Old Shoes and Old Boats
By Tom Neale, 11/5/2012
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Someone once told me that an old boat is like an old shoe. Not quite. True, the more you wear it, the better it feels. And you can use duct tape on both to help hold them together and help keep the water out. But after a point, the analogy loses steam, as when you try to tie a parted halyard back together like an old shoe string. Another difference is that the old shoe has usually gained its years on your own foot, not somebody else’s–and certainly not on a long series of other feet. But perhaps the most important difference is that old shoes are seldom full of dreams of a brand new future. Old boats are. The trick is to make the dreams work. I’ve had lots of old boats over the years, the oldest being a nicely ripening semi sunk log canoe that I found floating in the river back in the 50's. Someone had added a one lung diesel, the oil from which had blended so thoroughly into the soft wood it slowed the rotting process. My most recent old boat is the one I’m sitting in today. She’s been around since 1975 but, unlike my old tennis shoes, she’s not merely getting to be a better fit every day; she’s getting better every day.
|Chez Underway, Heading for Sea.|
|Tom at the Helm of his New Old Boat.|
Whenever you get an old boat you normally have a grand plan of “fixing it up.” You start out thinking about the money you’re saving but that soon turns to myth as the dollars trickle away. We had to fix up our old boat pretty quickly because it was where we lived. It was like tying your shoe laces while you’re walking. You’re either tripping over your job or you’re afraid you’re going to lose what you’re working on. But if you keep the faith and do it right, you create from the past a boat that you can be proud of and that--and this is a really important part--you know how to fix when it breaks, because you fixed it from scratch in the first place. And if you’ve been fixing up old boats all your life, as I have, you get a really good feeling about what you now have.
One great feature of fixing up an old boat is that no matter how inferior you feel, you can always criticize the mistakes of the former owners, none of whom are there to dispute you. I saw an old boat once that had duct tape covering the hot terminals on the back side of the shore power inlet, a bare copper propane line passing close to the exposed positive battery terminal and then wavering over the gasoline engine block, and wires “insulated” from other wires by clothes pins holding them off. The bilges, however, were nicely painted. My bilges weren’t painted but I didn’t have propane lines ready to arc out on battery posts either. This sort of thing makes me feel good about my old boat, both because I know she wasn’t as bad off as many others and because of the things we’ve done, and done right.
Tom’s Tips for Making Old Boats Better
1. Safety items should be top priority. Often one of the first of these is to make a wiring diagram and replace bad wiring. These two often go hand in hand.
Unfortunately, your new old boat doesn’t regain its value as though it were new. Boats on the market don’t seem to do that. But you know what it’s worth to you, and that’s what counts. If I had the money, sure, I’d buy a new boat. But the fact that I don’t have the money doesn’t mean that I can’t go cruising on a good boat. And now it’s time for me to sell that great old boat, to get one smaller and faster. Somebody out there will get a really good deal and I’ll get to start all over again.
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