FAT: Fight Against Terrorism redefined

How can terrorism or any policy to fight it be situated in this sort of blog? There are lots of ways for a person to be affected by unwanted problems, not pain in this case, that would be a bit to far fetched in the context of my boat refit :-). Here it’s a more down to earth experience and the simple analogy in another translation of the FAT acronym: my insider attackers are threatening the structural integrity of the vessel, therefore I consider them as “terrorists” on board and decide to fight them. Who are they? TERMITES! Fight Against Termites, “FAT” reinvented!

The start point of this post is the subject of the last one: the anchoring system and the windlass more precisely. Termites don’t just appear out of the blue, they need a way to enter an environment where they can find the things they need: the combination of wood and moisture in a dark environment preferably. It happens to be so the windlass here was apparently their point of entry. How was I able to determine this? Simply by collecting clues and following the tracks they left on their passage, Sherlock Holmes at work! As for the moisture, there were enough leaks in the cabin and hull for moisture to build up on wooden surfaces. Case closed.

At this stage, we know how they got in. To follow the rest of their journey on board I thought it would be good to use a simplified drawing of the boat and show the progression of the colony and how that impacted some key parts of the boat.

Having accessed the chain locker area, they actually opened two tracks, left and right of the volume.

Right here I need to clarify something important: the narrative is not build in a sequence of all the discoveries made in the field, rather as a reconstruction of the elements based on the collected evidence. The first indication of presence of termites appeared on the mast compression post itself. From there I had to initiate a complete sequence of destructive investigation, no other option at hand. Anyhow, there is no purpose in keeping wooden parts on board knowing they have been attacked by termites, these elements are weakened first of all and moreover they can be the source of a further contamination.

There is only one way to dig out the truth inside: get Johnny Rambo to give me a hand!

At this stage I had hoped only the vertical post was damaged by the termites. The core of the post is made out of soft wood, an easy target for them. The compression bulkhead on the other hand is made out of marine graded 22mm thick plywood. Hardness and presence of chemicals (glue) gave me the hope that these hungry insects might not have attacked that critical portion of the boat. To clarify things, the compression bulkhead is the key player in supporting the weight and pressure of the mast on the cabin and the deck.

Let’s keep thinking positive: what if they are only in the top portion of this junction between the two plates of plywood in the compression bulkhead? The only way to find out is to cut a portion out, until there are no signs of activity anymore.

From here on it’s a matter of waiting again. Will they show up from somewhere after a while? Guess what?

The boric acid is knows to attack the intestinal system of the termites and kill them rather quick. But layed down as powder there is no assurance they will ingest enough for the product to be efficient fast enough. After two more days, this is what in experienced one morning after waking up.

This movement brought me to another point where they had already established a second nest: along the compression bulkhead at the termination of the forward bench backrest bottom.

Boric acid in powder did not really help, that’s for sure. But for the most, these tracks were not new, they had only been discovered as a result of the destructive investigation I pursued. A quick research led me to another good home made pesticide against these voracious terrorists on board: a mix of vinegar and lemon juice. I even added a bit of boric acid to the deadly mixture. A liquid is easier to apply compared to a powder, specially if you can spray it on the insects.

At this stage, my mind was made up: there is no sense in hoping part of the wooden panels and bulkheads are not contaminated. Making this assumption might be time saving now but is a major risk for the future and can lead to serious structural and sanitary hazards down the road. From now on it is clear all wooden elements in the cabin need to be extracted as a matter of precaution. Several intermediate autopsies of these element will indeed indicate how much damage my “terrorists” have actually caused inside the boat.

So the extraction continues.

Further investigation, I have to go down in the starboard hull to pick up their tracks again.

So they created a passage all the way to the starboard bilge it seems. But also through the ceiling by staying undetected behind the plywood decoration panels.

Aft of that panel we are at the stairwell of the starboard hull. Stairs have to removed, no other option…

The stairs removed reveal the position for a former sacrificed escape hatch

What about the right bench in the cabin? Same thing, get it out and we’ll see.

I also assumed there would be some nasty activity ongoing in the port aft cabin for the simple reason all three main ingredients were also present there:

  • Wooden decoration panels on the inner hull surface
  • Moisture from water intrusion through the boltholes keeping the rubrail in position
  • Darkness behind the panel

So I took away the decoration panels there as well and found another set of termites. Wat saved me here was they were actually trapped in that area because all the boundaries were fiberglass tabbing to the bulkheads. Good thing they can’t eat through polyester resin yet!

At this stage you readers will surely express two concerns: enough of the same story and what are you going to do next?

Enough of the same story. Indeed this is correct, and I haven’t seen all yet. There is a 99% risk the termites have established a path underneath the cabin floor towards other wooden surfaces of the boat. However far they progress from now on, it doesn’t matter anymore, the damage has been done to such an extent that I will have to extract all wooden elements out of the boat anyhow.

As for what are you going to do next, the answer is simple: I will have to rebuild stronger, lighter and more sustainable. This misfortune might also be an opportunity to give this boat a total different set of characteristics. Wood will be replaced by sandwiched foam wherever possible, or by new plywood in case of structural elements. But the new plywood will be fully covered by fiberglass, as a protective coating in addition to the strengthening effect. It’s also a perfect opportunity to redesign the cabin in more functional blocks, the current layout is anything but confortable, lesson learned from these three months experience onboard. Last but not least, no more decoration panels, they only add weight and created hidden areas where the enemy can sneak in totally unseen! After all I had bought this boat to make a major refit out of it, maybe the terrorist termites just made clear how major “major” actually means :-).

I would like to end this post by wishing my friend Jean Paul a quick recovery from a disease he had to fight recently. Jean Paul taught me a lot of things during the practical sailing course I did with him last year. He’s an excellent teacher and a warm person at the same time, bringing over his extensive knowledge in sailing like no one else!