Category Archives: boatyards

Catching up…

I’ve got a lot of that to do, now that I’m back from the land of the not-quite-dead. When you go from busy and active to semi-comatose, everything in life falls behind. Writing, the boat, the house, the yard…you name it.  It doesn’t take long everything to pile up, and the deeper it gets, the more intimidating it can be. And while I’d like to just jump right back in, full-throttle, I’m still operating with a heart that barely breaks an idle. But now at least I can take the crew for walks again, so we’re working on getting that blood flowing a bit faster, one step at a time.

2015-04-29 14.43.13

2015-04-29 14.43.35

After Sandy, what remained of the boatyard was rebuilt on the south end, while the north end of the yard is all but abandoned, save a few surviving but forgotten boats and twisted traces of wreckage. It makes a wonderful place for the dogs to explore and leave their mark, so to speak.

2015-05-29 12.13.51

Leading the way, Emma is yet to earn full ‘off-leash’ privileges, though she’s close. Laid-back Loki is ‘good example dog’, and he’s teaching Emma the ropes, quite literally.

2015-05-19 13.14.56

And trailing at the back is Rex, aka: ‘bad example dog’. Rex is prone to distraction and selective hearing, so he’s stuck on the leash most times, even if he’s only trailing it as a reminder.

2015-05-29 12.14.03

2015-05-14 14.51.51

Once the north yard has been fully sniffed and inspected, it’s off to the south side, where there’s a bit of a beach. And that’s another reason I keep Rex on a leash; even with those stubby basset hound legs, he’s a superb swimmer, and his listening skills decline even further once he’s buoyant and doggy-paddling to Albany.

And now, back to catching up on finishing that book!

Advertisements

Sorting boats…

December has arrived, and once again the docks are all but empty on my little corner of the Hudson River. Activity at the yard, which had been buzzing along in high gear for the last two months, starts to scale back. For a few weeks there were people and cars and sounds of all sorts around us on the hard, but now the silence is returning. In another week or two, the only signs of life we’ll see around the yard are a few marina employees and the hardy little feral ‘yard cats’, occasionally soaking up a bit of low winter sun on a warm car hood. The season has ended and rows of boats have been sorted.

In most cases, when yards block up boats for winter storage, there’s a very specific order to where each one winds up, and why. Size plays a role, as does the all-important ‘When do you want to go back in’ factor. Last out is usually first in. Some owners wrap things up after Labor Day and don’t pull the cover until the end of May while others are geared up for fishing at the first signs of spring – don’t block them in! But there’s more to it. It’s no accident that the shiniest and newest of boats with custom covers or shrink wrap are closer to the main entrance and offices. For one, it just looks better and reflects well on the yard. It also keeps these boats where they’re less inclined to be visited by someone other than their owner. Further back goes to the boats with flapping plastic tarps or no covers at all. And finally, tucked in the furthest corners of the yard, backed to the brush and overgrowth, are the boats that have been on the hard for many seasons – the hopeless and the forgotten. They sit as testaments to abandoned dreams. At some point in their existence, each had been someone’s pride and joy. Now they stand as silent reminders of failed aspirations. Perhaps their owner had fallen upon bad times or eventually the reality of boat ownership outweighed the dream, draining and straining finances and relationships, sometimes past the point of no return. Like a novel in a desk drawer, these grand dreams fell victim to the harsh realities of day-to-day life.

Yet, glimmers of hope spring up in these forgotten corners, like a rose blooming among the oil drums and weeds. Every so often someone with the right mix of skill, perseverance, delusional optimism and determination sets their eyes on one of those forgotten boats, and you’ll see it re-emerge from death-row to float and sail once more. I recall one boat where the cabin and bridge had been partially destroyed by fire, though the hull and engine remained intact. It was placed in the corner to languish for years. But then one day someone new arrived. The fellow who repaired her did so the only way he knew how — with sheet-metal. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but year after year he’s out on the water happily fishing away. On the other end of the spectrum a friend of mine acquired an old ketch that had been caught in the wrong end of a shed collapse, and he restored that boat to exceptional magnificence. In both cases, these boats were brought back from the dead and each is a victory. It’s that ability to see beyond the work to the potential, to press on in the face of all adversity, hoping someday it will be beautiful — or at least float. I sometimes wonder how many of those resurrected boats belong to writers.

Thanks for the inspiration, but…

I’ve been described as a lot of things. Dark, twisted, warped, skewed…and I’d suspect there are plenty of other terms not said directly to my face. I’ve been told there is something inherently distorted in my outlook on life. And while many might not see these attributes in a positive way, I take them as compliments, which I do realize says something in itself about my personality. I’ll be the first to admit it: behind the curls and cheerful smile lurks an evil mind. Happily, these days my writing lets me embrace these particular qualities – more than that – to focus them productively onto the pages of my stories. And as readers discover the unusual ways my characters meet with harm, there’s one question I hear more and more often.

“How do you come up with this stuff?”

(I also get a surprising number of inquiries about my husband’s well-being, which always gives me a laugh. Yes, he’s alive and well. But back to the first question.)

I suppose, if you boil it down, I’d have to say I’ve spent too much time around boats. You see, I have a knack for visualizing worst-case scenarios. I can look at a situation and envision endless variations of possible catastrophe. And boats, by their nature, are the ideal setting for Murphy’s law to prevail. Even with the best preparation, things can and do go wrong. And once you let diligence slide, Murphy is there, just waiting for the opportunity to demonstrate how very, very wrong things can and will go.

I see a carelessly placed shore power cord running from a non-GFI outlet and chafing raw at the dock’s edge, and my writer’s brain contemplates how I could conveniently bump off a character in an effectively electrifying way. That whiff of propane drifting down the dock…hmmm. Are fumes settling in that boat’s bilge? On the fictional front it could be useful, and I’d already filed that one for a future book, even as I try to locate the owner of the prospective mushroom cloud docked upwind of mine. The fellow down the dock who simply climbs aboard and fires up the engine, never even pausing to run the blower or glance into the engine room to sniff around or inspect fluids. The oil pressure alarm clamors away and he casually informs me, “Oh, that always stays on. I can’t figure out how to disable it,” while the bilge pump spews out a soup of water and oil that puts the Exxon Valdez to shame. Or the runabout up on a trailer, hull plug out and the bilge steadily draining a glistening puddle with a stench of raw gasoline from what is likely a leaking fuel tank or line. It doesn’t take much to imagine how that boat, and anyone aboard, could end up consumed in an inferno of melting fiberglass and barbequed crew. Yet, most horrifying of all is how the boat’s owner appears completely oblivious to the situation, and equally unconcerned when I bring it to his attention.

As the author of novels filled with nautical mayhem, these potentially disastrous recipes for electrocutions, fires and explosions provide a multitude of wonderfully creative and entirely plausible options for disposing of characters in gruesome yet proven ways. But the same elements that make for wonderful fiction, are in reality the stuff of nightmares. And while, from a writer’s perspective, I do appreciate the never-ending abundance of ideas these owners and their poorly maintained and operated boats provide, as a boat owner, I’d really prefer they be docked somewhere else.

Right or left???

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. My days of working in and around marinas and boatyards, either as an employee or a customer, has provided me an abundance of writing material.  Boats sinking, burning, heavy objects being lifted and shifted by heavy equipment,  stray electricity, storms, heat, ice,  and so on. Case in point: the above photo. The memorable quote in the above case was: “The mechanic stated he smell gasoline, and when he started the boat it just burst into flame.” Uhm….yeah. No comment. Amazingly, no one was hurt. A bit singed, perhaps, but the boat was a total loss. And then there’s the humans you find around the water. The marine environment attracts some truly unique and interesting characters, from the yard crews and office staff, to the customers, and even an occasional critter hiding in the attic. The transient pictured below was gently and humanely relocated to the nearby marshland. I could — and ultimately will — fill pages with the things I’ve seen and heard over the years. Of course, in a fictional context, names and situations will be changed, but the material I encounter is a virtual well-spring of inspiration on the behavior of humans on and around boats.  Some times I have to shake my head and laugh, (or at least try to laugh,) because you simply can’t make this sh*t up.  For example: the boat we found tied to the dock in the morning, half sunk, with a flooded cockpit, the forward hatch open, THE MAIN UP and the jib piled on the deck and hanging overboard. When I called the owner, he replied that he had left it that way because he “went sailing yesterday and will be going out tomorrow,” and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand why leaving his boat under sail at the dock was an issue. It was a miracle it hadn’t gone over during the storm we’d had overnight, though he fully acknowledged that his cockpit drains were permanently clogged, which explained the abundance of water on the wrong side of the hull. Yet he couldn’t understood why I felt it necessary to call him on any of these matters. Maybe I’m being too picky, but behavior like that makes my head hurt. It’s something marinas deal with constantly, so we should be used to these ‘quirky’ customers.  And whenever I think I’ve seen it all, like the fellow complaining that someone dinged his boat – – a bashed up center console that annually sinks, is filled with junk and quite literally has grass growing through cracks in the cockpit — that I get a call that takes the prize. Caller, sounding slightly aggravated: “Yeah. How do I figure out where I am on the river?” Me, already getting a bad feeling: “You’re calling from a boat? Are you in distress? Is there some sort of emergency?” Caller: “No. I just want to park at the restaurant for lunch. How do I find you guys?” Me: “Uhm. Charts. Navigational instruments. Do you have them aboard?” Caller: “I don’t know how to use them. Can’t you just tell me which way to go?” Deep breath. Me: “Where did you start from, and are you travelling north or south.” Caller: “I got gas but I don’t know where that was, and when I left there I made a right. I don’t know that north and south stuff.” His tone grew more irritable. “Can’t you just tell me if I should go right or left?” Wince. These are the people we share the waterways with.  Another deep breath. Me: “Do you have a smart phone? Look up Google maps. That should give you a general idea.” Caller: “Oh, hey! Great! Thanks!” And when ultimately he did arrive, aided by his data plan,  it was aboard a shiny new $250K boat sporting every bell and whistle, including all the latest and greatest nav instruments. No, you can’t make this sh*t up.

I own that boat in the shed…

boatinshed1
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.

boatpic

The right tool in the wrong hands…

“Oh, you mean the fellow with the belt sander,” came the reply on the other end of the phone.

A bad feeling crept up my spine. Belt sander? When you work in a boatyard, you often identify customers by certain traits, distinctions, or habits. The guy with the blue-eyed dog. The woman who always wears tie-dyed shirts. The dude with the long ponytail. But the fellow in question, the one with the belt sander, was at that time the owner of a boat I was coming to see. The boat I ultimately purchased. And the previously mentioned belt sander was, tragically, his preferred method of keeping the teak decks bright.

By the point my boat and I came together, the decks had been sanded, for the most part, clear down to the fasteners. In some cases, even the fasteners themselves had been sanded smooth. Which didn’t exactly aid in keeping the planks secure, or water out.

Not much holding this teak down, aside from the black goo, which was sticky in some places, dry and crumbly in others. Best we can determine, this was a result of the prior owner’s fondness for certain quick leak cures that ultimately could not cure the issues,  but temporarily hid the symptoms.

As a result, the decks suffered an abundance of leaks, seeping through the fiberglass beneath that teak, and into the coring.

The only saving grace was that the now saturated coring was also teak, sparing it from turning to a rotted mess. I knew this, and it was one of the reasons I was wanted this specific boat, despite the work I suspected she’d need. But it’s the work I couldn’t begin to imagine that bit me in the backside, to put it politely. Years of repeated freezing and thawing had taken their toll, delaminating a significant area of the bridge.  And the more things came apart, the more apparent the extent of the damage became. And the more we began to realize this wasn’t going to be a simple repair.

This was around the point my husband began grumbling under his breath about taking a saw to the boat, and I suspect he wasn’t referring to repairs. Either way, it was time to take some drastic steps. Pictured below is the first section of the ceiling/deck being cut away. Ultimately, two thirds of the bridge deck were removed.

Hmmm. Now, WHERE is that leak coming from?

openbridge

There was no turning back now.  We constructed a new core, consisting of three layers of 1/4″ marine ply, laminated over a mold to duplicate the original camber.

It was easier to work on ground level, so we did this in the garage, then trucked the whole thing, mold and all, to the boat, then had it forklifted to a support set to bridge height.

At this point, folks around the yard were speculating that we were building a new cockpit enclosure. Not quite. But the structure supported the new core and allowed us to ease it into the space between the outer sides of the bridge, secure it, then laminate new ‘ribs’ into place. The screws you see were used to temporarily secure each layer as the epoxy cured.

Then the whole the whole area was glassed over with glass cloth and yet more epoxy.

And then it was time to tackle things from above, in this case with three layers of biaxial fiberglass/mat cloth, laid up with epoxy resin.

bridge 003

bridge 031

We’d saved the ‘skin’ of the rear contours of the bridge so we could more easily duplicate the original contours, and you can see that in the left side of the picture.

Next step, one more layer of biaxial, covering the entire bridge from end to end. Yes, it might fall along the range of overkill, but I can confidently tell you at this point the bridge is now rock solid, leak, (and possibly even bullet) proof. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

As for those hole running along the sides of the bridge, I had cut access so I could pour in epoxy, filling the gap between the inner and outer walls of the bridge where it meets the deck — which was probably already completely sealed in previous steps, but then again, if you’re going to go with the overkill approach, you might as well go all out.  It was an interesting process involving a funnel and section of hose, but sorry, no pics. I saved the cutouts, which were glassed back in place and faired out.

Today’s task will be the first barrier coats, and then topside paint and non-skid. It’s been one hell of a long, itchy, sticky road to reach this point, and in the end we’ll have a deck that looks like any other normal deck, which, I suppose, is a good thing. And lest anyone think the deck is the only thing we’ve been working on — the engine room, steering, and countless other mechanicals have been getting a complete overhaul as well.

As spring rolls around, we’re drawing closer to actually being afloat once again. Throughout the Sandy-battered boatyards, there’s a sense of optimism as things gradually return to some level of normal. Some boats are gone forever, hauled away to salvage yards, while some new (and new-old) boat have taken their place. Other boats have been professionally repaired and you can’t even tell what they’d been through. Some owners bought their storm damaged boats, or someone else’s boat, back from the insurance companies, and they’re learning the fine art of DIY fiberglass repair. Yet other boats escaped unscathed, and their owners are happily prepping for launch…including one merry fellow I passed the other day, blissfully sanding away at the teak decks on his boat.

“Yeah, they leak a bit,” he explained, “but all decks do. And they look so nice after a fresh sanding.”