Category Archives: Rebuilding Boats

The other half of gettin’ there is goin’

Mercy, mercy, I do declare,
If half the fun of goin’ is-a gettin’ there,
Mercy, Percy, you better start rowin’,
‘Cause the other half of gettin’ there is goin’.

— From “Old Fat Boat” by Gordon Bok

It’s amazing how swiftly life turns upside-down, and suddenly, you’re zooming down a new path (OK, maybe “zooming” is not quite the word at 5 knots). While it feels great to be on a boat that is floating, and in Florida no less, I can’t believe it’s not a dream. I keep thinking I’ll wake to the morning roar of the Travelift any minute now.

As our friends on Panta Rhei recently pointed out, “your website doesn’t tell the final chapters of the haul out story.” Perhaps if I put some of those events down on paper, it will seem less surreal.

When Barry and I returned to the boat in October for what turned out to be the final assault on the mountainous to-do list, our lives changed substantially. The reason was this: We had left the Squid Wagon on the west coast and were now living ten miles from town without our own car. This was not as onerous as it sounds, because there were lots of interesting vehicles available for us to borrow.

Beginning in 2008, Barry and I somehow had become the “keepers of the keys.” A number of cruising friends had asked us to watch over their stored vehicles, and at one point in 2009, we had 9 sets of keys on the boat! We even got to deliver some vehicles to and from exotic locales with unusual side benefits (the trip to St. Augustine in Wind Lore’s Camry netted us the only Britney Spears song in our collection).

As a result, we’d learned from our friends’ experiences that for cruisers, owning a car can be a bother. At one point, our friends on Ocean Gypsy were on the boat in Connecticut and had one car at Bock’s and another at the train station in Rocky Mount. They’d spent four days and many dollars moving a car to follow the boat — two days of driving one way, two days of riding the train the other way, plus hotel stays along the way. At that point, Ted called us out of the blue, and the conversation began with the usual, “Where are you?” “We’re in Raleigh, looking for a way back to Beaufort. Where are you?” “We’re in Essex, but we left a car near Raleigh!” It was a little miracle that got us back to the boat, with wheels, and saved them yet another day of car-ferrying.

So we started working on the “list” again. I was depressed, because we still didn’t know how long the work would take. Then my Dad called at the end of October with even more depressing news. His eye doctor had found something suspicious during a checkup. A second opinion with a super-specialist was scheduled for December, but the doctor wanted him to prepare for eye surgery — and total blindness during recuperation — in January.

Barry splices the anchor rode

I put the question to Barry. Could we launch the boat and motor to Florida by January, in order to serve as floating caregivers? While Dad was recuperating, we could even use his garage to make our sails.

Barry choked a bit, then agreed. Suddenly, we had a deadline — one month to get the boat moving! Yikes!

The news spread through the boatyard like wildfire. People started coming up to us, saying, “Is it really true? That you’re going to launch your boat after all these years?” Emotions ranged from congratulatory to incredulous to accusatory. “Traitors! You’re not really going to leave us, are you?”

The truth was, the engine work was done. The major fiberglass work was done. Nine portlights and two hatches were replaced. The masts were up, their lightning protection systems installed. Rewiring, replumbing, new bilge pumps — done. The ground tackle was ready to go.

What was keeping us here, besides inertia, was a bunch of projects, but nothing we didn’t know how to do. Paint the bottom, replace another hatch, rebed the stern rail. Reassembling the steering and engine controls would be tricky, but Barry wasn’t intimidated. What did intimidate him was dealing with the material “stuff” we had amassed during three years in Beaufort.

There was a section of our friend Kevin’s garage devoted to our “stuff.” More “stuff” was arranged in piles and bins around our keel. Until Ocean Gypsy arrived, we even had some “stuff” (an enormous but lightweight roll of insulation) stored in the back of Ted’s car!

The stuff in Kevin's garage seemed like it would never fit on the boat

We began tackling the projects and the “stuff” with an unbelievable amount of loving patience towards each other. The pressure was immense, but now that the path was clear, we were able to get up at dawn and stay focused all day long. This was partly due to the fact that a connector on our wi-fi antenna had chafed through, so we no longer had internet on the boat! In order to check e-mail or order parts, we had to walk about a block to the lounge with a laptop. I stopped logging into Facebook every day. Barry stopped reading Sluggy Freelance.

Our boatyard friends were encouraging. “Keep your chin up!” said Audrey. “You’ll be launching your ship soon, and it will be EPIC!” said Logan. Friends from afar sent their encouragement in emails. “…congrats on moving forward with the boat… I look forward to hearing about the journey down the ICW,” wrote Nancy, from Seattle. “You aren’t burnt out, are you?” wrote Kris, from Capetown.

With the loss of our sailing mentor, Bill Brown, in October (who once told us, “Living aboard in a boatyard has gotta be the postgrad course in tolerance.”), Kris was the single most encouraging friend we had. Since we met in a Lunenburg laundromat in 2004, the three of us have had a number of fun times together, either messing about on boats or talking about messing about on boats. In October, Kris sent us this encouraging message: “Check the job-jar, keep looking till it’s empty, shake the jar to make sure it’s empty, and start singing ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ ….. Something will happen soon, I promise!”

He was right — something happened soon. I’ll tell you what in Part Two, tomorrow.

The Fellowship of Pirates

Now that we’re out cruising, I have a little time to review old writing notes and find stories to share with you. Here’s one from October in the boatyard, with a special treat — a video!

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was walking across the boatyard one morning when I saw a pirate.

I rubbed my eyes, but the image persisted. He was standing on the catamaran named Fellowship, which for years had sat forlornly out in the boneyard. Now Fellowship was parked smack dab in the middle of the yard, in the spot normally reserved for the crane.

At this distance, he was the spitting image of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean — shoulder-length black curly hair, black goatee, red bandana, black leather boots, black eye makeup, torn jeans, and something that I would call a “blouse.”

Women wear blouses. So do movie star pirates.

I went into the office, where Carolyn was staring out the window with a look that could only be called “flabbergasted.” I probably had the same look.

“Er, what’s with the pirate?” I asked.

She shook her head. “He says he’s going to buy that boat.”

Now the pirate was hoisting a large black flag with a skull and crossbones that said “Choose Your Poison.” He had a huge grin on his face.

“Is he legit?” I asked.

“I don’t know — I told him he needed to talk to Kenny. The guy said he’d be over on that boat, and he said, ‘Tell him to look for the pirate!'” Carolyn rolled her eyes, and I couldn’t help but giggle.

Carolyn added, “He FLOUNCED. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man flounce like that.”

Over the next few days, all the boatyard gossip was about the mysterious, dramatic pirate: “Instead of hello, he says ‘Ahoy!'” — “I saw him take down his pirate flag at night, like an ensign.” — “He calls all the boats ‘ships.'” — “He told me he’s more of a Disney pirate.”

The first time the pirate spoke to me, I was sitting in the lounge with my laptop. The door opened, and he walked in carrying a strangely familiar kerosene lantern. This was completely anachronistic, since he went straight to the new high-tech Coke machine, with its illuminated display and fancy purple lights. “Ahoy!” he said by way of greeting. Like several of the older denizens of the yard, I ignored him. We were all afraid of losing our composure and laughing uncontrollably if we spoke to him.

The pirate turned out to be a fairly industrious man by the name of Logan. (“Sheesh, that’s no name for a pirate,” I grumbled.) Even though it was his first boat, he was able to get her launched in about a month. Folks in the boatyard provided him with lots of well-meaning advice. He listened politely, like a traditional Disney pirate, and then did things his own way, like a traditional scurvy knave.

Eventually, Logan-the-pirate started hanging out at Happy Hour. He had a grandiose scheme for Fellowship. He was going to paint her black — black hull AND black deck  — and have black sails made. He planned to mount cannons. Then he was going to offer pirate charters aboard his “ship.” Her new name: The Black Lotus.

When I heard the plan, all I could say was, “Brilliant!” Even if you are not a fan of things piratical (yes, we are talking about scoundrels who murdered, raped, and pillaged), it’s a clever business idea. Charter boats are a dime a dozen. But pirate-themed charter boats, with black sails and foot-scorching black decks? And Jack Sparrow impersonators and cannons? There will be only one of those. I know a couple of people who’d sign up in a heartbeat.

Once I gave up being a curmudgeon and started talking to Logan, I decided that I liked him a lot. He was full of infectious enthusiasm. After many years of sailing and a few years in the boatyard, I was losing sight of the goal — this stuff is supposed to be fun! So why not dress in crazy clothes and call “Ahoy!” to strangers? Why not carry a lantern instead of a flashlight? Why be “normal?”

The first time I actually had a conversation with Logan, a few of us were sitting around in the dark, talking and sharing libations. It was too dim to make out details; each person was just a shadowy figure and a voice. I mentioned something in passing about Burning Man, and Logan suddenly sat up.

Aha — another Burner in the boatyard!

This explains a few things. We Burners wear costumes even when it’s not Halloween. Hence me, in my pink-and-white bunny ears, carrying a hula hoop around the boatyard. And hence Logan, the Disney pirate carrying a kerosene lantern. (Which he says he ordered after seeing the ones used by Lamplighters at Burning Man!)

When Fellowship, soon to be the Black Lotus, left the dock, Barry and I were on hand with cameras. Logan-the-pirate was at the helm, grinning from ear to ear. A few moments later, as they approached the bridge, he turned the wheel over to his friend and made his way forward to the mast. Wearing his black leather pirate coat, he climbed the mast steps, some twenty feet to the spreaders. As promised, he danced an ecstatic little jig on the spreader, looking just like Jack Sparrow in the introductory scene of Pirates of the Caribbean — with one exception. Logan’s boat — er, ship — was not sinking.

Even pirates have to apply bottom paint to their ships
Who has more influence than a pirate? The boatyard owner who decides when to launch your boat. Here's Logan talking to Kenny Bock at the launching of the pirate ship.
Logan shows off his pirate ship on launching day

One last job

Well, we  have checked just about everything off our list of things to do to get the boat ready to head South.  OK, there are still a few small projects, but they are nothing compared to what we have already done.  Except for one last job.

Where's Waldo? Barry does one last job on Flutterby
Where's Waldo? Barry does one last job on Flutterby

We need to pack the boat for travel.

Alice down the rabbit hole

I feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. One minute, I was in my nice, cozy boat, on the hard, with the sturdy ladder leaning against the side. The next minute, I’m FLOATING. In water. My whole view on life has changed. No longer is the water “over there.” Now it’s “right here.”

Flutterby left the water on December 13, 2007, at 1421 hours. She returned to her native element on November 30, 2010, at 1448 hours. Our three-month project took us three years.

Watching our boat finally launched after three years
Flutterby floats gently on the water

After the launching, things got very exciting. Ted handed me a bottle of champagne, courtesy of Malla, who always knows how to do things right. Barry was already on the boat, checking the bilges and hauling up the centerboard. I clambered across the plank that Richard laid down, and we rechristened her by pouring (smashing is only for big ships) champagne over the bow.

“I christen thee Flutterby!”

When I looked up, there were about a dozen people on the dock and six cameras pointed at us. It was a very, very happy and exciting moment to share with the dear friends we’ve found here at Bock Marine. Kenny took some pictures for Nancy. Even Carolyn came out of the office to see us floating in the ways.

Now it’s quiet, except for the sound of water lapping against the hull. (And Kris snoring.)

Very soon now, we’ll be slipping our lines and heading south to Florida. So my trip down the rabbit hole continues. Or maybe I just feel that way because I’m going to be upside down in the lazarette for the next few days, stowing things for the trip.

Crew Wanted

In a recent post, I mentioned a boat hailing from HAMBURG – GER. There’s another boat here, with a similar name — for the purposes of this story, I’ll call it FRANKFURTER. For some reason, the owner doesn’t have a name; he goes by the name of the boat. We’ll call him “Frankfurter,” too.

For the past few years, Frankfurter and FRANKFURTER have gone south for the winter and returned to Bock to store the boat in the summers. The man always sets off with a crew of four: Himself, Jack, and two crew members he rounds up somehow, probably on the internet. Each year, Jack and Frankfurter return, sans crew.

Laid-back Jack laughs and shrugs, “He’s impossible. I’m the only one who can put up with him.”

This year, Jack wasn’t available, so Mr. Frankfurter rounded up three crew members on the internet. The first one to arrive was a very experienced sailor who worked diligently alongside the captain to make fiberglass repairs and paint the bottom. A few days later came a wide-eyed, clean-cut young man from Europe who didn’t have offshore experience, but was even harder-working than the first. By now, the first one had been driven to drink — I caught her hiding under FLUTTERBY one day, sneaking a drink from a pocket flask.

We told the first crew member, Ziga, that she need not drink alone. With that, she brought her sense of humor and excellent sea stories to the nightly happy hour gathering. She positioned her chair behind Jack’s keel, directly across from FRANKFURTER, so she could keep an eye on her boat without being seen by her captain.

One evening, she peered around Jack’s keel as her captain’s car returned from town. “Oooh, that’s our new crew member,” she said. “Captain’s really looking forward to this one. She’s a dominatrix.”

This took me by such surprise that I swallowed the wrong way and started coughing. Surely I’d heard that wrong? “What!?” I squeaked. Ziga explained, matter-of-factly, “A dominatrix. You know, whips and chains? The captain calls her ‘the fetish lady.'”

We all peeked around Jack’s keel as the captain — who rarely bathed, according to Jack —  helped a good-looking blonde woman out of the car. The young clean-cut crewman went to the trunk for her luggage. What he pulled out was not the usual sailor’s duffel bag, but a crate you could use for carrying chains and things made out of studded leather. There was something black dangling from her pocket. “Is that a whip?” I asked the group, ducking nervously out of sight.

It was a well-known fact that the captain didn’t dare stop at any port before Key West, for fear that his crew would jump ship. And so the betting began. Would the dominatrix and the clean-cut guy make it to Key West? Would Ziga make it through the winter with a captain who rarely bathed?

When FRANKFURTER was ready to go, several of us pressed our email addresses into Ziga’s hand. “Good luck. Let us know what happens. Please!”

The results were nothing short of spectacular. By that, I mean the three-page email we received from Ziga a few days later.

The email spread around the boatyard like wildfire and was forwarded to friends and cruisers all over the world. Her synopsis went like this: “Landlubber equivalent of this boat trip:  Drive an old car that is loaded with junk like the Beverly Hillbillies, with bald tires, faulty brakes and windshield wipers that only work when the sun is out.  And the driver really does not care which side of the road he drives on…..”

Before the boat had even left Beaufort inlet, it was taking on water uncontrollably, and they’d deployed the anchor and nearly lost it. From the email: “Hey, Captain, the bitter end of the anchor rode is not secure! DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter.”

Then the young clean-cut fellow was knocked overboard by the captain (the boat has no lifelines), and the PFDs were all buried under piles of junk. “Hey, Captain, can we clear some of this clutter and clear the decks? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter.”

Out in the ocean, they set a course for Key West. However, at one point, the captain accidentally started sailing north. The dominatrix fixed that, but the email didn’t say how. I suspect a whip was involved.

After the first day, Ziga wrote, “Told Captain that I was leaving the boat as soon as we reached shore.  Told him flat out that he was trying to kill me, and that just won’t do.” This is the woman who was planning to stay aboard all winter.

On page 2, she described how almost every part of the boat, including the charts and food, was soaked from leaks. Only the aft cabin was dry. On page 3, she wrote, “Aft cabin now mostly soggy, because Captain left the toilet on water intake….flooded his own boat. All three of us have now told Captain that we want off of the boat.”

The young clean-cut crew member had been incapacitated by seasickness the entire time, including 20 hours passed out in the aft cabin (before the captain flooded it with water from the toilet). Towards the end of the ordeal, when he perked up, Ziga wrote, “He is a charming fellow, when he does not have his head in the black bucket.  That bucket has been his constant companion for a long time.”

This paragraph just about sums it up:

“Engine died just after the sun set. Under the jib, can only sail 330 degrees, boat won’t turn any farther east. The Auto-pilot won’t completely release the wheel.  Heading way out into the Gulf Stream now, way, way off course. Cabin is trashed. Unsecured stuff crashing around everywhere. DONT WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter. Tools, knives and boat parts left wherever Captain sets them. This is the first boat I have ever sailed on where I have to wear shoes below decks, or risk serious injury.”

With a tragedy like this, the betting pool didn’t have a chance. We had argued over which crew members would make it to Key West, not whether or not they’d survive the first 84 hours. None of us expected the boat to issue a Mayday call and be rescued by the Coast Guard. No one bet that they’d be towed into Southport, a mere 100 miles from here.

According to Ziga, despite the loss of his crew and near-loss of his boat, the captain is committed to continuing on. What she didn’t say was how he would find more crew.

I know exactly what he’d say if I asked: DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Special thanks to Ziga for sharing the story and allowing me to excerpt it here. If you are ever looking for good crew, I’ll put you in touch with her. I have her email address…it’s at the top of that hilarious 3-page email message.

Messing about with boat … brokers

In the middle of the boatyard, across from the Travelift, is a nightly gathering we call “happy hour.” It’s a misnomer, because it lasts a lot longer than an hour. Sometimes, it goes on all night, in which case it should be called “happy hours.” (That reminds me, there was once a boat here by that name. That story will come later.)

One evening last week, when I was alone on the boat, I poured myself a beverage and decided to take it to Happy Hour. I hate to drink alone, even if it’s just orange juice.

The usual suspects were sitting in a circle under Jack’s boat, four or five guys who take turns filling a communal cooler with exceedingly cheap beer. All of them are either single or abandoned by their wives for the duration of the haulout. The appearance of a human with two X chromosomes changes the dynamic slightly, as they sit up a little straighter and stop making fart jokes.

On this particular evening, we saw Peter, of GALAXIE, walking across the boatyard lugging a heavy item. “That looks like an alternator,” I said. The usual suspects looked at me with respect. Two X chromosomes, and she can pick out an alternator a block away. (They don’t know about the time one got dropped on my hand and smashed my wedding ring. I had it cut off, because it was no longer finger-shaped. The ring, not the finger.)

When Peter reached our group, the usual suspects said, “Have a beer with us.” With a sigh of relief, he set the alternator on a sturdy stepstool at the edge of the circle.

Peter, whose homeport is HAMBURG – GER, has a heavy German accent and a twinkle in his eye. Soon, we were all recounting our best alternator horror stories with much hilarity.

Along came a boat broker, intrigued by this jovial — and loud — gathering. “You guys must not get much work done,” said the man, who wore neatly pressed khakis, leather boat shoes, and a shirt with a collar. There was not a single drop of paint or epoxy on him.

Now, I have nothing against boat brokers — some of my favorite people sell boats for a living — but his comment put my hackles up. There we were, tired and messy from a day of physical labor, and he strolls up and impugns our work ethic.

I scowled at him. “You may not realize it, sir, but you’ve interrupted a very important religious ceremony,” I said, sternly. I can be quite a dragon when I choose, although the bright yellow Tweetie Bird sweatshirt diminishes the effect slightly.

The broker’s smile faltered, and he stopped, unsure if he was welcome. The other guys looked at me as if I’d sprouted another head. They’ve all seen me in dragon mode, and they know that I can bite.

I had the broker right where I wanted him. He was standing in front of the stepstool.

“Before you can come any further, you must pay homage to the ALTAR…” I said dramatically, pointing at the stepstool. The guys now looked at me as if I’d sprouted three heads, and I added: “…NATOR.”

My punchline was so unexpected that the usual suspects choked on their beer. Best of all, the boat broker was impressed enough that he actually did bow deeply, both to Peter’s alternator — and to me.

Sir Jon Roop, extraordinary human

“Help others, because magically, when you need help, it will be there for you.”

You may be one of them, those so-called “friends” who tease us about taking 2-1/2 years for a simple boat refit. That’s enough teasing. Because from another perspective, 2-1/2 years is sadly too short.

In 2007, when we bought Flutterby, we needed a marine survey. We lucked upon a wonderful surveyor — a Sir Veyor, to use Steve Roberts’ phrase — who turned into a friend. Jon Roop understood exactly what we were trying to accomplish. He was the reason we ended up in Beaufort, because he told us there was plenty of support available to do-it-yourself boaters there. Best of all, he said we could call him any time we had questions, as long as we owned the boat.

We tried to exercise restraint and only call when the question was really serious. But every time we did, he extended an invitation to dinner or a party at the beautiful house where he lived with his vivacious partner, Carol. This, despite my getting the Squid Wagon stuck in his driveway and having to call a tow truck to get it out (remember? I wrote about that).

As a former sailboat cruiser, Jon loved sharing the house, which he’d built himself. Every social gathering revolved around the giant kitchen island. Guests circulated around it, as if it was an indoor fire pit.

Jon would extend an impromptu dinner invitation to cruisers. “Bring your laundry, and take a shower,” he’d say. I was too shy to try the fancy jacuzzi in the guest bathroom, and I figured a shower was a shower. Then, at a gathering in January, I realized that was simply not true.

They’d thrown some sort of party a day or two before and had so much food left, they decided to invite more folks over to help finish it. There were about a dozen of us that evening, including some local friends and two British couples from the boatyard. There was some joking about The Shower, and one of Jon and Carol’s local friends realized from our dumb looks that Barry and I hadn’t seen it.

“Come on,” said Pam, dragging us back through the master bedroom. Elegantly tiled, it was the most magnificent shower I’ve ever seen in a private residence. It was the size of a small room, with showerheads on each wall and one coming out of the ceiling in the middle. There was room inside for about ten people showering, or two people dancing. I recalled many miserable, cold boatyard showers, and I decided not to be shy — I would bring my shower kit the next time I came over.

It was a pleasant, evening, with lots of stories and laughter. But it was a little low-key; Jon admitted, reluctantly, that he wasn’t feeling well.

News travels fast in a small town. It was only a couple of days after that dinner that I stopped at a local machine shop. “Did you hear about Jon?” He’d ended up in the hospital. “Not feeling well” turned out to be complications related to melanoma.

Everybody wanted to know what was going on. “Any news about Jon?” was the question around the boatyard and around town. Carol sent emails, forwarded by Pam, until finally they set up a Caring Bridge blog. For the next five months, Carol shared the good news and the bad news, and the frustration of dealing with the medical system. Whenever an email came in, “A new journal entry for Jonathan’s CaringBridge website was posted…”, I’d click on it immediately.

I can’t begin to express how much I valued Carol’s updates and the online community sending love, light, and prayers to Jon. When Carol described dealing with Nurse Ratchett and Doctor Numbskull, we all growled in unison. We cheered when Jon got into an experimental treatment program, but worried about him flying to Boston and Nashville for it. We celebrated when Jon proposed to Carol, and congratulations came from around the globe when they were married, right in his hospital room, about a week ago.

And we all cried this morning, when Carol wrote, “Today I deliver the news that everyone knew was coming but no one wanted to hear.” Jon passed away last night.

That’s why I wish this time had been longer than 2-1/2 years. I wanted to know him longer. Decades would have been nice. It would have been lovely to have him at Flutterby’s rechristening and relaunching party. And Barry and I only got to dance under that magical shower once.

Jon teased us a little about how long we were taking, but he also made the most poetic statement about our departure date. “One of these days, you’ll look up and see the geese migrating, and you’ll know then that it’s time to put the boat in the water and follow them.”

He was kind and generous and caring, and most of all, he had his priorities right. Jon’s cousin Steve wrote, “‘Help others because magically when you need help it will be there for you’ is the essential Jon Roop.”

That statement is also the essential sailboat cruiser. It should be the essential human. Jon Roop was a sailor who showed us how to be better humans. Now it’s up to us.
===
Jon’s photo is the top right one in Seven Precious Friends.

Not afraid of the color of sky

A recent email from Gary, cruising in Ecuador, said, “Write some more about your boat projects.” I stared at the email in astonishment. Was he serious? Or was he being, as they say, snarky?

Well, OK. Here’s the big news: The masts are up! The masts are up! The masts are UP!

Now, since Gary asked for more about our boat projects, I will bare my soul and tell you about mast refinishing. Be forewarned, though, you are getting the Meps perspective, which will probably be full of small factual errors that won’t matter as long as the story is entertaining.

When we bought the boat, it had these infamous circumferential cracks in the masts. We determined that they were not structural, so we wrote a big fat check and took possession of the boat. Surely, a couple of smart people like ourselves could figure out how to deal with a little cosmetic cracking.

Once we started doing fiberglass work elsewhere on the boat, my mast-refinishing confidence sank lower. I was intimidated by the thought of making two 40-foot cylinders perfectly smooth. The finish had cracked because they were wrapped like a candy cane, and there were cracks between the fibers. Even if we sanded that cosmetic layer off and re-wrapped them with bi-axial strips, how would we smooth the joints between each wrap? We would be sanding for the rest of our lives, or else we’d have a lumpy, bumpy mess.

We wracked our brains for a solution for over a year. Nobody in the boatyard or on the internet seemed to have a better idea.

One day, after another brainstorming session, Barry went off to ask our local expert, Alex, what type of fiberglass tape we should wrap it with. Meanwhile, I turned to the computer and tried something crazy.

I asked Google how to “refinish a carbon fiber sailboat mast.”

I never expected the answer to be there. It wasn’t, precisely. What was there was this: “build a carbon fiber sailboat mast.” Suddenly, the phrase “fiberglass sock” leaped off the page at me. I ran more searches. To my delight, I discovered a whole new industry — composite sleeve material! You could order carbon fiber, kevlar, and fiberglass in a whole variety of colors and weights and diameters. They use this stuff for fishing poles, windsurfers, and my favorite application, model rockets.

I jumped on my bike and pedaled triumphantly after Barry. When I found him and Alex, I was out of breath with excitement. “I found the solution! I found it! We need a giant fiberglass condom, and I know where to order one!”

I was practically jumping up and down, but they just stared at me. Alex sort of shrugged (politely) and looked at Barry. Barry looked at Alex, then at me, and later said I was acting too crazy to be taken seriously. At the time.

I dragged him back to my computer and showed him the websites. Now that I had calmed down, Barry loved my simple, elegant solution. After we sanded off the old finish, we’d pull a 40-foot stocking over each mast and paint it with epoxy. Then we would fair it, paint it, and be done.
Meps pulling a stocking over the mast Meps applying epoxy with a roller to a mast
The sanding and prep work was exhausting, done in the full heat of the summer under some borrowed shadecloth. Then we pulled on the stretchy tube material, an inexpensive product called the Easy-Glas Sock, from Giant Leap Rocketry. It’s been seven years since I’ve worn pantyhose to work; I’ve forgotten how to put them on. And I’ve never put them on 40-foot legs before! But it went as smoothly as could be expected, and when we left for the summer, the masts were refinished and primed.

Just before Thanksgiving, it was time for the final paint. Getting a perfect shiny finish on a 40-foot long pole is something that takes practice. We decided to hire Alex to spray the final finish on.

The challenge now was color. As long as the gray primer was on the masts, I was embarrassed to see them beside the red hull. Yes, I went to Ohio State, and yes, the school colors are scarlet and gray. That’s not something I care to announce to the world. (whoops, I just did)

I mocked up photographs in a variety of colors. The original black was ugly. White would be boring. Finally, I was inspired by a photo I took in 2004 of a Newfoundland fishing craft.
The red and white and light blue boat that inspired me
Standing next to the gray, primed masts, Alex asked, “What color do y’all want?” I took a deep breath and looked at Barry. We’d made the decision, but hadn’t told anyone yet. “Sky Blue,” I said.
Wearing a tyvek suit and respirator, Alex sprays sky blue paint on our masts
Now, there are some people in this world who are bold and confident and not afraid of bright colors. When we chose sky blue (locally known as “Carolina blue”) to go atop our red hull and white deck, we bravely announced that we are two of them.

“It’s OK,” I told myself. “I have my artistic license.”

But in the dark hours of the night, I worried, even after they were painted. Were we announcing our color-blindness to the world? Would I regret this bold decision for decades? Would our sky-blue masts disappear against the sky-blue sky? Light blue, baby blue — I never wear it because it looks terrible on me. What was I thinking?

There was a lot of excitement on the day the crane came, and Kenny and Dale helped us put the masts back into the boat. There’s a lot more technical stuff about the mast heads and mast feet and mast steps, and how it all goes together in an unstayed Freedom, and I could tell you all that, but I won’t. (I can hear your sigh of relief all the way over here.)

The most important thing for me is that the masts look FANTASTIC. The finish is perfect and smooth, and it goes well with the red hull and white deck. I even painted a white band near the top of each one, like an old-style schooner. In a sea of aluminum masts, they are distinctive and eye-catching.

The masts are not the only distinctive addition — I’ve hand-painted the name on both sides. There’s also going to be a Flutterby logo, in black, white, and sky blue, on both sides of the hull and on the transom. It’s an amorphous scrollwork design, reminiscent of a butterfly.

Finally, Flutterby is taking on a colorful personality that’s as quirky as her owners’. With her bright colors, her unusual rig, and her unique graphics, she’ll be memorable. I hope I can live up to that.

An easy job

Meps had just flown out for a couple weeks, and I am alone with Flutterby and her huge todo list.  I decided that I would pick up a quick and easy job so I could just get something accomplished and feel good about it, then move on to whatever I should be next.

Flutterby's blue binnacle

So I decided to re-assemble the binnacle–The painting was done, all the new parts from Edson have been here for ages, I had already re-built a LED compass light where the old incandescent one used to be.  It should be quick and easy, right?  Well, that was what I thought when I started the first day of working on it…

First I decided I needed to clean up the shaft that the wheel goes on before I re-assembled it.  Then I noticed there was a little bit of pitting in a couple places, so got out the dremel and some grinding and then polishing tips.  Nothing was very deep, it all cleaned up OK, and it took less than an hour.

Of course, I decided I needed to remove one split ring to inspect and clean under one bearing race, so I had to find somebody in the yard who had the pliers for that job.  I ended up having a nice chat with Ward and Audrey, but the quick part of my job was rapidly receding.

Then I tried to install the new parts of the wheel brake.  Only a minute to file the paint out of the hole it needs to go through.  Then I found that the brake knob spindle wouldn’t fit through the new bushing.  Oops.  Looks like it was once or twice tightened down enough to flare out the metal.  After dinner I probably spent another hour with a file and sandpaper fixing that.

OK, brake installed, shaft went in easily enough, and I didn’t make too big a mess when I got the grease gun out.  There were 4 threaded holes I had painted over; I was able to clean 4 of them out with a tap, and then had to borrow another tap to clean out the others.  That went well too.

Geez, those old 1/2” washers and lock washers look pretty corroded.  I should get new ones.  No problem, Bock has them in stock.  Now let me put the riser and the new idler plate on the base.  Odd, something must be a little warped; oh well, when I tighten the bolts down it should smunch together.  Oops.  The new plate (a massive bronze casting) is a lot thicker than the old (mild steel, rusted through) one was.  Now my bolts aren’t long enough anymore.   I wonder if Bock has any stainless steel (or bronze) 2 1/2″ long 1/2” Flat head machine bolts.  Nope, but they have more of the 2” long ones I can’t use!

OK, now off to the McMaster-Carr website to order the bolts I need.  Then I can put it together.  I go the order in early enough to be shipped out today; it might be here tomorrow, but Monday is more likely.

Uh-Oh.  That hole where the bolt for fastening the engine control cables is supposed to be on the back side of the pedestal, not the front, isn’t it.  Back when I patched the holes where the old autopilot used to be mounted, I left the wrong one.  Ah well, as Philip says, “another imperfection.”  And I suppose I’ll have to find the old hole and drill it out again.  Or maybe I can mount the cable bracket on the other side.  I guess I’ll try that…as soon as I get the new engine control cables.

Maybe I would have done better starting with a hard job?

Bunny pants on elf duty

We’ve done so much traveling this year, together and apart, that we decided to stay here in the boatyard for Christmas. Theoretically, we’re supposed to be working on the boat, although the weather and our respective cases of bronchitis are hampering our efforts. I hate the thought of coughing into my respirator.

I got a little sad this evening, thinking about our plan to stay here on the boat. Our liveliest boatyard neighbors, Charlie and Dick, have gone back to Ohio to be with family. Our best friends in town, Ted and Malla, slipped Ocean Gypsy’s lines and headed south for the winter on Monday. Between the four of them, they’ve left us two boats and ten vehicles. That’s enough to open a used car lot!

Bock Marine threw a fantastic Christmas party, but it was over too soon. They’ll be closing down for a whole week. Without Randy and Larry and Dale and Kenny, the place is dreadfully dull. Minutes seem like hours. And there isn’t even mail delivery to distract us. No Christmas cards. No packages. Sigh.

For me, the hardest thing will be simply spending these days without any family. We love Mom, both our Dads, Grandma, and all our siblings and nephews and niece — and we have never, ever, ever in our lives spent a Christmas without at least one of them. I spent some time today looking at photos and videos from past Christmases, seeing how the sheer joy of being together is reflected in our faces. Not this year. Sigh.

A few days ago, I received an email asking what my favorite Christmas traditions were. I was initially stumped, having no decorations, no lights, no tree. With two people, how can we eat a whole butterscotch pie and a roast turkey? I sat here, sighing, in my Santa hat, wondering if I even have Christmas traditions this year.

You can leave your hat on Santa meets the Death BunniesIn my Santa hat? There’s a tradition! We wear our Santa hats all the time in December. When it’s warm, don’t come on the boat — we might not be wearing anything with them. When it’s cold, my Santa hat goes great with my pink Death Bunny pajama pants. Which I sometimes wear out in the boatyard, just for grins.

How about making homemade cards every year? Sometimes they don’t go out until February, but I’ve never bought a Christmas card in my whole life. Our lengthy holiday card list is like the Hotel California. Once you are on it, you’re stuck for life.

And then there are the homemade presents. We’ve made mustard, soap, jam, apple butter, signs, jewelry, baking mixes, bookmarks, spiced nuts, and refrigerator magnets. We’ve burned some very strange CD collections (anybody remember “Goin’ to the Dogs?”). This year, I wrote four whole books.

And then there’s the calendar, a 5-year tradition. It’s a week-long project, because I seem to get sick just after Thanksgiving every year anyway. I might as well sit at the computer and design a calendar showcasing this year’s best photos.

I wish we could give one to every friend, every year. It gets harder to decide how many to print and where to send them. Rumor has it that one family member likes hers so much, she keeps the old ones hanging up and pastes new dates onto them.

The past week on the boat, I’ve been on elf-duty most of the time. I designed the calendars and cards, and Barry helped me assemble and wrap and sign them. We made some goofy presents, burned some silly CDs, and wrapped them in old road maps because I refused to buy wrapping paper. I forgot I was wearing my Santa hat at the post office, and wondered why everyone was smiling at me.

It’s going to be a great Christmas. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks thinking of ways to make people happy, and now the envelopes and packages are winging their way across the continent. My thoughts turn to our friends who are staying in the boatyard for Christmas — John, Philip & Marilyn, Audrey & Ward (whose nickname is Scrooge, but I don’t believe it). What can I do for them? And especially for Barry, who got me the Death Bunny pants?

Generosity — that’s my holiday tradition. Taking the time to let people know I love and appreciate them, no matter how far they are from me and my Santa-meets-the-Death-Bunnies outfit.