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On Living Aboard

The first nice weekend of spring in any boat yard is often a tumultuous event. There are those who spend the majority of their time kibitzing with people they haven’t seen in months, giving their boat a cursory glance as if this will cause wonderful things to occur.

Conversely, there are those who are quite serious about getting their boats in the water before anyone else. The fact that just because we are experiencing one nice weekend, the chance that the weather won’t turn foul on the next is lost on them. On these occasions, we tend to just sit back and watch the world go by.

This year our annual fitting out schedule is going to be quite busy. After careful consideration, we have decided that this is the year that we are going to completely strip Patty O’s topsides. This is a chore clearly a lot easier said than done, especially since we live aboard full time.

First of all, there was no way we were going to be staying aboard the boat while this operation was going on. There is a nice motel just down the road from the boatyard that we’ve used before, usually when the boat comes out of the water for more than a day. The money is well worth the peace and tranquility brought by having a happy wife. Friends and relatives have offered to put us up at times like this, but while we appreciate the hospitality, we both would feel a bit uncomfortable doing that, so it was a motel for us.

The boat came out of the water on a Wednesday morning. The yard crew is very good at this and they know that I am too; we’ve done it together many times. Some yards are reluctant to haul large, older wooden boats for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are afraid that they will never go back in. Plus, just about all yards now use a Travel Lift to lift boats, and if the slings aren’t properly placed on a wooden boat, damage can result. On Patty O’, cut outs in the spray rail indicate exactly where slings are to be placed, making the job much easier. Ray, the yard Forman is the one usually operating the lift, and he makes sure that the boat spends as little time in the slings as possible.

I had requested a spot near the rear of the yard this year. This was mostly because there was going to be a lot of dust once we got going and I did not want to irritate any of the summer crowd. Plus, being back there I was able to spread out a bit and not encroach on anyone else.

With Patty O’ secure on poppets, the yard’s set of portable stairs was rigged. Then, a week’s worth of clothes and anything else needed, was brought to the motel. After that, with my friend Ritchie’s help, the hull was enclosed with construction grade plastic, gleaned from the winter cover, from the decks down to the ground. Framed with two by fours and furring strips, it stood out ten feet from the hull. This was done to provide adequate room to work, and also to not allow dust generated by the sanding to become too dense within the enclosure.

A trip to the rental center and I returned with a heavy duty air compressor and an equally robust disk sander. A supply of disks in three grades, course, medium and fine rounded out the take there. Having no idea how many disks I was going to need, I just took a guess and added fifty percent. The rental center guy said that there would be no problem returning any un-used disks. For finishing, I already own a heavy duty vibrating sander. Three gallons of white primer paint and a supply of rollers rounded out the package.

By the middle of the afternoon, everything was ready for the assault. Deciding that I didn’t want to begin a project of this magnitude this late in the day, I took a drive to my friend Ritchie’s, to look at something I wanted to do this year on Mustard, the little Century Runabout we tow behind Patty O’. Ritchie lets us keep the boat in his barn in exchange for my occasional help when needed, moving and installing the high end furniture and cabinets he builds to order.

A foldable top was not an option when Mustard was new, and there have been times when one has been sorely missed. I’m sure that there are those who will undoubtedly think this is heresy, but there are many things about Mustard that are far from stock. When we bought her, a restoration to her original 1953 condition wasn’t the intent. Taking some measurements, I made several notes for future reference.

Back at the yard, I secured Patty O’ and met the Blonde at the motel, cleaned up and headed out for dinner.

In the morning, after a rather large breakfast, the work began in earnest. When choosing the compressor, I had opted for a double length of hose, not wanting to have to deal with moving everything around as work progressed. Dressed in full coveralls with a hoodie and a very good respirator, I looked like a Star Wars villain.

Getting into the rhythm was easy. I had planned on doing the job in four sections. In five hours I had completed the three passes with the disk sander on half of the port side and proceeded to complete phase one with the vibrating sander. That took an hour due to the attention given to the grooves left by the disks. My arms felt like they were going to fall off, and I still had the most important operation to perform.

There was no way that bare wood could be left overnight. To do so would be to invite a sure case of the fuzzes, little peeks of wood that rises up in response to moisture in the air. The cure is to get some paint on it as soon as possible. That done, I spent a good half hour in the yard’s shower, with the water as hot as I could stand.

It took five days to complete the sanding and to have the hull in primer. This was mostly due to my physical state. Liberal doses of ibuprofen, and visits to Ritchie’s hot tub did wonders. It also pounded home the fact that I am no longer thirty years old.

The final sanding took an additional day. A total of three coats of primer were applied, before the final finish coat. Back to the rental center for the biggest shop vac they had. Several hours were spent getting up all the sanding debris, and everything was almost ready for the last coat.

I added a little more thinner to the finish paint than the recommended dose. This was because rather than rolling or brushing, I opted to spray the final coat. This of course, necessitated another trip to the rental center.

When I began this project I had thought that I would roll the last coat, and follow with a brush, smoothing out any little bumps from the roller. About the time the last sanding was finished, Ritchie dropped by to see how the project was going.

“You plaining on rolling out the last coat?” he asked.

“Yeah.” I said. “How else would I do it?”

He looked around the enclosed plastic shelter. His head tilted about twenty degrees to port, the way it always does when he is pondering a problem.

“Well,” he said. “Have you ever thought about spraying it on?”

I had to admit that I had, but after thinking about what it would take, I had dismissed the idea.

In his years of building high end cabinets and furniture, it would be safe to say that Ritchie has squirted just about every liquid that has been designed to cover wood out of a spray gun. The current device he uses is an airless sprayer.

I had heard of this, of course, and had watched Ritchie use it in his shop. Airless spray painting covering a large area can be quite messy, due to the great amount of over-spray. Indeed: Ritchie has a separate paint booth.

“With this enclosure, it would be easy.” He said.

I wouldn’t say that it was easy, it was very messy, and I used more paint than I thought I was going to, but the result was, in a word, fabulous. Patty O’s topsides have never looked as good. I gave it another day to settle, although there was no reason other than my need to recuperate.

A quick coat of bottom paint, and Patty O slid back into the water. It took the better part of a day to get everything straightened out and back to what can be loosely defined as normal for us.

After eating out at everything from greasy spoon diners to top shelf establishments for the duration, it was quite enjoyable to have a home-cooked meal. Shrimp scampi, with seconds available, with home baked bread was heaven.

“You know, Bubba,” she said “It wasn’t much fun being away from here that long. But seeing the result, it was well worth it.”

Toasting her with my wine I said, “It sure was.”

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