Running About

By Chris Landers

Buying a cheap boat to fix up sounds like a great idea, right? Right?

Photo of Chris Landers at the helm of his runaboutJoin Chris as he takes us step by step through the projects he's finished aboard The Snark. (Photo: Noah Scialom)

It's been awhile since I owned a boat, but because I'm an editor at a boating magazine, it certainly comes up from time to time. I do have a Sunfish, which I keep at my friend Sinker's house (and by "keep," I mean I dropped it off there a few years ago, and as far as I know he still has it), and an inflatable kayak, which I use at a lake near our house in Baltimore.

The last real boat I owned was a 26-foot wooden sailboat that I tried to live on and fix up for a few years, but that didn't end well between us. My plans to sail to the Marshall Islands finally had to be traded for running water and heat in a house ashore. Friends sometimes ask me what the most important thing about living aboard is. That's easy, I'd say. It's having a girlfriend who lives ashore.

Anyway, in the years since then I've lived a mostly quiet, non-boat-owning life, and I guess I didn't realize how much I missed it, until back in February, my non-boating, usually sensible wife Andrea, turned to me and said, "I think we should get a boat." I didn't hesitate. A week or so later, I was headed back from New Jersey towing our new yacht.

Well, "yacht" may be a bit of an overstatement. So is "new" for that matter. I brought home a 15-foot runabout from 1964, made by the Molded Fiber Glass Companies, or MFG. I liked it because it has the classic shape of the Lyman, boats I've always admired, without the pesky inconvenience of being made of wood. It needed a new transom, new windshield, seats, deck fittings, a steering system, ski racks ... actually, maybe it's easier to say what it didn't need: the hull, floor, and deck were all in decent shape.

I worked for a few years as a shipwright on the USS Constellation in Baltimore, so I'm familiar with boat construction. But this boat, which I'm calling The Snark, after Jack London, Lewis Carroll, and my own natural sarcasm, was a little different. What I found on this project was that working on a boat is a lot more fun when you're doing it for yourself. Every weekend, and most evenings for months I glassed, poured, painted, polished, and turned wrenches on the boat. I've written most of it up on a blog at our BoatUS Magazine website, and add more posts every other week or so, as I cross projects off my list.

But the boat is, in fact, in the water. After a messy first launch, when I learned that there is a latch to keep the outboard down when it's in reverse (or rather, there's supposed to be a latch — mine was missing a part — a dramatic and noisy oversight from which Andrea's nerves still haven't recovered), I've been out to see Fort Carroll — an abandoned island fort built in 1847 to protect Baltimore Harbor — and the Star-Spangled Banner Buoy, placed by the Coast Guard every year to mark the spot where the national anthem was composed. In September, I spent the day in Baltimore Harbor with the ships marking the 200th anniversary of that event, and saw some old friends on the Constellation and the Pride of Baltimore II.

That day, I learned that Baltimore's Inner Harbor will leave a brown stain like a bathtub ring at The Snark's waterline, but also that my boat's a head-turner. Even with all the tall ships and visiting Navy vessels, people came running up to say hi. It's great to be out on the water again. Now I just have to convince my wife to join me. 

Chris Landers is the former associate editor with BoatUS Magazine. Look out for him in the waters around Baltimore, Maryland.

— Published: Fall 2014


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