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The maintenance mantra: 'It's always something'

Those of us with older boats own the phrase "It's always something." I have used it to explain dark shadows under my eyes and additional furrows in my already furrowed brow. But hey, it's a 50-year-old sailboat, and I'm a cranky old(er) sailor. But whatever problems "my beloved" gives, without her I would be lost. She has become part of my life during the last 25 years, and the challenges she puts forth are paid back many times over in the pleasure, purpose and satisfaction she returns.

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My persistent irritations often revolve around outboards, which may not be the fault of the propulsion systems I have gone through. Anyway, another "something" surprised me this spring when I paid a mechanic $213 to learn that my 2005 Honda 5 was not worth fixing. I was not prepared for this news. I was prepared for bad news last winter when I began sounding for rot in the mahogany cockpit coamings of my 1962 Sailmaster 22. I found it, and I dug and dug in trouble areas, which led to major excavations that created large holes that had to be filled. I used West System's rot solution of thickened epoxy, applied and fast-cured with an electric heater. I also built "walls" where needed to corral the lava-like epoxy while it set up. Those bad areas now are as solid as a rock.

I decided on a cosmetic treatment to cover decades worth of blemished and bruised coamings with two sheets of quarter-inch mahogany. Boating buddy John Barry of Oak Island, N.C., said I should tear out and replace the old coamings rather than do a cover-up. But since I, an amateur woodworker, would be doing most of the job I rejected that suggestion. It would just have led to extensive deck work and other exorbitant expenses. It's easy to find complicated projects on older boats.

Fortunately a woodworker friend, Dave Hannam of Sarles Boatyard in Annapolis, came to my aid and provided me with two sheets of mahogany from his private stash. I began sanding them at home, then brushed on and wiped down Z-Spar red mahogany filler stain for color, following that with a second coat for a slightly darker red.

I have used Epifanes gloss varnish, but I seem to have lost my touch working with thick finishes and have switched to thinner Captain's and Flagship gloss by Pettit. I used pints instead of quarts to avoid glop and keep the varnish fresh for my older, quality badger-hair brushes. Finally, after 10 coats, the boards were ready for trimming.

Hannam, a seasoned hand with epoxy, trowled onto the old coaming West's 105 resin mixed with 105 fast-cure hardener and thickened with 406 colloidal silica adhesive filler to the consistency of peanut butter. Then we positioned the new mahogany boards up against the epoxy-coated mahogany, securing them in place with adjustable aluminum braces and clamps to allow for setting and curing. The final touch was compound-buffing the new varnish for a mirror-like "bling" finish.

The Bay Tripper's cockpit is looking ship-shape and ready for a new season.

Now back to the outboard. My research initially led me to a 4-stroke 6-hp Yamaha long-shaft. The Honda 5 fit into the outboard well, but the cowl was tight and snug up against the inside of the transom. But the Yamaha has a carrying handle bolted to the back of the cowl, which would not work in my case. It also has a large protruding latch on the outside rear that would have jammed into the transom and kept the cowling from opening.

I was willing to remove the carrying handle, but I had to transport the Yamaha to the boat for a fit. I told the dealer I would write a check for the $1,392 purchase on the obvious condition that the outboard had to fit. He said that if I had to return it there would be a separate charge of $94 for "paperwork" (probably paid for in advance). That stirred me up somewhat, and I rejected his demands, doing my best to maintain my cool. The "it's always something" curse had reared its ugly head again.

The next choice was a Nissan 5 or a Tohatsu 5, which are identical except for the decals. Their hood latch was under the aft lip of the cowl, just like the Honda, and out of the way. I knew it would fit after taking measurements, and I found a 4-stroke long-shaft Tohatsu online at Online Outboards. The total price was $1,230 with no delivery charges, no taxes and a "free" 3-gallon auxiliary tank with fuel line and hardware fittings.

It turned out that I had more space than expected. My son Eric dragged the outboard to my boat, and we installed it. I had read the manual carefully and spray-painted the lower unit (after sanding) with two coats of primer and two coats of black TriLux antifouling. The engine had been prepped at the factory, I was told, and all I had to add was a high-grade motor oil. The shiny black Tohatsu started after a few pulls and hummed like a sewing machine. I idled it for 10 minutes, following the first of several breaking-in steps, and will replace the lube in the lower unit.

The final new look of the cockpit was the easiest chore of all. My cockpit sole has always been kind of ugly, and I was looking for a way to improve the worn look to go with the new varnished mahogany coamings. I found a synthetic decking product called NuTeak to do the job with little fuss. It is a high-grade, "bendy" PVC plastic a quarter-inch thick. It has the look and feel of new teak - with non-skid, UV stabilizers and colorfast pigment - and is maintenance-free, other than cleaning with soap and water. The "caulking" comes in white and black (my choice).

Well, installing the new NuTeak was, as the saying goes, a piece of cake. "It's always something" was not an issue. Did I leave anything out? Oh yes, did I mention ... the weather?

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.