30Jun2013

This week I finally found a source for an I-beam to make a lifting rig for the old generator and starboard engine.  I’d found the rest of the gear for hoisting (chain hoist, beam trolley, etc.) for a reasonable price (yay, Harbor Freight!).

So I took Friday off work to add a work-day at the boat, and meet the delivery.  Some lumber, and a 15 foot, 15 pounds-per-foot, 4 inch by 8 inch steel beam.  That’s 225 pounds for those of you keeping score.  Six hours later, I had a “swing-set” assembled that reached from the forward end of the pilot-house, almost to the transom. 

I was able to move the beam over the transom by myself a bit at a time, work on it on the deck (it balanced nicely on the threshold of the salon), and lift each end onto my shoulder to fit it into the “A”-frame end supports.  Got the bruises on my shoulders to prove it!

Then, opened the hatches, hooked up the hoist, and had the generator mobile.

The trolley made it simple to slide it out the door and onto the back deck.  No more big lump of non-functional generator in my hold! 

One of the denizens here at Tall Timbers (we all call him Fiberglass Mike) has a crane-truck, and he offered to pluck the generator off the deck for me.  We chatted at lunch-time before he left to get the crane– turns out he’s selling it soon, so he might not be able to help me with the starboard engine if/when I need to pull it.  No time like the present!  Especially since once the lift rig was done, it only took me about 20 minutes to move the generator.

So while he was gone fetching the crane, I unmounted the starboard engine and made sure it was free and ready to move.  Mike plucked the generator from the deck, and a half-hour later, the starboard engine, too.  It’s sitting on-shore just behind the boat, waiting for me to decide how to move forward.  (Sorry, but I don’t have any pictures of that, since other people were helping and I didn’t want to scurry around with a camera while hauling away on the lifting chain, etc.)

The boat sits high out of the water, and lists to port now, since I just removed about a ton of steel from her gut. That’ll change once the engine goes back in and I fill some fuel tanks and water tanks.

So, major progress!  I’ve got a line on a guy who can help rebuild that engine for me, so it doesn’t take until Christmas. Next up– engine controls on the bridge, and steering.

Fair winds,


Fuel Polisher – Blanca, 17Jun2013

This spring (while waiting for penerating oil to penetrate the stuck piston in the starboard engine) I put together a fuel polishing and distribution system for Blanca.

I had an issue with water in the fuel tanks–  they sat mostly empty all winter, and when I started the port engine, the water separator did its thing.  I had to shut down and empty the sludge bowl every 3 minutes or so!  I’d been ruminating about a fuel polishing system, so I decided to move that up in the schedule.

Here’s the result!  The two “original” Racor filters can now be used to polish the fuel, or feed the engines.  Or one one way and the other the other.  Or take one offline and use a single Racor for both engines.  That will come in handy for changing filters while underway.  I was able to run the polisher to remove the water from the tanks– it was probably 5 gallons or so.  Not sure how that much got in there; maybe one of the fill pipes wasn’t tightly closed.

Here’s a picture of the completed system– the two bulbs on the sludge bowls let me suck the sediment out without opening up the top of the filters and letting air into the system.

I drew up a diagram to help explain how the thing works.  Because I was bored during the week.  😛 Click here for the diagram.


Next time I should have some pictures of the starboard engine work.


Sister Ship – Blanca, 17Jun2013

Awhile back, I discovered that Blanca’s sister ship (the other of only two made) was docked in Alameda, California.  She (oddly, named “Gypsy”) recently underwent a change of ownership and was relocated to Ohio.  I’ve traded emails and phone-calls with the owners, and they shared some pictures of her as she was being relocated.  So strange, to see “my boat” (with slight differences), being partly disassembled and trailered!

Here she is, with her fly-bridge sliced off and placed on the bow.  This got her total height low enough for transport.

And here she is, being reassembled in Ohio.  I’m told they’ll keep her on the hard for awhile, to do some hull-work before re-launching her.

Our plans to visit Mystic Seaport have gelled this summer, so I’ll be possession of plans and design notes in August.  The new owners of Gypsy will be interested in them, too.



Pumpkin Pie – Blanca, 17Dec2012

After the high of getting “Patty” started last month, I spent the long Thanksgiving weekend tearing into “Selma”, stripping her down and removing the cylinder head.  Let’s just say it wasn’t quite as clean inside as the port engine.  I knew I was in for something more “interesting” since I’ve never been able to turn the crankshaft with a wrench like I could on the other one.  So I was rewarded with some “pumpkin pie” rust in cylinder #2.

The head had issues as well– cylinder #2’s valves were sticking open.  The head and valves cleaned up ok with a liberal application of Marvel’s Mystery Oil, PB-Blaster penetrating oil, Sea-Foam cleaner and elbow-grease.  The rusty cylinder walls cleaned up ok too, with oil and a touch of a cylinder honer to brighten them up.

But the crankshaft will only move a smidge.


I’ve used a pipe-wrench on the crankshaft, a crowbar on the ring-gear teeth and a dead-blow hammer and a 2×4 against the piston tops.  The shaft will only turn about one ring-gear tooth either way.

I’ve kept the cylinders doused with penetrating oil for almost a month now– I even tried heating up motor oil to about 300 degrees and pouring it in cylinder 2 to try to use some temperature variation to “crack” through the rust and let in more penetrating oil to free up the rings.  No progress.

Cylinder #2 (which I am assuming is the problem) is at the bottom of its travel, so there’s no room to pound it down– the force would be applied directly to the connecting rod instead of turning the crankshaft.  Whacking away at the neighboring cylinder 3 (which should be turning the shaft) hasn’t done any good.

When I haul away on the shaft with a pipe-wrench and move the shaft that one tooth of distance, I can see the pistons moving slightly, except for #2 and #5 which are both at the bottom of their stroke and wouldn’t be moving much anyway.  <sigh>

Well, I’ll just keep the cylinders wet with penetrating oil and wiggling that sucker until I lose patience or something breaks loose.  I’ve read stories elsewhere online of people waiting for months before having any success, so I guess I’ll just try to stay patient.

Maybe I’ll work on rebuilding some of the cabin down below in the meantime.

Happy Holidays!



Blanca Speaks! – Blanca, 19Nov2012

My apologies for the long interval since my last entry, but I haven’t really had any *visible* progress until this week.

I’ve been working on the port engine (“Patty”– the starboard one is “Selma”) since March.  This included removing all the engine components including the cylinder head.  I was prepared to do a complete overhaul, including pistons, sleeves, rings, etc. but I discovered that would require pulling the engine, which I hadn’t planned to do. In any case, once removing the head, the pistons and sleeves looked clean enough not to need that attention.


The rest of the summer and fall were consumed with cleaning or replacing parts and reassembling everything:

  • Completely new exhaust components with a custom exhaust injection elbow.

  • New starter and alternator with new belt.

  • Rebuilt coolant heat exchanger.

  • New raw-water plumbing.  The original strainer worked fine once I hand-made new cork gaskets for it. The new system required a vented loop with an overboard vent.

  • New sensors (oil pressure, water temperature, etc.) throughout.

  • Reconditioned shift and throttle cables.

  • Cleaned and lubricated control levers at the main helm and on the flybridge.

  • New wiring harness, including battery cables.

  • Start and stop secondary solenoids.

  • New primary stop solenoid.

  • Rebuilt injectors.

  • All new hoses.  Every last bit of old rubber was replaced.

  • New filters (one oil and three fuel).

  • New engine control panel.


 After chasing leaks and a mis-adjusted starter solenoid, I was finally able to crank reliably last week.  Then, performing the entire fuel bleed procedure approximately 5 times, she started to cough and blow smoke, but didn’t start before the battery ran down.  I put the battery on the charger and went home for the week with cautious optimism.

Saturday, I did the fuel bleed procedure again and was able to get more spluttering, and finally she revved!  It was then I discovered I’d hooked up the throttle and shifter exactly backwards.  I gave her full throttle and she cranked into life!  I have never felt so validated– I’d been working “in the dark” since March, hoping I wasn’t doing things wrong to the point of calling in an expert.

Watch the engine start on YouTube.

I tried the shifter and the shaft turned, only in reverse from what I’d hoped since the shift cable was reversed at the shift lever.  But I was rewarded with a gentle nudge against the lines, in both reverse and forward gears.  The shaft-log started leaking as expected, and was quickly fixed with a couple turns of a wrench on the packing gland.

She stopped after a few minutes and wouldn’t start again, but I knew what was going on.  Another pass through the fuel bleed procedure (seeing bubbles in the right places, indicating there was indeed more air in the system), and she started right up.  In fact, once a little warm, I could set the throttle at idle and a quick press on the start button and she’d be idling almost instantly.

A little fiddling with the alternator wiring and tachometer calibration, and it’s done!  One engine functional!  Then I cleaned up the house and moved stuff around in preparation for opening up the starboard engine.  That starts next week!

Finally, I want to publicly thank Phil at Polaris Panels (www.polarispanels.com) for the excellent work he did on my custom engine panel, and his spot-on electrical advice.  He already did a fine job on my AC panel and has earned my business for the DC panel when I get to that point.

Also, Marcus at Transatlantic Diesels (www.tadiesels.com) has been an invaluable resource both for parts and advice.  TAD are the experts on Perkins engines, and they know what they’re doing.  Thanks Marcus!

Now I’m ready to tear into “Selma”.  This should go faster, now that I “know what I’m doing.”  I know, I know… famous last words!


In search of the Second of the Three Pearl Ships


Little is known of the ship that sank on the venture of the three pearl ships of 1616 in the Sea of Cortez, archival data devotes most of the records and data to that of Juan de Iturbe and his ghost ship of the desert. In reality there were in fact three ships, all three were built in 1612 in Acapulco Mexico and all three traveled together. the mystique of the “desert ship” has for over three centuries overshadowed the other two. For published archival data we know that the Flagship of the Pearl Ships made its way back with its mortally wounded captain Alvarez de Cordone, Cordone who arranged the ill fated trade with the locals that led to the attack by locals on he and the other two ships. What we do not know and in basis mere conjecture was the fate of the second ship commanded by Pedro de Rosales. Of the three captains, de Iturbe was the most noted and both Cordone and Rosales in some ways faded into the pages of oblivion, as later to redeem himself Iturbe went on to remove the English settlement at “Drake’s Bay”. 


However the conjecture of the events of the sinking of the Pedro de Rosales craft is an unknown as to where it went down exactly and as well the fate of the cargo. In some reports there is a statement that Rosales’ cargo was removed and placed aboard the ship commanded by Iturbe and yet other reports state that its cargo went down with the ship.


Regardless, the fate of the ship we do know that during the attack panic came into play and that as well the second ship struck a shallow water obstruction and sank, this being some 397 years, or four centuries. We know that the ship was like that of both Cordone’s and Iturbe’s and was one of the three caravel type craft that left the port of Acapulco and sailed north by north east. It had a crew contingent of 16 and as well 25 of the 75 divers on the expedition. We also know from published reports that the “cargo” that was removed from the ship was that of the pearls, we do not know however if the second cargo, contraband cargo was removed as well. In studies of the manner and means in which captains operated along the coasts of our country, and as well along its routes, we have learned that “supplemental” taking on of cargo was not unlikely, nor unusual. This practice of the day (circa 1600-1650) was as customary as was setting sail and running with the winds.


Based on satellite data, archival data in the repository of Seville, other sources it is believed that Rosales who entered into the agree of defrauding the local tribes along the shore, may have had more than just a complacent viewpoint in the taking on board illicit cargo. As well the supplemental income practices of the day.


in examining different areas of where both he and Iturbe would have traveled, the published reports of the sinking little is to be doubted that like Iturbe and Cordone, Rosales was just as equally in the thick of another seafaring practise, that of smuggling. Based on reports there is substantial data to support a shallow water sinking (depth <50′) and as well it may be possible to identify areas of debris fields and as well possibly find significant artifactual materials to identify positively the position of the second of the three “Pearl Ships” and its location within the “Sea of Cortez”.



in search of the Second of the Pearl Ships of the Expedition of 1616 , led by Alverez de Cordone.

The mystique of the “Pearl Ships of 1616” led by Alvarez de Cordone, and co-captains Pedro de Rosales and Juan de Iturbe. The ships licensed by King Phillip the 3d and built in 1612 in Acapulco, Mexico. Little did anyone conceive that the fate of three captains, and three ships would end in 1616, four years after their being built, nor of the mystery that would surround two of the three ships some 397 years later.


Cabin Progress – Blanca, 04Mar2012

I’ve been remiss again– haven’t updated this since last fall.  But I’ve been busy all “winter”  (Hardly a winter we had this year– no snow and only a handful of freezing days.  But, who am I to complain!)

First, I finished the under-waterway compartments.  Here’s a couple pictures of the completed product (except for paint).  





Moving on to the interior, the big job was to gut the compartment under the waterway in the cabin.  The bulkhead that continued the “wall” below the windows, separating the cabin from the under-waterway area was completely rotted.  It was originally 1/4″ or 3/8″ plywood– now it’s a pile of mulch in the engine room.  Here’s a picture of the space after being cleaned out.

I really need to learn to take “before” pictures– this one doesn’t show how much… crap was in there.




I was able to rescue one pair of teak louvered doors that were originally in that bulkhead, so I re-used them.  The space under the aft window will be the tool-locker/workbench.  Here it is partially built.


The under-waterway space will eventually have the AC system and inverter/charger in it, so the doors will make access to that gear easy.  Access behind the workbench will require it being emptied and moved– it’s back serves as the access panel to that area.  Here it is more less complete.




And in use!





The new custom AC breaker panel is in the forward section of this bulkhead.  Here it is being fitted.


It’s completely installed as I write this, with teak trim and a plexiglass door to keep it clean.  The isolation transformer is installed behind the doors and the single outlet (next to the louvered doors) is wired up and energized.  No more scary extension cords over the gunwhale to the pier!  Now just a scary shore-power cord instead…


Next up– engines!

A lost Caravel lost in the sands of time

The year was 1612, proudly three small ships were being keeled, three years later a turn of events will mark them in history. Little is known of the changes or modifications of what is referred to as the “Latin Caravel” similar in design to two of the three ships that Columbus sailed across the Atlantic to discover the New World in 1492, but changes in the course of the years did evolve. Much is written in curious sentences of the “Lost Pearl Boat of the Mojave” but in actuality little is really known of the architecture involved. Three ships left Acapulco, in hopes of discovering pearl rich beds of the Gulf of California, now known as the Sea of Cortez. What is known is that the ill fated voyage in 1615 was to say the least a tragedy of errors and negligence. Discovering a tribe of natives on its voyage the small group of boats entered into trade clothing for pearls. Cordone who began the trading decided that the instead of the fine clothing promised he would instead give the natives, bundles of old clothes and rags. Once the deception was detected , the local chief sent his warriors on the attack. Cordone was mortally wounded, his ship returned to Acapulco with its wounded skipper and the skipper of a sister ship, Rosales whose boat struck a reef and began to take on water abandoned, but not before its cargo of pearls had been moved to the boat skippered by Juan de Iturbe. There the story of the “Ghost ship of the Mojave” was put in motion. 

As we all know nature, and circumstance can often lead to disaster, Iturbe was about to find out exactly how those events would forever seal the fate of his boat. Iturbe proceeded to sail North, entering the flooded Colorado river basin he proceeded to sail further inland. At that point in time as well a tidal inudation of the Gulf of California contributed to the error of assumption. Iturbe thinking he was still in the Gulf, proceeded to search for the beds of pearls. The as fast as the flooding occured it began its retreat. Iturbe soon realized that the basin was emptying and made his attempt at escape back to open water,though a shallow draught its water under keel was just not there, and Iturbe’s fate and that of his ship was sealed. Finding his craft stranded in the sands, he evacuated his crew with provisions all they could carry and trekked across the desert and mountains of Cailfornia some 366 miles distance to San Luis Obispo  to the Spanish Mission there. In 1616  he was given another ship but that of his former command was lost.

In the area now known as the Mojave Desert, in legend and myth the ill fated boat and its location remains a mystery today and as well in the archives in both Spain and the reports filed by Iturbe the lost in the area somewhere above the 34th latitude remains. For eight months I have researched the “Great Bird of the Mojave” as it has been handed down by Native Americans, the sporadic news reports over 396 years, all state to date the location of the “Pearl Ship” remains a mystery. The craft from some reports was 30 meters in length, 8 meters at the beam and had an estimated weight of 50 tonnes. Studying satellite and archival records, my research begins next week to explore three sites of the possible location of Juan de Iturbe’s ill fated pearl boat.

Still Here – Blanca, 11Sep2011


It’s been almost a year since my last entry here– sorry!  Work has progressed on Ballena Blanca, even though I almost uniformly forget to take pictures of the results.  Finally, here’s somewhat of a progress report.

Once she was launched and water was staying out from underneath, it was time to tackle keeping water out from above.  A closer inspection of the deck of the bridge showed a number of mounting holes (for the helm seat, etc.) that had been drilled through into the fiberglass core without being properly sealed.  20 years of rain had encroached into the wood core (the deck was a 3/4″ thick wood core sandwiched between two 3/8″ layers of fiberglass).  I cut the largest rectangle I could of the top ‘glass layer and pryed it off.  Removing the wood with a chisel (much of it was loose and rotted) allowed me to replace the core.  I found a synthetic core material online, called Divinycell– it’s basically a synthetic balsa.  Rick at Tall Timbers ordered me a 4×8 sheet.  Cut it to size, drill some vent holes, drizzle in epoxy and spread it around, weight down the original top ‘glass layer with cinderblocks and voila!  Repaired deck.  I wish it were as easy to do as it is to describe.

(Pointer– never mix an entire gallon of epoxy at once, especially in 95 degree heat, even with “slow” hardener.  It sets before you even finish stirring, and makes enough heat to melt your bucket and boil the river for a good long while.  At about $100 per gallon, epoxy resin doesn’t come cheap.  But hey, this valuable education I’m getting is gonna cost me once in awhile.)

It’s not pretty yet, but some grinding, fairing and sanding  (oh my!), plus non-skid paint, and it’ll be as good as new.  Better, since with synthetic core, it can’t rot.  Best side story– when hurrican Irene blew through, dropping enough rain in a day to flood the boatyard with a foot of water, I checked the overhead in the salon.  Water still leaks in along the windows, but not a drip from the overhead.  Success!

Along with that work was replacing and repairing the bridge bench areas.  The locker covers on the benches and the small bulkheads at the forward end of each bench were originally plywood.  Gone, baby, gone.  Now they’re made of 3/4″ PVC board.  The dark yellow is the epoxy adhesive filler.  It’ll get sanded smooth when I prep the whole area for paint.  Again, the acid test:  hurricane Irene wasn’t able to drive water underneath the locker hatch-covers.  The area under the benches stayed dry.



The last places that used to be enclosed with plywood that need to be re-done are the spaces under the water-ways, aft of the salon.  The starboard one already has its new column installed, but you can see where the old plywood enclosure was.  I used 6″ diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe as a support column (the water-ways don’t need the support, but it’s nice and solid that way). Good old 3/4″ PVC board for the rest, cut and fitted into place.  The dark space inside (where the extension cord is coild in the picture) leads directly into the cabin.  Doesn’t matter if you close the windows and doors, wasps can nest anywhere they want inside with those alleys open!


I’ve finished enclosing the port side one behind the ladder, except for an panel that will cover the access hole.  I’ll still need to be able to get into that space to install shore-water and shore-power connections, maintain the scupper drain hoses, etc.  After that’s all done, I can “bomb” the boat for bugs again in preparation for us to sleep aboard (amidst the scattered power-tools and fiberglass detritus!).

Fair winds!