Tag Archives: boatyard

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


It’s early March. The boatyard is gray and empty, with few signs of life… that is, aside from the raccoon tracks all over my decks. It seems some enterprising creature discovered by climbing the beams in the shed they could step across to my anchor and slip aboard. From there it was a simple matter of pushing in the screen in the forward cabin port, down the bookshelves, across the bunk and up to the galley, where ultimately they discovered that single bag of stale pretzels I’d left aboard as emergency rations. I can’t begrudge my uninvited guest their meal, especially since aside from the pillaged bag of pretzels there was no other damage, though I’ve lowered my anchor a few feet so it no longer provides a convenient gangplank for the four-footed bandit.

There are a few other signs that life is returning to the yard. The ice has receded from the river and crews are prepping the yard boat and the lifts. Docks are going back in. A cover or two has been pulled back and a lone extension cord snakes across the gravel. Next to the office, between melting piles of grungy snow a few crocuses have broken through the soil. Within weeks this place will be bustling with energy as boats shed their cocoons and the warming air is filled with the smell of solvents and fresh paint. The hum of sanders and the whine of the travel lift will drone from morning till night as boats move from the yard to the docks.

It’s a busy time, but a good busy. It’s a time to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen all winter, to catch up on life as you get things in order for those summer days ahead. There are those familiar faces, the ones that return year after year, though often I know them only by the name across their boat’s hull. There’s the older couple on ‘Fairwinds’, working away on that same boat they bought back when the kids, all grown and on their own now, were little. The fishermen with ‘Reel Good’, eager to launch early for the annual striped bass derby. And there will be new faces; there always are. The group of young friends with a scuffed up runabout preparing for a summer of waterskiing and wakeboarding. The retiree, proudly acquainting himself with that dream boat he’d worked years to achieve. A young couple ambitiously tackling a tired old sloop. We watch, realizing they have no clue where to begin, but what they lack in experience and knowledge they more than make up with enthusiasm and energy. And there will be missing faces and boats that sit untended, and talk of who became ill or passed away, and then you realize how little you truly knew about those people you’d known for years. But at least, looking back, there is a sense that the time spent with them was time well spent – laughing, swapping tools and stories, sharing drinks and dreams.

In this age of shopping centers and central air-conditioning, people have grown isolated. Modern life has fallen victim to its own success. A house in the suburbs with a big backyard and a driveway full of cars has created neighborhoods of commuters who rarely see and barely know one another. There was a time when societies flourished on communities working and building together, helping one another out. I suppose this is a big part of what I enjoy around the boatyard: that sense of community has not been lost. While there may be a diverse range of boats and owners, there is a certain unity. Backed to one another, transoms become porches and docks are communal sidewalks as we all pass one another while we come and go. People pause to stop and chat. A lifted engine hatch will immediately draw queries of “Everything all right?” and “Need a hand?” Friendships are forged as we sympathize, commiserate and assist, even if only to offer a cold beer. And I suppose that’s what I enjoy most about spring within this little village of eclectic boats – that promise of another season among friends, both old and new.Indeed it is. At least, in a manner of speaking.

UPDATE: Over the coming days I’ll be doing some updates/housekeeping here on this blog. I know some of my older posts have missing photos, and there are a few things I’ve written in the past for Write on the Water that I’d like to share here. I can only assure you that this is the start of much more. But in my usual cryptic way, I’m not going to elaborate on that just yet.

Stay tuned! (And thanks for hanging around this long — your patience will be rewarded!)

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.

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.

No rush…

Such wonderful words, and so refreshing to hear after last spring’s ‘rushing’, it turns out, is what led to our major rudder headaches that rippled through a good part of this summer and, in turn, left us with yet another repair for the coming winter. More on that later. But first, Saturday went PERFECT.

The original plan was to move Annabel Lee to her new winter home on Friday, with both high tide and daylight in our favor. But by Friday morning the wind was ripping from the north and the river churning. By afternoon high tide, the only time we can ease our four foot six inch draft out from Piermont’s shallows, conditions had only worsened. We still had the option of the next high tide at 4:16 a.m., which coincided with a predicted lull in the winds, which would shift to a more agreeable easterly direction as well.

Saturday morning we were underway beneath a crisp, star-filled sky, with a light breeze and smooth water. Traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge was light, and even lighter beneath it. The only other vessels we saw through our trip were a pair of tugs pushing barges.

Continuing north, daylight gradually lit the sky and the sun rose as we reached Haverstraw. We tied up as the yard opened and then moved Annabel Lee into the pit. The lift went smoothly and the yard crew worked with easy, practiced precision. One minute we’re floating, next, suspended high in the air.

While the yard crew pressure-washed Annabel Lee’s bottom, we took the car, dropped off two nights earlier, and ran up the road for breakfast. We would have brought back coffee for the guys, but they said they were good. After they finished up, we set to work removing the skeg and disconnecting the rudder. We checked to be sure we weren’t holding things up and were reassured there was ‘no rush’, and we could do whatever work we needed. So we proceeded to flush the engine, winterize it, and yet again change the oil. Again we checked, and again were told ‘no rush’. After last winter and spring, where everything was ALWAYS a rush, always hurry-hurry, this was a pleasant, though unfamiliar, change of pace. So we washed the boat down before she would go indoors. Then the yard lifted the boat higher and we eased the rudder out. Sure enough, there were suspicious wear marks, slight, but telling. By now it was lunchtime and the car was loaded to capacity with no room for the rudder, so we ran home to grab lunch and switch over to the truck. The yard told us after lunch they’d move the boat to the shed. When we returned, there she was off to the corner, blocked neatly and perfectly, right where we’d hoped they’d put her.

The nicest part was seeing how professionally they’d set her, with blocks running the length of her keel (not just TWO, like two winters ago in Massachusetts, and six stands, chained together, not four, the way we began last winter.) This is the proper arrangement for a boat of her size and weight, and seeing that the yard set things up so well only added to our confidence that we’d come to the right place. Being in a yard where work proceeded smoothly and efficiently, without rushing and shouting, was very reassuring. I’ve both worked at and been a customer in yards where a sense of urgency, real or imagined, creates tension, mistakes and unnecessary damage, such as dismastings, dropped boats, toppled cranes, and our rudder. (Back to that later.) True, we deliberately hauled prior to the peak fall haul-outs, but even when yards aren’t busy I’ve seen them racing themselves, as if they’re scored on how fast they can get a boat from water to blocks. This doesn’t appear to be the case here, and that makes me very happy. And considering they have no issues with our intentions to do extensive work on the boat ourselves, it seems we’ve at last found the ideal location for Annabel Lee.

At the moment we have much of the shed to ourselves, aside from the Wiggins forklift and a graceful little wood sloop tucked safely behind a large stack of wood. By the looks of things, someone was moving along with an ambitious restoration, though it seems work came to a halt years ago. She looks quite sound and sturdy, and being well protected, doesn’t appear to have suffered any further deterioration. I’m curious what her story is, and glad to see she’s not outdoors, where weather would take its toll.

And the rudder…

You regular readers may recall my mention no only of our ongoing aggravation with the rudder sticking at a certain angle, but of last spring’s gray-hair-inducing rudder installation, which occurred at the end of the Great Keel Ordeal. Following repairs on the keel, we reinstalled the shaft and rudder, which required the Travelift raise the boat high enough that we could c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y lift the large and heavy rudder back in place. This involved several volunteers above and below. We were midway through gently jacking the rudder in position when the yard manager, ever in a rush, insisted he’d speed the process up by LOWERING the boat over the shaft. Even as we shouted “NO!” he proceeded anyways, and for a moment something hung up in the housing, with all the boat’s weight bearing down. After what seemed an eternity he finally heard our frantic shouts of “UP! UP!” and lifted the boat enough for us to align the shaft and things to slide into place. Needless to say, we could only hope no damage occurred.

Unfortunately, hoping was not enough. Through the coming weeks it became apparent something was clearly wrong, something that even the mid-summer short-haul could not correct. We spent the summer suspecting the worst and ultimately using the boat very little. Sure enough, when we pulled the rudder, as stated, there were some suspicious new wear marks. A quick inspection of the housing, shining a light up inside, revealed marks in the metal, and damage of some degree. It ‘s possible that was bent as well. Fortunately the good people at S&S Propeller assured us this is something they know how to tackle, so it looks like I’ll be heading over to Flushing in the coming weeks.

If anyone wonders why we put ourselves through all this, as I’ve stated from the beginning, we’re clearly out of our minds. But our sanity was somewhat reassured as we paid a visit to the Norwalk Boat Show earlier today. We went there hoping to find some resources for repairs, parts suppliers and the like, but discovered that was not to be. The vendors, for the most part, were either offering their services or selling things like (I kid you not) LED lighted cup-holders. Clearly, this was not a show for the do-it-yourself crowd. I’ve heard the wooden boat shows may be more of what we’re looking for. But we’d paid our admission, so I suggested to Frank we take a stroll down the dock to view the shiny new stuff floating there. I can’t even venture to guess the price-tags on those gleaming toys. As the saying goes, if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it. But amusingly, as we strolled among the window-shoppers, we paused to study construction on some of these multi-million dollar yachts, noticing the nice and the less-than-nice workmanship. There were details that impressed us, and just as often, places where corners were cut. For that kind of money, I expect my corners to be steam-bent and perfectly fitted. The more we looked, the more we came to appreciate our well-built little boat. I’d like to see how some of these fine boats weather 32 years of love, knocks and neglect. Will all this work we’re doing restoring this boat be worth it in the end? Financially? Probably not. We knew that going in. But the more I look around, the more I see, they just don’t build them like they used to.

And finally, in the life of Moxy, Loki and Rex… we’re gonna need a bigger couch!