Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Fun In The Pool

So we1 decided that eighteen months lying fallow was enough for the swimming pool and once again I would do battle with the elements, the Long Island Power Authority and backyard chemistry in the search for the life aquatic.

I actually spend more time in the pool when it is in commission than anyone else in the family, but that is mostly because I'm the only bugger who vacuums the sodding thing (which involves getting in and Mrs Stevie won't do that unless the water is warm enough to brew tea with). The solar cover produces an effect that sometimes fools her into believing that all the water is as warm as the top four inches, which is almost worth all the screeching when she rolls in from off her airbed or whatever flotation device du jour she is perched upon. I have been forced to point out that I did not invent physics, nor did I decree that warm water should rise, thus giving birth to the Solar Cover Hoodwinking Effect2.

The pool had sat for two seasons, one with water, one without, which had done for the liner. The Stevieling had offered to have a go removing the debris and scrubbing it clean as a father's day gift, but hadn't actually done so, so it was me who discovered after cleaning out the now soaking and reeking debris (it rained after father's day) that the pool liner was holed, so we went out to buy a new one the week before July 4th, visions of floating away the holiday dancing in our heads.

The young guy who sold us the liner was surprised we didn't want a team of young, strong people to fit it for us, but I'd done the job (admittedly, not perfectly) the last time and didn't see any issues, and they couldn't deploy their people in less than two weeks anyway. The liner was obtained for a reasonable sum3 and we returned home as it began to rain again. The next day I pulled out the old socket set and the drill-driver with the batteries that won't hold a charge any more 4 and began stripping off the top rail of the pool. It went surprisingly quickly. Then came the removal of the liner retaining ring.

For those who have never seen an above-ground steel pool - an increasingly rare beast in this age of inflatable and resin-framed pools - they consist of a ring fabricated from sections screwed together (sometimes simply clipped together) which has a groove set into it to hold the wall. Ours has plates that clip the curved sections together and provide the place to mount the vertical pillar pieces. The wall is in turn a cylinder of steel you make from a long, rolled-up sheet by fastening the ends to each other with bolts. This is the bit you need help for since the steel has absolutely no strength in it until it is cylinder-shaped and can easily be badly damaged by the wind, or people falling on it. The ring goes on the floor, slot uppermost and the sheet of steel is fitted into the groove until it is a cylinder, then the ends are secured to each other with the bolts, and good quality duct tape is applied so the sharp bits are kept away from the liner.

At this point an earth berm is built against the inside wall of the cylinder to act as an easement for the liner as it transitions from flat (hopefully) floor to vertical wall. This stops the liner's seams popping. Then the liner is unfolded and gradually pulled free of folds and wrinkles5 and draped over the steel at the top to form a sort of vinyl cup with a steel outer. This process takes forever and can drive one to the very brink of madness as wrinkle after wrinkle is chased down and eliminated, only to cause more somewhere else.

The liner is secured to the steel using long flexible clips made of plastic, and over them a second ring of slotted steel is snapped, at which point the steel wall becomes very much more rigid. The second ring is made from the same components as the first, and on our pool has joiners that must be aligned with those in the base ring so that fake pillars made of folded steel can be screwed to them. This acts to make the top ring more secure and prevents the steel cylinder from popping out of the retaining ring at the base. Then the flat coping is attached and the skimmer fitted and so on and so forth until it is a mighty open-topped tank of watery amusement.

Things began to go wrong at the point I had the top ring completely removed and pulled out the liner so I could cut it up and throw the pieces to the waiting womenfolk for disposal. Under the liner, we had been persuaded to install what looked like rubber cat litter. This was, we were assured at the time, a great idea. It turned out to be the worst idea since Hannibal said "Get the elephants saddled. Let's go punch some Romans". No matter how carefully I worked it shifted underfoot as I installed the liner so I ended up with a pool floor that closely mimicked that of the natural seabed, with humps and pits that accumulated dirt. I was expecting to have the same sort of nonsense happen this time, but when I pulled up the liner I found that water had leaked into the under-liner space and turned this rubber madness into mud.

I need to digress a bit here to explain why the water was accumulating under the pool rather than simply draining away. A previous bad experience in which a pinhole leak in the liner of an older pool had caused a Sumac tree to throw out a root that grew up into the chlorinated water - and thrive therein. I'd had to junk the pool as a result and I vowed not to have the same thing happen with pool number three. So I cleaned out all the biomass I could find, then killed the ground stone dead with a formulation I bought from Home Despot6 and then I covered the ground with several taped layers of thick poly sheet used by groundsmen to keep weeds at bay. When It came time to add the earth berm I added a skirt of the same sheet to keep the rust-inducing earth off the steel. It turns out I did a really good job because water inside this arrangement does not drain away, no matter how much I want it to. It was over this that the rubber cat litter was carefully poured and spread.

Such was the scale of the out-of-project excursion this represented, Mr Brain shut down completely and refused to have any more to do with things. I did what I usually do in these situations and walked around in small circles doing facial impressions of a fish and waving my hands around cabalistically but Mr Brain would not re-engage gears so that was that.

I looked ruefully at the mess and suggested that I could re-assemble the tarp tent I'd used to keep the rain off during the winter7 and we could talk over matters over dinner at a local diner. Of course, the purpose of having other people around at such times is for them to supply the common sense missing during Brain Treachery, but naturally they missed the opportunity to do so.

So that's what we did. I attached the individual pieces of top ring to the pool edge to provide some rigidity, but didn't clip them together as that would involve struggling with the last clip, which has to be walked into place with the adjacent ring sections only half-attached owing to the fact that the whole thing is a sliding fit so the ring ends up being bigger than the pool until the clips are slid fully into place and I foresaw a mighty struggle of Man Vs Pool Parts In A World Gone Mad At Night In The Rain. Frankly, I wasn't up to all that by then. So I just clipped the ring segments onto the pool and slung a tarp over it to keep the dusting of light drizzle off the already wet-compromised inner gubbins

A sad mistake.

For while we were at dinner in the diner, the light sprinkles of rain apparently became a thunderstorm of epic proportions, and when I got home the tarp had trapped four metric tons of water in it and had collapsed again, this time taking the wall of the pool down with it, bending it in several places. Long and mighty were the charms I cast that night to drive away the evil spirits I can tell you. Luckily the rain made the chances of young children overhearing them minimal and saved the paint on the back door from blistering.

I disentangled the tarp, now full of cold rainwater thank you, from the bent and twisted steel and went about unbending and straightening the metal. The damage was surprisingly minor, a couple of nasty bends that would require me hitting them with Finesse8 for a bit, but nothing that a few class two Words of Power couldn't take care of.

Or so I thought.

The next day was a Sunday, so I got up and wandered outside to survey the damage again. I wandered up onto the deck I put up so I could service the skimmer with relatively dry feet and stared glumly at the shallow lake in the tarp. Well, I already had the submersible pump deployed from the liner draining operations, so I reached over to grab the hose so I could swing it to where I needed it and lost my footing rather spectacularly on the wet, slimy wood.

I grabbed for the safety of the mighty pool wall and all the curved slotted steel ring segments on either side pinged off the steel and span through the air to Azathoth-knows where (I was too busy to notice). The steel wall folded like an alibi witness confronted by Mrs Stevie and I went headfirst into the pool with a cry of distress worthy of Inspector Clouseau at his best. Luckily my body landed for the most part on the sharp bolt-ends poking out of the seam in the now-collapsed steel wall, but I could have been badly injured around the face had I not had the great good fortune of having it land in the tarp's two inches or so of freezing cold rainwater, backed by slimy rubber mud.

I only had time for one rushed class three before impact, but I made up for it with a stream of extemporized class fours as I attempted to get up. I pondered a bit as to how to get out of the pool without inflicting more damage, then came to the conclusion that the pool had not afforded me the same consideration, damage wise, so I simply stalked back over the flattened section of steel to the mostly illusory firm footing of the mutinous deck.

I realized that I was going to have to reconstruct the upper ring with the clips or the same sort of embarrassing nonsense would likely happen again and again until the steel wasn't worth salvaging, so that's what I did. Once the top ring was re-installed I went around with the pillars, thinking to reattach maybe half of them to add more rigidity. That's when I discovered some of the holes no longer lined up properly. It was as if the pillars were too short or the wall too high. How could that be? The steel had bends in it where the worst offenders were - I could understand there being a problem with the walls being too short on account of that, but too tall?

Then I troubled to look down and realized that everywhere the steel had folded flat it had jumped out of the slot of the base ring, because it was no longer held in place by the pillars and top ring. I took a few minutes from my busy schedule of screws-up to do The Bonehead Dance, then, using a two-by-four to apply force from inside the pool and my foot I gently but firmly kicked the bleeping bleepery bleeptard back into place.

However, at the point by the skimmer, the place I'd fallen in, the problem was much worse. Not only had the steel popped inside rather than outside the restraining ring, when I removed the tarp and earth berm and the vinyl landscaper's cloth I found that the place where the steel seam was had been damaged so that the ends had spread in different directions. It would not seat in the groove until they were hammered back into profile. Not only that but I had no room for the two-by-four as an outside "foot" to apply force - the four foot high walls precluded me just reaching over with my hand and thumping it - owning to the snug fit of the deck to the pool wall. Fortunately I found a thinner piece of wood That would fit and that I could also use as an anvil to hammer against and in far too much time at all I had the blasted thing the right shape and properly seated with a few class fours to spare.

And so to bed after a shower to get all the flakes of rubber off my body.

  1. ie Mrs Stevie
  2. In which the top four inches of water are very warm indeed and right under that layer the water is just above freezing, with no transitional temperature gradient. It is a real wonder, science-wise but, hell on the eardrums
  3. Around $100, which doesn't sound at all reasonable for what amounts to some heavy duty vinyl sheet with some trimming and welding work done to it until you start looking around and pricing that sort of stuff
  4. And some of those batteries are reasonably new dammit
  5. Ha!
  6. Which I've vowed never to use ever again owing to the stench which I remember as having all the worst olfactory nuances of fermenting raw sewage and crude oil
  7. But which had collapsed when we left the house in the charge of the Stevieling and she neglected to notice the four foot of snow accumulating on the tarp
  8. My claw hammer

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