Getting Dirty

This section is the How-I-Did-It of getting my boat ready. Some will be bored by it, others may like it. Either way, for posterity, here it is.

The material for this section came from a previous blog that was started to tell this story and through the providers’ dumb error was marked as spam and removed. To put it bluntly, this pissed me off as I was just a few days from sailing and I had quite a lot of material up there that I could no longer access. This is the background to what follows. The company ( recently sent me an apology letter some two weeks after my work was taken down… and also a survey to comment on my experience… they have got to be kidding me!!

Anyway, here is the text that I’ve been able to salvage now that the original blog is back on line and it provides some background to the events leading up to Freespirit’s maiden voyage.

The Dream Begins

I grew up on a dairy farm where as a small boy I expressed my early sea yearnings by sailing toy boats of my design and construction on the many dams scattered around our property. Later Dad and I sailed dinghy’s in our district sailing club, attending and competing in many regatta’s and competitions. In my twenties I moved up to keel boats and took my first trip overseas in one.

That’s me on the running board of the 1918 Crossley we used as a farm truck back then.

This is just to say that for a very long time I have desired the sailing life and finally, at age 60 I am making it a reality.

My dream? To sail in a well found yacht to parts of the world I have up till now only read about. To see out what is left of my life in one last grand adventure aboard my own yacht. Three months ago I found such a yacht in Hillarys Marina for sale through Vicsail brokerage.

This purchase also introduced me to Vicsails agent in Hillarys, a loveable rascal called Tony Williams. Tony runs ‘Windancer” charters out of his Challenger 39, an experienced and wise sailor, his help has been invaluable in FreeSpirit’s evolution to a full time cruising yacht.

And evolution it definitely has been…….

When I signed up to purchase FreeSpirit (she was called Isa Lei back then), I knew there were some problems that needed to be solved before I could cast off. #1 of these was a leaky water tank.

Located in a very difficult to access spot, this was a case of the too hard basket for previous owners. The only way to solve it was removal though this involved cutting it up and removing one piece at a time. With the tank being made of Stainless Steel this was problematic and a challenge.

Finally, after making first one, then two holes I ended up enlarging this to make one big one so that I could drain and access the bottom part of the ‘U’ shaped tank then remove it entirely.

As you can see, the water is very rusty and dirty as it came up out of the bottom of the tank. Siphoning was the only way I could get it out before beginning to cut up the tank into small pieces and finally removing it altogether.

Because of the ‘U’ shaped design of the tank(s) and the fact that they were built into the yacht at time of construction, it was never an option to repair and replace. The bottom of the tank was totally inaccessible and was also leaking into the bilge. Nothing else for it but start cutting it up.

Next came a complete re-rig of the standing rigging, this was added to by some custom touches like a storm sail track on the mast to fly a storm trysail and a new, removable inner forestay to fly a storm jib.

As I anticipate some heavy weather on my voyage over the Great Australian Bight, I am preparing for the worst, hoping for the best.

Windows to the world

Next on the upgrade path were the windows. Like the tank, they were leaking and that water was finding its way also into the bilge. Not only that, but the steady ingress of water over a very long time had started to break down the inner timber liners that surround each window frame.

It looked pretty awful and with the tank removal and bad weather delaying repairs, these windows were doing my head in.

Finally, with a small break in the weather I whipped off all six windows and took them to a local firm to cut new ones from. I was starting to worry by that afternoon as the sky was clouding over and looking ominous. Armed with tape and plastic I sealed the openings off as best as I could. As it happened it did rain that night and subsequent nights though my temporary repair kept most of it out.

The process as followed was to trial fit and masking tape stuck around it to give the nasty black stuff Sikaflex some runoff. This stuff sticks like shit to a blanket but oh oh oh it loves nothing more than to spread itself around and in very little time you and everything you touch, brush against or sit on will be covered in the stuff.  Thinking I should do my own show on Discovery Channel… ha!

Very pleased with the result.

Show Me The Name

Some of you may be wondering where the FreeSpirit name came from and what meanings are attached to the symbols used in it.

The basic design of the logo came from a friend Greg Shakeshaft. Greg owns a Roberts 25 two pens up from my own and we were discussing the logo one evening over a few drinks. He came back the next day with the essence of the design that became what it is now.

Its philosophy is as follows…

“The albatross represents the wild free ocean whilst its wings envelope the sun (representing the spirit) as it sets.”

Great images as the Albatross is a bird that calls the oceans of the world home, so is a true free spirit and wanderer. The setting/rising sun represents the new day and with it the promise of a new horizon. Perfect.

Sticking It To Her

When I bought her she was called Isa Lei, a Google search reveals this to be a Polynesian farewell song.

Even Australia’s Seekers did a version of it at one time. It is a beautiful song, though sad as it concerns the parting of family of friends to other places. I can see why you might call a sailing craft this name as there are likely to be many such partings whilst sailing her around the world.

My thoughts and feelings however were that this name reflected a looking back in sadness, something not appropriate in my opinion for the vehicle of adventure and new discoveries. So a name search ensued and the winner was FreeSpirit.

All that remained was to convert this digital file into a physical presence and as luck would have it I discovered Boat Names Australia on the net.

After our initial contact it took about a week before I had it here and ready to apply. Fortunately Greg was available to help with preparation and application of the new sticker and I’m proud to say that it came out alright.

About this time I did a deck scrub and powerwash with Tony’s K’Archer. This came up better than expected and the decks now look very clean and fresh. Next is a polish of all the white bits…. and there are a lot of them!

Taking a deep breath…

A Week to Go

With just a week to go, I’m getting a little nervous about what I’m soon to do. Like a first time bungee jumper from a high tower my emotion swings from the thrill of a challenge to the terror of the unknown and the possibility of failure.

Despite these feelings, the preparation continues apace with the additions of a new dinghy, a now fully refurbished life raft and my AIS/Multiplexer unit.

After visiting the Mandurah Boat Show I was struck by the amount of Chinese made inflatable dinghys that were on offer. A closer inspection revealed them all to bear the same characteristics/features… only the labels on them were different! Even Murcury, well known for their excellent range of outboard motors had a selection from the same manufacturer, labeled appropriately of course.

As I was in the market for a dinghy, I was disappointed at this trend. Every one of these cookie cutter dinghies would be falling apart within three years as they are cheaply made and inexpensive to buy.

Instead, I looked to the Walker Bay range of small watercraft and found an 8 foot model that would suit. These dinghies have a solid hull shell, floatation in the seats and an inflatable skirt that gives it terrific buoyancy and stability for a small craft without the loss of interior space synonymous with inflatables.

That’s a pretty good characteristic to have, but it doesn’t end there, this dinghy can be rowed, motorized and sailed! Yep, by purchasing the optional sail kit as I did, you can get about from ship to shore using nothing but the wind. The gear is first class and I can’t wait to try this unit out once my other jobs have been done.

In other developments my sea anchor (a US Coastguard approved series drogue) is all but completed. As I bought the kit for this rather than have it ready made I gave myself the task of sewing together 100 small sailcloth cones and their attachment webbing straps. This seems crazy, but, like my dad used to say, there is a method in my madness. This time the method was to get familiar with my Sailrite LZ1 portable industrial sewing machine.

It certainly was a task and it took me a few weeks of evening work to finish making them all. Then, once this had been done I had to assemble them on a 264 foot piece of rope that acts as the tow between boat and sea anchor.

Here I am in a small park close by the marina, laying out the lines, tucking the cone ties into the lay of the rope. I started this a 8am on Saturday and finished (back on board) at 11.30pm that evening.

I can tell you the last dozen or so were agony! Still its done now and I’m sure that if the conditions turn foul in the middle of the ocean I will be glad of its ability to slow the boat down and prevent a disastrous broach (getting turned side on to the waves and being rolled violently, sometimes completely over).

Not nice, but at least I’m prepared now and that’s a comfort.

Right now I’m finishing off the water tank bladder and hose connections. I picked up the brand new bladder three weeks ago yet only today pulled it out and looked at it. It was the wrong size!!! Bugger…:(

Another phone call, another 80 minute round trip to the manufacturer to get it remade and and hour and a half hanging around while this was being done. Another day wasted!!! They are becoming precious now with so few left.

Ok, back to work!!!

Two forward, one back

Maybe that should read One Forward, Two Back.

Either way it is a cry of frustration and anger when one has no-where else to express it. Why am I feeling this way?

In a previous post I bewailed the inconvenience caused me by the bladder manufacturer making the thing too big, and only discovering it three weeks later. Well it seems I’m not free of the damn thing yet. Plumbed the whole thing in today, complete with moving the deck filling plug from one part of the deck to the other…. traumatic for someone who does not like putting holes in his boat… but also it leaves me with a big hole to fill from whence it came.

Ok, that’s not the bad part…. that happened when I filled it with water from the newly installed plug. Everything seemed to go ok until I came back down below to take a look at it and I could hear a tinkling sound like water running slowly in a place it has no right to be running…. out of the bladder and into the surrounding support structure. Bloody Hell!!! Its leaking.

Empty it, disconnect all my lovely plumbing and pull the troublesome thing out and yes, sure enough near a seam there is a small fracture mark that is leaking over my foot as I stand there in disbelief holding my nemesis…. the dreaded tank bladder.

Of course its Sunday so all businesses except food and entertainment are closed… good thing too or I would have vented my anger over the phone at yet once again being the victim of shoddy workmanship and careless attitudes. All I can say is… they better bloody get this next one right.

Should have gone out sailing instead…

Three Days To Go

With just 3 days till departure date at time of writing, preparations have now hit fever pitch.

Bladder problems now fixed and not to be mentioned again, (collective sigh of relief). A friend who is up to date with current preparation issues dropped by the other day and asked about my bladder problems….. struck me as funny at the time as if we were two old farts discussing incontinence…. but am happy to report that the following day from my rant on here the manufacturer did the right thing and drove down from the hills, picked up the defective unit, fixed it, made a new one and dropped both back the same day.

Considering what the company and their product had put me through I thought that was a positive in an otherwise negative scenario.

In other news after two days of sweating and cursing I managed to get my electronic navigation system playing nice together. I have a mix of instruments and devices that I’ve combined into one data stream sent via its own WiFi transmitter to other display devices. In laymans terms that equates to having my iPad double as a chart plotter and instrument doubler. With it mounted at the helm I’ll be able to use all my navigation tools as well as pick up major shipping within a 20+ mile radius.

I also have 3 GPS’s on board and three other plotting devices on different systems that I can use if the iPad fails. Will also include some paper charts to plot with as backup if all the other stuff stops working. Hope that’s enough…. its certainly a whole lot more than early navigators had when they regularly circumnavigated the globe.

Have not been happy with the way my dinghy sits in its davits… swings around, difficult to raise etc so decided to invent a better system to make it work smoother and raise it higher, for safety and appearance. This was the process.

First I designed the mini slings using some spare webbing that I ran up on my sewing machine with a shackle attached. At the center of each sling I mounted an inverted ‘T’ plate for the hoist to clip onto. Then I had to cut some holes in my (very expensive and brand new) cover. There was a bit of anguish in this last one as if I screwed it up I would be left with an unsightly hole and the pain of looking at it every time I walked past it.

Finally I put it all together and it works.


After a few days at sea the ‘T’ bracket has been distorted somewhat and will need to be replaced. Here I’ll use the same design of ‘mini-sling’ for the uplift section with a spinner on it so that it doesn’t twist. That is one of today’s jobs.

One other task that was completed at this time was installing boards along each side of the lifeline stanchions to lash the spare fuel and water jerry cans to.

These were pieces of Meranti hardwood that I shaped and drilled for the ‘U’ bolts that attach it to the stanchions.

Before assembly I oiled the boards a couple of times to slow down and protect against the drying out process of its continual contact with salt water and air.

I now have 80 lts of diesel fuel and 40lts of extra water as backup and redundancy for the other fuel and water storage systems aboard. The extra fuel gives me a 500+ Nm capability of motoring if the need arises.


The journey so far has taken me from glow of initial purchase through to major works and refinements. Water tanks were removed or replaced, windows replaced, all new rigging and storm gear installed, electronic charting and navigation installed.. .its quite a long list.

Now, all that seems less important as the real challenge begins. Along the way a great number of people have came by and helped out in very important ways. People I did business with initially have become friends and supporters of my odyssey and most of the time I felt like I was in the ‘right’ place at the right time… its a good feeling.

To all the people whom I have known in my past that now cheer me on and send their good wishes for a safe journey I am grateful for your support, love and encouragement… I look forward to sharing this journey with you.


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