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On Living Aboard

January 28, 2019

Once we were settled into our winter location and the winter cover rigged, we could take a step back and look ahead. Holidays behind us some thought was given to the possibility of taking a few days in a warmer climate. This is still an option. There have been some nasty weather days and I always worry when we are away when something like that happens.
Then too, it feels strange that there are no projects planned for Mustard, the little Century runabout that’s our water car when we travel. There is little we can do to improve her; she is like a brand new boat in 1953 clothes. She was in rough shape when we got her; she’d spent some forty years stored in a barn after her owner passed. Patty O’ on the other hand was in pristine shape when she came to us. We are her third owner and the previous two had maintained her quite well. We knew her for over a year before buying her from the widow of the second owner. He’d suffered a heart attack while preparing her for winter storage. The engines had been winterized as had the freshwater systems. He’d passed before getting her winter cover rigged.
We had taken a drive to Newport, RI one sunny spring day and decided to take a look at her. We’d spotted her the previous fall and had a wonderful conversation with her owner. Little did we know that he would be gone before the week was out.
Driving into the boatyard, I had driven to where we saw her back in October but she was nowhere to be seen. I went to the yard office.
 “Hi, I was wondering where that nice old Huckins is being kept.” I asked.
The guy looked at me for a minute.  “Oh, you mean that old wood boat? It’s back by the fence. Probably gonna be cut up pretty soon. It’s in pretty ratty shape.”
Driving to the back of the yard I saw her up against the fence, and she really did look poorly. Upon a closer look, it was evident that everything was superficial.
Back at the office I asked and was given the widow’s name as well as her phone number.  Talking to her, it was evident that she had no idea of the boat’s worth, nor did she want to. She just wanted it gone. I told her I’d be in touch.
We talked it over on the way home and agreed that if the price was right, we would consider it. I had taken a so-called golden parachute early retirement the year before, and other than some freelance consulting work had been quite idle. This would give me something to do. We had sold our boat soon after my retirement with the thought that someone without a job didn’t need a 35-foot boat.
The next day found me back in Rhode Island accompanied by my friend Ritchie who, while not a marine surveyor, knows wood and can easily determine any basic flaw.
We took several hours going over every inch of the boat. Cosmetically she was a mess. Spending a New England winter with no cover will have that effect. A fiberglass boat in that condition will just ‘look’ like it’s going to sink. If we hadn’t come along, Patty O’ would likely have become derelict in less than a year. Ritchie found little that needed immediate attention.  
Calling the widow, I asked if we could stop by. She gave her address and we drove over. Making an offer, which I thought was a low ball, I was pleasantly surprised that she grabbed it at once. Then, she took us to her garage and showed us a large number of accessories.   Writing her a check, I told her that once it cleared I’d stop back and pick up everything.
“No, I trust you. Take it now.” She said.  “I have the paperwork right here.”
It took about a half hour to load my Ford Ranger, the pickup I had at the time. By then she had a bill of sale written out. We shook hands, and for better or worse, we were the owner of a boat once again.
The next few days we were busy. I arranged to have Patty O’ moved to the front of the yard where it would be easier to work. A trip to the boatyard, where we presently live, where we arranged for a seasonal slip. Back to Rhode Island, I scrubbed her topsides and was pleasantly surprised to find them in good shape. So was her bottom. Giving her a quick coat of bottom paint, she went into the water on the third day.  There was some leaking, but nowhere as much as I thought. Not so thought the operator of the travel lift as he lowered the straps very little, and then went away for several hours. There was very little water in her bilge, so we moved her over to one of the transient slips.  Her batteries had been stored by the yard and needed a kick to bring them up to snuff. Sleeping aboard, I was up several times overnight to check the bilges, but by morning they were dry.  Getting the engines going was the last project of the day. They were both gas hungry Chrysler V-8’s and I knew that their time was limited.
Next day, I was back in Connecticut and got a couple of friends to agree to accompany me on the trip home. The Blonde, my wife, drove us back to the boat and by nine in the morning, we were underway.  Filling up both fuel tanks put a rather large hole in my credit card; they wouldn’t accept a check. There was also a rather large charge for “services rendered”, and after a few minutes, I could see that there was no point in arguing, and paid it.
It was an uneventful trip back to Connecticut, and I took my time, not wanting any issues.  The season was good, but there were things that needed upgrading, especially if we were going to spend more than a weekend aboard. There was the matter of the “Icebox.” And I’d much rather be blown up by a propane stove than being driven crazy by one fueled with alcohol.
When the decision to move aboard permanently was made, we realized that some major changes would have to be made. Firstly, the gas-guzzling Chryslers would have to go.
That first winter I completely gutted the boat’s interior. Both engines, as well as her fuel and water tanks, were removed.  After careful consideration and adhering to American Boat and Yacht Council standards, the agency that ensures that the U.S., as well as Canadian safety standards, are met, I decided on twin Cummins 4BTA-250 engines. A Northern Lights M673L generator providing 6 KW of electrical power. Two 150 gallon fuel tanks were custom built of stainless steel, and one 150 gallon water tank.  This took most of the winter months working in the cold, damp bilge.  In April, before the deck was replaced, representatives from both Cummins and Northern Lights inspected the installation and certified both so that warranties could be put in force.
The engine room on Patty O’ is located under the salon deck, and when it was replaced, I made it so that the whole thing parted in the middle, hinged at the outer edges. There is a small hatch against the after salon bulkhead which allows me access to the engines for routine maintenance on both engines as well as the generator. There isn’t a lot of room to move around, but there is enough to get things done.   
Over the years we have changed and upgraded everything aboard. Once we moved aboard for good, there were some things that were obvious and some that were just to make life easier.  Just the other day I asked her, “Any regrets?” She looked at me giving me ‘that look.’
“Not a bit of it Bubba. Just that we should have done it sooner.”

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