Anything in the shape of a boat may be made watertight, no
matter how leaky she may be, if treated with careful ingenuity. I would
be the last man to suggest patching and puttying up a ramshackle craft
whose frames and planking are rotten. Supposing, however, that the hull
is fairly sound, but through exposure to the hot sun her planks are
cracked in sundry places, and that in fact she leaks like a sieve,
there is no reason why she should be condemned. There is a lot of good
fun to be got out of a craft of this kind, if the proper repairs are
made. If put in the hands of a professional boatbuilder the cost would
be very high, even if he could be induced to undertake the work. Here,
then, is where a handy man or boy has a capital opportunity to try his
hand as a craftsman. I repaired an old 18-foot boat in my younger days,
when money was scarce and I had the alternative of giving up my pet
diversion of sailing or making the ancient bucket tight.
This is how I went about it.
The craft in question was hauled out on the shore above
high-water mark. She had been abandoned by her rightful owner, who had
moved inland and left her to the tender mercies of the sun in summer
and the snow in winter. For sixteen months she lay on the beach
neglected. Every day I cast covetous eyes on her. I will make a clean
breast of it now in my old age and confess that I had contemplated
stealing her. That sin was, however, spared me, as I found her owner's
address and wrote, asking if he would sell her. He replied that he
would give her to me and welcome, and thus made me the happiest youth
in the land.
The boat was originally a first-class little lapstreaker
of good model, built of teak throughout and copper-fastened; but there
were many cracks in her planks and most of her fastenings were loose,
and in a general way she might he described as "nail sick" all over.
With the help of a couple of chums I placed her on chocks and shored
her up on an even keel, supporting her well, so that she should not
suffer from any unequal strain when I filled her later on with water.
She was very dirty inside, and I remember it took me the greater part
of a day to thoroughly clean her with soap, hot water and a scrubbing
brush. Then I put the plug in and started to fill her up with water.
Although I had plenty of help from the village boys, who were never so
joyous as when pottering about a boat, it took a long time to fill her,
for the water poured out of her like the streams from a shower-bath.
But her dry and thirsty planks soon began to swell a little and the
leaks to diminish. I kept her as full of water as possible for two or
three days, marking with chalk every leak that appeared. I may remark
that the chocks on which her keel was raised were high enough for me to
crawl completely under her bottom and get at every part of her. Her
hull, which originally had been varnished to show the grain of the
natural wood, was pretty well checkered with chalk-marks by the time I
had finished. Then I let the water drain out of her, and waited until
she was dried thoroughly by wind and sun.
Meanwhile I bought a lot of copper nails of the requisite
length and rooves to match, with the use of which I had become
thoroughly familiar from watching the men in the boat-shop hard by.
Then I began operations, aided by an apprentice from the
boat-builder's establishment whom I induced, by the proffer of pocket
money, to turn out of his bed at dawn and lend me a hand till the clang
of the bell summoned him to his daily toil. We replaced all the rivets
that had worked very loose with new one of a larger size, and drove an
additional nail between every two originally driven. The old nails,
which were only a little slack, I hardened with a few taps of the
hammer from the inside, while Toby, the aforementioned apprentice,
"held on" against the heads of the nails with another hammer on the
outside. This was slow and tedious work, but it paid in the long run,
for it made the boat almost as good as new, her frames, as I have
already mentioned, being in capital condition.
My next operation was to borrow a pitch-kettle from the
boat shop and to put in it a pound of pitch and a gallon of North
Carolina tar. Kindling a fire under it I let it boil until the pitch
had melted, stirring it constantly. This mixture I applied boiling hot
to the inside of the boat with a paintbrush, filling every crevice and
ledge up to the level of the underside of the thwarts. It was
astonishing what a quantity of this composition the planks absorbed. I
put only half a ladleful of the tar into my paint-pot at a time, so
that it should not stand long enough to cool, replenishing every few
minutes from the boiling kettle. Tar when at the boiling point is
comparatively thin, and has superior penetrative qualities, so it can
be worked with the point of the brush into every crevice, no matter how
minute. When it hardens it forms a watertight seam which possesses,
from the nature of its ingredients, a certain amount of elasticity.
There were a number of sun-cracks in the planking, which I
filled with fish glue, run in hot from the outside. This composition
dries very hard and does not crack. My next task was to sandpaper the
outside, smoothing the very rough places with pumice-stone after
wetting them well. I ached all over by the time this process was
completed but I got her as smooth as glass. Then I gave her outside a
couple of good coats of raw linseed oil applied on a hot day. As a
finish, not caring to waste money on varnish, I gave her a final coat
of boiled linseed oil, in which a generous lump of rosin had been
melted. This is the mixture used from time immemorial by the Dutch on
the bottoms and topsides of their galliots, and it wears well and looks
well, resisting the action of both fresh and salt water. I may say that
this method of making my boat watertight was economical and successful.
The example may be followed with similar results by anybody who owns a
leaky lapstreak craft.
Another method, as practiced on a St. Lawrence skiff that
was badly checked and rotten in places, is thus described by a veteran
boatman who made the successful experiment :
"The boat was of lapstreak construction, and many
of the seams had opened. I went entirely over the boat, first dosing
the seams as much as possible by drawing together with clout-nails.
Next, where there were cracks through the 3/16-inch planking, I cleaned
the painted surface, and where the paint had blistered I removed all of
it by scraping. When the surface was in proper condition I cut a strip
of eight-ounce duck of a length and width to cover the crack (generally
3/4 inch was wide enough) and smeared one side, by means of a stick,
with liquid glue. The canvas was applied to the crack and pressed down,
and the glue stick drawn over the raveled ends from the center outward,
to make them adhere closely to the boat. Then the canvas and
surrounding wood were brushed over with enamel paint. The painting must
be done before the glue sets, as otherwise the canvas is apt to warp.
Open cracks 1/8 inch wide were covered in this manner, and also cracks
at the butts of the strakes. After all of the cracks were treated I
gave the boat two good coats of paint over all, and the result was a
comparatively smooth surface, and one that was absolutely watertight."
The veteran very truly adds that an old boat repaired in
this way will not stand any rough usage, and the patches are not proof
against being dragged over rocks, or even a sand beach; but by a little
labor a boat that is practically worthless may be so made serviceable
for an indefinite time.
By either of the methods mentioned above a lapstreak boat
may be made tight as a bottle. A carvel-built craft that is, one with
the planks flush, edge and edge, and the seams between caulked and
payed may generally be made tight by recaulking her with threads of
cotton prepared for that purpose and sold by ship-chandlers, driving
the cotton well home with iron and mallet, and afterward puttying up
the seams. Care should be taken, however, not to put the cotton in too
tight, or drive it right through the seam. Serious damage has often
been done to a boat in the way of increasing her leakiness by too hard
caulking. Or the boat's hull may be completely covered with light duck
nailed on with copper tacks, and afterward well painted. This, however,
is rather difficult for a greenhorn to accomplish so as to make a neat
fit of it; but I have seen several boats repaired and renovated in this
manner by young men gifted with ingenuity, and a great deal of
patience. I may say that the result, if the work is well done, is worth
the pains thereon expended.
Rowboats, sailboats, and launches propelled by any kind of
power may have their hulls treated after one of these fashions, with
quite satisfactory results.
If the owner does not think he is sufficiently handy to
undertake the stopping of leaks be can, at any rate, paint and varnish
his craft. To paint a boat outside or inside a perfectly smooth surface
is necessary, and to obtain this all rough spots should be smoothed
with pumice-stone and sandpaper. Enamel paint should be used above the
waterline, and the bottom may be painted with any one of the excellent
compositions now in the market, which prevent grass and barnacles from
flourishing too luxuriantly on the underbodies of boats.
The interior of the boat, after being thoroughly washed
and scrubbed, should also have a coat or even two coats of enamel
paint, as this composition is lasting and wears three times as long as
the ordinary preparation of white lead, oil, turpentine, and pigment.
One thing, however, is worth remembering. Never use washing soda or
boiling water to dean wood covered with enamel paint. Rub it with a
sponge or flannel cloth dipped in lukewarm water and a little soap. For
protecting and beautifying natural wood above deck or below, use a good
brand of spar varnish. This will resist the damp, salt air of the
ocean, or the more penetrating moisture of freshwater lakes and rivers,
far better than the higher grade of varnish used for the indoor
decoration of dwelling houses, which, when it gets damp, acquires a
plum-like bloom on its surface by no means beautiful.
Mr. W. Baden Powell, than whom there is no better
authority, says very truly, that there is no more dangerous time in
their lives for the spars of canoes than when stowed away in a
boathouse roof for the damp winter's rest. Bamboo spars are more liable
to suffer than pine, or solid spruce, but each and all are in danger of
splitting or kinking, especially so in the case of built spars, if
glued up, instead of screw built. With such convenient lengths as are
found in canoe spars, there is no excuse for leaving them in damp
boathouses, as they can be stacked in a room corner, on end, and the
sails and rigging in drawers or boxes. In this way each item of rigging
can be overhauled, mended, improved, and set in order for the coming
year, just as convenient spare time offers.
About the middle of March in these latitudes we generally
are blessed with ideal sailing breezes, a trifle blustering and
boisterous, perhaps, when the merry music of the stiff nor'wester pipes
through the rigging, but nevertheless vastly enjoyable to the ardent
amateur, who grasps the tiller of his stanch shippie and fearlessly
luffs up to the strident puffs, knowing that he has a stout hull
beneath him, and that sails and gear are of trusty strength.
It is all very well for the steam yachtsmen and suchlike
marine Sybarites to wait for the hot days of July to arrive before
ordering their floating palaces to go into commission, but he who
depends upon sails can ill afford to allow all the glorious winds of
the fresh and fragrant springtime to blow themselves to waste in such
reckless, feckless fashion. There may be a chilly sting or bite in the
spray that breaks on the weather bow in a silver shower and smites the
helmsman mercilessly in the face, but there is invigorating ozone in
wind and water, and a glow of triumph after a successful battle with
breeze and billow.
It is prudent, too, to fit out early and lay up late, for
life, alas ! is brief, and it behooves us, my boating brethren, to
enjoy as many brave sailing days as possible ere we make our final
voyage across the Styx, with grim Charon, the ferryman, taking his
perennial trick at the tiller, while his pets, the frogs, plash and
play and croak in his muddy wake.
If the yacht is a small one -- a knockabout or a 30-footer
-- and she has wintered afloat, the first thing is to haul her out and
prepare to clean her hull of barnacles and grass, of which a goodly
crop is sure to have grown on her below the waterline. Start in with
scrubbing brushes, sand and canvas and use plenty of elbow grease until
she is thoroughly cleaned and all rough places smoothed with pumice
stone. Use plenty of fresh water, with a flannel cloth as a final
application to her hull. Then leave her until she is thoroughly dry.
Carefully examine her seams for leaks, caulking where necessary.
When your boat is out of water open her wide to the fresh
air. Rig up a windsail, and let the healthful breezes circulate through
her interior. If she has hatches or skylights, lift them off; if
portholes, unscrew them and give the wind a chance to blow all close
impurities away. Rig the pump and relieve her of all malodorous bilge
water, the most nauseating and offensive evil that is met with by
mariners. Take up the cabin flooring. If the ballast consists of pig
iron, rout it out, clean off the rust, and before replacing give it a
good coat of coal tar, applied hot. Clean the limbers and flush them
with plenty of water, using a bristly broom to remove the dirt. Splash
the water about lavishly, and then pump it out dry. If there happens to
he a cooking stove below, as there generally is in a vessel of any
size, light a roaring fire and do your best to kill all fungoid germs
or spores that may have gathered in damp places during the winter.
Examine the ceiling for leaks.
Should, through imprudent oversight, any bedding, matting,
carpet, or clothing, have been left in the boat since last season, take
them out and have them cleansed and dried. If mold and mildew have
attacked them, destroy without compunction, and resolve to take better
care next time.
After thoroughly cleansing the craft inside from the eyes
of her to right aft with soap and hot water, you can paint her cabin,
if you deem she needs it, using enamel paint if you are willing to go
to a little extra expense, or, at any rate, if not, using a generous
quantity of spar varnish with the oil and dryers you mix your white
lead with. This dries good and hard and is easily cleansed with warm
water, soap and a sponge, and is far more durable and satisfactory than
paint mixed in the ordinary manner. Two coats should be given.
The next process is to clean the deck of the coat of
varnish with which it was doubtless covered when the yacht was prepared
for the winter. To accomplish this in the most efficacious manner,
procure from a ship chandler a sufficient quantity of one of the many
preparations of caustic soda, with which the market is well equipped.
Dissolve it in an iron bucket in hot water., mixing it strong enough to
act as a powerful detergent. These preparations vary in power, so it
will be well to experiment on a section of the deck with a sample and
then add more soda or more water as required.
After sundown apply plentifully to the deck with a mop,
rubbing the mixture well into the planks. Next morning before sunrise
arm yourself with a good hard deck-scrubber, and set to work in
earnest, using plenty of hot water and scrubbing the deck planks (fore
and aft, mind you, always, and never athwartship) until every particle
of the old varnish and every speck and stain is removed. If the
detergent is allowed to remain on the deck while the sun is shining, it
is bound to eat into the planks and burn them.
The next operation is the painting of the boat inside and
out. There are many excellent compositions for coating the bull below
the waterline, but if you do not care to experiment with them, use the
recipe given in the chapter on "Useful Hints and Recipes." Choose a
clear, dry day and apply the paint. For above the waterline use pure
white lead of the best quality reduced to the proper consistency with
equal parts of raw and boiled linseed oil and copal varnish. Add a dash
of dryers and a few drops of blue paint, strain and apply.
Personally, I prefer to varnish the deck of a small craft,
though I am quite willing to acknowledge the superior beauty of a
spotless deck white as a hound's tooth. The friends of a yachtsman
often wear boots with ugly nails in them, both on soles and heels, and
these are apt to play havoc with the spick and span appearance of a
deck innocent of varnish. After cleaning the decks thoroughly let them
dry well. Wait for a sunny morning and a northwesterly wind, when the
air is comparatively free from moisture. Get your can of spar varnish
out, and after sweeping the decks and dusting them thoroughly with a
feather-duster, apply with a regular varnish brush of convenient size.
It is advisable to pour out the varnish into a shallow jar, a marmalade
pot for instance, in small quantities as required, as varnish loses its
virtue rapidly by exposure to sun and air. It is expedient, therefore,
that the varnish can, or bottle, should never be left uncorked. The
varnishing process should not be undertaken until the last thing, after
the boat has been cleaned and painted inside and out, spars and blocks
scraped and polished, standing rigging set up, running rigging rove and
sails bent. Two thin coats of varnish will be ample for the decks and
spars, as well as all the hardwood fittings and trimmings of the yacht
inside and out.
Should the varnish be too thick to flow freely from the
brush, don't thin it with oil or spirits of turpentine unless you wish
to dim its luster and deprive it of much of its preservative quality.
Simply place the varnish can in a bucket of hot water, and let it
remain there until it gets warm, when you will experience no difficulty
in applying it to advantage. Another hint worth taking is never to buy
cheap and inferior varnish. The best is none too good.
These suggestions may appear superfluous to a professional
yachtsman, who, if he happens to read this yarn, might feel tempted to
observe: "Why, every darned chump knows that!" As a matter of fact,
amateurs as a rule are not familiar with these little "wrinkles," which
are in many cases tricks of the trade. This yarn is spun for amateurs
only, and not for the edification or instruction of veteran
professionals. About half a century ago, when I first became a boat
owner, I should have been delighted to get the fruits of a practical
man's ripe experience
Fashionable craft with spoon bows and long overhangs
forward have abolished the long bowsprits and simplified the head gear.
The short bowsprit is secured with a steel bobstay extending from the
stem to the cranse iron on the bowsprit, the bobstay being set up taut
with a turnbuckle of galvanized iron. The bowsprit shrouds are of steel
wire also set up by turnbuckles.
The pole mast has also done away with all the topmast
gear, the mast being secured by a forestay which sets up to the stem
head and by one or sometimes two shrouds on each side set up by
turnbuckles. The days of deadeyes and lanyards and of reefing bowsprits
are departed. A sailor to be quite down-to-date should combine with his
nautical knowledge some of the art of the blacksmith. Strength and
lightness and handiness are the watchwords of today, and with modern
methods the gear of a small craft is so simple that it takes little
time to rig her.
I suppose I may take it for granted that all the running
rigging was neatly coiled up and labeled and stored ashore when you
went out of commission last fall. I know many smart young yachtsmen who
while away many a long winter evening with pleasure and profit
overhauling sheets and halyards, stropping blocks, varnishing them,
splicing, serving and generally repairing all of the running gear that
needs attention, making manropes, scraping and polishing the gangway
ladder, the tiller, etc., and in other ways preparing for their
summer's amusement. The study of navigation, the rule of the road at
sea, the coast pilot, the learning of marlinespike seamanship and a
rudimentary knowledge of the use of the palm and needle, so that if a
sail should need some simple repairs they may be made without loss of
time and without seeking aid from a sailmaker -- all these the amateur
will find useful. It is astonishing how much one can learn in one
winter if he devotes only an hour a night to the acquirement of
But supposing that his running gear has not been touched
since it was unrove, it will take only a short time to get it in
tip-top order, and the work may be done in the evening when it is too
dark to potter about the yacht.
While you are about it you may as well make a thorough job
of this fitting out. Shin up the mast and make a tail block fast to the
masthead as high as possible, reeving a gantline through it so that you
may sit in a boatswain's chair or in a bowline while you survey the
stick. If the collars of the shrouds or forestay show any sign of
chafe, they must come down and be served over again with spun yam or
covered with canvas sewn on with a palm and needle, using plenty of
lead colored paint in the process to prevent rust. Examine the masthead
carefully for weak parts, which generally are to be found in the wake
of the rigging. If rot and signs of serious strains are met with, it is
evident that a new mast is needed. Longitudinal cracks may be
disregarded unless they are glaringly apparent, but transverse cracks
should be viewed with suspicion.
A NEW DRESS