The Boatyard Blues

Our seven days on the hard are dusty, dirty, and arduous. But our time there is only temporary, and the reward is sweet. "Onboard Living" from our March 2010 issue

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Is one¿s obligatory week in a boatyard an ordeal or an adventure? Well, it¿s simply part of being a boat owner.Tim Foley

My wife, Kathy, and I dread the first night we spend in the boatyard when we return to Endeavor, our 34-foot Tartan. We threaten every year to take a motel room for a couple of days just to give us a chance to get the boat straightened out before we move aboard, but we never do.

We try to arrive at the yard soon after lunch so we have time to move as much gear as we can up on deck to make the boat somewhat habitable below. A ladder is laid against the rail and up we climb to discover exactly what surprises lie in store for us. Even if we've been lucky enough to escape a direct hit from a hurricane, the deck's always filthy, and the plumbing doesn't work because we're on jack stands. And after six months or so of basking in the hot Florida summer sun, mildew and mud wasps have taken over down below.

We clean belowdecks as best we can and make up the V-berth. The nearest heads and running water are at least 100 yards away across the dusty yard. There's no food on the boat when we arrive, of course, and any fresh water remaining in the tanks has been heated all summer and is suspect at best. Over the years, our prep work has assumed a comfortable pattern, and our week's effort in the yard goes something like this:

Day One: Find a power cord long enough to reach an outlet and plug into shore power. Easy, you say-just plug it in! Well, not quite. Our onboard 50-foot power cord is usually too short to reach an outlet that works, so we have to hook several cords together and test them until we finally get power to the boat. The cords' plugs are likely to be corroded, dozens of cords run everywhere, and many outlets don't even work. Next, we run a water hose to the nearest outlet; again, this likely requires us to borrow an added length of leaky hose. Somehow, too, rainwater has always found its way into the bilge. Once we have shore power, I proceed to pump the splashing bilge water all over our car parked near the stern; we've finally learned not to park too near the boat. This year, Kathy continued cleaning below while I made friends with an English couple on a well-found Hallberg-Rassy sloop next to us. Lucky for them, their boat was ready to go in the water.

When we've secured water and AC power, we begin to check our many critical electric systems: batteries and battery charger, solar panel, lights, refrigerator, pressure water, propane stove, bilge pump, running lights, various radios, and the radar. By the end of the first afternoon, we're exhausted, discouraged, and dirty. The floor of the yard's head is usually slippery with mud, but the showers are still welcoming, though we wear our Crocs just the same. After getting cleaned up, we head to the nearest market to buy drinking water and provisions for the first couple of days. That evening, we eat cold chicken and drink from a his-and-hers box of wine.

Day Two: I wash and scrub the deck, which takes all day on hands and knees. This year, toward the end of the day, friendly Canadians on a Morgan Out Island 41 ketch took the place of the Hallberg-Rassy that was next to us. They began to sand their boat's barnacle-encrusted bottom, adding barnacle-laden blue ablative dust to the topsides and deck I'd just cleaned. Kathy shut the hatches to keep out the dust, which made it nearly unbearably hot below. Our new neighbors did apologize for the mess.

Usually on Day Two, Kathy periodically comes on deck to inspect my work and to get a breath of fresh air. Occasionally, she'll announce that some electrical system isn't working or some freshwater plumbing is leaking in the boat. I stop scrubbing the deck and either fix the problem or add it to my list. All sailors keep lists.

Day Three: Depending on what's on said list, we shop for provisions and boat supplies at the closest hardware and marine stores, though we never find everything we need.

This year, we returned to find more blue haze on everything, but at least the bottom sanding had stopped. We look forward to a nice dinner aboard with white wine, and we have sushi as an appetizer.

Day Four and Day Five: I contract for $100 with one of our much younger yard buddies to sand the bottom-the dirtiest job imaginable-and I resume cleaning the topsides of Endeavor. Kathy starts waxing the cabin top. It takes two days to wax the hull with both of us working. We keep telling ourselves how fortunate we are not to own a bigger boat. Meanwhile, the usual dust continues to billow up from the yard and cover everything; it even penetrates below. By Day Five, we can't wait to be in the water.

Day Six: We start and run the engine. We usually find that something's not working and must be fixed before we can splash. We go on a shopping spree and buy five quarts of bottom paint, a paint tray, rollers, masks, and painter's overalls. We paint the bottom in the afternoon. Actually, Kathy paints while I assist. Don't ask how she ended up with the job of painting the bottom.

Day Seven: We park our car at the edge of the yard, disconnect the battery, and cover the car with a tarp. We request that Endeavor be put in the Travelift just before lunch so that we can lower and paint the centerboard, then let the paint dry during the yard crew's lunch break. Meanwhile, I remove and lubricate all the seacocks. After lunch, the Travelift crew slowly lowers Endeavor into the water with the slings still attached: This is the moment of truth. I go aboard and carefully inspect all the seacocks and stuffing boxes for leaks, and I leave the bilge open to see if any water is coming in. When I'm satisfied that we aren't sinking, the Travelift slings are retracted and Endeavor floats on her own.

We motor down the river, away from the dust and dirt, and anchor in a familiar nearby creek. Kathy looks for-and finds-a few dribbles around the through-hulls. After a summer in the yard, the O-rings dry out and shrink. We're not sinking, so I convince Kathy to relax, as the O-rings will swell as they get wet and the leaks will go away. They eventually do. We have a well-earned candlelight dinner, then decide to call it an early night.

Is the obligatory week in the boatyard an ordeal or an adventure? Well, it's simply part of being a boat owner, and like most sailors, we focus less on the hard times and more on the good. This year, those good times will be spent in the Family Islands, in the Bahamas.

Richard de Grasse is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and holds a U.S. Coast Guard master's license. He and Kathy have been cruising for 25 years on their Tartan 34 centerboard sloop, Endeavor.