The Water Warms, the Clock Ticks

With sailing season rapidly approaching, the pressure to finish work on the Sled intensifies.
Sailing World


Proud parents: Dad and I pause our Easter Egg hunt to admire our handiwork. Michael Lovett

For all the hard work we put in varnishing the Sled this winter, I expected to feel more relieved after we applied the final coat—which we finally did the other day. Instead, I’m feeling annoyed and overwhelmed.

The varnish turned out pretty nice—as good as we’re going to get working in Mom’s garage, says Dad—but I can’t help focusing on the imperfections. It’s the dust that gets me. Sanding in between coats generated new clouds of dust, and we tried really hard to get ahead of it by blowing out the garage with the leaf blower, vacuuming every surface multiple times, wiping up the remnants with alcohol-soaked paper towels, and prepping the surface with tack rags. I even climbed up on top of the refrigerator to shut off the space heater that coughed up the dust that marred the first coat.

Just before varnishing, we wetted down the floor and mapped out our strategy. I started inside the bilge, covering the hard-to-reach, rarely seen surfaces; Dad worked along the outside, hitting the broader surfaces. Armed with clean brushes, cardboard placemats, and about a quart of varnish each, we covered the whole boat in a few hours. The varnish was flowing out nicely, without any major sags or drips. We cleaned up, left the garage, and crossed our fingers.


I came back on Easter Sunday to see how the varnish had set up. The finish looks great, and the boat really sparkles. But run your palm down the rail, and you’ll detect faint specks of dust. The dust must’ve been hanging in the air, because it didn’t settle on the vertical surfaces, but it’s evenly distributed on the horizontals. The specks don’t spoil the varnish job—in fact, they’re barely noticable. But I notice them, and they annoy me.

No big deal. The boat looks great, the wood is well protected, and hopefully it’ll stay that way for awhile. We just ordered top and bottom covers from veteran Thistle sailor Mike Gillum, who runs GPS Specialty Construction, and the Sled eagerly awaits her full-body Snuggie.

Now comes the hard part, the fun part, the part that worries me. We get to rig the boat and go sailing. First step will be to reinstall the hardware and replace some of the tired blocks and cleats. We need to fair the rudder and keel, and perhaps varnish the tiller we should’ve remembered before. The spars are fine, but some of the halyards and sheets are a little suspect. So I guess we’re still a ways off from hitting the water, especially at the glacial pace this project has assumed.


But we’ll get there. I look out at Lake Erie every day, as I’m driving to work, taking a bike ride, running to the grocery store. Yesterday, a warm breeze was blowing from the south, the water was flat, and the conditions were alluring. Granted, the water temperature is still in the 40s, and the only mariners I saw on the lake were two women attempting to launch a CVS-brand blow-up raft from the beach (the Coast Guard does good business on Lake Erie this time of year). But summer is coming, and soon they’ll be sailing on the lake. Question is, will I be sailing, too?