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To the Boatyard

Text and Photographs by Paul Clayton

1947 Trumpy S.S. Sophie.

Valor was long overdue for bottom paint so I made an appointment with Sailcraft Service to haul the boat for a few days in mid-April of 2016. I sailed over a day early with fair winds and blue skies, tying up on the town dock in early afernoon. An older couple came in aboard a trawler, and I helped them with their dock lines. Afterward I sauntered over to the new restroom facility that the town has installed as part of their ongoing efforts to keep Oriental a favorite port of call for the cruising community. Realizing that I didn't have proper documentation, I was a bit apprehensive, but fortunately the Gender Compliance Officer was off duty and I was able to avoid alternate verification. The new facility proved completely up to snuff, and is built high enough so that even several feet of water level rise will not render it unusable.

Back at the dock, I opened a beer and prepared for the afternoon show. Snowbirds streamed into Oriental Inn and Marina, and soon every slip except the fuel dock was taken. The climax came in the form of 1947 Trumpy S.S. Sophie, which occupied one whole side of the fuel dock, plus a good chunk of the Oriental harbor fairway. The pleasant husband and wife crew chatted with a crowd of gawking sailors for a few minutes before disappearing below. They were moving the boat from its winter port in Florida to the Chesapeake for the summer season. Varnishing was done in the winter, and the boat was in bristol condition. The owners were not aboard, and the crew was not at liberty to identify them. In this day and age, privacy is a hard thing to maintain, but anyone wishing to know who owns this jewel will have to do their own research.

Right behind S.S. Sophie, a salty center-cockpit cutter, Tryst, approached the opposite side of the fuel dock for bunkers. High bulwarks, canoe stern and hard dodger made for a distinctive appearance. The captain told me that the boat was a Fantasia 35 and he and crew were headed for Marsh Harbor, outside. The plan was to go out Beaufort Inlet, cross the Gulf Stream and head due south. One crew member confided that he had never been offshore, and the other that she expected the trip to take 4 days, so unless conditions turned out absolutely perfect I can foresee recriminations. With refueling complete, Tryst slipped lines and headed south to make the evening tide.

During the night our gentle spring weather blew away behind a blustery northeast wind.

With a 1:00 appointment for haul-out at Sailcraft, I left the dock late in the morning, after the fleet had departed from Oriental Marina. As soon as I reached the outer harbor, it was clear that I was in for a struggle. The wind was blasting out of the northeast, straight out of Whitaker Creek, and the long fetch from the mouth of the river was wrapping around into the bay. I found that the boat would not point directly into the wind and proceeded to motor-tack toward the mouth of the creek. Valor's little six horse Yamaha was laboring under full load and cavitating as waves lifted the stern, and after two hours of this abuse, during which I gained about a half-mile of progress, the engine gave up the ghost and shut down.

Valor accepts a tow.

As I drifted back toward the Oriental sea-marker, I considered my position and decided to make discretion the best part of valor. I went forward, dropped the anchor and snubbed the boat to a stop, then hailed Towboat U.S. I got an immediate reply and within ten minutes, I could see the towboat coming past Whitaker Creek Marina. The captain came alongside and made his plans. First, he had me pull the anchor and get it secured, then he dropped me a line. Once I was attached, he snubbed up fairly close and instructed me to mind the tiller and follow directly behing him. He told me that he would be favoring the starboard, windward side of the channel. Soon we were past the tricky, narrow part of the entrance that is lined with temporary markers, and into the placid waters of the inner creek. The towboat captain swung wide at the entrance to the Sailcraft Services lift well and Valor coasted to a stop directly under the travel lift. I handed him my Boat U.S. card with full towing endorsement, he said "Good man," and put a big fat zero on the line on his paperwork for the fee incurred. Everyone, be sure to carry towing coverage.

The Sailcraft Service crew made quick work of hauling Valor, scraping off the barnacles, power washing her, and getting her on the stands. I asked Alan whether he had a small engine mechanic who could look at the Yamaha, and he suggested taking it to the local dealership, who he said would do a good job for me. I gave them a call, and they told me to bring it in, though they were fairly backed up and it might be a couple of weeks until they could fix it. I decided that sounded all right, since I had my little two horse kicker in the locker which could get me out into the river under the right conditions. I lifted the engine out of the well on the main sheet, swung the boom over the side and lowered it to the ground. Alan was on his way to Bayboro and graciously dropped the engine at the shop on his way.

I asked Alan what to do about the badly eroded bootstripe and he suggested just painting it out, and I took his advice. By day's end I had the whole waterline taped and a coat of paint (Pettit Hydrocoat, a water-based ablative formula that is easy to apply and has worked well for me over the years) on one side.

It was Wednesday night and that means open mike night at the Silos. I got cleaned up and hiked the easy half mile to the restaurant and got a seat at the bar. The place was full and the waitresses were running ragged but the barmaid took my order for a Killian's draft and a pizza. The Silos has some of the best pizza I've ever found and this one was no different. I knocked out a few slices and then boxed the remainder for later so that I could chat with the woman beside me at the bar. She was a Pamlico County native who was about to start a job at the new restaurant that the owner of the Silos is starting in waterfront Oriental, at the location of the old lamented Trawl Door. After a while Lori left to pick up her daughter and about this time the music started and I turned my attention to it. First, Silos owner Chris played a couple of party tunes to get people in the mood, and then a young man came on and played several of his own punky compositions - very good stuff. After he came off stage I told him he sounded like the Strokes and he laughed and said somebody else had just said the same thing. Afterwards a guitarist and bassist did crisp, professional Van Morrison, Chet Atkins and Johnny Cash covers. Finally, another duet came on and did traditional Irish ballads, and I left to get some sleep after a long day.

Fresh paint and wax.

Thursday I started the day by riding one of the yard's bicycles to the Bean for a cup of coffee. Then, back at the yard, I cleaned and waxed the topsides and got down to business with bottom paint. By day's end I had a complete coat, plus a second coat on the side I had done the day before. During the day, Alan moved my neighbor to port back into the water and put a new neigbor in its place - classic Chuck Paine designed Morris Annie Modesta. All the early Chuck Paine Morrises are legendary, much admired but seldom seen, and now I had one close to eye. I made a point of introducing myself to the owner, and at day's end, requesting permission to join the little party going on in Modesta's cockpit.

I got a welcoming call to come aboard and found owner John and friend Mark who was in the yard working on his Cal 39 drinking a bottle of "Bully Boy" rum. Later Roger and Pat came along and John moved the party from the cramped cockpit to the sumptuous saloon below decks. Soon the "Bully Boy" breathed his last and other libations were broken out. John related the story of Modesta, which was commissioned by an Oriental couple as a bare hull and finished with a wooden deck and house by a Kittery, Maine craftsman. The interior woodworking was on the level of a Hinckley. John found the boat in New England and brought it south to refit for a planned round the world trip.

Since Thursday worked out so well, I decided to start Friday the same way, with a bike ride to the Bean for coffee. Back at the yard I put a final coat on the port side and touched up around the rudder with a brush. Alan moved the stands and I got the spots they had covered, and then I washed the upperworks. With all boatwork complete, I dropped my little Yamaha 2 horse that resides in the port locker into the well, gave it some fresh premix and fired it up for a few seconds to be sure it would run. Valor was ready to go, and Alan put me down for 10:30 AM Saturday to go back in the water.

The big fun of the day was watching as John and the yard crew set the mast in Modesta. The Travel Lift has a boom just for this kind of work. A strap is attached above the center of gravity on the mast, and the boom is able to lift the mast upright. With his right-hand man Bert watching and guiding every action, Alan maneuvered the 50 foot stick over the boat, and John along with the yard crew set the end directly above the mast socket. Then Alan lowered away, and soon the mast was upright on its seat. Next the crew set up the stays and shrouds so the mast would be secure, and the Travel Lift was detached. Later John and Mark mounted the wind generator, and, the next day, the main boom.

Masting Modesta.

Mark gave me a tour of his Cal 39, in the paint shed in primer gray, and showed me the solid fiberglassed hull to deck joint that he had installed. I wondered if it were liable to crack under stress, but he told me that a naval architect had reviewed his plan, and approved it. Mark had also renewed the plywood core of the cabin top, and installed a couple of stainless steel posts to give it extra rigidity. When he gets done, he should have an exceptionally rigid, solid and dry Cal 39. It wasn't always like that - when he bought the boat it leaked like a sieve through the toe-rail bolts, and one of his many jobs was to remove the 168 bolts and screws attaching the toe rails, all of which will be plugged or re-bedded when he installs new rails. He started work on the boat in Rhode Island in June of 2015 and was still hard at work in December when the yard essentially kicked him out so that they could close for the winter. It says a lot for Mark's persuasiveness that he was able to find crew to help him run the boat down to Oriental in the freezing cold of a New England winter and despite the fact that the leaking toe rails meant they had to sleep in soaking sleeping bags in their oilskins. Mark continued his refit all winter and spring and is planning to splash the boat this June, though it looks to me like he has an great deal of work still to do.

Friday night the gang repaired to The Silos for dinner and draft beer. I had probably the best stromboli of my life to go along with lots of good sailing talk.

Sailcraft Service is usually closed on Saturdays and Sundays, and I had told Alan I would be glad to stay over until Monday if needed, but he was planning to come in Saturday morning to put my neighbor on the other side, a big Island Packet, back in the water and he could do Valor as well. So, Saturday morning I said goodbye to all the great people I had met in the boatyard - John and Mark, great companions and friends - Bert, experienced old yard hand who gave me good advice on washing and painting my boat - Evan, young yard hand who kept up conversation as he painted the Island Packet alongside and I painted Valor - and Alan, always helpful and accomodating - and watched as my boat was lowered into the water. With some help I got Valor backed out of the slip and aimed down the channel (the little Yamaha 2 doesn't have a neutral or reverse), and motored out Whitaker Creek to the river. A gentle northwest wind made for a fine sail back to Clubfoot Creek. With a clean bottom, the boat was noticeably faster and more responsive. I was two and a half hours dock to dock, which is pretty good speed for Valor.

A couple little details remained, and I drove to Oriental Monday morning to pay my bill at Sailcraft (the bookkeeper was off on Saturday) and to stop by the Yamaha shop a leave them contact information. They assured me they could have my engine ready in a couple of weeks, so first order of business my next trip to the coast will be to get the engine back in Valor. Then everything will be ready for sailing - perhaps a tour of the Albermarle Sound in June?