2007-09-06 / Front Page

Harbor boat tests continue

By Sam Bari

More than six weeks ago, the new harbormaster's boat, manufactured by Ribcraft of Marblehead, Mass., was hauled out of the water for what harbor authorities assumed was routine maintenance and warranty repairs. However, after the boat was hauled, damages caused by possible galvanic corrosion, commonly associated with electrolysis, became apparent.

The anti-fouling paint was removed from the bottom, and the glue attaching the gunnels to the hull separated in one area causing a leak. Other signs of corrosion were also found in various spots around the boat.

The hard-bottomed inflatable craft was hauled and returned to Ribcraft in Marblehead where their technicians inspected the boat to analyze the problems. Ribcraft management replied in a letter to Police Chief Thomas Tighe and Harbormaster Sam Paterson that the problems were caused by galvanic corrosion that they suspect originated from the area where the boat was docked. Consequently, they did not feel that responsibility for the problems fell on their shoulders.

After hearing Ribcraft's response to the damages to the vessel, the town engaged the services of Professor Otto Gregory, a chemical engineer teaching at the University of Rhode Island, as a consultant.

Last week, Professor Gregory and his assistants tested the marina in the area where the harbormaster's boat was docked. "Although our tests are not conclusive because we haven't completed them, so far we have not found anything unusual or hazardous in the marina. We have no evidence of an inordinate amount of electricity in the water," Gregory said.

He went on to say that they wanted to test the water at absolute high tide at the dock where the boat is kept so conditions at all water levels will have been considered. Gregory also said, "The manufacturer's claims about electricity in the water have not proven to be correct. To date, our tests have revealed no reason for us to think otherwise. Now we're going to focus on the boat itself."

Gregory said they were going to closely examine the areas where the paint peeled off. He said they would test the galvanizing, the bottom paint, and the adhesive used to attach the gunnels to the hull. He said the corrosion is substantial and that the materials used by the manufacturer should be considered as a possible source of the problem.

Several town officials questioned the findings of Ribcraft because no other boats in the area suffered damages, the fire department boat, Marine I, being one of them.

The 21-foot, 3-inch long by 8- feet, 6-inch beamed harbormaster's patrol boat was made by Ribcraft at a cost of $97,920, "and was purchased to serve our needs for a long time," according to Mike de Angeli, chairman of the Harbor Management Commission. Professor Gregory said that next week's testing would be more conclusive.

Prior to Gregory's observations, Ribcraft sent marine surveyor Joe Lombardi to Jamestown to take readings and test the water around where the boat was docked at East Ferry. Lombardi reported that electric current readings "went off the meter."

When Matt Provenzano, director of operations at Ribcraft, was asked about the testing, he said that Lombardi performed multiple tests in the water where the boat was docked and at the time of the testing, the level of electrical current in the water was so strong that it was a safety hazard. He said that Lombardi used a multi-meter, which tests for both alternating and direct current, but he wasn't clear about the type of current that tested so high.

Provenzano explained that the harbor needed to be analyzed in order to find the source of the problem because the damage to the boat was so severe. "The boat is two months old and shouldn't have sustained that much damage in its lifetime," he said. He said that damage to the boat was certainly a concern, "but the biggest issue should be a safety issue. The area where it is docked is dangerous and unsafe," he said.

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