SUP in the Marshes of Glynn

About and about through the intricate channels that flow
Here and there,
Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes,
And the marsh is meshed with a million veins,
That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow
In the rose-and-silver evening glow.
Farewell, my lord Sun!
Sidney Lanier – The Marshes of Glynn

When Sidney Lanier composed the poem “The Marshes of Glynn” the city of Brunswick was very different than today. But because the surrounding marshes are protected from development, what he was admiring more than 150 years ago is still there untouched. Marshland on Georgia’s coast makes up an estimated one-third of all the salt marshes on the east coast, a unique ecosystem created by rise and fall of the tide .

I took a standup paddleboarding trip around the “Marshes of Glynn” during one of the hottest day of the year. We rented the equipment at Southeast Adventure Outfitters, and launched by the docks at the Boathouse, just by highway 17. It was nice to be out there and see birds, fishes, turtles and dolphins.

Compression post repair and other amenities

Recently I started to feel the itch to go sailing. Since we docked Tranquility in Frederica River we haven’t been out sailing. We were too busy organizing the new life on land and too lazy to start few little jobs. We said it a couple of times, let’s take her out, but for one reason or the other it didn’t happen.

When we were still living on board but working on shore the cabin became unsuitable for sailing. We dismissed the cruisers clothes and wore the landlubber ones, using the boat as we were using an apartment, and apartments are not made for moving around. It’s enough to have a regular job and a life on land to mess up with your routine.

With this new land identity we acquired also a new social life made of friends, colleagues, events, fast internet, movie theatres and gym memberships. We move around with a car. Instead of walking for miles carrying provisions we run on treadmill and lift weights.

Now Tranquility is once again undergoing a major refit project. We had the opportunity to step out our home to house-sit for somebody else’s house and so we decided to empty the boat and destroy everything again.

This time we faced the compression post problem. The compression post is a solid post of hardwood that sustains the compression force of the mast over the deck. Columbia 29 were built with deck stepped mast and with a structural beam glassed on deck to sustain the forces generated by the weight of the boat moving in heavy seas. The compression post was then installed between the overhead (aka ceiling) and a structural beam resting over the bilge, which supported the cabin sole (aka floor) as well.

A proper designed and installed compression post would rest the top of the keel/bilge, which is the strongest part of the Hull. For reasons that exceed my understanding it is not the case of Tranquility. When the boat was built they lowered 3120 lbs (1414 kg) of lead inside the keel before sealing everything with fiberglass. That happened 49 years ago. Meanwhile, age and human lack of care made the rest.

Talking with one of the previous owners of Tranquility I discovered that there was a persistent rainwater leak from the mast that had rotten. Luckily I was able to prevent any when I stepped the mast in the boatyard. The water leak was fixed but the damaged was inherited. After the first longer sailing passages we realized that the compression post was not properly sustained by the rotten cabin sole. Kate’s alert eyes were the first to spot little signs of the compressin forces, where the paint was cracking and the rotten floor getting bending  a little more every time. We couldn’t address the problem while underway and so we kept sailing south in search of warm weather.

The rotten floor and beam under the compression post
The rotten floor and beam under the compression post

This type of repair was not possible while living onboard. The dust and mess of ripping off the floor (plus no place to step but the bilge) discouraged us to proceed. But as soon as we had the opportunity to leave the boat this and several other interior projects begun.

As first thing I ripped out the old rotten floor and all the damaged wood in the area. The more I dug the more I realized that the compression post was resting on a rotten transversal beam suspended few inches from the bilge. The beam was still holding the compression post but it doesn’t take a structural engineer to understand that this was not for long. Better late than never.

Picture underneath the compression post.
Picture underneath the compression post

At first we imagined we should try to jack the compression post back up but we soon realized that this could not happen without removing the mast itself. The best and only possible thing we could do was to avoid any further downward movement and give the post a solid foot to rest on.

Searching in the teak scrapyard (a collection of odd shaped salvaged pieces of teak from different boat projects I found a solid 3″ thick block of teak that I had to reshape to dry fit it under the compression post and sealed in 2 coats of Epoxy resin. Altough teak is very rot resistant to salt water it will rot in fresh water and you never know what is going to go in your bilge.

After all the rotten wood was gone I started to seal the exposed wood of the beam and the bulkheads with West System Epoxy and fiberglass cloth. I built some support for the beam and made sure to create a solid bedding with the hull of the boat through some fiberglass tabbing.

When everything was sealed I fitted the block under the compression post with the help of some serious hammering. I then added some Epoxy mixed with 404 High-Density filler, a thickening additive developed for maximum physical properties in hardware bonding. In this way the block is “glued” to the compression post and to the bilge with a bonding stronger than the wood itself. Another layer of fiberglass is soon to be added to the block as further shield against water penetration.

Compression post repair
Compression post repair
Compression post repair 2
Compression post repair 2

Getting rid of portion of rotten floor was like an invitation to go further and so we decided to proceed and rip off the rest of the 49yrs old floor that had been covered with a nasty sticky non-skid surface. I had to grind it off with a angle grinder and a sanding disk, a terrible job that covered all the surfaces of the boat with a black dust. I kept the good parts of the floor with the idea of fairing and painting them. With all this modification we may want to change the boat’s name at a certain point…

Next step is to rebuild the floor over the bilge a major project that will take at least one week. So after the floor will be replaced we hope to go for a sail test, because even if it’s exciting to do boat repairs, the itch is still there and I’ve been scratching for too long.

The dream boat

I am expert in sanding. I can’t say I have a formal training but I achieved many hours of hands-on the job. Wood, metal, fiberglass, epoxy, I dragged sanding paper of different grits on many surfaces wrapping it around fingertips, hands, blocks or machines. Some times it’s a precision job that requires eye-hand coordination and caution. Some times it requires brute force and endurance. But the main skill to achieve a quality finish is to be focused and present while doing the job. Of course this is valid for every human activity but it’s particularly difficult when sanding.

Sanding teak trim

Sanding is mainly a slow and repetitive task, even when using power tools. It is also a labored task, that requires more mental and physical toughness than one could suspect. When you sand for hours it’s not a big deal. You gather your patience and you actively watch the progress of your work, adjusting your action to achieve the perfect finish.

If you are busy with extensive surface restoration or large paintjobs you may need to sand for days. In this stage it’s important also to divide the work in little areas and make sure you complete one job before moving to the next one. Concentration is very important.

When you are restoring every surface on several different projects that’s weeks and weeks of endless sanding with several passages over certain areas to blend everything together in a smooth composition. At this stage you establish a deeper connection with the surface you are working on. You start to notice that objects have singular details and characteristics and you may think you are bonding with them.

When you are counting your sanding time in the order of months it’s a survival situation. Just stay alive and don’t lose your mind!

When I was living in New England I was a dedicated participant of Zen meditation groups. The technique can simplistically be described as mind training in self-awareness: observing thoughts as they wander in different directions without fighting them but trying instead to bring the focus back to the present situation, here and now, that usually is you sitting on a cushion inside a room with other people staring at a wooden floor.

The natural tendency of the mind is to keep weaving an internal conversation, putting in line positive or negative judgments about ourselves or other people, entertain with stories about the past or dreams about the future. The meditation setting and the constant practice have the purpose to give you some rest from the unstoppable noisy chatter of your mind, and to let it dissipate allowing yourself to reach a primitive state of no-mind, the “don’t know mind”.

After too much sanding in boat restoration projects my mind broke loose of all the Zen techniques and started to escape rushing in a daydream modality. I failed in redirecting my concentration, and instead of engaging in a useless fight I encouraged this spontaneous roaming, as a prototypical member of Homo Ludens (alternatively, “Playing Man”) species would do.

 There is no life I know

To compare with pure imagination

Living there, you’ll be free

If you truly wish to be

Willy Wonka

After some time I noticed that this ludic vagabonding has its center in a main topic: building the perfect cruising yacht having an unlimited budget. I am not proud my thoughts gravitate spontaneously to a complete pointless activity: I don’t have an infinite budget and it seems nobody is willing to grant me such a sum. As if that was not enough I should aim my thoughts and energy towards a more realistic target: improve Tranquility and make her a good boat to sail ocean passages.

So even if the power of imagination provides me with an unlimited budget, a team of expert designers and boat-builders working for me I am not envisioning a 100ft luxury yacht with all the luxuries and toys on the market. I am a modest dreamer and I can see in this world of imagination is a 38ft cutter rigged mono hull named Arctic Tern.

She would be a fast cruiser, with the minimum internal living space to comfort for a 2 adults who may get 4 more people as guests. Artic Tern has a narrow beam and her lines are very close to the waterline. She would be as light as possible and built using composite materials, with Kevlar for the underbody and areas of great stress, and carbon fiber for the rest. All the systems would be simple, although built to the highest standard and quality. A simple and solid and safe sailing machine comfortable for ocean passages and that can sail fast enough to make the experience enjoyable. Even if this project is “modest” compare to what’s actually sailing the ocean nowadays, it will be several hundreds of thousands dollars or even a million. But this is not a problem as in the world of imagination I can spend all the money I want to get the perfect boat.

There is no perfect boat, no matter how much money and good ideas you have. I feel this wandering through imaginary worlds is giving me relief from the hard truth I am facing. My boat is kind of slow and pretty cramped for two people, and I can’t afford to hire specialists to upgrade her to the maximum extent. I have to be the specialist so it’s better to study (and dream) as a specialist. The more I dream about non-existent boats the more I get ready and learn about real boats and different designs.

Tranquility is giving me the hardest task: the budget is very tight as well as the space on the boat. On Tranquility there is no room for surplus or amenities, everything must be essential and some times having fewer choices is harder.

The dreams are on everyday, I can’t have control over them. Sometimes is Artic Tern knocking at the door, or Tranquility rebuilt anew or fast trimarans, dinghies and other imaginary crafts. I am starting to accept the visions as they uncoil behind my eyes, they snatch me and then leave me behind with wide open eyes, making me wonder if I already sanded that surface of the boat or not.

Not all those who wander are lost – J.R.R. Tolkien