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2012-03-17

Links in the chain

Seem familiar? Yeah, that's why I got the job.


I belong, like most recreational sailboaters, to a yacht club.  Most recreational power boaters, by contrast, seem to belong to marinas. I don't know why this is, or even if it's just my mistaken observation, but as I belong to both a yacht club and rent a dock at a marina, I can say that the general tenor of each place seems different.

A yacht club, apart from the general perception that its focus is on rich guys swanning about in fake admiral's rig notwithstanding, is premised in most cases on a certain amount of member participation in the dirty work. This usually means volunteering to keep the facilities in order and to tend to the club's equipment and seasonal tasks, which are many. Most yacht clubs will have volunteerism extracted in the form of "club hours" or some other commitment of time and labour to avoid, defray or lessen the cost to all of hiring outside, paid help.

Generally, this works well, but with the average age of YC members creeping ever upward at the same time as the world continues to get busier, seemingly, for all of middle aged and older, it is sometimes difficult to co-ordinate even the well-meaning volunteer, or to utilize them once co-ordinated.

After about 10 years of editing the club newsletter (not a stretch for a professional writer/editor/publisher, frankly), I decided to switch things up a little and to join the "Mooring Commitee" at my club. This is the team responsible for maintaining, repairing and replacing as needed the various floating tires, ramps and other assorted bits and pieces that are chained to railway wheels at the bottom of the club's basin, the acreage devoted to mooring non-dock-owning boats.

Lake Ontario is not particularly benign, nor is our mooring field particularly sheltered. There is usually damage requiring attention: strained, stretched or corroded mooring chains, sunken tires, rusty hubs, and assorted debris. We have two main tools to aid us: a purpose-built, self-propelled pontoon barge with a hydraulic crane to hoist the railway wheels on and off the bottom, and a venerable, approximately 65-year-old work boat named Storm King.

Storm King: Not dead, merely rusting.


I am going to be taking over the care and feeding of this old boat shortly, as the fellow who was doing it has time commitments elsewhere. I'm already the driver of the barge, "driver" in that case meaning "just don't hit anyone", as its steering characteristics resemble that of a saddled three-legged pig.

Storm King is not appreciably better, having no real neutral gear, a permanent list, insensitve helm, a 1950s Chysler block with various leaks, cracks and "little ways", and a hull of sub-optimal thickness. It's clear that we need a new workboat, and soon, nostalgia for this otherwise useful and stalwart little tank notwithstanding. Storm King also provides tows for boats with engine trouble (not uncommon) at the club's launch and haulout, even though its keel is laughable and the towing process is like making a complicated bank shot in snooker, underwater, via robot arms.
What James Bond might use to dive on a mooring. The landing craft gate at the front would make an excellent dive platform.

Storm King is simply very worn at this stage. No amount of rehab or maintenance of the non-cheap variety could reasonably be expected to overcome the many deficits of this vessel, at this stage. We can likely (I certainly hope as I will be driving the thing) keep it from exploding, sinking or otherwise making a dramatic exit for this season, and there are many attributes to the boat specific to our existing duties everyone involved would like to see carried on with a successor work boat (see the picture above), but there's no feeling at this stage that replating the hull or putting in an efficient diesel makes economic or functional sense.

The fact that I am rehabbing my own steel boat, using hoists, modifying hydraulic steering gear and so on, is not at all coincidental. This job, such as it is, plays very close to my own activities and interests, even if it's of the patch 'n' mend variety.

We'll see as the season progresses if a series of pallative measures renders further insight on the best method to keep a younger boat in better condition for the years to come. Certainly, if I were at a marina and not a club, I wouldn't get to volunteer for a position that dovetails so snugly with the sort of stuff I'm already doing/learning/trying not to lose a finger at. It's all, puns intended, links in the chain.

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