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Deck and Cabin Side Replacement

Murre, Mariner 31

Hull 150, 1972


Work done: August through November, 2003

Article written: September, 2007



    “One cannot buy a biggish boat as if buying a piece of soap.  The act is almost as irrevocable as marriage and should be given as much thought.  Even if the boat is bought merely to look at, as some are, it has to lie somewhere.  Expenses begin at once and if the boat is an old one they will rise in arithmetical progression until either something happens to it or the owner finds himself in Carey street.”


   “By now such voyages [to Greenland in old boats] have become a habit, and a worse habit is that of writing about them.”


            -H. W. Tilman, Ice with Everything



A Worse Habit


Writing-up the adventure is, for some, half the fun of having it.  But while the adventure can inconvenience only its small party of fully informed volunteers, publishing it begs the indulgence of a larger audience, some of whom may wish to know the itinerary before embarking on the voyage.


If it is not obvious how a Mariner restoration job could be considered an adventure in the usual sense, let me explain that this long article is as much a personal reminiscence—the story of one man’s trip to America and another’s hard-knocks education in a boat yard—as it is a technical report.  Its length is due to the inclusion, on both fronts, of as many details as I can now recall, along with a generous number of photographs.  Sadly, my camera was crap and often poorly aimed.


This rebuild plan was a crazy risk, inspired by desperation and ignorance in equal measure.  The result, however, was entirely positive, and the process, one of the more rewarding experiences in memory. 


The Arrival


Just after midnight on September 1, 2003, Mr. Ikemiyagi boarded a jam-packed 747 bound across the Pacific Ocean from Okinawa, Japan to San Francisco, California, and slowly moved toward his middle seat.  This was his first flight ever.  He was traveling to America to work on my boat.  He didn’t speak much English, and we’d never met.


At ten o’clock the next morning, I pulled into the airport parking lot and rushed with Tom, a colleague fluent in Japanese, to San Francisco’s International Terminal.  There, panting, we stood before large, imposing doors of polished aluminum, doors that looked like the gates of heaven and above which a sign read “Arrivals”.   Tom held the cut out end of a cardboard box with the capital letters I-K-I scrawled on one side in heavy felt pen.  I held a camera. 


All my correspondence with Japan over the months of preparation had been with a fellow Mariner owner named Dave Lee and only via email.  I’d not spoken with Mr. Ikemiyagi by phone—didn’t even have a photograph. 


The celestial gates opened with a slow and stately whoosh.  Tom raised his sign.  Travelers were disgorged, greeted, and quickly whisked away.  None were our man.


I had mailed his plane ticket months earlier, but at the last minute the trip had been postponed for two weeks so Mr. Ikemiyagi could celebrate a national holiday with his family.  I knew from Dave that the ticket had arrived; I knew Mr. Ikemiyagi was prepared, even excited, to come, but I had no idea on the appointed day whether he’d actually made his flight.  In fact, Dave and I hadn’t corresponded in a week.  Anything could have gone wrong. 


Again and again the great doors opened, and for half an hour haggard or happy people filed out.  Tom raised and lowered his sign, each time with less conviction.  I began to pace. 


Was it possible I had gotten the wrong date?  Had there been a last minute emergency?  Had Mr. Ikemiyagi changed his mind? 


I’d made several loops of the area before noticing a close shaven, middle aged Japanese man in new blue jeans and a pressed red shirt approaching from down the corridor.  He struggled to carry a large canvas bag. He walked directly up to Tom, and bowing, said, “Mr. Randall.  I Iki.”  Pointing to his bag he said, “This tools.”  The camera flashed, and Mr. Ikemiyagi threw a wan look at the photographer.



We fell in love with our Mariner right away. 


Joanna appreciates a boat with character and a certain old-world charm: brightwork, bronze fittings, plenty of wood below, things that remind her of the small boats her father sailed on the rivers of southern England.  These things attracted me too.  And if I had an inkling of the upkeep implied, it was easily overmatched by the lure of the ketch rig, the full, sturdy keel, the beefy blue diesel, and the fact that the boat we had found showed surprisingly well for her 30 years of age.  That we could afford her was no small thing.


So in 2001 we bought this Far East Mariner 31, named her Murre and immediately hit the water.


But it wasn’t much later that the lustrous deck paint began to crack around the cabin-to-deck joint.  Small spots of softness near the toe rail and chain plates, problem areas I’d discovered during the survey process (“Fixed for less than a grand”, said the broker), enlarged.  And the dull “thunk” made by the wood below the main cabin windows when tapped did not inspire confidence. 


I inquired what I might do of a wooden boat owner in my marina.  “Oh”, he said wryly, “we don’t worry too much about such things.  Don’t get your tools out till you can put your foot through the deck.” 


To an utter innocent, a man who’d only owned fiberglass boats previously, this was a disconcerting remark.  But it was all the advice I could then afford, so I put silicon over the cracks, we learned to step lightly past the delicate areas, and we sailed and sailed.  In summer, our bay has a belly full of wind; we were often reefed and soaked and beat up.  Murre weathered it all just fine.


Still, a man wants his boat to be whole.  We’d be at anchor on a summer’s night, reading in the softly lit cabin, and Jo would look up to find me staring at the toe rail’s persistent drips or the mildew under the deck.  I was pining to get Murre put right.


I got quotes on deck repair from local boatwrights.  They were well beyond our means and often more than we’d paid for the boat.  “It’s only a quote.  It could be much more,” the boatwright would say, shaking his head.  Things seemed hopeless. 


Then one night I was lamenting over my situation on the Mariner Owners Association bulletin board.  Right away Dave Lee, who then owned Cherub, a Mariner 31, responded.  He suggested I use his boatwright, a skilled man of about 50 whom Dave had employed often for boat jobs and whose fees were more within reach.  


The problem was that Dave Lee and his man were in Okinawa; I was in San Francisco.  It seemed a non-starter. 


Still, Dave insisted I look at the possibilities: the money savings, the man’s exceptional skill, his eagerness, the uniqueness of the opportunity, not to mention an entire lack of alternatives. 


For weeks I plied Dave with questions via email.  Dave’s answers were consistently reasonable, reassuring.  “Have him sleep on the boat.  Hell, have him sleep in a tent.  Lend him your bicycle and have him shop at Safeway.  He can bring his own tools.  He’s never been off this island, and, no, he can’t drive on your American freeways, way too fast, but his English is good.  Well, actually, his English is OK.  When he works on Cherub, I supplement my directions with sign language, and we get along just fine.  He likes good beer.  His full name is Osamu Ikemiyagi, but we call him Iki (pronounced Ee’kee ) for short.  He’s a traditional Japanese man, very proud of his work, of his honor.  He’ll do the best job there is to be done.  You will have a sweet new boat.  Randall, this will work.” 



During the drive into the city it became clear Iki had no desire to speak via a translator. 


“How was your flight?” I asked, fighting to know where to start the conversation.  I directed this remark toward Tom who was in the front, passenger seat and with a nod toward Iki in the back indicating that translation services should commence.


“Good.  Flight early,” said Iki in my direction before Tom could open his mouth.  “I look for you long time.”


Tom then delivered a long, flowery introduction to Iki in Japanese.  Iki smiled at him, said “Hyie” with a bow, but then to me, “Good, but no smoke on plane long time” as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and lit up. 


Tom said a few more words in Japanese, but Iki ignored him, saying to me, “Mr. Randall, where boat?”  


I explained to Tom that it was in San Rafael, north of San Francisco by about 30 minutes.  Tom translated, but Iki interrupted.  “Boat in dock or in …?” Iki waved his hands in a horizontal fashion, making the sign for flatness. 


“It’s on stilts at Garvey’s yard,” I said.  “That’s the only yard left in the Bay Area where DIY is OK.” 


Both Tom and Iki look at me blankly. 


“Yes, boat on hard,” I said, making the sign for flatness with the hand that wasn’t driving. 


“Good,” said Iki. 


This had been a point of early discussion between Dave and me.  Dave represented that Iki preferred the boat be immobilized while he tore it to pieces.  I preferred not to absorb the extra cost such an arrangement implied.  Iki won. 


“I want see boat” said Iki.  And then, “Good”, he said, raising his cigarette, “I like.” 


Tom, utterly flummoxed and feeling the pinch of uselessness, translated Iki’s last remarks to me in Japanese.  



Our first stop after dropping a dejected Tom downtown was the observation point on the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The fog boiled over the north ridges covering part of the rust-red bridge tower, the city lay bone-white in the sun, the green water in the slot frothed its afternoon madness—a typical day for the City by the Bay.  “Ohhh”, said Iki, impressed, “Ohhh.  Good.”  It was a throaty, deeply appreciative, long-held “Ohhh”, one I would hear often on those occasions when we’d explore outside the boatyard. 



Our second stop was the yard for a slow, meticulous inspection of Murre.  Iki felt the deck with his feet, tapped here and there, and picked at the cracks with long fingernails.  When he discovered a soft spot, he’d throw one hand over his head and suck his teeth in disgust.  “Tsk.  No good,” he’d say.  Over the next three months this was another oft repeated phrase.  Then we crawled inside the boat and Iki thumped at the deck from underneath, stuck his head in cupboards, and acted for all the world like a sharp-eyed surveyor.  Around four o’clock Iki yawned, announcing the onset of jet-lag and the end of the first day.



Taking Things Apart



We were replacing the whole deck, so the toe rail had to come off before anything else got done—a job for which some care was required.

Murre’s toe rail was five pieces of teak; one covered the stern and two on each side stretched toward the bow joined about amidships by a locking scarf.  On the outboard side the rail sat directly onto the hull flange and a rabbet run along the inboard edge allowed it to fit snugly over the outer edge of the deck.


The original fasteners were bronze, and while some of the nuts could be backed off, most had to be cut away from underneath.  Almost all the bolts were corroded in place and could only be removed after the rail was down. 


I should announce early that I was the gofer on this project.  Though I worked hard each weekend and as many week days as I could prudently remove myself from work, all the technical jobs were Iki’s.  Naturally, then, my first assignment was to back these stuck fasteners out of the toe rail one by one with a maximum of care (in order to leave the plug holes undamaged) and a minimum of swearing.  There were 75 fasteners in all.  With some coaching from Iki, I was successful at the former, not so much at the latter.


One boatwright I spoke with said the toe rail would be brittle and would most likely break coming off, but Iki was gentle and it came off cleanly. 




Once the toe rail was down, the tearing up began.

Murre’s deck and cabin side issues were much the same as those chronicled by others.  Simply put, over the years water repeatedly penetrated the wood along many of the joints leading to an entirely predictable result: rot. 


Some have speculated that the wood’s deterioration was more a function of delamination than rot, a consequence of using poor quality, non-marine grade plywood during the original construction, but my suspicions run along a different line. 


For one thing, when Murre was built the standard bedding compound was Dolphinite (still on the market today).  This product begins its life the consistency of oily peanut butter, but over time it dries out, turns black, and becomes brittle.  It can’t flex with the boat like modern compounds, and so where it was used—under the toe rail, around the chainplates, under the window covering—it had separated from its bedded material allowing leaks to develop.  As we disassembled Murre it was obvious these were major problem areas.


Another problem area on Murre was the deck to cabin-side joint, which I think was too lightly built.  The deck was fastened to the house from underneath (see below discussion); the joint was laid with a small radius of fairing compound and then sheathed with only one layer of ½ ounce fiberglass roving.  Years of stress, of boat flex and the trampling of feet fore and aft, proved more than it could handle.  Along much of its line and especially under the windows cracks had developed.  In fact, it could well be that this joint was initially compromised because of leaky windows, a problem that periodic maintenance could have avoided.


These two factors allowed for the regular irrigation over many years of several critical joints, a torture that would cause any wood, marine grade or otherwise, to succumb.


A Note on Sequencing


Iki rebuilt the deck first; only after the new deck was permanently fastened did he attack the cabin sides.

The deck job was broken up into three main stages, each of which was completed before moving to the next.  These stages were as follows: from the stern to roughly the area of the aft cabin bulkhead, from there to the fore of the cabin, and from there to the bow.   I can think of no reason for starting at the stern versus the bow, except that it is square and possibly in that way looked easier.


The beginning and end of any stage was defined by the length of the original plywood sheets, and on Murre there were plywood butt-blocks under the deck at these joints (above photo of old deck); thus, from underneath it was easy to predict where to make a clean break to the demolition for that stage.


The cabin sides came off as if they were one sheet of ply each but were replaced with two pieces per side starting back to front.  As with the decks, we did one side at a time.


While there are many ways to skin the cat, the advantages to this conservative approach were:


1.                  Doing small bits made it easier to recover from mistakes.


2.                  Replacing the decks first created a clean, solid surface on which to stand in order to approach the more challenging cabin-side work.


3.                  And most importantly, the deck to cabin-side assembly relies on both for its strength.  Removing the deck and cabin sides at the same time could have allowed the remaining supports to shift out of position.




Replacing the Deck


So, we started at the stern and worked forward cautiously.


Murre was originally decked with ½ inch marine Mahogany, and though we re-decked with the same thickness of ply, we chose marine Okume because it was easier to source and reputed to be more rot resistant than other woods.  The entire job required five 4 foot by 8 foot sheets.



The above drawing represents the layout of Murre’s new deck pieces, but I am fairly certain Iki stayed consistent with the original design.  I have separated the various deck pieces with dashed lines and indicated to the right the joint locations on the boat.  I have only drawn in the starboard side deck pieces as they are identically sized port and starboard.  The text differentiates side to side joint location where appropriate.  There are a total of 12 pieces.


*Though the deck joint meets at a bulkhead here, Iki added a frame under the deck at the forward side of both bulkheads to use as a butt-block and to make this joint more secure.




Prior to replacing the aft deck, Iki added deck beams to strengthen what was previously a rather open expanse of plywood.  The rectangle of frame around the worm gear supports the worm gear box / captain’s seat.





Fitting the stern decking under the after end of splashboard took considerable elbow grease, which explains why Iki replaced this part of the deck with two small pieces (joined amidships) instead of one.  We cut away some of the swooping, after-“wing” of the splashboard to make fitting easier.  We also had to cut about half an inch off the underside and replace it with a spacer once the new deck was in place.

Important to note but barely visible in this photo is a small, fiberglass pad applied to the area of deck under the most aft part of the splash board (see red circle).  We intended to sheath the deck in fiberglass in the final stages of the project, and fitting glass under here would have been impossible with the new deck in place.  So Iki applied just this small section of glass prior to placing the aft deck pieces.




Moving forward, we next attacked the deck area along the house.  In the above photo this section has been removed and the boat’s wide hull flange, the top of the hollow fiberglass knee, and the bulkhead separating the main cabin from the head can be seen.  Notice the very dark wood around the forward chainplates.  The black stuff along the top of the flange is old, hardened Dolphinite.


One hint that came from Dave Lee: while the deck is off, take the opportunity to inspect the chainplates.  If leaking has occurred, the plates are likely to be most vulnerable to corrosion in the inter-deck area, which is impossible to see prior to demolition.  I inspected these with a magnifying glass and replaced three that had hairline cracks.



A Note on Assembly


Without removing the deck, it can be difficult to know how the deck-to-cabin-side joint comes together, so a note on assembly here.


The deck and cabin sides join at a single “anchoring” frame that runs the entire length of the house and cockpit.  While the deck sits atop the hull flange, it slides under this anchoring frame and fastens from underneath.  This can be difficult to intuit because the frame is mostly covered.  On the underside the assembly is hidden by a thin piece of flashing that creates a “tray” for the cabin electrical wires.  The grab rail in the cabin attaches to and hides the inboard side of this frame, and the cabin side, the outer. 



The above drawing shows a cross section of the assembly from the starboard side looking forward but without bulkheads, knees or other supporting structures.  Nothing is to scale.




Here is the same area from the outside looking down and in at a 45 degree angle.  The starboard cabin side has been removed, but the new deck is in place.  The letters correspond to the letters in the drawing, with the addition of “K”, which is the back of the main cabin side / coach roof knee.


Finally, this shot from inside the cabin.  The new deck is in place, but the flashing and wires have been pulled aside to reveal the electrical “tray” and the fasteners that attach the deck to the “anchoring” frame.  Again, the letters correspond to the drawing.


We found during deconstruction that the fasteners used for the deck to hull flange joint were stainless steel and that every other fastener we encountered on the boat was bronze.  These stainless fasteners were in fine shape and were re-used.  All the bronze fasteners were replaced with new stainless steel.



Lunch Break


Lunch is important.  Lunch is not to be missed.  I can skip breakfast and sometimes even dinner, but if I am not fed within a few minutes one side or the other of noon, my world disintegrates. 


Such was not the case with Iki who demonstrated early that his stomach was patient, even long suffering, when compared to mine.  And as he was my guest, it fell to me to provide lunch on common work days.  During the provisioning of these meals, I learned a few valuable life-lessons.


Lesson Number One: Burritos can be an acquired taste. 


In California burritos are a ubiquitous lunchtime choice.  They are a simple food, self contained, quickly prepared, and carry enough heft to master any appetite.  They incorporate all the important food groups, and they are dead cheap, which makes them a personal favorite.

That they are not fussy about how they are eaten proves an additional advantage for those lunching in a boat yard.  The approach is simple: unwrap the foil like a banana, hold the base like a baseball bat, and eat as fast as possible.  After some years of practice, I’ve found that they are best eaten standing so that overflow falls away from the body.  Over a trash can is even better.  And that’s all there is to the approach.  So I bought burritos for lunch.

But when confronted with a burrito, Iki ran head long into difficulty.  Simple as their execution may be, Iki was entirely unprepared to negotiate a single food item of such enormity.  Next to dainty slices of sushi easily quelled with chop sticks, a burrito was leviathan.  After a time he learned how to unwrap his burrito, even to hold it with two hands, but when it came to consuming it with the wolfish greed that burritos so appreciate, he was unwilling.  He nibbled off the top in a civilized manner and never ate more than half.  “Not my style,” he said.   


Lesson Number Two: What we consider sushi is barely edible.


      Given the review burritos had received, I next moved to the more familiar, sushi.  Specifically, sushi that one could acquire quickly.  But in our Hispanic neighborhood, the only option was a sushi bar in a large grocery store some blocks away.  Back at the boat and in the shade of the bilge I unveiled my buffet.  California rolls, spider rolls, spicy tuna rolls, all neatly arranged in black plastic boxes.  Iki looked at the contents without recognition, “What is?” he said.  “Sushi,” I said proudly.  Iki’s face took on the aspect of a man just realizing himself the butt of a practical joke.  “Hmmph”, he said as he poked some of the pieces with a long fingernail.  “Where is fish?” he said after a time, “Is only rice.” 


Lesson Number Three: Japanese restaurants do not often employ Japanese people.


      After the failure of burritos and the embarrassment of sushi, I thought the least I could do was take Iki out to a nice dinner.  With only me for regular conversation I hoped a Japanese restaurant, where he could converse in his own language, would be a gesture gratefully received and go some way toward erasing the social debt I’d incurred over the noontime meal.  Surely the sushi would be better.  But we had barely set three feet into my first choice, an establishment that quite clearly said “Japanese Restaurant” on the street-facing sign, when Iki pulled on my sleeve, pointed at the waiter and said softly, “Korea guy.”  We visited three other “Japanese Restaurants” over the weeks and none of them employed a single Japanese speaking person that we found.  But at least the sushi did meet with approval.



Back to the Deck


During the demolition stage I was impressed by how easily the one layer of roving on the deck-top tore away from the wood, ripping along a straight line like a zipper opening.  So when Iki recommended we apply fiberglass mat in multiple layers to both sides of the new wood, I did not resist.  The random angles of the chopped strands and the layering, he argued, would make the glass application very durable. 



We chose 1 ½ ounce mat and applied two layers to the deck’s underside and three to the top.  The underside glass was laid before the new deck pieces were installed.  No topside glass was applied until both the new deck and cabin sides were in place.




This photo of a chainplate wrapped in tape is out of sequence but makes an important point about fitting the deck.  That is, a “fitting hole” had to be cut in the new deck inward of the chainplate about 3 inches so that the deck could be placed flat on the hull flange and then slid into its final position under the house.  Here the cut has been filled with fairing compound (the rose colored material), but its approximate length and width are visible to the left of the chainplate.




It was heartening in the extreme to see the new deck come into place. 





Iki moved to the bow only after completing the deck along both sides of the boat.





As with the stern decking, we felt that some extra support was warranted underneath the bow sections in the area between the V-berth bulkhead (photo right, light bulb attached) and the deck beam just forward of the house (photo left, white, athwartships beam).  The additional fore and aft frames (natural colored cross) join to the bulkhead and deck beam.  The athwartships addition locks from above and serves as a butt-block where two pieces of deck ply come together.  We did not use the plywood butt-block joining method, as did the original construction, because each plywood piece would later be “joined” by three layers of topside fiberglass.





This photo tells a lie in that the Samson posts had to come out for the placing, and later glassing, of the deck.


A rabbet along the bottom outer edge of the hatch frame allows it to seat snuggly into the opening for it in the deck, and then it is fastened with wood screws from underneath.  Here I’ve begun to remove the outer framing of the hatch with the intention of changing the teak lid for Lexan.  I’m having a rough go of it and keep breaking the assembly that I’m simply trying to get apart.  “Owner make mess,” Iki said standing over me one afternoon.  “Try job and make break.  I fix.”  And with that he took over.


That’s the deck job.  Iki started the first of September, and the above shot was taken the first of October.



Calling Home


I’d rented a cell phone and purchased a calling card for Iki to use whenever he liked.  But given his general unfamiliarity with these devices, it was almost a month before he made his first attempt.  By that time, and especially given the failure of Japanese restaurants, he was very excited for a long exchange with family.


From all appearances the pre-paid calling card idea is brilliantly simple, but as we learned on Iki’s first attempt, it’s in the execution that things break down.  


For example, to connect with a loved one requires dialing an 800 number printed on the card’s front in big, friendly letters.  A “pin” number is next.  In length, this number rivals the square root of pi.  That it is called a “pin” number is entirely misleading for the only thing small about it is the font size used to print it on the card’s backside and at the very bottom. 


Having entered the “pin”, the phone number for the desired address is next, and don’t forget the international and country code.  In total over 40 numbers must be input, all onto the tiniest of keypads on a phone designed for smallness and, in Iki’s case, by a man whose hands are rough and large from daily use in a boat yard.


Success, should it be managed, is rewarded by a friendly recorded voice that says, in English, “For instructions in Japanese, please press 9.”  How one should navigate this if he only speaks Japanese goes unexplained.


After one attempt, Iki handed the phone back, entirely deflated.  Not a problem, I thought.  I’ll show him how.  I dialed the nearly infinite string of numbers, and after several rings, was greeted by a woman’s voice, a solid, southern “Howdy”.  We had reached Mrs. Mary-Jane Bartholomew of Mobile, Alabama, who was just sitting down to dinner with her husband and was not at all interested in what I had to sell. 


Iki looked at me dumbly as I tried to explain. 


On my next try the phone was silent after the 40 or so digits.  No ring, no dial tone, no nothing.


But on my third attempt, the answering party was clearly Japanese.  I rammed the phone at Iki.  After a few words he handed it back.  Tokyo people”, he said, “No good.” 


In the end we used my cell phone.  Iki sat on the back of my truck talking excitedly for over an hour.







Taking Things Apart, Again


Next came the removal of the starboard cabin side.  Like the deck, the cabin had been sheathed in one layer of ½ ounce cloth.  It zipped right off and revealed the reason that the area below the windows “thunked” when tapped with a hammer: it was a gonner.




After deciding that the sides should be replaced altogether, not simply patched, the problem became getting them off.  Removing the obvious fasteners was one thing, but whack as we might, the sides just wouldn’t budge beyond a certain point. 





It wasn’t until we began digging around in the cabin top where it overlay the cabin side that we discovered the ring nails.  Some could be backed out, but often we just pulled the cabin side away as gently as possible.  In the end there was no serious damage to the cabin-top flange, but it was touch and go.





The next hurdle was getting the aft piece of the cabin side out without removing the large forward shoulder of the cockpit splashboard.  Iki cut most of this away and then dug the rest out with a chisel and needle-nose pliers.  It was tedious work, but easier than removing and replacing the shoulder.





The above photo also shows off the most valuable tool on this whole construction job, an 18 volt, battery operated impact driver/drill, used to power out stuck fasteners and power the new ones in.  The project would have progressed much slower without it.


My meager supply of wood working implements had been announced ahead of time, so Iki brought his own carefully maintained, efficient looking tools.  My favorite was the sashi gane, a framing square that is much thinner than our own and very bendy, so ideal for the boatbuilding environment. He brought his own marking gauges and small knives in bamboo cases that he used for marking rather than pencil.  He brought his own hand planes, called kana, one of which he’d built himself.  His snap line used black ink instead of the colored chalk used in the U.S.  His chisels looked hand-wrought but evil-sharp with worn wooden handles.  And he brought two traditional Japanese pull saws.


To this well crafted compliment I added some beat up screw drivers, a hammer or two, a circular saw, and a practically new but very small, 6-volt, “corner cat” sander. 


Iki picked up the sander as if examining a toy.  “What is?” he asked.  “The sander”, I said, and then to drive home to point, “For the sanding job.”  Iki frowned.  He pushed its black button, and it purred quietly.


“Randall,” Iki said after contemplating for some moments, “sanding job on boat big job.  This sander make small job very slow.”


So, when the time came, we got a more powerful sander.




Here the port cabin side is coming off.  It has already been removed well forward and is being held in place from inside by a red sail tie.  The aft section has been cut out and picked clean revealing how the aft cabin bulkhead joins to the cabin side.  (Note: in this shot, the starboard cabin side has already been replaced.) 




For all the trouble, the sides came off cleanly and revealed solid framing underneath.



Report Home


October 5, 2003

Dave Lee

Okinawa, Japan


Dear Dave,


Just another note to let you know the project is going well.


Iki is making rapid progress (decks are on and cabin side replacement is well under way), but there is so much left to do I can’t help but wonder how we’ll look come the end November.  Iki was dealt a rude blow when we unsheathed the cabin sides.  I think he was anticipating just a bit of patch-and-go under the windows.  He groaned audibly as the glass came off and chunks of rotten ply came with it.  “No good!  No good!” he said over and over, shaking his head.  But he resigned himself to a full cabin-side job in no time. 


I am in the yard many Fridays, some Mondays, and most weekends, and I must tell you this man works like a dog.  He gets in at about nine o’clock and works till sun down, a long day, and often six of them a week.  


His work is methodical and patient.  He never rushes.  If the going gets difficult, he’ll take frequent breaks to ponder.  He’ll sip on the ice coffee he brings to the yard in an old Coke bottle, or have a smoke, or sweep up shavings.  Then when he has the solution, he’s right back to it.  Conversation between us is usually restricted to lunch time.


Last week Jack, one of several hangers-about in the yard, pulled me aside.  Jack is known for two things, his wood working skills and talking.  He’ll talk the arm off anyone who wanders within a few feet, and I’d let myself stray too close on the way back from the head.  “I wanted you to know” he began slowly and with the air of a self-important night watchman, “that I’m keeping an eye your Oriental fellow.”  My heart sank to think that Iki-the-foreigner had unwittingly upset the local pecking order.  “And he is doing you a fine job,” continued Jack.  “A good man.  He knows his stuff.”


After work we’ll often head to a pub downtown where we can have a few beers and watch the World Series.  It’s the Yankees versus the Marlins this year.  I think the vast majority of Iki’s enjoyment is in watching the Yankee’s right fielder, Hideki Matsui, play.  Iki explains to me that Matsui is “best in Japan.”  Each time he comes to bat, it’s the same drill.  Iki looks at me.  “Ah, Matsui!” he says and points knowingly.  My job is to look on with admiration and some surprise, as if I’ve never heard of Matsui before.  I perform this task well.


As to beer, I’ve made the fatal error of introducing Iki to Boont Amber, a local brew of some note.  Iki is hooked now and will allow me to buy him nothing else, even though he scrupulously chooses Miller Lite for himself during his week’s grocery run.  “Want try different beer?” I ask between innings.  “No, again this one,” he says, tapping the glass.


Now that the project is well underway, I’ve been trying to show Iki the sites on his few off days.  We’ve been to a Giants game; we’ve walked across the Golden Gate Bridge; we’ve driven out to Stinson Beach where we saw the pounding Pacific on a sunny day, and we’ve hiked Muir woods. Iki was floored by the size of the Redwood trees.  “Nothing like in Okinawa,” he’d say.  It seemed each one was bigger than the next and he’d stare and stare.  “Big trees good air.  Boat yard bad smell.  Trees make sweet my lungs.”


Then during Fleet Week, Joanna and I brought him into the city to watch the air show that goes off over the bay.  The three of us sat in the grass above Aquatic Park for five hours looking up at planes of every size as they somersaulted above, all capped by the roaring Blue Angels as finale. By the end of the day, Iki’s back was so soar from sitting he could barely stand himself up, and over dinner he politely hinted that as Okinawa had a large naval base, seeing planes fly around was nothing new to him.  


Though Iki, never, Jo and I were tired of sushi by this time, so on this night we went Indian.  As usual Iki ate with measured deliberation, especially so because the many, heavily sauced dishes were beyond his experience, and as usual I stuffed my face.  At one point late in the meal and as I was still cleaning up scraps, Joanna leaned over to pat my belly.  “Where you putting it all, baby?” she asked.  Iki chimed in with, “Randall wears a big shirt because he’s pregnant.”  We both looked at Iki with shock.  A joke—it was Iki’s first joke in English, and a good one!  We all laughed.


So tomorrow is Sunday and it’s back to the yard.


Hello to all from Iki.







Replacing the Cabin Sides


As with the decks, the new wood we used for the cabin sides was the same thickness as the old, heavy, 1 inch ply.  Surprisingly, I found 1 inch marine ply a challenge to source.  Many local yards had up to ¾ inch, but few any larger.


Each cabin side required just one sheet of plywood.



Iki employed two methods for creating the new cabin-side patterns.  One, if the old wood we removed was fair, it was used as a pattern for the new wood.




And two, where the old wood had been destroyed during demolition, cardboard was fashioned into a pattern.


The trick here was not so much the bevel as cutting the bevel such that it fit snuggly under the lip of the coach roof.  It required more than a few trips back down the ladder to the cutting station.


“Iki, where did you learn how to work on boats?” I asked over lunch one day. 


Iki had been measuring all morning.  He would mark an area on the boat with his framing square, then descend the ladder and carefully transfer the marking to the new cabin side in red pencil, then step back and ponder, then measure and mark again.  It seemed painfully slow going.


“Oh, not hard,” he said.  “I work in boat yard many years.  Like boats.  I read books.  I watch boat men.  Mostly watch.  Learn easy.” 




Iki chose to cut for the ports lights and router out the windows before the sides were installed.  I thought at first this was because the routering was especially neat work and a horizontal surface made it easier, but on consideration there was a bigger reason…




…Which was that the house sides contour with the boat, and in the case of the forward cabin side, extremely so.  Iki was working solo much of the time and needed some way to convince the stiff, 1 inch ply to fit the curve of the house.  Cutting for the windows and portlights first allowed him to fit large “C” clamps to the new cabin side through the window and onto the interior grab rail.  Having done this, he could slowly winch the side in place, and with a little muscle, fasten up just fine.




As with the deck, Iki worked stern to bow when fastening the cabin sides.


The interior was left bare for later finishing, but we intended to put two layers of 1 ½ ounce mat on the exterior cabin side surfaces at a later stage of the project.  This presented a problem: how to get glass on the area under the cockpit splashboard shoulder.  The solution was the same employed on the stern decking discussed above; that is, Iki applied a square glass patch to this small area before fastening the side in place, as seen in the above photo.




The two pieces of cabin-side ply were joined by a butt-block at the juncture of the raised coach roof.




So, finally the new sides were in place.  The above photo was dated October 13.



Sanding, Faring, Glassing, Faring, Sanding, Painting


October 13 was a Monday.  I’d taken the day off work to finish stripping the bottom of its years of paint.  A seemingly endless job, it had taken nearly all of my time on this project.  In fact, I struggled without success to unearth images of my life that didn’t include this hot, sweaty, arms-over-your-head-until-they-fall-off, goddamn dirty work. 


On brighter days, for example, I thought maybe I’d been stripping this hull only since about 4th grade.  This was when my parents took me out of school and put me to work on this boat to help feed the family.  I didn’t own Murre then.  Murre wasn’t built then.  But that didn’t matter, because given how many layers of paint there were on her bum, I would surely have needed that many years to remove them. 


But on darker days, days when that final layer of red began to reveal blessed white gel-coat, gel-coat that later revealed itself to be nothing more than another layer of grayish bottom paint, it was on these days I knew I’d pissed off an ancient deity in some previous life.  Maybe I poured ice cubes down the Buddha’s pants just as he was imagining the jewel in the lotus.  Or maybe I’d snuck into the Holy of Holy’s and erased all the last names from the book of Judgment. Certainly even the most devout Christian would have to admit that Christ’s return had been a long time coming for someone who said he be right back.  Maybe he was delayed for having to recreate the records from scratch. 


Iki descended the ladder from Murre’s deck to take a smoke break, sweep up shavings, and watch me in my private purgatory.  He leaned on his broom.  He sucked on his teeth.  “Tsk.  Tsk.  Everybody not like bottom job,” he said.


So, October 13 was a Monday, and I wasn’t going to finish the bottom job today either.  But the last fastener went in the new cabin sides mid morning.  I climbed the ladder to admire the completed new deck and sides and in a fit of exuberant naivety said to Iki, “Almost done, man!  Almost ready to sail!” 


Iki had just put his first clean sheet of paper in the sander.  He looked at me with pity as if to say, “Poor fool doesn’t know that finish work is half the job.”  “Whir, whir, whir,” went the sander, and it didn’t stop for days. 





Then came a brief moment of confusion. 


“Randall!” Iki called from on deck and over the noise of the sander.


“Que Queres?” I yelled from my bottom scraping station.


I had acquired the inexplicable habit of addressing Iki in Spanish.  He didn’t understand a word, and his response was always the same.


“What?” he said.


 I spat paint goop and called slowly, “What you want, Iki-san?”


“Oh, Randall, I need … need bog, three days finish sand. Bog next,” he said.


I got out from under the boat so that I could see his face.  “Bog?  What is bog?” I said.


Iki thought for a moment.  “Is … bog!” he said with emphasis.


He laid the sander aside and began to pantomime.  He pretended to spread something on the deck, then he pretended to sand, then he spread and sanded again.  “Is bog!” he said in conclusion and as if it would have been obvious to a baby.


I had no idea. 


I wrote to Dave Lee that night:  “Iki’s sanding the deck now and says he needs ‘bog’ next.  He spreads it on like cake frosting and then sands it off.  What the f*ck’s he talking about?”


Dave wrote back: “No worries, man.  It’s like Bondo.  He just needs filler.”


“Bondo—on my new boat?!  Are you crazy?  I don’t get it,” I replied. 


It was then Dave realized he’d made assumptions about my grasp of boatbuilding that were wide of the mark.  His next email was a longer.


So, the “bog” we used for the fastener holes, around the chainplates, and at all the joints was West System 407 Low Density fairing compound with West System resins.




After fairing, Iki started the glassing stage at the fore end of the cabin sides and worked aft. 


For added strength at the deck-to-cabin-side joint, Iki applied two layers of 18 ounce roving in “tape” form, strips about 6 inches wide that he cut from a larger role.  This “tape” spread about 2 inches up the cabin side and overlay the deck by about 4 inches (not obvious in the photo).


Once the “tape” was in place, the sides were covered with two layers of 1 ½ ounce mat.    


Notice also the generous overlap of cloth onto the coach roof.  The whole area is nicely sealed and strengthened.




“Damn, it’s hot!” I said.


The day was 95 degrees, still as the dead, and it wasn’t even noon.


“Yes, good here,” said Iki, smiling.  “Very dry.  In Okinawa hot, but rain every day make stick.  All day wet and very sweat and…” Iki slapped at his arms. 


“Mosquitoes?” I said. 


“Yes, all day many moskit very bad.  No moskit here.  I like.”


The weather may have been to Iki’s liking, but it was playing hell with the resin, which, within minutes of mixing was kicking off and smoking. 


I bought slow hardener.  Same result.  Even Iki was mystified.


Finally, and simply as a try-anything measure, I switched out the black paint tray for a white one.


Problem solved.




After the sides were glassed came the deck.  Again, Iki started forward and moved aft.


Just visible in this photograph is an extra thick line of resin running athwartships forward of the hatch indicating where two sections of glass come together.  Notice that this line is a good foot or more aft of the deck joint for that area (seen in a previous photo of the newly decked bow).  Iki was always careful to ensure that the glass generously over-rode and locked all plywood deck joints.




Moreover, he didn’t allow the layers of any two glass sections to come together at exactly the same edge, but rather he overlapped them so that Murre’s glass lay-up would essentially be seamless.


In the above drawing 1A and 2A are the 18 ounce “tape” applied to the deck-to-cabin-side joint.  Notice that the top layer of cloth is narrower than the bottom.  This allows the two layers of 1 ½ ounce mat on the cabin side (3B and 4B) and the three layers of same on the deck (5C – 7C) to overlap the tape making a strong joint. 


Iki used the same method when connecting the various pieces used for the deck.  See example in lower right of drawing.




Here Iki prepares a section of deck for the first layer of cloth.  The wide “tape” that joins the deck and cabin sides can be seen clearly running along the deck’s inboard edge.




As with everything else, Iki tended to work the glassing-up in small, easy to handle sections.




For any particular section, he would carefully measure and precut all layers and roll and label them neatly for easy access during application. 


Notice the fiberglass pad under the aft section of cockpit splashboard (mentioned at top of article).  It too is tiered so that the deck glass, when applied, will create an overlapping seam.




And suddenly it was done.  Murre was glassed and looked tough as nails.




And almost as suddenly summer came to an end.  In the first week of November the weather turned on a dime.  Days grew overcast, temperatures struggled to get into the sixties, and the sky threatened rain.  We entered the final fairing and painting phase with some foreboding.  Would we finish before the weather broke?




Though we used West System 407 for filling the fastener holes and fairing the joints, Iki made the emphatic point that this “bog” compound would be much too dense and much too hard for the deck and cabin side fairing job.  For that we used 410 Microlight.  Iki spread it on thickly over all new surfaces, and then he donned his Abominable Snowman outfit and, again, sanded for days.




Smooth as a baby’s bum and ready for paint.


Portlight openings are taped over due to rain.




And finally, on a clear day, painting.


The boat was primed and painted a bright glossy white using roller and brush.  Excited as I was for this finishing touch, it occurred on one of the few weeks I was traveling for work.  I called on a Wednesday to see how things were going.


“No good,” said Iki, “night make flat.” 


I didn’t understand, and it took Iki a few tries to explain that the night had gotten so cold it killed the high gloss of our polyurethane paint.


And if that was the worst sacrifice the boat gods required of me on this job, then I got off lucky.  We’ve sailed flat ever since. 




We replaced the top of the forward hatch with Lexan to allow more light into the forward berth.


A note on the toe rail:  If the thickness of the deck is increased, then the toe rail will no longer sit flush to the hull flange as designed.  This will not affect the rail’s stability, as it curves sharply with the boat and is fastened every few inches, but it will leave a gap to fill on the outboard side.  We used 3M 5200 to bed the toe rail and to fill the gap.  As it turns out, though 5200 was fine for bedding it was a poor choice for the gap because it lacks UV resistance.  Over a couple years much of it chalked and had to be replaced with a compound that had UV protection.



Final Report


November 25, 2003


To Dave Lee

Okinawa, Japan


Dear Dave,


I visit Iki tomorrow for the last time and for the purpose of bringing him into the city and then packing him onto a plane two days hence.  He is sad beyond belief at having to leave America—his best, one-word description continues to be “big”, which as far as I can tell means “awesome!”—but returning home as a hero has its merits, as I hope he will soon discover. 


Murre is looking like a boat again.  Toe rail on, teak trim on, window glass and glass trim on, captain's chair on, forward hatch on.  Today and tomorrow will see much wood plug work and the addition of the Samson posts and the bowsprit and life lines and winches and mooring cleats and… Even now the list is endless! 


Weather continues to play hard with us.  It hasn’t rained for days, but it’s not been above 45 degrees either.  Nights have been down to 35 degrees, so, rain or no rain, there's no chance of another go at the deck paint.


Our last hurrah was a visit to Yosemite National Park.  This has been Iki’s dream ever since he discovered photos of Yosemite (which he insists on pronouncing yosemeetay’—emphasis on the last syllable) in the guide book I bought him, and I’m happy to report it blew his mind wide open. 


"Iki, we're going on a road trip, man!" I say. 


"What is?" he says, looking worried.  I laugh while explaining that Yosemite is 250 miles from San Francisco, a straight shot south east, and still in California.  Clearly he cannot fathom the lengths California will go to. 


We leave Saturday night at six o’clock and after a full day of working on Murre—driving like hell on well lit, six lane freeways full of weekend travelers—and arrive in the mountains just after 11—the only car on a pitch black, mountain road. 


The hotel we pull into is the first thing we've seen in 30 miles.  In San Francisco it was 50 degrees and felt cold, here in the mountains and the dark of night it's well below freezing.  The ice on the windshield amazes my Japanese friend, as does the frost on the ground and the site of his own breath and how fast his hands ache when left outside his pockets.  I resist the urge to suggest he lick the metal light pole next to the car, but just barely.


The hotel clerk is an angel to the weary and informs with little prompting that if we hurry, the bar down the street might just be open.  We hurry.  It is the perfect country bar: a booming juke box, walls covered with the flags of American football teams, and fuzzy black and whites of Hollywood icons—Elvis Presley, Marylyn Monroe—next to smaller Polaroid’s of plaid-shirted locals in various states of joyous inebriation.  The pool table is cracking away in the corner.  No tourists but us. 


Our bartender is a tough broad named Janice who greets us with "Do you smoke?"  But before I can answer, and despite the several NO SMOKING signs within easy eye-shot, she drops an ashtray in front of Iki and says, "Tough shit if you don't."  “What is?!” says Iki, looking at the ashtray in delight.  This is his first opportunity to smoke indoors since he landed in California, and he looses no time in lighting up.  The beer warms us considerably.  We begin to relax into the place.


After eves-dropping on our conversation for a while, Janice asks if Iki is a Portuguese fisherman.  His inability to pronounce the word "Portuguese" after several attempts finally convinces her otherwise, but I have to explain that Okinawa is a Japanese island and not "in Guam" as she insists.  She then proceeds to show us all the wall photos of all the great fish caught in the Merced River, just across the street from the bar.  Lightning fast she talks to Iki, who, smoking like a fiend, just smiles and says, "Yes, I know!” over and over.  I begin to worry that his failure to understand a word Janice says, a failure to be a part of her conversation, will get us into trouble.  But not so. Apparently a conversation with Janice requires mostly listening. 


Then a woman near us wins $900 on a bar room slot machine.  Iki watches with open mouth as $900 in small bills is counted out to her from the till.  Then at 12:45am (I checked my watch), Janice announces in a booming voice over the din and to the whole room, "It's time for the midnight toast, folks!"  Shots of whiskey are passed to all, including us, and as we raise our glasses, Janice and several other women shout out in practiced unison,





To which we all cheer and drink.


Next morning we are up as early as the beer and whiskey from the night before will allow, but well before the sun makes it to the valley floor.  Damn cold!  By 9:30 we are in the park for a long look at El Capitan.  There is snow on the mountain tops, the river is part frozen over, and the waterfalls, bearded in white ice. 


After a circle of the main sites, we set off on a mountain trek, a hike straight up along 60 switch backs of granite and 1000 feet above the valley floor to Columbia Rock, from which the entire valley is visible with Half Dome at its center.  Iki is not a famous walker, but he only asks me once in the hours on the trail to slow the pace.  He wants this too, has been dreaming of Yosemite for weeks.  The day is utterly clear, the sun, wintry white.  We sit on the mountaintop for hours.  “Nothing like in Okinawa,” says Iki, pointing to the near infinity of snow capped ranges that march off toward the horizon.


Our last sight of El Capitan late in the day reveals two climbers, only visible with binoculars, half way up the wall.  "Climbing that 3000 foot slab takes three full days," I explain. "The climbers sleep hanging from cots at night."  To Iki, this is beyond the pale, and it’s all he can do to say “Whoa!” and slap his knee.


We drive a different route home, via highway 120, which lifts to 7000 feet at the pass.  Finally, after dark, we find Iki’s first, up-close experience of snow covering the forest, which, I am sad to say, was dirty, crusty, and had to be explored by flashlight.  Then, ten miles down the road, smoke.  Then more smoke, very thick.  Then odd fires near the road, not camp fires as we first think, but forest fires, small hotspots that in the dark glow like doorways to the underworld.  To go so quickly from snow to fire unsettles both of us and we are quiet. 


Suddenly, to the right, a giant pine fully ablaze in the night.  I stop the car to explore.  The tree thunders as sap deep inside explodes and sparks shoot every which way.  I start to crawl down the hill toward it.  Iki stays behind, shining his flashlight randomly into the thick smoke.  He's had enough amazement for one day.  Next I know we are being invited rather sternly by the local sheriff to move along and mind our own business, an inglorious end to a glorious day.


The rest of the stories I leave to Iki.


Best to you all on Thanksgiving Day!






On a rainy day in late November, Iki departed as he had arrived, through the great silvery doors of the airport, tool bag in hand.  It was a formal good-bye, a quick handshake and a bow, and I was as much at a loss for words then as when we first met, but for very different reasons.



Summary of Materials


How much stuff the job would require was one of the bigger questions I faced, so the below list is included as a guide for future projects.  The information has been reconstructed from receipts and project notes and should be used for planning estimates only.



Five sheets of 4’ x 8’ x ½” marine plywood for the decks

Two sheets of 4’ x 8’ x 1” marine plywood for the cabin sides

Ten board feet of 8/4 and six board feet of 5/4 Mahogany for framing


Glass and Resin

Fifteen gallons of West System epoxy plus equivalent hardener

Three 50 ounce cans of West System 410 Microlight Fairing Compound

Two 15 ounce cans of West System 407 Low Density Fairing Compound

Fifty yards of 1 ½ ounce fiberglass mat

Six yards of 18 ounce fiberglass roving


Adhesive and Calk

Fifteen 10.3 ounce tubes of 3M 5200

Two 10.3 ounce tubes of 3M 101



Toe Rail: #14 flat head machine screws of lengths ranging from 2 ½” to 4 ½” with nut and washer.  Count: approximately 75.

Deck to Hull Flange: 5/16” flat head machine screws of 1 ¼” in length with nut and lock washer.  Count: approximately 155.

Deck to Anchor Frame: #8 wood screws of 1 ¼” length placed approximately 3 ½” apart.  Count: approximately 180.

Cabin-side fasteners: #14 wood screws of various lengths.  Count: about 160.


Note: On Murre the original deck-to-hull-flange fasteners were stainless steel and all the other fasteners we found were bronze.  We reused the deck-to-hull-flange fasteners and replaced all others with stainless steel.


Exterior Paint

Three quarts of white Interlux Multithane Primer

One gallon of white Interlux Interthane Plus (polyurethane)


For the Bottom Job


Seven gallons of stripper (environmentally safe brand, and thus less potent)

Five gallons (i.e. five coats) of Interlux Barrier Coat 2000



Time Requirements


The deck and cabin-side job took one person approximately three months working full days and generally six of them per week.  Iki arrived on September 2 and departed on November 27, 2003, and the only parts of his project left for me were painting the cabin interior, varnishing the toe rail, and replacing the deck hardware.  Included in Iki’s three months was rebuilding the forward hatch and replacing three chainplates, which took a few days.


Murre was on the hard an additional three months for weekend work, much of which was interrupted by bad weather.  During this time I completed the deck and cabin side finish work, replaced all through-hulls and valves, and barrier coated the bottom.



Final Words


Jo lifted a pair of reading glasses from the pencil holder above Murre’s navigation table.  “These are for the trash, right?” she asked.


We were attempting a purge of boat items known as “only potentially useful”.  It wasn’t going well because I tend to see potential along more lines than Jo.  The glasses she held were bifocals—large, rimless, covered with dust.  The lenses were checked in several places; they were utterly worthless. 


“Those are Iki’s,” I said


“But he’s been gone three years now,” she said.


“Doesn’t matter.  He forgot them,” I said.


 “But you can’t even see through them!” she said.


 “He might come back; and if he does, he’ll need them.  THEY BELONG TO HIM.” I said.


“Honey.  Are these…this is your Iki shrine, isn’t it?”


“Doesn’t matter.  Put them back in the pencil holder!”


“What about these rusty hose clamps?” she said. “This one here is even broken.”


“Fine. Trash 'em.”