Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

It’s the hap-happiest season of all… Well, if you’re a boating fanatic, that is. I’ve had that old Andy Williams Christmas tune running on a loop in the back of my mind all day. Actually, I prefer the Amy Grant version, but I digress…

What’s so terrific about this week? Why, it’s Defender’s once a year annual warehouse sale! That time of year when the world’s largest, most awesomest marine supplier shuts down their entire operation for four days, knocks another 10% – 15% off their already lowest of low prices, and does nothing but take orders while thousands of trucks back up to their loading docks in anticipation. At least, I envision it as being thousands. I really don’t know, as I’ve never actually been to the store, but I imagine it’s a lot. Then, on the fifth day, the doors are thrown open, and as the weary Defender employees, finally released from their sequester, stumble out into the cold New England dawn, the warehouse begins disgorging the millions of items that cost-obsessed boaters like yours truly wait all year to order.

Defender’s 18th Annual Warehouse Sale March 27th thru 30th

If it’s something I need and have to have now, I’ll order it. But if it’s something I need, want, or merely lust after, and it can wait, it goes on my Defender wish list for the next Annual Warehouse Sale.

Take that, West Marine!

Actually, now that I think about it, this might be my favorite version:

(No promotional consideration was offered for this post. Not that I wouldn’t be open to it…)

The Ocean Doesn’t Care

Do you know why I like sailing?

I sigh with resignation as I settle into my chair and click the icon on my desktop to launch the mandatory Prevention of Sexual Harassment training that it’s very important I complete by the end of the day. It’s mandated that I take it every year. That, along with a whole list of other very important training such as Combatting Human Trafficking, Cyber Security, Information Awareness, and on and on ad nauseum.

Now mind you, it’s not that I’m being singled out for this punishment. It’s an annual requirement for everyone who punches the clock for Uncle Sam. But I’ve worked for the Navy in one capacity or another for my entire adult life, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never once sexually harassed anyone. But no matter, it’s a requirement. All told, I’ll bet I’ve taken this very important training several dozen times. It’s probably a week of my life lost to the administrivia gods.

About a third of the way through, my supervisor stops by to ask if I’d complete and submit some information services request orders. He’s tied up and they need to be in today. Thankful for something slightly more meaningful to do, I say “No problemo” and launch the appropriate form. A few clicks and some typing, a brief dive under some desks to verify port numbers, and I’m done. Hitting “Submit,” I reluctantly return to my very important mind-numbing soul-sucking computer-based training.

Ten minutes later, I have mail. It’s from the IT shop. It says “Information services request forms can only be submitted by Branch Heads, Division Heads, or Department Heads. Please have your supervisor submit these requests.”

Sigh. I pick up the phone and call. “So, my Branch Head asked me to do this for him. He’s pretty busy today.”

“He’ll have to submit the forms,” came the curt reply.

“So even though he asked me to do it for him, you won’t do it unless he submits them.”

“That’s right. Please have him submit the forms.”

“So you’re going to make me forward these completed requests to him, just so that he can then forward them to you.”

“That’s right. Then we can act on the requests.”

“But they’ll be the same forms with the same info, just from a different email address,” I say, foolishly believing that I could somehow prevail through the application of logic.

“Only Branch Heads, Division Heads, and Department Heads can submit information services request forms.”

“I got it,  I got it. OK, fine. Thanks. Goodbye,” I say, and then forward the requests to my Branch Head with an apology, explaining that due to my lack of worthiness in the eyes of the IT department, I am unable to assist him as requested. After hitting “Send,” I once again return to my very important training.

Do you know why I like sailing?

Because the ocean doesn’t care if you’ve completed Prevention of Sexual Harassment Training 37 times. When you turn the wheel, the boat responds without asking if you have the appropriate title to operate the helm. Things that don’t matter are voluntary, and you’re very much aware of the things that DO matter, like keeping the water out, the people onboard, the sails full, and the keel underneath you.

So much of what we call life seems to consist of doing things that really don’t matter, they’re just very important.

Sailing is the exact opposite. The ocean is a stern teacher that demands great respect. But I love it. Because it doesn’t waste your time…


There Are No Easy Boat Projects

We’ve all experienced situations where you tackle what you think is a minor project that snowballs into a massive all-consuming time suck that eventually has you on your knees begging for mercy. Boats are special.  It seems that everything you do on a boat spirals out of control. Rhonda knows that if I head to the boat after breakfast with a cheery “this should only take an hour or two,” she’ll be lucky to see me before dark, and there’s a good chance I’ll be headed back the next day as well. This is going to be a pretty long post. Because it describes what started out (in theory) as a pretty small job. (Click on any of the images for a closeup)

See these? They go by a variety of names, such as drop boards, pin boards, weather boards, and so on. They’re the boat’s front door, and their primary job is to keep the weather on the outside of the boat. For reasons lost to the mists of time, the Eagle’s previous owner apparently wasn’t happy with the set that the factory provided. He made his own. 

Cheesy Drop Boards

Cheesy Drop Boards

<snark>Look at the amazing level of craftsmanship he exhibited. Check out the tight fit between boards:</snark>

Cheesy Drop Boards Closeup

Cheesy Drop Boards Closeup

You could actually stick a finger in between them. So guess what happened whenever it rained? Boats aren’t supposed to come with interior water features. At least not boats in our price range. But whenever storm clouds gathered, the Eagle had a soothing, murmuring waterfall flowing down the companionway. Very Zen. But very damaging. So that was the job. Fix the water leak, and repair any water damage.

This is what the companionway on Eagle looked like when we bought her. It wasn’t in the best of shape, but it seemed sound, so we thought with a bit of refinishing she’d be like new. I’ve looked at a lot of pictures of other H336’s though, and I’ve never seen one that had that ugly steel step at the top. Very odd.


I’d noticed that some teak veneer on the rear of the engine enclosure was starting to peel (the engine is behind those steps), probably from repeated soaking during rains. No problem, I’ll just knock out the panel and replace it, refinish the rest, and wham bam good as new. So off comes the teak trim strips, and with a little persuasion from my friend Rubber Mallet, the panel pops out. Uh oh.

This is not good

This is not good

That’s rot. It’s directly below the companionway, where the water undoubtedly trickles from the beautifully crafted drop boards whenever it rains. This is bad. Better yank out that ugly steel step and see what’s going on there.

Ugly Metal Step Removed

Ugly Metal Step Removed

Crap. That’s Swiss cheese. I can practically poke my finger through it. I can’t refinish that. The varnish would be the only thing holding it together. OK, time to switch gears. This is now a recovery operation rather than a rescue mission. This has all got to come out for evaluation. 

The good news is that I eventually found the limits of the water damage (let’s not talk about the many fine compliments I paid the previous owner and his elegantly crafted drop boards). The bad news is, well, this is what was left when I was finished: 

A Room With A View

A Room With A View

See that white rubber mallet laying back there where Rhonda and I are supposed to sleep? Be very afraid if it gets anywhere near your boat. It has tasted boat flesh, and there is no telling what the limits of its appetite are.

OK, let’s get all this home and throw it on the workbench and see what we have.


Wow. That’s…that’s just ugly. There’s no way any of that is going back in our boat. Well, the stair treads may be OK. They’re solid teak, and with enough sandpaper and Cetol, there’s hope. But the rest is history. Time to start pricing teak veneer marine plywood.

How much? Two hundred and fifty dollars? A sheet!? Sigh… I’ll take two, please.

I should probably apply for membership in the International Brotherhood of Shipwrights by the time this is done. But at least it’s looking good. And I do so love the smell of sawdust in the morning. Here are some pictures that show the process, with the new parts I’ve made sitting next to the original ones I removed. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to tell them apart.


The last one was a real challenge, because in addition to being an odd shape, the backside of the panel faced into the shower compartment and had to be laminated with Formica.


Since I’m in the mood to laminate (and probably a bit high on contact cement), let’s go ahead and make the other parts we need. And what the heck, I don’t like the look of those old engine access panels (center). If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right!


As long as we’re rolling around in this big pile of lemons, let’s make ourselves some lemonade. Access to the engine will never be easier, so let’s hook up a chain hoist and lift the engine and give the old girl a new set of shoes (I mean motor mounts). 

Hang 'em High

Hang ’em High

Finally, we can start putting things back together! Here are the new  lower and upper panels installed:


Then let’s add the new deck:


And start putting all the little trim pieces back:


That first step is a doozy though. But there’s no way that ugly steel step is going back in this gem. I know, let’s build a really neat locker there that can be the first step and be a cool place to store the pots and pans that we currently have to crawl under the sink to reach. Add an access panel so it’s easier to check the fluids in the engine, polish it all up, and voila

Now That's What I'm Talking About!

Now That’s What I’m Talking About!

I find myself just standing there taking it all in. Then I realize I’m over two months into this little project, and I still haven’t addressed the original problem those exquisitely engineered home made drop boards that also double as water strainers for the interior of the boat. If I don’t replace them with something that actually keeps the weather on the outside, then all is for naught. Now as much as we love the appearance of freshly varnished teak, we don’t consider the work to maintain it to be worth the effort. This is a job for polycarbonate! A brief hour of exploration on the internet and I have a half sheet of smoked 1/2″ polycarbonate winging its way to us. The cool thing about it is that not only can I use it to make a set of durable and maintenance free drop boards, but it will be bulletproof also, and you just never know when that might come in handy.

The new drop boards cut to size and ready for a test fit:


After all this work, I want to make darn sure that nothing short of a hurricane will push water past these boards. So rather than just butting them together in the normal way, I decided an overlapping joint was the way to go: 

Let Me See You Leak Past That!

Let Me See You Leak Past That!

So remember these?

Cheesy Drop Boards

Cheesy Drop Boards

Now we have the most un-cheesy and watertight drop boards imaginable!  

Awesome And Completely Cheese Free

Awesome And Completely Cheese Free

Done and done. Nothing to do now but stand back and admire!

Ta Dahhh!

Ta Dahhh!

Well that weekend project only took  2 1/2 months. Wait, does that salon table look a little odd to you? Hey, I can fix that in just a day or two!


I Am Serious. And Don’t Call Me Shirley.

I know that look. I see it all the time on the faces of friends and co-workers when I tell them that yes, I do wish to walk away from a well-paying professional job in my peak earning years to go cruising. A sort of bemused confusion as they attempt to wrap their minds around why any sane person would consider such a thing. But let me show you something. See this?


That’s a digital picture frame that hangs on the wall in our living room. I’m pretty proud of it, because I made it myself. It’s a display from an old Gateway monitor that I disassembled and mounted in some frame parts from Hobby Lobby. I feed it from a dedicated laptop that sits in our server closet above the pantry. It cycles through about a thousand pictures, every one of which brings a smile to our faces. Many show our favorite places from trips we’ve taken, most to tropical locations. Others show Rhonda and I doing things we enjoy together, such as zip lining or cave tubing or sailing on our boat.

You know what it doesn’t show? You can stand there and watch for hours, but you won’t see one single picture of us preparing to go to work, or mowing the lawn, or paying bills, or sitting on the couch watching television. In other words, over 99% of how we spend our lives isn’t there.

Think about that. The only thing you’re given in life is time. How you choose to spend it is up to you. I think Rhonda and I should spend more of whatever time we have left together doing things and going places that end up being picture worthy.

So yes, I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

The Broker Giveth, And The Broker Taketh Away


Original owner. Fresh water only. Well maintained. The mythical unicorn of used boats. And realistically priced to boot! OK, maybe we’re only window shopping for another boat, but this one catches my eye. The right size at the right price in the right condition. I call the broker. He confirms that the boat is all that and a bag of chips, and sends me a list of even more great features that didn’t make the ad. New batteries. Barrier coated. New mainsail. The owner even has the dinnerware and sheets that came with the boat, in their original, unopened packaging. I’m starting to get giddy. They say good luck is the result of preparation meeting opportunity. I’ve already talked to the bank. We’re fine there. I do a quick estimate of transport and insurance costs. We can swing this! We might have to cut back on the Starbucks runs until we get our present boat sold, but this is doable. I call the broker back. “Is the owner firm on that number, or will he consider offers?” I ask. “He’ll consider an offer,” he assures me. “OK, I’ll be in touch.” This is huge. This could change our lives. It’s Friday afternoon. We never make huge, life changing decisions on the spur of the moment. Let’s take the weekend to think about it.

I evaluate a boat. Rhonda feels a boat. While I’m diving into lockers and tracing wires and hoses, she opens her mind to its aura. We’re both working through the same mental calculus – will this boat be good to us – we just arrive at our answers by different routes. We bought our current boat because she says it hugged her when she stepped aboard. It all starts with the name. It’s hard to get a good feeling about a boat that’s badly named. “What’s she called?” Rhonda asks. I tell her. She thinks about the name and its meaning and smiles. By the end of the weekend we’re practicing saying it, mentally test driving it, trying her on for size. “This one just feels right,” I tell her. “OK, here we go then,” she says on Sunday evening.

It’s Monday now. I force myself to wait until lunchtime before calling. Don’t want to appear too anxious. If it’s meant to be, it will be. I speak to the broker. “Is the boat still on the market or have you gotten an offer?” “She’s still for sale, although someone did come by twice this weekend to look at her.” My heart sinks for a moment, but then I think he’s just trying to work me. “OK, we’d like to make an offer.” I think it’s a fair price. Ninety-seven percent of what the seller is asking. Just a few thousand off to help with the transport fees. “I’ll present the offer and get back to you within 24 hours,” he tells me. I spend the day alternating between excitement and fear. It’s a big step, the first of what could be many, and change is hard.

Tuesday comes. The day crawls by. At lunchtime, my phone rings. I glance at the screen and smile. It’s the broker. “What do you have for me?” I ask. “I just wanted to let you know that the seller has rejected your offer.” That’s OK, I anticipated that. This is a negotiation, after all. “Well, I’ll counter back with a full-price offer,” I say. “I’m sorry, but another offer came in after yours,” the broker says. “After rejecting your offer, he accepted the other one.”

My mind momentarily freezes. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We spent the entire weekend practicing the name and taking her for leisurely sails in our minds. “But you said he was open to offers,” I protest. “He doesn’t think he should have to take less than he’s asking,” the broker replies. Maybe you should have told me that when I asked, I think.

So we let go. It hurt. But if it’s meant to be, it will be. And this obviously wasn’t our fate. Or was it…?

Go With The Boat You Have

That’s the question we’re trying to answer at the moment. Do we follow the advice to “go small, go now,” and live with the inevitable compromises (compromises which may impact our ability to enjoy the adventure) or bite the bullet, trade up to a larger, more comfortable, more capable boat, and accept the impact on our budget and schedule? All I can say is that while the answer is not yet clear, things always seem to have a way of working out for the best.

Eagle 2013 refit

The Eagle, our current home on the water.