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The Refit


Click for lists of:  work done  and  projects remaining

There is a popular saying among sailors about planning boat projects: Make your best conservative estimate, then double the cost and triple the time. In my experience that is an understatement. 

When I bought the ketch Silverheels she was 29 years old, structurally sound but sparsely equipped and generally neglected by her former owner. Refitting, as in renovating, refurbishing, and substantially renewing her stem to stern and masthead to keelson, turned out to require a good deal more money, time, learning and plain hard work than I had anticipated in spite of my years of experience messing around with boats. And yet I can honestly say I wound up enjoying the process immensely and I am gratified by the results.

I began working on Silverheels in December of 2006, while she was on the hard in Indiantown Marina, before I even owned her, fixing little problems as I found them during my personal, week-long survey of the boat.  Of course, the work kicked into high gear as soon as the purchase was completed a few days after Christmas and it has not stopped since. 

By the time we arrived at Green Cove Springs Marina (www.GCSmarina.com) in late January and got to work in earnest on the refit, I had a pretty extensive list of what I intended to do. At that time I was still clinging to the illusion that I'd get most of it done in the next 4 months so that I could spend the summer cruising. I wasn't even remotely close to grasping the reality of it yet.

A handful of hired professionals helped me in the early stages. The local Yanmar dealer installed a brand new diesel engine. An old sailing buddy, Captain Ray Jason, did virtually all of the new paint work and a long list of other jobs large and small. Jerry Evans, a master craftsman with fiberglass, sealed up the many holes I opened in Silverheels' bottom during my campaign to reduce the number of thru-hull fittings, plus a couple of other jobs well done. Canvas workers made sail covers, awnings, bimini top and dodger; a few other craftsmen contributed their skills.

Aside from those opening salvos, I did virtually everything else myself. It was voluminous, but I don't mean it to sound onerous. On the contrary, I soon grew to enjoy the work most days, really enjoy it. It was and continues to be endlessly challenging and wonderfully gratifying. I'd wake up excited every morning, anxious to get back to it. This joyful mind set was largely the result of a practice I privately dubbed Zen and the Art of Boat Renovation. Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual teacher from whom I'm still learning these techniques and a good deal more, calls it presence. The trick was to keep my consciousness, my attention, focused entirely on whatever I was doing at that moment. This practice not only brought joy - en-joy-ment - to the job at hand and the boat renovation in general, but to my life as a whole. It was never about "getting the boat done." It was all about the doing.

For those of you interested in details, click these links for partial lists of (1) the work done as of February 01, 2017 and (2) things to do. These mostly mention the more significant improvements, but some ordinary maintenance is also listed. In between I've done hundreds of smaller jobs that I didn't bother to list. The never-ending, routine maintenance chores common to all boats are largely omitted. What's left gives some small indication of the scope of the refit, but if you have never had the pleasure of doing this kind of work you can scarcely imagine how deceptive are simple phrases like "re-plumb and re-wire bilge pump" or "icebox compartment insulation upgrade." In that sense these lists are brief to the point of misleading. Every job on a boat takes longer than you ever dreamed possible, and each one begets 5 more that you never anticipated. The good news is, Silverheels' "done" list eventually grew much longer than the "to-do" list. Silverheels is sound and seaworthy now and there is ample time to simply enjoy her. 


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