I seldom replace anything on Wild Card, our 38 foot S&S-designed Hughes sloop. Instead, I kick it overboard if it falls from the rig, toss it in the water if it is a stray piece from the cockpit, or carry it on deck to ‘deep-six’ if it’s a piece from the interior.
Occasionally, alas, this doesn’t work. I mean, there actually ARE some things on a modern vessel which are needed for it to function safely offshore.
Take my bow rail, as example. When I hauled Wild Card off the bottom after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 I knew I’d have to replace the boat rail immediately. It was bent like a pretzel.
But, after pricing a new bow rail, I figured that I’d just ‘unpretzel’ it with a pipe-bender. This worked——sort of. I managed to vaguely get it back into the original shape. By that I mean if I showed some sailors a picture of it and asked them, “Is this a bow rail?” that 56% would answer affirmatively. (If, however, I asked what the picture was of, they’d reply, “I dunno… a pretzel made out of stainless steel tubing?”)
The bow rail was a cheapie to begin with. It had ‘iron-rot’ from the inside and soon developed dozens of cracks in the tubing.
“Don’t worry about that,” I told my long suffering wife Carolyn. “Just don’t touch it!” I, of course, never go on the foredeck nor mess with the (dirty, dirty) anchors. I stay in the cockpit.
“But…” sputtered Carolyn, “isn’t the whole idea of a bow rail to keep you from falling overboard?”
“…who told you that,” I scoffed. “El contraire! I mean, if you start to fall into the bow rail… LEAP over the side immediately… whatever you do, don’t jar it!”
“But…” she sputtered again, and I could tell she was attempting to sucker me into an argument… which I cleverly headed off with, “Hey, Carolyn… why does it always have to be about YOU, eh? We’re talking bow-rail here, not bodacious-babe! …honey, I love you… yeah… cherish you, even… but everything on the boat isn’t… er, Carolyn-eccentric, if you know what I mean. So don’t… you know, stupidly damage the boat’s bow rail if you foolishly fall-over… that’s all I’m saying!”
This ‘don’t touch, don’t tell’ policy went on for about a decade or so.
Alas, even untouched, the bow rail continued to deteriorate. The cracks on its surface became larger. A couple of its welds rusted through and the bottom tube started sagging away from the top one. The screw-holes in the deck were gradually enlarging and whole-rattling-basket was getting loose-as-a-goose.
It would flop from side to side when we tacked. If a large wave hit it, it would lift up a couple of inches. It seemed to be less-and-less stainless steel and more-and-more jello.
Occasionally, Carolyn would screw up and flick it with our anchor snubber or touch it with her hair while bending over our anchor chain… while I bellowed from the cockpit, “Damn it, Carolyn! How many times have I TOLD you?”
Then one day a horrible thing happened: a seagull landed on it. It wasn’t a big seagull nor a particularly hard landing… but it broke the bow rail forever.
There was a horrible ‘clang’ as the tubing fell to the deck. Both of us were belowdecks, and I couldn’t see Carolyn… so, natch, I blamed her.
“…was that you,” I screamed. “Did you do that?”
“…what are you talking about,” Carolyn said, “I’m in the head!”
“…maybe you reached out the porthole or rigged a line through the hatch?”
“…don’t be silly, Fatty,” she said while furiously pumping, “and why automatically blame the woman whenever something bad happens?”
“Why,” I said, and relished the looming argument. “Remember the Garden? You and the snake? The Apple? Do you think guys like me forget little things like that… ?”
Alas, this ‘martial riff’ didn’t help the bow rail at all.
We were in Coral Bay at the time, and my wife Carolyn gently suggested we save up our pennies for a new bow-rail. “…a’nuther round,” I slurred to Mean Jean, the bartender at Skinny Legs, “and you got any of those bow-rail-thingies back there?”
“…bow rails?” Mean Jean asked with a grimace. “No, Fatty, we just have booze & burgers back here.”
I raised my hands pathetically to Carolyn in a gesture of perplexed helplessness. “Hey, I tried,” I hiccupped at her, then shouted back at Mean Jean, “then gimme a Slim Jim, babe-a-brewski!”
Of course, we had an ocean to cross. A wide one. The Pacific. So it was important that I fix my bow rail.
I did. With duct tape. A LOT of duct tape. Many wraps. I used chopsticks for splints, and plastic wire-ties to bind it all together.
“There, that should do it,” I said when finished. “…unless a fly or a mosquito lands on it!”
That was over a year ago and, in the interim, numerous parts fell off (Galapagos/Tahiti/Tonga) as we went along. Finally, last week in Whangarei, New Zealand, the entire device turned into a jagged pipe-splinter and collapsed with a puff of salt-stained rust.
Buying a new one was out of the question. I priced a ‘custom made’ one which was more than the price of the boat! Stealing one was, of course, a traditional option… but a tad risky in a small harbor. (“What makes you think, kind sir, that the bow rail I installed on my boat this morning is the bow rail which was stolen from your vessel last evening?”)
Luckily, I discovered a used one for sale at Stanley’s Used Marine Gear. Yahoo!
It was even reasonably priced at $100 dollars, although this would put a serious dent in our meager cruising kitty.
“Excuse me,” I said to Jack Stanley, “how much is this… I mean, I see a stock number but no price…”
“No,” said Jack, “that’s the price… a hundred bucks.”
“What?!?” I screamed and clutched my chest as if having a coronary. “Are you serious, Stan… for THIS PIECE OF CRAP?”
Unfortunately, Jack knows me. He simply ignored all the people I sent into the store to criticize the quality of the bow rail, and its price, condition, construction, design, finish, etc. Why, he even ignored the guy who tripped over it and threatened to sue!
I didn’t give up, though. I persevered. Finally, Jack saw the light and reduced the price… ten cents… which worked out to about a penny-a-day for my hard-nosed, mano-mano negotiations.
“I knew I’d wear you down in the end,” I bragged to Jack as I carted away the bow rail and he counted his 99 dollars and 90 cents.
The installation went fairly well, once Carolyn managed to serendipitously pry the proper-sized galvy nails from the planks of the dock we were tied to. (There’s a trick to nailing into fiberglass: BIG HAMMER!)
In fact, we were just admiring how ‘yachty-snotty’ Wild Card looked with her new bow rail… when a dock-strolling Kiwi family fell screaming into the harbor… because of some, er, loose dock planking.
There were four of them frantically dog-paddling around in the water: father, mother, daughter and son.
“Quick!” I shouted to Carolyn, “toss me the boat hook!”
She did, and within an instant I’d snatched the mother’s purse out of the water. “…reward!” I screamed happily.