Well, I took at little time off last month and had a vacation, and now I’m back in the barn with my boat, Passage, plugging away toward getting her in the water.
One of the big tasks I tackled again this week was taking the old, dingy hull with the muddy gel coat finish and trying to make it shine. I’ve talked a little about this before in these blog posts, but this week has been all about gelcoat. Gelcoat, to recap, is the outer coating on fiberglass hulls that makes them shine. When they’re new. After decades, the finish and the situation get complicated.
That’s where the do-it-yourself contingent of boat owners can supposedly use educated elbow grease and the proper chemicals, scrubbing away time (in a sense), in an effort to make the boat look good again. In this case, that DIYer would be me.
So, buffing gelcoat: I have never done such a thing in my life (as it is with many of the tasks on this boat) and so I am truly learning as I go. Reading a lot, watching videos, listening to advice from experienced people, and trying to use my common sense. Every resource I have read assures me that I’m the gal for the job and that it’s doable. Gulp.
But when you tackle anything for the first time, there’s that wobbly period where you don’t make much headway and you just kind of feel pretty nervous…
That’s where I have been with this gelcoat thing. Serious approach avoidance. With many things on this boat, I am constantly trying to get the feel of a project and what the proper outcome should be, so that I know what I’m doing, or at least feel that I am not totally in the dark. All of this while I’m doing that thing for the first and probably only time. So there’s a bit of pressure to get it right. And the learning curve is necessarily steep. I have no other boats to practice on.
It’s been that way with this gelcoat situation, trying various ways to buff away the dull finish without taking away too much. Going carefully, carefully, maybe too carefully?
I finally hit a sweet spot this week: after muddling around in a halting sort of way with my electric buffer and lots of research on different kinds of rubbing compounds, I finally managed to get some meaningful shine to part of the hull.
My relative success has given me faith in my original plan: go over the hull with the heavy compound, then again with a lighter version, and then wax. It seems like by the time I do all that – she’ll look pretty darn spiffy for an old boat.
That’s all well and good, and nice in theory. But today I actually managed to make the old hull truly shine a bit. I saw a respectable reflection in my work light, and not just dull spots with a little shine peeking through, as I had seen before.
And that success was a very good thing. It made me very happy to feel like I was on the right path and had some idea what I was aiming for.
I sat on the platform next to Passage with my respirator, goggles, rubber gloves, microfiber cloths, rubbing compound and the buffer in my hands, and told her she was beautiful. Because she is.
And I told her we were making progress, that she should take heart, and that soon she will be where she wants to be, which is gently cradled by blessed water once again, at one with the river and sky, and a real boat once more.
But not quite yet. Tomorrow I keep going with the buffing, as I make my way around the hull. I can see a big difference between the before and after. And that’s a good thing. And I’m gaining confidence as I go…. and a renewed respect for shiny objects.
If you’ve been following any of the other blog posts I’ve done about my boat restoration saga, you know that I’ve explained in perhaps excruciating detail my efforts so far to get my wonderful old sailboat, Passage, ready for the water. If you’re still with me, bless you.
By wonderful old boat, I mean old boat with great bones on which a lot of work has been done, but which still needs considerable assembly before being ready for the water. I am working on that. But today was a big day.
Today I re-registered Passage in the state of Oregon. She is now active in the state’s database of vessels and officially registered as MY boat. Mine, mine, mine. I know that sounds childish but I don’t care. Happy Happy Happy Dance.
This lovely turn of events was hard won, like everything with this boat so far – a challenge and an adventure. One step forward and at least two, if not more, steps back. And this effort to get her registered again was no exception.
The last time this boat was legal in the eyes of the state was about 15 years ago, when I bought her and made her legal so that I could move her from Warrenton to Astoria and get her out of the water and on land for much needed renovation.
Sometimes over the years in my life, people have poked fun at me for being a girl scout and always trying to do things right whether anyone is looking or not. So, no lying or cheating. No short cuts.
To be honest, as I was contemplating getting the boat from Warrenton to Astoria on the river, to put her on a trailer and take her home, I thought briefly about just making a run for it and not spending the money to register her before I took her out on the water that one time. Just that one time. Because I wasn’t really using the boat…
But then I remembered the Murphy’s Law rule that seems to govern people in my family: other people may get away with lying or stealing, but if one of us so much as went five miles over the speed limit, a cop who was having a bad day would suddenly appear out of nowhere and give us a whopping ticket.
Plus, internally I’m a girl scout and a golden retriever, so cutting corners felt wrong. And, what if the boat sank on the way? Think of the humiliation. How would I explain to the Coast Guard that not only did they have to rescue me, but my boat was illegal? The fact that I have a local radio show about All Things Maritime and I’m always telling people to toe the line when it comes to the river did not help. For me to get caught traveling in my unregistered boat felt like the nautical equivalent of Mr. Rogers getting arrested for drunk driving.
As it turns out, in this case my Hayley Mills moral conviction approach (or fear of getting caught?) was all for the best, especially when (fast forward 15 years) I could not find any of the old registration or title paperwork. There were no stickers on the boat showing she had ever been registered. And the old registration numbers had long ago fallen off. The man I bought her from had passed away years ago. In essence, I had nothing to prove the boat was ever legally mine. Oh my god.
If you’ve ever registered a boat in Oregon, you know there is a boat owner database, where in theory I could type in my name and find the boat. I did this and found nothing. Next, of course, I panicked. It seemed like the only reasonable thing to do. This involved taking deep breaths and mentally screaming in my head, “No no no no no no!”
This seemed reasonable and somehow appropriate under the circumstances. And I do admit to being a bit overwrought at times. So I did this for a while until it started to feel tiresome, and then I decided to email the Oregon Marine Board and see if they could help me.
I ended up corresponding by phone and email with a very nice human there who kindly suggested that we could probably figure it out, and that I was not the only person with an old boat and no paper trail. I resumed breathing.
He sent me forms so that I could complete boat history and all sorts of other information including photos and measurements of the boat, to flesh out the boat’s origin story. As Arlo Guthrie once said, “in four part harmony,” and all that. Not quite a massacree, but certainly a protracted saga.
This was pretty time consuming, but in the process I learned a great deal about Passage from the man who originally built her (a different person from the man I bought her from), about how she was made, and how sturdy and amazing she really is. With every step, I began to appreciate what I have even more.
Then a small miracle happened. I found the faded registration numbers on the bow as I was trying to buff out the gelcoat. Just barely visible but I could read them. And underneath the boat in the dirt floor of the barn, I found an old registration sticker from 1994. I gratefully gathered up these artifacts and sent the info to the nice man at the marine board. Then the 4th of July weekend loomed and I heard nothing.
He did send me a message saying the 4th is a really busy time for them and he would get to it when he could, so I waited. When I heard nothing I despaired once again that all was lost. Surely he would have let me know if there was good news. I had other things to do, so I pushed it to the back corner of my brain. If nothing came of it, I’d assemble the manila envelope full of rambling boat narrative, photos and measurements, and throw myself on the mercy of the state.
But then this week, in my inbox appeared a one sentence email from him that would change everything.
He wrote simply: “The boat is already registered in your name.”
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. OK. OK.
Apparently in some archive Oregon boater database of inactive registrations not available to the public, was my boat’s name and my name – still blessedly linked together in an official, if expired record.
Thank heavens I was girlscouty enough to register her back then. And that Oregon still remembered.
So to make a long story a little shorter, I was able to go online today and register my boat for reals, and I will soon get the updated paperwork for her registration in the mail.
In exchange for some credit card numbers, she’s really mine. Whoa.
That’s what I mean by, “This sh– just got real.”
By some miracle, I’ve actually got a live boat on my hands. “We’re legal, girl,” I said, standing in the barn. I could see her bow perk up a little when I told her.
So I guess that’s it then. We’re goin’ in. Guess I better get out the new buffing compound and finish what I started on that gelcoat.
Next stop, insurance. Can’t wait to see what that brings.
Well, I haven’t checked in with you in awhile about my boat project because, frankly, I’ve been in approach/avoidance mode. Part of me is scared this project is too much for me, and the rest of me is saying, “Well. It’s just a bunch of learnable tasks, so get on with it.”
The “get on with it” part got the upper hand this week, and so I’ve been back at it.
Right now it’s 90 something degrees outside and not much cooler inside. I was at the boat really early this morning before it got hot, and now I am just here at home, quietly sweating and dreaming of Tuesday when it is supposed to rain. I guess I have morphed into a real PNWesterner.
One thing I accomplished since my last post: I was able to repair my mainsail with my sewing machine, sail patching material and polyester thread.
A bunch of firsts for me in that miniproject, but it turned out well enough. And it’s high up on the mast so I doubt anyone will notice. I felt like an old salt when I was done. And I’m kind of confident it will hold. I guess we’ll see.
The boat itself is a little more interesting – yes, let’s use that word.
Lots to be done there. This week I decided to focus on the mast and the hull. The mast is in the barn lying across some wooden horses. I’ve inspected the rigging with the help of some reading I’ve done on how to do this, and also with the help of a friend who is good with this sort of thing and knows what he’s doing (hooray for such friends!). So far so good. Things look OK. Some assembly required.
There is mouse nest material inside the mast (of course, I seem to have extensive mouse karma), and so I will have to hose it out. That’s next when I finish the hull. Then I’ll put the mast cap back on. It was missing and I panicked, but my friend quickly found it among the gear lying about in the barn. Whew. Now I can have fore and back stays like a real sailor. More on that soon.
Which brings me to the hull.
Passage is 40 years old or so, and built like a tank, and I am so grateful for that – and for the craftsmanship that went into her, by her original builder, by the man who cast the hull, and by my dad for just building everything in an incredibly stout and forward thinking manner.
But the old gelcoat (the once-shiny coating on the fiberglass hull) – the only word I can use is: forlorn. Oxidized as all get out, kind of a greenish color, but overall looking really sad. And I feared beyond help. In a worst case scenario, the gelcoat would just be too pooped to be revived.
However, I did some reading and YouTubing (rest assured that whatever project you have about anything, the interwebs have some advice about it), and I learned that polishing gelcoat is in theory well within the purview of this casual DIYer. So I bought the recommended random orbital polisher, cushioned pads, and the recommended polishing compound and finally got up the courage the last few days to attempt to polish the hull.
Now let me just say that before I read up (and read up and YouTubed up) on this, I had no idea of what a random orbital polisher was. So I’m just being honest about that.
But now I do own one, and know enough about it to toss that term around if I am talking shop with people and want to look like I know something. So far I have not had that opportunity, but I do go to Englund Marine a fair amount, so I imagine the opportunity will arise at some point.
About my bottles of polishing compound: I’ve felt a bit of anxiety about that. Because you cannot undo what you do with it. So I have proceeded cautiously to the point of at times barely moving.
By the way, Practical Sailor magazine is a fabulous resource for what things to get for this and that without spending every cent you have. It’s very empowering having them in my court. So I have taken their advice.
But bottomline, this is all a learning process. I am happy to say, though, in this case, it’s one with a very encouraging outcome so far…
Yesterday, I started out slow. I tried out the polish by hand, because one article I read said it was possible to polish it by hand. And the last thing I wanted to do was burn through the gelcoat with the polisher and ruin it.
But that effort did nothing except tire me out. And still the gelcoat was hideous. So I cautiously put some polishing liquid on the polishing machine and tried buffing the hull. Not much happened at first, and I despaired then that the gelcoat might be too far gone.
Then I read that I might need a tougher compound. So I went to an auto supply store and bought some fancy auto compounding polish. This morning I kept at it in slow increments, trying the new car polishing compound, little by little, carefully, alternating with the milder polish, and checking the reflection in between bouts with the polisher.
And, after awhile, a miracle happened. Oh my god, lo and behold. I had a divine moment when I looked at the side of the boat and saw: holy moly, a shiny spot! A genuine shiny spot! It was a glorious and gorgeous thing to see. I confess I did a happy dance right there in the barn.
So I spent this morning learning my way around my random orbital polisher (I just like saying that), and learning how much it will take to get this hull to shine. And shine she will. I am amazed. And so grateful. And feeling pretty darn chipper about myself and my McGuyver skills.
Thank God for family, friends, and good old boats. I am blessed with each. And I am very, very happy.
(Note, this photo is of the sad old gelcoat before I did anything to get it to shine. Looking much more respectable now. “After” photos to follow.)
Photo: Here’s a picture of my newly rescued mainsail in the backyard, draped over lawn furniture. More to come…
I’m starting a journal of sorts here, to document a journey I am on, that has been ongoing and now requires me to stretch myself in ways I am not used to. It’s a very maritime journey and that’s why I’m writing about it here.
This story is about finishing the restoration of a sailboat I bought 10 years ago with my dad, that he and I worked on up until he died in 2019, a few months before the pandemic started to make itself known. She sat in the barn for two years during the pandemic and I debated sadly whether to sell her as is, or try to get her in the water after all. I finally went down to the barn where she’s currently stored and faced the music a few months ago and decided I wanted to give this a try. At the very least, I want no regrets.
This boat was and is a very special boat to me: she’s a 22 ft double ender, a sloop (formerly a cutter rig) with a woodstove and oar locks for rowing. She’s got so much character. I admired her for years at the Warrenton Marina, where she sat in a berth there, until one day I ran into her owner on the Riverwalk in Astoria. When I admired his boat, for probably the millionth time, he abruptly offered to sell her to me for hardly anything.
My dad, who built our first boat when I was a kid in coastal NY, went down to the boat with me and we looked her over (she was in sorry shape but still afloat) and I asked him, “Can we fix her?”
He stood there for awhile and finally said, “Yes we can…” and so began the journey of him and me and my boat, Passage. I love her name and I hope I can get her in the water. If I do, it will be both a test of my resourcefulness, and a testimony to my dad, who intended this boat restoration to be sort of a gift to me. He died before he could finish it – and one of the last things he said to me was, “I’m sorry I couldn’t finish the boat.”
It’s OK, Dad. I’ll see if I can finish the job. Deep breaths.
In a way, now I get to do what I like best: MacGuyver my way through things, figure them out, think things through, and find a way when there’s no way. This seems like one of those things.
So I thought I would take you on this journey with me and we’ll see where it leads. Yesterday I took the mainsail, stained with mouse pee where it sat in a sailbag in a corner for years – soaked it in the bathtub with Oxyclean for 24 hours, and hosed it off in the backyard. Voila! Stains gone, and the sail is white and lovely again. I just ordered sail cloth and thread to repair a hole where some damn mouse chewed the sail.
There are many tasks like this that I will be taking on in the next month or so. I’ll take you with me in these posts, so you can see what I’m up to. It will be an interesting journey and I’m learning a lot.
I already know a bit about all this sailboat stuff – you don’t grow up as Stu Rideout’s daughter and not know a lot about boats. I spend my childhood in boatyards, helping him build and repair boats, sanding and painting and learning. I’ve done a lot of sailing on the Columbia locally here with the yacht club.
But there are also big holes in my knowledge too. So the Internet is a godsend. About the weirdest things… like where else can you Google “mouse pee on sails” and find a website called the Stingy Sailor that has just the perfect solution I used successfully?
So I thought this would be a fun adventure to share.
Onwards. Wish me courage, and luck.
Takeaway: Oxyclean is amazing for cleaning sails.
I’ve gotten some questions from listeners about ships arriving in the Columbia River from China, and possible Coronavirus risks.
So I contacted our local USCG folks at Air Station Astoria, where the Captain of the Port for the Columbia is located. Here’s their reply:
- The Coast Guard is supporting nationwide efforts to prevent, protect, and mitigate the spread of the Novel Coronavirus.
- Vessels carrying passengers that have been to China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) or embarked passengers who have been in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States.
- The Coast Guard is assessing all Advanced Notice of Arrival Reports from inbound vessels to determine if the vessel has visited a country impacted by the Novel Coronavirus within the last five ports of call.
- The health and safety of the American people is our top priority.
- The Coast Guard will review all Advanced Notice of Arrivals from inbound vessels to determine if a vessel has visited a country impacted by the Novel Coronavirus outbreak within its last five ports of call.
- Vessel representatives are required to report sick or deceased crew or passengers within the last 15 days to the CDC.
We don’t usually get cruise ships here this time of year, so that caveat probably doesn’t apply to us here right now. The trip from China to here takes at least two weeks by cargo ship, so anyone who is not showing symptoms would have enough time to be visibly ill by the time they got here. Vessels are also being monitored for their last five ports of call before they get here, to assess risks.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what to say on The Ship Report today about the tragedy on the beach at Falcon Cove near Cannon Beach this weekend. A dad and his two small children were swept out to sea by what seems to have been a sneaker wave. The two children died and the dad was still in the hospital Sunday.
I talk about safety a lot on the Ship Report and I usually mention it when something like this happens, as a cautionary note. I hope the message of safety reaches people.
I can’t imagine the torment this father will go through in the aftermath of this event. What’s called for now is compassion in the face of unspeakable loss.
But I do have a few thoughts that might be useful, beyond the usual safety warnings: Saturday I felt distraught and sad about this, and I know from reading social media posts that other people felt it too. That’s the thing about living in a coastal community. We’re tight-knit here, like it or not, and we feel what’s happening to one another. When a boat goes down, or a person is lost overboard, or people get swept out to sea, we all grieve. And we’re grieving now, again. It’s a price we pay for living in this beautiful, dangerous place.
To get some perspective, I drove to Cape Disappointment Saturday and did what I have been telling you all to do when these storms hit: I went up to the Visitor Center on top of the cliff and went to the big observation room where you can look out over the Columbia River Bar. I was able to sit alone for awhile and stare out the window at the mouth of the river. A line of breakers 20 feet high was creating a formidable barrier to anyone wanting to cross. No one was.
As I sat there watching the water closely, I was struck by the raw, seething, tremendous power in it. We see it somewhat in the gorgeous photos people take of giant waves exploding in the air at Waikiki Beach, or in the pounding surf you can hear for miles away. As I looked at the water roiling at the base of the cliff, and churning out on the bar, I could feel the immense, overwhelming energy there. That force is part of our experience every time we get near the shore, or venture out in a boat. It’s the force that sinks ships and fishing boats, pounds beached vessels to bits, and drags buoys off their moorings. It’s more powerful than any of us. And it’s your companion on every beach walk, every boat ride, every trip to the coast.
The confusing thing is, on Saturday, despite all the warnings, it just didn’t look that bad out there, even though it was. When I was there, there were no towering waves, like in a movie, and for someone unfamiliar with the ocean, it looked like a stormy day like many others. But out there, the ocean was full of wild energy waiting to be expressed in potentially destructive ways.
Please don’t ever forget that the ocean is there, that it’s bigger than you, and does not necessarily have your best interests at heart, or care that you came there to have a good time. The warnings are not for the timid, for those who are easily scared off. They’re for everyone, even the strong and young, and there’s no shame in heeding them.
If we have any adventurous spirit in us at all, we’ve sometimes put ourselves in situations where, had the wrong thing happened, we could have died. I know I have. If we’re still here, we’re fortunate. Dan Haag, head of the Manzanita Visitor Center, said it best in a Facebook post this weekend. Find a loved one and hug them tight. I’d add this: please do your best to keep them off the beach when conditions are severe. That’s love in action.
And, a heartfelt thank you to our first responders who stand ready to go into harm’s way at a moment’s notice. That’s love in action too. We are fortunate to have them, the Coast Guard. and local law enforcement rescue personnel. They do their best for us every day, no matter what, without judgment. Another big thing to be grateful for. That’s all I have right now. Be safe out there, and take care of each other.