Monday, May 9, 2011

Boat People



"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
— Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows)


Berkeley Marine Center, Berkeley, CA -- Kenneth Grahame knew what he was talking about.

Pat and I just spent the better part of two and one-half weeks working on our boat "Good News." And we are not done yet.

It is currently sitting on the hard in the boat yard, a nautical term for dry land, while a final few chores are being done by experts(a nautical term for "bring money").

A boat is a very personal thing, and we feel very attached to ours. Even the name has personal, professional and spiritual meaning to us. More important, it was named in a group effort with four good sailing friends and a bottle of champagne on a New Year's Eve in San Diego's harbor.

For various reasons the boat has been somewhat neglected for the past year, and as everyone knows, you always pay the price for deferred maintenance, and things do break on old boats.

Every four years or so we pay to have the boat hauled out of the water by a giant crane. The bottom is cleaned and sanded and then painted with a creepy-critter-and-grassy-stuff repellent paint .

We always have a few other chores taken care of at the same time, just so we can spend some more money.
"BOAT" stands for "Bring Out Another Thousand."

This year we began the process by beginning our personal chore list first. That always involves cleaning, painting and varnishing.

This year it also entailed a plumbing job (almost four days standing on my head swearing), lying flat on my stomach and/or face to reach down and check the bilge pump, building a rack for a propane tank, greasing the valves in the through-hulls, repairing a broken drawer (it probably has a nautical name I can't remember), painting a cabinet, installing new batteries (black wires go to black, red to red), repairing and re-repairing a reading light that mysteriously turns off in the middle of an exciting chapter of a murder mystery. And still does.

I changed the oil which is a really big deal on a boat with a diesel engine, for me at least, and started cleaning up clamps and hoses and stuff -- until part of the engine broke off in my hand.
Sometimes things are better left alone.

Pat spent a lot of time sanding and varnishing, the re-sanding and re-varnishing.
Anyway, after ten days or so of that sort of thing we finally got the boat to the boatyard. But even that was an adventure. I was single-handing from Alameda to Berkeley across San Francisco Bay, about ten miles, when the engine started going flaky on me, smoke appeared to be coming from the engine compartment, RPM dropping, and the electrical system threatened to fry my new batteries.

I made it to the boat yard, an hour or so late, fire extinguisher in hand, and just added the new mechanical/electrical mysteries to the list for the experts to deal with.

I am now on a first-name basis with my new-best-friend Howard the certified marine electrician, who discovered a potentially serious problem with the dock connection (as in OMG it is a FIRE HAZARD!), fixed that, and then diagnosed the source of four years worth of electrical weirdness, and fixed that with a new alternator/regulator. Bless him.

Then Carl, the wonder worker yard boss, cleaned up the heat exchanger (think radiator on a car), repaired the device that actually makes the engine stop, and pointed out various worn hoses and clamps and valves and thingys that needed replacing.

Meanwhile Dave (in the framed photo) finished off the detailed work on the hull while Omar watched Dave with an amused grin and polished our propeller and consulted expertly with Pat on the proper cleaning materials for waxing and polishing.

Pat and I spent what seemed like a month putting wax on, taking wax off, putting wax on, taking wax off. Very labor intensive, but worth it when you consider it costs about $700 to have an expert do it.


Pat is now an expert.

After one week in the boatyard we came home to take care of some other business.
Carl, Dave, Omar and the rest are still doing things to the boat. Howard the electrician, smarter than average, took off for Zihuatanejo (my favorite town in Mexico) to go sailing.

Pat and I are now at home watching the snow melt, and planning the trip back down the hill to retrieve the boat when we get the call that it is ready. We may have to rent a trailer to carry the money to give to the yard, but what the heck, it's our boat and we love her.


"Good News" is a 1979 Hunter sailboat, 37 feet long and 8 tons, cutter-rigged and designed by John Cherubini. It is solid, easy to sail, and comfortable. Our boat was the first of this model in San Francisco Bay back in '79. There are still several around.

The original owner was an anal engineer, which tells you all you need to know about the quality of workmanship he applied to every chore. (I was a liberal arts major, which says a lot about my mechanical skill level.)


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