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How To Care For Your Boat

Jan 23, 2008
The upkeep cost of a sailing boat can be kept exceptionally low if you are willing and able to do your own work. The most fragile part of your outfit is the suit of sails. How fragile it is depends upon the type of boat you have. If yours is a little general-purpose craft with a cat or knockabout rig, a good suit of sails should last you for 10 years, perhaps more. If, on the other hand, you are going in for parachute spinnakers, masthead-high Genoas, or even the regular sails in their light form, you may find the life of a suit of sails is not over a season or two before they have to be recut or repaired.

The most important rule of all is that sails must be perfectly dry before they are stowed. Dampness causes mildew and rot. Need it be said that stowed sails should always be covered? Light sails that are not left on the boat should be well dried and then stowed in canvas bags. Rats and mice abound around the waterfront and no better nest has ever been found for a mouse family than a bagged sail.

There seems to be but one easy way to avoid damage by the gray beasties. That is to bag the sail and hang the bag from a rafter on a length of fine copper wire. Even then, the bag should hang far enough from anything else to obviate the chance of a rodent making a flying leap. Mice can climb ropes and twine, but a smooth, fine wire licks that method of approach.

Hull upkeep during the season should be limited to painting and varnishing as required. In the case of a racing boat, she may have to be hauled several times during the season to smooth up her bottom and apply a new coat of racing composition. Many racing owners haul small sailboats out of water whenever they are not being sailed. The idea is to keep them from soaking up a few extra pounds of water. Such fussiness is silly unless your only aim in having a boat is to race her.

The big jobs of maintenance are supposed to face you in the spring. That idea is crackpot, for fully half the annual overhaul can be done during the late fall and winter with the result that you'll get overboard weeks ahead of the others who, like the Capistrano swallows, never show up at the boatyard until a specific spring day. If you lay your boat up properly, there will be little to do when the weather turns balmy again.

Unless you live in some section where there is no winter, you must haul in the fall. Strip the boat of everything movable. The sails and all running rigging should be dried, cleaned, and stowed in a damp-free, mouse-free place. Take out the mast if possible and have it stowed in a shed where it can be supported horizontally at frequent enough intervals so it cannot go out of shape. If the mast must stay in the boat, you may be up against it to remove the halyards.

One stunt, if you can make a neat long splice, is to substitute some old line for the rigging aloft. If the boat is big enough and has a good stout spar, you may have a gantline. This is a heavy line rigged through a substantial block at the masthead. Its object is to provide a means by which you can be hoisted up the spar in a boatswain s chair.

You can use the rig for reeving off all rigging, inspecting and oiling upper blocks, and varnishing the mast. Don't monkey around with this sort of thing unless you are sure the mast, the gantline block, and the gantline itself will hold your weight.

These are some of the jobs you need to complete to really care for your boat. If you do these carefully, you will be rewarded by a really sound boat which will last a lifetime.
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