Editor's Log: I Saw the Light

Editor Mark Pillsbury replaces the ports on his boat with mixed success.

It was early on a Saturday morning in April when my dock neighbor Jay bellowed down the companionway, “Who’s making all that noise?” I dropped the hammer and stiff putty knife I’d been wailing on and stuck my head out of the hatch, hoping he was referring to the banging and not the cursing that accompanied it.

He'd caught me in one of those moments that we sailboat owners know too well: the point at which the dream of sailing collides head-on with the self-inflicted pain of a repair job going seriously awry. "I'm replacing ports," I replied. "And trying to get the #@-#!$ frames to come out."

The screws holding the interior aluminum retaining ring on the first port had backed out as though set in butter. But the 35-year-old white stuff that surrounded the frame and looked quite like 3M’s 5200 was proving to be tenacious. I pried from the outside, but that only bent the aluminum flange and scratched the gelcoat. So now I used a hammer to wedge the putty knife through the bedding where it’d adhered to the cored cabin top. Pounded the hell out of it, really, in the hopes I might budge the port even a little bit.

This particular voyage onto sailing’s rocky reefs actually had its origins a year earlier when my wife, Sue, saw another dockmate—we’ll call him Bob—removing his ports to replace the scratched and cloudy Lexan. It was a job that I’d long maintained was far too onerous to be undertaken on our boat.

“It’s a breeze!” Bob chirped when Sue asked. “I replaced them a couple years ago when we left New Zealand. I pop them out and pop them in all the time.”

“I’ll shoot the bastard,” I thought. “I’ll shoot both the bastards,” I swore when another rat—we’ll call him Brian—wandered by to ask if I’d be changing our ports anytime soon, it being such an easy job.

The topic came up frequently during the summer. In the fall, the subject of new glass had become a gnawing whine, not unlike the toothache that precedes a root canal. On chilly winter evenings, when we’d sit snuggly below, the electric heaters humming away, Sue would look longingly past the glowing oil lamp, her thoughts fixed venomously on the crazed windows, now covered by curtains.

A fellow can only withstand so much. And so, with reluctance, I found myself on this particular Saturday fully committed and flailing desperately. Jay suggested coaxing with a heat gun rather than bashing with a hammer, and I’ll admit it worked better. An hour later, the port was apart and I was at the glass store being told that my thickness of Lexan would be a special order. The proper weather stripping—sold only in 100-foot rolls—would have to be shipped from California.

Eventually, over a long, long weekend, the ports went back together, and the frames, unwillingly, were rebedded and set in place. The rain that came a day after the work was done took all the guesswork out of whether ports and retaining rings had been tightened properly. But later, sitting there on my still-damp cushions, a bottle of Capt. Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure nearly as drained as the nearby flask of Mount Gay, I had to admit that the views out of the new windows were nothing if not wonderfully crystal clear.

Mark Pillsbury