Judy B on the Hobby of RestoringBoats

In a message dated 3/1/99 12:19:01 AM Pacific Standard Time, RR@xyz.com writes

> Hi Judy
> I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your explanation regarding the
> rebuilding of Redwing.
> I was curious, though, how did you learn how to do this; what to look
> for, what were the right way to do various tasks and what steps came in
> what order; that sort of thing.
> Also, what did you use to clean the mildew out of the cabin? With all
> the wet weather we've been having out here in California, I noticed that
> I have a bit of this inside my P-15, which is only in a carport, not a
> garage.
> Curious & intrigued,
> RR

Hi RR,

Glad you enjoyed it.  

Before I try to answer your question, I want to emphasize that the reason for having a boat is to sail it -- so you gotta get the work done before summer!  So you either have to work really hard in the winter, or buy a boat that doesn't need alot of work!

You know the Nike slogan, "just do it". Well that's how I learned this stuff. I just started fixing nasty old boats because that's all I thought I could afford.  Then I found out I really enjoyed the whole process almost as much as sailing!

Finding a boat...

The most important thing to do is find a boat you're going to love when it's done.  And wait til you find a good one REALLY cheap.  Redwing was such a dilapidated wreck that I only paid $2500 for her with a good 1992 outboard.  I inspected her carefully, crawling into every corner of the boat to look for woodrot and weakened laminate.  I found nothing to worry about.  Her hull was sound and stiff everywhere.  

I figured I was buying a hull, a mast, a VHF radio and an outboard for $2500.  I also thought I could rebuild her like new for $3000.  Well, I was wrong.  It's more like $4000 plus $1000 for a new trailer.  And that doesn't count the money I spent on GPS, camping gear, a bunch of other "necessities" or the extra money for doing a (planned) fancy job of running the lines aft or adding a spinnaker.  Still, $7500 for a "brand new" P19 with all the bells and whistles and  a Baja style trailer isn't a bad price.  If  I ordered her new from the factory, she'd cost somewhere between $12000 and $15,000.  

[Author's note:  since I originally wrote this in 1999, I have done lots more additional work than I originally planned.  I spent a lot more time and money adding or upgrading the following: CDI roller reefing jib furler; replaced half of the standing rigging and all of the running rigging; installed lazy jacks; added an Autohelm Tillerpilot 1000+ linked to the Lowrance GM100 GPS; got new ground tackle adequate to hold in 50 mph winds in a variety of seabeds; installed new chainpipes with anchor lockers fore and aft; ripped out the tangle of wiring and replaced it with new marine grade wiring on six circuits with circuit breakers instead of fuses, installed a new AGM 96 aH battery, battery monitor and charger; replaced the VHF radio and masthead antenna; added a CD player with shielded speakers in the cockpit and cabin, shore power, replaced the navigation lights and installed additional cabin lights; ran all lines aft through rope deck organizers, rope clutches and cabintop winches (to make life easier on my mildly arthritic hands); added a Seacook gimballed single burner stove in the cabin and a Magnum gas barbecue for the cockpit; replaced the twin cylnder 4 horse power Evinrude with a brand new Nissan 5 HP 4-stroke; and faired and re-gelcoated the bottom and the interior cabin;  replaced the companionway boards, replaced the awkward transom steps with a telescoping SS ladder that extends 2 feet below the bottom;  replaced the keel winching blocks; replaced the old stationary outboard motor bracket with a spring loaded on that makes it much easier for me to get the outboard up and down from the cockpit, resprayed the gelcoat on the transom, added boat graphics.  Virtually everything on the boat is new with the exception of the original mast and hull!  With the way the boat is equipped today, she'd cost over $22,000 new. She's rigged for single-handing in winds up to 35+ knots, and can handle more than her skipper]

[Authors note: Upgrades installed in 2001 include: custom-made one piece rudder with increased area and balance, custom mahogany interior cabinets, snap shackles on the mainsheet for quicker rigging, jackline on the mainsail for reefing, and more....]

Around SF Bay, sailing crosses all social and economic classes if the boat is under 34 feet (which is some kind of magic number... over 34 feet they cost $150,000 and up. Under 34 feet they cost $500 and up). What I mean is that old boats are so cheap that any Tom, Dick or Harry can get one under thirty feet for next to nothing.

We were in the marina one early Sunday morning when I said "hi "to a man who was wandering around with his boat on a trailer.  He was looking for someone to give his old pop-top MacGregor 24 to -- because he didn't want to pay the storage fees any longer for a boat they hadn't used in a couple of years!  David wouldn't let me take it, because we had three, no, make that four, other boats besides Redwing at the time.  By the time I finished sweet-talking him into it, somebody else had gotten the boat.

If you walk around the docks for twenty minutes, you'll see dozens of boats that haven't left their slips in 5 years.  They're just falling apart, their boat covers in tatters, with four-foot beards of sea grass and mussels growing on the hulls.  You can go up to the HarborMaster's office and they'll get in touch with the owner if you want to make an offer.  If you walk through the rows of boats on trailers, you'll see a dozen boats under 25 feet for sale for $1000 to $2500.

Learning How to do a Professional Job

I read a lot.  I started studying sailing and boats 20 years ago. I devour books and other sources of information like:
-various books on the basic (really basic) principles of sailboat design and sailplans
-Brion Toss' book, The Rigger's Apprentice
-The Annapolis Book of Seamanship (better than Chapmans, more useful for sailors),
-the West Epoxy System/Gudgeon Bros. free booklets on boat repair (truly *excellent*),
-newsgroups (rec.boats.building, rec.boats.racing, rec.boats.cruising),
-books in the Marina Bookstore on boat repair, I don't buy them, I just sit there and speed read them.
-the Harken, Schaefer and Ronstan catalogs (The Harken catalog has really good info on hardware layouts and calculating loads on blocks)

Alameda Marina is a sailboat junkie's paradise.  There are literally a thousand sailboats stored in that marina, some on the hard (on trailers) and some in slips. You can wander around there to your heart's content looking at examples of nearly every type of sailboat ever made.  If you want to see examples of different ways to rig a boat or layout a cabin, just walk around on a Sunday. Owners are out puttering on their boats, and always invite you aboard for a tour if you just stop to chat a few minutes.

I ask a lot of questions. The folks at Svendson's Boatyard in Alameda Marina are very knowlegable and helpful. I've hung out there alot the last few years. For the first three months I owned her, I stored Redwing in the marina on a trailer. Anytime I had a question, I could always find someone to give me advice. They have a full rigging shop, metal shop, wholesale and retail chandlery... you name it, it's there. They build some of the finest custom boats on the West Coast right there in the boat yard from scratch. And they'll fix or fabricate anything you could possibly need for a boat, except sails. Of course, there are 2 or 3 sailmakers right in the same Marina, just in case you have a question about sails...

I hired Bruce the Head Rigger at Svendson's Boatyard to inspect Redwing shortly after I bought her. He crawled around inside and out of her for an hour and pronounced her a "tough, chunky little boat that can handle anything the Bay dishes out."  He delivered a doctoral dissertation on tuning the fractional rig on the P19 and then proceeded to rough tune it right there on the trailer (the fine tune has to be done on the water under sail) .  He helped me plan the re-rigging (and saved me alot of headaches),  told me what *had* to be replaced or repaired, what was *optional* for performance, and he made recommendations for the right blocks, lines, layout.  He sketched out a cheap way to run enough lines aft so I never have to go forward and a fancy, high performance way to do the same thing.  He even invited me out on his boat this summer for a lesson on flying a spinnaker single handed from the companionway.  

Bruce helped me get a lot of bang for my buck as I proceeded with rebuilding Redwing.  I can stick my head in the door of the Rigging Shop to ask a quick question, and since I'm a regular customer who buys a fair amount of hardware, I get free professional advice.

I talked to sailmakers, asked more questions, researched the original HMS18 sailplan and rudder designed by Herb Stewart (thanks Jerry and Dik!), and commissioned a suit of sails from UK Sailmakers.  I got a mainsail and a small jib for SF Bay's summer winds (40 square feet for furling to 25 or 30 when necessary on a CDI roller-furler).  I also had them modify the lapper that came with Redwing so I could use it on the CDI.   Along with making the suit of sails, most sailmakers will come out to look at your boat, spend a little time with you discussing how it's rigged and/or how it should be rigged.  Chris, one of the owners, went out sailing for an hour with me on Redwing to experiment exactly where to put the genoa tracks before he started designing my new jib.  More "free" professional advice.

A big thanks to all the folks that have helped me....

I have to give some credit to the friends I've made sailing. Many of them have been doing this a lot longer than I have. We're dinghy sailors, my hubby and I, and we've met a lot of friends that way. Many of them also own racing cats, one and two man racing dinghies of all varieties, as well as 24 foot racers or 30 footer cruisers. The very best sailors I know sail itty-bitty dinghies, as well as their 30 footers.

Some of them live aboard their big boats or grew up on boats. They don't always agree on the best way to do things, but you learn to pick and choose what questions you ask of whom. One friend knows all about outboards, another knows alot about sails, another know how to restore gelcoat and so on.

Dinghy sailors and racers thrash their boats on SF Bay, so we're always putting them back together after a season of abuse on the Bay, rebuilding hulls, repairing rigging, fixing cracks from collisions, replacing busted hardware, and tweaking performance. If you can't fix your own boat, you don't sail very long.

We swap parts amongst ourselves, and pick up like-new gear at swap meets from folks who've upgraded to something beefier.  We buy old boats cheap, and turn them into lean, mean, sailing machines.

Managing the Project

You have to plan a project like Redwing very carefully or else you never actually finish it.  You have to, it's much bigger than fixing up a dinghy after a season of hard sailing.  If I didn't write it all down, I'd get overwhelmed by the enormity of it and quit.  I have a spread sheet with a list of all the tasks that have to be completed.  I have lists of part numbers to buy for each step.  

When I have some time available to work on Redwing, I choose either the next most important task on the list or the one that will fit my schedule for that particular day or week.  There's no strict order that things must be completed in,  with one exception.  

The one exception is that you have to get rid of all the leaks first and fix any structural deficiencies before you start re-rigging and refinishing.  Fortunately, Redwing was as strong as a new tugboat and didn't suffer from any structural deficiencies, but unfortunately she had more leaking fittings and bolts than she had watertight ones.  She was a veritable sieve above the waterline.  I fixed that by just re-bedding everything indiscriminately.

I plan to have Redwing in perfect sailing condition by April 15, the real start of the warm weather and good winds around here. No leaks, all new rigging and sails, hull faired, gelcoat restored and all the hardware installed for sailing the way I like to sail.

I won't even start any cabin remodelling this season, except to clean her up, refinish the gelcoat and repaint everything so she's clean and shiny.  New cushions too.  The rest of it can wait for next winter... to me, the rigging, sails, and hull are the most important part of the boat.  Not the interior design. I don't plan to live on the boat for more than a few days at a time... no matter what folks say, the Potter is a tiny boat and I like a hot shower!  If it's longer than two or three days, I want a real bathroom and a kingsized bed!  

I'l have all summer to get used to the cabin and to plan the cabin remodelling. That way I should know what I want to do with the living space.  For me, it's much less straight forward to figure the cabin layout than it was to design the rigging.  

Or maybe I'll take her down to IM next winter and have them drop a new in a new cabin liner if it's more cost effective.

Everybody's got Mildew in His/Her Boat

When I bought Redwing, the inside of her cabin was black everywhere from a thick coating of mildew.  The stench was incredible.

Since I knew I had to throw everything inside away, I just sprayed a 50% solution of clorox everywhere. Tilex Mildew Remover is 2.5% sodium hypochloride -- and that's exactly what you get when you dilute clorox 1:1 with water, for a lot less money than Tilex

The stuff is ghastly to work with in a small enclosed space. I filled my garden sprayer up with the stuff and saturated the whole interior. I wore a full gasmask with brand new organic filters and goggles and I still had to leave every 2 minutes. However, it definitely kills mildew and mold! I sprayed it in every nook and cranny of the boat and then left it in the sun to dry out for a few days. You couldn't go near it for three days without choking on the fumes.

Then I put Redwing under loose tarps (so she could breathe) and started fixing the leaks; I also installed a Nico solar powered/battery powered exhaust fan. No more mold or mildew. Redwing smells like a new, clean boat now.

For periodic cleaning and prevention, you can use diluted clorox to kill any mildew or mold you find on the hard surfaces.  You probably can't use clorox on mildew-ed fabrics; I don't have any good advice except to say that prevention is cheaper than new cushions.

Enjoying it all...

Have I really told you the real secret to rebuilding a boat?

I  fix up my boats with love for the boat and uncompromising attention to detail, I have fun and make friends with the folks who help me all along the way, and I don't quit until it's all finished and (almost) like new.

When I'm through working on Redwing for this season, I plan to invite my hubby outside on a spring evening to the sideyard where Redwing is stored.  We'll sit in the cockpit of the boat, under the stars and the moon, me with a glass of wine, hubby with a fine cigar along with his wine, and we'll celebrate how lucky we are to have such a beautiful new boat!


Judy B

Judy's Potter Pages