Ainsley’s excellent adventure

Ainsley deep in the process of rebuilding a Town Class sloop, which found its way to us through an old friend. Photo by David Buckman

Fixing up old boats is a family tradition. Back in the day, various seafaring relatives spent a good deal of time keeping their vessels afloat, while more recently my father and I bought beaters of sloops for next to nothing, fixed them up and pursued a life of modest adventure. Now, daughter Ainsley continues the custom, which seems as much a necessity as ever, for sailing is still among the most organic, expansive and rewarding of pursuits.

The object of her attention – well, our attention, really, for I am helping – is a 1960-something, Town Class sloop. The fiberglass 16-footer was a gift of fellow Birch Islander (on Lake Winnipesaukee), Cleve Smith, who restored her in the 1980s, but was putting ashore for a while and wanted Zephyr cared for.

Like any boat more than a half-century-old, she needed of a lot of work. While the concept of restoring her appealed to Ainsley, the actual labor proved somewhat daunting as we began the process by removing everything removable from the hull, including the cockpit seats, coaming, rub rails, trim, hardware, mast, boom, rigging, rudder and countless other parts and pieces.

Then we discovered that the transom’s wooden core had an area of rot the size of a pepperoni pizza. Ains was discouraged. The project seemed more a matter of destruction than construction. We could have chiseled out the rot, patched it and slathered on epoxy, but it would surely come back to haunt us. The reality that doing the right thing is often the hard thing sank in as we ripped out the old core and laminated in a new one with epoxy and fiberglass.

The fledgling skipper had barely time to digest that task when we pulled the steel centerboard and found that a half-century of rust had eaten fist-sized bites out of it and would need replacing. A Residential Nurse, used to tough diagnoses, she worried what we’d find next.

A few days of sniffing about local metal shops yielded a piece of stainless steel from which a new foil could be cut. The dust had barely settled on that crisis when we discovered that the fiberglass cloth covering the rudder was coming off, and we were going to have to buy 479,000 assorted screws, bolts, washers, and other hard-to-find bits and bobs.

And there was the physical dimension of it. On her knees with an orbital sander sending clouds of dust billowing, it was a matter of sanding and patching, once, twice, three times – more. Every surface needed attention. It proved a gritty business and took Ainsley a while to digest the volume of time such tasks demand, and that there was no sense in trying to rush the project along.

A mother superior, and no stranger to hard work, there were moments when she stood back, felt good about the quality of her work and the possibilities. There’s much yet to be done and we’re budgeting our time so we don’t suffer from project burnout. Coming to the task wanting to make good things happen and taking it slow is the best of environments. When the sails are raised this spring, there will be a particular pleasure to the moment the sloop pays off to a breeze, Ainsley takes the helm and navigates her way into an interesting new chapter of life.

David Buckman sails an International Folkboat out of Round Pond, Maine and has cruised from the Chesapeake to Newfoundland. His book, “Bucking the Tide,” is available, for $19, including shipping. Send your mailing address to Pay only after receiving the book. In sailors we trust.

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