Each summer it seems like every time we meet new people, as soon as they find out that we live on a boat full time, their first question is, “Why?” Depending
on how we met, and the inflection of their voice when the question is asked, we will answer one of several ways. Some people jump to the conclusion that we must be destitute and homeless. Others question our sanity. Once we get over that hurdle, there comes the next question: “What kind of boat do you live on?”
“It’s a 1954 forty foot Huckins, sedan cruiser.” I say.
“1954? But that’s before they used fiberglass, isn’t it?”
And the dance is on. Actually, the first practical fiberglass boat using FRP, fiberglass reinforced plastic, was built in 1942 by a man in Ohio.
And then comes: “Why a wooden boat?” Why indeed. To us, a wooden boat has much more character than anything afloat. Maybe not to you, but that’s OK. Then there are the maintenance questions. “How do you keep up with all that maintenance?”
I try to point out that it’s no more work to keep a wooden boat in pristine condition than any other material. Now before you sit up straighter and point your finger, let me clear up a few things. One, if you let a boat built of fiberglass sit on the beach for an extended period of time. It’ll just LOOK like it’s going to sink. Not so a wooden boat. It doesn’t take any more effort to keep the wooden boat looking good, but you cannot be lax. There are only two materials that are used in boat building that can be worked in any weather, and have skilled workers that can be found anywhere in the world. One is steel, and the other is wood.
Then it’s the question of ‘all that scraping and painting’. I give Patty O’s topsides a coat of paint, thinned 50/50 when she comes out for bottom work in the spring. You wax your hull. It takes me about the same time to apply this coat to Patty O’s topsides as it would to wax a fiberglass boat of the same length. Both materials require bottom protection, so that work is the same.
Every few years, I have to strip the hull due to paint build up. A glass boat, if it’s to be kept looking good, will require gel-coat work.
That’s the basic difference. Everything else, engine maintenance, electrical, appliances are all the same.
If a fiberglass boat suffers severe damage, it can be quite difficult to repair, and often, the boat is declared a total wreck. A wooden boat can be rebuilt from the bottom up with about the same effort it took to build it originally.
The famous marine architect L. Francis Herreshoff, on looking inside of one of his boats that had been built in fiberglass said, “Looks to me like frozen snot.”
Fiberglass does have certain advantages. First, the skill level of the builder for glass boats isn’t anywhere near that of a wooden boat builder. The person or persons who build the mold for the glass boat are the ones with the skill. And, an infinite number of boats may be pulled from one mold, therefore making them less expensive.
Mustard, our little Century runabout, was out of the water sitting on her trailer in my friend Ritchie’s barn awaiting the installation of her rebuilt transmission. While the engine was out, the bilge was given a complete and deep cleaning, the first since her rebuild several years ago. Also, the control rods for the transmission were relocated making the system a lot easier to maintain.
Once the transmission was reattached to the engine, I wire brushed both and repainted. It was a lot of work moving the engine around, while all this was being done, but I wanted to be as out of the way as I could. Ritchie uses the barn to store the supply of exotic wood he uses in his business of building custom furniture and kitchen cabinets. He lets us keep Mustard in there over the winter, as well as times like this when she needs work, in exchange for my labor when he delivers and installs product.
Back at the boatyard I hunted down Ray the yard Forman, to see when the little boat could be put back in the water. Unfortunately, this was not to be for several days. The Travelift had blown its hydraulic drive, and the part to repair it wouldn’t be there for several days. That meant that there would be a backup for boats coming out and going into the water. While a pain, it was a lot less of a pain than it would be a month from now.
Not a big deal for a boat the size of Mustard, though. Over to the public boat launch, which is only a short half mile walk from the yard. It was not busy at all on a cool, damp Wednesday morning and it took me longer to power wash Mustard’s trailer than the actual launch and walk back to retrieve the truck. Inasmuch as the travel lift was down, no one minded that I gave the trailer a much needed bath. By the time I was done I was soaking wet and shivering cold. Back to Patty O’, and grabbing a change of clothes, it was off for a nice long hot shower in the boatyard’s shower room. Then it was over to Ritchie’s to take down the tackle I’d rigged to lift the engine. I know he appreciated the large coffees I brought. We had a good chat and he brought me up to date on two jobs coming up that he would need my help with.
Back at the yard, I’d just gotten to the dock when my phone rang. It was Ray. Could I stop by the office for a minute?
From time to time I’ve done some work for the yard on the side. They are always quite generous; in these cases we swap work for something off our bill. It works for me. This time, Ray was wondering if I could install several 220volt outlets in the large storage shed so that they could plug in their arc welder where it was needed, rather than having to move something to the shop. I told him that I could do that easily, but it might be a good idea if they checked with their insurance company to see if they were covered while performing welding inside a storage building.
“Hadn’t thought of that.” He said. “Glad you brought it up.” He said he’d get back to me.
With Mustard back in commission ,my wife, the Blonde said, “Wouldn’t a trip to Newport be fun?”
“That’s a great idea” I replied.
There was rain in the forecast when we got under way. It was a nice trip down the sound, and due to the rain, we made good use of the lower control station. Unlike some boats, the lower helm on Patty O’ is easy to use. The view forward is very good, and because Patty O’ has large windows in the salon, visibility all around is excellent. Rounding Point Judith, we gave way to the outbound Block Island Ferry, even though she was the burdened vessel. Patty O’ is a lot more maneuverable than the 200 foot M/V Block Island. Besides, she is on a schedule and we’re not. Calling her on VHF channel 13, the safety and navigation channel, I told her captain what we were doing. He thanked us profusely and gave us a short toot on his whistle as they sped past.
With Point Judith on the port quarter, we both headed to the bridge to enjoy the sun that appeared soon after the ferry encounter. Traffic was light coming into Newport. Heading over to Fort Adams, we called for a transient mooring, and were met by one of the launch services boats who lead us to our assignment. With the wonders of modern wireless electronics, I was able to handß over my credit card to be swiped, explaining that we would not be needing the services of the launch.
Once tied to the mooring buoy, I brought Mustard alongside, keeping her off Patty O’s topsides with large, orange fenders that we call tuna balls. Settling in we decided to enjoy the rest of the day just hanging out on the boat, people watching. This turned to be a good choice because there were thunder storms, and drizzle throughout the rest of the afternoon and through the night. The forecast, however, looked pretty good for the following day.
The original plan was to grill a couple of swordfish steaks, but because I really didn’t want to be standing over a cockpit mounted grill in the rain,∂ we opted for pasta instead. One of the advantages of traveling in your house is that all your food travelers with you and having to make last minute changes for a meal is not a big deal.
Next morning, the sun peeked out on a cloudless sky with very pleasant temperatures. After a great breakfast of cheese omelets, we crawled aboard Mustard, and took a nice, leisurely tour around Newport harbor. Then, we called for a spot to tie up for the rest of the morning, into late afternoon afternoon.
While we do visit Newport several times a year, it’s usually by car. It’s been several years since we’ve been there in Patty O’. We know the city pretty well, and knew where and what we wanted to see. The place is quite busy this time of year, but the shops and restaurants, most of them anyway, know how to handle crowds so we never felt that we were being rushed.
Hitting our favorite, spots we ended up enjoying an early dinner, sampling the clam chowder and seafood this town is famous for.
Sitting on Patty O’s sun deck each with a glass of ice tea, capped a very enjoyable day. Looking at each other in the twilight, we both said the same thing at once. “Yup.” And then toasted each other with our tea.