Discussion of equipment issues, and problems with work done in New Zealand
Whilst in New Zealand, we had plans to upgrade a few items, add equipment, and some repairs were needed. Overall, with some exceptions, it was an unsatisfactory experience, and left us with doubts about NZ's much vaunted status as a place to get boat work done. To add to this doubt was the fact that every other boat we knew getting work done had problems, mostly unacceptable ones.
Let me go though ours, highlighting the good as well as the bad. Firstly, Norsand Boatyard in Whangarei was almost wholly a good experience. We got on well with Murray, who runs the place, although that was not true of everybody! Furthermore, his staff, or at least the ones we dealt with, were great. Kevin is the guy who is in charge of the lifting procedures. Norsand have a wonderful hydraulic trailer, ideal for catamarans, lifting them under the bridgedeck. Kevin takes enormous care. He came up to the town basin and used the dinghy to take extensive measurements and pictures of Jade's bridgedeck, and ensure that he knew precisely where the strong main beams were. Thus when it came to actually going up the slipway, it was pretty undramatic, and quite fast. The hardstanding is very extensive , flat and hard, and much of it is concreted, an ongoing process. I think it must be the best facility for catamarans in Australasia.
George is the storeman, but he will also do bits of work for you, in terms of making things. He was a craftsman. Not cheap, but the care he took to make things for us meant we were getting value for money. He was able to re-build our transom ladders so they were like new, and made an excellent support for our new wind generator. A useful guy to have around.
We were recommended to use Peter Johnson for our electric work. We had a new wind generator to wire up, new battery charger to add in parallel, new sockets to install, an AIS set to fit, a remote mobile phone antenna and a BEP battery monitor. At the end, only the first worked properly, and only then after his carelessness nearly broke our VHF aerial. He had to move it on the cockpit arch, and left only the bolts in, obviously intending to go back to do the bolts later. First big wind and it came crashing down, luckily swinging on its wire before hitting the ground 20 feet below. The Mobile phone antenna has never worked, the additional battery charger is fighting its partner, and needs some modifications. One of the power sockets is in the wrong place, and the other doesn't work. In the electrical cabinet, I found wires just hooked together, obviously a temporary connection that he forgot to make permanent. He brought another electrician, Steve, to do the AIS. It didn't work on our voyage to Aukland. On our return, he 'fixed' it. On our voyage to Fiji it did not work. Peter Nice of Tigger eventually fixed it for me. The data cable was not connected!!! Oh yes, the BEP meter did work, tralaa. We later discovered that the reason our SSB did not work was because PJ had disconnected a wire at the rear of the control box and not reconnected it.
I chose to get the Volvo engines serviced by the Volvo dealers, so that things like valve clearances could be checked professionally. The guy trampled on the copper strip in the engine rooms used as the ground pane for the SSB, and broke it in several places. He said nothing to me, no apologies or anything. The apology I got from his boss was unimpressive.
Whilst in the Hauraki Gulf, our Maxwell anchor windlass began making graunching noises. They are made in New Zealand. In Auckland we got a local dealer, Brett's Marine, to come and fix it. Brett came, took it away and returned it fixed, having had to rebuild the gearbox. We paid a bill of around $800NZ. A few days later I was looking at the web site, and realised this windlass was on a three year warranty. I had assumed it was one year. I recalled clearly telling Brett that it was about 2 years old. I sent him an e-mail asking if I was entitled to a warranty repair. He then replied that I was not because the damage was my fault for not servicing it as required. In the end we had a phone conversation about this during which he was rude and aggressive. There was no evidence whatsoever to support his contention, and in any event, since he had said nothing at the time, I had had no opportunity to see the evidence or challenge it. I then got in touch with the head office. Only some 8 months later, after threatening legal action, and after they had repeatedly ignored me or failed to carry out promises to contact me, did I get an apology and a refund.
It is also relevant to talk about Tigger. Peter and Toni take pride in their high performance Shuttleworth catamaran, and are willing to spend whatever it takes to make her work well. Whilst in New Zealand they had a lot of expensive work done, and overall, the standard was appalling! For example, the boss of a door company measure their cockpit door himself, but when it was delivered, it was over a foot too high. Worse, their new sails made by Doyle were built completely ignoring advice from Peter to keep the relationship between batten cars and reef points the same as the old sails. As a result, the main could not be reefed! Being a high-tech sail, with load paths, it also could not be modified to work. Worst of all was the hydraulic work done on their steering. I myself saw the result in Suva, when their hydraulic rams were disassembled. Gauged, scratched, deformed and with the wrong rubber seals. These defects caused their passage to Fiji to be fraught with difficulty and danger. At one stage, in very strong winds, Peter was standing on one transom in foul weather gear and harness hand steering one rudder whilst the autopilot managed the other, as the two could not be mechanically coordinated. Tigger had no piece of work done properly. Another boat we know had a complete rebuild in Tauranga. It was a tale of incompetence, broken promises and even threats from beginning to end.
Meanwhile, we had another problem, not related to New Zealand, but instead, directly attributable to poor workmanship in the USA. During the last few rough days on passage, I noticed Jade was not steering too well, but put it down to the awkward sea conditions. We had large waves just aft of the beam, and in such conditions, the best vessels will struggle a bit. However, when we had been in Fiji a week or two, I was diving on the hull, and noticed that the port rudder was loose. I assumed at first that it was the rudder bearing developing play, which would not be unexpected given the tough miles Jade has done. We therefore made our way to Vuda Point marina where they have liftout and repair facilities. It then got comical. I knew they had a standard travel lift, and Jade is narrow enough to be lifted by one of these. However, it turned out that although the travel lift was wide enough, its piers were not as they had been built too narrow, and then modified at the top to fit the lift. We then contacted the crane company, called Ba, and the driver came to see us. He offered a choice of cranes, and I was pleased to specify their biggest, 60 tons, as the crane would not be able to get close to the water, and would therefore have to reach out further. Then it got funny. I asked the driver if they had a test certificate for the lifting frame. He had no idea, and didn't know how big the frame was. I then asked about insurance and was told politely, no they don't have that. I could just see them dropping Jade and then politely apologising as they walked away. That evening I was talking to a local who said the place to sort this type of thing out was Suva. He told me to contact the Vice-Commodore of the Royal Suva Yacht Club, one Stephen Hay, which I did. This worthy told me they could definitely fix it, and he would arrange everything. It also so happened that the weather forecast was for two or three days of Westerlys. I have to digress here to talk about the local weather. Fiji is firmly in the Trade Wind belt, so usually it blows from the East or SE. Vuda Point is near Lautoka on the West side of Fiji, and the voyage to Suva is about 100 miles to the East, mostly along the South coast. This is called the Kadavu Passage, and it funnels the wind between the mountains of Fiji and the large offshore island of Kadavu. In other words, it is usually a very difficult upwind trip, and sometimes impossible for a yacht. The coincidence of Westerlys sealed it for us, and we left the next day, for an overnight to Suva. Indeed, we had a very pleasant passage in light winds from astern.
The anchorage off the Royal Suva Yacht Club was excellent. Usually very calm and with good holding. The club was a shambles, but I'll talk about that elsewhere. We also found that Mr. Hay had a less than stellar reputation, and was certainly in dire financial straits. The final straw was when, the day before going up the club slipway, I was asked by the club secretary to sign an indemnity form. Had I done so this would have protected the club and its servants and contractors from any blame or liability for anything that might happen even if it was wholly their fault, and even if caused by incompetence. OK, move to plan B! We were very fortunate that after only a couple of days in Suva, we were joined by Tigger after their very rough trip from NZ. We really enjoy their company, and that made our stay in Suva very enjoyable. More than that, they are both full of good advice, and considerable skills. Peter nagged me to beach Jade to have a proper look at the rudder. I had never done this before, so was reluctant, but in the end we did so, at a pretty and perfect spot for such an evolution, just near the Tradewind resort a few miles from Suva. Another cruiser friend, Louis, helped with Peter and Toni, and here we discovered that the stock was loose inside the rudder. There was no problem with the bearing. This was good and bad news. Good because we did not need to slip after all, as the rudder can be dropped out whilst afloat. Bad because fixing a broken rudder is a bigger job altogether.
So, after a struggle with some of the bolts, and wondering why it would not drop out after everything was released, I got the rudder out. The trick was to simply stand on the top of the stock, and it slowly slid out. I expected the rudder to be positively buoyant, but just in case, whilst on the beach we had drilled a hole in the top of the rudder blade to put a line through. It all worked smoothly, and the rudder floated free.
Here enter another character, Mr. Peter Whippy. Whippy is a common name in Fiji, all being descendents of an early American resident. Mr. Whippy had been arranging some work for Tigger, which, surprisingly, went half right, which was a 50% improvement on their NZ experience. Of course, half isn't too good, but we went with this worthy in the absence of anybody else. He started well. He cut open the side of the rudder, and there we beheld the quality of US engineering. The 2" SS stock only extended about 6" into the blade, and about 5" of this was butt welded to a mild steel plate inside the rudder. This plate was only about 1/3 of the size of the blade, and the remaining space was filled with foam. It was a miracle the rudder had lasted a week, frankly. When Dan, at Manta, was shown the photos, he was horrified. The rudders were subcontracted to another company, and this was not the design they had been given. They could have killed people with this. Happily, Manta have agreed to supply two of their new design rudders, as fitted to the MkIV, for free.
Anyway, Peter Whippy told us he could have a new, longer, stock made, and this could be welded for a much greater length. He also agreed, at my insistence, to also weld some straps across stock and plate to further strengthen the whole thing, and the void where the foam was dug out would be filled with an epoxy microballoon mix. This was duly done, only for me to discover that the idiots who rebuilt it, after drilling the hole for the support pin and the autopilot, had not lined up these holes with the blade. It was about 20 degrees out. The result was that it could not be fitted. Therefore the rudder had to be cut open again, the weld ground off, the stock re-aligned, and then the whole thing re-welded and re-filled. All was still not right. A further piece of American incompetence was that the hole for the pin holding the radial drive had not been drilled centrally. To compensate, they had also drilled the hole in the radial drive to match. Amazingly, Peter Whippy's people had spotted this when building the stock, and had carefully matched the offcentre drill hole. Then, a presumably different person had put the rudder together, but with the stock 180 degrees wrong, so now the offcentre was on the wrong side!
This was finally fixed by using weld to re-fill the hole in the radial drive and re-drill it with the offset on the other side. Tra laaaa. We could finally fit the rudder. This whole saga took a month, but the compensation was Tigger's company, and the fact that we unexpectedly really enjoyed Suva.
Addendum... Equipment issues in Australia
Some six months after leaving New Zealand, we arrived in Bundaberg, Australia, where we met up again with our great friends Chris & Karyn of Magic Carpet. Despite supposedly fixing everything in NZ, we had accumulated a number of problems, and so had to embark on another programme of expensive repairs.
We soon received our new rudders from Manta. We didn't have to pay for them, but we did have to pay for the shipping and various duty payments. It was a saga, but I describe that in more detail in my normal log. Additionally the sails were looking the worse for wear. Some chafe, broken batten pockets, and the Doyle UPS gennaker would still not furl properly. We heard of the good reputation of GM Sails, in Brisbane. I was hospitalised in Bundaberg, and was back aboard recuperating when Peter & Toni came up from Brisbane to visit. They kindly stripped the sails off for me and took them back to Brisbane to deliver to GM. One job done (so I thought). Our International Micron Extra anti-fouling applied in NZ just had not worked. It was already requiring regular scrubbing in Fiji, wirth some areas having come off altogether. I gave it a good scrub before our passage, but after a couple of weeks in the marina in Bundaberg, it was badly fouled. I wanted to slip Jade just before our departure from Australia, but could not possibly wait 6 months, and there was another pressing underwater job to be done. Since Fiji, our port saildrive had been making unpleasant noises. Since then I had only used that side at very low speed for manoeuvering. So, we slipped at the Bundaberg Slipway, run by a guy called Russ. He is a very rough and blunt Aussie, but the service overall was pretty good. It was, however, a bit of a struggle getting Jade out. Russ's trailer was not nearly as clever as that at Norsand, and the yard is not paved, except for the slipway. Still, can't complain, although the sandflies there were terrible.
We had now what I thought was a stroke of luck, in asking a guy called Michael Hanks, of Marine Torque, to take out our saildrive and check it out. He was actually the Yanmar dealer, but I was warned off of the local Volvo dealers, Bundaberg Diesel. (I went there for spares, and their workshop was a pigsty). Michael was terrific, worked fast and did everything he could to be as economical as possible.A visit to his workshop showed that the top bearing where the drive shaft enters the unit had completely disintegrated, and its broken bits had gone completely through the gears and were resting at the bottom, but apparently not doing any further damage on their journey.We could not understand why the bearing had collapsed in this way after around 900 hours of use. We then explored the options. Replacement would be at the unbelievable cost of $AUS10,500. (Amazingly a complete new engine and saildrive costs less than $AUS14,000) ($AUS and $US are very close in value). I also priced a unit from the USA. It would cost less than $US4000 plus shipping, so if a new replacement was required, that would be the obvious option. We could also reasonably repair the old unit. The bearing seat would need to be re-faced as it was damaged, which would require an oversize bearing or a new insert. It was also possible that there was other damage we could not see. During this process, over the course of a week or so, I spoke to Volvo in Australia, and during onbe conversation with their national parts manager, I mentioned I had been using engine oil as the lubricant. He immediately told me that this was the cause of the problem, as it should have been ATF. I then, happily, told him that my manuals, supplied new with the engines, specified engine oil (10-40). Oh joy! it was their fault. It turns out that there was major confusion over this world-wide. At one time the Volvo web site had specified three different oils for these 130 and 120 series saildrives. After negotiating, and this guy correctly pointing out that I had had 900 hours and three years of use from this drive, I accepted a new one, with full warranty and free delivery, for $AUS2500, with a further agreement that if the other one failed within the next year, I could get another replacement for the same price. We thus got our new drive, and Michael installed it. I still have the old drive stored with a friend in Bundaberg.
When we hauled out, the bottom was a sight to behold. We were truly like a coral reef. Only the propspeed on the props had worked, and they were gleaming. The price of Micron 66, which we had first used in the USA was absolutely crazy. For half that price we instead bought a brand-new product from Jotun, called Sea Quantum Ultra. This is a very high-tech product, and meant only for commercial sale, so we had to buy 20 litres, a big drum. Since I knew we would have to slip again, I just put one coat on, and saved about 14 litres in plastic buckets with a sealed lid.
We did not have much else done in Bundaberg. It was a great town, and services were available, but there was not the range of choice and competition. Still, our experiences so far were already better than New Zealand. There is one caveat. We had found the cost of spares and equipment in New Zealand seriously expensive. Australia was beyond that, well into the range of exorbitant. Labour costs were acceptable, and the workmanship generally very good to excellent, but the bits and pieces! The saildrive was just one example. I would estimate that this stuff was always, at a minimum, twice the US price, and often three times or more. Really. The answer is, where possible, to buy through West Marine or the US dealer.
I though long and hard about hauling again with Russ to change the rudders and use the remaining paint. However, another issue forced my hand. The saltwater feed pump for the watermaker was not working, and try as I might, I could not get it off myself. Support from the local Spectra agents was only available in Brisbane, so we decided to go there. After 5 months in Bundaberg, it was strange to go somewhere else, and somewhat sad.
Before leaving, we had had a road trip to Brisbane, during which we had visited Peter and Toni, and went with them to GM Sails. Here we experienced our only failure in Australia. A new guy had taken over the company since I had spoken and agreed with the owner to have our sails ready by the end of April. When I am there, this new guy tells me he cannot possibly do my sails before July!!!. I remind him that I have a verbal contract, made many months earlier, and am then told that has nothing to do with the new owner (who worked in the shop for five years before buying out his boss). I told him that, on the contrary, he bought the business complete with its obligations, and couldn't weasel out of it. I then took the sails back and told him I would see him in court. This really frightened him, truly, as Toni had already started legal proceedings over another cockup. It didn't turn out to be necessary. Peter took me to Doyle Sails in Brisbane, run by Laura Warlow, who is a great lady. Very efficient and she keeps her word. She promised to do everything we wanted by the end of April, and she kept her promise at a good price. Highly recommended.
We had a third reef put in the main, a torque rope put in the luff of the gennaker, and various repairs. We also had a storm jib made.
On arrival with Jade in brisbane (after motoring all the way, having no sails) we went straight to Rivergate Shipyard. This is a few miles up the Brisbane River, halfway to the city, and almost under the huge Gateway Motorway bridge. Rivergate is a very new and impressive facility. It has a modern marina attached, where we stayed one night, and in the morning were lifted by their 75 ton Travelift. They also have a 300 ton one. The whole process took about 10 minutes to being parked on the hard. Lovely, and at a cost of $AUS400 for both out and in, very reasonable. The daily hardstanding charges were acceptable, but given the cleanliness and quality of the place, good. There are numerous specialist companies based there, and our experiences were again wholly excellent, particularly Lex Baddely, an engineering firm. They could not have been more helpful, and at a fair price. This was important as many small modifications had to be done to fit the new rudders. I was for ever going in and asking for fiddly and small jobs to be done, and bits made. Never a complaint and done, usually immediately, with a smile. Another guy called Aaron, in an electrical company whose name I forget, gave lots of good advice, and made new battery cables for me which he refused to charge for.
I was allowed to do our own bottom painting, thank goodness. The rudders are different to the old ones. Eliptical instead of square, much thinner, and deeper, and also heavier. I hope, and trust Manta's promise, that this is because they are much stronger! Since there had been no change to the hulls, the rudders were supposed to fit exactly. Ha Ha. The old ones had been so badly made that the pin holes were not in the same places on each one. I should have suspected as much. The mountings in the steering compartment had been modified to make them fit, which meant that the port and stbd sides were different. Of course, the new rudders were identical to each other, so one of them had to be modified with a new pin hole. I also found that the holes used to drop a pin in to lock the rudders at the centre line had never been in the right place. For all I know, I had always been dragging rudders that were not aligned. I thus had to modify these blocks, but at the end of the whole process, I was as sure as I could be that the rudders were aligned correctly, cables properly adjusted. I also fitted new bearings to both sides.
Whilst in Rivergate we also got the watermaker repaired. The feed pump had been fitted by the Florida agents in such a way that almsot all of the rest of the equipment had to be removed first, simply because they had blocked access to two bolts. The staggering thing was that the pump (not the motor part, just the pump) cost me $AUS1200, plus several hours labour. I could not get the pump from the US (where it would have been less than half the price) because Spectra insist on supporting their local agent. Hybrid Energy. OK, you just follow the lead of so many Aussie companies in charging the earth for parts, but I think that paying, in the end, almost $2000 for replacing a simple water pump is obscene. I fully intend to publicize this experience and embarass Spectra into doing something about it, if not for me, at least for future customers.
Our generator had stopped working in Fiji, with two problems. Overheating and no output. After trying to get somebody to do it for me, I did it myself. (I could have got somebody. I was probably not trying very hard. My laziness was competing with my guilt that it ought to be doable by me. Guilt won) I had to clean out the heat exchanger. This fixed the overheating. I had to change the capacitor to fix the output. This last was a terrible job, again because of the stupid and inaccessible way it had been installed. I also got our large Groco macerator repaired by sending it back to Groco in the USA. I knew that many other Mantas had suffered from the same failures, and that Groco had acknowledged a poor seal design, which they now do differently. Nevertheless, despite having paid a lot of money to fly this large object to the USA, Groco refused to fix it for free, saying it was out of warranty. (True, but hardly fair when the failure is caused by a design fault). Another thing I intend to publicize. I have an intention to continue the fight with Spectra and with Groco. My first, and faint, hope is to recover some of my money, but secondarily, and with much more chance of success, if I can't I intend that by publicizing what happened I will cost them at least as much as I feel they have ripped me off for, and hopefully a great deal more. Then perhaps they will learn the value of fairness in customer service.
A lot of other little things got fixed, but I must say, with very few exceptions, the quality of workmanship in Australia was a very pleasant surprise. As long as you can source most of your parts from the USA, I would strongly recommend getting your upgrades and repairs done in Australia, NOT New Zealand. Save your time there for cruising its beautiful shores.