Thursday, November 21, 2019

Metal Shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

We are on the hard at Metal Shark Boats, in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (map). While most Alabamans pronounce it like "buy you luh bat tree," locally the "you" all but disappears. Today marks a week since we arrived here. We spent the first five nights in the water, at their docks, where we could run the heaters as needed.

Friday morning the head of repair and refit, Mickey, came over to chat with us about the project and the schedule. We agreed that it made no sense to haul out before the weekend, since no work could happen and it did no good to be on the hard all that time. He sent the head electrician over after our chat to get us some power. It's only 208 volts, so all the lights are dim and the dryer takes twice as long, but at least we could run all the heat.

Vector on the hard under the enormous lift. Hull of a new-build towboat is behind the screen to our starboard, and beyond that the Stephanie Pasentine is undergoing refit.

After our meeting I got to work getting the scooters ready and on the ground. They've been sitting on the deck, in the weather and without being run, since Rochester, four months ago. Mine needed air in the tires, but otherwise started right up, and after warming up for a few minutes was ready to go. Louise's recently acquired Buddy 125, however, was a different story.

First off, it would not start. I start them up on deck, because I have access to unlimited 12v power up there, using a purpose-made cable connected to the davit winch. While my scooter is fuel-injected, the Buddy has a conventional carburetor, which does not do well just sitting, full of fuel, for four months, even with stabilizer in it.

Arriving to Bayou La Batre we were greeted with the sight of the Argosy Casino Lawrenceburg, a failed casino boat from Indiana, towed here to await its fate.

The much bigger problem was that when I released the front brake, which has to be applied to start, the handle went limp, with the plunger on the master cylinder remaining in the fully applied position. Not good. I will spare you all the gory details, but suffice it to say I spent much of Friday afternoon and most of Saturday working on it, to no avail.

With at least one working scooter I was able to run some errands on Friday, knowing that time to do them once in the yard would be limited. To wit, I rode the 20 miles to the sewing shop to pick up the replacement Juki motor that I had ordered, and afterward ran across the street to Home Depot for a couple of key project items and then Walmart to replenish the larder.

There is a Sea School professional mariner training here, and I've seen classes of students out practicing their lifeboat rowing in the turning basin.

Friday night we ended up going to dinner two-up on my scoot, at the nearby Mexican joint, Kain's, which was surprisingly good. It was also quite busy on a Friday night. Being one of just four restaurants here in town open for dinner, we've already been back there once, and it won't be our last before leaving town.

After conceding defeat on Louise's master cylinder Saturday, I ordered a used take-out on eBay as a replacement, and I put the rest of the scooter back together after adjusting the rear brake. It's only a few blocks to town from the yard, on low-speed local streets, and we reasoned she could get by on the rear brake alone for a couple of nights. I had finally managed to get it started still on the deck, with the brakes torn apart.

USACE Lawson just released from the slings.

Monday we were all ready for our haulout, but, as anticipated, a much higher-priority customer arrived and had to be hauled ahead of us. That turned out to be the US Army Corps of Engineers towboat Lawson, which arrived with its crane barge Choctawhatchee. They left the barge spudded down in the water and lifted the towboat with the enormous 600-ton Marine Travelift.

The Lawson displaces 434 tons, and somewhere during the lift the Travelift went into alarm. When we dropped by the office to sign the paperwork we learned we'd have to wait another night while they got the lift squared away. We were comfortable at the dock so that was fine by us.

Tuesday morning Keith, one of the foremen and also the lift operator, came by to pace off the location of the fins and where to place the slings, and told us to head over to the lift well at 9am. We got the boat squared away and took one last opportunity to discharge gray water overboard, and drove over to the lift promptly at 9. I'm not sure what Monday's alarm was about, but Tuesday morning the lift blew a hydraulic hose, so we tied up in the lift well to wait.

Vector coming out of the water, looking diminutive in the giant lift. The historic wooden Ship Island ferry, the Pan American Clipper, is at right, with the Choctawhatchee's crane behind her.

We're no strangers to hydraulic hose failures, and I am certain that someone from the yard had to drive to the exact same hose shop that I rode to when we blew a steering hose on Odyssey over at Dog River. That was a two-hour round trip, plus whatever time it took to make the hose, and it was well past lunch time by the time they were ready to lift us.

We're also no strangers to Marine Travelifts, but heretofore, the largest lift we've been in has been 75 tons. That's a comfortable capacity for our 55-ton weight, as opposed to the smaller lifts we've used, where I grimaced the entire time we were in the slings. Most recently a 70-ton lift was unable to move after they slinged us.

This lift makes Vector look like a tub toy.

Even at 75 or 100 tons, we sweat it every time. The slings are operating near capacity, and it does not take much of a nick or cut to cause one to fail; stories abound of heavy yachts dropped out of ill-maintained lifts. I can honestly say, though, that we had no such concerns whatsoever in the 600-ton lift, where the biggest issue was how to fit the enormous slings properly under Vector.

The spreaders on typical lifts are also always a cause for concern, usually coming quite close to our hull during the lift. Here the spreaders we so far above our flybridge there was no chance of that happening. In fact, Vector looked like nothing so much as a bathtub toy hanging from a lift that, just the day before, hauled a 96'x40' towboat.

The cat is always blasé about lift day. She's happy to have a new shoebox from one of Louise's fabric deliveries.

The bigger they are, the slower they move, and it was closing time by the time they had us blocked and out of the slings. The lift is still sitting here around us, though, while the yard continues working on whatever ails it. The operating machinery is so far above ground they need a man-lift to access it, and, much like the way some of my projects go, in the middle of working on the Travelift today they had to stop and fix something on the man-lift. There is a lot of heavy machinery here.

Speaking of blocking, there are no jackstands in this yard. Our keel is on sandbags on top of cribbing; the sandbags can be cut open later to move cribbing to access different areas for painting. And side-to side we are balanced by a single pair of enormous concrete blocks, topped with more cribbing and a dozen or so wooden wedges, driven in by hammer. It's the weirdest blocking for Vector to date.

This photo I took of our new pot diverters being installed also shows the cribbing and wedges holding us up.

This week we've received a number of items in the mail, including the custom-made tool to remove the stabilizer fins, since the yard does not have one of its own, a few miscellaneous project items for which I've just been waiting to have a good address, and the replacement master cylinder for Louise's scoot, which I installed yesterday.

There's a marine supply store across the street which is something of a cross between a chandlery and a well-stocked hardware store. They sold me the parts for a new snubber and found a guy who could make it up for me. I paid $19 for the rope and a thimble, and $20 for the marlinspike work, with the total easily less than half what I've been paying for snubbers. They also had the plumbing parts I needed for a project in the galley.

Almost to our spot. Lawson is behind us. Two workers at left show you how big the tires are on this lift.

At the rate things are going here, it looks like we will be here through Thanksgiving, even if we do not opt to increase the scope of work. But at least there are a few stores and four restaurants, the others being The Lighthouse and Catalina, both fried seafood joints, and Phnom Penh, which is sort of pan-Asian and not just Cambodian food.

Considering nothing in town will be open Thanksgiving day, we've rented a car for a week, which we will pick up tomorrow afternoon. In addition to getting us someplace for dinner on Thursday, that will also give us the chance to get a bit farther afield this weekend, and make it easier to run errands next week.


  1. Whoa, those tire are huge! I like the cat in the box. Dave is going to cook Thanksgiving Stinkpot, pretty crazy! We're going to have Walmart deliver to us. 20 miles on a scooter, sounds like a lot, but getting that part is very important, eh?

    1. Just catching up on blog comments today. Thanks for having us aboard for Thanksgiving! Everything was delicious, and we are impressed with your small-galley acumen.

  2. Bayou La Batre notes from back in the day. I am wondering if there are still shrimp boats in the trees.

    1. Thanks for the reminder. I remember reading your post about your captain's class, but I had forgotten completely that you did in here in Bayou. Sea School sounds a lot more rough and tumble than the place I used in FLL; we did not have a bunk room, for example, and lots of folks who go there have to scramble for lodging.

      They finally cleaned up the shrimpers in the trees just a few years ago, 2014-2016. Your visit here was, relatively speaking, hard on the heels of Katrina. Much has changed since then, but Bayou is still struggling to recover economically. We're small potatoes in this shipyard, and yet they seem happy to have the business.


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