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On Living Aboard

April 30, 2019

Now that I’m mostly healed from my injuries from the automobile crash in March, I’ve been looking at things needing attention on Patty O’, our 1954 40 foot Huckins sedan cruiser, which is also our home. On every boat, there is always something going on needing attention. On a wooden boat, especially one that stays in the water all year, the sooner anomalies are found and tended to, the less trouble there will be down the road.
The usual scenario with us is when she comes out of the water in spring for bottom work, these things become priorities. This year, however, she did
not come out due to my recovery process. This is not such a big deal with Patty O’ because she is, and always has been since new, been meticulously maintained. We are her third owner and the two previous ones spared no expense or labor to keep her like new. We are often complimented on how good a ‘restoration’ we’ve done. I’ve given up trying to explain that it’s not that at all, but many people cannot grasp the concept of proper maintenance. So I just smile and thank them.
Contrary to popular belief, wooden boats do not require any more maintenance than boats constructed of any other material. It’s just different, and cannot be ignored. You wax your hull; I apply a light coat of paint, mixed half and half with thinner. When your wax builds up, you strip to the gel coat. I sand. Bottom work is mostly the same, and there is no difference in mechanical or electrical issues. The one big difference is that with a wooden boat, hull issues cannot be ignored. A fiberglass hull can be neglected and it will just look like it’s going to sink. Ignore a wooden boat, and she will fall apart.
I gave considerable thought to having her hauled late and performing the usual spring bottom work. But then, decided that it would be okay to skip it just this once. One thing I did want to investigate closely was a leak in one of the aft port side windows in the salon. It wasn’t too bad, but it was a leak nonetheless. I’d noticed it while I was sitting around recuperating, and it was time to do something about it. Removing the trim on the inside, the glass came out pretty easily. These windows do not open. I had changed that configuration back when the salon was modified soon after Patty O’ became ours. To me, sliding windows on a boat are useless, and on a wooden boat can become a big problem. Patty O’ has an AC unit that was designed to keep things cool in the tropics, so they would most likely never be opened.
Once the glass was out, it was clear that there was some soft wood beneath.  Time to call the man.
I have known Ritchie McGill for many years. He builds custom cabinets and furniture from exotic woods; there isn’t much he doesn’t know about wood. He has been my go-to guy on repairs on  Patty O’.  Calling him, I explained the problem. “I won’t be able to get there until Saturday.” He said. “I may need you to help deliver this thing. It’s a custom sideboard, and as usual, they want it on the second floor.”
Ritchie calls me from time to time for just this sort of thing. For that, he allows us to store Mustard, the little Century runabout in his heated barn in winter, where his supply of rare wood is stored. The temperature is set at forty degrees and that works out just fine.
“I’ll bring my meter.” He said. Ritchie has a very expensive meter that measures the moisture in wood and properly adjusted, can read through an outer layer. With a tool like, that I’ll know just how far I would have to cut. Inasmuch as rain was predicted, I covered the window with plastic and went on about several other small projects. One, I’ve been putting off is removing the propane locker on the sundeck. A while back we changed our cooking stove from propane to induction. At the same time, we added a convection oven. They do use electricity but we have enough battery capacity to run both for about five day’s careful use. Of course, the generator can also be pressed into use. Our generator is super quiet and you have to get very close to the boat to hear it. Also, it is encased in a double insulated, vented enclosure. While you can, of course, hear it inside the boat, it’s not too bad.  Anyway, I had procrastinated for long enough. Once the propane bottle had been removed, it had become a catch all locker, filled with various lines, extra life jackets, etc.  Another reason it’s lasted this long is that it doesn’t look all that bad. But now it had to go.
There was a bit more to it than just unbolting it and carrying down the dock to the dumpster. First and foremost I had redone the deck up there with vinyl and had cut in around the locker. After considerable thought, I couldn’t come up with any way to make things look neat without replacing the whole deck. Another question for Ritchie.
He called on Wednesday and asked me to meet him at his customer’s house.  And what a place it was! Built in the late 1800’s it had been renovated several times since then, the last just recently. Going inside, it was obvious that no expense had been spared in the update. They had turned one of the upstairs rooms into an upscale meeting room, and that’s where the sideboard was to go. The stairway was circular, which made things a bit dicey. The owner wasn’t there but one of his people, who seemed to have some authority, was. “Can I count on you to give us a hand? You and one other guy would be great.”
“Sure.” He answered. “We follow directions pretty good.”
“Good.” Ritchie said. “The thing weighs 400 pounds, but there are plenty of places to grab. I just don’t want to scratch it.  If it does get scratched, I’ll have to refinish the whole thing. No way to match that.”
Meeting Ritchie at seven the next morning, we muscled the sideboard into his truck with the help of his forklift. It was completely covered with protective padding. After breakfast, we headed to the customer’s house.
We were met by the same guy as yesterday, along with two guys who looked like they could carry the sideboard as well as the truck up the stairs.  With five of us working together under Ritchie’s direction, the sideboard was soon in its new home, probably for a hundred years.
“That went well.” Ritchie said pulling out of the circular drive. “I’ve got one more job today and I’ll be over for breakfast first thing in the morning.
“Good deal.” I said. “See you then.”
In the morning, after breakfast, Ritchie brought in his moisture meter and after calibrating it for the thickness of the bulkhead, slowly moved it around the area below. Doing this several times, he finally took a marker and drew several lines.
“That’s where the moisture stops.” He said. “Once you cut to there, you’ll see where it ends.”
“Good job.” I said. “I imagine that the thing costs a pretty penny”
“You don’ wanna know.” He said. “Let’s go look at that deck.”
On the sundeck, I explained again what I wanted to do.
He got that look he gets when deep in thought, with his head tilted to one side.
“I don’t suppose you have any of this vinyl left over, do you?”
I replied in the negative.
“This stuff is gonna be a bear to get up.” He said.
“That’s what I thought.” I answered.
“You know, we can cut a patch that would fit nice and snug in there. The box was square, wasn’t it?”
“You betcha.” I said.
“If you bought a whole roll, you’d have some if issues like this ever come up again.”
He was right. The cockpit sole was covered with the same stuff. Not cheap, but he did have a point.
After he left, I recovered the hole where the locker was with plastic. Then, using my Dremel tool with a tiny circular saw, I cut along the lines Ritchie had drawn. It took a few minutes. Reaching into the hole and pulling out damp insulation it became obvious that the soft wood didn’t go any more than an inch down the bulkhead. Another good thing was that there was no soft wood on the outside. Yes! Taking a day and a half to do what Ritchie would breeze through in a few hours I was nonetheless pleased with the outcome.
Ordering the vinyl from one of the big box stores, I was informed that it would take seven to ten days to get here.
We decided to head out on Friday afternoon as soon as the Blonde, my wife got home from work. While my week was relatively easy, hers was not.  We’ve been to Coecles Harbor, on Shelter Island many times. Anchoring is restricted to the south-east section. It gets busy at times, but we deal with it.  I had no problem heading in there after dark.
Once anchored up, I lit the grill and grilled two nice salmon filets I’d found that afternoon. It was to be my weekend to cook.
Reading, I let the Blonde recharge. The weather was pretty good although we had thunder storms on Saturday night. I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

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