My Grand Banks was splashed in Singapore harbor late in 1978 and delivered to Seattle about Thanksgiving time. I bought her, from the second owner, in the spring of 1990. I remember doing an acrobatic jump and clicking my heels in my office in a Seattle high-rise when a low bid was accepted. The receptionist in a law office across the hall smiled – she knew what it was all about.
It’s been a heel-clicking adventure over almost a quarter century.
Quadra is 35 years old and her fabulous and faithful Ford Lehman diesels have run nearly 7,000 hours, nearly two-thirds of that time under my command. Her owner is a whole lot older, with significantly more hours on the clock.
Today, back in a remote fold of my brain, is a note reminding me that it’s likely Quadra eventually will deserve a new owner and that I need to prepare for that depressing eventuality. Stop! Put that phone down. She is not now for sale! We’re going cruising again soon, I hope.
But to get ready, first things first: a survey to identify any major problems or issues that could mean trouble sometime soon – such as a breakdown or failure of a critical system. Wise people demand a survey before buying. Equally wise are sellers who seek a survey before calling a broker or buying an ad. Putting a clean boat on the market eliminates all kinds of fussing around and low-ball offers after a potential buyer’s survey identifies problems.
So, when my 42-foot GB Europa was scheduled for a routine haul out for bottom paint, I summoned a surveyor, Anacortes-based Steve Berg. He’s certified in major boating systems by the American Boat and Yachting Council (I first met him in an ABYC marine systems class several years ago) and a member of the two national’ agencies (SAMS and RAMS). He came to the boat with his bag of tools and years of experience.
After being partners with the GB for more than 24 years I know her well. Nonetheless, the simple act of calling a surveyor generated some feelings of uncertainty. “Tell me, doc, what’s wrong.” Or, do I really want to know?
A would-be buyer can order up a variety of surveys: hull, mechanical, electronics. Depending on age, size and sophistication of a boat, surveying can be complex, expensive – and necessary for a buyer’s peace of mind. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about my boat, not with simple, all mechanical diesels, navigational electronics that are out-of-date but function well, newer AC/DC systems and an interior updated with absolute adherence to GB styling.
So, we went for one thorough yacht survey. Steve went to work, describing what he was doing at each step, noting issues, asking questions and sharing anecdotes from his surveying career. It started in my home moorage, continued as I started the Fords and headed for the shipyard. The route crosses a shallow section of Fidalgo Bay at Anacortes and Steve, who has made many crossings there, helped me line up the appropriate channel markers.
After the yard crew had scraped away a few clusters of barnacles and pressure washed the hull, he brought out the familiar surveyor’s hammer and began working the hull. He checked shafts, rudders and propellers and the through-hull fittings. It was a cold day and he was working in the rain. I shivered while watching, either from the temperature or apprehension about what he might find.
The bottom needed cleaning and paint, but Steve found no evidence of osmotic blistering and in his written report said “the underbody shows low wear and tear for a vessel this age.”
Ultimately, as the examination ended, I was warmed in learning that the heart and soul of my aging yacht – the hull and gear that have driven her tens of thousands of miles in a quarter century - were found to be strong and enduring.
While noting that he took nothing apart in his assessment and that aging gear may fail eventually, Berg found no need to use fire-alarm red ink to highlight problems in the basic structure and equipment because there was none.
The engines operated normally, he wrote in his report, without excessive smoking. He spent part of the run to the boat yard in the engine room and later noted all looked normal but for an oil drip at each engine. (One was from an oil filter connection; the second was a bad seal between the high pressure fuel injection pump and the engine block.)
There were no problems with the Borg Warner Velvet drive reduction gears. The iron tanks and the stainless steel water tanks were okay visually, but he did not remove inspection plates on the fuel tanks.
After decades of use the structural elements remain sound, although his hand-held meter detected traces of moisture in a few places on the upper deck and around a mooring cleat. (“Repairs not needed or recommended at this time,” he said.)
Teak decks, often trouble on older boats, showed “low wear and tear.”
The exterior and the interior looked good to Steve – “above average,” he said. (I’m often asked when she was painted and “never” is my answer).
The through-hull valves worked normally and the electrical system checked out ok.
Credit Grand Banks for building a good boat.
The dings in his report mostly were for things that her owners – including me – had done incorrectly or in a slap-dash way. He found a potentially dangerous flaw in a new electric system installed by a certified electrician. He also found sloppy wiring at the bridge deck helm (red faces for several people), an inoperative anchor light (the bulb had failed) and noted that neither engine had an exhaust coolant alarm system as recommended by the American Boat and Yacht Council. He affirmed what I knew – that one cutlass bearing sleeve was oozing out of place and needed to be replaced.
By crawling into the aft deck lazarette, Steve discovered a small water drip from the port engine exhaust hose connection to the transom fitting. It left a tell-tale stain in the bilge. A screw driver and a scrub brush took care of that.
The most serious problem was the cable used to ground the case of an inverter installed by a professional. The ABYC requires a ground wire not more than one size less than the cables carrying current to the inverter. The installing electrician used a much smaller wire; if a short had occurred that wire would have overheated and its insulation likely would burst into flame. It was in a bundle with other wiring that might have ignited and spread the fire. This is a common shortcoming, I have learned. (I knew the standard but failed to see the violation.)
Four feet of cable, a couple of connector ends and an hour or so of labor eliminated that issue.
Most boats have an alarm that sounds as engine coolant overheats instantly when a V belt breaks or a raw water pump fails.
A temperature sensor in the exhaust line also is sensitive to slowly rising temps in engine coolant – such as with a slow leak - and when its alarm screams there’s still time to stop the engine before damage occurs. Steve D’Antonio, PassageMaker technical writer, urged me to consider a raw water alarm sold by Borel Manufacturing of Alameda, California. to satisfy the ABYC standard.
I bought a two-engine system for about $150. It was easy to install. A plus is that the helm alarm fit nicely in an unused two-inch instrument panel cutout.
The yard needed to pull the starboard shaft to remove and replace the failing cutlass bearing. I ordered replacement of all three on that side and then, just for insurance, had the port shaft bearings replaced as well.
That last bit of work came with the boat back in the water – alignment of the engines with the drive line. That done, Quadra returned home, motoring smoothly out of the bay and past an array of commercial vessels along Guemes Channel.
The only finding not yet addressed is the embarrassing tangle of wiring in the upper helm area. I’ve crawled into that space several times in search for inspiration in how to make it all neat again. It eludes me.
But I have some time. The boat is not for sale – yet.
Photos courtesy of Steve Berg.