Sea Chests

Thursday, 1/25/07

I ended up sleeping on the boat after all. While I was having dinner, Ernie had called to say the painting was done. So fast? I raced back to the boat to check and found an abandoned yard and a black hull. Rather startling change after all the delays getting here and then getting sandblasted.

0915 Charlie Deroko returns for more steel inspection and discussion. We have extensive conversations with Ernie about the thickness (thinness really) of steel, it’s relationship to prior repair areas, ABS standards for plate replacement and develop and work plan. Charlie is popping by regularly as is job is more than finding problems, he recommends solutions. He’ll audio gauge areas under the stern around the main engine room where Freddy has washed off the remnants of the vintage zinc straps.

Freddy diligently picks his way around the boat cleaning off all unwanted protuberances, big ones like the of the external spudwell-- “the carbuncle” as I used to call it, and the little vestiges of prior attachments, fenders and the like. Machine is beetling about and attentive as ever and refills my water jugs. I’m using the non-potable yard hose supply for washing dishes and my increasingly chapped face and hands.

Up forward, some of the blocking will have to be removed to get at the areas that need replacing. GMD doesn’t want to do that until Bobby O’Connor the dockmaster can come over, so action doesn’t begin there immediately. Damn.

Charlie and Ernie and I go into the main engine room to find the sea chests that correspond to the through hull fittings -- which we only found after sandblasting. When I hired a diver Bob Davidson to check them before purchasing the Whalen last year, he surfaced and said “you better call the Department of Agriculture.” The growth on the bottom was so great, he couldn’t find a single opening.

Most of the through hulls allow water into the boat to cool machinery, though one connects to the fire hose. Each is covered with a “sea strainer,” grillwork that prevents plastic bags or organic matter being sucked into the system. The structure inboard directly connected to the hull is the “sea chest” and is built of very, very heavy pipe to prevent failure from corrosion; because if a sea chest fails, an engine room can flood rapidly and cause major damage (shutting down the engine) and possibly sink the whole boat. As the Whalen’s engine is dead (just for now, we hope), the sea chests will be sealed after inspection or “blanked off” with plates welded to the hull. If and when we find parts for her engine (hello, all ye retired engineers, please come help find parts!) the blanks can be removed to re-open the water system. Charlie discovers a released frame just aft of the high water valve where Ernie found thin-sounding steel the day after the priming. The primer had not held in a few penny-sized spots; that was the signal that something was wrong. Some banging with a chipping hammer revealed a weak spot the size of a watermelon.

I’ve saved the sea strainers as templates and as “souvenirs” I told the yard crew to some scoffing. I’ve already found a use for them, they resemble over-sized florist’s frogs, and I’ve made a flower arrangement with the plastic pointsettas’ from the dead Christmas wreath. I leave it on the picnic table expecting this will trigger some remark from Ernie. Since his shock at my pink hard hat on day one, I like to tease him with some girlie stuff now and again. There are NO women around her.

Charlie is very excited to hear that Artie Ellems, an old-timer, works here, albeit part time. Years ago, Artie turned Charlie’s drawings into new steel yards for the South Street Seaport’s Wavertree when the vessel was hauled at Caddell’s Dry Dock. With an “I’d love to see him,” Charlie takes off for the plate shop where Artie fabricates in steel and will be bending plate to replace the wasted parts of the Whalen’s rubrail. "Bushey Rail" as John calls the stuff produced by Ira Bushey & Sons in Red Hook, was bent plate not half a round pipe. This is more expensive at the outset but lasts longer. The crest on a half round would wear down pretty rapidly, not so the flat surface of the Whalen’s rails. Of the 40 feet that is wasted, only 8 of it needs to be fully replaced by new bent plate; the rest of it can just be capped by flat bar; the supporting sides are still so thick.

1620 It’s hard for me to leave, I sit in the pickup for some 20 minutes looking at the boat. I can’t take my eyes off her. She is so transformed already. I contemplate how to paint her topsides. The hull is now black again; what colors should the rest of her be painted? How will we celebrate her departure? Not champagne, this is not a christening… I decide that a huge bow with ribbon blowing down her sides while she is underway will be the festive way to catch some attention during her short ride home down the East River.

1645 I tear myself away to check on Geraldina, my 26’ powerboat, and the lonely lightbulb that is keeping her engine from freezing. I couldn’t winterize the engine right before Christmas as I discovered the flywheel was ruined. I’ve been so busy with the Whalen that powerboat Geraldina, the last souvenir of my father who passed away in 2000, is being neglected. Even with the cold blast that is bearing down on us, one little 100 watt bulb is keeping the engine compartment well above freezing. While at the Beard Street Pier, I stop to consider the demolition of the Revere Sugar Refinery. What a tragedy, what a lack of vision. The PortSide team is convinced that Thor Equities would have a more valuable property if they’d coupled historic buildings and industrial remnants with some very modern design. Instead it looks like they’ll level the place and be left with a generic plot – a loss to history, to Red Hook, and to them.

And then off to Debby Romano’s once again to avail myself of shower and washing machine. I am into a groove on the Whalen, but I do wish she had working plumbing.