"Iím having a heck of a time finding an original equipment block for my jib traveler,Ē I overheard the other day. Itís a fairly innocuous statement when taken on its own, but it illustrates a path of reasoning that few novice or light recreational sailors ever think to deviate from. Few of us would try and argue that the marine architect who designed our boat knew less about boats than we do. Few of us would say that the company who built our boat didnít know what the heck they were doing. When looking at that first boat purchase, few of us ever factor in the technological era of a boat, or the attrition of its hardware due to normal wear and tear. Sure, thereís consideration given to things that are obviously broken or missing, but for the most part if something ďainítĒ broke, weíre not looking to fix it. This lack of philosophical consideration can lead us down the garden path of complacency once the boat has been purchased.
Perhaps I was lucky in having grown up in and around wooden boats. Iíve always viewed a boat as a maintenance project in progress, and I donít think this is any less true of production era fiberglass boats, except that you usually get more of a chance to tackle what I call ďStandard of LivingĒ projects. There are several factors that go into making a boat that most of us only consider viscerally at best when weíre on that initial shopping trip. Here are a few things you might want to chew on: Boats are intended to be sold at a profit
This means that they are built to hit a pricing niche in whatever market segment theyíre aimed at filling. No doubt any reputable boat builder will make a legitimate attempt to provide the best hardware and the best construction that their production budgets and buying power dictate. They will include as many features as they are able to afford without pricing their products out of their markets. They will also strive to answer market demands in creative ways. The ramification of this is that even when new, the hardware on most of our old production boats wasnít intended to be the best of the best that could be had at the time. Most often it was specified to be greater than or equal to the design parameters of that particular element.
ďShe has such clean and classic lines!Ē Yep, and the factory managed to keep those lines clean by not providing a lot of unsightly protrusions, like vents, or lighting schemes that go beyond the merely adequate. Did you know that lower lifeline stanchions tend to make a boat look longer that it actually is? Now donít get me wrong. This is not an indictment of the boat building industry, just a nod to the market forces we put on them to give us attractive and functional boats in our price range and a desire to have us buy from them rather than their competitors.
Even assuming that no cost was spared and that the best of the best was procured for our boat when it came off the drawing board, technology marches on. The availability today of marine hardware that is built using better materials than existed even a decade ago is pretty commonplace. We are in a fortunate position to be able to reap the benefits of having a dynamic world-racing scene that is constantly pushing the design of newer and better marine systems forward.
My point is that as owners of ďold technologyĒ there is seldom any cache in sticking with original equipment. In fact, it's our obligation to our passengers to keep our vessels in the best operating condition possible, and a good way to do this is through a sensible regimen of system upgrades.
This doesnít mean Iím advocating stripping off everything thatís screwed on to your boat and replacing it wholesale with something new. But study and consider things that will make your boat more ergonomic, safer, and more comfortable.
Ergonomics An example of an ergonomic improvement is to install a more easily adjustable traveler system for your jib sheets instead of just replacing that worn out block. As Iíve seen time and time again, make an adjustment easy to make and itíll get made. Make it tough, and itíll be set once and forgotten for the rest of the season. The ability to tweak your sheeting angle quickly without falling off the wind is pretty important in racing, but in heavy weather, itís a very nice luxury to have.
Safety When my boat rolled off the production line, PFDs were made out of canvas and kapok. The original owner of Lorelei said when they took delivery of her in 1968 the only thing they had for navigational tools was a compass and a lead line. Now the ease of installation of such miracle devices as depth sounders and GPS means a far higher degree of safety.
Iíve joked in the past that we donít like an over abundance of gadgetry aboard, and that our primary navigational tools, Ouija Board and a Magic 8 Ball donít require any electricity at all. Weíre far from advocating that all you need is a spittiní breeze and a boat tough enough to take it. We just donít subscribe to the notion that weíre in dire need of everything race boats need to give them a competitive edge during an ocean crossing, and so we pick and choose our gadgets carefully. We do put a premium on safety, and one of the best investments you can make in safety are in the fundamental things that make your boat work.On a final note, systems that work like a charm on some boats, donít work at all on others. Taking an older boat and making significant modifications to rigging out of hand because thatís the way the new boats are can lead to a huge waste of time and money. Modifications should never be ill considered or done for vague reasons. Rigging and systems modifications should accomplish well-defined goals and be considered to the point of mocking up components to proof the installation before the first washer is bought. Consider the age, and condition of your boat, and the overall philosophy of the era in which it was built. Most boats, if not built for racing, were built with the possibility of racing in mind and as such tend to be designed to take advantage of the prevailing rules of the day.