The Truth About Boat Restoration

Boat restoration is a game of peaks and valleys. For multiple weeks, Karen and I spent our days sanding and tearing apart our boat’s interior. We worked long hours and inhaled more than our fair share of dust. By the weekends end we didn’t have much to show for our efforts besides aching shoulders and a lingering cough. Not knowing when or even if we’d be able to restore the interior, we were very much in a proverbial valley.

This past weekend, my folks made their annual visit to Newport to help Karen and I make some progress on our lingering projects. The plan was that Karen and my mom would tackle paint and primer while my dad and I would prep the engine, replace a seacock and bilge pump and finally install the cabin’s headliner.

Now, if you’ve been following this blog, you might realize that installing a new headliner is a task that has eluded me on no less than two previous occasions. Failed attempts to cover our cabin with plastic and wood failed to be feasible options (remember those valleys I was talking about?). This time, I wasn’t pulling any punches, I went to and ordered the real thing: a headliner fabric that was actually made for sailboats. Genius, I thought while patting myself on my back as the computer screen flashed: approved. Halfway through the installation process with my folks however, it became clear that the lightweight fabric I purchased would not be able to hide the wrinkles in the warped fiberglass ceiling. It looked like it was going to be three strikes and you’re out for this project.

My mom, who’ll never let me forget this, then suggested adhering my new (thicker) hull liner that I was saving for the sides of the forward berth, to the ceiling. With nothing else to lose, we gave it a shot. Lo and behold the thicker fabric hid the fiberglass blemishes well and after almost a year, I no longer had to worry about slicing my head on a bolt, screw or a stray piece of wood.

Feeling extra confident, my dad and I tackled the engine prep with vengeance. After breezing through a fuel filter and impeller swap, it was time to fire it up. When starting a marine engine on land you have to place the intake hose, which sucks in the water that cools the engine, in a bucket of water. A quick twist of the key and the engine fired right up!

Everything was going smoothly … until … it wasn’t. The engine had consumed the last drop of the water from the bucket and my old man signaled for me to shut off the engine. I pushed the stop button but nothing happened. The only thing that stopped was my heart. Before I could mutter the words “oh $hit” my old man was yelling, “shut it off!” I slammed on the stop button for all I was worth but it was not responding. Knowing that the engine would completely burn up in another minute we cut the fuel line to the engine hoping to stall it out. Time seemed to stop as the engine continued running like a runaway train towards a cliff. I said a quick prayer to the god of diesel engines and slammed the stop button one last time. This time it did stop. As quickly as the Chinese fire drill had started, it was over. I would later learn that the long winter had taken its toll on the simple switch, which had gotten jammed.

A cold sweat still forms at my brow when thinking about how much worse things could have gone.  I remain thankful that a new switch and a fuel line were the only things added to my work order and not replacing the engine.

With that hiccup out of the way, my merry band of helpers and I took to more leisurely and cosmetic chores, like painting the interior. This touch really helped to breathe new life into the once-dreary cabin.

With the weekend’s work finished and the smell of fresh paint wafting through the warm-spring air, I sat on the cabin steps sipping a cold beer and thinking about all the mistakes I made (and there were plenty of them) and the challenges Karen and I faced during the interior restoration. I realize now that it is the valleys that really make you appreciate the peaks.


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