We Have Seen Better Days!
Updated: Sep 11
CALL IN THE DIVERS!
Now, this where the story gets a lot deeper, as in, "below the waterline" deeper. For example, someone must check the exterior hull to determine such things as, does it have a keel, is there a propeller on the prop shaft, or does it even have a prop shaft? Does it have a rudder for steering, and most importantly, is it going to continue to float?
So Joe and Michele called in divers to evaluate and confirm such things as those mentioned above. For a mere $475, they learned that sea growth hanging beard-like from the hull extended to the bay floor six to eight feet beneath. The divers removed said growth to find that the hull needed further dire loving care before it could possibly sail again.
So, the next step was to pull the vessel from the water to examine the condition of the hull and determine a course of action. Subsequently, the old mini-windjammer was lifted into the air as Cpt' Joe watched through tear-sodden eyes. ("I want my money back!" He thought to himself.) The yet-to-be-named boat was in much worse condition than he imagined.
There in front of him hung a barnacle-laden masterpiece of sea incrustation and pitting that 'only six short years of sitting, unattended and unmoved, could accomplish. The entire hull was covered with an effusive canker of pitting and growth that would require hours and hours of scraping, grinding, and sanding, after which the whole hull would need to be repainted with an expensive epoxy resin.
It appears every sailor must pay Neptune his due!
-ON STILTS IN A BOATYARD ALONE AND LOST, THE ONCE FOUNDERED VESSEL STOOD, WAITING FOR BOTH ITS CAPTAINS AND CREW, TO POLISH BOTH BRASS AND WOOD- (je)
Set atop steel trunnions in a boatyard where rent, to the tune of nearly $300 + per month for space occupied, was the only way the vessel's hull could be refinished.
Green Cove Springs Marina and Boatyard lifted the ailing sailing-waif from the water and placed it among the dozens, or even hundreds of other boats, with which it would soon become well acquainted.
Walking through the facility is akin to walking through a graveyard, only in this instance, many of the nearly dead are those with people who literally live in the boatyard, scraping and sanding and painting, trying to make their dream return to life. Albeit, in some cases, a process that may require many years of hard labor, this was fortunately not something the two new captains were facing.
The less fortunate are the once-proud seagoing vessels that find themselves abandoned, rotting with the cancer of time; the slow and insidious death that ends in being stripped of anything valuable and then crushed to scrap. Here sits an entire cavalcade of masts and hulls representing millions of decaying invested dollars that were once the toys of many, and yet for some special few, their owners had the simple desire to become the master of wind and water with love for the sea, which, for the former, was just another playground.
Our son and his wife set to prepping the boat according to the longed-for images of desired results that entered their collective mind. "The (to-be-named) will be beautiful and will sail many miles when she's done." (The boat is always referred to as 'she.' or so I presume, because of the loving care needed to keep her happy so that she, in turn, may keep its owners alive. A loving bond between captain and vessel.) These two captains, Cpt' Joe and Cpt' Michele, set-to hiring the scrapers and grinders and painters to put their new love into ship-shape condition.
AN INTERLUDE: "Now hear this! Stand by for heavy rolls as the ship is coming about. All hands above decks lay below decks, all hands below decks lay above decks, all hand forward lay aft, and all hands aft lay forward. All hands amidships stand by to direct traffic! - Now hear this! The "do-so" locker is now open. All hands wishing to do so, should do so immediately! The smoking lamp is out while anyone wishing to do so, does so! That will be all!" (The Shellback-Navy tradition) And everyone wonders why men (and women) want to become sailors!
So the work was underway, and although both Joe and Michele supervised and put hands-on during the entire process, the work went on for months. Besides the hull refurbishing, an overhaul of the engine was needed, among other things. (An M3-20, Universal diesel engine with a 19-gallon fuel tank, for those 'special' times when the sails just weren't practical.)
The propeller shaft was removed and cleaned, and the tiny plastic propeller replaced with a shiny brass prop that the boat could be proud of, as well as a new stuffing box and new hoses fitted and clamped, and so on. Not to mention the electrical issues that need tending due to "repairs and changes" made by the previous owners.
Since time itself plays a very nasty role in instigating the short-term longevity of anything humans can manufacture, the many years of sitting through this interminable Florida heat and humidity, along with an apparent lack of proper care-taking, also took its toll on the onboard woodwork of the once lovely vessel. This, too, requires much attention.
The stern bulkheads and hatches, as they were found, took quite a beating from the uncared-for diesel engine that shook and vibrated the dog-box, which, in turn, was attached to the bulkhead that surrounded the head and aft cabin. All of these pieces were replaced and or refinished, along with the reconditioning of the teak wood throughout. In short, lots and lots of housekeeping.
So, in the long and the short of it all, after many, many more dollars and time were invested during the almost a half year in drydock; the majority of the repairs were completed, and the name "Better Days" was applied to her stern, meaning she was ready to return to service to see much better days for both her and her new captains.
So on June 11, 2021, she was once again fit for duty, and I was proud to be on deck and at the helm for parts of the twelve to thirteen-mile journey to her new slip at Julington Creek Marina near Jacksonville, Florida.
This is where I say THANK YOU! Thank you to both captains for allowing me the honor of making the maiden voyage and for being part of the crew to give her a proper 'shake-down' cruise between the boatyard and her home slip. It was incredible! I hope Mom and I both will be honored with future sailings.
Getting 'Better Days' Wet Again
It is no simple matter to lift and move a boat that displaces four and a half tons with a ballast weight of 3500 pounds. But those crafty boatyard guys have everything they need to get the job done. So we arrived very early Friday morning, on June 11, 2021, for re-launching. At 7:15 am, we departed for the boatyard with high expectations of everything going as scheduled and our hopes of seeing 'Better Days' slipping smoothly into the water with a few minor adjustments and then set sail for home.
We were wrong.
Due to heavy rain the night before, the hull was awaiting some needed touchups that took an hour or more to complete. Which, then, threw off the yard team's schedule that gathered to put her into the water, which meant our 9:00 am launch time would slide impatiently toward noon!
The hefty looking device in the images above is called a "travel lift." (I, personally, call it a "tea-bagger.") A device everyone should have (if they have lots and lots of money and land, and most importantly, water, a pier, and a boat). As one can imagine, it runs very slowly and makes a lot of noise, but it sure comes in handy when a four and a half-ton boat needs to be returned to the sea.
Finally, about 11:00 am, or slightly under two hours later than expected, 'Better Days' was bobbing jauntily next to her mooring at the boatyard where engine testing and final adjustment were being made. An hour or so after this, we were rigged and ready to leave the dock as soon as the mechanic gave the all-clear for the diesel engine.
"Aye Cap'n! Sow-by-sowt-west!"
At Cpt' Joes' orders, I let loose the bowline, and Better Days bow swung away as he pulled the stern in close to the dock. Freeing the stern line as he pushed the engine throttle full ahead, Better Days was now underway for the first time in many years.
Giving a wave to our wives as we left the pier, we could tell Better Days was happy to be alive again as she cut smoothly through the water. Being pushed by the little engine that could, she was headed for her new home next to her new friends at the Julington Creek Marina, about twelve miles distant.
Chugging past the enormous pier where actual Navy vessels once moored during war-times, we entered the open waters of the bay where, about a half to three-quarters of a mile distant, Cpt' Joe asked me to take the helm as he prepared to hoist the jib, i.e., the forward most sail, to take a bit of strain off the engine. Or so he thought.
Taking hold of the starboard (right) sheet (the line connected to the jib sail), as I held the helm with one hand and steadied the port (left) sheet with the other, Cpt' Joe let fly the capstan line that held the jib fast and then hauled hard on the starboard sheet, pulling the jib sail smartly into play.
The jib immediately filled with wind from the port beam, and Better Days lurched forward, gathering another full knot or two of speed. I immediately felt the bow dig into the slight chop stirred by the wind cutting sharply across the open water. Within seconds, Better Days was enjoying a full beam-reach at nearly five knots.
according to one source on newtonian mechanics - On a beam reach, (the wind coming directly at the side of the boat) there is less water pressure on the leeward side (i.e., the side opposite the wind), and the boat is able to slice through the water with less resistance...actual sailing angles vary, but the higher speed on a reach is due to wind lifting the boat in the direction of its travel rather than pulling it sideways against its direction of travel, as in a close haul.
It was not long before the jib had Better Days outrunning the engine, so Cpt' Joe shut it down and allowed the wind to bring us home. In all instances but a few, we were making better than four knots, or about five miles per hour. (A nautical mile is equivalent to 1.15 statute miles.)
Cpt' Joe set five waypoints on the GPS. Points at which we would adjust our heading to keep the boat within the deepest channels. Even though she is a shallow draft boat (less than four feet), it would have been an unhappy event to run her aground on shake-down.
Waypoint 3, without doubt, was the most interesting of all along our twelve-mile trip. The way it went in my memory was like this: it was just after our turn at Neptune Massif (sorry, couldn't resist the Hunt For Red October reference), i.e., waypoint 3 when Cpt' Joe felt compelled to "try the mainsail" to see how she runs on a beam reach." So, then, as Captain Beefheart once put it, "She stuck out her tongue, and the fun begun."
Cpt' Joe removed the sail cover and readied the mainsail for hoisting. It wasn't until later that I learned (realized) that what appeared to be the contemplation on Cpt' Joes' face was, in fact, concern about catching the wind from our beam with the occasional gusts she'd been taking in the jib.
Still, his curiosity and desire to let her fly got the best of him, as they say, and compelled him to cautiously set the boom, calculating mentally the angle at which the wind may see the sail; he then struggled and fought with a cantankerous mast that did not want to cooperate. This caused his concern to deepen significantly. "What," he thought, "will happen if I can't get the damned thing to come back down?" A thought he voiced only after he fully deployed the sail. Not that it mattered! I was excited to see how she would run with it regardless.
Cpt' Joe pulled hard on the main sheet but, the sail merely inched itself up the mast, but after a bit of raising and lowering and jostling, it finally stopped about a foot from the top and immediately filled with wind. Better Days, in turn, lept to more than six knots, and we began seeing white water beneath the prow as she cut through the light chop.
To be heard over the rush of wind and water, Cpt' Joe shouted toward me, "I hope that sail isn't jammed up there! If we can't drop it, we're in a heap of trouble!" Making me grin all the more!
Now, pushing more than seven knots we entered an area of the waterway that was littered with crab pots. To hit one of these buoys meant entangling the propeller and-or the rudder in the line attaching the buoy to the pot below.
So as I stayed at the helm, not only had I to keep the wind on her beam but to steer her around the numerous and oddly scattered pot markers (buoys) that bounced merrily on the surface.
We quickly neared waypoint four and still avoided yet another of the pesky buoys when a stiff wind gust caught and filled both sails with full force. Not only did the speed immediately increase, but Better Days laid over hard to starboard before either of us could yell, "Heel to starboard!"
Running with the gunnel only a few inches from the water's surface, the thrill of it hit me with the intensity of flying an airplane, and I let out a loud "YEE HAW!" that the bursting wind blew right back into my face. But, when Cpt' Joe looked back at me, instead of enjoying the sudden feeling of power and motion, the look on his face was more or less, "Oh Shit!" I thought for sure that he knew something I did not.
HARD TO LARBOARD!
Seeing the panicked look on Cpt' Joe's face, I realized that things were amiss. So my untrained sailing mind reacted and I spun the helm hard to port to dump the wind from the sails and bring her into a close reach. Although he realized that he could have simply reefed the sail, still, Cpt' Joe was uncertain whether or not the sail would even move and the idea of having to bring it into port with the sail jammed fully open was a very uncomfortable thought.
But, move it did, and once the mainsail was again down and tied off, we continued on course with the jib still fully deployed and running between four and six knots depending on gusts. It was about this time that our wives phoned us and asked if we sank or left for the Bahamas.
Twelve miles is not a long trip, and although the wind and the day were both perfect for it, our experience with the newly refitted boat was not all that perfect, and at one point, we had to tack to get into deeper water which added some minutes to our voyage. Still, we were able to tell them that we were close and they should catch sight of us soon.
It wasn't long after we passed waypoint five that the marina was within view, and the girls, standing on the dock, could see the jib in the distance. A hundred yards or so later, Cpt' Joe ordered the jib brought in and returned to motoring. The motor is vital to a safe docking. It's difficult to imagine how anyone could safely 'sail' into a slip.
Several larger vessels were tied to mooring balls along the channel, and sailing in close to them, Cpt' Joe easily avoided the shallows. As we were passing close by those moorings, we could see the girls in the distance waving at us. We waved back.
Steering the boat steadily into the canal between the two piers and up to his slip, he placed the motor into neutral, allowing Better Days to drift past the slip slightly. He then put the engine into reverse to slow and stop her at the correct angle, from which he reversed the engine and expertly backed her into the slip where she was tied and rested without a single misadventure.
And there she sits where she awaits a bit more esthetic touchup and a lot more love. Both Cpt's Joe and Michele look forward to many a sea-going adventure before they kick off their deck shoes and trade handling the sheets and lines and hoisting and lowering the sails for the pleasure of watching sails in the distance. Still, one of the most important aspects of sailing is this: