TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Hell-Bent On DIY? Read This First

Once upon a time, there was a man named Tom. Tom wasn’t a mechanic. He wasn’t a repairman. He did, however, try to repair or fix things without reading the “How to do it” manuals.

I am that Tom, and here is the result of my latest project.

Years ago, we purchased an early manufactured 12-foot Sunfish sailboat. My wife and kids loved to sail, but I learned the hard way why I won’t.

Here’s why. Our great former neighbors, Walt and Charlene Balmer, invited us to their cottage for the weekend. They had a sailboat, and my wife talked me into going for a ride with Walt in command.

Out we went to the middle of the lake … and then the wind stopped blowing. My personal supply of hot air could not provide sufficient energy.

A few hours later, when we finally made it to shore, my wife was slightly bronzed. I looked like a boiled lobster. It took many moons for the various layers of burned skin to peel off and heal, and for the next few days, I couldn’t do anything but suffer and swear. It was a good thing I wasn’t on the judicial bench by that time, or I tell you, there would have been some naughty sentences imposed on scofflaws.

Despite all that, when we purchased our own cottage years later, we bought the Sunfish in question. I confess, we allowed the Sunfish to deteriorate. Not being any kind of expert in fiberglass repair, I retired it to a place behind our bunkhouse, where it sat for years.

One fine day, I called a guy who said he repaired fiberglass boats. He gave me an estimate, and I delivered the boat to his shop. I gave my wife a photo of that little sailboat for Christmas, along with a promise that it would be ready in the spring. She was overjoyed.

Two years later — yeah, I said two years later — I called the man and asked WTH was wrong? Instead of being decent about it, he quickly replied, “If you don’t like the delay, come get your boat.” He offered no explanation or excuses, just plain sarcasm … something I am familiar with.

I told him to go … play with himself and drove right over to get the boat. It went straight back behind the bunkhouse, where it again sat for another seven or eight years, housing many crawling bugs and critters.

Last summer, while I was cutting the grass behind the building, I turned the sailer over and took a look. I thought, “WTH, I’ll bet I can fix the cracks in the bottom.” I got the supplies, read the instructions on how to mix the fiberglass and hardener, then proceeded to place it over the fiberglass matting and smoothed (kind of smoothed) it over.

After the repairs hardened, I turned the boat over. While the top was pocked and ugly, my wife happily jumped aboard and took off for an afternoon of fun. It actually worked pretty well. But then the season ended. A month ago, the real problem developed.

I looked at the top and the missing edging strips and thought, “Sure, I can repair, replace and paint this.” That is exactly what I did.

I bought the brightest red fiberglass paint that credit could buy, along with another supply of Fiberglas and hardener. I sanded, scraped and sanded again after applying the fiberglass patches. Then, on went two coats of primer and two coats of the red paint. Add the white bumper trim around the whole boat, and, for a do-it-yourselfer, I thought it looked pretty darn good.

Maureen, my wife, took it out on its maiden voyage, around and back. Then we parked it on shore.

My son, Ron, came down last weekend. After some prompting from his mom, he took the red rocket out for a spin. (That’s not its official name, you understand; we haven’t picked that yet.) He sailed it around a bend and out of sight, then seemed to stay out for a very long. He finally returned — frustrated and laughing at the same time.

It seems that the longer he was out, the clumsier the handling became. It was getting really bad by the time he heard swishing sounds, maybe from the hull. The boat seemed to be getting bow-heavy, too, so he moved out of the tiny cockpit toward the back of the sailer. When he made his move, the damned sailboat moved, too —straight up into the air, dumping him on his keester wondering what had just happened. Then the main sail broke and collapsed.

Another boat happened to be nearby, and the folks on board boat were as startled as Ron himself. Suspected cause: water in the hull.

After the boat leveled, Ron eventually made it back by using the sail as a jib. Luckily for him, unlike me on my own maiden voyage years before, he had previously covered all exposed parts in sunscreen.

It took a long time to drain the hull — yeah, that one I’d “fixed” — as it was completely full of water. After it was empty, we tipped it over, and sure enough, there were some hairline cracks … exactly where my “repairs” had been.

So now I’m off to find something to put across the middle bottom of the boat to really seal it and make it seaworthy. There’s a product called KeelGuard that that might do the job. It’s a good thing I’m retired with time on my hands. The adventure continues. I’ll let you know sometime how the final repair turns out.

This article is dedicated to all you do-it-yourselfer who start strong but end up wondering: Should you hired a professional after all? You know the answer now. Amen.

4 thoughts on “TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Hell-Bent On DIY? Read This First”

  • Jim Fuglie July 19, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Well, what the heck does one of those new Sunfishes cost, anyway?

  • t July 19, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    Around $4500. I think.

  • Old Gym Rat July 20, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Old lawyers just don’t learn!

    1. t July 21, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Ha, even as a young lawyer this is the story of my do it yourself ability.


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