A Sailor's Christmas

Being that the Christmas season is upon us and the very day is just around the corner, I thought I'd share the wonderful lyrics of one of my favorite sailing songs and favorite Christmas songs. One line in particular seems particularly appropriate for this very snowy winter in the Great Lakes: "But Christmas is the season better suited for dry land..."


A Sailor's Christmas
(Jimmy Buffett, Roger Guth)

A sail on the horizon's got a land fall rendezvous
The captain steers a well known course he steers her straight and true
As he trims the sheets he sings a song he learned on boats and bars
"A sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour 'neath the stars"

He's traveled through the doldrums, typhoons and hurricanes
He's logged a million soggy miles, with water on his brain
But Christmas is the season better suited for dry land
He'll tell some lies, meet some spies and dance barefoot in the sand

A sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour on the hook
Cali, Calais no work today, let's shelve the old log book
The waterfront is reveling, the season has begun
A sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour having fun.

There's a party down at Le Select all music, rhum and cheers
Faces in the shadows, I haven't seen for years
The masts and shrouds are filled with lights 'neath the waning of the moon
There's an air of celebration in the realm of King Neptune.

A sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour on the hook
Cali, Calais no work today, let's shelve the old log book
The waterfront is reveling, the season has begun
A sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour having fun.

Jesus was a fisherman who walked upon the sea
The North Pole is the ocean's remote frozen balcony
The continents keep drifting but the children sing and play
Cause nothing really matters after all it's Christmas day

Painting a Sailboat Bilge

A clean, well-kept bilge says a lot about a boat's overall condition in my book. Clean bilges let you know that the ship's captain doesn't live by the philosophy of "Out of sight, out of mind". Sure, bilges inherently get dirty and wet quickly and easily. But if you start with a good foundation, they are easier to keep clean and much more hospitable during those claustrophobic moments when you have to cram yourself deep into the bowels of the vessel for maintenance and repair.

I began restoring our boat's (1972 Helms 25 Hull #44) bilge by first removing any debris and lost hardware that had fallen in over the years. Then I scrubbed mightily with a solution of Comet, bleach and warm water. This removed most of the mildew, stains and dirt that had built up during the years since 1972. Next, I used my ShopVac to suck up residue left from the Comet, small particles of dirt and sand, and make certain the entire bilge was dry. Lastly, I used a 220 grit sanding sponge to finish surface preparations. The ShopVac was used again to vacuum up the dust from sanding. Luckily, about 99% of the bilge is fairly accessible on a Helms 25.

When the bilge was cleaned out, I applied two coats of durable, latex garage floor paint. I'm told International makes a great bilge paint product called "Danboline", but I'm on a tight budget for this project so I went with some leftover floor paint that I had used in my basement and garage earlier in the year. The paint went on surprisingly well for such a dingy, dirty application. I simply cut-in using a good quality brush for latex paints and then rolled on two coats of the paint with a 3/8” nap roller cover designed for semi-smooth surfaces.

Depending on the size of your boat and the condition and access to your boat’s bilge, this project should be easy to complete within a day or two for even novice painters. The cost is almost solely dependent upon the amount of paint need to sufficiently coat your bilge. While most passengers and guests (let alone crew!) will probably not even notice how beautiful my bilge and storage areas have become, I'll stand with my chin just a bit higher knowing that even the out-of-sight areas of my Helms 25 received TLC!

Bonus content: Here's some of the latest YouTube sailing videos:

Advice for Sailboat Restoration

I recently finished (Are we ever really finished?) restoring a sailboat. The project has become my all-time favorite hobby and somewhat of an obsession. So much so that many people I come across only recognize me as “the guy who restored that old sailboat.” I was recently asked what advice I would give to someone beginning the restoration of a sailboat. What follows is a synopsis of my response.

Visit your local library. There’s no need to add any expense to your sailboat restoration budget by purchasing several of the very good books available on sailboat restoration. Your local library probably has many of them available for free. You can start by checking out copies of Don Casey's books. No, Don nor his publishers are paying me to recommend his books. I just happen to find his books easy to read, easy to follow, and generally filled with sound advice. This Old Boat is a great general reference, while many of his other books give more details. Here is a list of some of Casey’s most relevant books:

  • Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual
  • Sailboat Refinishing

  • Sailboat Electrics Simplified

  • Sailboat Hull and Deck Repair

  • Canvaswork and Sail Repair

Document the sailboat restoration process. This can be done with pictures, videos and a restoration logbook. A website or blog (web-log) is a great place to document the process. Not only will you be tracking and recording your own progress, but you will also be helping countless other sailors learn from your successes and errors! You will also be truly amazed at how much feedback you will receive through the website and/or blog. Both Blogger.com and Sailblogs.com provide free blogs. Check out http://www.sailblogs.com/member/dreambeginsto see my personal sailboat restoration and sailing blog as an example. You can also see a video slideshow documenting my sailboat restoration on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DGXxXbE8tgZg

Join a sailing forum online. I am active on Sailnet (http://www.sailnet.com/forums) and get immeasurable amounts of advice and help from the other members. I am also a member of a couple of different online communities specific to my sailboat’s builder. In fact, most sailboat makes have an online community of enthusiastic owners. By joining an online community you are likely to find expertise, new ideas and hard-to-find used parts from other members.

Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. The preceding almost does not even need to be said if you are considering the restoration of a sailboat. Yet, I find it amazing what sorts of projects even a novice can accomplish if you take your time and just have the motivation to begin. Before I began restoring my boat I had never done any sort of fiberglass repair or work. But after doing a little research and giving it a try on my boat I now feel confident that I can handle other such repairs in the future.

Become familiar with online and alternative sources for parts. We all know of a few major suppliers of boating supplies and parts. The big “superstores” don’t always have the best prices or many hard-to-find specialty items or items specific to your particular boat. However, there are also some really good resources that are a bit off of the beaten path. I have gotten a lot of good deals off of Craigslist by posting “want ads”. Obviously, eBay is another great source for deals on hard to find parts.

Be very conservative when estimating costs. While I have gotten a lot of good deals and free stuff, sailboat restoration is still an expensive endeavor. I thought I was being conservative when I planned out the restoration of my boat prior to starting, but invariably once I started taking things apart I found more things that needed to be fixed or upgraded. Also, the more I started to restore, the more I enjoyed the process. I kept finding more parts to upgrade and more add-ons to improve the boat’s usefulness, comfort and sailing characteristics. There is a saying that goes something like this “There’s nothing more expensive than a cheap boat”. Take your best estimate for the cost of a restoration job and then double it. If you don’t spend the full estimated amount, put the savings into your cruising kitty!

Walk the docks. I gleaned so many great ideas by just checking out other boats at my marina and in the local yard. If you have a problem and need a unique solution, or if you just want some creative ways to individualize your boat, chances are good that you’ll find someone on the dock who’s already applied the solution or added that unique feature to their boat. You’re also very likely to run into a few sailors who are more than willing to show off their boats and share ideas that can help during your restoration.

Go sailing! Let’s face it, sailboat restoration takes time, dedication and motivation. And I would assume that anyone starting a restoration has a goal of one day sailing the boat that they have poured so much of themselves into. So during the restoration process, make sure you sail OPB’s (other people boats)! Ride along with a dock neighbor or join a Wednesday evening race as a crewmember. There is no better motivation for a sailboat restoration project than getting a taste of the joy the finished product will bring.

Have fun! If you learn to enjoy the journey that a sailboat restoration project inevitably becomes, you will be rewarded with a most memorable destination. There is real value to be had in doing the work for yourself. You will swell with pride and your good old boat will sail better with the knowledge that you gave her the care she deserves.

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