Refit Part I: Choosing a Boatyard


In June 2021, we headed to a boatyard in Faro as the first step in a major refit. We’ve since fallen behind with our blogs as physical work drained our bodies of energy and our minds of words. This is an attempt to get back on track. We look at the factors involved in choosing a suitable boatyard, the different types of boat lift, and whether you want to DIY the work or not. Mixed in with this are our own experiences as we have Emerald lifted out and embark on a long list of boat jobs.

Boat Maintenance

Maintenance is an unavoidable aspect of boat ownership and the non-glamorous side of living on a sailboat. There’s a cruiser quote that says:

Cruising is fixing things in exotic locations.

We’ve certainly done plenty of that over the years, from general maintenance to emergency repairs performed against a backdrop of blue sea and golden, sandy beaches. One of our first experiences of this was during our first summer in the Med, when a failed hose resulted in an engine that wouldn’t start. Back then, the cliffs of San Vito Lo Capo provided a scenic backdrop whilst we impatiently waited for the engine to cool enough to work on it.

It was in 2012-13 that we completed our last major refit on Emerald. That put us in a good position for several years of light maintenance and small repair jobs whilst we traveled around the Mediterranean. In 2016 in Croatia, we lifted out again and refreshed the antifoul. However, time and 10,000 nm have since taken their toll on Emerald.

We now had an expanding list of maintenance jobs that we could only do whilst out of the water.

  • Antifoul: We’d stretched the lifetime of the last batch of antifoul from 3 years to 5, and bare patches were beginning to appear. It was time to replenish the hull with new paint.
  • Hull topsides: Emerald was gleaming and freshly painted when we bought her in 2004. Time, bad luck and our occasional accidents have since left her with numerous scars and scuffs. In addition, the paint has now deteriorated so much it has turned powdery. When a wet cloth is wiped against the hull it comes off white with paint.
  • Engine feet: the soft feet on which the engine sits and which absord the vibration, have deteriorated and need replacing.
  • A number of through hulls have reached the point of needing replacement.
  • The cutlass bearings on the propeller shaft were due for renewal.
  • The only survey we have for Emerald is from when we purchased her in 2004. Our previous insurers had accepted a self produced update of work done, in lieu of an updated, official survey. However, last year they were sold to a new provider. They and many other insurers now require a survey every 10 years. So we would arrange this whilst on the hard.
Oops, these scratches in the hull were the result of an unexpected gust of wind in a tight space

To DIY or Not to DIY

As liveaboard sailors on a tight budget, we planned to complete the majority of the boat jobs ourselves. However, it’s not just for cost reasons that we prefer to DIY.

  • Completing the work ourselves gives us intimate knowledge of the boat and all her systems.
  • Even if we don’t initially have the necessary skills, by learning them, we know we’ll have the ability to perform future repairs. This is particularly important where the timing or location doesn’t allow us to find an external contractor.
  • We also know that we will do the best job that we can. There are many good contractors out there, but there are also unscrupulous ones who cut corners. And, unfortunately, we have personal experience of this. You really don’t want to discover a cut corner on a vital piece of equipment.
  • However, we do know our limits and when we need to bring in any support we will. In these situations, we will ask for recommendations from other boat owners and supervise the work.
The non-glamourous side of sailboat life

Factors to Consider in Choosing a Boatyard

The following are factors to consider when choosing a boatyard:

  • DIY: There are boatyards in the Mediterranean which do not allow you to work on your own boat or only allow you to work on the interior, so check before lifting.
  • Liveaboard: We can’t afford to rent a land home whilst Emerald is ashore. Hence it was vital to choose a yard that allowed us to both work on the boat and liveaboard.
  • Facilities: even basic showers and toilets will make life in the yard far more comfortable. Laundry facilities and wifi make for added bonuses. A bar is a luxury that we had in Murter, Croatia!
  • Proximity of shops: Boatyard work will be physical and tiring, so it is advantageous to have shops close by. Not just for the items for day to day living, but having DIY and hardware shops nearby saves time when you realise you need a vital tool.
  • Price: Request a breakdown of prices before aranging a liftout. When we were in Croatia, many of the yards we contacted had a daily hire rate not just for yard space but for the use of the support cradle too. Crane movements might also incur an additional fee.
  • Availability of support workers: if you don’t have the skills to complete all your jobs yourself, you’ll need to pay for external help. Check the yard’s rules on this, for example they may only allow their own approved contractors. Some yards will also add on a fee to any external contractor’s fees.
  • Security: is there a secure entry gate and sufficient lighting at night.
  • Cleanliness: boatyards will always be dusty, dirty places. But some are cleaner than others, this may be important if you will be doing paint work.
  • Local laws: check for any local laws in place that might limit when and what you can do in the yard, such as noise or environmental restrictions. For example, during a liftout at Brighton Marina boatyard, we learnt that we weren’t allowed to make noise after 1pm on a weekend. This was because it disturbed the people living in the buildings nearby, despite the yard being there first. Crazy, but unfortunately strongly enforced by the marina security.
  • Location: the weather during your time in the yard will be a factor on your productivity, will you be doing jobs that require warm, dry weather? And we’ve learnt that hot weather can be as difficult a working environment as cold weather.
When choosing a boatyard, cleanliness might be a factor for you
When choosing a boatyard, cleanliness might be a factor for you. The yard in Faro is very clean and spacious. Ratchet straps provide extra security for the boats

Lift Out

But before any jobs could begin, we had to go through the traumatic experience of having Emerald lifted out of the water.

Types of Boat Lift

There are several methods for removing a boat from the water that includes:

  • Travel lift: A travel lift is a tall, U-shaped frame on huge wheels, purpose built for lifting boats. The arms of the U have study fabric straps attached to them. To be lifted, a boat drives into a slip way with the crane’s arms positioned either side and with the straps hanging loosely in the water. Once the boat is in position, the operator tightens the straps around the hull.
    • Correct positioning of the straps is vital. The yard should ask you to place markers on your hull to indicate where the lifting points are.
    • The yard may also ask you to remove protruding items such as wind vanes, or loosen the backstay.
    • Make sure the straps are clean! Otherwise, any grit stuck to the straps will press against the hull and topsides, resulting in scratches. To protect the hull, wrap old blankets or plastic sheeting around the straps before lifting.
    • The lifts come in different weight ratings and sizes. The lifts we’ve used in the past were over-rated for Emerald’s weight and were suitable for much larger boats. This meant there was plenty of space around her. Unfortunately, this time around, although the lift was rated for our weight, it was physically smaller, a factor which caused us an issue.
  • Crane and slings. This method uses a rectangular frame hung from a crane, with the lifting straps attached to the frame. The straps are positioned around the boat and the crane lifts it out of the water.
  • Trailer driven into the water. This is the least traumatic of lifting methods as the boat does not rise into the air. A trailer with adjustable support struts is located on a ramp where it is deep enough for the boat to still float. The boat manoevers into position between the struts, which are then raised until they are in contact with the hull. A powerful vehicle then pulls the trailer from the water. As the water level drops, the struts take the boat’s weight.
  • Logs: This is old school and is used for boats with long keels. A powerful hoist is attached to a boat’s bow via a metal wire and the boat is dragged out over the logs.

Land Support

Once lifted, the crane or hoist transfers the vessel to land supports. The type of support used varies depending on the yard and the vessel’s shape. Custom cradles have adjustable legs, or thick logs and oil drums might be suitable for flat bottomed boats. Whichever it is, the supports need to be strong enough to support the hull and keep the boat steady during strong winds.

Lifting Out Emerald

We left the last blog with Emerald waiting in the lifting slip. Heart in mouth we watched anxiously as the lift rumbled into action, the straps went taut, and Emerald’s waterline came slowly out of the water. Soon she no longer floated but hung on just two, thick straps that passed under her hull. Sturdy straps, but at the end of the day, made of fabric. As she cleared the water, we could see that the positioning of the aft strap was ok, but the front one concerned us. The lift was reversed and she went back down into the water.

Due to our wind generator positioned on the aft deck, Emerald was unable to sit as far back in the lift as we liked. We hadn’t expected this as we hadn’t had this problem before with the lifts we’d used previously. Unfortunately, the lift was smaller than those ones. This meant the forward strap was further back than it should be and was lying on the sloping front of the keel. To remove the wind generator would have taken hours, we’d have had to leave and come back another day. We needed a quick solution to keep the forward strap from slipping. So, Colin tied the two straps together on both sides with thick mooring lines.

Lift Attempt No. 2

The lift rumbled to life again and restarted the process of lifting Emerald. Centimeter by agonising centimeter she rose again. She still looked precarious and the creaks of the lift did nothing to ease our nerves, but the straps remained in place. Higher still, with water streaming from her, until her keel was high enough to clear the concrete lip of the slip. Now the crane wheels juddered to life, rolling her back so she now dangled over solid land.

What was worse, dropping back into the water or landing on the unrelenting hardness of concrete? Best not to think about it. Once fully clear of the slip, she was lowered down so that the keel now took up the weight. The straps remained in place, keeping her balanced. A pressure wash removed the bulk of any marine growth, although a quick inspection before the washing began revealed that she was remarkably clean.

She looks so precarious!

Hull Inspection

As expected the waterline was the dirtiest. Emerald had been wearing a Rapunzel-like mane of hair after a winter in the Rio Guadiana. The long green fronds that wafted in the river’s flow had reached out and gathered in mud too.

But where were the crusty white mats of coral worm and clusters of barnacles? When we last cleaned the hull at the end of last summer, we had scraped off the summer growth. But between then and our arrival at the Rio Guadiana, we had seen the fine, spidery white lines of new coral worm taking form. We can only guess it didn’t like the brackish water of the river.

The hull looked remarkable clean, other than for a layer of mud and weed around the waterline

Where are the Barnacles?

But the lack of barnacles was more baffling. Other boats from the river have reported barnacle growth, so we can’t account for why we had so few.

We left the jet washer to it and took a walk around the yard to burn off the fizzing anxiety energy. We’d seen pictures, but it was our first viewing in person and we found a large, clean yard with a concrete floor and boats set in neat rows. We liked the spacing between boats, particularly for living aboard.

Back at Emerald, there was another wait before the travel hoist rumbled to life again to lift her and take her to her designated place. The crane deftly maneuvered between the boats on either side and lowered her over the cradle. The yard staff then moved in to raise and adjust the cradle supports until she sat snugly and evenly within them before the crane straps dropped away. As extra security, tie-downs were thread through Emerald’s fairleads and looped over the fore and aft cleats. The other ends were hooked onto eyes set into the concrete floor and ratcheted tight. She was going nowhere.

So now life on the hard could begin. A ladder was positioned against the stern, and we made our way up to our new home up high.

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Thank you from Nichola & Colin

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