As much fun as riding around on two wheels is, it left the tinkerer in me feeling bit unfulfilled. While in Idaho after some soul-searching and counseling from a dear friend I realized that my heart was pulling East toward home: the sailboat I grew up on so many years ago. Hence the journey through Canada to this Maine destination.
Northern Cross, who has now been in the family for 22 years, has sat lonely in a Maine shipyard since the year 2000. After eleven years out of the water and only visited occasionally by my parents and I, she remains strong though outwardly shows obvious signs of neglect. But to anyone with salt in their blood it’s plain to see that beneath her mask of dirt and flaking paint she’s as ready for the sea as ever. So on the morning of July 22nd we picked her up and moved her to a spot better suited for the work to come. Perhaps only a move of 100 feet, but it was a monumental 100 ft considering it was her first change in scenery for over a decade.
Our visits over the last 11 years have often simply been to check on things and re-tarp over the deck. First on the agenda was to machete all these tarps off and scrub away a decade of grime covering the topsides.
Next was to arrange the cabin into a livable space again. Filling the water tanks was a priority, though with a little less haste I probably would have found that most of the plumbing had been disconnected to winterize things back in 2000. Nothing like pumping 50 gallons of water into a dry, immaculate bilge because of your own stupidity. Three days of tearing things apart down below and drying them in the sun remedied that.
Most of the exterior paint was in very bad condition. Years of sunshine and weather had turned it brittle which led to extensive cracking. Around fittings and welded areas, some of this cracking was deep enough to have allowed moisture to reach the steel and begin localized rusting. These rust spots were rare though and overall the hull remains as structurally sound as when she was built in 1979.
Tackling the deck was a daunting task, so I decided to start with something a bit smaller in scope that would be a constant morale boost once it was completed. Every piece of teak on deck was in some state of decay, from simply needing new varnish to being weathered and cracking to the point of rot. Luckily the brightwork around the cockpit was in fair shape and only took a few days to sand and re-varnish. (Note: I use the term “varnish” loosely. Real varnish is a natural finish used on traditional wood boats – beautiful, pure, and maintenance intensive. We use a longer-lasting synthetic product.) Synthetic or not, I’ve come to think there are few things as rewarding as preparing and finishing bright work on a boat.
At this point you may be wondering how I get supplies to the boat. Have you forgotten about the Camel? A true beast of burden, it hasn’t failed me yet and is as capable as a truck. So far it has carried refrigerators, air compressors, countless gallons of paint, lumber, the list goes on.
I couldn’t put it off any longer, warm summer days in Maine wouldn’t last forever and the deck wasn’t repainting itself. Let the fun begin! To make a long story short, every square inch of the deck had to be prepared. This meant grinding or sandblasting through all the layers of brittle paint down to sturdy material. If this meant only to the 20 year old primer, great. If this meant all the way to the zinc coating on the steel or even the steel itself, then so be it. This requirement resulted in exposing a tree-ring-like history of the deck, with a colorful display of 30 years of paint. In the end, roughly 20% of the deck needed grinding down to bare steel. This presented a new problem, exposed steel needs to be painted within 60 minutes of sandblasting or else the paint will adhere to the hour of corrosion that formed, not the steel itself. Quickly the entire deck became a patchwork quilt of varying degrees of preparation and painting. Luckily my friend Nicolas came to visit and we were able to put two grinders to use for a while.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of inside projects to work on during rainy days. The rudder and propellor shaft had to be removed for routine maintenance, which uncovered some rust around the rudder post bushing. One thing led to another and before you know it I was sand blasting inside a finished boat. The mess this makes is indescribable, but there’s no substitute for preparing steel in difficult to reach places.
So that’s where work stands now. There’s still much to do as there always is with boats, but it’s fulfilling work like I haven’t felt since doing the same as a kid. The compliments about Northern Cross and my family’s work on her are continual – she seems to be a bit of a celebrity in this area. Where she has been sitting for 11 years is immediately adjacent to the ferry terminal, and nearly every day a stranger comes by to inquire with some variation of “I’ve been eying this boat for a decade while waiting for the ferry, what’s her story!?!?!” One observer commented that throughout her entire time sitting here, through bright summer day and bleak winter storm, she has always “appeared noble, proud and ready for her next voyage.” Heartwarming stuff.