You know the one. Nearly every boatyard has a ‘work-in-progress’ tucked away somewhere. Likely it’s something unique or uncommon, a boat with character. Usually it’s old, often but not always wood. In most cases it has suffered declining or misguided maintenance in the hands of previous owners, or else it’s been abandoned altogether, and now some optimistic (delusional) soul is undertaking a stem-to-stern restoration. Passers-by pause and shake their heads as they study it with a mix of awe and sympathy. They politely mumble, “but it’ll be beautiful when it’s done,” and then back away as though this condition might be contagious.
For years I’d I sailed a lovely little gaff-rigged catboat. Unfortunately, due to a fear of capsizing that I may have ‘accidentally’ instilled in my husband when we first met, he was not a fan of sailing. In fact, getting him aboard my boat was like pulling teeth and most times I sailed alone or with our daughter. Once she left for college I was single-handing and silently dreaming of something with more cruising capabilities. Sitting among the ‘death-row’ derelicts at the boatyard where I worked was an abandoned 32’ Cheoy Lee trawler. True, she was a powerboat, but if I ever expected to cruise my choices were a stinkpot or a divorce. She was sturdy, full displacement and single screw with a deep, concrete-ballasted keel and a massive rudder. But she needed serious work, the sort that strains wallets and relationships. For years she’d been in the back of my mind… until one fateful day. My husband had stopped by during lunch and we walked along the river’s edge. He looked over, noticing the Cheoy Lee, and said, “You know, if you didn’t have your sailboat we could fix that trawler up.”
In the end we didn’t wind up with that particular boat, though fate paired us up with a sister-ship. She needed work as well, though in theory she wasn’t supposed to be quite so much of a project. In theory. You know how it goes: that little drip is never truly little and each project reveals several more lurking unseen. Where you draw the line is another post entirely, but for the last two years we’ve remained on the hard, watching the ebb and flow of boats around us as we toil away. In that time I’ve come to realize that restoring a boat is much like writing a book. It starts with a dream, but that’s not enough to see it through. At the far end of the boatyard a collection of boats sit silent and forgotten. Long ago each had been someone’s pride and joy; now they remain as lonely reminders of abandoned dreams and failed aspirations, much like manuscripts in a desk drawer.
Be it a boat or a book, if you want to see it through you’re going to have to work at it. There’s an order to the plan of attack: first you make sure everything in the hull or the plot is structurally and mechanically sound, then build out from there. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Everything takes longer than you can ever anticipate. Both undertakings involve a significant investment of time and sanity, none of which you can ever hope to recover. You’ll be met with looks of confusion from those who don’t understand what you’re doing or why, and it’s not even worth trying to explain. Odds are neither the boat or the book will make any financial sense, but when it’s all said and done that’s not what really matters. People will see the end result with no idea of the perseverance it took to reach that point. It takes a certain ability to see beyond the work to the potential, to press on in the face of adversity even while all seems endless and hopeless, knowing in your heart that it will, indeed, be beautiful when it’s done.
One year ago today we made it official, we’re out of our freakin’ minds, and bought Annabel Lee. It’s been an interesting year, a busy year (in more ways than one) and there’s much in the way of photos and tales I’ll be blogging about through the winter, when perhaps I have more time on my hands. But for the moment, even this brief pause to blog is eating into time I should spend doing other things. Stay tuned!
Yeah, well. Let’s see. It’s that time of the year again. There’s a ladder in the back of my car, along with tools and stuff. Annabel Lee’s up on the hard. We’ve set time aside this week to winterize the boat. AS you may notice the lack of coherency, I’m just a bit tired and I’ve downed a bit of rum to mellow out after digging out a bunch of I’m not sure what where the keel is weeping. Trust me, my typing’s way worse, but I keep fixing my mistakes. Way more to say, in coming days I’ll be posting on the definition of insanity as it relates to owning a boat, and no, this doesn’t mean I’d change it, all the same looking back over the last year, I’ve gained some interesting insights I should share with those of you out there who bother to read.
Oh yeah, and my parents are in town, so right now there’s four large dogs running around here. Twice the dogs for the cats to torment. Did all you good readers click for the kitties today? <see below>.
Nap time. Later.
I haven’t spent much time online these days as I’ve been spending more of it on the water. And while I’ve discovered the ability to access several Wifi signals drifting unsecured around the area, if I’m aboard Annabel, I have other priorities. Such as digging out old bedding between the teak decking and resealing so, with any luck (we’ll see when it rains tomorrow,) the port bunk remains dry. Or removing the upper and lower helm pumps, to rebuild the first and replace the second. Or pondering the rate of drip on the stuffing box. Or contemplating the lack of water beneath the keel at low tide. It’s a new moon, so low is especially low, at my dock roughly six inches lower than Annabel draws in the stern. Twice a day her transom sits somewhat elevated, and while it’s only mud below, and with a full skeg her prop and rudder are protected, I’m still not overly happy. Yesterday I decided to do some mid-tide prop-wash dredging. I fired up the engine, eased her into gear, and realized I was close to ripping the docks out. Back to neutral, and I tied her off to the pilings and sea-wall, then gave it another shot. Hopefully that flushed out a little room below.
I’m surprised again and again how people make a point of hiking all the way over to the outer docks just to comment on my little boat. True, I think she’s the most beautiful boat in the marina, but I figured my opinion is somewhat biased. Still, the compliments keep coming. I’ll give you, my old Annabel is quite distinct among the rows of sleek, generic modern boats but I’m continually surprised by her admirerers. And amused. The words I hear most are ‘beautiful’ and ‘project’. A fellow yesterday came over for a closer look, admitting while he’d love a boat like her, he didn’t think he was brave enough for a ‘project like that.’
I finally found them, but it took all weekend, and required a whole lot of scrubbing, scraping, and tossing of many hefty bags. This is what you get for buying a 31 year old boat. We knew the previous owners had let maintenance slide over recent years, and in the light of a bright sunny day, it was becoming apparent just how much. There was a point we began to question our sanity, but forged ahead all the same. Gradually she began to resemble the boat we imagined her as.
Then there’s the ladders. The boat is backed to a retaining wall beside a launch ramp. We park on the side of the ramp. I put a ladder there so I don’t have to walk the long way around. That’s about 4 feet. A 10 foot ladder beside the boat almost reaches to the side deck. Climb aboard, down into the cockpit and it’s another 8 feet up to the bridge, where I was doing much of my work. Add, then multiply by every time I got to the top, then realized a tool I needed was down in the car. On the bright side, my arms and legs will look great by time we launch.
And yes, I am having fun! (Which again, says something about my sanity.)