The Welding Begins

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 7 May 2014 12:59

Alongside Fukuoka
Weather: sunny, mild

The welding machine turned up spot on time at nine o’clock, and I thought we were off to a good start for the day, but things went rapidly downhill from there. However, fortunately by day's end I think it I can safely say that we are back in a reasonably balanced state.

The driver of the truck unloaded the welder/generator next to the walkway down to the pontoon where Sylph is tied up and once in position I checked to see if all was in order and that I knew how to work the think. My checks included the fuel tank, and I was slightly peeved to see that the it was almost empty, despite being assured when I hired the machine that it would come with a full tank. The driver made a quick phone call back to the office and a satisfactory solution was found. The driver went off to bring back a caddy of fuel.  So that minor problem was solved with minimal fuss.

With the generator/welder running, I was soon stuck into cutting up bits of steel, bending them to fit the complex shape of Sylph's stern, and welding them into place. Then a second setback occurred, significantly more upsetting than the first. The stern of Sylph is small and can be a little awkward to work on. As I was trying to get into a good position to get at the join that needed welding, I bumped the welding mask which was sitting on my head on the pushpit rail and it fell off my head and over the side. Luckily I was able to retrieve it before it sank, but this mask, with its auto-darkening feature is an expensive piece of equipment and has some vulnerable electronics attached to the filter.  It even has a small solar panel to keep the batteries charged. Naturally the electronics did not take to kindly to being immersed in sea water!

Fortunately I have an old simple mask but before I could get on with the work, if I was to have any hope of salvaging the good mask I had to pull it apart,  rinse the electronics in fresh water and methylated spirits, then allowi it to dry out. I regret to admit that I did behave in a manner of which i was very proud of when this mishap occurred. The welding was not going very well, and with this additional setback I feared that the job was going to get the better of me.  Eventually I managed to calm down and got on with working out how best to get on with what I needed to do.

First I went over to the boatyard to give Hamada san some drawings for a new pushpit, so that he can give me a quote. I am pleased to say that went better than I expected. Mr Hamada has not been easy to deal with in the past but today he must have been in a good mood, for he seemed quite happy with my drawings and said that he would come by later to give me a price.

Back at the boat, I dove in under the V-berth and extracted the cheap little welding mask. The major disadvantage of the cheap mask is that you have to hold it with one hand in front of your face, so that means you have no free hand to hold or do anything else. Also, as the mask is not auto-darkening, you cannot see what is happening until the arc has been started. Frequently this means that you start welding somewhere other than where you want to, maybe by as much as  an inch or two, and then you have to try to track the welding rod to where you think the join actually is. This can be very tricky, especially if the join is in an awkward spot.

Nonetheless, despite these problems, I soon started to make some headway into the repairs. One blessing for the day was Koike Masa, a very nice man who owns a boat on the same finger that Sylph is on, walked past and offered me some much needed tips.  Koike san runs a company that makes furnaces and while he does not weld these days, he clearly knows what he is talking about. He even had a go at a spot of welding himself, and pronounced my smaller welding rods to be very difficult to use. He recommended that I use the heavier rods that he had given me a few days prior. He then helped me get the amperage right and gave me a few other tips about what angle to hold the rod at, and how fast to weld. So with this extra bit of coaching I was soon making much better progress.

Over the last several days Masa has been exceedingly kind to me, for which I am very grateful. He always says hello when he walks past and in addition to offering me useful advice he has provided me with welding rods, an assortment of steel, and some clamps. He has even been so generous as to give me an off-cut of stainless steel, cut to shape and with holes drilled in it according to a drawing I had given him. While no one wants to be run down by a ship, it is times like these when one discovers some real gems amongst people.

Another plus was that the hi-tech welding mask came good later in the day.  Ironically I found that the old mask was better than I recalled, mainly because the new mask, when it darkened, was almost too dark to see anything other then the actual arc. Consequently I found myself swapping between masks depending on whether I needed a free hand or not.

And the only other negatives for the day was losing a chipping hammer over the side, and a very minor burn to my left thumb. Unlike the welding mask, the chipping hammer was relatively cheap to replace, and as there is a large hardware store only five minutes walk from the marina this problem has been now been fixed. As for my thumb, well I reckon tomorrow I won't even notice it.

Now the day is all but over. It has been a long one. My body is aching from all the kneeling, squatting, bending, and crawling I have been doing, over the transom and into the tight space of the lazarette. Overall though I am happy with the day's work. Now it is time for early night so that I can have an early start tomorrow so as to make the most of the daylight.  With a little luck, I hope to have all the welding completed by the end of the day.

All is well.

Koike Masa cleaning his boat, a very nice man: