Tag Archives: restoration

Letting go of Perfection

Another winter is right around the corner, and once again, Annabel Lee remains right where she’s been for far too long.  No, the work I’ve been doing should have never taken this long, but sometimes health, hurricanes, and life in general get in the way. All the same I do know for certain (with the exception of any unforeseen impending disasters, of which I’ve had enough, thank you very much,) I am on the home stretch. If all goes according to plans (okay, go ahead and laugh. I know the boat gods are even as I type this.) her completely re-cored decks will once again be sheathed in fiberglass, and she WILL WILL WILL be afloat come spring, her decks nice and solid, her engine gleaming and purring, and her new-old mast standing high and proud. I may have mentioned in the past, it’s my delusional optimism that keeps me going. Hey, sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.

Now, I’ve heard the whispers. I know what some people are saying. I’m a perfectionist, and until I come to terms with that, the boat will never be done.  And that is true to some extent. For one, no boat is ever truly done –that just goes with the nature of boats. And I am a perfectionist when it comes to the boat, but only to a point. For example, I have a strong dislike for leaking decks, and I believe if you’re going to tear them all up and re-core them, you might as well do it once and do it right. So no, I won’t cut corners there. And I strongly believe that the engine room should be the cleanest, shiniest area on the entire boat, because then if there are any leaks, they are clear and easily located and addressed. But beyond that, I’m actually rather partial to the New England workboat philosophy – minimal brightwork, minimal shiny bits, and simply freshen up the paint once a season.  Let the boat look respectable, let her show she’s maintained, but don’t sweat the finish. Personally, I’m seriously considering simply rolling the hull with a nice, flat, off-white paint.  It’s a look I’m rather fond of, and not just aesthetically.  It’s a look that says, “This boat isn’t just a show piece.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m the first to admire a truly beautiful, meticulous finish. You’ve got to respect the work and discipline that goes into achieving and maintaining it, and brightwork that gleams with flawless richness is truly a thing of beauty. I’d been that obsessive on my old catboat, Myra Lee, and took great pride in the admiration she attracted. But these days I’m letting go of that ideal. So long as she’s mechanically and structurally sound, I’d prefer  Annabel Lee be less of a show piece and more of a functional, functioning boat. A boat I won’t mind dogs romping around, and one I won’t mind hauling a striped bass aboard. A boat that guests don’t have to remove their shoes to board. A boat that dinghies can thump against all night without concern. A boat I don’t have to pamper. A boat with the lowest maintenance-to-use ratio I can achieve.  A boat I can simply enjoy.

It’s easy to get caught up in the quest for perfection. As a writer, there’s always another sentence we can tweak, and on boats, there’s always something that could shine just that much more.  But there’s a point where it might be best to let go of perfection in exchange for ‘good enough’. Because in the end, once Annabel Lee is finally anchored out, as the sun dips below the horizon as the clouds streak the sky with a magnificent pink and orange display, the last thing that will matter is how shiny her hull is.

And on that note, I found this video had been emailed to me from Jamestown Distributors, and it sums this philosophy up perfectly. It’s well worth watching.

I own that boat in the shed…

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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.

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