Day Tripper


Goodbye to one side of boating

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day …”

My apologies for dragging Macbeth into a boatyard, but I need to reach high to William Shakespeare to help explain my farewell to boatyard bottom work and mucking about in mud, dust, and gravel at a mature age.

Giving up anything having to do with boating is a difficult decision, but tough boatyard chores for me have gone on for a long time before transferring them from a To-Do list to a Don’t-Do list, even though I have made this call several times in years past. But this time was different. Except for working with wood, there wasn’t much fun to it anymore — especially when factoring in yet another unpredictable, chilly spring with much rain and wind.

Rolling on two coats of Interlux Micron Extra bottom paint with Biolux when I should have been removing old, flaking paint seemed at odds with what was going on. But when bottom painting time comes around, the urge to get back in the water kills the need for more boatwork.

A couple times my youngest son, Scottie, has helped with scraping loose bottom paint, which I explained as a necessary chore dictated by the seemingly strange rule that old paint is removed to add new paint. Every two autumns or so I have my Sailmaster 22 hauled at Casa Rio Marina and Boatyard, a do-it-yourself facility in Mayo, Md. The next time, however, Mr. Sandman will sandblast the bottom, and yard workers will add the required layers of Interlux barrier coat once the hull has thoroughly dried. They’ll follow up with two coats of bottom paint (red, not green, for a different contrast with a dark green hull). I might watch.

In May, I consulted with Norman Gross, the yard’s master painter, about how best this time around to apply Interlux Toplac, a one-part silicone copolymer finish. “Finish off vertically with marine quality foam brushes,” he advised. He added that two years ago I wasn’t using enough Toplac, that I was adding too much 333 Brushing Liquid, which helps the flow but can also flatten the high gloss.

After switching from rolling on paint and tipping off horizontally with high-quality bristle brushes, I found I still prefer doing it the old way. When you’re hot you’re hot, and when you’re not you’re not. I was not hot, but I wasn’t about to start over this time after going vertical with foam.

Looking forward to a perfect paint job in the spring of 2007, I promised Norman I would leave the topsides decision up to him, although I might prep-sand the hull with 220-grit. But who knows? If I’m up to the task, I might discard the roller and paint, and tip off horizontally with my best Epifanes brushes with the long, flexible Chinese bristles.

My work station at Casa Rio this spring was dictated by my last-minute arrival last winter. It turned out to be a swamp or a dust bowl, but that was countered by being next to Greg Rutkai’s Grab Bag Sailboats, with access to power, a hose, a workshop, drinking water and excellent advice. He winterized my old 5-hp Mercury outboard, too.

The yard also is a base for A-1 Sailboats, where Capt. Jim Perrie has a fleet of new and used MacGregor 26son trailers. A born salesman, he used me as a handy tool in selling those sailboats. Before trailering to the launching ramp for a demo sail, he would pause at my station, point out things to his customers, and tell them how easy they would have it with a trailerable boat.

To a degree, he has a point. There is an advantage in that, but I don’t take a second look at a MacGregor 26 as a thing of beauty, and I can sail past them in my classic Sparkman & Stephens-designed 22-footer when they aren’t being propelled by a 40-hp outboard.

In late April, when I began my boatyard work, I was surrounded by boats, and there seemed to be plenty of time to get things done. But by the time I was splashed May 19 my boat was a lonely island, and I was still puttering on.

The first spring project was removal of the old marine head, to be replaced by a portable potty. When I told Rutkai I hadn’t used that head in 15 years he said, “You must be terribly constipated.”

I had installed that head many years ago and kind of forgot how it was secured. Removal of a fixed object from a boat is always easier than installation, but after disconnecting the hoses I was faced with unfastening a bolt with a nut that couldn’t be locked with a vice-grip. So I stood upright and, with all my diminishing strength, gave a mighty heave-ho and out came the whole thing in one fell swoop, knocking me backward. The bowl had been resting on two flimsy tabs glassed in when the boat was built in Holland in 1962. I secured the through-hull fittings, but I closed and capped the bronze intake valve in the bilge, and left it intact for a future owner. I also plugged the outside openings.

After hosing out the bilge one day, I prepared to pump it out, but there was no water flow. After a couple hours of dismantling the Whale bilge pump, I discovered a split diaphragm. Better to find it there on the hard than out in Chesapeake Bay when I might need it. The pump had lasted 20 years, well beyond its five-year guarantee. Reinstalling it was more difficult.

Whenever I got exhausted or discouraged at my progress creeping at such a “petty pace” — “to the last syllable of recorded time”? — I visited major boatyard projects under way inside sheds: the construction of a large sportfisherman, the restoration of an old cabin cruiser, and the rehabbing and redesign of a hurricane-damaged Beneteau 35. I knew they would remain behind long after I had departed, and that gave me hope.

One of my final steps was painting the deck with Interlux Interdeck, a new polyurethane non-skid deck coating. It was gloppy but manageable after adding some 333. It will take another coat, however, to cover the old color, which was taking on a pinkish tint.

So life went on. A cold April surrendered to a disappointing May, and I returned to the yard day after day. I rarely sat and rested because there was always something to do, or something to think about doing or not doing.

But when 5 o’clock came around, a bell would go off in my head, and after turning my paint-splattered shirt inside out to be more presentable, I headed to the nearby Old Stein Beer Garden for excellent German draft beer. At home, I would shower and hit the sack, too exhausted to eat. (One morning in mid-May I discovered I had lost 20 pounds in three weeks.)

I kept reminding myself that all this would come to a happy ending on the first day sail out of Annapolis. That event came about May 23, when I finally sat at rest in the cockpit and let the boat work for me, rather than have me work on the boat.

When other boaters looked my way — in admiration, I hoped — I was pleased I wasn’t in a MacGregor 26. The effort had been worthwhile after all.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.