An advisory for bored retired folks: buy an older boat and refurbish it.
As participatory sports go, such a maritime project will keep you far more occupied than golf, for example, where activity among seniors ends at the 18th hole and the clubhouse but returns with seemingly endless tournaments on television.
A challenging boat project will create thoughts in your mind that linger to bedtime and sometimes reappear in the form of bizarre boating-related dreams. My project with Erewhon has been ongoing for 25 years, and after another winter hiatus at Casa Rio Boatyard in Mayo, Md., boat work resumed at the end of February - when a record snowfall left behind 3 feet of the white stuff to tramp through. About all I could do was shovel out the cockpit and pump the bilge. At least the boat was secure and standing upright.
By early March, varnishing work was coming to an end at home, which gave the false impression I was actually getting somewhere to achieve a decades-old dream of sailing by April 15. I never thought I would make it, especially when I cancelled my scheduled April 2 launch. Of course, in the world of boating there are always setbacks, such as rainy weather and tree pollen and insects attracted to wet paint.
For example, my son Eric carried my boom, outboard and boat cushions from winter storage to Casa Rio after I led him to the pickup stops. I jumped into his pickup truck, inconveniently leaving my car with all my tools and equipment behind. We had almost reached the marina when my stupidity hit and we had to turn around and get my equipment-laden car. "Arrgghh!" as they say.
Another surprise came at West Marine in Annapolis when I tried to order an Interlux topside polyurethane enamel only to learn that the color for my roller-and-brush recoating had been discontinued. I had already painted the port side with the remains of my preferred Toplac Donegal Green, but now the Interlux Web site referred me to a replacement color - a lighter Sea Green that presented a dilemma. Should I go with a hull painted two similar but decidedly different colors of green? Who would know except me?
As it turned out, I painted the topsides twice with the Sea Green, the only green color offered in this particular Brightwork line of one-part enamels. I now must live with that choice, but for the next haulout in 2012 I'll look for a darker replacement color of my choice.
A word on using one of those heavy-duty, black plastic paint trays instead of a metal tray for topside work: As I added small amounts of a recommended solvent to aid paint flow, black flakes from the plastic tray began to come off into the paint and onto the roller and brush. It was startling because once you start this type of solo painting procedure it must be finished. There is no turning back to correct things. I returned to West Marine to report the problem, and the store could not have been more cooperative in resolving the issue.
Dr. Norman Gross, professor of paintology at Casa Rio, is a smiling, soft-spoken presence and never seems to get bothered, even by painting amateurs such as myself who seek his advice and try to follow it. One problem I have with the brush/roller technique is adding the correct amounts of solvent so the paint will flow easily into where the roller work left off. But it is difficult to stay ahead of fast-drying paint, at least for me working solo. Also, the more solvent added for a clean flow reduces the high gloss, so for the best outcome it's a two-person job. OK, I have a semigloss paint job.
"The water's reflection erases many imperfections anyway," says the soothing Norman, smiling. (Thanks also must go to Casa Rio workers Lynn Jackman and Big Ty Thomas.)
But continuing with the boating tradition of "it's always something," the second surprise involved my 5-hp Honda. Late last autumn an Annapolis outboard mechanic winterized and worked on the carburetor before I put the engine to rest for the winter standing upright in a quiet, dark corner. After the launch, with the engine installed in the lazarette, well, the thing wouldn't start. A new friend, Christopher Judy, who was working on his Tanzer 22 next to my boat, came to my aid and ran some simple tests to check the fuel flow to the carb. I wound up taking it back to the outboard shop.
The extra day at the marina slip allowed me to rig the sails and lazyjacks and get all the control lines in order, all of which I had removed for the painting and varnish-stripping. It was confusing even to me, the only person who should know where everything goes in order to make solo sailing simpler and safer for an elder gent. This season I will take a series of close-up photos to help me along with the next rerigging process.
As I linger on toward my 100th birthday (I exaggerate), I have been forced to make a monumental, but gratifying, decision: no more heavy-duty work. Besides, in 2012 the bottom must be stripped of a 20-plus-year accumulation of antifouling, a job for the yard crew that will involve adding a barrier coat before new bottom paint.
At any rate, my record April 12 departure was significant in itself because I met my self-imposed deadline. The outboard started right up and hummed along after I replaced the squeeze bulb on the fuel line. Out on the Rhode River, I raised the mainsail and headed north to Annapolis, met by only two workboats setting out crab pots for the season.
At the Spa Creek Drawbridge in downtown Annapolis, I waited for the half-hour mark and called the tender on my cell phone for an opening. "Hello, Erewhon," he said warmly. "I was awaiting your signal because we open on demand until May 1."
It was a friendly way to be welcomed home.
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.
This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue.