The Day of Reckoning

Monday, 1/22/07

This morning I should get the verdict on lead paint, the issue that has weighed on me over the weekend.

1130 I spot water rushing into the dry dock. Ernie is on it. The “sausage,” the plastic sock full of plastic and sand that plugs a vertical gap between caisson and granite wall, has failed. A crew of Hispanic laborers will fiddle with this most of the day.

1140 Ernie tells me the lead guy will be late; he has problems with the testing gun. Will the lead suspense never end? Poof goes my hope for a morning verdict, and then an afternoon out of here to get some much needed stuff, a new digital happy snap camera, potable water, a trip to the bank. I ask Ernie to call me when he comes.

1240 Ernie says the lead guy came, he was in a rush due to the delay so they didn’t call me. The guy took nine shots, and the Whalen passed! “Seal up the hatches, Ernie says, “blasting starts in a few minutes.” After so much waiting, now a rush.

1250 I hear a different clomping on deck. I go investigate. Here’s a new team of small men, mummies really, their heads wrapped in t-shirts and cloths tied down with straps. One unplugs my shore power. I ask what’s going on. Silence. I ask again. I get an eruption in some Asian language. These must be the Koreans I heard were coming. They must really know what they are doing because after a few attempts I realize there won’t be much way to communicate with them in English.

1410 Sandblasting starts. Music to my ears.

1500 I’m talking to Our Anonymous Engineer about what we’ve learned about changing the trim of the ship (angle from bow to stern) thanks to the forepeak water and cement blocks on the foredeck. The cellphone battery dies. My digital universe remains a struggle.

1600 I call Jim at Smith & McCrorken in Red Hook. They’re major suppliers of marine zincs in this port. I got a nice price from them late last year for zincs and buying them direct will save me $750 over GMD’s price; however, someone building a dry dock has just called and got the last of their 22 pound bolt-on zincs. Bummer.

The zincs are necessary to protect the steel that is vulnerable to electrolytic action in salt water. Zinc is a softer metal than the steel of the hull, or the bronze of the propeller, and as a result is consumed first by the electrolytic action. I’d worried a lot about the hull since the Whalen has not been hauled since 1991, and there were likely no zincs left. We’ve decided to go with bolt-on zincs after talking to paint guru John Tretout of Amorica, rather than the more typical weldable zincs. That’s because today’s modern coatings could last up to 10 years on the Whalen as she won’t be underway very much (moving through the water increases electrolytic action). The zincs aren’t likely to last that long and would need replacing. Divers can go down and bolt zincs on and off, but the weldable ones can only be changed by hauling out the boat which costs thousands of dollars.

At dusk, photographer Stephan Falke arrives to shoot the sandblasting. Soon thereafter, friend and computer geek Scott Baker arrives. He informs me that the fluttering sound coming out of the laptop suggests the hard drive is about to crash. Another digital headache. I begin to like tending to steel issues more than this IT (Intermittent Technology) stuff.

I monitor the sandblasting crew for an hour or two. I want to make sure they keep the blast moving so they don’t make thin spots in the hull. They work on a gangway dangling off the gantry crane. The two blasters are in dark hoods and look through thick, dark metal framed rectangles much like welder’s goggles. One mummified worker holds the end of their gangway to spin them along the hull’s curves near the stern. Even 30 feet away, the backsplatter of grit is startling. I’m afraid for the camera lenses and don’t take many pictures. As night deepens and they reach the bow where one can get further from the ship, more photography is possible. The sand haze rising off the hull refracts the worklights in an eerie fog. At moments, the scene looks as it if were underwater. I watch the contours of the Whalen emerge as crusty rust and dangling and discolored paint disappear.

Stefan and Scott want rides out, and I head into Red Hook to Gary Baum’s and Amy Sisti’s for a shower. Indoor plumbing is my new favorite thing. I return to Dry Dock #1 with a coffee and cookies for Ernie who tells me “we’ll finish blasting tonight; I want to bang it out.” Normally a light sleeper, I don’t care about noise tonight. I’m bushed and the blasting is a happy reminder that we’re past the lead hurdle. They are working right under my cabin so I tuck into my bunk wearing engineer’s earmuffs.

Sometime after midnight I wake up, probably for the silence. The blasting is done. In the morning, we’ll finally really be able to see the condition of the hull.