A few years ago, if someone told me there would be a day in the middle of winter in southern new England that would see a temperature in the sixties, January thaw notwithstanding, I’d have answered, “Sure…” But that’s just what happened. It wasn’t very pleasant for me, however. In winter, Patty O’, our forty foot Huckins sedan cruiser that’s also our home, is covered pretty tightly to keep us comfy in bad weather, as well as protecting the boat. The cover consists of construction grade clear plastic, stretched over plastic water pipe. After years of improvements, it works very well and once rigged, requires little attention. It does however, warm up some when the sun is out, This time, the sun was out and the ambient temperature was quite warm. This made it very uncomfortable aboard the boat. The cover has been designed to be very easy to put on and take off; we have a rule that we can get underway in about thirty minutes in winter if we have to. This of course, means removing the cover, and that thought did cross my mind that sweaty afternoon. The moment passed as I realized that the next day could be plagued with snow. That’s weather in the Northeast.
There were several projects I wanted to delve into this winter. A couple were targeted at Mustard, the little Century Runabout we tow behind Patty O’ when we cruise and I like to think of her as our car on the water. Unlike Patty O’, which was in pristine shape when she came to us, Mustard is a true example of the meaning of restoration when it comes to old wooden boats. She is also a prime example of the so called ‘barn boat’. She did indeed spend many years locked up in a New Hampshire barn long after her owner passed. He bought her new and the boat had never seen salt water. The boat languished in that barn for almost forty years before she came to join us. When she was backed in, no one did anything to prepare her for storage and as a result, a massive crack developed in her engine due to the failure to drain the cooling water from her block. Over the years, she has been brought back to a modern, useful little boat that continues to turn heads wherever we go. A few years ago the original engine was replaced. When she had become ours, I had repaired the crack in the block, mostly because everyone kept telling me it couldn’t be done. But I remember my father doing just that on an old pickup truck he bought with a similar problem. Money was pretty tight for him then, and it was either buying a supposedly unrepairable truck or nothing.
Pushing the two ends of the crack together, he then heated the surrounding area with an acetylene torch. Next, he drilled several holes centered along the crack. In these, he used a tap and cut threads in the holes and screwed in bolts, finger tight. Finally, welding a bead along the crack finished the job. It lasted for the several years before he sold the truck and who knows how long after.
I did pretty much the same thing on Mustard’s engine, although I farmed out the welding. That lasted for several years before repowering.
The Blonde, my wife, is an Architect with an undergraduate degree in structural engineering. She took lines off the boat and drew up a set of plans. With these to guide us, and with help from my good friend Ritchie McGill, who is a master woodworker, the hull was completely rebuilt. There is little left of the original boat except maybe the steering wheel. With the new engine, fuel tanks were custom built, somewhat smaller than the original ones; she uses much less fuel these days and the reduced weight makes her a bit more lively.
The steering originally was cable and pulley that ran around the inside of the hull below the gunwale. Adjusted with springs, It never felt like you were in complete control no matter what was done to compensate for the slack. That went away and a modern, hydraulic system was installed. One of the things on the list was to update the auto pilot system. The current one had been cannibalized from a derelict that was on the boatyard’s list to be cut up. But it has never operated the way I would like, and that makes it unreliable. Of course, it also means it keeps me on my toes. There have been many cases of boats getting into trouble due to their operators not paying attention to what they are doing while the autopilot is engaged.
It’s also time for her brightwork to be redone. Several years after she was rebuilt, I had changed over from the traditional several coats of old fashion spar varnish that required me to wipe down the hull daily to remove the dew drops. If left alone, these drops act like tiny magnifying glasses, burning a little hole in the outer coat. Does not look nice.
Now, the routine is a yearly coat of thinned Acrylic varnish. This modern coating is impervious to sun damage. But now, I can see signs of buildup and it’s time for a complete overhaul. The hull will be completely stripped of product. It will then be wiped down with solvent and left for a few days. The next step is to sand the wood with #400 sand paper. There is some discussion among those who know, of whether or not this should be done by hand. For me there is no question: I use a power vibrating sander. At this stage of my life I do not look forward to bursitis!
Mustard is stored for the winter in Ritchie’s heated barn, which is where he also stores his supply of exotic wood he uses in his business of building custom furniture and high end kitchen cabinets. He is always on the lookout for suitable material. I accompanied him once all the way to Chicago for several pallets of Honduras mahogany. He recovered the cost of both the trip and the wood in one kitchen cabinet job.
As is our custom, we made tentative plans to go somewhere warm for a week or so to escape the ravages of winter. Some years we make it, some we do not. We are quite found of the Florida Keys, and I spent a few hours on line looking at all the classy web sites, my mind going a hundred miles an hour thinking of all the wonderous delights that awaited us.
But alas, this was to be one of the not years. The Blonde has had several so called top priory projects dumped in her lap. She is very good at what she does, and is quite often called upon to bail out her firm on a job that has gotten away from the principal designer. That being said, it’s nice to be wanted.
“There’s always next year.” She said.
“I know.” I answered. “And Newport is open all year.”
“Is that a promise?” she asked.
“You betcha. But now, I hear there’s a special on surf ‘n turf at you know where.”
“What are we waiting for?