Mention boat ownership to almost anybody and you’re almost certain to be bombarded with platitudes about the constant cost and/or drudgery of maintenance. A few examples:
- B.O.A.T. stands for “bring out another thousand!”
- Boating is grand. And then another grand. And then another…
- A boat is a hole in the water into which the owner pours money!
- The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it!
- “Sailing,” according to The Sailor’s Dictionary, “is the art of getting wet and becoming ill while going nowhere very slowly at great expense.”
- Before buying a boat you should stand in a cold shower with all your clothes on, tearing up $100 bills!
So why bother, you might ask. I guess it’s because when we think of our boats, we tend to dwell more on those rare few isolated moments when we’re out underway and everything is as it’s supposed to be. The weather is balmy and clear. There’s just the right amount of wind and from the right direction at that. The engine starts when you need it to and purrs like a well-fed kitten. All systems are working perfectly. The bilge is dry and free of flammable/explosive substances. All of your passengers are in good health and spirits (or, perhaps better yet, you’re single-handing).
If we were honest about it, those moments may only exist in our dreams, but it’s thinking of them that loosens our grip on our wallets (and reality).
For most of us, the major hassle and expense falls in the spring when it’s time to go to the boat yard to haul the boat ashore to prepare it for another season of mostly sitting idly at an expensive dock slip oxidizing the paint, blistering the varnish and cultivating a healthy garden of marine growth on the bottom.
What the typical wealthy yacht owner does is to take his boat (or have Jeeves take it) to a nearby yacht yard where it is handed over to a professional staff of highly paid specialists who clean, sand, prep and paint everything before returning the vessel to its owner along with a staggering bill. Very expensive.
The rest of us always seek out “Do-it-yourself” yards which are also very expensive but allow you to do grueling, filthy, back-breaking work on your boat while exposing your lungs, skin, eyes and ears to highly toxic dust, fumes and liquids in hopes of saving a few bucks. This seems to be just another illusion with which we poor boaters delude ourselves.
After a long winter of basically indoor weather, I was feeling the need last week to have one of those spiritually uplifting boating experiences. The forecast looked not-so-bad for sailing across the sound on Thursday, hunkering down for a rainy blow on Friday and then punching back across on Saturday.
Then, as Thursday approached, the extended forecast began to go south on me so I decided to give up my cruise in exchange for a long, leisurely day sail. I packed some sandwiches and invited my friend Bill along.
Although the weather was pleasant enough, the experience was disappointing. On starting the engine, I discovered a dead battery – not a big deal since there are three others in the system, but enough to create some doubt about the condition of the others. Would there be enough juice to fire up the diesel when it came time to drop the sails?
Then we cast off the lines and put her in gear. The boat oozed out of her slip at about half her usual speed, a clear indication that the propeller was fouled with barnacles. When we put up the sails and stopped the motor, the boat’s continued sluggishness confirmed what we’d already suspected: that the hull itself was badly fouled.
On the bright side, a pod of dolphins decided to tag along and they hung around with us for three solid hours which I believe must be some sort of record, due no doubt to our slow pace. The engine started when needed and we finally called it a day. But as soon as I got home, I went online and ordered a battery and telephoned a boat yard to arrange a Monday morning haul-out. I had, after all, skipped last year’s haul-out by diving under the boat and scraping the hull a couple of times during the summer.
The forecast looked promising for sailing (O.K. motor-sailing) down to Beaufort on Saturday, but even so, I donned a wet suit Friday morning and gave the prop and waterline a quick cleaning. I’d decided to try a boatyard I’d never been to before, Ted and Todd’s, partly because it was down wind and partly because it had been highly recommended to me for years by boating friends who were regulars of theirs.
As usual , Bill was up for it so we laid in provisions and headed out Saturday morning at first light. The hull and prop cleaning had made enough of a difference that we soon realized we could make Beaufort before dark, but rather than spend all day Sunday in the industrial side of town, we opted for dropping the hook in a beautiful wooded anchorage in Back Creek at about 3 p.m.
On Sunday morning we had the kind of breakfast that makes cruising such a pleasure: hot coffee, orange juice, mixed fruit, eggs, country ham and English muffins as we watched the fog lift in the sunrise. A bald eagle flew over. We sat for a while in total silence, appreciating the fact that, peaceful and quiet as Ocracoke is, if you just shut up and listen for a minute there’s always sound. Someone’s heat pump, traffic on the road, a barking dog. Even the surf.
We motored down the waterway and arrived at the boat yard well before noon, tying alongside a commercial fishing boat at the yard’s service pier. We had an interesting chat with Kevin, a crew member staying aboard while the captain took some shore leave. He told us a bit about life 200 miles out long lining for swordfish in the previous week’s icy weather. No thanks!
Monday morning we met Ted, the owner, and his father Gary as the yard crew began showing up at around 7:30. This is a no-nonsense commercial yard. Although there were a few sailboats, mostly under 40 feet, they were vastly outnumbered by large trawlers. Sitting high and dry on the yard’s marine railway was an enormous steel commercial fishing boat which was about half-way constructed. A busy welding crew worked on it the entire time we were in the yard.
We backed my schooner into the slipway and disconnected the backstay to allow clearance for the travel lift. Ted operated the lift and out she came. A friendly chap named Milt did a superior job pressure washing the hull and scraping the barnacles (all included in the very reasonable price of the haulout). The schooner was lowered onto large wooden blocks and supported with prop stands. By eleven o’clock the boat was dry enough to paint. I ordered new sacrificial zincs which Gary picked up for me at the local supply house. These were attached to the propeller shaft and rudder gudgeons to protect them from electrolysis.
Bill replaced the zincs while I applied the copper antifouling paint to the schooner’s bottom with a roller. The boat was lowered back into the water at a quarter past two and we were on our way! That was undoubtedly the shortest time I’ve ever taken on a haul out. We had time to visit the Morehead City yacht basin to take on fuel and motor the 15 miles to our anchorage in Back Creek before sunset.
On Tuesday we were once again away at dawn for a long slog into a cold NE breeze and a nasty chop on the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. But with the chart plotter and auto pilot (to say nothing of a smooth, freshly-painted hull) things could have been a lot worse. We arrived home at 2:30, now loyal converts to Ted & Todd’s fantastic boatyard.