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Reboarder patrol

Drastic steps were required.
Apparently, I have readers who worry when the pace of my blog posting slackens somewhat. Often, that's either because I have little to say, or it isn't particularly interesting (or is even less interesting than the usual not-very-interesting boat blagging), or I have to down boat tools and apply myself to money-making for the boat habit. Such has been the case recently.

It's also been the hottest part of the summer, making the interior of the steel beast intolerable even for those, like me, used to panting in its torrid, insufficiently ventilated bowels. Now, if that description hasn't been off-putting enough, I'll recount a recent repair gig on the old plastic fantastic, Valiente.

A boarding ladder bought last year to replace a previously busted ladder itself improvidentally folded the wrong way while I was descending for a swim. I'm considerably lighter than I was this time last year, so I blame shoddy construction. Irrespective of that, getting back aboard was a trial and I bear the bruises and cuts to prove it. So I determined to do better, meaning sturdier and stronger.

In our part of the world, ladders are required for the purposes of rescues, for which having at least one aboard is a mandatory safety equipment item, like flares, and of course for swimming and reboarding a boat at anchor. There are many ways to mount and deploy the many types of boarding ladder, which range from simple rope ladders...
Uh, no. heavy duty welded jobs that would suit the stern of Alchemy...

Note: Not the stern of Alchemy.

There are plenty of boarding ladder options, most of which are spendy. There are folding, telescoping, single leg and even fairly novel ideas:

Novel is also expensive, although I think firemen use something like this.
All of which got filed for when the time comes to address this on Alchemy, probably at the same time I address the conceptually linked issue of "what mast step can possibly fit my giant feet". In the meantime, Valiente needed a new, unbusted and stronger ladder for the preferred amidships location (the stern is too narrow in my view and too hard to access for backing plates to bolt a ladder there).
Due to a chance perusal at the chandlery where my wife works, I picked up a ladder not only of a type I had yet to see: a gunwale-mounted aluminum ladder that was light, of a good width and which folded vertically.

Nice and long, too, meaning a couple of steps are below WL

This ladder, the maker of which is not on the label, was the right price by virtue of looking pretty industrial and having hung, neglected, on the wall of more stainless, hot 'n' happening models. Maybe it's for a dock. I am indifferent. I want its functional length and its stowage compactness.

Ignore the general grubbiness. This was prior to a Big Summer Scrub/Debirding

Looks like a real house ladder, doesn't it? For me, this is a Good Thing, given how lame and plasticky swim/boarding ladders have seemed to me.

See previous repairs and former mount points. Also 40-year-old chrome on bronze. Sigh.

Installation was straightforward, if longish, as I decided on a proper "drill 'n' fill" process of oversizing the mounting holes, isolating the balsa core with thickened epoxy (West System) and then drilling the proper-sized bolt holes (3/8") through the resultant "hard core".
Slightly blurry...or was that the epoxy kicking?

The mounting plates were sealed around their edges with 4200, as were the bolts themselves. As the bolts are snugged down, the "bead" of sealant climbs up the threads, making a further gasket of sorts under the bolt head and in the drilled hole itself, without mucking up the part the nuts and washers go on. This greatly lessens, for the years I've been doing it, the chances of rain or seawater migrating below, which can really ruin your Little Library of Boat Repair, in my unfortunate and pre-smartening-up experience.
Evidence of my previous labours
After letting the epoxy fill cure, the holes were drilled and "backing plates" in the form of largish fender washers were installed; my son held the bolts still while I used a 1/4" ratchet driver to dog down the nuts to an acceptable degree (Note to self: must get a "clicky torque wrench" in order to quantify "acceptable degrees"). The line of larger bolts running aft is the port genoa track, fixed after it tore straight out of the deck at 28 knots. Has not budged since the recore and remounting!
Might have to consider repainting the interior at some point as this is getting old.
A closer look: The tape was there to keep the epoxy from dripping, but leaving this piece in place is a tell-tale. As it is paper painters' tape, if it feels damp, you've got a leak and a sealing job ahead. Not damp so far after several drenchings of mid-summer intensity.
Will swim shortly, applying the ultimate field (stream?) test

The finished project looks good to me and packs down even better into the starboard cockpit locker than did its crappy forebear. I saw on a sailing forum an idea to get the ladder more vertical vis-a-vis the turn (in) of the hull by lashing crosswise a foam pad or a small fender under the ladder. This sounds like a smart (and cheap!) idea I will employ.
Cleverness courtesy of Cruisers' Forum's "David Old Jersey"

Once again, needful work on Valiente leads to applicable solutions (or at least, bad ideas probably avoided) on Alchemy.


John said...

Delighted to see another great post.

Proper job, that new ladder and her fittings, Gov'nor.

By the way, having nothing interesting to say only stops a handful of authors and bloggers. You are part of that elite minority.

The Incredible Hull said...

Great find. Any chance you can locate the supplier / manufacture via the store records.



Rhys said...

Thank you, Gerry. I can try, but the ladder is completely bereft of identification apart from official-looking safety stickers.

Weirdly, my Google-Fu is powerless to source any sort of image or reference to "vertically folding aluminum boarding ladder". I got no returns that matched this weird and yet appropriate thing.

But in the proper spirit, I will continue to try.

Rhys said...

Thanks, John. I've been busy keeping larder full and roof intact this month, but now that it's cooling off again, I expect to return to the necessary steel boat work. Besides, I expect the fellow with whom I'm sharing dock costs on the plastic boat to take it down the lake for a couple of weeks...which helps to defer temptation for me. My only other sailboat is my nesting dinghy, a non-impressive 10-footer, although fully rigged.

David Old Jersey said...

I have never seen a ladder that folds sideways before - looks really robust.

That idea about the flat fender gets better every time I see it!.......and use it :-)

Rhys said...

Yes, I thought that when I tried to use it as a pogo stick in the store. Itlies flat down to about four inches, and so gets pushed into the lazarette like some sort of mop handle or baby danbuoy.

I'll update with a field-test report...and thanks for the cool photo of the clever idea, David O-J!

Silverheels III said...

Good decision on choosing a midships boarding/swim ladder and the strong installation too. We love our removeable stainledd folding ladder, it's mounted at the midships gate, adjacent to the cap shroud for added convenient and strong handhold when climbing aboard. We routinely kill ourselves trying to clamber up stern mounted ladders on other boats, squeezing past the overbusy transom with windpilot and backstay is a pain. Side mounted ladders rock for frequent swimming here in tropical waters.

Rhys said...

Thanks, Ken/Lynn. The proximity of the aft lower shroud was indeed intentional, as was the midships location. Our particular boats do not improve their looks by hanging a bunch of stuff from their sterns. Like you, I want the shortest possible distance from rail to water.

The situation is different, of course, on the "slab-sterned" Alchemy. There, the very nature of the steel stern, the stern width, and the presence of pipe rails and a stern gate (although the vane will get in the way) argues for some sort of robust ladder, maybe even a permanent one. We'll see.

As I mentioned backchannel to another reader, the "accordian style" fold-up stern ladder has some merits, if you have the stern to pull it off. I would imagine that a hinge at either end, plus steps that rotated to stay parallel to the water would, in this sort of design, make either a ladder or a Med-style gangplank. That's something I don't think I've seen, but I can visualize how to build or fabricate, which is something I'm coming to accept: that we can't buy the most appropriate solutions.

Silverheels III said...

We've found while cruising in "economically stressed" countries that NOT having a convenient way to board your boat while you're ashore or sleeping at anchor is an equally important consideration. We always haul our ladder up on deck whenever leaving the boat and before bed at night. Certainly a determined person can board your boat by climbing up the anchor chain, but why make it convenient with a permanent ladder and swim platform?

Rhys said...

Good point. A couple of permanent attachment points could exist on Alchemy's stern, to which a removable ladder could mount. Same with the gates on either side amidships.

Clearly, some thought has to be given to making the boat less easy to board for those who should not be boarding in the first place.

Of course, if you were a bright wouldn't be a thief...but if you had a touch of wit, you could rig your own boarding ladder out of a standard ladder and padded standoff and hooks for stealthiness.

Anyway, my heavy duty Dutch doors for the companionway are looking better in light of this discussion, if only because they are a greater visual deterrent than a rectangle of Lexan and a little brass padlock.