Bay Tripper - Soundings Online

Bay Tripper

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Boat work done, he’s ready to sail

Boat work done, he’s ready to sail

My classic fiberglass sailboat usually retires from action on land every other winter, but a workman’s curse is attached to this otherwise tender loving care routine. Since the entire hull is exposed for close inspection, this creates make-work projects for me at a DIY yard with my nose pressed up against the hull. There should be a maritime law against this urge to get too close.

But with the boat wintering in the water this year, major portions of the hull were conveniently out of sight and mind, which, in theory at least, should have resulted in fewer make-work projects and enabled me to get an early jump on the season.

However, when a static Erewhon awaits in the chill only a mile from my office, I fall into the habit of making regular visits to check on things, and never leave without carrying something home to refinish. This accumulation builds until I am surrounded by piecework in my basement laundry room.

My late wife used to wonder how I could spend so many countless hours on what she called “that stupid boat,” repeating the work of the previous winter. “What is this, some kind of contest?” she would ask.

But once everything was proudly assembled in the boat to display, I awaited her usual comment of “Whoopie!” as she sat on a bunk facing the diversions offered by a varnished teak-framed mirror.

As I finished my elaborate show-and-tell, pointing here and there to this and that, I would turn in her direction for the anticipated praise. But she was always distracted by what she saw in the mirror, mirror on the wall.

This spring there was no hard hull work because I planned to rent a power washer to clean the topsides, waterline scum and bottom — swatches of which would be exposed by heeling the boat over in the slip with the main halyard. But first I had to get a few on-board projects out of the way before I started sailing because I knew I wouldn’t return to boat work once I began pursuing pleasure.

One chore was replacing the lifelines that I had made up and installed 10 years ago because they were showing signs of wear, and I feared they could fail at a bad time. I gave that job to the low-key George Moose, rigger and splicer at Fawcett Boat Supplies in Annapolis, Md. He made a dockside call to take measurements and come up with a price.

“Now look,” I explained. “I figure my life is worth about $150, so try and keep it under that amount.” He recommended larger turnbuckles for quarter-inch, vinyl-covered lines with properly swaged fittings. His quote was $132.81, and a deal was struck.

I had been lucky in the recent past because I could turn to Bill Donahue of Annapolis Classic Watercraft for help, and use his well-equipped restoration workshop, conveniently located next door to my little office space at 110 Severn Ave. in Eastport. But Donahue moved to larger quarters on the other side of town in March, and my handy workshop is gone.

Even so, it just happens that my rental stall — in the stable of boating writer Bob Slaff — is in a quiet corner of Alex Tasi’s Maritime Plastics custom fabrication and machining operation. I call him “Alex the Wizard” because he can fix and make anything, and his second in command, Keith Manuel, also is talented. I called on them to fix my bilge pump and fabricate a plastic insert for the underside of my lazarette hatch.

Another project involved removing about 16 feet of jib sheet tracks. Since I replaced my hanked-on jib with a Schaefer SnapFurl roller-furler, I never use these track extensions to change the sheet block leads, because I rarely reef the overlapping furling jib. But removing fastenings and filling holes in the toerails took longer than expected, which, once started, made me question my decision. It also meant sanding from the unstable platform of my 8-foot dink and then applying two coats of Pettit Brightwork Brown.

The mast spreaders also needed varnish and paint, so the aluminum spar had to come down and the sails removed. Working with solid ground underfoot is preferred to clinging to a wobbly ladder or suspended aloft in a canvas seat.

While unfastening the furling unit with cold, numb fingers, however, I dropped the feeder cap into the drink. I bought a fine-mesh trout net, attached it to a bamboo sounding pole, and deftly but unsuccessfully explored the bottom muck from on deck in 3 feet of murky water. The water was too cold for wading, so I got a new part from Schaefer Marine. (Three weeks later I saw something metallic glistening on the bottom and retrieved the lost feeder. Now I have a spare.)

Lowering the mast requires someone (usually my son, Eric) controlling a line attached to the foot of the forestay from an elevated position for leverage as the mast is lowered slowly on a pivot pin in the tabernacle to the “catcher” (me) in the cockpit. The mast came to rest over the stern, extending out over the water, which wouldn’t do for a work station.

Though the outboard was at home, I thought I could easily turn the boat around in the slip, but the tide was low and the wind high. It was a frustrating process of moving back and forth from dock to dock, and climbing on and off a neighboring sailboat with a boat hook and various control lines in tow, while jumping off and on the stern and bow of my boat. Dealing with snagging lines and slowed by soft mud and gusty, shifting winds, the solo turnaround took an hour. The masthead wind vane was a casualty, but the top of the mast finally was over land, where I could inspect it.

Three years ago Chesapeake Rigging of Annapolis had beefed up the mast where the spreaders are attached and at the masthead, and everything seemed to be holding up well. I installed a larger wind vane to replace the shattered one, but no professional help was needed otherwise.

I had also fabricated a much lighter cockpit floorboard over the winter to replace a heavy, clunky, 15-year-old platform. I used a teak-colored, durable Treadmaster to provide a dependable non-skid surface. The ends and sides of the 2-by-4-foot Treadmaster section were supported and joined by thin sections of teak and mahogany treated with Interlux Cetol.

The cockpit also has been dressed up with a Blue Performance Cockpit Combi Bag fastened to the inside of the cockpit. The bag has a flapped compartment for a chart book, a mesh net for visible stuff, and two compartments for a sheet and halyard winch handle. This rig is a great organizer and prevents things from falling or getting misplaced.

After taping and sanding the spreaders, I applied four coats of Interlux Goldspar polyurethane varnish on the undersides and two coats of Interlux white gloss on the tops. Spreader boots were cleaned and new white tape added, after peeling off the old, skuzzy, unraveling tape.

The aluminum mast was raised March 25 with the help of several friends. It seemed much heavier than in years past, but that was due to the age of human helpers, not of the spar. Once the rig was up, however, the spreaders drooped in a mournful, unsatisfactory fashion, and I didn’t have a long enough pole at hand to prod them skyward. Fortunately, the nimble Harry Rose of Annapolis, a mechanical wizard and former crewmember on large yachts in the Virgin Islands, was on hand. He scampered up the mast under his own power and made the proper adjustments.

Just as I finished with my mast business, Michael Coleman, a fellow Sailmaster owner in the next slip, recruited us to help lower his wooden mast. I was coming to the end of my boat work, and he was just beginning on his restoration project, so progress was definitely on my side.

Before painting the deck with Interdeck, a non-skid Interlux product, I pulled both deck plates covering the protruding ends of through-deck chain plates. I thoroughly cleaned the areas of old compounds and rebedded with BoatLIFE Liquid to seal the tiny openings.

One final errand was to an industrial neighborhood of northeast Baltimore, where American Plating (formerly A-1 Plating) performed a corrosion-resistant nickel-plating procedure that rehabbed several brass pieces, including an old school bell, oil anchor lamp and speaking horn.

Once the wind had filled after many days of unrelenting cold and gusty northwest breezes in late March and early April, I climbed into my dinghy to work on the toerails (paint) and outside cockpit coamings (Cetol).

Transporting my 5-hp outboard and various bits and pieces of woodwork from my basement to the car and then to the boat for final assembly was the best sign that I would be sailing soon — at least by mid-April, when I hoped to welcome six Volvo 70 round-the-world racers to Chesapeake Bay.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.