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Old 03-14-2001
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Micca Hutchins is on a distinguished road
Ten Lessons of Fitting Out


Once you start removing the cover after a long off-season, be prepared for the unexpected.

It's that time of year again for much of the sailing populace—time to fit out the boat and get it back in the water. Because this annual ritual is once again upon us, and because it has the potential to be a markedly stressful time in the life of every sailor, I offer the following top 10 lessons gleaned from years of fitting out. My apologies to David Letterman.

10. Be prepared for the unexpected    Now that you've lifted off the cover to feast your eyes on your boat once again, you may be in for a few surprises. Don't be heartbroken to discover a few seemingly new flaws. What wasn't there when you buttoned her down in the fall may seem to have mysteriously turned up. "I don't remember seeing that ding in the hull last year."

Some of these surprises may simply be storage strains from the boat sitting over the winter. Or, alternatively, they may be blemishes you just don't care to remember. "Oh yeah, I do remember that ding. That happened last August when I came into the dock a little too slowly and the cross wind got us." You might also find that creatures have taken up lodging in the convenient crevices that some spars and deck fittings offer. Don't be alarmed, this is all to be expected.

9. Remember this is a love-hate affair    While you were wiping down the sanded hull, one moment a reverie of streaming along on a warm beam-to breeze may be playing like a video in front of your eyes. But the next moment, you may be hitting the hold button as you realize that tickle at your wrist is a trickle of solvent that has seeped through an unnoticed hole in your glove.

If you live in the far north like me, when you're damp and cold and out-stretched from the ninth rung of a ladder rubbing the wax off the hull is usually about when it starts to snow. Fitting out is traditionally the time when Mother Nature likes to go all out to signal that even if it's spring on the calendar, the sailing season isn't here yet. Fitting out can be tough duty. Watch for this question to drift into your head: What the heck kind of recreation is this? Just repeat to yourself: I know the sailing season is right around the corner.


Some projects can wait until the boat is back in the water, but not taking care of hull blisters.

8. Guard against pangs of guilt    In a sport of such passion, emotions can run thick. You probably love your boat as much as the sport. As you begin to work on her, you'll begin to remember all those projects you never completed. Pretty soon you'll be kicking yourself for not taking proper care of your boat. 'Why didn't I tend to that problem last season?' Incomplete projects have a way of poking you when you come back to the boat the next year. Take this in stride, but to restrain boat lover's guilt, learn your limits. Be realistic. Make a list (see rule No. 4) but only include the jobs you know you will be able to accomplish.

7. Beware the boatyard know-it-all    Ah, the intrinsic culture of the boatyard. Among the denizens here is the person who likes to give advice and typically ends up critiquing your work. It begins with a friendly greeting, 'How y'a been.' But the know-it-all isn't looking at you. His eyes are focused feet ahead, glued to your vessel, his grey matter calculating quick comparisons to his boat. 'How did that happen? Too bad you didn't catch it right away. I had that happen to me five years ago, but I caught it right away. What are you using? Oh, I didn't know they were still making that stuff. Well, let me know if it works for you.'

"We're all looking for advice, but looking is the key word here."

We're all looking for advice, but looking is the operative term here. When we're not, we're not. When I hear know-it-all squawking somewhere, I turn off my ears and return to that video of beam-reaching. Always keep that video ready to play.

6. The to-do list will triple    Throughout the off-season you've mulled over the jobs you would do this spring. But that list of 10 items that so nicely fits on one little Post-it note has suddenly morphed to a legal pad's page-worth of 35 items. There used to be just a couple of really important projects on that list, but suddenly there are 35 must-dos.

Take the to-do list and rip it into three equal pieces. Do only the items listed on one of the pieces paper. Take the remaining two pieces and tape them up some place where you'll remember them. In about one month, after you've sailed numerous times, take one of these pieces and start work on the projects listed. Then, later in the season, when you're in the mood, take on the remaining jobs. Why do it all at once? Most projects dove-tail nicely into sailing anyway.


Whether you're spraying on new topside paint, or just waxing the hull, everything takes more time than you might expect.

5. Everything takes longer than expected    It will take longer than you figured even to finish the list of projects from one of those pieces of paper. You've forgotten what's entailed in those projects on your list, and maybe you're a perfectionist. More likely, you're really enjoying the work and don't want to rush through it. Fitting out is much more than getting a boat ready for the new season. It's a time to revitalize your spirit to the realization that sailing is so singularly joyful, that even cleaning the bilge is something that somehow you don't find at all objectionable.

4. Savor the nostalgia    When you step back on the deck of your boat after not having been aboard for months, you're likely to have a crush of memories. The sailing trips from last year, the winds, the people who sailed with you, the peace inside. Take time to drink in these beautiful memories. That's what it's all about.

3. Don't be in a hurry    You're standing under the hull with sandpaper in hand and you casually look out at the water to see the boat that last weekend had been parked next to yours now sailing along. Her owner is already enjoying the first sail of the season, while you reckon you've got another two weeks before splashing down. Just tell yourself that you'll stay in the water an extra two weeks longer this year, so you'll have had the equal number of sailing days.


Once the fitting out is over, there's nothing quite as satisfying as getting the boat relaunched. 

2. Beware of the boatyard disrupter    Sometimes the process of fitting out becomes protracted because of the tendency of some people to spend a good part of their time in the boatyard just walking around shooting the breeze. These are the boatyard lollygaggers. They're not far removed from the dock-walkers who spend most of their seasons at the dock sharing stories, advice, and catching up on the latest solution to controlling seagull droppings or to other vital issues. When they come over to talk to you, your best bet is to never stop working. Just keep smearing on the hull cleaner and look up only intermittently. Eventually, he or she will get the message and move on.

1. Keep consumption in check    Who can restrain themselves when entering the ship's store. You told yourself that you were going to just pick up a few cleaning items, but you noticed the new tiger-grip deck shoes were on special. The box touted extraordinary performance in on-the-water testing and the fact that Grant Dalton, or somebody, wore them aboard Club Med during The Race. So you end up returning to the boatyard with two bottles of head disinfectant, a candy bar, a sailing magazine, and a pair of $100-tiger-grip deck shoes.

Credit-card sailing stuff is the scourge of the fitting-out season. Make note of what you bought and remember that when you get your credit card bill, you'll be able to say: 'See, it's lucky that I was working on my boat that weekend and got this great deal. I'll never have to worry about tumbling off my boat on the cradle to the ground again.'

Suggested Readings:

The Spring Launch  by Bruce Caldwell

Seasonal CheckRunning Rigging  by Dan Dickison

It's Winch Servicing Time  by Tom Wood

Buying Guide: Bilge Pumps

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