Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Barnegat Bay, NJ
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Re: Learning to maintain
First don't overwhelm yourself. What I did right in hind sight was to start with a 22 footer. The systems were simpler and that made the learning curve less steep.
With an older boat, particularly a larger boat, there are as many systems as there are with a house. But unlike a house much of what you're working on is unfamiliar.
Figure out what you have to know and work from there; don't try and absorb everything at once.
Engine - Did a manual come with your boat? If not you can find the owner’s manual for most diesels and outboards online. That manual will include a section on annual maintenance. Assume it hasn't been done on your boat. Change the oil, the impeller and the filters. These are approachable jobs that can be done in a day. They'll do your boat good and will give you a sense of accomplishment.
Did you have a pre-purchase survey done? A good surveyor will usually include a section on maintenance and safety items. If not give your local Coast Guard Auxiliary a call. They'll come out and do a free safety check. They're generally older guys who can give you a ton of good info if you just ask. Don't be afraid to tell them you're a new boater.
Don Casey's Inspecting the Aging Sailboat is $11 on Amazon. Rather than tell you how to fix things it will give you advice on what to look for and how to prioritize. Safety items always get priority over cosmetics.
Once you’re satisfied that she’s safe get her out for a sail on a nice day. Using her will help you figure out what projects need to be done and will let you enjoy her.
Read labels. I’ve seen three page articles on varnishing in glossy magazines that didn’t tell me any more than I could find out by reading the directions on the damn can.
Only buy good tools. Cheap tools will break, damage what your working on and bust up your knuckles.
Once you start doing projects books like “Good Old Boat” will make more sense. Use them as a reference, you need context for what you’re reading.
Above all take your time. If you’re tackling something new or unfamiliar keep a little notebook handy and take notes, write down measurements. The first winter I was laying up the 22 footer I took pictures of all the rigging so I knew I could re-rig her properly in the spring. Also keep sandwich bags on board. As you pull parts off zip them into sandwich bags and label them with a sharpie. Things will go back together a lot easier when you finally get back to the boat three weeks later. Stick to one project at a time for the same reason.
Finally, you’ll make mistakes. We all do. With time the mistakes will become fewer and you’ll become more adept at fixing them when they do happen. Putting sweat and blood into a boat is a big part of what makes her yours and can be satisfying in its own way.
Best of luck,
95 Catalina 30 Island Time
“The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective." - Henry David Thoreau