Murphy's Laws of Boat Care
Doing your own boatwork, you confront certain immutable truths
by Simon Hill
I am an expert do-it-yourselfer. I make this claim not simply because I've fixed a lot of things on my own and friends' boats, but because I've fouled up innumerable jobs, broken a goodly number of parts and fittings, and lost various expensive tools overboard.
When we work on our own boats -- wooden and fiberglass boats, racers and cruisers alike -- we confront some hard, distasteful truths. For lack of a better name, I'll call them Murphy's Laws of boat care. (I can think of better names, but they aren't fit for print.) Perhaps you will recognize some of them:
"A small 'project' undertaken just before your cruising vacation always turns into a big project."
For the purposes of this law, a "project" is anything that involves merely touching a mechanical or structural component of the boat. Starting the engine counts as a small project.
"You will always discover the biggest problems at the worst possible times."
Naturally, your engine never throws a connecting rod just as you tie up after the last cruise of the season. No, it's programmed to wait until you're all loaded up and leaving for your three-week cruise in early July.
| || | The most effective way to repair a ragged hole in the hull, is to stuff a great many $100 bills in the hole.
"No matter how many tools you bring down tot he dock, you'll always be missing one crucial tool."
If you try to improvise, it will take longer than driving home to get the right tool. If you persist, you'll break some critical part of the boat.
"If you drop a tool, it will always a) land in the water, and b) be the most expensive tool aboard."
As a do-it-yourselfer, it's very important that you invest in the best tools money can buy, because then you can more easily justify the cost of hiring a diver to recover them when you drop them overboard.
"If you buy one can of paint or one tube of caulk (or epoxy, or whatever), it will be enough for 90 percent of the job."
You'll have to go back to the store for a second lot, most of which will harden in the tube before you have any further need for it. If you try to save yourself some aggravation by purchasing two to begin with, it's guaranteed you won't need the second one at all.
"Caulking is critical to boats because it keeps water out."
It is also very sticky. For typical boatowners who only caulk occasionally, working with the stuff is like being a baby who has only used a spoon a few times. Yes, you will get some caulk where you want it, but you'll also get it on your fingers, face, clothing, and hair. But take heart. After five or six years, most children master the art of using a spoon. Similarly, after five or six years, the caulk will come out of your hair.
"On their own, glues and epoxies will cure in one of two ways: a) instantly, turning into a smoking lump in your mixing container, or b) never, remaining forever a sticky, uncured mess on your workpiece."
| |". . . you can easily grind straight through paint, gelcoat, and fiberglass in about 15 seconds flat, leaving a ragged hole in your boat."
However, if you first embed your fingers (or better yet, an entire hand) in the glue, the stuff will probably cure correctly. It's body heat that does the trick. Be sure there's a helper around to chisel you free after the glue has set.
"Bottom sanding can be done by hand or with a power sander."
By hand, it will take you all day to remove the paint from a very small section of your boat. With a power sander, you can easily grind straight through paint, gelcoat, and fiberglass in about 15 seconds flat, leaving a ragged hole in your boat. When this happens, the most effective way to repair the damage is to stuff a great many $100 bills into the hole.
"It's important to schedule your painting and varnishing to coincide with the most favorable weather."
Here's how this usually works: on the day you've chosen to paint or varnish, it looks like it will rain, so you put off the job. For 10 days in a row you plan the job, postponing whenever ominous clouds appear, then kicking yourself when the clouds disperse. Finally, you get a brilliant, sunny day and start your varnishing, only to get caught in a freak rainstorm.
"If a multi-component system breaks, the failed part will be the one that is buried deepest in the boat."
This is because the chances of something breaking are directly proportional to the difficulty of access. However, don't permanently remove all your engine covers to reduce the failure rate because then your propeller will fall off.
When setting off on a vacation, starting the engine counts as a
"A final law, which every boater knows, even those who don't do their own work: your list of things to fix always has one more item on it than you remember."
Furthermore, the list never shrinks because every time you fix something you'll promptly find two more items that urgently need attention. Or you break something. But at least when this happens, you can look in the mirror and say to yourself, "Hey, I'm an expert!"
Simon Hill is a Vancouver, British Columbia, sailor and do-it-yourselfer. He has been sailing the West Coast's waters for 15 years, currently cruising aboard The Point , a Contessa 26, with his wife, Jenifer, and two children.