A Wheel Pain in the A$$

With Christmas and the New Year fast approaching, I would be taking a break from mast construction to spend time with my family on Long Island. Not wanting to completely lose momentum, I brought home my wooden cabin doors, cockpit bench seats and the wheel, all of which had layers of varnish that were peeling like a Irishman after a sunny-summer day.

Armed with my orbital sander and some 80-grit sandpaper, I tore through the neglected layers of varnish on the doors and seats with relative ease. Applying a fresh piece of paper to the sander, I was ready to tackle the wheel. Peering at the myriad rounded edges and small decorative crevices caused a cold sweat to condense on my brow. After 10 minutes of staring at the wheel, I realized I was destined to sand the wheel by hand.

Setting up shop in my parent’s basement, I clamped the wheel to the old workbench, took one last breathe of debris-free air and dug in. Zone focused with ample amounts of elbow grease, I worked the paper back and forth on one of the mast’s handles. When I had exhausted both an entire sheet of paper and my right arm I had managed to…barely scratch the surface. I cursed the previous owner and each of the seemingly hundreds of coats of varnish he slathered onto my cockpit’s centerpiece.

I found myself at a proverbial crossroads. Do I condemn myself to a weekend muttering to myself in my parent’s basement while restoring this wheel or do I pry open my wallet and buy a new one? To be perfectly honest the latter sounded pretty darn good but I ultimately convinced myself (more muttering alone in a basement) that doing so would be a sin in the eyes of purist boat restorers.


I instead spent my money on shares in 3M and dozens of packages of paper and went to work. Thankfully, I would not be left to sand off my fingertips alone as Karen soon joined me this endeavor. Though it was a monotonous and laborious 16-hour undertaking, we eventually had the wheel stripped down to bare teak. Thankfully for all involved underneath all the weathered varnish was a beautiful-original wooden wheel.

My old man would help me varnish the wheel and cockpit doors and when they were finished to a high-polished shine they were like works of art. Admiring the finished product, I couldn’t help but hope that with time, elbow grease, and the occasional tear (rising stock in 3M wouldn’t hurt either) the Karen Marie’s hidden beauty would also appear.

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