Wood Boat Blues

Copyright 1990, Jack G. Ganssle

Not too many of us relish the chores and thrills associated with owning a wooden boat. This 1990 article was a response to one more comment of "must be a lot of work" from yet another plastic boat owner.

Spring! To the sailor this season brings to mind warm breezes, lazy weekends spent gunkholing, and long cruises. But first, the boat must be hauled, scraped and painted. Last year Spring found Amber II, my 35 foot Cheoy Lee Lion, at yet another "do it yourself" yard, this one located near Baltimore, Md. After sailing all night, I checked into the office to finalize Amber's hauling arrangements. I was completely unprepared for the scene that followed.

The assistant office person recorded each of my replies to her queries. Name, rank and serial number. We successfully navigated the usual maze of questions, even the one I always dread the most.

Assistant: "Builder?"

Me: "Cheoy Lee"

Assistant: "How do you spell that?"

Why is it that after 3 years the State of Maryland still insists that Amber is a "Chevy Lee"? My insurance company thinks she's a "Chey Lea". My sailing friends call her a "Cheuie Louie". I spelled it three times, noted that she still had the name misspelled, but decided that "Choy Lee", while sounding like an instant Chinese dinner, was close enough to satisfy the marina's paperwork demons.

Time to relax, I thought. The tough questions are done. Oh, naive me.

"Material", she asked.

"Teak", I replied, not suspecting a trap.

Off she charged! She soon hove into sight with the Office Supervisor in tow.

"Isn't this teak material wood?" Supervisor inquired suspiciously.

Finally aware of the questioning's treacherous turn, I froze. A thousand thoughts ran through my head. Should I meekly admit that, well, yes, she is wood, but...

Or... In a moment of malicious mischief I thought "Teak? It's a synthetic derivative of the noxious goo leached by a fiberglass blister".

The moment passed. "Yes", I admitted.

"Wood!" Supervisor exclaimed.

"Wood!" echoed Assistant.

"Wood!" I said proudly.

"What condition is this alleged boat in?", Supervisor asked. "How badly does she leak?" wondered Assistant.

William Jennings Bryan would have admired my powers of persuasion. The closing arguments of Clarence Darrow during the Scopes trial were inarticulate mutterings compared to the heights of eloquence I rose to convince them that Amber's two week stay on land would not cause the yard financial ruin.

Finally Supervisor warily agreed to haul Amber (with payment in advance). The forms completed, disclaimers signed, I left the office, a second class "boater" (certainly not a yachtsman - not with an old wood boat), trying to look inconspicuous.

I wandered through the yard, passing a half dozen neglected boats with blisters the size of Vesuvious and a team of paper garbed technicians grinding, epoxying, and cursing at another. Coughing through a cloud of carcinogenic polyester dust I realized the yard was afraid the high maintenance of wood boats could cause the owner to abandon it in despair.

The dust coated my glasses; I tripped over the remains of a failed carbon-fiber skeg, fortunately falling in the walnut-shell sandblasting residue of a gel coat removal job. "After all, a wood boat does need painting and varnishing every year" I murmured.

I watched fascinated as a group of highly paid experts attempted to restore the structural integrity to a Benateau 47 whose keel had separated from the hull by filling the 2 inch gap with Marinetex. "Perhaps", I meditated, "the yard knows the average owner of the wood boat will do the Spring maintenance himself, no doubt botching the job".

Finally, overcome by the smell of MEK and acetone, I retreated to Amber's cabin.

Later, with Amber safely hauled and blocked, even the marina's employees joined the flock of people admiring her lines. "Must be a lot of work" was the universal refrain.

Not really.

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