Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Crisis of Faith - June 08

“What are you thinking about?” Mike asked me one morning recently as we sat on the patio with our first cup of morning caffeine.
I nodded toward the canal and said, “Our boat and my column.”
Mike grimaced. “Are you going to write ‘boat for sale’? Or how about ‘dream for sale’, or even better, ‘dream boat for sale’?” he asked, shaking his head.
“Actually, I was thinking about calling it A Crisis of Faith.”
He stood up to go watch the news. “Tell me how it ends.”

At the time of my last refit column we’d begun rebuilding from a gutted hull and were making slow but steady progress from the V-berth back. What we accomplished was not only strong and solid but looked good too. After months of tearing out, we’d finally started putting it all back together and were feeling good.

Then we reached one of the three bulkheads we thought were strong enough they didn’t need to be replaced, specifically the main bulkhead. While the bulkhead itself is solid, the steel beam that supports the mast is rusted through. Which puts the entire rig at risk. So rather than continuing to make steady progress with rebuilding cabinets and putting in floors, progress came to a halt while Mike works out the best way to fix this critical issue. I asked him why we couldn’t just work on another section in the meantime and he handed me a book on boat construction. “Read this.” Um, I’ll pass thank you. I’ve made it this far in life without reading boring technical books. I’ll just wait and he can teach me as we go along.

To make himself feel better, he took a break from that and worked on something which should have been cut and dried. He hooked up the fuel tank. He’d gotten the engine running smoothly a few months earlier, but it was still drawing fuel from a five-gallon gas can. The main fuel tank appeared to be only a couple years old; bright, shiny stainless steel with good fittings. Mike cleaned it out, polished the fuel, connected the hoses and added new diesel. Over a couple cold beers, we sat on the stringers and listened to the engine hum, knowing at least one part of the boat was in good working order.

The next day Mike went below and noticed a little puddle of diesel. It was small enough he thought he might have spilled it filling the tank. So he wiped it up. The following day the puddle was back. Yep, the second thing in the boat we’d thought was solid – wasn’t. So he siphoned the diesel back into the gas can and disconnected the tank from the engine. The tank would have to come out of the boat to be pressure tested and welded. More time, energy and expense. But the worst part – this was something we were sure was in good shape!

Disheartening? Oh yeah. Then our neighbor brought over a book she thought would “inspire” us. The World’s Best Sailboats by Ferenc Mate. We sat on the patio in full sight of our little wreck and looked at photos of Shannons, Hinckleys and a Cherubini pretty enough to make you cry. While I still believe our project boat has the potential to be nearly as pretty as many we saw in the book, I’m not so certain we have the stamina, the money, or even worse, the motivation to make it happen. For both of us, the boat is only half of it. The other half is sailing and we’ve never even sailed this boat. We’ve been told by many who’ve sailed Cal’s that we’ll love how she handles, but is it enough? How long until we get a chance to find out?

But as with most things in life, it comes down to the bottom line. And the bottom line here is that we can’t sell the boat, for a multitude of reasons, so we’re stuck with it and we’ll have to make the best of it. We’ll have to focus on the positive, work our way through the negative and stick it out until it’s done.

So what are the positives? For starters, the hull is solid and the boat has potential, which, if I recall, were the main reasons we bought it in the first place. We can do the work in small, affordable chunks as time and money allow. We can do most of the work ourselves and even though I don’t have the experience or skills Mike does, I’m learning and that’s never a bad thing. When we’re done with the project, we’ll have a good boat we can trust. I watched Mike turn the broken hull of a Rhodes 18 into a beautiful cross between a fine sailing boat and a work of art. If anyone can make this happen, Mike can, and I’ll be working right along side him. This is something I can have faith in.

The negatives are all a matter of perspective. The biggest is that we’ll never get out of it the money we put into it. But then again, some of the most rewarding things in life are not based on investment return. Raising children is hard work and expensive but you don’t expect a return on the dollar; the reward is in the act itself and usually comes many years later!

And sometimes you just have to be grateful for the little things. At some point in the boat’s past, someone stuck an ugly air conditioning unit in the main cabin hatch. On a whim the other day, Mike ran power to it and turned it on. It actually works! It’s hideous and has no place on a sailboat, but it sure will make it easier to work below over the hot Fort Lauderdale summer.

Crisis averted? We’ll see, but in the meantime, we have plenty to distract us from worrying about it!

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