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Dreams That Hands Have Made

Painting the Topsides
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Life is too short to own an ugly boat

T
he decision to dive further into our refit, beyond the initial goal of pure utility-focused repairs, significantly lightened our wallets and raised some eyebrows, but it also led us to an unexpected lesson and a welcomed boost of pride.

When we first bought S/V Atticus, her dark topsides were weather worn and pocked with scratches and gouges. Her black paint, though faded, efficiently absorbed the heat of the tropical Key West sun and tended to transform the boat’s interior into an oven.

During the initial stages of the refit, the aesthetics of our new home were the last thing on our minds. Our goal was to get out there and cruise as soon as possible, so we invested our efforts into making Atticus more seaworthy and safe. After months of hard work, we realized that despite the installation of silicon bronze seacocks, a brand new diesel engine, and after rewiring and re-plumbing the internal systems, Atticus still looked virtually unchanged to the outside observer!

Life is too short to own an ugly boat! We wanted Atticus to look as good on the outside as she was strong and seaworthy on the inside, so we decided to give her a new paint job, one that, although expensive, would last a decade or more.

The aesthetics of utility

We began the process of painting the topsides, and like every project we have taken on, it took longer than expected. Sanding off the old paint and filling scratches was unexpectedly time consuming, as was grinding out and filling the many spider cracks in the old gelcoat that the newly applied primer revealed. Through it all, we concentrated on doing the job right. As it turns out, not cutting corners takes a lot of time!

After several weeks of preparation, we finally made it to the last stage of spraying topcoat. Anxiety ridden, our spraying sprint took us well past sunset and into the night. But when we awoke the next morning and saw our reflections in the Snow White Awlcraft topcoat, a smile grew on both our faces that stubbornly refused to fade.

The difficulty in this project was never the amount of work that we faced, but rather deciding when to stop, a concern that we’ve continued to encounter in many more of our projects since. We’ve been guilty of getting lost in the smallest details, exchanging time for perfection, and loosing focus on the ultimate goal. We also found that our attention to detail at times attracted almost angry rebukes from some longtime yard residents who felt that anything other than patching holes in the hull was a waste of time.

The soul of a song is laid

One afternoon, staring at our new paint job, I contemplated whether or not we had gone overboard on the aesthetics of Atticus; if, in an alternate universe in which we had spent less time on her spider cracks and pinholes, we’d be happily sailing a functional eyesore through the Bahamas. At that moment, a stranger walked by and instantly recognized Atticus as an original Allied Seawind 30′, the first fiberglass sailboat model to sail around the world. I was astounded! Very few sailors seem to have even heard of this classic ocean crossing model, let alone can recognize one by her lines.

He then said something that has stuck with me. He said that we were doing an honorable thing. He said that this boat was built 50 years ago as a craft to take man to the furthest reaches of the globe, and that because of our efforts, she would have the chance to keep doing it for 50 more.

At first I was confused; seconds before his comment, the last thing that I felt was honorable. I had been working in a dirty Key West boatyard in 90-degree heat, intense humidity, with fiberglass dust on my skin. But then I wondered if in 50 years some wide eyed, excited, and delusional young couple would haul her out with the intention of bringing her back to life again. I wondered if that couple would feel, lingering in her laminates like a ghost, the blood, sweat and tears that went in to keeping this vessel alive. I wondered if they would love her like we did.

Robert N. Rose once wrote, “Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made, for somewhere deep in their oaken hearts, the soul of a song is laid.”

So maybe our rambling efforts towards perfection were not in vain, as long as by the work of our hands, the dream of Atticus may live, for a hundred years or more.

Jordan Wicht
Jordan Wicht
Filmmaker, sailor, and adventure enthusiast; Jordan has dedicated his life to seeking out the natural, social, and cultural fringes of the globe, to find truth in challenging experiences, and to convey what he discovers through the arts of filmmaking, photography, and writing.
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