Restore a Boat, or Send it to the Wood Chipper?

WelcomeIn April of 2017, my Dad asked me to go look at a sailboat in Milwaukee that was for sale.  It was a wreck, from observation, maybe restoreable, maybe better off going to the wood chipper.  The structural pieces were there, but the list of things that needed work was so long after looking it over for an hour, that I wrote him an email explaining all I saw and told him not to buy it.  I liken it to buying a 1976 Chevy Impala that was driven to work daily, with the minimum amount of mechanical work done to keep it running for the past 42 years.

He hired a professional Surveyor to review this boat, a 1976 Ericson 35 (35-footer), the Surveyor found a lot more wrong with the boat in the hours she spent on it, than the hour, or so, I spent on it.  Then he bought it, for less than $10,000.  He informed me he bought it by asking me to help move it from Milwaukee, by water, to Waukegan to an extremely good shipyard that can re-fit any boat.  He assigned the shipyard to start working on the heavy duty items, while on my weekends I came to work on the long list of things that needed attention.

The goal was to get it to the starting line of the 2017 Chicago Mackinac Race.  And our personal race was on to restore this wreck with one month to go.

Putting everything I had into it, and each time doing any project, I would find 5 more things that weren’t right.  The “To Do” or “Work List” just kept getting longer and longer.  One week before the Chicago Mackinac Race, I sat down to assess where things were.  I came to the conclusion that this boat would not be ready for the starting line, had so much wrong with it, that my safety was more important.

I couldn’t tell my 89-year old Dad this in person or by phone, and wrote him an email resigning from his crew for the Race.  The next morning he informed the entire crew that he was withdrawing this boat from the Race.  They all scattered to find positions on other boats, successfully.  Except my Dad, he was offered a position on three boats and declined. He pretty much stopped talking to me for the rest of that week.

It would have been his 64th Race (the record holder has done 65 Chicago Mackinac Races) and he drove up to the Island to watch the fleet finish.  Only to find that the weather in the race was deplorable: cold, wet, overcast, and windy coming out of the North.  Not exactly the picturesque weather that was common for the race – wind from the back, shorts and t-shirts, and relatively dry.  When I saw him at the Island, he got up from his chair and put out his hand and thanked me for having missed this race.  From the reports he heard, it was the worst race to ever miss.

Back in Chicago, we returned to the boat and continued to work the weekends and holidays.  In the fall we decided it was good enough to put her in her first test around the race track.

It was windy, out of the Northeast (big seas), and wet. The experience was deplorable, not the weather mind you, it was how the boat responded.  Where do I begin?  The boat was slow for what it should have been, the bow of the boat was swinging from side to side non-stop about 40-degrees while going upwind, it was hard hanging on and then we had water coming up over the floor below decks.  Wait, I haven’t even started to describe it yet!

The bilge pumps (two) stopped working.  All of the cushion backs belowdecks had nothing them holding them in place so they were flying around.  The six cabinet doors and head door latches don’t hold so they are swinging back and forth. The latch that is to hold the stove in place doesn’t hold and it is swinging, only the oven door latch doesn’t hold either and it has flopped down making the entire stove like a swinging guillotine.

Meanwhile back on deck, we round the first mark and put up the spinnaker.  The bow of the boat is now swinging left and right 60-degrees quickly and hard.  It is difficult just to hang on!  The boat is wiping out regularly (basically sailing sideways heeled far over), we did a few “death rolls” where the boat jibed uncontrollably with the boom zinging fast over your head from side to side.  The water keeps getting deeper belowdecks. We did finish the race, surprisingly not in last place and learned a lot about what is not working, and the list just got a lot longer.

Once back at shore, I spent the remainder of the day rebuilding one bilge pump and replacing the other, then cleaning up the water and starting to dry everything out.

This begins to explain my absence from blogging the past year as this boat took over my life, my weekends, holidays, evenings in the garage rebuilding, restoring and building things for installation.  My wife has been a “Boat Widow” as I trudge back and forth with a trunk full of tools and parts.  In the first year, I put 60 days of my life into restoring it.  As I keep saying, the next owner of this boat is really going to enjoy it.

In the rest of this series, I will describe month-by-month the projects that were tackled and what occurred when we got to the 2018 Chicago Mackinac Race and then again month-by-month since as the restoration continues.

This project ain’t for the faint of heart…………………..

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