Tanks A Lot!

Here we are back in the peaceful village of Whangarei.  We were hoping that the lion was sleeping tonight, but that isn’t happening.  Every once in a while there is a boat project that needs to be addressed.  You know the one that you put off as long as you can before it decides that you can’t wait anymore?  Sometimes it hints to you in a subtle voice tempting you with how easy it won’t be.  Then there are times that it screams at you with the urgency of a backed up septic tank.  Our little darling of a task is somewhere in the middle.  Our built-in freshwater, stainless steel storage tank has decided that it has been silent for too long.  It has developed a nasty little leak and the welded edges have too much corrosion to control anymore.  So, I say tanks a lot. NOT!

It’s a good thing we have finished our seasonal cruising and have started to settle down into the early signs of winter here in New Zealand.  Time for projects to be completed and none other than the built-in stainless steel water tank has thrust itself to the top of the list. Needless to say Jilly is less than thrilled as she begins to understand the sheer scope of the task at hand.

Where do we start?  

First of all we need to find a suitable replacement tank or locate a local tank fabricator. Señor Google search engine engaged. Warp factor five Mr. Google, if you please. Additionally, the coconut telegraph has been initiated as well with coconuts humming at maximum capacity across the North Island of New Zealand. With input from local, knowledgeable Kiwis and the internet, we locked our sights onto Hercules Tanks located in Katikati which is just southeast of Auckland.

I fired off an email and received a prompt reply from the owner Frank Aerts.  Their freshwater tanks are made of polypropylene, to custom sized specifications. They are pressure tested, baffled and come with a CE certification of thickness.  What more could one ask for?  Frank also explained that the turn around time is about 10 working days from submitted order and payment.  Without good measurements until after our existing tank is removed, he could only provide a rough estimate.  The cost estimate was substantially lower than I had envisioned.  

The rule of thumb regarding estimating the time or cost of boat projects is much like forecasting weather. It is not an exact science. You can and will be wrong at least 50% of the time.  The magic formula goes something like this:  The initial cost estimate plus tools; plus time; plus repairs for damage caused to things you didn’t intend to damage; plus medical costs for miscellaneous injuries; plus consumable supplies minus the learning curve; lodging; food and adult beverages.  Add that all together, multiply times three, turn around three times and look to the east as you chant the magic words, “I hope that’s everything.”

Why does it have to be the water tank?  

There is so much work needed to get to the water tank.  Only half of the saloon floor boards are removable to gain access to a small portion of the built in tank.  I’m sure that back in 1987 when Dazzler was being formed in the womb of the Union Yacht Company dropping the beautifully crafted stainless steel water tank was just that easy.  Set it and forget it.  Next the stringers were installed across the top of the tank to hold up the elevated teak and holly sole/floor boards.  Then they built in all the bulkheads, settee, dining table, storage compartments, mast compression post, head, shower, doors and cabin top to name a few.  A virtual jigsaw puzzle of fasteners, epoxy and fiberglass joints.  The tank is under it all! AAAAAAWWWWWKKKKK!  Where is the rum?

Basically this job, task or satanic ritual as it will come to be known as, will not be easy.  In fact, I’m still asking myself if this is really necessary.  The answer is still yes.  Damn it! I can hear  The Fiddler on the Roof singing, “If I were a rich man…….,” I’d pay someone to do this for me and go on a vacation for a month.  But, since I was not born into that category, I’ll be the laborer/contractor assigned to this project.  Okay, enough whining! Jilly is surely doing enough of that for the both of us.

My initial thought process was to buy all the equipment, tools and supplies and just go for it.  Equipment rentals and safety equipment needed to be purchased and then there is the wild card of possibly injuring myself while using all the tools and dealing with the sharp edges of the freshly cut steel tank.  Thank goodness I came to my senses and justified hiring someone with boat building experience and the necessary tools to cut out my old tank.  

I called Frank at Hercules Tanks and he suggested that I contact Heath at B.M. Services in Tauranga.  Heath indicated that he was busy, but should be able to fit us into his schedule.  All I needed to do is send him some photographs of Dazzler’s interior tank areas.  We also sent some photos of our last haul out to Tauranga Marine Society Marina to assist the lift operator with lift strap placements.  Jilly found us a great Air B&B close by so we had a place to stay while while I worked on getting the tank out and cleaning up the bilge. The building blocks of the tank replacement plan were starting to fall in place. 

Prior to departing Whangarei, I decided to get as many of the consumables needed to complete the tank replacement project. It’s not that we couldn’t get them in Tauranga but here we already knew the vendors. I planned to clean and paint the bilge area under the old tank before the new tank was installed. We figured that we might as well give Dazzler a fresh coat of bottom paint while she’s out of the water as well. We needed to get the bottom paint, bilge paint and primer, lumber to repair the stringers that needed to be cut, plumbing supplies for the tank fittings and a couple cases of beer. Ha ha ha!

The Journey to Tauranga

With all the arrangements in place the time came to make the two day passage from Whangerei to Tauranga. The trip would take us southeast down the coast past Great Barrier Island and into the Bay of Plenty where we would find Tauranga. The first day was a pretty long one. We left around 1030 hours, just before high tide. We had some communication issues with the bridge operator at the Hatea River Bridge which costs us a half hour or so but the rest of the trip was brilliant.

We spent that evening at an anchorage called Cooks Bay which is inside the larger Mercury Bay.  We were the only boat in the anchorage and the beach was pretty deserted.  Of course we are in the beginning of winter here and most of the bachs on the beach are holiday residences for Kiwis.  Given the cold weather it is understandable that they were mostly empty.

The following day we departed at first light to make certain we arrived in Tauranga at slack tide.  This marina is what is referred to as a tidal marina meaning you need to time entry and exit on the tides as strong currents and big tidal swings are the norm.  The right timing for entrance or exit can make all the difference. 

On the way down we came across a large bait ball bubbling on top of the ocean.  Given the size I couldn’t resist so I grabbed a pole and steered Dazzler in that direction. Within a few minutes I made one of my favorite announcements, “Fish on”.  I pulled up a nice Kahuwai that would have made for a great dinner but it was cold and I just wasn’t feeling like filleting a fish so this one was returned to the sea where he can continue his watery existence until the next fisherman hooks him or a tuna or shark make him dinner.

Tank Demolition

The day after our arrival we started rounding up our supplies and contacted Heath Fairweather at B. M. Services.  Heath came down to Dazzler at the visitor berth at the end of H pier.  How many steps to the end?  At close to a thousand, it’s a fur piece.  After examining our tank and discussing our options we developed a plan.  Heath suggested we use Pete Gilliam of Dockside Marine Mechanical for the tank removal cutting.  Pete met with us and we agreed to start the following Tuesday as Monday was the New Zealand holiday for the Queen’s Birthday.

This left me with a few days to get things organized onboard.  We had to cover everything with plastic to prevent dust from creeping into the lockers. We also had to put up protective cardboard on surface areas that might be damaged by sharp edges of cut up stainless steel tank pieces.

Tanks A Lot
As you can see, it was a huge undertaking and disruption to Dazzler to get this project completed.

I took a very deep breath as I cut the stringers.  The plan for re-installing them was in place but nothing could be done until after the new tanks were installed.  Additionally, I had to make a surgical cut out of the floor under our saloon table for added access to the tank area for removal and installation of the tank. This was especially concerning as we’d been advised that finding teak and holly flooring would be next to impossible due to Covid and the resulting material delays from overseas.

All in all things were falling into place and the stage was set for demolition of the old tank.  This project was so invasive to our living space we were not able to live onboard during the process.  With saloon cushions covered in plastic and safely stowed in the forward bunk along with everything else from the saloon and walls and lockers covered, we were ready to get started on the demolition.  With any luck we hoped to be able to have the old tank out by mid week.  

Pete showed up on Tuesday morning and we started cutting out the old tank. By the end of the day we had at least 3/4 of the tank removed. Wednesday we finished the removal by noon. Looking at the tank pieces on the pallet, I discovered that there were two ruptured welds along the bottom corners of the tank. I guess it was time for removal and replacement after all. Ryan from Hercules Tanks showed up at 1230 hours and obtained the necessary measurements for the new tanks.

Pete from Dockside Marine Mechanical working hard at cutting out the old stainless tank.

Time To Get My Clean On  

Next I had to clean and sand areas of the bilge in preparation of applying bilge paint.  I would love to have just one tank that slips down into the bilge like a sexy evening glove.  However, it wasn’t that easy.  The plan was to have two tanks made that would fit side by side down into the bilge for ease of installation.  We were not having an exact duplicate tank made.  In fact we figured we would lose about a third of our current tank capacity.  The existing tank volume is about 150 US gallons.  Our new tank’s capacity will be somewhere around 100-130 US gallons plus or minus.  Our water maker has been very reliable which will make the smaller size a comfortable modification.  We will always have the option of jumping in the ocean to get clean if needed. HA HA

Painting Anyone?

Before we left Whangarei we obtained all of our paint supplies and other paint consumables from our friends at Wynn Fraser.  One of the good things about being detained in New Zealand has been the friendships we have developed with the local businesses around Whangarei.  Not just the chandleries, but all of the other marine related business as well.  Seeing familiar faces and having developed friendships has resulted in an incredible network of knowledge base for being able to discuss solutions for boat projects and project dilemmas.  

It is very much like days of old when I was a lot younger and growing up in a small California desert city.  I loved going to Jennings Hardware.  The staff was incredible.  Their knowledge base was so broad and they happily shared it with you.  Some of the big box hardware stores of today employ lots of people with limited knowledge for the department they are working in.  Yes they know all about the products, but they may lack the actual usage or application experience. That’s not the case here.

Primer and Bilgekote now applied and I’m not too dizzy from all the fumes yet.  Thank goodness for vapor masks.  Looks good enough to eat off of. Now it’s time for a couple of weeks of R&R while we wait for the tank to be manufactured. Don’t worry, Jilly will tell you all about that over the next few articles. Until then I think I’m going to kick back with a beer or two.


Captain Dan

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Author: Dan & Jilly

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