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Time for a tune-up before cruising season

When I began sailing in the mid-1960s, my watery world was limited to the Severn River, which opened to the great unknown (to me) Chesapeake Bay some three miles distant.

My first sailboat, a National One-Design, was moored in a cove near my home in Severna Park, Md.

Jack Sherwood

Once I got beyond Round Bay, I was challenged by a narrow, unused railway trestle (now dismantled) and beyond that obstacle the old Severn River Drawbridge, since replaced by a high-rise crossing. With only a canoe paddle as auxiliary power and an occasional son along to blame when my actions got me in trouble, I managed to reach the mouth of the Severn and thought I accomplished something.

To find out what mysterious waters lay beyond Tolly Point and the then-manned Thomas Point Lighthouse farther off in the distance, I consulted my chart at home to plan my first solo overnight cruise one day in a larger vessel. That time came in 1970 - 40 years ago this summer - when three Washington Star newspaper colleagues helped me deliver my wooden 32-foot sloop from Washington, D.C., to Annapolis. That boat, that newspaper, and one of those friends are gone now. (I see a future column recalling that adventure.)

That larger vessel also took me cruising to Galesville, Md., a quaint village all of 12 miles from Annapolis and beyond the Victorian-era lighthouse. I passed the mouth of South River and on to the mouth of West River, then left Rhode River to starboard. I anchored that evening in the Galesville Harbor and rowed ashore for dinner at Steamboat Landing Restaurant in a wooden dinghy I found leaning up against a dumpster. I always think of that first solo cruise during the many times I've repeated that historic passage in my sailing life.

Fast forward ahead to mid-November 2009, which found me en route from Spa Creek in Annapolis to deliver my 22-foot Sailmaster to Casa Rio Marina and Boatyard for the winter at the dead-end head of Cadle Creek off the Rhode River. It was a calm and sunny morning, and it happened to be my birthday, that series of annual events I have long since refused to acknowledge.

Erewhon will be treated to coats of Epifanes varnish and a new spray shield while she is on the hard.

I try to haul out for the winter every three years or so to give my early fiberglass classic time to dry out and me a chance to catch up with maintenance. The days of winter sailing, when I had to break out through skim ice, are in the past, and I don't really miss them. My passion for sailing has not diminished; it has just become more seasonal and sensible.

I often return to Casa Rio, which has grown to accommodate 200 vessels in land storage. Through the years, my boat has spent two winters there indoors on restoration projects. For deck work beyond my talents, the yard has handled the deed. I am no Mr. Handyman, but I have learned to do things by making mistakes and having to correct them.

At this point I must salute my non-sailing late wife, Betty, who often asked: "What do you do on that stupid boat hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month?" It is a question I often ask myself, and I simply cannot account for the time spent except that I thoroughly enjoy it.

In the early spring of '09, I applied almost 2 gallons of Pettit ablative anti-fouling to the full-keel bottom. I was delighted to find the bottom quite clean and the green color emerging after power washing. Years of bottom paint have accumulated and the bottom is long overdue for stripping. I cannot handle a chore like that and keep putting it off, but maybe this winter I'll break down and have the yard do the work.

I have not sanded and painted the topsides for some five years and still have a quart of one-part Interlux Donegal Green, a dark, rich color that has worn well. After power sanding with 220- and 280-grit, I'll apply the paint with a small roller and my best 2-1/2-inch bristle brush from Epifanes of North America. This can be a most enjoyable task, but it must be done quickly, with no backpedaling to smooth out sags. Must get it right the first time.

I have had years of good results with gloss Cetol, but will strip the mahogany woodwork this time around and apply multiple coats of Epifanes varnish. I must also rig a quickie snap-on cockpit cover to go with my existing cabin cover.

Early last year I re-covered the main hatch with one piece of quarter-inch red mahogany and applied nine coats of Epifanes varnish. I rigged a snap-on hatch cover that I actually use. I also discovered what I thought were long-lost Epifanes yacht enamel colors - traditional "Dado" red and brown that go handsomely well with varnish.

My mainsail was new in last year from UK Sails in Annapolis, and my new roller-furling, overlapping jib with a natural Sunbrella leech cover was from Bacon Sails. The other means of propulsion is my 2006 5-hp Honda, which has performed in spectacular fashion. I have mastered the annual changing of the spark plug, engine oil and lubrication of the lower unit, but I'll ask Casa Rio's mechanic to perform a tune-up.

Ah, but the major project will be an acrylic spray shield fitting snugly across the aft end of the sliding double hatch. I have summoned my dumpster-diver instincts to ask the plastic wizards at Maritime Plastic in Annapolis to fashion a custom shield out of a dumped acrylic piece they duplicated.

While motorsailing into a heavy wind under a reefed mainsail, I can count on getting clobbered with spray. A clear spray shield about 14 inches in height will keep my head dry while I stand in the cabin and peer forward, steering with a tiller extension as we close-reach onward to wherever we go in 2010.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue.