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Turn a run-down fiberglass boat into a
Since it first appeared in 1991, Don Casey’s This Old
Boat has helped tens of thousands of sailors refurbish
Turn a run-down fiberglass boat into a
Since it first appeared in 1991, Don Casey’s This Old
Boat has helped tens of thousands of sailors refurbish
older fiberglass boats and has become a revered classic
among boat rehabbers.This second edition is revised
from first page to last with new information on electrical
systems, diesel engines, refrigeration, resins, plumbing
and more. Plus, more than 600 newly created illustrations
enhance the book’s beauty as well as its utility.
"Men have learned to travel farther and faster, though on errands not conspicuously improved. This, I believe, is called progress."
The mission of this book is to provide clear, easy-to-follow instructions for boat rehabilitations, repairs, and improvements that will save you money and add to your enjoyment of owning a boat. What boat is up to you. If you already own the apple of your eye, perfect in conception and flawed only with age or omission, this first chapter may not interest you. There is even the risk that my comments will reflect poorly on your judgment (or, from your point of view I suppose, on my judgment). Enraptured owners may skip this chapter.
You may also have come to this book not as a boater but as a dreamer. You watch the weekend parade of boats from shore, an observer only, prohibited from becoming a participant by the astronomical prices of new boats. Perhaps you have contemplated buying an old boat, but the affordable ones all seem so ... tired. You are afraid of what you might be getting into.
Good news, Bunky. If you really want to join the parade, your only obstacle is you. Somewhere out there is a boat you can afford and that, with a little time and effort, can also be one you will take pride in.
Not so sure? Then this chapter comes too early for you. Come back to it later after you have had a chance to try your hand at some of the skills needed to refurbish an old boat. For the rest of you, those with that "you-just-show-me-what-to-do-and-I-can-do-it" attitude, I offer a few thoughts on choosing the right boat.
We had friends join us while we were cruising in the Bahamas some years ago. Richard, an avid fisherman and diver, had owned powerboats most of his life and spent almost every weekend on the water. After a few days of exposure to the cruising life, he began to talk seriously about buying a sailboat. Like an evangelical preacher, I pointed out to him the "good" boats in the anchorage: an old Pearson Invicta with a powerful sheer; a Hinckley Bermuda 40 with the grace and beauty of a swan; a Morgan 34, related to the later Out Island series like Cinderella to her stepsisters; even a stout and capable Westsail. He umm-hmmed politely. Then late one afternoon a new boat came motoring in.
"What is that?"
It was a Coronado 41, to my eye one of the ugliest boats ever to go into production. But before I could voice that sentiment, Richard continued, "Now that is the kind of boat I want!"
The appeal of a specific boat is as individual as the person examining her. If you are prowling the docks and boatyards, trying to decide which boat is right for you and frustrated by the vast array of boats available, I suppose you would welcome a list of the "ten best" used boats to buy.
However, this is a skills book with the premise that if you master a skill, you can easily adapt it to your particular project. You will not find in these pages, for example, construction plans for the dish box. What good would that be? I don't know if you have Melamine for two or Wedgwood for twelve, if the box will be hidden away or a prominent feature of the galley, if it will be horizontal or vertical, or if it lies against a straight bulkhead or the compound curvature of your hull. What I do know is that if you can learn to visualize, plan, measure, cut, fit, glue, and finish, you can build the dish box that suits your needs.
In keeping with this premise I will not mislead you with a consensus of the so-called experts of the "best" old boats. Best for what? There are just too many variables for such lists to have any validity. Instead, I have compiled a list of ten specific considerations that may be applied against any boat to help you determine if she is the right boat for you. These are:
The boat you own should make your heart sing. As you dinghy away from her in the anchorage, she should hold your eye. She should stop you on the dock for one final gaze before you leave her, not to check but to admire. She should be the boat in your fantasy, the one anchored at the base of a verdant forest, tied stern-to in a tiny Mediterranean harbor, rolling off miles in the trades, carrying your family down the bay, leaving lesser sailors in your wake, or rafted with friends on the far side of the lake. In front of others she should make you feel inflated with a sense of pride. Alone you should feel humbled by a sense of privilege. If she does not affect you this way, keep looking.
Perhaps it seems odd to you that beauty leads my list of boat selection criteria. Assuming that most boat purchasers intend to sail away from shore farther than they can swim back, shouldn't something like seaworthiness lead the list?
Let's understand this list, shall we? The boat you select should satisfy all ten considerations, seaworthiness included. The purpose of the list is to provide an orderly sequence to the evaluation process, not unlike measure, cut, fit, and glue in the carpentry process. Similarly, every step is required.
I lead the list with beauty because, for most of us, boating—sailing in particular—fills some kind of aesthetic need. There is nothing pragmatic about pleasure boating. It is entirely a romantic endeavor. If the sight of the boat you are considering does not quicken your pulse, she will ultimately prove unsatisfactory no matter how seaworthy, commodious, or practical she is.
In recent years volume seems to have trumped sweet lines. For me a sailboat should be half fish, half bird, and no part condominium, but that has become a minority view. If a floating cottage is what you really want, then perhaps beauty for you is a walkaround bed, a walk-in shower, and a no-compromise galley. Who am I to say that these passions will prove any less enduring? The point is that you should select a boat that meets your definition of beauty. If you are going to devote the time, effort, and money to restoring an old boat, pick one that merits your devotion.
If owning a boat puts too great a strain on your budget and prevents you from doing other things that were previously important and pleasurable parts of your life, discontent with boating cannot be far behind. Buying a boat that is too big, too fancy, or too complicated leads to disillusion far more quickly than buying too small, too plain, or too simple.
Because of statements similar to this one, I have often been called a minimalist. Not true. I see nothing whatsoever wrong with owning the largest boat you can both afford and use. But if paying for her keeps you from the enjoyment of using her, either in the physical sense for lack of time or in the mental sense from budget strain, what is the point?
Boating is a leisure time activity. It should require only discretionary income and not all of that. Maybe you think that if you only had the right boat, you would spend every free minute on the water. The odds are against you. Take a walk through any marina on a perfect Saturday and compare the number of empty slips to the number with boats still tied in them. I assure you that the owners of all those boats intended to use them every weekend, certainly every sunny weekend. What happened?
Reality. A sunny weekend is also perfect for tennis. Or golf. Or a cookout with friends. Or working on the lawn. Or a drive to Grandma's. There are also concerts and weddings, sporting events and sales. And there are weekends when it is rainy or cold or you just don't want to do anything.
Vacations aboard? Of course, but what about Yellowstone and Yosemite, Las Vegas and Disney World, the Rockies and the Alps, London and Paris, the Calgary Stampede and Mardi Gras, or Mom and Dad?
If living aboard is your objective, you can add housing costs into the equation. If you are preparing for an extended cruise you might also commit additional dollars, but you should never lose sight of the fact that every dollar you spend unnecessarily on the boat either postpones or shortens the cruise.
For the rest of us there is a number that represents the dollars that we can sensibly commit to boating. Aside from the cost of the boat, those dollars must also be sufficient to pay monthly dockage or storage fees, insurance, fuel, and upkeep, with some money left over to fund the cost of restoration and enhancement. You must be scrupulously honest in determining what that number is for you and equally vigilant in holding the line in the ensuing search for a boat that fits your budget constraints.
There is a tendency to let the ceiling creep up, to look at incrementally more expensive boats in the search for just the right boat. The most effective way to combat this is to avoid boats priced above your limit, but since there is often a big difference in the asking price of a used boat and her ultimate selling price, it may be unwise to restrict yourself too much. The risk is that the cost of the boat you choose will not be sufficiently negotiable to meet your budget requirements. If this happens to you, you may be able to lower the monthly cost with longer-term financing, electing a mooring rather than a dock, or some other creative action. If not, keep looking. There are a slew of old boats out there.
The Miami-bound plane was still climbing through the clouds over Atlanta when the well-dressed guy in 11-E noticed the sailing magazine I was reading and struck up a conversation. In his second sentence, he told me that he had just bought a new sailboat. His breathless urgency to share that news with a total stranger marked the purchase as a Big Event.
I asked the obvious question, and from his briefcase he produced a color brochure for a Valiant 40. A bluewater boat. I reconsidered my accent-based assumption and asked if he lived in south Florida.
"No," he drawled. "Atlanta."
"And where," I inquired, "will you keep the boat?"
Lanier is a long, inland lake that is rarely more than 3 miles wide, hardly a challenging body for a 40-foot cruising boat. In a few years, he told me, he hoped to be able to go cruising and he wanted to have the boat to do it in. Meanwhile, he had saddled himself with a boat that was ill-suited for the kind of sailing that he would be doing.
An extreme example? Not really. We often make our selection more on the kind of boat we want instead of how we intend to use her. My frequent-flyer friend wanted a "real" cruising boat even though he knew his sailing would be limited to weekends on a lake. In my own marina is a dynamite little racer whose enamored owner cannot understand why his wife and daughters have lost interest in spending cramped weekends aboard. And there is a heavy, steel ketch, built to survive a navigational oversight in reef-strewn waters, that leaves her urban berth only once a year for the boatyard where her live-aboard owners wage a mechanical and chemical war against rust, corrosion, and electrolysis.
Before you begin looking at boats, you should know how you will use the one you select. Will you be racing, cruising, daysailing, or entertaining at the dock? Do you see yourself creaming along on sunny days or squinting into rain and spray with your feet planted on the coaming? Will you be sailing to St. Louis, St. Michaels, St. Thomas, or St. Helena?
Be wholly truthful with yourself, but—are you watching? here comes the sleight of hand—don't be too certain that you know the whole truth. Until you have eaten the meal, how can you know which course you prefer? A fast boat may arouse a competitiveness in you that you did not know existed. A capable boat may tempt you far beyond imagined horizons. A commodious boat may lead you to forsake shore life altogether.
Of course the boat you choose should be suitable for the use you anticipate, but utility is not a particularly good selection criterion. As quintessential yachtsman Arthur Beiser has sagely observed, you're not buying a truck. Allow your imagination into the equation. What kind of boating do you want to do? My traveling companion from Atlanta let this consideration dominate his decision. I would have counseled him to buy a boat more suitable for sailing on the lake, waiting to buy a heavy cruiser until he had a better grasp of how cruising might fit into his life, but if owning a bluewater boat keeps the dream alive for him, then I would be wrong.
The best approach, I think, is to give your imagination a free rein or, more accurately, a long rein, but not longer than 3 or 4 years. If you think there is even the slight possibility that you may sail for the South Seas within the next 3 years, by all means buy a boat capable of taking you there. But if the realities of work and mortgages and family have you thinking more in terms of a few weekends away, even though you may be dreaming of a voyage someday, the best boat to buy now is one that maximizes the enjoyment you will get from the boating you anticipate doing now. Maximizing enjoyment is, after all, what boating is about.
Determining the true quality of a boat is not always a simple matter. You can inspect the boat, looking for obvious clues like broken or replaced deck hardware, undersized rigging and attachments, rusting and corroding metal fittings, springy decks, gelcoat blisters, hull and deck separation, or evidence of water below. But the worst sins are often hidden behind attractive joinerwork or a glossy inner liner.
One of the benefits of buying an older boat, particularly a stock boat that has been produced a hundred, two hundred, or five hundred times is that a lot of inspection has already been done. Most of the chronic problems will have already surfaced. Consequently the boat will have a reputation. Talking with owners of the kind of boat you are considering will help you to ascertain that reputation. Locally you can find them by spending a few weekends prowling the docks. If you are using a broker, he or she may be able to come up with the names and telephone numbers of recent purchasers. For a broader cross section, spend some time on the Internet. Nearly all production boats have some kind of Web forum that can yield not only postings but direct contact opportunities.
Owners can provide valuable information about quality (and other things, such as speed), but their opinions are just that—opinions. The more owners you talk with, the more accurate will be the picture that emerges. Ask why they selected this particular boat, what other boats they considered, and why those were rejected. (Some of the other boats may be on your list of considerations.) Also seek out former owners who will not feel the same sense of loyalty that can color the opinions of current owners.
Magazine evaluations may also provide valuable information about the quality of a particular boat, but keep in mind that because magazines depend on advertising dollars, they almost never run a negative evaluation. There are some notable exceptions.
For more than 30 years Practical Sailor and ex-sister publication Powerboat Reports have conducted regular no-holds-barred reviews of older and new boats. Because these are consumer publications without advertising, their appraisals are candid, more complete, and typically supplemented by comments from a number of owners. However, since a particular boat is only reviewed once, the reviews you would be interested in might have been published decades ago. Fortunately Practical Sailor reprints all of its past reviews—more than 240 at last count—in a two-volume set titled Practical Boat Buying. At this writing the future of Powerboat Reports is uncertain, but its powerboat evaluation reprints are likely to remain available.
Following the publication of the first edition of This Old Boat, a new magazine titled Good Old Boat was launched. The similarity in titles is not a coincidence. Good Old Boat magazine is aimed squarely at affordable sailing. Every issue takes an in-depth look at one or more old boats. The featured evaluation includes a comparison to other boats of similar design. Because no boatbuilders advertise in Good Old Boat, the reviews are honest. Or because the reviews are honest, no boatbuilders advertise in Good Old Boat. Either way the budget-minded sailor wins. This magazine is currently hands-down the best topical resource for the old-boat owner.
In recent years, Cruising World magazine has also published "Classic Plastic" boat reviews. These short treatments are neither thorough nor very critical, but they are not candy-coated either. They do offer useful comparative data and clues of what to expect from a particular design. Similarly, Sailing magazine publishes a "Used Boat Notebook" column, written by John Kretschmer, a sailor with impressive credentials and a good eye. These columns are also available in a book collection called Used Boat Notebook.
Excerpted from THIS OLD BOAT by Don Casey Copyright © 2009 by International Marine. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
AcknowledgmentsIntroduction1. The Choice2. The Dream3. The Plan4. Dollars and Sense5. Starting Small6. Scratch and Itch7. Windows and Walls8. Forks, Eyes, and Studs9. Nuts and Bolts10. Chips and Shavings11. Amps and Volts12. Going with the Flow13. A Cold Day in August14. Brush and Roller15. Material Things16. A Lofty Project17. EpilogueIndex
Don Casey combines three decades of sailing, a
keen eye for detail, irrepressible good humor, and an elegant
writing style to deliver transparently simple and always
reliable how-to advice for boaters. He is a regular
contributor to SAIL and Good Old Boat magazines.
Posted February 2, 2001
I read Don Casey's 'Inspecting the Aging Sailboat' and was impressed by the detail and readability (lots of pictures). When I bought 'This Old Boat' I was a little disappointed because although it is incredibly practical, it is nothing like as easy to read. I then realized that Don wrote 'This Old Boat' first (1990) and he then spun off each chapter into its own book - 'Sailboat Hull and Deck Repair', 'Sailboat Electrical Systems', 'Sailboat refinishing', 'Canvas work and Sail Repair'. These (smaller) books are mostly word-for-word from ¿This Old Boat¿ but have many more illustrations and have added up-to-date technical information in the form of sidebars.
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