The Passport Project: Part 5 (Work zen)

Meridian's newly stripped rub rail, ready for revarnishing.

Normally if the alarm clock went off at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I’d pull the blankets over my head and stay put until the smell of fresh coffee lured me out of bed.

But for the past three weekends I’ve been willingly roused in the early hours, excited to get out of bed and head up to Port Townsend to work on our new (to us) boat.

Admittedly, when we took possession of our 1986 Passport 40, Meridian, in early April, I wasn’t exactly excited about all the work we had planned for her. A sense of dread might be a better description. I don’t know my way around a toolbox, couldn’t fix most things if my life depended on it and have never been particularly interested in boat projects. Also, I wondered how we were going to fit the work into our already overscheduled lives.

But so far, our boat refit has been something I never thought I would describe boat work as — fun. Who woulda thought?

There are a few reasons for this surprising revelation. First, the weather has been spectacular the past few weekends. Given what the Northwest can be like in spring, we can’t quite believe our luck. The last time we were working in a boatyard was in January a few years ago. It was drizzly and cold, anything but fun. And working outside on a boat is a much less tedious way to burn calories than sweating it out at the gym.

Secondly, is there a better place in the Northwest to spend a few weeks doing boat work than Port Townsend? Not only is it full of some of the most skilled marine craftspeople around, with labor rates considerably lower than in Seattle, it’s just a charming, amusingly quirky small town.

Being at the Port Townsend Shipyard instead of staying on the other end of town at Point Hudson Marina, as we usually do, has allowed us to experience the place in a much different, more authentic way. We’re meeting locals and getting to know more people in the maritime community. We’re quickly becoming regulars at the brewery’s tasting room, which is about 100 yards from our boat, and the nearby Blue Moose Cafe, a greasy spoon that serves delicious breakfasts.

Lily digs the new boat too.

Thirdly and most importantly, we’re working alongside the shipwright we hired, Rob Parish. That’s made all the difference. The work is being done right and moving faster than it would if we were doing it all ourselves. Our participation is also helping defray costs, which means we can have Rob help us with some other projects.

And we — especially me — are learning a tremendous amount from Rob and his partner, Diane Salguero, who is a finishing expert.

Rob agreed to let us work alongside him, so the weekend before last we spent two full days removing bungs and screws, ripping up teak, countersinking holes and sanding after Rob filled them. Last weekend Rob put the first two coats of paint on the deck, to be followed by non-skid paint (we decided against non-skid mats, which Marty will write about in more detail in a future post about the project).

If the weather continues to hold up this week, our decks could be finished by next weekend, just over a month after we took possession of the boat. Not bad, I’d say.

While Rob was painting, Diane showed Marty and I her technique for scraping varnish. She uses a heat gun (carefully, or it can leave scorch marks in the wood) to soften the varnish, then scrapes along behind it. That little trick saves an amazing amount of time. By the end of the weekend the boat’s rub rail was stripped and ready for revarnishing, which we figured we might as well do while it’s out of the water.

I can’t help but feel that this whole process has been charmed, starting from the way we sold our boat and found Meridian (you can read about that here) to meeting Rob and Diane, who are not only highly knowledgeable but also genuinely nice and helpful.

We initially thought the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock would be able to fix the teak decks as a refinishing class project. So we were disappointed when Diane, who teaches the class, came to look at the decks and deemed them too far gone to be a suitable project for the class.

But things turned out for the best, since Rob helped us make the decision to remove the teak and instead go with non-skid, a choice I think we’ll be very happy with. The thought of hundreds of holes drilled into the deck, each one a possible point of water intrusion, didn’t sit well with me. And though there are plenty of boaters who love the look of bare teak decks, I am not one of them.

Next up on the project list: rebedding the portlights, repainting the shower stall and refinishing its teak seat, installing a heater and having the interior cushions refinished. We’re hoping to get most, if not all, of that done before we move aboard for the summer at the end of June.

It’s a lot of work, but fortunately the sale of our Island Packet left us with some extra money for our boat improvement budget. And since we have help, I’m feeling more excited than daunted about it all. Next weekend will be our fourth working on the boat, and I can’t wait to get back at it.

Last weekend, as I scraped varnish in the sunshine, I started feeling a connection with the boat that I hadn’t felt before. And I realized that connection wouldn’t be at all the same if we’d simply hired someone to do all of the work.

As we scrape and sand, scour and scrub, she is slowly starting to feel like ours. And I think she’s going to be beautiful.

5 Responses to The Passport Project: Part 5 (Work zen)

  1. Carolyn May 22, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    It is great to hear all about the excitement in your journey of preparing your new boat! I cannot wait to see it!I see Lily is liking it too.

  2. Cindy Matwichuk May 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Fantastic! Sounds like Meridian is going to be restored to beautiful perfection! I would agree with you about the teak decks too. I’ve always stayed away thinking of the maintenance required to keep them nice. Wonderful to hear you bonding (so to speak) with the her! Enjoy!


  3. Courtney Kirchoff May 10, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    I’m so excited to see your new baby all shiny and varnished!

  4. s/v Eolian May 10, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    That’s a key observation you made there at the end…

    Indeed, working on a boat creates a bond – one that never forms when the tool used is the Visa card.

    Good on ya!


  5. Dave Calhoun May 10, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Looking forward to a tour! You’re gonna need sunscreen this weekend….YAY!

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