• By Gene Henson

On Living Aboard

The first nice weekend of the season brings out the hordes of boat owners who’ve spent the winter either ensconced in front of their television or enjoying winter sports. This past winter was particularly brutal for us, but it’s all in the past now and it’s time to look toward the future. When the yard fills up during that first weekend for spring fitting out, we do our best to remain in the background. With all these people doing their best to catch up, it’s a bit overwhelming for us. What we usually do is take day trips, which solves the problem. This year on Saturday, we drove east to Providence, Rhode Island. Wandering around in the big mall downtown, we were soon shaking our heads at some of the things people buy, and what they are willing to pay. We spent a laid back people watching two hours there, and then off to Federal Hill, which is known for its culinary delight, for an Italian meal. If I ate like this for any length of time, I’d never be able to fit into Patty O’s engine room. On Sunday, we continued our ‘do nothing’ weekend with a trip to Newport, Rhode Island getting lost in the crowds there. The big project on Patty O’ this year is going to be the installation of a diesel furnace for improved heating and domestic hot water. I haven’t figured out all the details as of yet, whether to do the work while the boat is in the water or not. Bottom line is that it’s going to be a major undertaking so careful planning is imperative. I’m lucky in that my friend Ritchie has agreed to be a big part of the project. At first glance, I doubt that I have the necessary skills to do a proper job. In return for his help on many of Patty O’s projects, I’m perpetually on call to assist him in the installation of the custom kitchen cabinets and furniture he creates. Of course, the normal spring fitting out will be done first, as well as the annual insurance survey. We have had insurance issues in the past, mostly due to some of the underwriter’s unfamiliarity with wooden boats, used the way we use Patty O’. There have also been problems with the requirement that the boat is not to be launched until the survey has been completed. Sadly, some people cannot accept the fact that a wooden boat of Patty O’s size is far better remaining in the water then spending an extended time on the hard. Patty O’ came out for her semiannual bottom work on a chilly Wednesday when the yard was not busy. We had tried to arrange the insurance survey at the same time, but that proved to be impossible. In the spring, the bottom is pressure washed and when that’s done the decision is made whether or not to lay on a coat of antifouling paint now, or wait until fall. This year the bottom looked pretty good so that procedure was put off. The topsides were scrubbed and a coat of paint thinned half and half, was applied. This is not an easy job because the thinned paint has the consistency of water. It’s rolled on with a very tight roller and I keep a brush close at hand to smooth out any imperfections. It’s a bit unorthodox but the results are good. It also prevents paint build up. All this was accomplished in a day and a half of nose to the grindstone work. The Blonde, my wife, spent two nights in a motel, due to the fact that she positively hates climbing in and out of the boat when it’s on the beach. The yard graciously sets up a set of stairs to make it easy to access the boat, but she would rather not, dressed in her work clothes. She’s an architect, works in an office and must look the part. Once the boat was back in the water, things became a little less hectic. I called our insurance company again and after a bit of runaround managed to schedule our survey. The person I spoke with asked when the boat was scheduled to go into the water, and when I told her it was already in, she attempted to scold me for this, explaining that it was company policy that the survey be conducted before launching. I explained that due to our live aboard status, this requirement had been waived for us, and if she would look at the footnotes on our policy, she would see the waiver. After a few minutes, she agreed that this was correct, but that it was very unusual. Sighing after I hung up and pouring a cup of coffee, I tried to remember how many times I’ve had this conversation. Hopefully, the surveyor they send will have a clue about wooden boats. This is the third insurance company we’ve had since living aboard full time. The one previous to this one refused to waive a new requirement that the boat comes out of the water for at least six months of the year. No amount of cajoling would convince the several persons we talked to that we weren’t trying to attempt fraud. The upgrades on the little Century Runabout, Mustard, are still ongoing. I’ve decided to change the steering from cable to hydraulic. Some may think that this is a bit of overkill for a seventeen foot boat, but to me, it’ll be worth it. After some extensive research, I ordered a two-line manual system; this seemed to be the best way to go. Plus, it’s simple and easy to install. It consists of two hydraulic lines, one for port and one for starboard. The helm drives one of two pistons, left or right, charging the particular line with fluid, causing one of two pistons attached to the tiller to move. When the tiller moves, it moves the opposite piston driving the helm piston the other way. Simple and dependable. The other upgrade on the list is replacing her fuel tank, which right now is the original. It’s in pretty good shape, but I want to replace it with a stainless tank, one that’s somewhat smaller. With her new engine, Mustard burns substantially less fuel for the same performance. Less fuel means less weight and I’m all for that. The old cable steering has been removed, the new system sits in a box in Ritchie’s barn. The old tank has been freed from its mounts and is ready to come out. When that happens, I’ll be able to figure out the dimensions for the new one and arrange for its fabrication. The main reason for the delay in this is mostly due to the extreme weather over the past few months. While Ritchie does heat his barn, the system wasn’t able to keep up. He usually sets the temperature around the low fifties, keeping his supply of exotic wood stored there happy. This year, though, there were times when it got down to the low thirties. As much as I wanted to get things completed on Mustard, I wasn’t keen on working in that temperature. The lady from the insurance company called. “Would next Thursday be convenient?” she asked. “You do realize that the boat will have to be out of the water.” “I understand,” I said. “I will check with the yard and call you right back.” “That will be fine.” She said, hanging up. I walked over to the yard office looking for Ray the foreman. While he always carries his cell phone, and I have the number, I’d rather talk to him in person, not interrupting what he’s doing. He scratched his head like he always does while deep in thought. “I think it’ll be ok, but lemmy check.” Pulling his radio from his back pocket, he held it to his mouth. “Four to base.” He said. The response was immediate, which meant that the store wasn’t busy. “No problem.” He said. ”First thing in the morning would be best. How long do you think?” “Depends on the guy. If he has any clue, it’ll be quick.” “Gotcha,” he said, turning back to the pressure washer he was in the middle of repairing. Back at the boat, I realized that I hadn’t asked the insurance lady her call back number. That’s one of the nice things about cell phones; it keeps track of who calls. Patty O’ came out of the water at eight thirty the following Thursday right after the Blonde left for work. It was a raw morning, and it looked like it might rain. Sipping a coffee, I sat inside the shop watching for the surveyor. He showed up a little after nine Thirty, and I recognized his truck. He was the one who really knew his stuff on wooden boats. Giving a sigh of relief, I walked out to meet him. Shaking his hand, he suggested we go inside and take care of the paperwork. Like I said, he had checked Patty O’ out before. “I read over my last survey.” He said. “I remember her now, hard not to. I was impressed.” He was filling out a form as he talked. “Have you made any changes since then?” he asked. I told him about the galley upgrades, the induction cook top and the toaster-convection oven we’d installed. “That’s good.” He said. “Gets you away from that nasty propane.” He made some notes and then said, “OK. Let’s take a look.” Walking over to Patty O’ he made a circle around her which seemed casual, but I knew nothing escaped those sharp eyes. Climbing aboard, he peeked into the lazarette and then into the engine room. Walking down into the galley he nodded and made a few more notes. Closing his clipboard, he said “OK. Looks good.” “That’s it?” I said. “Yup. She looks pretty good. Any place close that makes a good breakfast?” “Sure is,” I answered. I’ll join you if you don’t mind.” “Not at all. Glad for the company.”

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