We drove into Ponce on Saturday to chase down Fraito, the celebrated rigger everyone knew and recommended. We found his shop but couldn’t find the entrance. There was a man outside walking around the building and he asked if he could help. We’re looking for Fraito, we told him and he held out his hand. “That’s me!” What a stroke of luck. We told him what we needed and that we already had the rigging. He thought for a minute, checked his schedule on his mobile, said he could do it on the following Wednesday and could we bring the boat to Ponce? Of course! He told us to talk to the yacht club about tying up to the fuel dock while he worked.
The yacht club wouldn’t let us through the gate but the guard gave us a phone number to call. No one answered. I sent out an email to my cousin Jackie who I knew was a member of the club and between him and Fraito and another friend of Jackie’s we learned via email within a day that the way was cleared and we had permission to tie up to the fuel dock. Then on Monday we got a message from Fraito that he could start the job on Tuesday if we could get the boat to Ponce by noon.
We made our final provisioning rounds and took the rental car back and raised anchor Tuesday morning for the twenty mile sail around to Ponce. We settled in for a relaxing couple of hours only to find that the autopilot, which had become increasingly balky, now won’t hold a course at all. Jack handsteered the entire way which even in daylight in relatively good conditions is exhausting. We are now officially furious that we have a brand new autopilot that works worse than the one we replaced.
We entered Ponce harbor just before noon to find my cousin Jackie on the fuel dock waiting to catch our docklines. Good thing, too, because there is a terrible surge at the dock and it took a little doing to get Escape Velocity secured. I looked up at the mast and wondered how Fraito would do up there with the boat lurching and banging against the concrete dock.
We invited Jackie aboard and chatted for a while, then he took us to lunch at the yacht club. Fraito eventually got there about four o’clock eager to get started. We discussed the job and I suggested that if he did the running backstays first he could use them to support the mast while he did the rest. He agreed with that and I confessed that I hadn’t been able to do the splicing in the new Dyneema line for the backstay uppers because I didn’t have the right size fid, a tool you need to do rope splicing. No problem, he just sat on the dock and spliced up the line while I watched. Dyneema is a new kind of rope that is stronger than steel but very lightweight and easy to splice. We’re glad we chose to replace the backstays with it. It’ll give us a lot of confidence in the strength of our rig when we sail downwind.
Splicing done, Fraito went up the mast, inspected all the fittings and within minutes had our backstays and new diamond stays installed. By that time it was getting dark so he quit for the day. It was a nasty night tied up to the surging dock; EV much prefers to be at anchor and so do we.
Wednesday Fraito came back to finish up and we were amazed that he rigged the running backstays to the side cleats, then completely disconnected the shrouds, the heavy wires that hold the mast up on the sides, which we were replacing. That meant the mast was being supported by the headstay and two lengths of this new stronger-than-steel Dyneema only 1/4″ thick. Friato then went up the mast and changed both shrouds at once, completely confident in the strength of the new Dyneema backstays. That made us feel even better about that decision.
Fraito had Jack move him up and down the mast, from the very top where the backstays are attached, to the points below that where the shrouds and diamonds are attached, to the spreaders where he reattached the repaired boots. He checked everything over a couple of times and finally came down to the deck.
Meanwhile two technicians from the local Raymarine dealership came aboard to fix the autopilot. Before I had two words out they announced that our problems were likely faulty installation and they proceeded to spend a couple of hours chasing every wire through the boat. We were glad Kris had already done that and labeled everything while she was at it because I’m sure it saved a lot of time.
Eventually Ben Brown told us the installation was correct and announced that after lunch we would take the boat out to sea trial and he would get it working properly. By this time he was convinced the issue must be interference of the sensor from nearby metal objects. He moved the sensor out of its installed location away from any wires then went to lunch.
Fraito returned from lunch first and proceeded to tune the new rig. He was methodical and meticulous and we’re happy with the results, not just for the quality of his work and the care he took but because he worked with our schedule even though he was in the middle of preparing a couple of racing boats for a regatta over the weekend.
We have now replaced nearly all of the standing rigging, reusing only a couple of fittings that are in fine shape, and most of the running rigging. We still have two halyards to replace and the jib sheet. Everyone we spoke to agreed that while our rigging was fine and well under its safe life expectancy we were wise to replace it before we embark on our Pacific journey.
As Fraito was wrapping up Ben Brown described to me the maneuvers he would do on EV to show how the autopilot worked. Sharp turns to the compass points, he said, and he told me the pilot would steer just to that point and not oversteer. No it won’t, I told him, and I was finally allowed to describe the behavior of the pilot to him. He listened skeptically and said he’d have to see that for himself. By this time I was having to bite my tongue hard to keep from blowing up. I don’t know if he’s this dismissive with men too, but he was sure disrespectful towards me, in a quiet I-know-so-much-more-than-you way.
We’ve experienced this often with workmen, where they have no interest in listening to you describe the problem but come aboard convinced they know what’s wrong with your equipment and proceed to waste your time and money going down their own rabbit hole and not doing a damn thing to actually address the problem. They may eventually get there but it’d be so much better if they’d just listen first. Ben had swayed me because of his confident air and calm demeanor. But dammit, we’ve lived with a deteriorating pilot for months and can accurately describe it’s behavior in our sleep. But he had no interest in listening until he got to his own dead end and couldn’t find a problem. He was sure that the sea trial would show that we just didn’t know what we were doing.
Since I was getting annoyed with Ben and since Fraito needed to be paid and since the surge at the dock meant someone would have to catch the lines when EV came back in, I told Jack he could take Ben out by himself and I’d wait on shore to help tie up when they came back. I needed a break.