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Out with the old …
Out with the old …

On Yachts, Silk Purses, and Sow’s Ears

I am loath to admit it, but the truth is that I’ve turned a silk purse into a sow’s ear. That’s right—I’ve reduced my pristine yacht (a Wauquiez 43 named Ganesh) to the state of a garbage scow. This wasn’t easy nor cheap. Here’s how.

“Wait one second,” you might say. “This is crazy! I’ve never read a magazine article in which the so-called ‘marine expert’ admits he is, in reality, a demented yacht-destroyer!”

Exactly.

And all with the best of intentions.

Let’s take the swim platform, as a typical example. My new vessel had an extremely well made, firmly attached swim platform on its transom—perfect for swimming and snorkeling. In addition, it served as a boarding platform. It was particularly useful when loading lots of boxes and bags aboard. And, of course, it anchored the robust swim ladder’s base.

I used it every day—many times a day—for the first six months of my on-the-hook ownership.

Then I chopped it off.

Why? Because it didn’t heave-to well in the ultimate storm. It slapped.

How many ultimate storms have I been through in 53-years of living aboard and 100,000 + miles of ocean sailing?

Zero.

Nonetheless, I chopped it off, and felt ‘macho man’ righteous as I did so.

About the same time, my Monitor windvane arrived. It was designed to wrap around my transom swim ladder. This it did extremely well—making the swim ladder utterly, totally useless.

And, of course, I no longer had the swim platform. So boarding my boat from the transom became almost impossible; ditto, elsewhere too.

… the consequences of which are: (1) I seldom go ashore; (2) I seldom bring anything aboard; and (3) I only board at midnight on moonless evenings … so other yachtsmen don’t snicker at me as I slither aboard under the lifelines like an ashamed snake.

This wouldn’t be so bad if my boat had normal topsides. Alas, it does not. My topsides are higher than Charlie Sheen! It’s true—I’ve got more square feet of sail area in my transom than I do in my 135% genoa!

Even the sales brochure admits this with the awkward spin of ‘generous’ topsides.

Let’s put it another way: you don’t have to worry about falling overboard and drowning on Ganesh—as the impact of hitting the water from such a height will be instantly fatal.

Still doubt me?

Well, there are places to attach an aviator’s oxygen mask on my stanchions!

When dashing forward to tuck a reef in my mainsail, I use the altimeter on my Casio Sea Pathfinder wristwatch to monitor my progress. Usually, about half-way, I feel my ears pop. Yes, she has ‘a generous sheer line’ as well.

Did I mention my vessel has ten times more tumble-home than her competitors?

What is tumble-home?

It is a simple, clever idea to turn a vessel into a scratch-magnet. It makes docking-without-removing-the-gel-coat nearly impossible. (Yes, I’d like to occasionally dock, especially since I can no longer easily access my dinghy because I chainsawed off the freak’n swim platform!)

Oh, yachts are so interrelated, eh?

Let’s expand on this interrelatedness for a moment.

Another expensive system my vessel had upon purchase was mainsail furling. The previous owner was … how shall I say it?

… let’s just say, as a sailor he was a hell of a throttle-jockey.

He was one of those gear-head mariners who asked his fellow blow-boaters, in all seriousness, “How many RPM do you sail at?”

This ‘main furling’ system cost a fortune. The sail was brand new. You never had to leave the cockpit in heavy weather—just tug on a string or two.

I purchased the boat in French St. Martin. Alas, I had my sailing buddy and favorite sailing editor Gary Brown aboard almost immediately.

“Hold on a moment,” he said as I awkwardly hoisted him aboard with the main halyard, “That mainsail isn’t up to Cape Horn standards! In fact, it is a lubberly affectation, Fatty! Surely, you … notorious offshore seadog that you are … will deep-six it immediately!”

Of course, I should have noted that I had no intention of seeing Cape Horn on anything but a postcard from Chile, but I did not.

Gary is also an ocean sailor. He writes novels about the sea. He single-hands, etc. I admire him. I craved his respect. Thus I dashed below for the bolt-cutters … and within minutes had the entire ten-thousand-dollar mess snarling up my deck.

“That’s better,” said Gary smugly, and handed me a check for one hundred dollars.

“That squares us up on your last ten stories,” he said, then squinted saltily at the distant horizon, and finally mused, “Hey, I wonder how much a proper new mainsail costs these days?”

Yes, I am susceptible to peer pressure. I don’t like to admit it, but it is true. My therapist calls these episodes ‘following false imperatives’ but I hate to disappoint a friend.

Another example: the beloved Perkins Four-154 I wrote about so lovingly in these very pages a few months ago.

It ran like a fine watch, and had been doing so for over 32 years.

I was proud of it—so I installed a series of clever LED engine room lights to illuminate it artfully.

Then I boastfully showed it to a gay friend … which was a HUGE mistake.

“Oh, dear,” he sighed when he saw its color. “… green is, like, so yesterday!” he tut-tutted. “Can’t you straights afford a new, up-to-date color-chart? I know you can’t accessorize or choose trendy clothes … but I mean, really, my dear … green?”

“… well,” I sputtered in response, “perhaps green was a popular color for diesels back in the late 1970s.”

“… dreadful!” my friend shushed me with a lethargic wave of his limp wrist. “Can’t you breeders … incidentally, how is your daughter Roma? … Anyway, can’t you Hopeless Heteros do anything right? I mean, can’t you call up Perkins and asked for some color swatches or something?”

I did, and, amazingly, Perkins did send me a color swatch … I guess the request is more common that I thought … in a hot pink envelope.

“It appears that ‘Blue Steel’ is the color-of-the-moment,” I informed my friend.

“… oh, that would go nicely with all the rusty oil streaks on your boat, Fatty!” he squealed. “Buy it, Fat Mon, buy it!”

The very next thing I knew was that the famous ‘Diesel Dan’ Durban of Parts and Power in Tortola was wheeling a new M92B up to the dock crane of the Moorings in Road Town—which matched my color chip perfectly.

I compared the two, just to make sure.

“Do you need any more technical info before we swing it aboard with the chain hoist,” asked Diesel Dan solicitously. “Or perhaps some measurements or dimensions or something?”

“No,” I said, “why muddy the waters with such techno-irrelevancies? The important thing is: does it come with a small can of ‘Blue Steel’ touch-up paint?”

“Yes,” said Dan, “but what a queer question!”

“Exactly!” I said in agreement, and thought, ‘… that dude is smarter than he looks’.

There was one small problem. It didn’t fit. Perhaps Dan had been right—I should have taken some measurements. Thus I needed to ‘adjust’ my engine beds and to perhaps even ‘modify’ them. This didn’t sound too difficult. So I dove into my bilge with the Sawzall, and swiped away at a pesky structural member … which, once sawn through, allowed the entire engine bed system to droop down into the bilge like a semi-deflated balloon.

Ouch!

“… but you said, slip in a new engine,” my wife Carolyn screamed at me. “Then you said ‘toss’ one in … and finally you said ‘swing one aboard’… none of which sounded too difficult!”

“Repowering an ocean-sailing 43-foot yacht is, alas, more difficult than, say, changing a light bulb,” I admitted. “In fact, I have to grind out the old engine beds and then glass up the new ones…”

My wife is always looking for an opportunity to go to a marina—all the better to destroy her liver on someone else’s booze. Soon we found ourselves at Village Cay marina in Tortola, on C-dock, tied up amid yachts.

Carolyn was in seventh heaven—flitting from one alcohol-awash cockpit to the next, squealing girlishly, “The only way our marriage makes sense is if I’m atoning for a sin in a previous life … I must have been some-kind-of-bad, eh?”

We didn’t want anyone to know we were doing major work inside—so, to keep the noise and the dust down, Carolyn would just wire-tie the grinder into my bleeding, calloused hands, exit, close up the boat tighter than a bull’s butt … and then plug in the shore power cord as she headed for the nearest cockpit party.

To her credit, she never forgets to return around noon, unplug the cord (which shuts off the grinder), and toss down a thin baloney sandwich into the murky engine room.

We don’t talk much. Once I inferred that I thought I should purchase a new breathing mask—an idea she immediately vetoed as too expensive. “… wearing the clean BVDs backwards on your nose and mouth might not be stylish … but works just fine! Besides, if God didn’t want you to grind fiberglass, he wouldn’t have given you damp nose hairs!”

Only once did she initiate conversation: “… did you notice how cute that marina-guy named Pumpkin is?”

And that’s where we are today. The new diesel is in the cockpit, and I’m laboring away underneath it (on all levels). If Carolyn needs more money for ice, limes, or booze … she just leads a gullible, rich, tipsy guy (who can read; not many yachties can) down to our finger pier—and makes me sign a book for him.

There’s about a quarter inch of itchy fiberglass dust distributed evenly throughout my once pristine vessel. Broken tools, half-finished meals, and shattered wine glasses litter the gritty cabin sole.

But, hey, this is the tropics. There’s no rush. Things happen s-l-o-w if they happen at all. And my wife Carolyn has suddenly become very accommodating and understanding about the whole fiasco. “No problem, Fatty!” she said. “The girls and I are having 55-gallon drums of Bloody Marys aboard the mega-yacht Rehab is for Quitters this morning … I am so sorry you can’t come!”

(Editor’s note: Fatty and Carolyn are currently attempting to get their steering compass out of hock, and sail around the world one more time.)

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com

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