Free Yacht Chapter 7: Get an Even Better One and Fabulize It.




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

continues the Free Yacht saga begun at How to Get a Free Yacht

On the first of the month I went to the marina office to pay the rent.
I apologized for not paying on the 29th and asked about a free dinghy that was up for grabs.
me: "And what's the story about the trimaran next to it?"
he: "That's the marina's. No one bid on it at the lein sale auction. I'll sell it to you cheap, but you've got to get it out of here. When it looks and acts like a boat again you can apply for a slip like anyone else."
We chatted more about the history and possible future of the boat.

It was eerily quiet in the office. No one stopped in with rent checks.
Didn't the 400 other boats docked at the marina need to pay their rent?
In the next year the harbormaster would have to impound many boats and would have to file leins against some, and after much hassling would end up owning boats he didn't want.

Ask any harbormaster if they have boats they want to get rid of.
They'll say "no" because they know that most people are unreliable.
But if they like how you pay your rent they'll have a bunch and will give you a good or free deal on them if you can make them disappear.

I rushed off to confer with my crew of co-captains.
After looking it over we decided we'd go for it. Victor and Kenny said "only if you'll sail it to Hawaii". I explained that if you eat rice and peanutbutter while sailing to Hawaii, food alone will cost you more than a plane ticket. They were undiscouraged so I said "Okay, howabout we get it if YOU are allowed to sail it to Hawaii whenever you want?" That satisfied them and I went to give the harbormaster a deposit check.

For the cost of two months dock slip rent, we get our next "free" yacht. We have a month to get it out of there, so actually the cost is a month's rent.
You may ask, "Why the hell is this a "free boat" if you had to pay money for it? If so, you have the right attitude. Richardson Bay has a bunch of people "living on the hook" with free boats that didn't cost anything but time and effort.

An off-duty Talmudic scholar might clarify for us what type and amount of expenses disqualify a boat as "free". For the sake of the concept I paid the price myself so the boat would be free for my co-captains. Consider me the "Sabbath Goy" of the free boat.

Here's the table of contents of the whole saga:
Chapter 1: How to Get a Free Yacht
Chapter 2: Maiden Voyage of the Free Yacht
Chapter 3: Fix Broken Stix and other Trix
Chapter 4: Outboard Motor Mutilates Foot
Chapter 5: It's sinking and it's on Fire.
Chapter 6: How To Give Away a Free Yacht
Chapter 7: Get an Even Better One and Fabulize it.
Chapter 8: Celebrate Freedom
Chapter 9: Technicolor Dreamboat
Chapter 10: Privateer Knot
Chapter 11: Dismasted!
Chapter 12: Kiteboat!
Chapter 13: Mast Raising


Step 1: But You've Got to Remove It and Fix It

"I want to literally stand on the dock and hand you the papers as you take it out of here", said the harbormaster. "Until then I'll hold onto your deposit check."

And until then we could get it ready to move.
The battery held a charge and the diesel started and ran, but the propeller didn't seem to do anything. That could be a problem with the hydraulic drive to the prop or almost anything.

As you can see, the boat has some serious cosmetic problems.
The white paint is flaking off and there's yellow gummy undercatalyzed gelcoat under that.
An abundant crop of mollusks encrust the hulls below the waterline.
From their size and other signs It appears that maintenance ended a decade ago.
Before that the maintenance had been clumsy and unambitious.

By some miracle the boat didn't leak. We couldn't find any structural flaws at all.
If you could ignore how cosmetically bad it was, it was a really great boat.
The builder had used good materials and had done an excellent job.

It was a Piver 32 or 33, the documents disagreed on which, designed by Arthur Piver in the late sixties. Shortly after that he sailed away and was never seen again.
Is that scary or damn cool? A bit of both.
I ordered copies of all his books from The Mariner's Museum in Virginia, custodian of his documents.

Step 2: Swim and Fix the Prop

Victor and Kenny jumped in to see what was wrong with the propeller.

I should explain about Victor and Kenny. They're sort of unrelated identical twins.
Sometimes they call each other by their own names because they get confused about which one they are. Everyone else does the same thing, or they say "Victorandkenny" or "Kennyandvictor". Victor tends to represent theory, motivation, and ridiculous schemes. Kenny tends to represent methods, Matlab, and being good-natured. They're a good team and don't usually manifest themselves without the other one showing up pretty soon.

There was a bumper crop of seafood hanging off the hulls. The propeller had no blades at all. They had either broken off or had been dissolved away by a mysterious electrical problem called electrolysis. We'd done some reading on the subject and were convinced of the awesome boat-dissolving powers of bad wiring.

Kennyandvictor managed to get the remains of the propeller off the shaft and didn't even lose the nut. It was a big relief to look at it. No apparent pitting or other corrosion.
The blades had just been broken off.
Probably because it had been totally encrusted with shellfish.
Saul had found a replacement propeller in the boat's cabin, so after a quick trip to the chandlery we had new zincs and a good propeller on the boat.

Step 3: Swim and Scrape the Hulls

The next night we went back to scrape the seafood off the hulls. At first we tried to do it with rubber and plastic scrapers and brushes. That had worked fine on Freiboot One, but these shellfish were much more plentiful and tenacious. On the other boat they'd been mostly connected to a layer of soft antifouling paint and came off with gentle implements.
This situation was different. There were the merest traces of blue antifouling paint left, and these animals were tenaciously affixed to the white gelcoat of the boat itself.
We broke down and resorted to steel puttyknives to scrape them off.
Even with these harsh tools it was a lot of work.
Very satisfying of course, and I was surprised how tough the hulls were. The steel scrapers didn't harm the hard white surface of the hulls at all. We found no soft spots anywhere on the hulls, another surprise.

Then Rebecca Weisinger showed up and showed us what real zealous scraping was.
We were in the presence of someone who liked to work. A lot. Nothing was going to remain on these hulls. She didn't leave the water until the hulls were clean.

The boat was a lot higher in the water without the weight of all those shellfish.
What you see on the dock came off about two square feet of hull.
They're bigger than the mussels you get in a restaurant.

Step 4: The Man in the Trenchcoat

"It happens every fifteen years!" Someone yelled from the darkness.
We all jumped. This story is true.
An old man in a dark trenchcoat, a fedora pulled low over his eyes stepped into the light, his feet crunching clamshells on the dock. He was holding a small fluffy dog.
He continued, "I tell them "Don't Use Housepaint!" He paused to inhale. "But do they listen? NO!"
Victor asked him "What kind of paint should we use?"
but the man kept talking, almost yelling, as if he couldn't stop.
"And sure enough, fifteen years later, it's a DISASTER, and there's nothing you can do!"
It was Kenny's turn. "do you know what kind of paint this is?"
"It's all got to come off!" he said "Two part urethane is what you need, and you've got to sand off all this CRAP!"
I tried. "Even the yellow stuff?"
"Sure I was here!" the man said. "It happens EVERY. FIFTEEN. YEARS!"

Step 5: Where and How to Fix It?

We debated how and where to do the major work on the boat. Should we let low tide lay it on a beach and try to sand and paint the bottom before the tide came back in? That's an actual traditional method and is called "careening". After looking over tidal charts we realized that we'd have to get it on a beach during high-high tide and would have to work like crazy during the low-low tide before the low-high tide hit. The pursuing high-low tide would only give us a short window to work in, and if the subsequent high-high tide wasn't as high as the high-high tide that got us up there, we'd have trouble getting it back in the water. We decided it was worth hauling it out at a boatyard, where the moon's gravity only messes with you if you're drunk.

Victor found a few boatyards in the Bay area that could lift multihulls out of the water. The best deal was at KKMI in Richmond, a dozen miles north of us. I was driving cross-country with my mother in an antique Toyota pickup, due to arrive on friday. Victor scheduled the haulout for that weekend.
On Friday they untied the boat and motored to Richmond. The boat worked fine.
The boatyard hauled it out and propped it up on blocks.
Victor, Kenny, and Patrick stayed up late sanding the hulls.

Step 6: An Unexpected Development

On Friday my mom and I got to town from our cross-country drive.
I called the marina to see about getting the papers for the boat.
"Is Ron there?" I ask.
"I'm sorry, but he no longer works here" said the voice at the other end of the line.
I didn't know what to say. Victor and Kenny had seen him that afternoon when they picked up the boat.
"Is this such-and-so marina?" I ask.
"Yes it is, how may I help you?" said the voice.
To make a short story even shorter, nothing in life is certain and the next morning I picked up the papers for the boat from the new harbormaster.

Unfortunately before allowing the boat to return to the marina he wanted a complete survey of the boat and some other odd things with the application. A surveyor would cost more than the boat did. Why wasn't this mentioned earlier?
The boat had been in the marina for at least a decade. They had chained it to the dock and owned it themselves for a year or more. Now they pretend to be totally ignorant of the boat, invent expensive ordeals for us, and treat us like unwanted strangers, A survey hadn't been required in the past. The marina was half empty. On monday the boat would be back in the water, ten times safer than our last boat, and we'd have nowhere to park it.
This picture expresses how I felt.

I consulted with Captain Lorraine, who's sailed around the world in races. "You don't understand" she said, "Marinas hate boats. They'll do anything they can to keep boats from getting in."

Step 7: Haulout Party-Saturday

Back north to Richmond, the boat, and big fun.
Our gang of rowdies showed up with beer, food, and every piece of paint-harming machinery we could find.
My mom made sure that starvation wasn't possible.
Patrick, Victor, Kenny, Rebecca, Moana, Lorraine, Nick and others swarmed all over the boat and sanded about a hundred pounds of sick paint off the topsides.
By the time I saw it the hull bottoms were sanded, the oyster anchors and other mollusks were gone and the hulls were perfect.
No osmosis blisters in the fiberglass, no dents in the bottom, ready for the new coat of bottom paint.

Step 8: Bottom Paint

After our encounter with Trenchcoat Man we did a lot of reading and asking around about paint.
Some kinds of paint can't stick to others, some don't ever dry when they contact others.
Some paints need a specific primer coat. We didn't know what was on the boat now.

Bottom paint is different from topsides paint.
It contains copper which is poisonous to sea life.
The purpose of bottom paint is to keep your bottom from turning into a coral reef.
Bottom paint comes in two basic types, soft and hard.
Soft bottom paint is always red. It wears away exposing a new layer of copper to the sea life.
Hard bottom paint comes in various colors, needs to be scrubbed periodically to keep critters off it, but is a smoother surface so the boat will be faster. Hard paint usually needs a primer coat and is more expensive. None of the paint we used was cheap.
I think we spent about $300 on paint, rollers, brushes, gloves, etc.

There was a lot of agonizing over paint. We bought some, changed our minds, and decided to return it. They had gone out of business immediately after selling us the paint. OK. Problem solved.
That's one type paint we would use. We ended up needing five different types of paint.

On the bottom we rolled two coats of soft red bottom paint right on the bare hull. We brush-painted the waterline stripe with blue-black hard bottom paint. The masking tape for the waterline stripe had a tricky choreography, Taping and pulling the tape after the layer was mostly dry, to get each of the paint edges in the right place and overlapping each other.

Rolling the bottom paint on was really satisfying. It made the boat look so much more official.
Here's Kenny feeling the big emotional payoff. Next picture is the following morning doing the second coat. Rebecca, Victor and Kenny model the yachting wear of the season.

Step 9: Topsides Primer

This was the toughest decision and the most expensive paint we used.
We didn't want trenchcoat man to go around yelling about our mistakes.
We went for the two-part epoxy-urethane primer.

We followed the directions exactly, except for the temperature of the yard, which dropped a couple of degrees lower than we liked in the evening. The yard had a paint shaker, which we used a lot.
After mixing the paint it sits in the can for twenty minutes "induction time" for the chemicals to start reacting.

Rolling the paint on was very satisfying. It was a thin layer and not very opaque, so it was kind of blotchy looking, but still, it made the boat look great. The fumes smelled okay, but they were very dangerous. We all got really stupid and had trouble talking. We knew we needed our gas masks but were too stupid to get them. We just wanted to finish painting the deck. I almost fell off the boat. We said a lot of hilarious stupid stuff that none of us can remember. Here's Victor staggering around afterward.

Step 10: Topsides Texture

Once the magic primer was in place any kind of paint would stick to it.
We broke down and chose white for the decks even though it would show dirty footprints.
We had a lot of trouble finding out how to texture the deck so it would have a nonslip surface.
I was once in a storm on a boat with very slippery decks. It was horrible. Repeatedly falling down and getting bashed against things.
After a severe crisis of indecision we bought a gallon of white and another gallon of textured deck paint just before the store closed.
That textured paint was amazing. After machine-shaking it we just rolled it on. The little texture grains in it had the same density as wet paint and just magically spread themselves out very uniformly.
This time we put on our gasmasks first and didn't die from fumes.
We were still stoned from the primer fumes though and there are about 8 hours that none of us will ever remember.

Here's the sunset and the boat is fully painted except for some spots under the jacks. It's all one color and looks like a real boat. We can't believe it's the same boat and we own it.

My truck's hood is open. My truck starter died, so I couldn't start it without pushing it like Fred Flintstone. This time even that didn't work, so Moana was going to take my Mom to the Bart station, but then her battery died. We jump-started her car but her battery wasn't even good enough to keep her car running. We got a good marine battery that a neighboring yacht was throwing out. She put it on her passenger seat and ran the cables out the window and under the hood.
After dropping off my mom Moana called from the side of the highway. The cables had shorted out under the hood, melted the insulation off, and almost caught on fire.

I was so high on fumes I was immediately distracted by something else after the call and forgot all about it. I guess she figured it out though because she's still alive.

Step 11: Shifting the Jacks

Monday morning.
My mom and myself are there for final touches and see the boat lifted back into the water.
I ask for a yard guy to shift the jacks so I can slap bottom paint on the bare spots.
I thought they'd use a big machine, but after I see it done I realize we could have done it ourselves.

Step 12: William Randolph Hoist

The big moment comes and the giant machine is there. The man driving it is a nerveless demigod whose job is to wrench gold-plated yachts from their native element .
He does not dwell on what might have gone wrong.

There's a name plate on the side of the machine that says "William Randolph Hoist".
There's a smaller machine named "Patty Hoist" that moves the smaller monohulls.

Step 13: From the Land to the Air to the Water

I was wondering what they'd lift the boat by. They just put big straps under the whole thing.
After it was lifted I ran under and slapped some bottom paint on the part that had been resting on the main blocks. "Can you not get paint on my straps?" said the driver.

And then the boat was lifted into the air further and slowly carried to the water.

Step 14: And There She IS!

Back in the water, looking incredibly gorgeous.
The transformation had taken place in a single weekend. Thanks Everyone!!!!!
Especially thanks Victor for making it all happen. A round of applause!!!

The only problem is, where do we take her now?
I called around to local boat surveyors and they were unavailable or too expensive.
We decided it wasn't worth it to apply back to the marina she used to be in.
The other marinas we called didn't have any multihull berths available.
Some of the marinas I encountered while shopping were clearly run by insane people,
or perhaps by very sane people who simply hated boats.

Everyone at KKMI was totally sweet. They said we could leave her there for a few days til we found a place to take her. When I paid the bill they gave me a bottle of KKMI brand wine.
It cost about $500 for the service and materials we got from them. We paid $400 or so for tools and materials we got elsewhere. We should have bought it all, especially paint from them.
I know it sounds like an ad, but I'm a happy customer. They seem to actually like boats and people also. In four days this boat will sail away, and we don't know where it's going.

Continued at Celebrate Freedom

Here's the table of contents of the whole saga:
Chapter 1: How to Get a Free Yacht
Chapter 2: Maiden Voyage of the Free Yacht
Chapter 3: Fix Broken Stix and other Trix
Chapter 4: Outboard Motor Mutilates Foot
Chapter 5: It's sinking and it's on Fire.
Chapter 6: How To Give Away a Free Yacht
Chapter 7: Get an Even Better One and Fabulize it.
Chapter 8: Celebrate Freedom
Chapter 9: Technicolor Dreamboat
Chapter 10: Privateer Knot
Chapter 11: Dismasted!
Chapter 12: Kiteboat!
Chapter 13: Mast Raising



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    77 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 13

    The demigod speaks! Haha, Doode, youre funny. I am really enjoying this journey you had.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    A gel cote and that thing could be somebodys home. What a deal that engine alone is worth what you paid.


    7 years ago on Step 6

    not cool! your readers want MORE details! not FEWER!!! please?


    7 years ago on Step 14

    What does the inside look like. Have you worked on it at all?

    Wade Tarzia

    12 years ago on Step 12

    Cool names for the hoists. I'll add them to my "Occupational Folklore -- informal machine-nicknames" list. Let me know if you hear/have leard any others.

    6 replies
    hintssWade Tarzia

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    molly guard - the cover thing over emergency stop buttons, named after Molly, a programmer's daughter, who kept hitting the emergency stop on the mainframe. some plexiglass later, and tada!

    SmeeonWade Tarzia

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 12

    its tradition for all smokehouse smokers to have a name before they are used for the first time.

    TimAndersonWade Tarzia

    Reply 12 years ago on Step 12

    that whole "axis of symmetry" thing, where you could slice it in half and the halves would be mirror images of each other.


    8 years ago on Step 3

    Didja eat 'em? The mussels?I was a dockmaster in Norfolk VA (not far from the mariner's museum) and we would have eaten them. Steamed on the dock in some beer and served with butter. Yum.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    hello, new here, what's the rent you've fallen in? i'd love to see if I can help...if I at the least get a free ride! waiting to here from you ...ciao luv


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Hay I am all new to this, so I will be blunt if you ever fall be hind on rent I would love to have that free boat. It is a graet find and besides you guy's have done all the work ( not free) but cool.
    When your ready you can E-mail me at Good job on your find

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 14

    Free Yacht 1 had amazing beautiful sails.
    The 2nd one had kind of ratty rattling sails that weren't quite right for the boat.
    Then friends gave us nice sails. So many to choose from we got some that fit. There are a lot of sails out there. I used to regularly scavenge a sailmaker's dumpster. wow. lots of sails.


    9 years ago on Step 5

    KKMI!  Dude, they're good but they ain't cheap.


    9 years ago on Step 6

    "Marinas hate boats. They'll do anything they can to keep boats from getting in."

    Oh man this is sooooo true.

    The only thing they hate more than boats is the people who own them.


    9 years ago on Step 9

     dittos!  would you lick lead popsicles all day?  what fun is life if you can't walk or perform medium to fine motor tasks?  remember, life has a strange way of making us pay for "free".  lol