The hidden dangers of your boat

No, I’m not being subtle here 🙂

Our experience from the beginning of our project on Vida has included uncovering a number of hidden dangers. In our case that included being close to having paraffin leaking into the engine compartment.

This can of fuel (for the heating system) was fixed and buried deep within the cockpit locker where most of it was invisible in a wood “box”. We put it in a bag and took it to the recycling centre. By the time we got there it had given up and all the fuel had leaked out.

We have many other things that we have uncovered during this refit. Including this important part of the steering system. The gear box on the right of the picture was boxed in by plywood nailed into place. The other side of the bulkhead is hidden behind the autopilot motor in the furthest corner of the cockpit locker.

So nobody knew that 3 of the 4 bolts holding it in place can fallout out and the 4th was about to do so. It wasn’t picked up by the survey and the lack of smoothness in the steering had come in so gradually that it hadn’t been noticed.

Or there was this as we were removing the galley sink drain. How well do you think the seacock tap would have closed off this pipe if there was a problem?

Or there is the issue that our foam back vinyl headlining was absorbing water and disguising where leaks were. Two we only discovered after returning following 6 months of Covid lockdown.

Or that the cupboards in the aft cabin had meant that the previous owner couldn’t work out where the leaks where coming from because they blocked access. They also hid the one place in the boat that we have found where the glass fibre tabbing for a bulkhead is not perfect.

Or that the bilge sump had a fixed floor 1m above the bottom with one tiny hole so that things could drop in and not be retrieved yet could block the bilge pump (let alone no way to tell how much water was in there).

Or the gate valve on the skin fitting for the bilge pump. Totally seized which didn’t matter so much as neither the previous owner nor the surveyor even knew it was there, if they had known they could not have reached it due to all the original systems in the way.

Or the original diesel system with tanks so well fixed and boxed in that it was impossible to inspect them, or trace all the pipes or have anyway to clean the tanks.

For us all this makes us very grateful that we are replacing pretty much all systems and that we are not trying to restore the original timber interior.

Others have it worse though. There are now a couple of YouTube channels with Lagoon 450’s which have serious problems with failing bulkheads that are completely hidden by furniture that was assembled before being fitted to the boat and which cannot be disassembled without pretty much destroying it. Sailing Parlay Revival was the first. Here is where they first discovered the problem:

They now have a playlist of videos where they are fixing the problems (which are enormous).

I’ve seen plenty of mocking Colin as causing the problem by putting far too much tension in his rig. However, some of what he has uncovered shows that there had been attempts to fix issues before it became the hurricane damaged catamaran he bought.

Then I discovered this video.

I’ve read some of the comments (yes, I know usually a mistake). Lots of hate and ignorance and general nastiness.

My concern is a wider one than the extent to which Lagoon have a problem to solve.

In order to have nice looking boats and to ft more and more features (like hot water, fridges etc etc), for decades, manufacturers have been building furniture that hides things. Sometimes, the furniture is designed to be part of the structure, others to hide it or conceal the services.

This has the potential to be a significant danger. Problems are hidden until they have catastrophic outcomes (such as paraffin leaking into an engine room with a hot diesel engine running; or a bilge pump hose failure that means water can flood into a deep bilge that you have no access to from a skin fitting that you can’t reach or close).

I’ve been writing a separate blog post about “Why we are changing everything on our boat?” and for us these are connected. When hidden problems are uncovered and fixed during a full refit you safe time, money and reduce risk significantly over a do the minimum now and then maintain on the way process.

For us this is also about Sustainability, not immediately in the environmental way (although at the end of the day that is impacted to). Sustaining the plan, the cruising dream is made more possible by reducing the potential for hidden problems. So we believe it is worth making (sometimes drastic) changes in order for you to be able to:

  • see every bulkhead along it’s length to check it is fully, properly connected to the hull
  • inspect every chain plate (thanks to our latest design ours will be a simple job per chainplate: slacken shroud, pull the dyneema chainplate loop out, inspect or replace)
  • get to every backing plate for every deck fitting to check for corrosion or leaks
  • get to every part of every length of fuel line (gas or diesel or whatever) to check. Be able to clean and remove blockages/sludge from every tank and fuel line
  • reduce the number of holes in the boat (seacocks/instruments etc) and be able to check them all quickly with good access for checking and servicing.
  • have headlinings that can be removed to check for leaks (as well as run wiring)

The way that this becomes more environmentally sustainable is that all these practices mean that boats can stay in use and not be written off for longer. Every extra year of use reduces the average carbon footprint and takes us closer to points where recycling of old boats is improved.

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