Opinion: Lessons learned from a neglected sailboat


My little sailboat sat dreary and neglected all last summer. Each day my goal was to repaint the hull, refinish the mast and sand and varnish the brightwork – all so I could go sailing.

It never happened. When it wasn’t raining (five days of every seven, as I recall), other tasks marched in and preempted all boat work. June flew by. Then July and August were gone. September ushered in fall leaves and frost. The boat sat and waited.

The best I could do for her at the end of summer was to wrap her snugly in tarps and make a promise for spring. Memorial Day weekend I kept that promise. The tarps came off and my little boat saw sunlight for the first time in more than a year.

There was at least five inches of water in the boat. It is a fundamental law of boating that water resents being kept outside the boat. If there is a way for it to get in, it will find it.

Empty water bottles from two summers ago floated against the thwarts. A hammer, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver lay submerged amidships, covered in rust. I always carry these plus a sharp knife when sailing – good insurance against a fouled line or a balky block that threaten to dump you in the water or pile you on the rocks.

Lesson learned: remove all tools at season’s end.

My little boat has a small locker in the bow where I keep life jackets, mooring lines and fenders. In previous years these things remained safe and snug during the winter. This year the locker was swarming with carpenter ants.

Since carpenter ants mostly dote on wet wood, I feared they had found a way through the fiberglass to munch on the hull. These ants, however, found what they were looking for in a length of cotton rope. All that remained of it was a large fluffy ball of fiber.

Lesson learned: remove all lines and life jackets at season’s end.

A quick survey told me that everything I needed to do last year still needs to be done this year. Add to that list, repair and repaint the rudder, and sand and apply new varnish to the oars. Lamentably, they spent the winter submerged in the bottom of the boat.

Lesson learned: store the oars across the seats at season’s end.

If the weather cooperates, and other more urgent tasks don’t crash the party, I should be sailing by the middle of June. Of course, I haven’t even looked at the trailer for any problems it might have.

I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned there, too.


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