May 15, 2008


When we first bought the boat, we were kinda afraid of her. She was all shiny and new and perfectly tuned, and we were anxious about screwing anything up.

(Here she is, practically just out of the box.
We haven't even rigged the bimini.
That's me in the cockpit.)

Gradually, over the years, the well-tuned shiny newness became less daunting as she became, well, less tuned, shiny and new. The inevitable pings and dings began to pervade -- nothing degenerates faster than a boat in water -- and we were forced, as good boat owners are, to figure out how to keep her well-maintained and sparkly.

Paradoxically, there's a plethora and a dearth of help available on all things related to boat maintenance. A plethora in that boating stores are filled with books and fliers and products and helpful sales staff brimming with advice. A dearth in that, once armed with all those books, fliers, products and advice, you are out there alone in the boat yard, facing some monumental task that you're certain is the only thing standing between a successful sail and a watery death.

The teak is a good example. I combed through stores, picked through the Web, asked other boaters, and still couldn't really get my arms around what felt like a solid teak maintenance program. After 5 years of just doing the best I could based on evaluating my results, I stumbled onto a teak seminar at Crowley's annual Yachtapalooza, a one day celebration in late March that is part shameless promotion and part gathering of winter-crushed sailors desperate for a water fix. It's also one of your first brat-gorging opportunities of the season.

I found myself deep within a Crowley's boat barn, standing at a large workbench with about 30 other similarly teak-perplexed boaters and one savior by the name of Jayne Parker, who has been teak-wrangling since she was knee-high to a gunwale.

She took us through step-by-step hands-on demonstrations, and I now feel I can approach my teak with something like assurance and authority. I see where I made mistakes in the past, and why my teak may never be perfect. But I also see what I've done right (mostly just continuing to seek answers), and when my teak is cleaned, sanded and oiled and mounted back on my boat, I can feel a certain pride in accomplishment. Especially when the wood grain doesn't snag my ass while I've got it parked on the seat.

Learning to think of Smitten as a floating experimental classroom has been a liberating process. Accepting that we're gonna screw things up frees us to screw things up. Then we figure out how to fix them.

As I see it, we're gonna own two boats in our lives. The snazzy 45 footer that we'll retire on and coastal cruise aboard til we're crusty and gray and have stopped making sense. And Smitty, the learning curve who will make the snazzy lady possible, and who in the meantime will be the young lady providing us with beautiful summer memories.

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