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My money pit: time to correct the neglect

When the lockbox of my “nautical needs money pit” is breached, there is no telling exactly where the cash might go, but the general direction mathematically is up, up and away.

After 25 years without stripping, Erewhon's bottom is now in fiine form.

Following the traditional rag-hauler’s endless pursuit of frugality, my primary objective has always been to become fairly proficient in the art of solo sailing without making it more potentially dangerous than it is already.

From time to time over the years I have been forced to seek boatyard assistance to haul out, but mostly I have relied on my own amateur talents for cheap labor. This year, however, the “pit” was opened in order to stop a serious leak in my outboard well that required the delicate touch of a fiberglass repair expert at Mullen Marine in Annapolis. Cost: $527. Ouch!

In my 27th year of owning a classic 1962 Sailmaster 22C I figured it was time to address issues I had been putting off for years. My worn, tweedy, dark-green bunk cushion covers that I had cut by an old Baltimore awning firm in 1994 were a case in point. Those Sunbrella covers had absorbed spills of paint, varnish, oil, polish, cleaning liquids and epoxy resin, along with mineral and alcoholic spirits. I became accustomed to a slightly sour-smelling aroma in the cabin, but I was drawn to Galesville Canvas on the West River for a “permanent” answer because they promised a quick turnover of three days. The covers were cut just the way I requested, using the old foam and a Sunbrella interior fabric I had on hand. Cost: $587. Another ouch.

Before the season began I replaced my old standard Nicro solar ventilator from Marinco with a new day/night 24-hour system designed to help keep the interior fresh and somewhat protected from the mold, mildew and musty air that permeated the old bunk cushions. I also replaced the jib and mainsheets with braided, easily handled line from R&W Marine Cordage in New Bedford, Mass. Varnish and paint supplies from Epifanes, Pettit and Interlux came by way of Fawcett Boat Supplies in Annapolis, where I had established an account because of my illusion that not dealing in cash purchases was a way of controlling costs. (Actually, it was the opposite, and my impulsive buying of boat supplies increased.)

And then, in early September, I was tooling around under main alone awaiting the opening of the Spa Creek Drawbridge when a boating friend and antagonist came alongside in an old open boat named Clarence. He immediately began pointing at the waterline. “Did you paint the bottom with a mop?” he shouted derisively, coming close enough to touch it. I realized that the bottom had not been stripped for more than a quarter-century, and it was one costly job that would eventually have to be handed over to a boatyard.

Because boat bottoms are underwater most of the time, I indulged my secret guilt and sailed on. But I knew that ogre from Lake Ogleton would return with his blunt comments and shame me into having the bottom stripped. I checked around and expected the job to cost at least $2,500, but there was a waiting list for that. Satisfied with the work associated with Muller Marine in stopping my leak, I returned to this small, in-and-out operation in Back Creek in early September.

Bob Muller originally said that two of his laborers — liveaboards John Cutter and Eddie Martinez — would scrape off all those layers of anti-fouling paint, which I expected would take at least a week. But they soon found out that they needed mechanical help and pulled out the heavy-duty, dustless Hitachi 4-1/2-inch disc grinder to shave off the layers.

The grinding and fairing produced a noticeable increase in boat speed.

To my surprise, I arrived two days after haulout to find the bottom stripped to the gelcoat and the boys hard at work with more sanding and fairing. Because my Sparkman & Stephens full-keel/centerboard sailboat was built in Holland in the early days of fiberglass construction — no maintenance was the promise — it was overbuilt. The boys found no trace of blistering.

Evercoat filler applied with a spatula faired the bottom after even more detailed sanding until it was a pleasure to run my fingers over the smooth surface. When it came time for two coats of bottom paint, Muller recommended Pettit Trinidad because it has a good performance record in the middle Chesapeake, my stomping grounds.

“But use red, not green, since you already have dark green topsides and you need some color contrast,” Muller advised. Red was fine with me. Total cost: $1,025. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Here’s the breakdown. Haul, block, sand and paint bottom, launch: $638. Additional time to strip bottom paint and fair, 15 hours at $25 an hour: $375.

I had thought about having the topsides sprayed until I got an estimate of $1,500. No, no, no, that would not do. Besides, after a week on land I wanted to get out sailing again and would put off painting until spring. I was pleasantly surprised at the noticeable increase in speed when I began overtaking and passing a number of sailboats in the 25- to 32-foot range.

September was glorious for sailing, with much sun and adequate wind. Every time I went to the dock I admired what I could see of the new bottom and felt gratified at the money well spent. Now the oxidized topsides began gnawing at me to haul out at a DIY yard to sand, and roll and brush two coats of a one-part dark green Epifanes enamel. But haulout and blocking alone would cost almost $600 at DIY yards, so that idea has been shelved.

But that was not the end. In mid-October I tried sanding/painting at my slip from my Walker Bay dinghy when I was struck down by an arthritic cartilage attack (bone on bone) in my lower spine. Along about the same time, Cutter said he would do the job in the water for a reasonable rate before leaving for points south for the winter. We set a temporary weekend goal, although this may be updated after an orthopedic surgeon and chiropractor are consulted about my challenging non-boating condition.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

December 2013 issue