You can’t be all things to everyone…

…not even to yourself.

It’s been a very frustrating couple of months. Mostly the frustration of having a job and business and also a boat to rebuild – and a dream that depends on the boat getting finished.

Or does it? Are the two inseparable?

That’s the question that finally presented an answer this week, and the surprising (to me) answer is that, no, our dream of cruising south for a few months – or a couple of years – is not dependent on my finishing the restoration of Renaissance. We could, in fact, find a relatively simple and inexpensive boat that’s already in the water and seaworth to carry out our dream. In fact, in the long run that would certainly be cheaper than rebuilding a 53-year-old sloop that’s seen so much neglect over the years.

But what about Renaissance? We’ve spent a few thousand dollars (a mere pittance in the boating world) to bring this boat home, build a shelter, start gathering gear, and a few hundred hours of labor stripping her down to the point where all that’s left is straight and sound, and it’s time to begin rebuilding. We’ve done the nasty part.

But I suddenly have come face to face with the reality of my life. My financial resources are pretty limited, so to restore a boat, I have to work. Work takes time – and when you’re self-employed, it sometimes takes more hours than a day contains. Rebuilding a boat also takes time. In this case, an inestimable amount of time, certainly thousands and thousands of hours.

Let’s do some math: there are 8760 hours in a year. I sleep for 8 hours a night, or I collapse into a quivering pile of uselessness, so that leaves 5840 hours.
Meals, brushing teeth and all the other things that life demands take up about 3 hours a day-we’re down to 4745.
The job needs the most – something around 9 hours, and sometimes more than 5-days-a-week, so we’ll call it 9.5 hrs in a theoretical 5-day week.  We’re down to 2275.
It gets cold in Maine, and our boat shed isn’t heated – or heatable. Paint, fiberglass, varnish etc doesn’t work in the cold, so figure that the period from December 15th through April 15 is pretty much a loss. We might get something done, but chances are, we won’t. Let’s be optimistic, though, and hope that perhaps 1/3 of that time we actually WILL be able to work, or we’ll find projects that can be done in the basement, where it’s warmer.
Our total available hours to work on the boat is looking like about 374 hours a year.
But wait – what about the occasional night out? Or spending time with my lovely wife?  Subtract a few more…
The cold, hard truth is that I’m not getting any younger, so I really need to be living this dream in the next 5 years if I’m going to be physically able to accomplish and enjoy it.

So here’s the rub:  Assuming that there are 5000 hours of labor in the restoration (and that might be overly optimistic!),  I’d need 13.4 years at my current rate of progress. Even if I could do it in 3000 (very unlikely), It’d take me 8 years.

So that was my epiphany on Tuesday – I’m not going to be nautically functional long enough to complete this restoration and still be capable of sailing the boat.

“Well”, says I, “That sucks.”

Then there’s the issue of changing goals.  When my wife and I got this boat, I was pretty certain that I wanted to do some ocean crossing. At least as far as the Azores, and perhaps even a circumnavigation of the North Atlantic, maybe the Caribbean Sea…

Now, though, we’re both recognizing that we may not need to do that, we might be happy just following the East Coast and crossing into the Bahamas, maybe the Leeward and Windward Islands…   We may never get around to crossing the ocean – so do we really need a boat that’s in many ways optimized for ocean passages? Might we be better off with a boat that has less draft (depth in the water) and a little more space and comfort? The Bahama’s are pretty shallow…

In other words, Renaissance might not be the right boat for us, both in terms of resources AND our cruising plans.

So Renaissance is for sale. If you’re reading this, and were thinking to yourself “Boy, I could do that, especially if someone else did all the nasty tearing apart for me…”  this could be your big chance!  I’ve got engines and gear and a sound hull that’s ready to start going back together, all in a classic CCA yacht of excellent pedigree. To the right craftsman, she’s ready to be reborn.

Meanwhile, we’re back to looking at used boats again. Looked at a beauty today, in fact. Let me know when you’d like to come look over Renaissance – I’ll cut you a good deal.


Blood, Sweat & Tears

Boating is dangerous.

Obviously, considering the number of band-aids I go through in the course of a given boat project.

It’s not – on the whole – the using and operating of boats that’s dangerous (though accidents do happen, of course) but the close proximity of objects that bite you.  Like spinnaker poles.

I’m an enormous fan of a local shop we have here in Rockland, Maine, called Marine Consignment of Coastal Maine (MCOCM) LLC.

As you’d expect, it’s simply a consignment shop for the excess, unneeded or unloved boat parts and gear you probably have lying around the house and yard.

Back in February I had a few dollars in my pocket, so I went to visit the proprietor, John.

Yes, we are on a first name basis. He’s got my debit card number on speed dial, and dreams of that new Lexus whenever I walk in.

Which is funny, in that his prices are very reasonable, and he’s even more so. Take the spinnaker pole I was working on today. I saw this adjustable 20′ spinnaker pole lying on the floor, and in looking it over, saw that both pins were frozen (not uncommon for stainless pins in aluminum castings) and there was no price on it.
“What’s the story on this pole, John?”, says I.
“Guy had it lying in the basement, the pins are stuck.  You want it?”
I thought a minute – another project?  “How much?”
“Take it home if you want. If you can make it work, how ’bout 50 bucks?”

I’m a sucker for boat parts.

I tried soaking the ends in vinegar to loosen the corrosion, but nothing doing.  I tried tapping with a hammer, but no-go. So I set it aside for a bit.
Today, 5 months later, I happened to have a propane torch in my hand when my eyes fell on the old stuck pole again. Why not?

Heat, tap, heat, tap, heat, tap tap… POP!  There’s one!DSCN5130

Same treatment on the other, but it only took “heat, tap” before “POP!”  Then a complete disassembly of the pins & springs, ream out the corrosion in the castings, and polish the pins. One pin had been slightly mushroomed by the tapping, probably weakening the hole for the retaining ring, so I cut off 3/16″ of the end and drilled a new hole through the shaft. They’re ready to reassemble as soon as I buy new retaining rings.

Oh, and the blood? Well, I decided to see if the pole would extend to it’s full length, and during the retraction phase, a small, unnoticed sliver of metal decided to take a piece out of my left palm.

Good thing I heal fast, dang boats are dangerous.

The dirty little jobs…

Sanitary facilities – or “the head”, in boat jargon – are one of those necessities that one hates to think about, but also hates not to.
You hope it works first time, every time, and dread the day when someone says “the head didn’t flush” or worse, “WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!”

Still, having a head that’s reasonably convenient to use AND that you can comfortably live with within the confines of a boat is critical to the happiness of the crew, so it bears some serious thought.

The original installation in Renaissance is – to put it kindly – antiquated, although it’s no doubt an upgrade from the factory version.
100_1216 100_1217It consists of what’s called a macerator/chlorinator which, as the name suggests, chops up whatever is put in the head, adds enough chlorine to  render the material sterile, and then discharges it overboard – and herein lies the problem – or one of them.

It seems that the laws have changed a bit in the 51 years since the boat and I were built, and overboard discharge of human waste is no longer legal.  Entire cities of 15 million people can do it, fine, but not a couple on a boat – that would be a public health crisis of the highest order, and the Coast Guard actually spends a fair amount of time going boat-to-boat to be sure your waste stays with you, at least long enough for you to get to a pump-out station ashore. There, the local municipality will remove the contents of your holding tank, usually charging you a fee for the privilege, and will then send the material to their treatment plant and hence, most likely, into the very water your boat is currently floating in.

Trouble is, Renaissance doesn’t have a holding tank – they weren’t required the last time she was upgraded – and the equipment on board is clearly beyond it’s serviceable life.  It’s time for a change.

An additional complication is that space for storage is at a premium aboard this boat, because the hull shape is designed for seaworthiness and comfort, rather than interior volume. I’m not thrilled with the idea of using a bunch of that scarce space to store my daily exhaust, but I do have a desire to be a good harbor tenant as well, so at some future date I’ll need to find a place for a tank.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but meanwhile we’re in the clean-up phase, and for the topic at hand, that means ripping out the existing system so that we can see what space we do have to work with. The pictures don’t do it justice, frankly, but let me assure you that the old head and processing unit are filthy, corroded and defunct, but not particularly unpleasant, since they’ve been unused for the last 8 years.  Interestingly enough, the macerator tank still held about 2 gallons of water/whatever, but except for the momentary “Ick” factor when it ran over my hands, down my elbows and into the bilge (I wasn’t expecting it to be there, clearly!) this wasn’t actually a problem.

100_1234Once the major portions of the system were removed (the macerator and the bowl), I could see the rest of the installation, and it was just as bad as I expected. The boat still had the original tapered valves in the water inlet (for flushing) and waste outlet, and these old valves are infamous for doing just what these two had done – freezing solid in whatever position they were left in. The tubing in the system was hard and inflexible, and the valves are beyond their useful life.

So out it all comes! The structural integrity of the head compartment  itself seems good, which was a pleasant surprise. I half expected to find that the constant damp of the head would have damaged the core of the shelf upon which the “throne” rests, but in fact it seems to be ready to receive the new unit I expect we’ll ultimately install.  With that will come a few changes in the plumbing to accommodate both a holding tank and an overboard discharge for times when that’s appropriate (when the boat is in international waters, basically). I’m also planning to combine as many of the saltwater inlets and drains as I can, since I firmly believe that a minimal number of holes in a boat’s hull below the waterline is a good thing.  The head will have it’s own discharge of course, but sink drains can be combined, as can saltwater inlets for the galley and flush system.

Progress is definitely being made!


Clean-up, Phase 1 – clearing the decks

The restoration of the decks on Renaissance require a complete stripping of everything that is attached to or protrudes from the deck surface.That includes not only the cosmetic and functional items like the cap rail, handrails, mooring cleats and the like, but also the really scary structural stuff like the chainplates, to which the rig – which supports the mast – attaches.

Well ok, I COULD be less thorough about this. I could just seal around the chainplates (a major source of leaks on all older sailboats and some new ones), fair out eh fiberglass, and paint it. Then I could do the same thing again every 3-4 years as the constant flexing of the hull from wind loads opens the deck to the weather and cracks the new paint.
Not so much.

100_1248100_1251Instead, I’m removing everything that can be. Cleats, chocks, padeyes, lifeline stanchions, indeed the cap rail itself, which is so badly weathered and rotten that it’s not recoverable. Get everything out of the way now, so that I can completely remove the top surface of the deck honeycomb, replace the rotten balsa core within, then build up a new top surface, restoring both the structural and weather integrity of the decks.

At the same time, I’m seriously considering a fairly major design change. Currently there are 3 chainplates on each side, which pass through the deck and bolt to bulkheads inside the cabin.  As I mentioned before, these substantial pieces of stainless steel support the entire mast via the six shrouds (or “stays”) that run from the middle and top of the mast to this point. They’re kinda important.  And I plan to move them.

Not far, no.  I intend to move the chainplates outboard about 4 inches, and bolt them to the hull externally. The benefits are four-fold:

  1.  Stainless steel will rust if it is in an oxygen-deprived location, such as passing through a fiberglass deck on a sailboat. (Ok, technically it corrodes, not rusts, but the effect is the same – bad.)
  2. Stainless (or any metal) will eventually work-harden and crack if it’s subject to repetitive stresses. Like a chainplate on a sailboat. And cracks are much easier to detect if the metal in question is out where you can see it.
  3. Moving the shrouds outboard 4″ will make walking the side decks easier because of the added space.
  4. Moving the shrouds outboard will increase – slightly – the strength of the rig, since it improves the angle at which the shrouds pull on the mast. Minimal, I suspect, but it’s a factor.

So yesterday began with mapping, to the closest 1/16th of an inch, the location of each fixture on the deck. Once I’ve removed the hardware, torn off the upper layer of fiberglass, replaced the core and laid up a new deck skin, I need to be able to replace the hardware exactly where it was when the boat was built.  I can move the shrouds outboard with relative impunity, but their fore-and-aft position is critical to keeping the mast in column so that the sails will set properly. I’m willing to assume that Carl Alberg (who designed Renaissance) knew what he was doing in that regard, so I’ll take my cues from him.

100_1244 100_1250

Once the  mapping was  done, I began in  the cockpit,  removing  hardware and  electrical fittings  long past their  prime, then  moved to the  lazarett, where I discovered that the squirrels who filled the bilge with nuts had a second stash.  Industrious little buggers, those squirrels!  Old vent ducts and fans, propane tubing, chafed wiring and nuts, it all came out, and joined the growing pile of junk and recyclables at the base of my ladder.  And I’m off to create some more.

The old electrical system is finished. There isn’t an inch of wire or a component that I’d dare trust my life to, so I’m working my way through the boat and un-wiring it, stripping right down to a bare hull. Once that’s done, and structural work is complete, I’ll run new wiring where needed, but there’ll be significantly less wiring when I’m done than the boat once had, simply because I prefer to keep things really simple – and inexpensive.


This picture on the left shows the original electrical panel in the cabin.100_1268 Classic 1962, with 40  years of owner DIY projects added on for good measure. I’d  rather  pull it all out, clean up the space, then install a new  system, up to  current code, and be able to sleep easy at  night.

At right is that same space, emptied of all the old panels,  wires,  etc.  What I install to replace it will depend on the final electrical  system I design, but those decisions won’t need to be made for a while.


…and here’s the net result. You know, those old speakers look just like the ones I put in my first car, back in the day!

Clean-up, Phase 1 – The engine

When you’re adopted by an old boat that’s not seen much love in a long time, there’s no question that she’s going to need a certain amount of hoeing out initially.  Renaissance was – in theory – in sailable condition when whe was purchased by the previous owner, but I frankly have my doubts about the truth of that assessment. She may have been in the water, yes – but I doubt she was in any way seaworthy in fact.

None the less, once she arrived at her prior home, she was put on the hard and left there, unprotected and unused, for nearly 8 years.  That’s a long time to be ignored. At some point her companionway hatch stuck in a partially open position, which allowed that good clean rain and snow that Maine is famous for accumulate in the bilge.  Whether it was that which left a high-water mark 12″ above the cabin sole, or if she had sunk at some point prior to arriving at the yard, I don’t know, but the net result was a flooded engine/hunk of rust, and a whole lot of damp trash in the bilge.  My choice was to concentrate on getting the old engine out first thing, and have that out of the way for subsequent cleaning projects.


Once the miscellaneous tubing, hoses, etc had been removed (yes, in fact someone had “repaired” the sink drain – BELOW THE WATERLINE! – with blue duct tape!) the old engine, resplendent in it’s thick coat of rust, was visible and nearly reachable. The prior owner had managed to remove three of the four bolts holding the engine to it’s bed, but the forth – hidden beneath the raw-water pump, eventually had to be chiseled off, after I broke the pump off (deliberately, since there were no longer heads on the bolts holding it in place) with a 5′ iron bar. Slick, eh?  Four days of spraying penetrating oil on the old bolt eventually allowed me to drive it out with a punch, freeing the engine from the mount.100_1184

Of course I still had the problem that the prop shaft was still coupled to the engine.  The coupler was – marginally – within reach, but the three bolts that hold it on require that you be able to turn the shaft to reach them.  With the engine frozen and the transmission un-shiftable, this was a problem. Enter “The Bigger Hammer” theory of disassembly. I could reach the shifting lever…  So for the next hour, I worked the shift lever back and forth with a hammer, gradually loosening the internal mechanism, until it finally reached the neutral position.  Then a few minutes with a large pipe wrench on the coupler, and each bolt – badly rusted on the surface but surprisingly free once I got a vise-grip on it – backed out, releasing the shaft from the engine.

And finally there was the exhaust system. The Alberg has what is – to me at least – an unusual exhaust system, composed of two concentric lengths of copper tubing, with a gap between them.  Cooling water from the engine is discharged via the gap, effectively isolating the hot exhaust from the structure of the boat, and is then dumped overboard.  And yes, it’s solid copper 1.25″ tubing, surrounded by an equal length of 2″ tube, and nearly 12 feet long. The scrap yard is going to LOVE me when I take that in, as it has no place in the diesel installation we plan for the boat in future!

So how does one person remove a 250# engine block from the bilge of a boat – safely? Simple machines, of course!

100_1190As previously described, the shelter over Renaissance is composed of stressed arches, and they’re amazingly strong for their weight. I have a bunch of old boat lines around, so I formed a loop system to weave through the trusses and support a hand cable winch (come-along). Whenever I felt that more reinforcement would be prudent, I added a brace – and in this case, formed a triangle brace to support the roof bows. It worked perfectly – the shed didn’t even creak when I took weight on the winch!

100_1193 And trust me, I let the motor hang there for a few minutes,and actually added my own weight to the load at one point to be sure of the system before I began to add height. That done, it was a relatively simple process to raise the engine up to the level of the companionway and slip my specially made shelf under it to support it while I re-positioned the hoist.

The next four images don’t do the process justice.  Each repositioning of the hoist gained, perhaps, 10″ – 12″ at most as I slowly dragged the dead weight along the planks that protected the deck. Slow. Boring to watch. Kinda fun to do, I must admit, but then I’m easily amused.




100_1202        100_1203         100_1205




In all this phase took 5 days, but really only about 10 hours were active work on the project.  I’m hoping that the cleaning and assessment of the structure and fittings that comes next may move a little faster.  The net result is easy to see though – a great big gap where a chunk of iron once sat.

Progress is being made!

Ready to begin…

As mentioned before, you really can’t do the kind of heavy work that Renaissance needs (opening up and replacing deck core and surface) unless you have a place to get her completely under cover and dry. Warm would be nice, too, but dry is the minimum.


So with that in mind, I built this shelter, right next to the house.  That last part is important, because the only way work gets done reliably is if it’s staring you in the face. For the next three years or so, every time I look outside or drive in the driveway, This is what I’ll see.  Motivation!


THe process of building the shelter was, in retrospect, a bit more challenging than the plans suggested, but I have to blame that on the scale of project I undertook, more than a fault of the plans themselves.  When you take a 12′ x 20′ greenhouse structure and scale it up to 16′ x 40′, things quickly take on a very different energy – like, BIG and HEAVY.  And very tall.

Add to that the fact that my site wasn’t level (a little over 4′ lower at the South-west corner than at the North-east), necessitating rather tall knee walls to give clearance over the boat, and you find yourself – as I did – playing on a poorly designed monkey-bars 25 feet in the air. It was a long way down!

Since the boat was already in place, I had the advantage of that to walk on for part of the construction process, but that’s a two-edged sword – the boat was also in the way of moving materials and sub-assemblies into place.

Still, I’m right pleased with the final product.  Stimson Marine produces good plans, and with a little yankee ingenuity I now have a shelter for my project – and my landlord has an almost guaranteed tenant for the next three years!


In total, the actual construction took 32 days – from driving the first post to closing in the last end. The 30 bows were built in my basement earlier in the season, and probably took me another two weeks to finish, and clearly I wasn’t doing this project full time – it was a couple hours here, a half a day there…

In terms of cost, I figure about $1200 – $300 below budget, if my numbers are correct.  Not a bad use of a little bit of my IRA, right?

Meanwhile our “other” boat – Honfleur – is still nodding at her mooring in Rockland Harbor, waiting for one more sail before we haul her for the winter.  Nicki and I are hoping to get out for a sail tomorrow, then she’s scheduled for haul-out on Monday the 14th.  She HAS to be out by the 15th, since that’s when the city of Rockland takes out the docks…

Shelter from the storm

It has been a long time since I last wrote about this project, but that doesn’t mean nothings been happening. Quite the contrary, it means we’ve been too busy to write about it!
The main thing now is to get the boat covered – weather-proof covered – so that the process of drying out 8 years of rain and snow can begin, and all the hardware on deck can be removed to expose the deck-reconstruction project – which is step two.

But what sort of cover? Tarps work, but they don’t last very long, and there’s no room to work under them. A large barn would be convenient, and indeed I considered asking around for one to use, but the duration of the project (planned for 3 years or so) and the likely mess I’ll make, combined with the desire to have the project right where I am so I can grab an hour for the boat whenever I have it, convinced me that having the boat at home, and building some sort of semi-permanent shelter for it became the favorite option.

But what sort? We rent our house, so it had to be something our landlord could live with. He pays the taxes, so a “temporary” structure was necessary to avoid a tax liability. Enter the bow-shed, from “Stimpson Marine”.
I sent them $25 for the plans, and started measuring.

The beauty of the Stimpson design is that it’s nearly infinitely scalable – you can make it as big or small as you need, using the plans to keep the proportions correct. To cover Renaissance and allow me room to work both on-deck (12 feet in the air) and beneath, I decided on a 16’ x 40’ shed, set on 4-foot knee walls to get the needed clearance at the boat’s widest point.



Initially driving the knee-wall posts









  Leveling and cutting to length







Cut, level and the sills installed







The first 4 bows and ridge in place.







So that’s been the “boat” projects in the last month! I did get a little cleaning done too – removed the old, incredibly rusty anchor chain from the chain locker, pulled most of the trash and unusable spare parts out of the cabin, and Nicki and I removed the lifelines and stanchions so that we could cover the deck properly while we were away on our cruise.

“Cruise?”, you say? Yes indeed! The beauty of having a sailable boat in the water while you’re working on the next one is that you have a constant reminder of why the heck you got yourself into this Do-It-Yourself hell. We took 12 days at the end of August and sailed east, ultimately reaching Northeast Harbor on MDI (Mount Desert Island) and staying three days before working our way home.
Just for the record, let me say:

Cruising. Does. Not. Suck.