Reinvigorated by his time on the water, Andrew kills it with the remainder of the keel bolts. He melts the old out, the new in, and he even re-melts the first two new bolts he installed before we decided to tip the keel on its side so that they would be as strong and perfect as the rest. Lickety Split! It is not long at all until we are putting the finishing touches on and scheduling the slings to attempt the big install.
But first, a few more preparation items. Once all the bolts have been swapped in and out, Andrew takes his angle grinder and sander to the keel to make it smooth and perfect, we don’t want any ridges or lumps interrupting the waterflow while I sail! In order to protect the lead from salt water, it needs to be painted with epoxy paint. In order for the epoxy paint to stick, all the oxidation needs to be removed from the outmost layer of lead. So, Andrew schedules a buddy at the yard to help him. In a circuit, Andrew sands my keel bright and shiny, then his buddy follows behind him mere seconds later to roll a layer of paint over the freshly sanded lead.
It looks so perfect.
Then, we need to get the backing plates ready. Andrew purchased all new silicon bronze backing plates to give my bolts and their nuts a firm, flat surface to spread the load onto on the inside of my hull. Currently, they are just raw plates, and they need to have holes cut into them to allow the bolts to run through. I think he’s going to do that today….
“Good morning, Sonrisa!” Andrew arrives on scene and trailing behind him is Leslie with her nosy camera lens already out and poking my way.
“Good morning. Hey, Leslie!”
“Hiya Sonrisa! You ready for this!? Today’s your big day!”
Big day? Andrew bends over my keel and instructs Leslie to start peeling away paint tape to expose the tops of the keel bolts beneath, which she does, pausing only momentarily every now and then to take a photograph. The growl of a slow diesel engine rumbles one yard row away, and I can already see the slings moving my direction. Oh my gosh! Are they going to put my keel back on today? Already!? Are we ready? I didn’t meditate on this. I didn’t know we were ready! Are we ready?
Andrew is scurrying about, cleaning up his work station all around me, pulling an air compressor over from another boat, blowing away water from the top of the keel, and inspecting my underside to see that the holes where my keel bolts should fit are clear. He’s all business, but I can sense a nervous energy he doesn’t usually carry. We begin to gather an audience.
Soon, the travel-lift is moved into place, and they strap me into the stirrups nice and tight. They kick my jack stands out from under me and I am floating into space. “I’m coming for you baby!!!” I call out to my keel as they roll me over the top of her.
“I don’t know, you think it’s going to fit? How could you ever make sure those bolts are arranged the same way as they were before? What if they don’t fit? What are you going to do?”
Other yachties in the yard wander by and ask Andrew these million dollar questions. I think he loves being asked this particular set of questions. But to be fair, this is the hole arrangement we have to line up with my keel bolts:
I admit it’s probably not the simplest task.
Now, the real fun begins. It was pretty easy to get me to hover over the keel in a general sense, but how in the world are they ever going to fine tune that position? Andrew and Ryan meet to build a consensus for a plan..
Ryan gives the Travel Lift Driver the thumbs up.
The Travel Lift Driver rolls the wheels all the way to the right, nudges the lift back and forth in the smallest increments I ever could have imagined. A little right, a little forward, a little left, a little backward, one inch at a time as if he were trying to parallel park in a space just big enough for his car to fit - only I’m not a car. I’m a 40 foot, 30,000 lb boat strapped into a giant, square-shaped travel lift.
Ryan peeks beneath my underbelly, giving the lift driver instructions with hand signals as we get closer and closer to lining up.
And then, “I think we’ve got it!” He says. “Now, lower her down. Slowly! Slowly!”
The stirrups loosen ever so slightly below my hull and I sink downward until I can feel those shiny new keel bolts just tickling my underside. “No, no, back up, we are just a little to the left.” They hoist me back up and go through the position process again. “Okay, I think we are there.” They lower me back down. This time, I can feel the bolts start to break the surface and slide into their bolt holes. The front bolt is touching fiberglass and I start to make a squeaking noise as the pressure of the weight of my hull presses into the top of that front bolt.
“STOP STOP STOP!” Ryan calls out. “No Stop!”
The lift driver stops. Everyone sticks their head beneath my hull to see what is going on. “What’s going on, guys?” The suspense is absolutely killing me. There is mumbling. The crowd that has gathered offers words of hope: “if you let down the backside first, it will push the whole thing forward just a centimeter!”
I hear Andrew despair: “Uh….No, he can’t. He’s already on the bolt in the back.”
“Yeah, all the bolts are in…except….”
Ryan trails off as Leslie states the obvious. “…all except the front bolt.”
“The front bolt!?” Andrew says, as he scurries forward to poke his head at the front ridge of my keel. What Leslie doesn’t know is that the front bolt is the bolt Andrew is most worried might be out of place. I can hear the tin foil around Andrew’s heart crushing.
“No, no, come here, look, see?” Ryan waves Andrew over and points at all the rest of my keel bolts, each nudged toward the very front of each hole in my hull. The front bolt is just barely touching the front of it’s hole by millimeters, at most. “If we move it backward just a little bit, they’ll all be in.”
Andrew agrees, “…ever so slightly….” I can hear the anxiety in Andrew’s voice. If the lift driver goes too far, the holes in my hull will hit and start pulling on the bolts. Could we crush my fiberglass? Could we bend/break these bolts? If anything like that happens, it will be weeks more to get new ones shipped, the broken one melted out, melted back in, the keel re-sanded, re-pained, this whole sling thing reorganized…
”Don’t break it!” I squeak out.
Yard-Ryan and the Lift Driver have this under control. Ryan pinches his fingers together to indicate downward, just a little bit on the back. Then, he pushes his hand forward to indicate the lift driver should drive forward. “The smallest bit you can do!”
OOOoooooh, no, I can feel it. We’re touching in the back! How!? How can you finesse this giant lift with me in these swinging stirrups so slightly that we move just millimeters forward?
It seems impossible.
“You’ve got this Sonrisa!” I hear Leslie say behind two separate camera lenses – the go pro for wide angles and her regular Cannon for up close. She’s laying on her belly just in front of my keel, getting just the right angle when she can concentrate on what she’s doing. She can see the front bolt just touching, so close to slipping inward.
The lift gives a belch of smoke and grunts the shortest, slightest grunt.
“Okay! Okay! It’s good. Now down, down, down, slowly!” Ryan instructs again, pinching his fingers to indicate small moves. I hold my breath.
The lift squawks with each small release of pressure, and I lower down one centimeter at a time. “We’re going down! It’s going to work!” I think.
As the crack seals to close and there is no more light between my hull and keel, Andrew laughs a little bit as a gush of relief blows from his lips like a monsoon wind. He looks sideways at Leslie, who laughs, too. Andrew stands and walks out from under my hull to get some clear air.
His feet swerve beneath him. “I think I’m going to pass out.” He says.
“WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!!!” I cheer.
You want to watch this in live time? Here’s the Moment of Truth for your viewing pleasure. It’s worth the 2.5 minutes, I think.