Remodeling La Roja

The following is an excerpt from Dolphins Forever On Her Bow describing Bob’s work on La Roja:

Chapter 6: The Work Begins

Once we got La Roja situated on blocks in the boatyard, it was time to get to work.

Stated in the inspection report, “additional trim ballast is noted within the bilge under the diesel engine.” The “additional trim ballast” was sixteen individual 60-pound led ingots. We did not feel comfortable with that much unsecured weight in the bilge. Bob’s thought was that if we could somehow get them out, that maybe he could instead relocate them to the bottom of the keel. That would place all of the weight securely at the bottom of the boat, which would not only serve to further stabilize her, it would be safer. He was not quite sure how he was going to achieve this, but we decided our top priority was to get them off the boat.

Bob covered in engine oil!

Bob covered in engine oil!

The first step was to muscle them out of the bilge, up the stairs and onto the deck. This proved to be not so easy. Bob was able through brute strength to carry each ingot one by one from under the engine to the target. However, the bilge had not been cleaned in many years (maybe even never) and was not only filthy with dust and dirt, but also thick, heavy oil that had leaked from the engine down into the dregs of the bilge. By the time Bob had managed to get all 16 ingots topsides, he was covered in oil. It was a mess.

Once the ingots were on the deck, the next problem was how to get them to the ground, which was about a 20-foot drop. We devised a pulley system. One by one we lowered each ingot. I was at the bottom and my job was to unload and send the pulley back up. Now I, too, became covered in oil. We eventually got all the ingots off the boat, cleaned them up and stacked them next to the boat. On to the next step: attaching them to the bottom of the keel.

After much discussion, Bob came up with a plan to attach the led ingots to the bottom of the boat. Before he began to implement his idea, he decided to drill a small hole at the bottom of the keel. As he was in the process of drilling, liquid began pouring out. He drilled a couple more holes and even more liquid came out. The liquid smelled like acetone, but did not burn the skin. When it hit the pavement, however, it turned orange. When he sprayed water to wash the liquid out of the yard, it became literally a sea of foam. We both began to panic. What the heck was going on? I ran and got the inspection report out as I remembered something said about the keel. Sure enough, there it was: “The keel is fitted with four columns of steel shot for ballast.” But that did not answer any questions. The orange foam was now threatening to seep through the entire boatyard. We began to worry if it was some kind of hazardous material. Luckily it was after hours and no one was around, but if we didn’t clean the mess up we definitely were in danger of not only heavy fines, but being evicted!

In a panic we put in an emergency call to the original builder, Lucas, who came immediately over to check it out. After much head scratching, he remembered that he had poured 50 gallons of resin, mixed with acetone, to fill all the spaces the steel shot had missed. Apparently it had not set up in 15 years. We decided that had to be the case. We let it finish draining, plugged all the holes we had drilled, and washed and scrubbed practically the entire boat yard to clean up any evidence. Unbelievable. Happy Hour was celebrated with gusto that evening.

We made the decision to revisit the “ingot project” at a later date and instead decided to tackle the head (boat talk for toilet) next. We rolled up our sleeves, prepared for hard work but did not anticipate any more disasters. Bob got right to work, the plan being to pull the head out along with all the plumbing. After removing the toilet, he placed the pipe wrench on the main pipe that was connected to a thru-hole. (For the novices, a thru-hole is a hole that goes from the outside of the boat to the inside and is located under water.)  As he began to twist the nut holding the pipe in place, we both looked on in horror as the pipe simply disintegrated in his hands. Bob’s face was white and he managed a whisper: “Oh my God! Had that pipe collapsed while this boat was in water, it would have sunk.” I did not need that explained to me as I could clearly look through the gaping hole that was left and see the boatyard below. Apparently we had an even bigger job ahead of us than originally planned. We decided right then and there that all the plumbing as well as all the electrical in the entire boat would be pulled out and replaced. We were determined that by the time we were done, Bob and I would know virtually every wire, plug, hose, valve and pipe on La Roja and its condition at all times.

Chapter 7: A Little Longer Than Planned

Bob staining mahogany.

Bob staining mahogany.

Our two months turned into nine. We completely gutted the inside. The original mahogany was in good shape so we were able to clean it up and reuse most of it. We modernized the settee by tearing out the square couch and then redesigning it into a horseshoe-shaped sofa. It was a little tricky to design cushions as we needed to follow the lean of the bulkhead, which was exceedingly angled. (After all, it is a boat!) We finally managed after many trials and errors to construct cushions out of thick foam. We took our completed creation along with material to a Mexican family we had met at a flea market who did upholstery and asked them to sew the covers.  When we came to pick up them up the mom had made three big oversized pillows for us as a gift. Those pillows were perfect and completed what was to be a very comfortable and very stylish settee.

We pulled out the antiquated sink and stove from the galley (boat talk for kitchen) and replaced it with a new Force-10 stove with oven and double sink, along with candy-red counter tops. (We had to have some red with the name La Roja!) Bob built a hanging closet for my clothes and pulled out the bunk beds in the main salon. He built in its place a small couch and an entertainment section for the television and stereo.

Designing the steps was a challenge!

Designing the steps was a challenge!

Replacing the original very steep and narrow stairway from the cabin to the deck proved to be a challenge. We began the project thinking it would be easy to design wider and angled steps. We quickly realized that creating the proper angles was not as simple as we believed. After several failed attempts, we took our project outside. We began with cardboard boxes, placing them on top of each other and piling them up to the proper height. The more we tried, the more frustrated we became. Before we knew it, we had at least 20 people from all over the boatyard gathering round with ideas. It quickly became a group project. With the help of the “group,” we finally designed mock steps and made sure they worked before tackling the finished product. The end result was great, but it was not easy!

End product!

End product!

We replaced the entire sole (boat talk for floor) with teak and holly.  We replaced all the thru-hulls and added a couple more. We cleaned up the engine and replaced worn parts.

We threw out the old toilet and bought an elegant new electric marine toilet. We also threw out the bathroom sink and replaced it with a beautiful porcelain sink and brass faucets. We even put smoky glass in the cabinets, which really made the head sparkle. However, no matter how great we made the head look, it was useless without a holding tank, which it did not have. We decided the only place we could possibly put a holding tank in was under the v-birth. We tore apart the v-berth and took measurements. We used large cardboard boxes to make a “dummy” tank. From that point we were able to build the tank out of plywood, which we then fiber glassed over. We added a deck vent and an overboard discharge pump system. When we were done, we had a first-class 50-gallon holding tank along with a fancy head!

Bob with the templates for the freezer boxes.

Bob with the templates for the freezer boxes.

A priority we set for ourselves is that we had to have ability to make ice cubes. I was fast learning that nothing seems impossible to Bob. We decided the best way to accomplish this was to build freezer boxes in the area next to the engine room. Bob ordered the refrigeration system through a supplier and I bought a book on refrigeration. We drew templates from heavy construction paper and laid it all out on plywood on the dock. We then proceeded by following the instructions step-by-step. In the end we had three huge engine-driven freezer boxes, one dedicated exclusively for ice. Now no matter where we ended up, at least we could have boat drinks!

La Roja's Logo

La Roja’s Logo

We buffed out the outside hull and re-stripped it in teal. One day I came home from work (I worked during the day while Bob worked on the boat) and he met me at the car as I drove up. He made me close my eyes and then he led me to La Roja. When I opened my eyes, I gazed for the first time at the logo we had designed in its finished place on the side of the boat. I was speechless. It looked perfect!

Bob surprised me!

Bob surprised me!

We installed a mahogany toe rail completely around the hull. We removed the mast, cleaned and painted it, replacing all worn lines and installed an insulated backstay for the SSB antennae. We installed all new electronics, radar, hydraulic auto pilot, navigation and sailing instruments, computer, 110-volt 2,500 watt Trace inverter.

Bob sprayed expandable foam between the ingots.

Bob sprayed expandable foam between the ingots.

We eventually got the courage to revisit the ingot project. We ended up redesigning the keel and added a thousand pounds of ballast to the bottom using our led ingots. Bob drilled into the keel (fingers crossed; no more seepage!) and then used epoxy to bond the ingots around the base. We filled all the empty spaces between ingots with expandable foam and then sanded the area to a smooth surface. The boat yard lifted the boat off the keel for us and placed it in a hoist.  Bob enclosed the entire bottom surface with a heavy fiberglass. When it was finished it looked like a production bulb keel.

We did most all of the work ourselves, but from time to time we hired professionals for jobs that needed more knowhow and talent than muscle.  We hired Keith, a professional stainless steel man, who did extensive stainless steel work, including a new bow sprit with double bow anchors, an aft pulpit with dingy davits and two seats, two solar panels and an outboard engine hoist. We hired a professional rigger, Dusty, who replaced all the standing rigging and safety lines. And we hired a professional to do extensive canvas work, including a new dodger which enclosed the entire cockpit.

We did a lot of work in nine months. No wonder she was smiling!

She turned out pretty fine!

She turned out pretty fine!

Buying La Roja (Our Sailboat)

Buying the boat to go cruising in is the most important  investment. It is also the most nerve wracking as it has to be sea worthy but it also must be something you can afford. After much searching for just the right boat at the right price, here is an excerpt from Dolphins Forever On Her Bow describing our purchase :


I cannot believe it was just a year ago that we bought La Roja. We looked for several months, up and down the coast, trying to find a blue water cruising boat within our budget. We had made a pact that if the dream of sailing away was going to work we would have to leave on our journey debt free. Always the ones we would fall love with were way out of our price range and the ones we could afford were junk.

I will never forget the day Bob called me at work and excitedly told me:  “Babe, I found our boat!” I can still feel the thrill I felt when he said those words. I had begun to feel that our dream was always going to stay a dream. How could we possibly afford to buy a cruising boat, give up jobs, property, possessions, and sail away?

The moment Bob said that he had found our boat, I mean the very instant he said the words, I knew we were going to somehow reach our goal. He went on to describe her, telling me how seaworthy and perfect she was. It was when he got to the part about how one needed “vision” to be able to realize her worth, I became nervous. “What do you mean, vision?” I asked. “Well,” he explained, “she’s been neglected for several years. She’s owner built and not quite finished. There’s no holding tank, electricity, instruments, refrigeration, etc. But her hull is hand laid fiberglass, bullet proof. The inside is all mahogany; standup engine room with a Westerbeke 4-108 diesel, a good engine. She’s a Bruce Roberts’ design offshore 45′ cutter, with a beam of 13’3″ and a flush deck. She was built in Santa Cruz, California, and designed for heavy weather sailing. All her standing and running rigging was designed for heavy weather sailing. She has all self-tailing wenches and is rigged to be easily handled by one or two people. I think with a little work she will be not only a beauty, but definitely seaworthy as well. She has been sitting for quite awhile and the salesman seems to think the owner is anxious He’s asking $49,950, but I think we can come in much lower. Do you want to see her?

Of course I wanted to see her! We made arrangements to meet with a yacht broker the following day. Much to Bob’s surprise, I loved her at first sight. Frank, our broker, smilingly told me that there had been a couple of men interested in the boat in the past, but when the “other-half” was brought onboard it was always the same ending, a resounding “NO!”  “One lady,” Frank laughed, “had screamed at her husband for wasting her time and threatened divorce should he make an offer.” 

AlbionWe were sailing aboard Bob’s 33′ Hunter sailboat, Albion, with some friends when the cell phone rang. Bob went below to take the call. Since we had only met three months earlier and Bob was still finishing up a very messy divorce, we had agreed previously to keep our plans secret. When he came topsides he said not a word about the phone call. It was not until our friends had their backs to us that he whispered: “We just bought a boat. A big-ass boat!” My breath was taken away yet it was hard not to shout “Oh My God!” out loud. I had told myself that our low offer would never be accepted. All day we would look at each other when no one was looking and fight back laugher as Bob would mouth: “We just bought a boat! A big-ass boat!” Amazing.


 Our offer to buy the boat was contingent upon the results of a haul out inspection and survey. The surveyor was Hans J. Andersen in Lompoc, California, who had a reputation of being fairly tough and much respected. His inspection report was pages long, and began:

 “The vessel, OWO, is a home built vessel constructed to the design of Bruce Roberts. She was constructed on a batten mold using C-Flex fiberglass and hand laminated fiberglass built up on heavy scantlings. The vessel hull is heavily constructed and is framed with internal stringers, floors and bulkheads. The keel is fitted with four columns of steel shot for ballast and additional trim ballast is noted within the bilge. The deck is well secured and is found to be in good condition. The superstructure consists of a wooden cabin trunk which is in good condition. Bulkheads are well secured by secondary bonding of fiberglass and the job was done in a better fashion than most production builders. The finish of the vessel is in poor condition with the vessel needing to be cleaned and painted. Below decks the vessel is approximately 85% complete.”

Rotted floorThat wasn’t so bad, so far. But then the report went on to say: “There is a significant amount of rust and corrosion noted on the engine and its accessories. The heat exchanger appears to be corroded and in need of repair or replacement. The exhaust piping from the manifold to the aqua lift muffler is in poor condition and needs to be replaced.” The report continued on listing defect after defect, everything from needing to replace all the hoses, pipes, valves, to replacing all the electrical circuits and wiring. It ended with nineteen Primary Recommendations for Immediate Compliance; eleven Secondary Recommendations for Routine Maintenance, and six Tertiary Recommendations for Regulatory Compliance.”

I was dumbfounded, but Bob was not concerned with the report. In fact, he was pretty pleased. He said the report more or less confirmed what he had originally said, that she was basically very seaworthy, but needed a lot of work.

I was still a little shaken and very much unconvinced. We were having a cup of coffee in a corner of the marina still going over the report when Mr. Anderson found us. I looked on in amazement as he shook Bob’s hand and more or less reinforced Bob’s feelings by confiding to us verbally that even though the boat was not the prettiest boat he had ever seen, her construction was some of the best he ever surveyed and she was built to go anywhere, safely. I was astonished

The really good part about the report was that we were able to reduce our initial offer by $2,000 successfully.

Cover for Cruising BookFrom: Dolphins Forever On Her Bow