I’m usually too occupied with sailing in-season to focus on items on my boatwork to-do list, but with Erewhon hauled for the winter I have the opportunity to tackle that never-ending list and maybe have a clear slate in the spring. Oddly enough, I think I would be uncomfortable if I had nothing to list or cross out anymore. It has sustained me through the decades and kept me busy.Sometimes I cheat a bit with this list. For example, if I complete a job without having first listed it, I write it down so I can have the pleasure of crossing it out as done. Occasionally I might describe something to do in great detail, not just jot it down as a one-line item. This allows me time to mull over a project that is too ambitious for me to handle, allowing me to put the brakes on it by inking it out in a bold stroke of black, hence canceling it.
I keep a neat, updated printout of my list, but continually add to it with scribbled notes I keep in lined boxes. When I do complete an item, I return to my PC and proudly delete it to keep the file clean. Some of the easiest items take more words to describe, and some of the hardest, most time-consuming winter jobs require the fewest number of words — for example “sand topsides” or “paint bottom.”
I may have mentioned this in the past, but I call this my “Whoopie List.” To amuse myself and irritate my wife, Betty (who had no interest whatsoever in my sailboat doings), I used to read the crossed-off items aloud to her. She would smile, twirl her finger and exclaim, “Whoopie!” But when it came to think about a sailing outing as a possible social event, her interest was piqued and she would ask who else was coming. If I said “no one,” she would decline my invitation unless she could organize a party. I guess that’s how I got so involved in sailing alone.
Whenever I hauled out for an extended period, I would ask her to pick me up at the boatyard after everything was set up on the hard. She knew she would be rewarded with dining out, which qualified as a social outing, especially if she could bring along a friend, such as her sister, Eleanor. I was warned in advance, however, that I would not be permitted to load her lovingly maintained Saturn with any clunky boat stuff. (Ironically, I inherited that Saturn when she died and it has since become my boat car.)
I usually haul my boat for the winter every two or three years, mainly to let the 50-year-old fiberglass hull dry out. But this invariably leads to more work because of the extended time she spends on land. The more you look for something to do, the more you will find to do. It is self-fulfilling, and one must guard against succumbing to it at all costs because you’ll never finish everything unless you pay someone to finish it for you. And with older boats, exterior woodwork must always be sanded and refinished. I cannot afford $80 an hour in labor costs, but the older I get the more I realize I’ll have to pay someone to do the grunt work.
I have two sons I can recruit for spring work. Eric is good at sanding, scraping and bottom painting because he learned that during a summer boatyard job as a youth. Scott is not handy with tools, but he knows how to sail and can follow directions and do detail work. Eric’s wife, Missy, also can follow directions and is good at artistic arrangements. With launching set for early April, they will give me a full weekend at work and I, in turn, will treat them to excellent German food and beer at the nearby Old Stein Restaurant. (This routine for social payback has been passed on, you see.)
When I was younger, I actually enjoyed hard, dirty boatwork and I learned things from doing it myself. I also watched pros at work and veteran sailors, who would allow me to help with sanding chores. These thrifty yachtsmen had a way of extending the life of sandpaper beyond belief, saving and refolding crumpled wads that others discarded.
I used to actually climb into boatyard trash bins to check for worthwhile items, but these days I only take a quick peek now and then. Early this winter, however, I came across an entire set of perfectly good lazy jack lines that a sail loft, which was making up a new set for a large sailboat, had tossed. I will put them to good use as new lazy jacks for my boat and, of course, stow the old lines in a ditty bag that is now the size of a sail bag. (You never know when you might need a certain length of line.)
So my Sailmaster 22 beckons me once again at Casa Rio Marina in Mayo, Md., about 12 miles south of Annapolis off the Rhode River. This winter, Joe Fernon, a fellow S-22 owner who works at Fawcett Boat Supplies, will drop my aluminum mast with his “gin-pole” rig. I have not checked out things aloft for five years and must install a new Davis masthead fly, which somehow got bent.
I’ll replace all of the cotter pins; check the fastenings, blocks and hardware; and maybe replace the wooden spreaders or epoxy them. A new jib halyard is also in order. The shrouds and turnbuckles are oversized and in good condition. Painting the mast is also an option, but that might be too ambitious.
Heavy grinding is definitely a job I do not like, but it’s something I must consider when working on the external iron ballast, flakes of which are chipping off. I will attack this problem with a hammer and see how far I get. Minor grinding also involves lowering and straightening the waterline. I have been using Pettit ablative bottom paint, but paint buildup through the years has been substantial and not all of it can be counted on to wear off with use. A slightly easier job during the winter will be sanding the topsides with 220-grit to prep for a roller-and-brush paint job in March — just before that April launch and a new season of cruising the Bay.
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.
Jack has been cruising Chesapeake Bay and writing about the region for more than 25 years. His critically acclaimed book, "Maryland's Vanishing Lives," was published by Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Press and is now in its second printing. Before joining Soundings, Jack was a feature writer at the Washington (D.C.) Star for nearly 20 years and a senior editor at Chesapeake Bay magazine from 1995 to 1998. His monthly Bay Tripper column focuses on the Chesapeake.