The morning after he tried to melt my heart out, Andrew returned bright and early with a tense look in his eye. “Yo, ho, ho, Captain!” I greet him. “How’s the mood today?” But, he is still in no mood for merry chatter.
“Melting the bolts out is the easy part, Sonrisa. Let’s see if I can get them back in, today before we get all chipper about it, okay?”
I pout. “Okay, okay, jeeze. I’m just here for moral support.” I tell him.
Having removed the second and third rear-most bolts on the right side of the keel, Andrew didn’t want to melt any more bolts out until he put new ones back in. (Remember, this is one of his strategies to preserve my keel shape.) So, he started the morning making lead ingots out of his rough (and now frozen) puddle of lead from yesterday’s melt-out. He melts lead in the pot, pours it in his cake pan tipped at an angle, and…voila! Lead ingot.
Around that same time, Leslie and our Chinese friends from S/V Joan arrive to watch. Without much comment, he goes about his business performing for his audience. He chisels away the oxidation that has already formed around the melt-out channel and nestled one of my pretty new bolts into place. He screws the bolt into the jig with a nut, then tacks the “dam” to the side of my keel. The melt starts.
Some of the lead sticks, but a good portion runs down the channel, beneath the dam, and back into his cake pan. He uses more ingots than he has planned trying to back fill the leaky dam, so he needs more lead from…somewhere. He doesn’t trust the source where he got the sketchy fishing weights four our original practice lump, they seem contaminated with some other metal. So, instead, he starts eyeing the scuba diving weights.
“Ting, ting!” His hammer bounces from the weights giving a pleasing ring to the ear. We acquired these dive weights in Tonga. With the lack of speedy and economical shipping available, our diving buddy kept his equipment running with bubble gum, shoelaces, and anything else he could find on the island. Andrew suspects he melted the lead for the dive weights out of car wheel weights, known in the lead melting world to contain just the right amount of antimony to be strong. Lead alone or lead contaminated with other metals besides alimony make a dull thud. Once you add the antimony, suddenly it sounds like a nice little chime (if your piece is small) or maybe even a gong if your piece is large like my whole keel. The better the “ting-ting,” the more perfect the mix. To be sure, Andrew bangs the dive weights with a hammer to test their sound.
“I knew it!” Andrew says as he hammers the dive weights. Out comes the torch and soon enough the dive weights are incorporated into my keel.
The second melt-in goes better, but it’s still ugly. Leslie and our friends are impressed, but Andrew and I are skeptical.
A few problems are presenting themselves: First, with the lead running out of the dam, Andrew is having to stop repeatedly to let the replacement lead cool to a solid before he can continue. Second, with as fast as lead oxidizes, this multi-step process is requiring that he chisel away oxidation over and over again. These two problems mean the process is taking much longer than it should, it looks ugly, and it is creating multiple layers of “puddle-to-puddle” adherence. It might be okay and strong enough, but it would definitely be stronger if he could melt the lead in one continuous flow. The third problem is at the top of the bolt, the keel shape has a downward slant in the back. Because the molten lead will only flow to the lowest point, it’s going to take some fancy melting work to get that spot to level out and fill properly so that the keel can sit flush against my hull when we reattach it.
Andrew furrows his fluffy brows, and I scratch my chin. “I didn’t want to do it, but…”
“What? Tip the keel?” I ask.
“Yeah, I think we are going to have to tip your keel on its side so I can melt each bolt in one puddle.” Great minds think alike, my friends, but Andrew doesn’t love this idea. “Ugh,” He says.
“What? Why not? I think that sounds like a great plan,” I say.
“Well, first…how? This is 9,000 lbs of lead, it’s not like I can just push it over myself. So, that means the expense of a fork-lift every time we want to flip it.”
“Well, how many times would that be? Just a couple, right?”
“No…I think it still has to be standing up for all the melt-outs. Otherwise, the lead won’t pour away from the bolt; it will just sit in one big puddle. And…because I don’t want to remove very many bolts in any one area at a given time, we are going to have to flip it up and down multiple time for each side. Think of all the chances that we might drop it or dent it.” He lifts his cap and rubs his forehead, smashing sweat, dirt, fiberglass, and probably toxic lead dust and bottom paint into his skin.
“Don’t do that, wash your hands.” I tell him. “Yeah, I see your point, but Ryan and the Lift Team have been really great so far. They have lifted me up three times already with no problems, and the mast pull went smoothly, too. I don’t know that we have any other option. I’m okay with it.”
“You think?” Andrew asks.
“Yeah. Just go slow.”
So, Andrew contemplates the project with the yard team, and Ryan – in Yard-Ryan Fashion – says, “let’s give it a shot!” He hands Andrew a chilly Tiger beer. Grog: keeps the creative juices flowing.
This pause in action allows Andrew to realize the err of his ways. He scurries up my ladder to retrieve an item of grave importance: The Ceremonial Sailor Jerry.
“I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner.” Andrew says.
He gives the keel a pre-forklift ceremonial splash of rum. He splashes rum on the side of my hull, and he shares a nip of his own to curry favor with Neptune.
“Don’t you think you need to splash some in the ocean?” I ask. Andrew saunters over to the edge of the wharf and tips a shot downward. Rum+Saltwater is the baptismal cocktail of choice for boats everywhere.
The next morning, Andrew hustles to the yard at the first light of dawn. He melts out three channels spread as wide apart as possible.
By the time the Yard crew arrives, we are ready to test this fork lift plan. The resident “French Guy” who almost always has a cigarette dangling from his lips, the Fork Lift Driver, and Yard-Ryan arrive on the scene.
“A little strap here, a second strap there….maybe if we lift it vertically, then drive backwards….ooop! No, not too fast! A wooden block under this end…” In no time at all, my keel is on its side.
“Sonrisa, meet Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan, meet Sonrisa!” Andrew says, as he hold a car jack in my direction. He snuggles the jack beneath my keel and gives it a few cranks.
With my keel now level and laying on its side, Andrew ceremoniously lays a new bolt in a slot he has prepared, grabs the first of a series of ingots, and pops his torch. In one smooth motion, he melts all of his ingots until the channel is full and flush with the side of the keel, a molten lava puddle of silver and blue bubbles beneath his torch.
“Now we’re talking!” I cheer. If I had hands, I’d give him a high five.
Our momentum skyrockets. Andrew replaces and melts new lead into all three channels he’d melted out that morning. Then, he schedules the fork lift for the very next morning to tip the keel upright. We are going to get this done at the end of the month. I have renewed hope!
In other news, Andrew looked cross eyed at another one of the old keel bolts today, and it flopped over like a dog playing dead. I’m really, really glad we are swapping these things out.