How to Rehab an Old Sailboat - At Least My Take on it All


Here's one more goodie I penned for Matador; seems I'm all about B-T-S lately...the link is here.

How to Rehab an Old Sailboat

You’ve bought a sailboat. It makes your heart flutter and sets you dreaming about escape.

None of these things matter if you don’t understand the inner workings of your vessel and exactly what you plan on doing with it.

I’ve gone down that road three times now, going from 25’ to 30’ to 36′. If you’re thinking about making the same decision, learn from the lessons I’ve picked up while on my own personal quest for freedom.

‘On the hard’

Most likely, the boat you buy will be “on the hard”, which is sailing lingo for “perched in a dusty corner of a boatyard”. Your job is to bring it back to life.

The first thing you need to do is give it a good bottom paint job. This goes double if you’ll be sailing in saltwater: there are all manner of sea creatures waiting to cling to the bottom of your new toy and eat away at the fiberglass.


Check all your thru-hulls (various holes in the hull designed to bring in and flush out water) and seacocks (small handles that open and close said holes). Make sure that the fittings are secure: there’s nothing more horrific than a hose popping off and flooding the engine room.

After stepping the mast and giving the engine a tune-up, oil change, and systems flush, you’re pretty much ready to put your boat in a slip and form a plan of attack.

LESSON LEARNED: I stayed in the yard way too long because I was intimidated to put my boat in the big Pacific Ocean. But I also met and bonded with a cast of salty characters who have proven indispensable to my current foray into boating mechanics.

Take inventory of the madness on board

The first step in developing your soon to be encyclopedic knowledge about your boat is to rip it to shreds. And I mean really tear it to pieces.

Don’t just look in the lockers – get in there and pull out everything you see . Cupboards and hatches hold incredible amounts of tools, manuals, old parts, lines, cleaning supplies, and electronic equipment.


You have to research what you have, ditch what you don’t need, and come to know the rest of the gear you’ve been blessed to inherit.

After you’ve pulled out your boat’s innards, organize your items and create a master list with photos. That way, when you are freaking out and needing a zip tie, you’ll know exactly where the rascal is stowed.

LESSON LEARNED: I spent hundreds of dollars and uncountable hours at the store buying stuff already buried somewhere on my boat. If I’d inventoried it to start, I’d have been one step ahead.

Systems Management 101

Everything on your boat connects in some small way, and there is a correct way to assess and interpret this blueprint. It is most definitely not by killing a 6-pack and gazing at the stars from the cockpit.


Trace electric lines and figure out what your battery bank is connected to. Rap on tanks and see what corrosion they might have. Check all your hoses and clamps. Read your manuals. Simply put, fiddle with shit.

Once you become good pals with the wildness that lays just out of sight, things become clear. Suddenly, all that mechanic mumbo-jumbo ain’t so bewildering.

LESSON LEARNED: Getting a proper survey is crucial, not only for insurance purposes, but for learning about your boat.

I was tossed 32 pages of cryptic chaos and hundreds of photos after my master surveyor departed. This incredibly detailed document has been invaluable in learning about my craft as well as figuring out what I need to do to bring it around to its prime.

Plan ahead

Be realistic about your future jaunts. Are you sailing around the world? Are you island-hopping in the Caribbean? Are you day sailing in the Great Lakes?

Each of these adventures requires a different schematic and breakdown. If you are tied to shore power in a nice slip in Chicago, you don’t necessarily need a bunch of solar panels, wind generators, and autopilots.


But if you are going on the escapade of a lifetime and hitting the high seas, you absolutely want all of the above, and then some.

You may think you want to take off into the unknown, but get a little practice on the home turf first. Do a night passage. Hell, spend a few nights on the boat – they definitely aren’t spacious, and sometimes not even comfortable.

Imagine downsizing your life in a severe way. Can you do without the giant flat screen and handy washing machine? Can you handle squalls that make you want to piss your pants? All these things have to be considered. Take it one step at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

LESSON LEARNED: The very first thing I did the moment I bought my boat was purchase a watermaker. I’m currently hooked to shore power and have a nice hose that fills my tanks. When I sail around the world in a few years, my Power Survivor will probably be discontinued. I could have used that 3k for a myriad of other upgrades. Point being, prioritize.

Get to know your local ship store

The chaps at the ship store are a bunch of grizzly think-tanks. They have knowledge about boats that would blow your mind, the sorts of nuggets that only come from years of experience on the water.


They’ll rattle on about hose sizes and sail plans until you’re panicking. Sometimes you’ll leave thinking “will I ever know anything at all?”

Most times, though, you’ll leave thinking, “God, I love free information.” Pick brains, scour bookshelves, park yourself in unfamiliar aisles, and study the backs of random boxes.

This, my friends, is how you learn.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t be afraid to ask advice. Just take it all with a grain of salt. Everyone claims they have the best diver, the best rigger, and the best mechanic. You just have to meet these people yourself.

Bookmark these useful sites:

A Full Boat Flip Out



You can see that I had quite a project on my hands when I unleashed my coffee-fueled fury onto sweet, unassuming Enola.  I plowed through every single hatch/locker/cabinet and ripped it all out.  I had to get the bottom of EXACTLY what all was on my boat. 

It's funny, a month ago, I wouldn't have recognized half this stuff.  But, now I can call it off, no problem and was able to mad organize into certain categories:  electrical, plumbing, engine, galley, paperwork, cleaning supplies, tools,WTF is this drawer, etc...words can't even describe how thrilling that is.  Now, I'm out to create a nice little booklet with photos so I know precisely where to locate a zip tie when I need one (seeing as how my memory tends to fail me on a daily basis). 

You gotta do stuff like this, with extreme TLC, if you really want to understand your vessel.  I started tracing out all the wired to the battery, then flipped out when I met some dead, that is to be attacked on another day. 

The one good thing is that just like my dad said, 'Enola is apparently, the gift that keeps giving.'  Cause, you know what? EVERYTHING I have bought in the past month, repair-wise, was already on the boat, tucked deep into her bowels. Friggin' amazing.  Let's just say I have lotsa spare parts now...





The Kid is Back - Zac Sunderland Returns Home!


This youngin' went from a kid to a man in 13+ months.  How?  Well, he joined the  small army of intrepid folks who've blasted around the world via sailboat -- and he made history doing it!  Fewer than 250 people have done that hair-raising task and Zac is now the youngest person in history to have traveled the 28k alone.

Can you FREAKIN' imagine?  He left when he was 16 and just yesterday, he returned to his home port via his 36' Islander, Intrepid (at the tender age of 17).  What a beautific and my pal Chez rode our bikes over to Fisherman's Village and witnessed the whole thing.  Talk about tingling in the soul.  He came flyin' in with sails raised and all these boats had gone out to meet him; which meant they were plowin' in right beside him...just escorting him home. 

The media we're everywhere and I just am so delighted to have see that historical moment.  A true hero.  A kid.  Now a man.  What?

You know what I mean.  Check out his site:
All kinds of blog entries/video/etc...on there.  I can't wait to see what he does next.  He's talking Everest or Arctic Circle. What a gem.  His parents must be quaking in their boots...I know mine woulda been~






Still the boat projects loom.  That said, lots is getting done including taking her out today--which has to be one of the best SoCal days in history.  It's all very epic, if not exhausting stuff.

Fixed the AC (filter just needed to be cleaned) and dove in with my snorkel in hand to make sure the sea strainer I'd had put on in the yard was working was working perfecto, which meant a crank up of the AC and a bit of a nap.  I never nap, so just goes to show how comfy I am on the boat. 

Literally broke down my to do list like I'd break down a movie and now it all feels much more doable.  When it floats in my head and on scraps of paper, forget it.  It's all I can to do keep it straight.  The to do list is imperative broken down into categories/people/mechanics/me/etc...

Also am in the progress of fixing the wee little leaks in some of the ports; got my boom fixed (my dockmaster is literally a champ of all champs); getting it full finished rigging soon; fixed the ignition switch; cleaned under the cockpit grates (which required a full movement of the helm); and about a trillion other things.  People have no idea how hard boats are.  Everything, each and every tiny project, is epic in the fact that it even gets done.  Especially on old boats.

Also, got new dock lines; took a drive out to Minney's (think boat thrift store); and today--just jacked around on it getting all jazzed up.  That's the important thing cause I'll tell ya this--this vessel is WAY different than my last boat, the C & C 30'.  Hugely different, in all the best ways.  I can actually see myself making way on this mama.

Meanwhile, that kid (17) Zac Sunderland gets home to MDR this week.  He's the youngest cat to sail around the world and I just found out that he bought the boat he did it in for $1500.  Ya better believe I'm gonna see this one roll in. So exciting.  What the hell do you do after that feat?  Probably crank up the AC and go to sleep!!

Boat Update and a Possible Trailer Move*


The to do list for the boat has reached epic proportions.  It really has.  I don't even think I can go into it, just know that the list is miles and miles long. 

#1 being figure out my boom situation.  Went to go pick it up from the yard the other day, and the rascal wont fit on my now will have to jet the boat over there to grab it, which might happen in a recon mission later today.  Can't seem to get a hold of my rigging chick, however, I am going to have my mechanic come over this weekend and do some small tasks like hook up the holding tank + figure out what is going on with the AC.  Oh God, I can't even talk about the list. 

Let me talk about other things, like how fantastico the interior is coming along.  It really is shaping up, and every time I step on board, I light up inside.  Last night,  I went down and turned on all the INT and EXT lights and she blazed up like a firefly.  Mind-bending how happy it all makes me.

That said, I am THIS close to taking a Baja trip.  Trying real, real hard to power through and make my 30-days-in-one-spot challenge, but the call is something fierce.  Debilidating, really.  I'm thinking of moving my little vinatge travel trailer, Yachtita, down to Baja.  That might just be the trip I need.  Haul to San Miguel de Allende, spend a week or two there, sling on the trailer and meander back to Southeast Baja, which my gal parked right on the Sea of Cortez.  It will take an act of God for me to NOT do that very thing in the coming days...

I feel like an addict must.  'Cept my trouble is the road.  Funky fresh El Camino.





The Picture That Started It All


People ask me all the time, why are you into boats?  How did it hit you?  I try to explain how one day (years ago), I out in LA working on a job and happened to be sauntering happily down Main St. in Santa Monica when I saw the above painted picture.  It had a phone number typed out on a little piece of paper below and it two very scary words:  FOR SALE.  I immediately ripped it off the phone pole and tucked it away for safe keeping, lest somebody else get the idea that they needed a boat, too.

I called the chick whose number was listed and went and saw her tiny wreck of a boat in Marina del Rey.  I knew her little mess wasn't for me, but once I gazed into the bowels, I thought, well hell..I can do this.  I need to do this.  I must do this.   Own a boat.  Must have boat.  That little scrap of paper hooked me.  What a sales tool she had in that one.  Brill.

I then became obsessed.  I searched high and low for something cheap, something in LA.  I found it on Ebay.  2k later, and I owned a Cal 25 in Redondo Beach.  That was Boat #1. 

If you look hard at the black-and-white picture above the painted pic, you will see another little 24 foot boat.  That is the sturdy little vessel I learned to sail on down in Baja.  Just me and some dude who lived in a tidy orange cottage with his family--down a dirt road in Loreto.  What joy.  I hauled ass down there alone in a wild panic, thinking holy crap!  I bought this boat, I have no idea how to sail it...what do I do?  What do I do? 

Guess that answer to that one is make more money so I can have more boat.  Hope that answers the ?

Summer Full of B's


Folks have been asking to see the inside of my boat for a while now -- wanting more photos, so here they are.  Now, keep in mind, this vessel has yet to be Mistified...which means I have added none of my personal touches to it - crazy lollipop accents, flat-screen, down blankets, all that jazz.  That will happen over the course of the summer, but for now, still just a beauty.  I can't believe she's finally in her slip.  Home. 

Summer =  Baja.  Boat.  Beer.  BBQ.  Belly laughs.  Books.  Brightwork (ever hear of brightwork, son?).  Maybe even Bali.  All B's, all the time.

Enjoy the photos and will post more after I've had a chance to do a little flip out on her.  Got some mad travel happening - TN, Chi, NYC, Mex--all in the next few weeks.  

My tummy still reels when I look at this dang boat.







Enola Goes in the Water +


When I woke up yesterday, I had a knot the size of Russia under my right shoulder.  Why?  I'm sure it's cause the boat was finally going in the water!  Well, it did and here she is, still in progress.  Still gotta get more rigging done today at the yard, but here is what we know -- she didn't sink.  Always a fear.  Though when we put her in the first round, there was a tiny leak in the head which Fernando promptly fixed.  Now, she's sturdy as can be.

Of course, I leave town tomorrow, but that's cool. I'll be back soon to attack her some more...this time in the safety of her slip.  More photos coming...

The Boatyard Shall be Missed.


Everything I own has started to smell like the boatyard.  An odd mix of diesel, dirt and wind.  Not sure how to classify that particular scent.  The hair is beyond out of control, that's for dang sure.  Naps galore. 

Everyone keeps telling me what a gorg boat I have, just wanted to share a little of the underbelly with ya.  You see pretty teak, I see dude, this needs to be varnished and that will be a hell of a job.  You see shiny mast, I see, holy crap, I already need to buff this out again.  You see cozy home, I see, set dressing to miles of exhaust, fancy engine, bad-ass gene, re-vamped fuel tank, piles of lines, giant anchors that weigh a ton, holding tanks that need to be hooked up, stainless steel that needs to be polished, dumbfounded faces gazing around -- that's what becomes the horizon when you work on a boat day after day after day.  Sometimes the smiles go away (mine included).  But, no fear.  They are back again as soon as a little project is complete.  Vent in propane locker = cold beer.  Boot stripe all white, sparkly, and new = time for happy hour! 

Those who take on boats have to become obsessed.  And, just when you think a project is done.  BAM!  My dad was hoopin' n hollerin' all day about the gene and how its exhaust leads to a thruhull on the starboard side and as long as I stared at the configuration, the more cross eyed I became.  Finally, I called him and was like, Dad--the gene has its own exhaust and thru hull on the port side...he was like really?  I said, where did you think that said hose lead?  He deadpanned, "Over the fu*kin' Rockies, I guess."  Dude, I died....

Love the boat.  Love the yard.  I'll miss it.  Monday, it goes in the actual O-C-E-A-N.  Nice.

PS--Since the veggie soup fiasco/addiction, I've now moved onto checca made with Japanese tomatoes (thanks Chels).  Beyond delish.









Veggie Soup + 5 Things that Make Me Happy Now*


Thing is, when you work like a mule, you eat like one.  I made the most heart-stoppingly delicious vegetable soup on Sunday, and have eaten it in force 5 nights in a row, now.  In a bowl that is straight cauldron size.  It's all I obsess about during the day while slaving away in the heat on the boat.  Just getting home to that soup.  It would take wild horses to drag me out to eat, knowing that I have this creation at home waiting on me to roar in and dress it up.  I think the secret is in how I top the soup -- giant pat of sweet cream butter, tons of ground pepper and sea salt, a splash of bitey olive oil, diced avocado, and parm cheese.  Truly fit for the kings.

That said, here are a few things that are making me happy about the boat right now.

1.  The butterfly hatches. They add so much light, so much depth to the entire salon, I could just sit down there for hours (and do) and daydream about faraway lands.  And, the salty breeze, I could go on for hours about.

2.  The yard boys.  They are all so sweet and helpful and they seem to especially like it when I hurl out my combat Spanish at them rapid fire.  Makes us all come together as one, and relish the fact that life ain't about how much dough you got, how much status you have -- its really about having the ability to laugh all day, take in the sunshine and sparkly water, and kick back with a cold one now and again.  That is truly the stuff legends are made of.  I adore them all.

3. The deck when it's clean.  It is just so pretty and stable and secure.

4.  Those shiny, shiny masts.  Chez and Phil came by the other day and buffed them out and now they have taken on a luster that makes all who wander by stop and stare.  For real.  Plus those mast steps ROCK.

5. The carved teak doors that lead to the v-berth and the head.  Again, just surreal to gaze at.  They don't really do 'em like that anymore.

PS--I would add in the bow spirit, but that baby deserves its own individual post.  Later, later...meanwhile, I woke up this morning with a real fiery hankering to head to Baja this weekend. If there wasn't so much boat stuff that I'm obsessed with right now, I'd be gone in a flash.  Buh-lee dat.