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On Living Aboard

When Patty O’, our 42 foot Huckins sedan cruiser came to us the first year or so was spent making her comfortable to live aboard. The work included updating some basics that don’t stand the test of time well. Things like fuel tanks, iceboxes, and, popular at that time, the alcohol stove. The denatured alcohol fuel used in these stoves must be pressurized in the tank before use. That sometimes results in a mess that permeates all over the counter and quite often catches fire. Not good. There is, however, one sterling advantage to alcohol, which is that when it’s on fire, it can be quickly extinguished with water. Other than that, an alcohol stove will slowly drive you crazy as anyone who has used one can attest.

The alcohol stove was replaced by one fueled with propane. This stove served us for years and was subsequently replaced with a two-burner induction top cooker. There are many advantages over the previous two cooking methods and only one disadvantage: pots and pans used thereon must be able to be attracted to a magnet. This allows the molecules in the pan to vibrate and cause the pan to be heated, thereby cooking food.
Next on the list was the “ice box”. This was a very pretty appliance that blended in with the galley quite well. I was reluctant to remove it mostly due to that, so the first choice was to retrofit an electric cooling unit. The box was insulated very well, and this worked for several years until we completely gutted the galley. It was then replaced by a marine refrigerator-freezer combination.
All this was accompanied by a complete rewiring of the whole boat. I felt competent to do the job myself as I hold a journeyman electrician license, as well as a degree in electrical engineering. All work was done in accordance with standards set by the American Boat and Yacht Council, the organization that provides standards for boat building and repair. This is necessary not only to ensure safety but is a prime insurance requirement for major repairs. From the outside, Patty O’ looks much the same as she did when she came out of the builder’s yard in 1954. We keep her looking good and being built of wood, repairs, even major ones are not all that difficult. A big misconception about wooden boats is that they require a great deal more maintenance than boats built of other materials. This just isn’t so. A wooden boat, properly maintained, will require no more time or effort to keep her that way. You wax your hull, I give mine a diluted coat of paint. We both paint the bottom. The big difference is that if nothing is done, a boat built of fiberglass will just ‘look’ like it’s going to sink, while the wooden boat can and will suffer extreme decay. Another plus: you can work on wooden boats outside in any temperature or weather. Also, you can find skilled workers anywhere in the world. There are only two boatbuilding materials that can claim that the other being steel.
With the pandemic winding down, we feel relatively comfortable venturing out. We both have had our shots, although we still mask up when we venture out. And we have treated ourselves to a restaurant meal, although we sat outside. This was the first in many months.
The Blonde, my wife has been working from home, although not as much lately. She is an architect with an undergraduate degree in structural engineering. Her job mostly involves troubleshooting current jobs, but as one might expect, there is not much of that going on at present.
While the yard has acceptable Wi-Fi, she uses the hot spot on my iPhone for work, which is much more secure. My plan has a large amount of data, but even so, I limit my usage. The yard’s Wi-Fi is enough for me. She is set up in the lounge, and I have rigged a backdrop of quilts so the fact that she is on a boat is hidden from whomever she is in contact with. This saves answering a lot of unnecessary questions.
After our latest several week sojourn, we have kept pretty much in the yard at our slip. I have kept busy with normal maintenance on our two boats. Our little Century runabout, Mustard is a delight. Finished bright, she turns heads wherever we go. Like her big sister Patty O’, she has many upgrades that are not visible to the naked eye. We originally found Mustard sitting in a barn after forty years, a true fact that verifies the legend.
She has been repowered, and her tanks and controls have been updated. Her hull has been completely rebuilt after the Blonde took her lines off and created a full set of plans.
I had a great deal of help in this project from my friend Ritchie McGill who is a woodworker par excellence. He builds custom furniture and high-end kitchen cabinets and anything he doesn’t know about woodworking isn’t worth knowing. I help him out when he needs help installing cabinets that are in a difficult location. For this, I get to keep Mustard in his heated storage barn in winter. He has been a tremendous help over the years both with Mustard and Patty O’.
Earlier this year I had completely stripped Mustard’s hull and re-applied several coats of varnish. It used to be that you had to wipe all the brightwork down every morning. If not, the little drops of moisture would act like magnifying glasses, burning holes in the varnish once the sun shined down. Thanks to modern science, that is a thing of the past. New brightwork coating is not affected by sunlight so that chore is a thing of the past. Re-stripping was not necessary but was done as a make work project. Although she didn’t look any different when I was done, it was worth it to have kept me busy for a while.
A victim of the so-called golden parachute buy-out several years ago, and far too young to just sit back, I do look for things to keep me busy. The Blonde’s family is convinced that I live off her, and look at our lifestyle as a form of homelessness. This has caused untold strife and sadly, we avoid most contact with them.
With the weather getting more summer like, we decided that a weekend away from it all was needed. So on a Friday noon, we headed out to one of our favorite spots, not all that far from the yard. The little cove on the north side of Fishers Island has always been a good place to get away from it all. It does tend to become crowded on weekends, but we needed the getaway. Surprisingly, the place was almost empty with the exception of two other boats, and from the way they were anchored; they valued their privacy as much as we value ours.
“Ya know Bubba,” she said, “I know I have said this a bunch of times, but it doesn’t get any better than this. Really.”
Raising my glass to her I answered, “You always did speak the truth,”