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Boat Wanted: Poor Condition Preferred

Once a long, laborious boat project reaches its completion, a DIY boater comes to appreciate that the journey was always part of the destination

Middle-aged man wearing a navy shirt, light blue shorts and sunglasses restoring his boat.

The author in his element. Notice the smile? Photo: Mike Longman

Now what?” That was the thought repeating in my mind as I slid my fingers across the mirrorlike gelcoat, staring idly at the crisp reflection of the face looking back at me. As my fingertips brushed over a repair, I chastised myself for not doing a better job with the color matching while simultaneously affirming I’d be the only one who noticed.

A late-season cold front had pushed its way across Florida overnight, and a stiff north wind eliminated any possibility of getting out to put some break-in hours on the new motor. I slowly circled the boat a few more times, admiring the outcome of the nearly two-year refit and hoping no neighbors caught me indulging in a shameless moment of pride.

It was 1 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, one of the few time frames in my life currently dedicated to one thing and one thing only: workin’ on the boat. The only problem was, for the first time in nearly two years, there was nothing left to do.

The truth is the project could have realistically been completed in a few months. Despite being left to rot in the Florida sun nearly a decade ago after the previous owner ran it out of oil and cratered the old Merc, the 20-year-old center-console was structurally like new, and I used its composite construction and poly fuel tank as justification for taking on the project against my better judgment. We all know that a free boat is the most expensive kind.

To shore up support on the homefront, I carefully built my case around the surplus of “free time” in our future. My wife had just given birth to our first child, and I planned to be spending a lot of time at home, so as only a naïve new father could, I proclaimed there was no better time to dive headfirst into a boat rehab. Following thorough discussions with many good questions but no good answers, we welcomed a destitute 22-foot Pro-Line to its new home in our driveway, joining the fleet of smaller craft scattered about the property.

A weathered white boat steering console

Despite being left to rot in the Florida sun some 10 years prior with a seized outboard, the 22-foot Pro-Line was structurally in good shape, making it a worthy project. Photo: Mike Longman

Worn, weathered and unkept back of a boat with black motor.

Photo: Mike Longman

After a valiant charge out of the starting gate, including a bleach blitz and pressure washer assault, she was beginning to look like something before turning the first screw. But such momentum couldn’t last, and the realities of starting and supporting a family quickly put the boat in its proper place – the backseat. But even while the refit clearly played second fiddle, it remained the star every Saturday afternoon and, slowly and systematically, progress was made.

As months went by, bloodied knuckles came and went, then came again. Fiberglass dust entered and left my pores. I itched, then scratched. Tools burned out and I burned out. Words unfit for a prison bellowed from the bilge time and again, and my back was in a perpetual state of spasm. But as time passed, one completed task turned into another, and I started casually tossing the word “done” around. Sometime around the 18-month mark, the new Suzuki 225 came off back order and I brought the rig down to Vero Beach for its crowning.

By God, I’d done it.

So now, as I stood staring at the boat on another Saturday afternoon, a strange wave of emptiness washed over me, and I again asked myself, “Now what?” The fresh canvas on the T-top was tight like a drum and new stainless thru-hulls seemed to jump off the hull as they caught the sun. The pumps and electronics had been tested to exhaustion, and if I put on one more coat of wax, she was liable to slide right off the trailer. I was done.

Refurbished and technically upgraded boat steering console out in the open waters on a sunny day

Two years of Saturday afternoons structured around family commitments went into the refit. Photo: Mike Longman

Newly refurbished all white back of a boat

Photo: Mike Longman

It was at this exact moment I realized my obsession with boating extends far beyond great days on the water. For me, the tinkering, fixing, and admiring a job well done is just as thrilling as clearing the inlet and pointing the compass east. Heck, I even love the early morning runs to the boat supply house, digging through vats of surplus parts and bumping elbows with fellow devotees. For me, boating is just a package deal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still counting the days until I can get her out to bluewater for the first time and sink the gaff in a big bull dolphin. But in the meantime, I’m on the hunt for an old 13 Whaler to restore. Poor condition preferred.

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Mike Longman

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

With a passion for all things boat-related, Mike Longman spent his formative years plying the waters of Florida’s Indian River Lagoon on various boats he restored himself. Following the water, he began a career in the marine industry over a decade ago and can now be found fishing and diving offshore Sebastian Inlet on any given weekend aboard his 22-foot Pro-Line center-console.