Restoring A Sunfish Sailboat and Learning to Sail – Written January 14, 2000

In July of 1998, I was in Maine on vacation, which is when I thought up an idea to buy a sailboat. I remember exactly what happened. We were driving around Boothbay Harbor and I absentmindedly stated, “You know, I’d like to buy a sailboat.” Well, to that comment my father replied, “Yeah, well; you seem to want to do a whole lot, but you never seem to do it!” Now at the time, it did not affect me, but over time, I began to think, “What if this once I could prove everyone wrong?” That was when I decided to buy a boat. It wasn’t just the fact that I loved to sail; it was the fact that I had to prove to the rest of the world and myself that I could do exactly what I said. If they didn’t like it, then it was too bad for them.

I started saving all the money I could. I started out with very little. Only about $50. However, by Christmas it had grown to $500. I was not 16 years old at the time, so finding a real job proved extremely difficult. I relied on my neighbors John and Sue Oswalt, to allow me to baby-sit for their three boys. Actually, as it happened, they supported me more than anyone else did, and they would even ask if I needed more money for the boat. Many times they would call and ask if I was short on cash. Knowing I am a real movie buff, they would ask if there were any good movies out that they should go see, and then they’d tell me to pick a date. I got around $150 from them,

plus another $300 from relatives at Christmas. I opened a bank account on January 4, 1999. It contained $425 at the beginning. I would eventually drain that number to zero.

At the time, I did not know what kind of boat I was going to buy. I was considering a much larger boat than I ended up buying. That was when I met Alda Maturi. I suppose you could call her my mentor, but she really tried to let me make my own decisions as much as possible. First off, she asked me to buy some tools. So I did. I did not realize how much the tools alone would run me. Over the course of my project, tools cost me $343.50. That includes chisels, screwdrivers, mallets, a toolbox, a wood rasp, a combination square, a measuring tape, a drill, sandpaper, two C-clamps, and other assorted things I needed as time went on. I also worked with Alda for a long time, and still do to this day. Her official title is boat building and reconstructing, but she does a lot more than that. I was introduced to her through my mother, who has Alda sharpen her knives for her. She taught me how to work with wood, chisels, saws (electric and hand), clamps, and everything else I could ever need in my whole lifetime. After splitting about ten pieces of wood, slicing my thumb open, getting extremely frustrated, and at points coming very close to giving up, I completed my first piece: a cleat made out of pine wood. I still keep in my room on my dresser.

Alda eventually looked into my sailboat problem (the fact that I wanted one and could not find one), and she realized that she knew some people in the Poconos that had a boat. She called and asked if they still had it, and they said yes, so she and I went up to buy it. On February 25, 1999, I purchased a Sunfish Sailboat for $50. It turns out that these people had been trying to sell this boat for three years, but could never find a buyer.

So, Alda, my mom, and I went up to their house, and we checked it out. The boat had been sitting outside in the elements, upside-down for 12 years. It had so much dirt that I could not rub it off with my hand, or even scrape it off with my nails. It was in good shape, considering where it had been, so I bought it. Alda brought up a trailer, and she helped me get it to my house, and eventually into my basement.

The next day, I started washing it. It took all day. The day after that, February 26, 1999, I inspected the boat and looked at what was wrong. The sail was totally trashed. It had rock holes, cigarette holes, it was faded, and it was from 1975. I knew I would need a new sail. The clips, which hold the sail to the boom, were also extremely weathered and broke off as soon as I applied pressure. The bailer was clogged with leaves, and had no plug. The rudder had an eight-inch crack down it, and the copper rudder assembly was very tarnished. The lines (ropes) were poor quality to begin with, and with age and weather, just got worse. The varnish on the daggerboard and rudder and tiller had worn down over the years, so I knew I would have to re-varnish it. The splashguard was also in bad shape, and was yellowish-brown in color (it should be white). On March 23, I ordered new lines. It cost $52.50 (with shipping) (Layline, Inc. Winter). I received my lines on April 7.

At the time, the boat was on the floor in the middle of my basement. I talked to Alda. She and I set out to make some sawhorses. I made them about three feet high, because I am almost six feet tall, I did not want to bend over a lot. I went out and bought the necessary wood and screws. That cost me $36.07. We made two horses, and they took about two days to build, and on March 5 we put the boat on them. On March 7, I took the rudder assembly apart. I bought some Liquid Wrench and some copper scoring pads. I let the parts soak for a few days, and then would scrub them. Then, on March 20, I decided that as long as I was scrubbing the rudder assembly, I might as well scrub the rudder’s hardware. I followed the same process as on the rudder assembly, and I finished the entire process for the rudder assembly and rudder hardware on June 10. It took a long time and my hands smelled like gasoline almost every day, but the parts slide much better now, so I suppose it was worth it. In retrospect, I wish I had just let it soak in Liquid Wrench, because I don’t think the scrubbing did much.

On March 21 I started to lightly sand the rudder, tiller, and daggerboard. Overall, the sanding took about a week. I did not sand all the way to the wood, because since there was still varnish on it, all I needed to do was rough it up and get something for the new varnish to adhere to. The sanding process took about a week.

On April 24 I took the Pennsylvania Boating Commission’s Safe Boating Course. It was an eight-hour course, and afterwards I had to take a test. The test was a joke. I could have not taken the course, and still passed the test. All you needed to pass was 60% out of 100%. I got around a 90%. About two weeks later, I received my license in the mail.

On April 30 I moved the boat outside. I found a really prime spot under my deck. After I got it out there, I started sanding the hull of the boat. I basically had the same concept as the rudder, tiller, and daggerboard; all I needed to do was rough it up. I started to sand it on May 15. The problem with the boat was that I was worried that the cracks on the hull would eventually open up to be much larger and eventually take on enough water to sink the boat. I bought an Interlux Fiberglass Gelcoat Repair Epoxy on May 20 (Layline, Inc. Spring). It cost me $42.95 after shipping. The sanding took a very long time, because I did it by hand. Normally I would have used an electric sander, but the gelcoat is so thin (only about an eighth of an inch thick), I could not risk hitting the fiberglass. I received the epoxy on May 25. I didn’t finish the sanding until June 15. During the time I sanded, I varnished the rudder, tiller, and daggerboard. That cost me about $20, and it took me a week, because I put on 7 coats.

I would have painted the epoxy in June, but I went on vacation for about a month and did not get to it until July 15. I called Alda and we set up a date. She said to pick up supplies and that foam brushes would be best for the job. We decided that we would tip the epoxy. Tipping is when you roll on the paint and then make it smooth with a brush. She came over early in the morning and we mixed the epoxy. It had two parts (most epoxies do) and we used ½ of each can. We realized that we could put on another coat, plus have some left over. It took twenty minutes to mix because a chemical reaction had to occur. While it mixed, we cleaned the boat to make sure there would be no extra dust or dirt on it at all. We started out with two rollers and four brushes. After we painted about half of the boat, we noticed that the epoxy was eating up the rollers and brushes. This is normal, but it was happening very fast. We used both rollers and three brushes. We had to wait six hours for a second coat, so she left and I went to the hardware store. I picked up another three brushes and two rollers. I went home and took off the splashguard. I put it off to the side and cleaned the spot where it was. A few hours later, Alda showed back up, and we put the rest of the epoxy on the boat. We had about one cup left, and I had two brushes left, so Alda left and I painted the splashguard. After that, I threw out all the supplies and the containers, and I let it sit for about five days.

On July 20 I took the rudder hardware and the rudder and tiller and put it all back together and on the boat. It looked good, but it took about 3 hours to put the rudder and tiller back together. I did not realize that due to the fact that I applied 1/8 inch of varnish to each piece, the parts would not fit the same. That was really aggravating. I was in such a bad mood after that that my parents would not talk to me for the rest of the day.

My final problem was my sail. I only had $120 left in my bank account. I needed cash or I would not be able to sail. I decided to ask my father for money. Now, I have never asked my dad for money in my whole life. It was really bad. I think he enjoyed it. He was talking about how I should have saved more, how he was not going to give me any money. He ended up loaning me $136.15. I finally found a job, and was paying my checks straight to him for about a month and a half. I ordered the sail and clips on July 30, and I received the sail on August 5. On August 7, I moved my boat to the middle of my yard and assembled everything that had not been assembled already. I put the boom, mast, and sail up to make sure it worked properly. It did. I was ready to move the boat out to Harvey’s lake.

About the same time, I was racing Phantoms out at The Harvey’s Lake Yacht Club. Everyone out there really encouraged me to get the boat done and get it in the water. All I ever heard is, “When are we going to see this ‘boat’ of yours?” It was ok; they all seemed to appreciate a new face out on the lake. One day one of my fellow sailors, Barry Rosen, told me he had a cleat for me. I had been looking into buying one, but I was really short on cash. Barry had exactly what I wanted. As it turned out, he knew a person near Annapolis that had a catamaran and was going to scrap it, and he had an extra cam cleat lying around. Barry bought it off of him for about a dollar, and then just gave it to me. I had another friend of my family, Dave Daris, come and help me mount it. He came out on August 7 and we mounted it to the deck. Then we moved the boat onto the trailer and drove it out to the club on August 12. I had a slot that was open, that the Sailing Committee had said I could use, and I just slid it in. I put the mast and boom (with the sail) in the loft. I raced my boat the following Sunday.

Racing is one of the best things I have ever done. My favorite thing in the world is racing my boat. One of the best things that I did not realize until recently is who I was sailing with. As it turns out, I had been sailing with Kevin Blaum for two months, and I did not even realize how important he is until the Arena was built. I saw him in the paper in November and I said, “Mom, Kevin Blaum is in the paper!” She replied, “Yeah, it’s about the Arena.” I proceeded to read and find out he is a State Representative.

I always felt good when I raced. All these people would come up to me and say, “Wow, how long have you been doing this?” And I would tell them, “Um, I’ve been out three times.” It was a good feeling to have guys who had been sailing for 20 years tell me that I gave them a run for their money. I am determined to beat them this year.

I remember one time, the last time I raced this last season, it was an extremely windy day, and I was on a hike (when the boat is up on one side and moving very fast. Also known as tacking). I turned while I was on it, and I flipped over. Right in front of the judges. Because of the wind, the boat turtled (when the keel is straight up in the water). It is very hard to right a turtled boat by yourself, especially when you have never capsized before. To make matters worse, my whole family was there watching it. And, that is not it. It was one minute to race time. I climbed on top of the boat, hugged the daggerboard, and screamed and pulled with possibly the most energy I have ever put out. I righted the boat, and made the start. I have never been teased worse in my life. I think everyone was happy I finally dropped the ball because, up to that point, I never really had and any major screw-ups. I do have a lot to learn about the lake, such as where not to go, where the wind is good, and where traffic is the least.

Recently, I have again dreamt of buying another boat. My new fantasy is a catamaran. And, guess what my parents said? “Yeah, right. Maybe when you’re 30.” I guess we will just have to see . . .

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