Ainsley’s excellent project (of mine)

There was a certain poetry to sailing the restored Zephyr; the “we” enterprise that became a “me” task. Photo by David Buckman

This is a follow-up and reality check to my mid-winter 2019 column, “Ainsley’s Excellent Project,” about the prospects of rebuilding my daughter’s 1960-something, Town Class sloop, which was intended to be a “we” enterprise, but for a number of perfectly good reasons, turned out more of a “me” task.

That the restoration of an old sailboat is not necessarily a rational thing didn’t come as much of a surprise. My experience in keeping a wreck of an 18-foot, wooden faux-cruiser afloat back in the day became something of an obsession, and to counter that possibility our number one rule for this venture was that it must not interfere with skiing.

Turns out, my cellar workshop/garage is heated and hers isn’t. It didn’t make sense to work in the cold, when I could be snug and warm only a few dozen steps away from my comfy den. Ainsley’s family of five, a career as a cardiac nurse and studying for a nurse practitioner degree kept her very busy compared to my general state of sloth.

I actually enjoyed the first few months of the program. A rude craftsman, there was nonetheless a certain satisfaction to working on the Zephyr, which is not to say that the bloom didn’t wear thin at times, but I was haunted by the fact that if I slowed down it would never get done. Ainsley lent a hand when she could and I picked away at it from three to eight hours a day, missing my usual slower pace of life, being a slacker at heart.

Every system on the 16-foot fiberglass sloop was compromised. Every system. The wooden transom core was sick with rot. It had to be torn out, a new core installed, epoxied and covered with fiberglass. The fiberglass on the rudder was losing its grip and had to be renewed as well.

The steel centerboard was wasted away with fist-sized areas of rust, making for a jagged leading edge. A stainless steel replacement was $450, thank you very much, but I rationalized that it would last practically forever. Three of the seven strands of the centerboard pennant were frayed away, the centerboard bolt almost totally worn through, the spars a mess and the boom tent a leaker.

The mahogany seats, cockpit trim and every other surface were in sad shape. Multiple layers of varnish were severely corrupted. Sanding away the old finish turned the workshop into a dusty desert. The bottom was in rough shape, too, it having been absent anti-fouling paint for more than three decades. The rub rails were trashed, requiring a $120 piece of mahogany, and the process of cutting, scarfing, epoxying, varnishing and attaching them occupied more than a week of work.

It was sanding, sanding and more sanding. For a few hours every day I lived in a state of abject personal filth. Every surface took five coats of finish, with sanding before, sanding after, vacuuming, tack ragging and doing it all again. By the time April arrived I’d also started working on a new cabin sole for the Leight. Working on two boats at the same time should be against the law. Several positive aspects of the project, however, were that I was paying less attention to the news and had to purchase new tools.

By the time she floated off her trailer and into the sweet waters of Lake Winnipesaukee in mid-June we had 700 hours into the now-pretty-smart-looking Zephyr. Raising sail to an easy northwester, the water chuckling along her lapstrakes, we circumnavigated Birch Island, and sailed silently into her berth at the lagoon, not being able to imagine a more profitable application of our energies.

David Buckman sails out of Round Pond, Maine and has cruised as far east as Newfoundland.

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