Category Archives: Rebuilding Boats

Karen with the compass rose side of the quilt

27 inches, why do you ask?

Mast inside the boat with quilt on it
Karen’s mast quilt

The compass roses on our charts are very practical, necessary, and boring. They include true and magnetic north and a circle of numbers and tick marks to help us plot courses.

Flutterby recently acquired a much more beautiful compass rose, with blue cardinal points, green ordinal points, and gorgeous purple for the secondary intercardinal points. It is reminiscent of the ones used on historical seafaring charts going back to the 16th century, and it is a stunning piece of art.

It started with a picture that we posted on Facebook of Barry standing in Flutterby’s galley, next to the mizzen mast. In the comments about the photo, our friend Karen wrote, “Crazy question, but what’s the circumference of that mast?” Barry promptly replied (he has some interesting specifications stored on his computer), “The circumference is 27 inches where it goes through the galley.”

It was an odd exchange, since although Karen is a curious soul and a voracious reader, she isn’t a friend I think of as interested in the minutiae of sailboat refits. We met over 15 years ago on a computer BBS and shared a love of cats, dancing, and hilarious late-night conversations. Karen once distinguished herself as the best house-sitter on the planet when we returned from a trip to find a fresh-baked, homemade apple pie in our oven.

So after the initial question about the mast circumference, Karen dropped the subject. At least, that’s what I thought. And since she lives in Port Orchard, Washington, and she wasn’t likely to visit us on the boat very soon, we dropped it, too.

Nine months later, the next time we were in Seattle, Karen said she had a special something to give us. We had no idea how special!

Karen with the compass rose side of the quilt
Nautical side of the quilt

The surprise was a double-sided quilt, 27 inches square, with the dramatic compass rose and a blue-and-white fabric with boat plans on one side. Such a perfect thing to wrap around the mast in the center of our main cabin! It makes the boat look like an art gallery — the quilting itself was taken from a stained-glass window with butterflies in it.

But it is the other side that truly takes my breath away, because it illustrates how perceptive Karen is about the Adventures of Meps ‘n’ Barry. It’s a convergence quilt, with successively smaller pieces starting in the four corners and working together in the middle. It’s very colorful, but the predominant colors are restful browns and beiges. What the colors and the fabric represent are the four corners of the USA — the corners that we have explored and blogged about from the Squid Wagon.

As we set out on our latest voyage, heading south down the ICW, I am delighted to be boating again and to share my stories of life on the water. Our beautiful quilt is hanging on the mast with the compass rose facing out. But that is only a portion of my life. I’ve just gotten back from a trip overseas, to Brazil, that was taken on an airplane. And as Karen has beautifully illustrated, I am very proud of the voyages and the writing inspired by our travels on land, here in the USA. And I am very, very proud to call Karen Jake — fabric artist, crazy cat lady, librarian, and dedicated caregiver for her Mom — my friend.

Barry holding the quilt, showing the landlubber side
Barry and Karen with the landlubber side of the quilt

You can see samples of Karen’s work on her Flickr page.

Dream on

Golden light on Fresh Breeze
Golden light on Fresh Breeze

Like a young woman whose husband went away to sea, she waited patiently by the water. She grew old but never lost her beauty, and he never returned.

She was a grand old wooden sailboat, agreed by all to be the Belle of the Boatyard. Everyone who had ever taken a stroll in the boatyard was drawn to her elegant lines and sweeping overhangs. I had photographed her numerous times, capturing images of her accelerating but lovely decay.

There was no name on the boat, and her white paint was peeling to the silvered wood, highlighted with golden-orange rust stains. Rumors abounded about her mysterious past. Had she been owned by someone famous? How did she end up here? How could something so breathtakingly beautiful have been abandoned like this?

And then, around this time last year, I ran into Kenny on a Saturday. He had a big smile on his face.

“Whatcha doin’ out here on a Saturday?” I asked him.

“I think I just sold a boat,” he said. He turned and pointed. “That one.”

“What? How? Who?” I sputtered.

There’s a big movie studio in Wilmington, and a movie crew had driven out to the boatyard that morning. They were looking to buy a lot of old boat parts to use in a set, and Kenny suggested that they would do better to buy a whole boat. Then, in his low-key way, he showed them several choices.

Even her rust was beautiful
Even her rust was beautiful

Kenny owns a handful of the older boats in the yard; people sometimes stop paying their storage charges and eventually he has to take possession. What came as a surprise was that he didn’t own this one; she was not his and she was not for sale. I suspect that people had tried to buy her many times over the years. This time, her owner said yes.

That afternoon, when there was no one around, a truck pulled up next to the boat. A couple got out, and they walked around the boat. Eventually, the man climbed up the ladder and started carrying personal things off the boat. The woman went back and sat in the truck for hours.

I wandered over to say hello and congratulations. But as I got close to the man, I realized that congratulations were not in order.

He looked like he was about to cry.

The boat’s name was Fresh Breeze. She was his dream boat. She’d been in this very spot for 18 years.

The man’s name was Ken, and we sat and talked about how it happened. The dream and the boat came first, and then the marriage to someone who was afraid of sailing.

Over 18 years, the tree grew taller than her mizzen mast
Over 18 years, the tree grew taller than her mizzen mast and was home to many birds
When I asked how long it had been since he’d been out to work on the boat, he couldn’t remember. “A couple of years, I guess.”

From the evidence, it looked more like ten.

He pointed to the tree beside her. “That thing blocked my view of the water, so I cut it down a couple of times.” The tree was now taller than the mizzen mast, over 30 feet tall.

It started with a friend who had a sailboat. Ken recounted their adventures in the waters around Pamlico Sound like it was yesterday. Then he decided to buy his own boat and fix her up. He couldn’t wait to take his friend out sailing. At first, he came every weekend, puttering and painting. Then every other weekend. Then every few months. Years passed. Now his friend has died, and Ken can never take him sailing.

As his wife sat in the truck, I helped Ken grieve his dream. That dream was alive as long as he owned the boat and paid the monthly storage bill, even when the portlights fell in and the water poured out through the shrunken timbers. We didn’t speak of that. We talked about the places where he wanted to sail, and how much fun it is to anchor in remote places away from other people.

Eventually, Ken started to ask me about Flutterby, and my sailing dream. At the time, we had been hauled out for nearly three years, overwhelmed by the magnitude of our refit. The difference was, Barry and I were working together. Ken derived some comfort from the fact that some women do have a sailing dream, that we want to fix up boats and go cruising, too. His wife hadn’t been able to do that, but it was apparent that he loved her and was glad for the time they’d spent with their grandchildren.

He told me that the love of his family turned out to be more important than his sailing dream. He said it with awe, as if he was realizing it as he spoke.

A few days later, a boat-transport company came and carefully loaded Fresh Breeze onto a truck to go to the movie studio in Wilmington. I talked with Ken again that day, and he was doing better. He gave me lots of encouragement. As a matter of fact, we splashed Flutterby only about a week later.

Getting the grand old lady ready for her last voyage
Getting the grand old lady ready for her last voyage

I got tears in my eyes as I thought about Fresh Breeze, who will never be launched. People like Ken want us to carry the torch and live the dream for them. They’ve gotten called away by other responsibilities — work, family, other interests. But I can’t live someone else’s dream, only my own. I get called away, too, and I have no regrets about that. My family and friends are more important, too.

Now Ken’s lovely belle is going to be a movie star, and in a strange twist of fate, she just might inspire someone else’s sailing dream. Her parts are being used in a movie called “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” Film star Michael Caine plays a grandfather stranded on an island.

If even one young movie-goer is inspired by the movie to take up sailing, it will be a fitting end to the life of Fresh Breeze. We’ll never know who they are, but they will be carrying the torch for Ken, and all the others whose sailing dreams never came true.

Classic long, sweeping overhangs
Classic long, sweeping overhangs
The old and the new: Flutterby's masts through Fresh Breeze's portlights
The old and the new: Flutterby's masts through Fresh Breeze's portlights

Random thoughts from the boatyard

I’ve spent another week in the boatyard working on a few projects, and have a few observations to share.

1. I loved my first 3M full-face respirator to death, and just got a new one to love. This time it came equipped with peril-sensitive sunglasses.  I think anyone entering the boatyard for a long haulout should be so equipped.

2.  Even though I am pretty hardcore as a do-it-myself person, it is still impressive to see professionals at work.  This pic doesn’t show how close the travelift actually got to Flutterby when they took our neighbor away.  I never was worried, although I did watch intently.

3. When the going gets tough…the professionals have more tools in their toolbox. I hired the yard to change my cutlass bearing. The job is going pretty smoothly, but they found that the shaft coupling just didn’t want to come off the prop shaft.  I heard Dale muttering about needing something else to finish this job, a socket or something.  Then he mentioned all-thread.  Since his head was in the engine room along with his torso, I didn’t quite get it, and couldn’t even see exactly what the problem was.  Off he went to get something or other, and then he returned and dove back into the engine room. When they left for lunch half-way through, I got in and had a chance to see what they were doing.  Makes perfect sense, but I would have spent a lot more time figuring it out than Dale did.

4. I need to work more on “good enough.”  Problems like a rudder post that somehow gets water inside it and the tiller arm being a little sloppy where it attaches to the rudder can be thought on and worked on for AGES. My best bet is to let a project like this sit while I do other things, and ask various people what they think is a good idea.

Back in the saddle again

Flutterby left the boatyard almost a year ago, and we started cruising. Sure, we did some projects underway like mounting the oarlocks on the dinghy. Sure, we did even more projects while we stayed at Vero Beach over the winter and spring–We sewed sails and bought and mounted solar panels. But we weren’t hauled out, and more importantly, we weren’t in project mode.

We brought Flutterby back to the boatyard in June, “summerized” her, and drove west.

A week ago, we returned to Flutterby. Yesterday, I dropped Margaret off at the airport; she’s going to Florida to help her Dad through open-heart surgery, and I’ve got a couple weeks to do boat projects.

Finally, for the first time in months, I opened my to-do list, a dozen pages in an Excel spreadsheet. Some things were irrelevant. Some were completed months ago. I crossed those off. I tried to remember all the things I had listed when Margaret asked what we had to do before we could launch again.

Then I went outside with a couple wrenches and took out the bolts holding the tiller arm onto the rudder. I scraped loose the 3M-101 goop that I could get off, then forced the thing away from the rudder. Now it is off, and only a little sticky residue remains. After I clean it up I’ll be making it fit higher so that the steering cables don’t make that AWFUL gritching noise when it hangs up between the quadrant on the tiller arm and the turning blocks.

If this is enough adjustment, I won’t have to adjust the angle of those turning blocks too. Wish me luck on that one.

I’m sure that half of the people reading this are wishing I could have described an exciting job. But moving the boot stripe on the rudder is a later project, so exciting things like sanding, prepping, masking, and painting … repeat … repeat … repeat … will have to wait.

For now, the important thing is that I’m back to working on Flutterby!

Preparing to meet Irene

Hurricane Irene is now heading directly for our boat, which is our only home. She’s just north of Morehead City, North Carolina:

But we are three thousand miles away, on our way to Burning Man tomorrow. For the next 12 days, we’ll be incommunicado with 50,000 of our closest friends.

What should we do?

Not this: “When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”

Instead, this: Practice non-attachment.

Sure, we’ve done some preparation. We left the boat on the hard in one of the best boatyards in the country. We removed everything from the deck before we left. A good friend has secured the dinghy so it won’t fly or float away. Another has agreed to check on the boat once the storm passes.

There’s nothing more we can do, physically. All the work now is mental and emotional. The worst thing that can happen is not damage to our boat, but pain or injury to dear friends who live in the path of the storm.

It’s just a matter of perspective. I lost my brother this year. Losing a boat would be nothing compared to that. A mere scratch to my psyche.

So I wait to see what happens, and I send calming thoughts to my friends in the path of the storm. I head to Burning Man with the knowledge that an entire city can be built and removed in the space of a week.

Flutterby has been “totaled” in a hurricane before. She was built and rebuilt, and rebuilt, and rebuilt. She can be repaired and rebuilt again, and we have the skills to do so. I’d gladly rebuild her again if I could have my brother back. As I often say, “It’s only stuff.”

Hurricane Irene: Keep it in perspective. Stay safe. And keep breathing.


There oughta be a rule

Vero Beach is a very clean, pristine little town. Careful zoning prevents high-rises as well as any other ugliness. There are large, beautifully-landscaped homes owned by wealthy retirees as well as tidy smaller ones, where the hard-working younger set lives.

In addition to these neighborhoods, there are gated communities, protected from unwelcome riff-raff by fences and walls. These condo communities have additional rules to prevent unsightliness and untoward behavior by their own residents: No rollerblading. No pickup trucks. No open garage doors. Speed limit 10 mph. No soliciting. No one under 55. Pool chairs must be completely covered by a towel. No pets.

So how did these two grubby sailors from Flutterby, who are used to living in a boatyard, fare in pristine Vero Beach for five months?

We stayed in compliance easily, because nobody had thought to write rules about the things Meps and Barry will do.

One day, the neighbors found the front yard of Dad’s house completely full of soggy camping and kayaking gear. It was spread across the bushes, and Barry had tied clotheslines between the palm trees and the garage for our dripping jackets and pants. These remnants of a messy and disastrous Everglades camping trip were just a harbinger of the chaos to come.

Meps and Barry with all their kayak gear in Dad's front yard
Looks like a garage sale!

Luckily, nobody had written a rule against our soggy gear display. There is probably a rule agasint drying laundry, but it was not enforced.

Next, we tested the waters with a small project, refinishing the oars for the dinghy. I took them over to Dad’s backyard one afternoon. He wandered out of the house to see what I was doing, and he pulled up a chair to watch as I set up my sanding station. There were no sawhorses, so I compromised by propping the oars across a couple of folding chairs. Then I got out my random orbital sander and my red earmuff-style hearing protection. The sander is LOUD, especially since its bearings are in bad shape after all the fiberglass we’ve used it on.

Before I put the earmuffs on, I said to Dad, “I’m going to make a lot of noise now. You might want to go back inside.” “That’s OK,” he responded, “I’m way over here.” He was all of six feet away.

I just shook my head and started up the sander. The noise and sawdust didn’t phase him at all, and he kept me company until I finished the first oar.

Evidently, the project didn’t phase the neighbors, either. I’d just proven that his gated complex could handle a little bit of sanding, Meps-style.

After the oars were sanded, we suspended them in the garage and painted them with multiple coats of epoxy and paint. I worried that the fumes might get into the house, but it was well-sealed. None of the neighbors complained about that, either.

Then we went shopping with our friend Ann, and on top of her big Mothball van, we piled enough plywood and dimensional lumber to build a freestanding wooden lofting floor in the garage. All the sawing, screwing, and hammering still didn’t raise the ire of any neighbors, although Dad started grumbling about the loss of his garage for the car.

Plywood lofting floor leaning against the wall of the garage
The lofting floor, ready to lay down

Over the next weeks, Barry set up first one, then two sewing machines in the garage. He made paper patterns and transferred them to fabric. Then he stitched them into sails, working late into the night. He closed the garage door at night to keep mosquitoes at bay, which helped keep us in compliance with the no-open-garage-door ruling. We were pushing that one.

We admired Mothball so much, Ann left the van in our care while she sailed her boat north to Maine. That was wonderful serendipity, allowing us to move vanloads of battens and yards across town without renting a truck. The longest battens are 18 feet, and they only stuck out of the van eight feet!

But surely, in the next phase, the neighbors would complain. They hadn’t written any rules against sanding aluminum or doing epoxy jobs in the driveway, but they probably should have. Any time you see your neighbor wearing a full-face respirator, he’s probably doing something he shouldn’t.

White van with 8 feet of aoluminum pipe sticking out the back
Mothball, ready to roll

By now, the neighbors were blase about the stuff happening at Dad’s normally quiet, tidy house. They didn’t peer curiously into the garage any more when they walked their completely controlled pets on leashes. I’m sure there’s a rule about that. I wonder if that’s why one woman walks her cat on a leash.

Finally, all the irritating, rule-breaking projects were done. I posted a couple of ads on Craigslist and Freecycle, and obliging people came and took away all the lumber. One man was building chicken coops, and the other was building rabbit hutches. I doubt Vero Beach allows such critters; they probably came from outside the city limits.

We returned the borrowed sewing machine to our friend Linda. We loaded the tools, paint, and epoxy into plastic bins that would fit aboard the boat, along with the carefully-folded sails. The sewing table we carried back inside.

Then we stood back and looked at the garage, ready for Dad’s car.

There was no sign of the mess or noise that had completely taken over for almost three months. In fact, the garage looked better than before we’d arrived! Barry had installed a couple of ladder hangers for working on the battens. Now Dad’s ladder was neatly stored on them, instead of leaning precariously against the wall.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

We had made a BIG mess, and we had cleaned up all of it. This was in keeping with the biggest rule of all. Not a Vero Beach rule, or a condo complex rule, but a family rule: Do not mess up Dad’s house.

Someday, Dad will see our picture on the front of a sailing magazine. He can show his friends, saying “Look! These sails were made in my garage.” I have my fingers crossed that he’ll conveniently forget the sawdust and noise and chaos, and just remember my favorite part: How much we enjoyed his company for five months, the messiest Snowbirds in Vero Beach.

Barry sitting on the floor surrounded by white fabric
Barry sewing the mizzen sail
Barry sitting in the garage, bike and car in background
The car is outside, bikes and sewing machines are in
Margaret attaching tape to batten pockets
Meps at work in the garage
Barry carrying a piece of plywood out of the garage
Taking the floor apart to give the lumber away
Barry holding a stack of folded sails
The end result of all that mess

Time for some new junk

Flutterby junk rig drawing

I first had a dream of building a junk rigged sailboat almost twenty years ago.  For the last four years I’ve been planning to build a junk rig for Flutterby–even before we had looked at her as a possible boat to buy.

Since we arrived in Vero Beach at Christmas, my job has been to design some sails to put on her.  OK, there have been many other things to do, including designing and installing a solar power system  Now I’ve pretty much run out of rig design questions to chase my own tail around, and I’ve got a design good enough to show off to other junk rig designers. I don’t know how many of our readers are junk rig designers, but you can still see what we plan to put up on Flutterby.

For those who are interested, there are some additional files you can look at:  (more detailed specs and drawing for 8-panel version shown) (specs and drawing for 7-panel variation) (Flutterby’s original cat ketch rig)  If you do have any ideas about how this might work, talk to me soon, as I hope to be ordering parts and starting construction by the end of the month!

A little dinghy

What's that white thing on the dock? A shoebox, a bookshelf, or a boat?

On the big day, when we launched Flutterby, I didn’t pour all the champagne over the bow. There was some left in the bottle, so a bunch of us went down the dock to where a little wooden shoebox, about six feet long, sat waiting. Kris and Barry picked it up and dangled it down to the water by its painter, letting it down with a  splash. Way, way down there in the water below the high dock, it looked for all the world like an abandoned piece of furniture. Somebody tossed a couple of wooden oars into the shoebox-bookshelf, and then they all turned to me, expectantly.


There it floated, nine years in the making, waiting for the builder to test it. I felt like the ancient Roman bridge designer who had to stand under his bridge when the first load went across. What if I was too heavy? What if it flipped, or worse yet, slowly sank? I could hear the blub-blub-blub in my imagination. But it’s amazing what adrenaline and an audience can do. White-knuckled, I climbed down the ladder into the tiny vessel that I had given birth to from a pile of plywood.

I was still hanging onto the ladder with a death grip when Barry handed me the bottle of champagne.

It felt like a toy boat, something that should be christened with Kool-Aid. But I wanted the gods of the sea to take this thing seriously, so I poured champagne over the “bow.” (Since the boat doesn’t have a pointy end, it’s a little hard to tell which is the front and which is the back. It would probably row just fine sideways, if I mounted the oars that way.)

“I christen thee Flutterwent!” The name was Kris’ idea. It rolls off the tongue better than Flagondry or Rockcoach, two bug-based Spoonerisms that sound a lot worse than Flutterby.

Before I knew it, Barry was climbing off the dock to join me in the boat, I think because I had the bottle of champagne. Or maybe because he wanted to swamp it and go swimming. Surely this thing was not rated for two adults, was it? Thank goodness the Coast Guard wasn’t around to see the open container in an overloaded vessel with no lifejackets.

But she didn’t ship any water when he climbed in. We sat there, facing each other, grinning, and passing the champagne bottle back and forth. Meanwhile, the current was carrying us away from the dock. Whoops! Time to do something about that!

Using ridiculous 7-foot oars as giant paddles, we paddled through the marina and over to the ways, where Flutterby awaited us. The scariest part was getting back out again! I didn’t know how stable it was, but I knew how stable I was — not very. I guess the adrenaline got me out of the boat as well as into it, although by now most of our audience had lost interest and wandered off for happy hour. I was already plenty happy.

You might be wondering, why would anyone use such a strange-looking, tiny dinghy? Normal cruisers go back and forth from their boats in stock gray inflatables with stock outboard motors. Why not the Flutterbies?

For years, Barry wanted to build a 34-foot sailboat with me. This terrified me, because I was afraid of power tools. I’d had an accident in college with a bandsaw and nearly ended up eight-fingered Meps.

In 2001, our housemate, Sharonne, signed up for a beginning woodworking class. For the first four weeks, the students built toolboxes using a table saw, joiner, planer, biscuit-cutter, and sander. For the remainder of the class, they worked on their own projects. At the end of ten weeks, Sharonne proudly brought home the toolbox and a tall bookshelf that she had built with her own hands.

I signed up for the next session and built the same toolbox. Then the teacher sat down with the class and told us we were free to start on our own projects. He went around the room and asked each person to say what they wanted to build. “A CD rack,” said one. “Toys for my grandchildren,” said another.

I never checked to see if the toolbox would float. It would make a great dinghy for the dinghy.

When he reached me, I said, “A boat.”

“A toy boat?” asked the teacher.

“No, a real one.”

The rest of the class stared at me.

“This is Woodworking One. You can’t build a boat on Woodworking One,” said the teacher, with a smirk.

“Don’t you remember Sharonne, from last term? She built a bookshelf. I promise my boat will be just like a bookshelf.” He rolled his eyes and made me stay after class to convince me that I couldn’t build a boat.

The following week, I showed him the plans. Phil Bolger’s Tortoise dinghy looks a lot like a floating bookshelf, so he reluctantly permitted me to start. A couple of months later, Barry and I loaded my plywood dinghy on top of Peepcar and brought it home. I’d done the final assembly in Woodworking Two, with a more encouraging instructor.

The good news was, I still had all my fingers. (So did the instructor from Woodworking One, who’d nearly run his hand through the table saw helping me cut the framing.) The bad news was, it wasn’t a boat yet.

It was a thing of beauty, constructed of luan plywood with pine framing and copper ring nails. For the first year, it sat on our back porch. For the next five, it hung in my in-laws’ garage.

I was proud of my accomplishment, so I told people that I’d built a boat. But whenever Barry heard me say that, he’d correct me. “No, you didn’t. It’s not finished.”

In 2008, I painted it with epoxy resin to protect the wood, and we tied it on top of the Squid Wagon. We drove from Seattle to Flutterby in Beaufort, North Carolina, via San Diego, with that tiny, funny-looking boat on top of the van.

The ant and the elephant along the California coast (April 2008)

It looked like an ant on top of an elephant. All the way across the USA, we got reactions like the guy with the toothpick in his mouth who sauntered over to Barry, not noticing me nearby. “What is that?” he asked. “Some kind of storage pod?” “No,” said Barry, “It’s a boat.” The guy looked more closely and said, “Oh.”

Then Barry added, “My wife built it.” The guy cracked up laughing. He thought it was the punchline to a really funny joke.

The epoxy wasn’t UV-resistant, and by the time we crossed the country, it already needed sanding and painting. We didn’t have anywhere to store it out of the weather, so we rented a 5×7 storage unit and stuffed it inside, using it to store other items — just like a bookshelf!

For another two and a half years, when I said, “I built a boat,” Barry said, “No, you haven’t.” I’d glare at him. Couldn’t he just shut up?

That was getting really irritating, so last summer, I took the poor neglected dinghy out and put it under Flutterby. It was time to finish it, a job only I could do. If I let Barry help me, then, when I said “I built a boat,” he’d still have an excuse to correct me. “No, you didn’t. We built a boat.”

My sawhorses sat on some turf with boatbuilding history. Between 1983 and 1995, Bock Marine built and launched over 30 boats in that spot, including the 122-foot White Dove Too. Like the WDT, my dinghy was brought from another location and completed on that hallowed ground. But there are some differences. Their ships were steel, launched using a dramatic side-launching technique (this is a hilarious photo of people running from the splash) instead of our painter-dangling end-launching technique. I calculated the ratio of length-to-time-under-construction: At 6.5 feet and 9 years, Flutterwent’s ratio was 505. Knocking out a couple of 85-footers a year, Bock’s was 2.1.

I finished the dinghy in the heat of the summer, using all the woodworking, epoxy, fiberglass, and painting skills I learned on Flutterby. While I was working, I wore headphones and hearing protection. Not because of the power tools, but because I was tired of all the men in the boatyard wandering over to stare. I was tired of explaining that I was not building a hard dodger to cover the companionway.

When I was done, I said to Barry, “I built a boat.” Then he hugged me instead of correcting me.

It still wasn’t completely done, having no means of propulsion. But it’s past midnight, and I am done for tonight! Tiny boat, big story. I’ll put the photo essay below and save the rest for another time.

Barry and Kris drop the dinghy into the water, stern-first. "Yikes! Who's got the painter?"
With nerves of steel, I step into the floating box. Ted, who has launched many dinghies, was there to help, and Barry had the painter and the champagne.
You can tell from my hand that I am afraid to move, for fear it will sink or tip over.
Margaret Meps Schulte christens her Tortoise dinghy
I haven't sunk yet. And I have the champagne. So I'm smiling.
Oh no! Here comes Barry to see if he can swamp my dinghy.
As the current carries us away from safety, I say, "You want some of this?"
Giggling, we pick up the oars and paddle into the sunset. She tracks like a shoebox instead of a soapdish.
Getting out is trickier than getting in. Barry made sure the champagne bottle was safe, but I think it was empty by now.
Barry and Meps with Meps' Tortoise dinghy
Whee! Barry has fun scooting under Flutterby's bow line. At 6-1/2 feet long, the Tortoise dinghy is just long enough for a nice nap.

Photographic memory

Paparazzi: It’s not something I ever expected to experience. I’m no celebrity, let alone a beautiful one.

Flutterby, though, is a beautiful lady. So on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 30th, when we finally launched her, there was a veritable army of friends and photographers on the dock.

We woke up before first light that morning, knowing it was going to be a Big Day. First, there was a lot of work to do, like sorting docklines and fenders (and dealing with the icky nest of giant cockroaches in the box with them), completing the steering installation, and emptying and cleaning the fuel tank (also icky, but the ick didn’t move as fast as the giant cockroaches).

Suddenly, it was time to launch — and to be celebrities. For from 2:04 pm, when the Travelift roared to life and headed in our direction, to 3:05 pm, Flutterby was the subject of more photos on more cameras than I’ve ever faced at once. There were over 100 photos taken of and by us in 61 minutes.

Unfortunately, I had not dressed for a Big Day. I was wearing my usual unflattering boatyard clothes, which I hated with a passion. I planned to throw them in the dumpster before leaving the boatyard. Now I wish I’d done so before launching, as they are immortalized in all the photos. (A few days later, I gleefully tossed the pants, shirt, and shoes into the dumpster, keeping only the socks and underwear. Kris’ pants were disposed of in a more interesting fashion. More on that later.)

The entire experience was a blur. Was it hot, cold, or windy? Did it rain? Dale and Richard are wearing foulies in the photos, but I don’t remember weather hampering our efforts. Who was behind all those cameras on the dock? Did I eat anything that day? From the photographic evidence, I suspect we ate tortillas, carrots, pork rinds, and chocolate. (Not at the same time — I’d remember THAT.) I do remember the champagne. It was definitely not consumed at the same time as the pork rinds.

When the excitement was over, we floated serenely in the ways, leaving an empty space where our boat — and our hearts — had been for years.

Photos are below (on the web)…but not all of them.

Thankfully, nobody but the crew could see inside the boat -- what a disaster!
In the morning, Kris polished steering hardware while I got fenders ready (the cockroaches moved too fast for pictures).
One last picture of our home on the hard. Alex Baker had put the Flutterby logo on in the dark the night before.
Eek! The Travelift is coming and we're not ready!
Dale maneuvers the Travelift into position. This is a man you can trust to be careful with any boat.
Kenny guides the Travelift into place between Bulldog and our Gulfstar neighbor. The whole time we were here, work on the Gulfstar had ceased because the owner is fighting cancer.
Kris, in the infamous Tweetie sweatshirt, stands ready with bottom paint, brush, and gloves to paint the last bits.
Kenny Bock and Rich crouch under Flutterby to put the straps on. I spent a lot of time crouching under the boat, so I know this area well.
Flutterby flies! She's lifted off the blocks for the first time in 2-1/2 years.
An army at work on last jobs -- Ted watches, Barry lowers the centerboard, and the other 4 fuss with our zinc.
'A bigger brush would have been nice,' said Kris, as he repainted the centerboard at the last minute. I thought he was just going to touch up the keel where the blocks were.
Dale said our zinc didn't have enough clearance, so he took it off and filed it down to fit. Next time, we'll use a donut zinc.
Where did Flutterby go?
A little 2-person parade, dancing along behind the Travelift. I wish we'd had music for this part!
An exuberant girl with her boat
Dale backs into the ways, the Flutterby logo behind him.
Lowering Flutterby down into the water.
Flutterby's centerboard touches the water. We literally had grown roots on the hard -- there were weeds growing in the centerboard trunk.
Flutterby, floating in her native element at last.
Meps celebrates with Randy, whose smiling face had greeted us in this same spot when we hauled out in 2007.
There were many photos of the christening. Ted's version, with captions, is the BEST. He printed this out and posted it in the lounge. (click to enlarge)

The man in the magic pants

Lottery prizes come in many sizes. There are little wins, just enough to buy another scratch ticket. A medium-sized win of a couple hundred bucks feels pretty good and might pay for a weekend getaway. Then there are the big ones, the Mega-Super-Millions kind, that turn your life upside down forever, but in a good way.

If you’ve ever had a friend bring you chicken soup when you were sick, you’ve won the Scratch-Ticket Friendship Lottery. About a week before Thanksgiving, Barry and I hit the Mega-Super-Millions Friendship jackpot.

At the New Bern Airport with the sign reading "Welcome, Kris! We love you!"

The grand prize in the Mega-Super-Millions Friendship Lottery is this: One of your favorite friends gets on a plane in Capetown, South Africa, and flies halfway around the world. He shows up at your boat, which is propped on jackstands and surrounded by a mess of tools and toxic chemicals, and asks, while unloading a suitcase full of gifts, “Have you left me something in the job-jar?”

Barry and I had known for months that Kris was coming to the US for a vacation, but his plans weren’t fixed. He had about a month to visit his boating friends on the east coast before rendezvousing with his family for a skiing vacation.

Kris is currently between boats, but says that his wife gives him “time off for good behavior” to mess about on friends’ boats. Since everybody who meets Kris likes Kris, he has lots of friends with lots of different boats. On this trip, he started up in Connecticut in early November and boat-hopped his way down to Annapolis. Then he caught a plane to the tiny New Bern airport, where we picked him up. We were standing outside the door of the airport (I told you it was tiny — it only HAS one door) with a giant sign that said, “Welcome, Kris! We love you!”

That first evening, the three of us visited friends in two different New Bern marinas, then trooped over to Cap’n Ratty’s, a New Bern icon, for a celebratory dinner. Much later, we drove back to the boatyard, about an hour’s drive, and gave Kris a tour of Flutterby. He made a nest for himself on the port settee, which affords the most privacy but is a bit narrow for comfortable sleeping. At the time, the headliners weren’t installed, so his bed companion was a roll of insulation, at least three feet tall and four feet in diameter.

At this point, some of you are probably wondering how three people can live on a 33-foot boat that that doesn’t have separate cabins and is crammed with boat parts, Barry’s tools, and Margaret’s accordion. The trick is something we call “implied privacy.” Your crewmate is changing clothes? Turn your back! He or she just farted in the head? Turn off your ears!

Those of us who have crewed on many boats have figured this out. Kris is an expert in all kinds of unusual living situations, both on land and at sea. He’s been crew and captain of plenty of boats, and has done several trans-Atlantic crossings.

Kris wearing his magic pants with the air-conditioned crotch and the infamous Tweetie sweatshirt.

So, on our first morning together, we figured out each others’ routines, made a few minor adjustments, and everything went smoothly. The three of us sat down in the cockpit for a crew meeting, to see what exactly was in that job-jar. Then Kris selected a Flutterby uniform, so he would fit in with the crew.

Flutterby’s boatyard uniforms were, for the most part, completely unflattering, hideous, and mismatched. Each component was marred by paint, expoxy, or unfortunate holes. The trousers selected by Kris sported all three, along with a button fly that frustrated him so much, he simply left it half-buttoned. I would have thought doing up all the buttons would help keep him warm, since he was already complaining about the unique patented air-conditioned crotch.

Something about those pants must have been magic, though. With Kris helping, we started getting 200% more work done.

Perhaps the magic was really in the trailer. Kris had been working with us for a day or so when he needed a tool that Barry didn’t have. “Take him over to the trailer,” Barry instructed me.

You might recall my earlier comment that Barry and I had become “Keepers of the Keys.” The most important keys that we watched over were the keys to Charlie’s trailer, which he’d brought down from Ohio to work on his boat. He had left it stored in the boatyard when family duties called him back to Ohio, almost a year ago. This was the same trailer in which Buttercup had given birth to kittens the prior year.

I didn’t give Kris much background on the trailer, just walked him over there and unlocked the door. He took in the table saw, the drill-press, the circular saw, and the vise. I pointed out some of the other tools — routers, sanders, drill bits, and hand tools. Then I left him to do the job.

He came back, a half hour later, his eyes wide and his voice hushed. “Ooooh — it’s like Aladdin’s Cave!” What Kris had discovered was actually Aladdin’s Man-Cave. Any tool that Barry lacked (not that there were many), Charlie had in that trailer. Between Kris’ efficiency and Charlie’s tools, each job was executed quickly and checked off the list (or pitched out of the job-jar).

Working together, Kris and Barry rebed stern cleats (Barry is folded like a contortionist inside the lazarette)
Kris repairs a crack in our rudder
Kris paints Flutterby's bottom

In just over a week, we were ready to launch Flutterby.

The three of us had: Replaced one hatch, reinforced and rebedded stern cleats and pushpit, reinstalled the binnacle and steering system, installed engine controls, sanded the bottom, painted it with epoxy barrier coat and bottom paint, discovered and repaired a problem with the rudder, and cleaned the fuel tank.

Regarding that last job, I should not say “we.” Some of you might recall that I am an experienced fuel-tank cleaner, having practically crawled into the diesel tank on Kris’ boat to clean it before we went to the Bahamas in 2007. I do not shy from what might be considered the nastiest, most uncomfortable, smelliest, job in the jar. But Kris seemed to think that one good turn deserves another, so this time, he cleaned MY fuel tank. Bless his heart. That’s like another million in the Mega-Super-Millions Friend Lottery.

Along with all this work, we’d also enjoyed a bit of local color and celebrated Thanksgiving. On the holiday, we worked all day and went to the Backstreet Pub at dusk for their annual potluck. Although I was sore in new and unexpected places from crawling around under the boat with a paint roller, I was soaring. I wanted to shout, “WOO HOO! EVERYBODY! I PUT BOTTOM PAINT ON MY BOAT TODAY!!!!!” But I stayed quiet, knowing that nobody at the pub would understand my elation. “Yeah, sure, pass the cranberry sauce, will ya?”

Kris stirs the bottom paint on Thanksgiving Day
Barry and I painted the hard-to-reach parts. I only got a little epoxy paint in my hair.
Barry and I painted the hard-to-reach parts. I only got a little epoxy paint in my hair.

Despite all this talk of a job-jar, the real Flutterby list was on the computer, in Excel. Every to-do item that Barry and I could think of was in that file. A big red line separated the must-do-before-splash items from the rest of them.

The wonderful thing about Kris wasn’t just the third set of hands, it was the third, more experienced, brain. We’d been immersed in our giant set of projects so long, we sometimes lost sight of the goal. It was great to have him point out the jobs that didn’t need to be done right now. Those jobs were “below the line,” and some of them got deleted forever.

Finally, on November 30, there was nothing left “above the line.”

It was time to splash.

One good turn deserves another - Kris cleans my fuel tank, 2010
One good turn deserves another - I clean Kris' fuel tank, 2007