Thursday, April 23, 2009

Baja Naval Experience

Baja Naval is probably the only yacht-oriented yard between San Diego and Cabo San Lucas. The high yard costs in San Diego may limit a cruiser's choices even more.

We just finished a four day stay in the yard. Several cruisers have asked me how it went since we got out. I came away with these observations:
  • The yard seems to specialize in paint and bottom jobs, though they do a lot of other work.
  • They have a lot of experience with fiberglass and a lot less experience other hull materials (Steel, Aluminum, Wood and Ferro-Cement).
  • The crew is very friendly and helpful, though many of the workers speak little English.
  • One usually tells the yard/job manager what is wanted and then it goes down though two or more layers to reach the worker.
  • The workers are very hard working and somewhat zealous about doing their jobs.
All of this adds up to needing to manage the process and watch the details closely. It may mean that one should avoid having work done on non-fiberglass hull types. Speaking good Spanish, so that you can deal directly with the worker doing the job may help. You may need to explain why doing something a particular way or doing less is important to the success on non-fiberglass hulls.

I can give one specific example. We have a barn-door, stern-hung rudder on our Ingrid. The rudder is held on by very large hinges. The hinges are usually covered with an eighth to a quarter of an inch of epoxy. It is not pretty, but it keeps water off that important steel.

It is apparently normal for the yard to take a grinder to the underwater metal work, clean it up and then use an epoxy primer under the bottom paint. They took the epoxy off the flat areas of the hinges, but fortunately skipped the large through-bolt heads. They then left the raw metal exposed two days before applying the epoxy primer. The steel began to turn gold, the beginning of rust. I don't believe they etched the steel before the primer went on. They did not remove all of the epoxy off the bolts, so they could not argue right or wrong, that the removal was for adherence of the paint. This was gratuitous cleaning with no actual purpose. I am now left with some partial layers of different products covering the metal. When I brought it up, they did not really understand of my reasoning. Similar incidents been shared with me by other owners who are deeply involved the the building and/or restoration of their non-fiberglass boats.

On another front, they did an excellent job on a small fiberglass fix on the rudder. The price was amazingly low.

I must also say this is the first yard that I have ever dealt with that hit their estimate for both time and money, modulo the small extra work we discovered after the haul out.

Overall this was a positive experience. Just don't walk away if you care about the details.

Like many California yards, what is missing is a thinking chair. The best boat wrights tend to to ponder the job for a while before acting. In other words, measure twice and cut once.

Baja Naval was recently written up in Cruising World.

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