What ever happened to Roger? – Part II

Guest perspective/Roger Long

As related in the first part of this story [Midwinter, 2018], I fell in love with cruising narrow waterways and a woman with a delicate stomach. So, we began looking for a powerboat. We settled on a trawler that looked sort of like it was designed by children’s author Sandra Boynton. The Krogen Manatee 36’ was old and worn, but, in some hallucinatory haze, it seemed to possess the patina of an old English pub.

Surveyors will find every wire terminal that doesn’t meet ABYC standards, but then miss the elephant in the room. Sure enough, I discovered the broken engine mount after our surveyor left. I should have been asking myself how that mount got broken, and how it might relate to the cracks around the rudder post, but, once you’re in love with a boat, important portions of your brain just shut down.

There was also floor rot where condensation from the air-conditioning unit had soaked the plywood and beams under the teak. I was shaking my head to give the owner some warning when he broke in and said, “I know a fellow who works on boats and isn’t expensive. Why don’t we have him come over?” I gave the wrong answer and his repair estimate was deducted from the purchase price, we closed on the boat, and returned home to enjoy fall foliage season in the Hudson River valley.

The young fellow began by excavating the stress cracks around the rudder. Before he got down to sound fiberglass, water started coming in. The boat would have to be hauled to complete the work. I knew from the inspection haul-out and local reports that we absolutely did not want to be hauled in the town’s only boatyard. However, a tow to the nearest alternative shipyard would cost $6,000. I gulped and arranged for the haul-out.

Two days later, the yard owner called to ask if I knew that the bronze rudder skeg was bent. Both the surveyor and I had missed it. He sent me a picture, and everything became clear. The bend could only have been produced by the boat dragging anchor backwards into sand or mud. The stress around the rudder port and the broken engine mount now all made sense.

The haul-out agreement was that the yard got to do everything outside the boat, but our contractor could continue to do the work inside. The yard removed the skeg, sent it off to be straightened, and re-installed it on the boat. The lower rudder bearing at the end of the skeg was now a couple inches from where it had been. I sent an email, and repeated on the phone to the young fellow, that he had to make sure that the rebuilt rudder port pointed the rudder shaft to the right place. He said something like, “I wasn’t born yesterday, and I’ve been doing this a long time.”

As we were discussing the completed rudder work on the phone, I asked if he’d verified the alignment of the rudder stock and he said, “No, it felt nice and solid so I didn’t think I needed to.” My heart sank. Sure enough, a day later, the yard called and said that the rudder stock missed the bearing by 1 1/2”.

At this point, all communication stopped. Neither the yard, nor our contractor, would answer email, text or phone calls. I asked the seller if he would go around and inquire. He spoke to both and told us that they were annoyed by my emails and attempts to manage the project because, “That’s not the way things are done down here.” The silence stretched into 10 days, and there was nothing for it but to get in the car and drive down to knock on doors. We arrived at the yard and I went over and confirmed that, yes, our $2,000 fiberglass job missed the mark by 1 1/2”.

We met with the young fellow the next morning. He agreed that he’d screwed up, and offered to do additional repair work for free. Next, we went over and met with the yard owner. The owner is one of those eccentric genius wild men. He said that nobody would ever notice if the skeg wasn’t on perfectly straight, so why didn’t we just rebuild its attachment to the keel so everything lined up? I agreed, and we went to work. We bonded in the way that working together sometimes allows, and, in an educational tour de force of fiberglass work, the skeg was aligned with the rudder stock by nightfall.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what went on, but it would be the fattest issue of Points East ever to hit the stands if I told the half of it. We returned home and work proceeded. (Did I mention the Travelift driving around with a hose stuck in an open plastic jerry can of gas on the frame to supply the engine?).

Launch day came. The yard had ignored our repeated requests for an estimate or a progress bill. Locals told us that the owner would hit us with an enormous and unreasonable bill and then give us the choice of launching or fighting it out in court. Surprisingly, he launched the boat without presenting a bill, and then an emergency arose in the form of a boat coming in with a bent propeller. The owner went to work beating on it with a sledgehammer, occasionally checking his work with a tape measure. While all this was going on we were tied to the dock, watching the sun set, and waiting to talk about our bill. The prop banging went on and on, and finally the yard worker assigned to help us move the boat to another marina said, “Why don’t we just leave?” We did.

Since we had to spend another couple weeks in a nearby marina, I was nervous about having appeared to leave without paying. I did some figuring, talked to a couple knowledgeable people and the yard worker, and estimated what I thought the work should have cost. I wrote a check for a bit over half that amount and put it in the yard owner’s mailbox the next morning with a note saying we’d settle up when provided with a bill. We never heard from him again. The check cleared in January of the following year.

We finally left for Beaufort, S.C., where we left the boat to return home for the holidays. I had slipped and fallen in a hatch, so the first order of business was a visit to the doctor. He told me that my days of lying on my back in strange positions doing stressful things with my arm were over. That meant that a lot of the other heavy work the boat needed was not going to be done by me. We took a look at the finances, decided our boating days were over, listed the boat, and drove down to Beaufort to move all our stuff off and bring it home.

Not a single inquiry went past the “What kind of air conditioning?” question. The broker told us that we’d never sell a powerboat without it in that climate, and recommended moving her north. So, we loaded everything in a rental car and returned to Beaufort. We greatly enjoyed the cruise north, the high point of which was taking the boat up the inland route of New Jersey, which is a real adventure, even for a boat of modest draft. We left the boat at Beaton’s Boatyard in Brick – as lovely an old-time boatyard as you could ever find. Lo and behold, someone who just had to have a Manatee came along and bought her.

My arm was doing much better than I was told to expect. The work I’d done on the cruise north, and summer gardening, proved that the doctor was overly conservative. I came down with Lyme disease and was kind of moping around. Patsy finally said, “We’ve got to get another boat.” I wasn’t convinced, but agreed to start looking. A couple days later she said, “You know, the spring is back in your step.”

We did end up buying another boat – a Gulfstar 43 twin-screw trawler from the sweet water and short seasons of Lake St. Clair (located between Michigan and Ontario). She was solid as a rock, drier and fresher inside than I ever thought a boat could be, and half the price. I’m writing this aboard her now after cruising from Michigan to Florida, back north, and then a second snowbird cruise to the west coast of Florida.

But all that cruising has been far afield from this magazine’s coverage area. If we do a New England cruise in her, I’ll be back.

Roger Long, formerly a designer of commercial vessels, now divides his time between summers in upstate New York and snowbirding on the 43-foot Gulfstar trawler Gypsy Star. According to Long, the above story is a cautionary tale “of how I was shocked to discover that the advice I’ve given about buying and re-fitting boats applies to me as well.”