To everybody who’s keeping track of LAMP’s research boat, the Island Fever, here is an update which encompasses the project history, current events, and our future plans. Read on!

LAMP’s primary research vessel, as many of you have heard, has recently been suffering from a spate of poor health. The boat’s 35 years of service, the last two of which have been at LAMP, have worn out electrical and mechanical systems which are now being replaced and repaired. Our campaign to get the Island Fever back into reliable and safe operational status began last year when we realized that not only was the list of repairs involving some major rewiring work but also a new engine.

After completing a photo shoot for the cover of the upcoming Spyglass, we limped the Island Fever over to Xynides Boat Yard to be hauled out on their travel lift. During the time on the skids, her starboard engine was prepped for removal by LAMP staff, including intern Lindsay Jones, who jumped right into the bilge to be splattered with oil and antifreeze as we drained the lifeblood from the engine block. Other similar stripping of the boat involved removing the engine control cables and gearbox controls, detaching the shafts from the transmission on the starboard side, stripping the wiring off of the starboard engine, and otherwise straightening up the engine compartment for the main lift.
During all of this, our fundraising campaign was generating money for the whole repair process. Our inaugural fundraising event coincided with the launching of the William A. Harn, a Bevin’s Skiff made by our LAMP Boatworks volunteer staff. We were off and running with this campaign and since then major events have begun to transform the Island Fever from an aged and ailing vessel into a safe and reliable work platform.
The first major transformation of the Island Fever was the installation of a Kohler generator, an event you can read about in an earlier blog posting. This was the first step in modernizing the boat since it allowed us to operate the boat with full AC electrical supply to run a hookah system, air compressors, battery chargers, and other electronics reliant on regular home-type outlets. Kohler recently completed their testing of this prototypic generator and we are the proud owners of this cutting-edge machine. A couple of its greatest features is the fuel efficiency of its engine, a two cylinder gasoline engine. This is coupled to an emissions system that puts out a very clean exhaust. While this has beneficial environmental implications its most apparent utility is the lack of noxious fumes being expelled from the exhaust port on the boat’s transom. When the generator is running and we are working around the back of the boat, such as deploying and recovering dive teams, there is no exhaust stink to ‘help’ our staff and volunteers get seasick. I’ve found with my experience that having a nasty exhaust present on a boat will more often than not, create an environment prone to people feeling and/or suffering from the effects of seasickness should the seas be choppy. Kohler has taken great steps to not only protect the environment with their marine generators but provide boaters with a pleasant and quiet environment. Thanks again to the folks at Kohler as well as the kind people at Noah’s Ark Repair Services who installed the generator and have performed the scheduled maintenance and testing on it!

Moving forward in the Island Fever’s project timeline we were approached by St. Augustine Marine Center to possibly move our boat over to their yard for them to help us through our project. St. Augustine Marine Center is owned by the Luhrs family, famous for their Luhrs sportfishing boats, Mainships trawlers, and Hunter sailboats and they offered their full service repair center to become the new home base for our project. An agreement was struck between LAMP and St. Augustine Marine Center and in July, a 40 ton trailer showed up at the Xynides yard to pick up our boat. This was an amazing beast of a machine and it plucked out boat from the jackstands and moved it slowly out of its spot, onto Riberia Street, and down into the St. Augustine Marine Center yard. Driven by a complex hydraulic system, the lift trailer has two long arms that are on wheels and can use these like forks to straddle a boat, pick it up via padded ‘hands’ and then lift it for transport. The thing looks like something out of a science fiction movie and as it moved slowly out of the yard I followed in amazement of how easy it was to transfer the boat this way rather than have to seal it back up, put it back in the water, and then re-lift it at the new yard on their travel lift, all to be done with auxiliary push boats.

I want to pause for a second here to thank the Xynides family for their hospitality at their yard. The yard there is run by a brother/sister duo, Nick Xynides and Ellen De Mott. Mr. Xynides was always willing to help and offer his sage advice on how to proceed with our project as well as sharing the rich history of his family’s involvement in St. Augustine’s maritime past. His experience building wooden shrimp boats there on the San Sebastian river is irreplaceable and many times I enjoyed watching him re-caulk a wooden hulled sailboat with the skill and expertise of the professional he is. His sister, Ellen, was also very kind and she was more than willing to share her experiences growing up inside a working waterfront and pointed out places that now are developed-over or simply abandoned that used to be thriving boat yards or docks associated with St. Augustine’s shrimping roots. Between their stories and backgrounds, I have a much greater appreciation of the San Sebastian river and its role in this community.

But, the Island Fever had a new home now and we were about to swing the project into a much faster pace to get it completed. Since then I have been working with the very competent staff at St. Augustine Marine to get different phases of the job started and finished. The first step was to evaluate the boat for its mechanical and electrical soundness. We knew that the wiring on the boat was old and it had been problematic. A significant percentage of boat fires are caused by faulty and aged wiring. From the beginning this was an identified problem that we knew had to be remedied. Similarly, we also had been experiencing slow engine death on the starboard side and knew that soon the motor would turn feet-to-the-sky and fail completely. Mechanics and engine repair staff climbed aboard and surveyed what we had to decide on how to proceed. As we had figured, a new starboard engine was in order. We also reached the informed conclusion that the port engine should come out for service and a general check-up. Once during operations this past winter the raw water intake (where cooling water enters the cooling system through a fitting on the bottom of the hull) had been plugged by debris and had briefly overheated the engine. Since we knew this had happened St. Augustine Marine Center repairmen suggested it be pulled out for diagnostic service before being reinstalled.
The electrical system was, not surprisingly, declared unfit for service and we made the decision to gut the boat of its wiring and replace all essential circuits and selected accessories with new wiring. This wire is tinned-copper wire which stands up much better in a corrosive marine environment and was not yet in use in 1973. In order to save money and time, certain circuits are going to be left unwired, such as the electric stove and microwave. These are items which we do not necessarily need and, if they become necessary we can rewire them later when the boat is back in the water.

So, where are we in the project and when will it be done? As of this week both engines have been lifted out of the boat. The port engine is currently undergoing diagnostic checkup and routine servicing. A replacement starboard engine has already arrived and it awaiting installation. The wiring has just started to be removed and should be completely gutted by the end of this week, middle of next week depending on how much Tropical Storm Fay disrupts all of our schedules. Once this is done and the bilge is cleared of its mechanical and electrical clutter Dr. Sam Turner and I will be going over for a couple days to clean and paint the bilge space in order to tidy it up and make for a shipshape appearance.

When the paint dries rewiring will begin as well as putting the propulsion units back in. Work will not begin on other maintenance items such as replacing cutless bearings on each propeller shaft, re-packing shaft seals, new rudder seals and bearings, and checking the topside instrumentation for functionability. We are also considering performing rudder modifications to the boat to increase the surface area of the rudders to be able to have better slow speed control of the vessel for surveying duty. A new swim platform, under construction by our volunteer boatbuilding staff, will also grace the transom and be built a bit sturdier than the last platform to take the strain of multiple divers.
This project cannot be discussed, however, without mentioning the benevolence and kindness of the Poli family at Marine Supply and Oil. These folks have been outfitting and supplying the industrial waterfront in St. Augustine since 1946 as well as providing a quality chandlery for recreational boaters. Their most recent role in supporting LAMP really began when they offered their warehouse docking space for us to load a container with live oak bound for Malaga, Spain to become part of the Revolutionary War brig Galveztown. However, the kindness continued when Darrel Poli, owner of Marine Supply and Oil, offered to donate a great amount of supplies for the project. Wiring, cutless bearings, control cables, bottom paints, zincs, and other necessary items to finish this project have all be graciously donated by our friends on Riberia Street.
Our target date for re-launching the boat is the end of September. By this time we will have finished all of the heavy work and only small finalizing things will be left to complete while the boat is back on the water and working. We all can’t wait for our gal to be afloat again and available for survey. With the new sidescan sonar and marine magnetometer we will be able to confidently cover some search areas in style and safety with the revamped Island Fever.