Ship shape

I wasn’t looking forward to repairing and repainting my Mirror dinghy, again. My social media handle “gumptionology” comes from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the author, Robert M. Pirsig, got the word “gumption” from an old Scottish relative. It’s a common old word here and means a combination of initiative and know-how, get-up-and-go, va va voom, Kraft. There’s a few translations.

The problem is I really didn’t have any. I’ve been wanting to sail this boat for a few years now. For various reasons, it hasn’t happened. The latest set-back was (probably) some local fishermen deciding to take Harmony out on the canal. They obviously understood boats (she was upturned when I found her, so the rain didn’t get in) but they didn’t understand how heavy old wooden boats are – and how fragile the bow and stern transom and gunwales are – especially when hauled out of the water!

I’ve already blogged about when the bow broke, but this time it wasn’t the bow transom (that’s the bit at the front) but the gunwale (the bit at the front on the top). Added to that, everything has been such a hassle this past year and a half while everyone has been under the spell of the Covid cult. So trying to get a mate to come out and help me shift and repair the boat, or even just go for a row, has been difficult. I have had some help, for which I’m very grateful, however I knew water was probably getting in and I knew I needed to do something about that.

Finally, I got round to it. Pirsig coined the term gumptionology to refer to the art of being and feeling up to a task. He gives some helpful hints. One is coffee and I made sure I had a couple of cups before I left the house. I also freed up the afternoon so I wouldn’t feel time-pressured (that’s another). Then I decided to do one thing at a time.

The first thing was to dry the boat, make sure she stays dry and inspect/ remove any rotten wood. I really wanted to do that, and the repair and the paint job all on the same day as this heatwave is forecast to end in a couple of days. But I decided to focus on the first task and try to do that well.

Pirsig stresses the importance of good mood. As the stinging nettles drive me crazy when I’m working outside on the boat, I decided to take some old-fashioned manual hedge cutters to them before even starting that first task.

I already felt a little better. Being out in the sun and actually dealing with the problem instead of ignoring it helped. However my heart sank when I ran the wire brush over the paintwork and easily peeled off the “bubbled” navy blue paint below and astern of the thwart (seat). Rotten plywood. That had to come off.

Even as I worked, the sun was drying up the damp wood and I realised most of it could be rescued, with either a coat of epoxy glue (as I’d previously done on the hull supports) or with primer, then successive coats of paint. As long as the wood wasn’t rotten and it was dry! I tidied up the paint and wood scraps to transport back home to bin and put the fabric cover back on to let the boat breathe and get even drier.

As my biggest worry was rain (not uncommon in Scotland) the next day I put into action a cunning plan. £25 had bought me an inflatable dinghy and pump that really shouldn’t have been used outside a swimming pool. At the shallow end. Ben my cute terrier and I had paddled it up and down the canal over lockdown a few times (me rowing and him lolling over my legs and being famous on Facebook as every passerby fell in love with his doggie charm). Not unsurprisingly, it had sprung a few leaks and, though I repaired them with StormSure glue & tape, I felt it was safer to use it as an extra cover for Harmony to keep the tarp convex rather than concave and so prevent puddles forming and water ending up inside.

When I got back the next day, knowing I would find a dry boat (which would’ve stayed dry if I’d been more clever about getting the tarp off) made me feel more enthusiastic. I’d need that good mood because today I was going to use epoxy. Another of Pirsig’s hints is cleanliness and good order so first I wiped the whole topsides down, from gunwales to centreboard case, with a dry cloth, which got slightly wetter as I went along. This is a good move for various reasons:

  • dust gets onto paint and in your eyes
  • dirt hides damp and damage
  • beasties get dislodged and don’t get painted!
  • it’s a visual check of the whole boat
  • if paint gets rubbed off just with a cloth, it needs scraped off and repainted

It also gave the exposed wood a bit more time to dry and I could see the underlying layers of plywood were staying in place as they dried.

Next to prepare the gunwales for the epoxy using a file – and also a fern to slip through the crack at the stern and brush out any beasties! I figured I’d get all the filing done before using the glue so the dust wouldn’t stick and the vibrations wouldn’t displace what was supposed to be stuck together!

When you go looking for trouble on a boat you generally find it. I’d seen a very professional repair done on a Mirror that revealed all the original wood and clear varnished the inside and I must admit it was lovely. However I’ve learned that the pragmatic approach works well with boats and I knew that I’d never get her ready for even the autumn if I undertook all that. So I decided I’d only take off what wouldn’t stay on and simply file and sand then epoxy and repaint.

The proper mindset for using epoxy is paranoia. (Imagine the scamdemic were really true and act accordingly.) Basically, if you put enough masks on so you can’t breathe, and wear so much eye protection you can’t see, you’ve got a fighting chance with it. Make sure you do all these things before you open those tins. Because you can’t do any of them afterwards!

  • Pee
  • Drink water
  • Wipe your eyes
  • Blow your nose
  • Take photos
  • Text
  • Switch off alarms
  • Read the instructions!!!!!

Firstly lay everything out on a cloth. Because everything is going to get sticky and you need to know what’s what and where it is. If you’re using 5:1 don’t even bother measuring out 5ml just go for 10:2 because you’ll need it. If the job is smaller than that, you don’t need epoxy, you need chewing gum!

Everything is about time and temperature. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!!!! Separate the syringes and keep them separate so you know which is which and only put the resin syringe in the resin and the hardener in the hardener. Panic is part of the process (it goes with oxygen deprivation) but the important thing is that when something goes wrong (it will) don’t mess about wondering how to do it perfectly: JUST DO IT!!!!

Working with epoxy is very Zen. If Zen consisted of making a gloopy sticky mess that defies gravity when you want it not to and runs when you’d rather it stuck and sticks the fingers of your gloves together (or your fingers if you’ve been STUPID enough not to wear gloves) and makes you either pass out from lack of air or pass out from toxic fumes!

Panic started when I realise the double pronged tack helpfully holding the bow gunwale apart (so I could gloop the glue in) wasn’t going to go back in place without a fight despite initially shifting slightly. I had minutes (which felt like seconds) to get those pieces of wood clamped together – without a clamp. I did at one point consider just standing there for 8 hours till it cured. (That glue is pretty strong!) Then I sprang into action, doing everything I’ve just warned not to!

I tore off my hat, gloves, masks and breathed in some air! I looked around wildly for a piece of rope then wasted time trying to figure out how to get it off the inflatable (just do it!) then wasted even more trying to move all the epoxy stuff —magnificently now in the way — without touching it. Then more time uselessly trying to keep a rope taut from amidships along the bow gunwales then back to the cleats on the cabin roof. Finally I looped it round the padded block (which the boat should’ve been on) over a cloth to exert pressure on the gunwale and finally to the cleats.

Sticky, sweaty and most probably high (don’t phone anyone at this point, in fact try to avoid human beings and animals and plants and breakable objects entirely) I messed about trying to tidy up the gloops a bit. Mostly in vain. Then a red deer appeared. Well. It was red and it was a deer. A moment of stillness and beauty.

I realised I had done enough for the day. One way or another. I washed my hands in water, wiped them on cloths (fairly ineffectually) and covered up the boat again. For another day of repairing and painting.

Harmony with inflatable atop covered by blue tarp and grey fabric cover with green tarp over front wheel of trailer.

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