It has been 3 years ago to the month that we bought our Formosa 51. I remember driving back from where it was located with the euphoric glow and enthusiasm of well-placed offer to buy. I naively said to Deb, the refit should take us a year, let’s say 2 at worst. That list included repairing the teak decks, replacing the coach house wall, new electrical, new plumbing, rot repair here and there, brightwork refinishing and various other smaller projects. Well here we are 3 years later and the coach house has not been replaced, the teak decks are mid-repair, the plumbing has been replaced but the electrical has not. Brightwork has been started a dozen times and not finished. All in all, the saying of a refit taking 3 times the money and 4 times as long are starting to hold a bit true for us.
Certainly the last 2 years have given us our share of unexpected and joyful challenges, but those changes impact the ability to complete work at the pace we were thinking. If I am being realistic with myself, however, it is not all due to that either. I was starting to lack motivation due to the time the projects were taking. Each project started would be bigger and more involved than I had anticipated and it was starting to get to me a bit. I was seeking out smaller projects so that I could get a victory.
I know this about myself, I need small victories to keep my enthusiasm up.
So with that, we started to put some serious consideration into getting some work done on the boat. I had almost completely sworn off hired help due to some of my previous experiences. It seems that very few people if any, care about your boat as much as you do. And I wanted to do all the work so I was familiar with how things were done and could repair anything on my own later as well as know it was done the way I wanted.
Earlier this year, I shopped for new insurance to reduce cost and I had a bit of a hard time getting insurance due to the comments on the previous survey about needing to consider a bottom job next time the boat was pulled. There was a comment about one of the fuel tanks being steel and needing to be pressure tested. With those comments on the current survey, most insurance providers wanted a new survey done on the boat. The fuel tank pressure testing is what caused our current insurance provider to put us on a “port lock.” That is a fancy way of saying they would insure the boat as long as it didn’t leave the dock. Since we had so much work to do anyway, this was not a huge concern but was annoying none the less given what we are paying for insurance on the boat.
But with age comes wisdom and some of these projects are just beyond Deb and I. We started to consider getting work done on her and were happy with the work that was done when we bought the boat. We pulled the boat for the survey at the time and had a bit of fiberglass work done on the bow thruster tube and some thru-hulls and seacocks replaced. The yard, Mayer Yacht Service, in New Orleans did good work and we contacted the owner to talk about the projects we were considering. With a preliminary quote which included fuel tank testing, we reached out to our insurance company for the permission to leave the dock to take it to the yard. After this call, they removed the port lock restriction right there and didn’t even require it to be repaired. (Side note, that ticked me off, but I was glad it was off of there either way).
- New Battery and test and validate that the Generator was still working well
- Adjust the shifter/throttle as it was going into reverse after the engine started to rev
- Change the oil
- Clean all sea strainers
- Validate wiring and operation of electric fuel pump in the event the fuel system needed to be bled
- Check and replace diesel fuel filters
Once complete, it was time to get her off the dock. We pulled out from the dock without incident. I saw looks of shock and awe on some of the people that were on the boats seeing us go by. Being berthed very close to the Marina entrance, all the other boaters go past us often as they exit the marina and likely many thought the old girl just wouldn’t move. She looks majestic on the water and the helm was easy and responsive. Motoring at 1400 RPM’s pushed her at 6.5 knots through the water. I went down the river a few miles to Brady Island and stopped in a wide open place to check and get a feel for her maneuverability. She is a heavy full keel boat, so backing up is a challenge as you would expect. She has some prop walk and needs some motion before the rudder is responsive. The bow thruster helps a bit, but in a crosswind over 10 knots it likely wouldn’t suffice but is a lot better than not having one.
After my little maneuvering drills, it was time to continue down the river toward Madisonville where we called the bridge tender to request an opening. The swing bridge opened and at the request of the tender, we shot through as it was partially open to keep the traffic impact to a minimum. It was a pleasure to hear the bridge tender call us on the radio as we went by with a “Skipper, I sure love that boat you have, safe sailing.”
As we exited the Tchefuncte River into Lake Ponchartrain, we stayed in the marked channel knowing it was a bit shallow. We scraped the silted bottom where the channel turns south into the lake outside the lighthouse but was able to back off and adjust starboard a bit to get to deeper water on the west side of the marked channel.
Once in the Lake we unfurled the Heads’l and sailed under jib alone. She traveled at 4 knots but blew downwind a bit without another sail out to help balance her. I was looking for an easy sail so we dealt with it. We contacted the Causeway Bridge tender as we exited the Tchefuncte River to let them know our approximate arrival time and schedule an opening. This is a major impact to traffic as the only north-south route over the lake. I hovered close to the bridge when I saw the gates starting to come down and made our way through the open twin bascule bridges.
Other than some fuel issues that caused the motor to stall a few miles past the bridge, we had a decent first outing. I was not able to get the motor running again on the water and attribute it to not having a good grasp of the fuel line routing and valve system. I was not able to switch tanks and it is embarrassing that I made a mistake that was avoidable. I did prepare by ensuring that my towing insurance was all set and I contacted them to get us into the shipyard. I continued to sail and the tow boat met me about 3 miles from the shipyard for the tow and escort into the tight area to tie up.
In next weeks post, we will cover the hauling of the boat and work being done.
See the video as we prepared the boat, did the repairs above, raised the sails for a little “Slip Sailing” and enjoyed our first trip off the dock in 3 years on S/V DreamChaser.
Also published on Medium.