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Survey of Alerion Express 28 Hull Number 82

June 21, 2008

From the log of Jim Luke's Rampant:

I have learned that boats, like people, can be both a blessing and a challenge. To enhance the blessing part, I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my maintenance and other routine boat ownership surprises and confusions, plus the findings of a recent survey. While the latter may be most applicable to older model Alerions, like mine, some of the survey findings would seem to apply across the vintage board.

I first sailed an Alerion Express in the early 90’s after the Annapolis Sailboat Show where it was introduced. In 1997, when the bulb keel and jib boom became available, I took the plunge, hoping a more stable platform than what I found in the original version would result. I haven’t been disappointed.


Aside from a few details and the sail drive, I’m told my boat is much like the Alerions produced today. It’s been professionally maintained. I dote on her relentlessly.


She has not always returned the favor. Here are a few issues that have gotten my attention over the years.

It was not an auspicious beginning, that’s for sure. The first time I used the boat, the idea was to familiarize myself with the inboard motor. The sails were still in their bags. I was motoring out of Back Creek and attempted to change gears, when I heard what sounded like nuts and bolts falling down underneath the gear shift, which was now stuck in neutral. The connection between the gear shift and the transmission had come apart. Sculling with the rudder (think pushing water back rapidly) was all I could come up with at the time. Who knew? It worked amazingly well and got me back to the marina.

Perhaps a year later, on a windy day off Thomas Point Lighthouse, the boom came off the mast during a controlled jibe. Once again, there was the clatter of falling hardware, most of which ended up on the bottom of the Bay. Fortunately, the boom remained more or less in place and caused no additional damage. Even with diligence, Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong, will go wrong) still applies.


I was by myself in both of these instances. I bought the boat for singlehanded sailing and have not felt unsafe in using it that way. The mantra I repeat is think safety, watch the weather. So far, so good.

During my first several months of ownership, it was very difficult to get the mainsail up completely, with heavy winching needed for the final couple of feet. At the same time, the rope cover at the halyard splice was becoming increasingly frayed. It took a rigger up the mast to discover the screws attaching the anchor light were impacting the halyard splice as it came over the sheave. Shorter screws solved the problem. 

Getting the mainsail hoisted continues to be a workout, an issue first mentioned in the early 1990s Practical Sailor review of the boat. To this end, I changed from full length battens to ¾ length, thinking batten bowing and the resulting tension on the mast might impede hoisting. Later, I added a Strong Track system, and, more recently, a 2:1 purchase from a block mounted on the masthead crane. I can now manually hoist the sail. The trade off, of course, is double the length of halyard tail.


This spring, I attended the Chesapeake Alerion rendezvous hosted by Annapolis Yacht Sales and Garth Hichens, the Alerion dealer for this area. Gale Browning, an experienced singlehanded long distance sailor and marine surveyor (Hartoft Marine Survey, Ltd., Annapolis, MD), gave a talk about boat maintenance as it relates to safety on the water. She had surveyed other Alerions, and, given my quality control questions and the age of the boat, I decided an independent survey might be a good idea. It was. I highly recommend it.

The survey resulted in a seven page narrative and summary report. What follows is a brief synopsis of Gale’s findings and recommendations; the latter subcategorized by her as either essential, required or desirable.

ESSENTIAL REPAIRS AND CORRECTIONS:

Moisture was found at the right front of the cabin top, the right handrail being the suspected culprit. For good measure, both handrails were rebedded.

Moisture was also found in the deck extending radially from both chain plates. I had never considered the chain plates a problem. With water in the bilge and under the stuffing box after virtually every rain, the occasional drop or two below the chain plates, and only with torrential rain at that, seemed a non issue.

However, during the survey, both sides of the bulkhead showed elevated moisture content, and there was probable separation of the Formica from the underlying plywood at the outer port side in an area measuring roughly 12”x36”. A core sample subsequently taken from that area revealed delamination.

The delamination was corrected by removing a section of Formica at the forward aspect of the port bulkhead and allowing the plywood to dry. A number of small holes were then drilled into the delaminated area. A thin epoxy was placed into the holes to percolate downwards between layers. New ¼” plywood was epoxied in place at the outer portion where more of the old plywood had to be removed, and the whole area was clamped until curing had taken place. Fresh Formica had been applied prior to clamping. The vertical gap between the old and new Formica was trimmed with a strip of teak. The repair looks great and seems solid.

Both chain plates were rebedded.


Comment: the yard worker who did the job said he was surprised at the minimal amount of bedding compound present at the base of the port chain plate compared to the other side. 

Pearson Composites (ex-TPI) indicates they have not heard of another bulkhead problem like mine and recommends chain plate rebedding at least every other year. I plan to do it annually.


Other ESSENTIAL survey recommendations:


  1. Ensure water intake and other hoses that might rub against themselves or some part of the boat are protected from chafe.

  2. The fuel vent line should have been attached to mounting blocks, not directly to the hull with self-tapping screws. 

  3. Replace cockpit drain hoses (exterior crazing found).

  4. Inspect rigging aloft at least once a year, before any major voyage and after any suspected damage.

REQUIRED REPAIRS AND CORRECTIONS:

  1. Install hardware to secure cockpit hatches in open position. Comment: a good idea, easily done.

  2. Correct installation of vent line to above the level of the fuel tank.

  3. Improve access to thru-hull fittings for scupper drains and bilge pump discharge hoses. Comment: Not easily done, given the aft cockpit panel.

  4. Install in-line fuse or circuit breaker in positive battery cable and in positive wire for battery charger.

  5. Install in-line fuse or circuit breaker in positive battery cable between battery and vapor tight switch.

  6. Install chafe protection on wires exiting base of mast.

  7. Install master breaker for AC electric system.

  8. Install polarity indicator or carry portable polarity indicator to test polarity when connecting to shore power.

DESIRABLE REPAIRS AND CORRECTIONS:

  1. Through bolt handrails and toe rails.

  2. Acquire foredeck hatch cover to protect Lexan against UV.

  3. Service winches.

  4. Label rope stops.

  5. Remove excess oil from transmission.

  6. Install raised loop with antisiphon valve to engine exhaust line in order to reduce potential for back siphoning.

  7. Replace wing nut connectors on battery cables with lug type connectors.

ADDITIONAL MAINTENANCE SUGGESTIONS MADE (BY J. GORDON & CO.,INC., ANNAPOLIS, MD) DURING THE SURVEY REPAIRS:

  1. Rebed the cockpit main sheet post base as a possible source of water penetration.

  2. Reinstall and seal mast boot as a possible source of water penetration.

  3. Shorten and reattach the lightning ground cables at the forward sides of the cabin bulkhead to the bottom chain plate lug nut, to make a straighter course from cable to ground. I understand lightning tends to go in a straight line and might jump the designated 90 degree turn as the cables were originally configured.


Obviously, this is a work in progress. A number of the suggested changes have already been implemented. Others are pending. If there are questions or comments, I can be reached at jllbeans@aol.com.