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Go Back   SailNet Community > Contributing Authors > Cruising Articles
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Old 04-02-2001
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Kristin Sandvik is on a distinguished road
The Best Maintenance is Use


Maintenance usually doesn't suffer while transiting the high seas because your life depends on it, but life in the marina may present a different scenario.
For many of us, spells of cruising are balanced with spells of time on land. And, surprisingly enough, it's landlubber time that can be most dangerous for the cruising yacht. When living on land, with its attendant temptations and conveniences, the welfare of your boat will depend on this criterion: don't forget that you have a boat!

"N'oublie pas que tu as un bateau!" joked my French cruising friend Gilles, a fellow small-yacht captain of the "Class of ‘98." We had met unexpectedly in Auckland one November afternoon in 2000 after two years of cruising in opposite directions—he had sailed eastward toward Africa, while I had covered the compass-points and hemispheres by car, thumb, bus, train, airplane, and only occasionally, sailboat.

Gilles knew that as we reminisced in Auckland, my sailboata cutter-rigged Santana 37was sitting all by her lonesome in a marina berth in Mana, a small town near Wellington. From where we were that was nine hours by car and four to five days by sea. Gilles also knew that in the 24 months since both of us had made our 1998 landfall in Aotearoa, New Zealand, I had sailed Hio Avae only a handful of times.


The transistion from life aboard to life ashore can mean neglecting chores vital to keeping systems operational.
When Sarah Dashew and I bought (and renamed) Hio Avae in Los Angeles, CA, in 1996, our intention was to cruise. We considered daysailing an excessively expensive hobby; cruising, however, was an affordable lifestyle. Plus, we wanted to go places.

Together, the two of us had rescued Hio from the marina berth where she was languishing in a state of abandonement. The children who had once raced her had grown up and gone, and the parents who owned her had long since pursued other interests. Hio wasn't alone in her motionlessness. Many Marina del Rey yachts seemed permanently parked in their berths; we felt pity for the boats and disdain for their owners.

We knew then that you can't get away with neglecting a cruising boat. The boat won't let you. In the years we spent preparing to cruise, I learned this lesson repeatedly, and while cruising it was instilled again and again. We were constantly working on Hio. Our to-do lists never diminished. For every job we'd cross off the list, 12 new ones would crop up to take its place.

I didn't realize then that this is a good thing. I always aspired and worked toward finishing the list of projects. I thought it could be done. What I didn't understand is that being treated like a "work-in-progress" brings boats and owners in harmony. The act of everyday boat maintenance is truly the sharing of spirits, like breathing in unison.


While you are away from your boat, the gremlins can move in and take over any number of places. Valve springs can spring, vital seals dry up, zincs corrode, and so much more. 
For most successful cruisers, maintenance is part of the daily routine, from morning "radio net" swaps and helper-roundups, through to the daily tasks themselves, and into evening potluck dinner dominated by troubleshooting sessions. Owner and boat become partners, and reward one another for jobs well done. When boats are left unattended, sitting in marina berths and on moorings, equipment built for action seizes up. Corrosion, wear, and chafe set in. And like the saying goes: Stuff happens! Experienced cruisers and daysailors alike know: the best boat maintenance is use.

For reasons that include loss of confidence, puppy love, work, visits from family, trips home to the US, black pearl oyster-seeding apprenticeships in the Tuamotus, and yet another boyfriend, Hio Avae is no longer a cruiser. Since early 1999, she's been a marina queen. The way I've neglected her, she's more like a marina scullery wench—worked hard, then sent to bed without her gruel.

Hio Avae has become one of those boats I pitied when I was new to the scene, and I have become one of those despicable, absentee boat owners. Somewhere along the line, I put aside everything I had learned about boats, and started making excuses.

"Hio Avae is no longer a cruiser. Since early 1999, she's been a Marina Queen. The way I've neglected her, she's more like a Marina Scullery-Wench—worked hard, then sent to bed without her gruel. "

I spent my first year "not-cruising" trying to convince myself that Hio was resting. I told myself: we weren't going anywhere, so I could defer the maintenance that fellow cruisers were doing; the boat was secure in the marina; and she was sitting still, so I'd be saving myself from maintenance hassles. I knew better, but I told myself that I had things to do.

I went away. At two to three-month intervals, I'd return to Hio, to live aboard for a few weeks or months. Usually, I would spend some of our time together lubing and buffing and checking things over. (I find no boat project more satisfying than polishing stainless, and I love the smells of Simple Green and WD40. My favorite maintenance-must-have is a spray lubricant that bubbles.)

But none of this attention is the same as use. After one of my first stints away, I returned to find Hio's insides covered with mold spots and her deep-cycle house batteries dead. For my next time away, I rounded up a fellow marina liveaboard to come run the engine weekly, open up the boat for fresh air, and work the seacocks. But that too doesn't amount to use.

I've now spent my second year "not-cruising" trying to bring the boat back north, to the Hauraki Gulf, where I can live aboard and sail more confidently. Weather, crew, work demands, and boat problems have foiled my every attempt.


Properly functioning propane, steering, engine, electronics, and rigging systems have the author singing for joy as she leaves Hiva Oa.

Each time I make an appearance in Mana, Hio welcomes me back with a punishing list of complaints. She nags at me: the car stereo is buggered from exposure to rainwater dripping through seemingly unpluggable chainplate leaks. Everything—clothes, canvas locker bags, cushions, ceilings, and headliner—is moldy. The toilet hoses are clogged and the flushing pump is worn out. One of the main winches is seized and must be taken completely apart. Flaked-and-covered sails are chafed from swaying with breeze and boat movement. Sail covers have holes blown through them from high winds. The long-life deep-cycle batteries are dead. Docklines are chafed. Transmission bearings and seals are worn (not enough transmission oil in the box, dummy!). Raw-water pump seals are worn and leakingit's an endless list.

I can do nothing but sigh, shed a few frustrated tears, hear the clang of the cash register in my head, and roll up my sleeves to do the work. I suppose that it could be worse; I could get professional help. This is what I get for not using the boat. I knew from cruising that even sailing once a week, as many of my marina fellows do, would make a huge difference in the boat's well-being (and my financial well-being). So it turns out that daysailors aren't dummies. The best maintenance is really is use.

Epilogue    I genuinely expected Hio to sit still and not change while I was away. I was like a mother wearing blinders to the growing up of her own child. As if I had sent Hio off to boarding school, not expecting to find, a year later, that she was different. I had expected her to present herself just as I had left her, not surprise me with new demands and needs. (In this case, I wouldn't exclaim, as with a child, "My, how you've grown!" I'd say: "My, how you groan!")


Glory daysauthor and vessel (with fully functioning systems)revel in the seas off Tonga. These are days she hopes to revisit in the near future.
Hio has a huge capacity for forgiveness. She demonstrated this a few months ago, when we went out for our first sail in over a year and a half. Friends and I had joined forces in another effort to move the boat north. (Once again, weather, crew, and landlubber life would conspire to derail that plan.) I expected a bit of protest or punishment from her.

I was humbled by Hio's performance. Again, perhaps this is akin to a parental feeling. Like watching a child grow into herself, I could perceive Hio revealing her inner essence and talents. She was born to sail. Just because I had denied her the opportunity, that hadn't changed.

Next time I go to Wellington, I'll do whatever it takes to bring Hio up north. This time, I mean it.

I haven't forgotten that I have a boat.


Suggested Readings:

Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance by Don Casey

Head Maintenance Blues by Tom Wood

Renovating the Galley by Sue and Larry

Buying Guide: Winches

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