Shades of Gray


Tales from Geezer Boatworks

by Paul Browne
Geezer Boatworks

Shades of Gray

I saw an old boat on the hard last week. She had one of those black and red “For Sale” signs on her and she was in pretty rough shape. And that got me thinking about old boats and shady dealing. Let me tell you a little story about a Grand Banks woody down at our marina. She was somebody's pride and joy years ago, but now she's pretty well had it. The teak that once looked so pretty under 12 coats of varnish is all painted over. There are plywood patches on the decks and cabin. Some of her windows are cracked. Her paint is pretty well just chalk now, all peeling. I give her maybe a year or two, then she'll almost sink because her bilge pump will stop. Her owners will pump her out and have her hauled. They'll intend to recondition her. They may even pull a plank or two. But when they see what's involved, they'll let her sit there on the hard for a few months. Then they'll stop paying the yard bill, and the marina will have a problem. It happens a lot with big wooden boats in Florida.

But there’s more to tell about that boat. About a year ago she was bought by a couple who were new to boating. The previous owner had lived aboard, and he had been around boats forever. The new owners paid him for the boat, and they graciously let him stay aboard for a couple of weeks after the sale, to allow him time to find a new place to live. I was friends with the previous owner. He knew a lot about boats, and made a living as a Captain. I enjoyed his company, and he gave me advice from time to time. Now on the day he moved ashore, I helped him load cardboard boxes from the boat into the dock cart and then into his son's pickup truck. The boxes were full of household stuff and boat bits that he had collected. Gauges and switches and wires stuck out between the flaps.

Well the next day I met the new owners, or rather I met the woman and one of their kids. She was pretty worked up. She claimed the boat's electronics had been stripped. There were holes in the panels where the gauges and switches and electronics used to be. "What are we going to do?" she asked, "We don't have that much money. Most of our money we spent on buying the boat. We can't afford to replace all that stuff. We're not like some of those rich guys with lots of money to throw around on boats. We're just ordinary working people." There wasn't much to do except listen. I think she said they had called the cops. I can imagine their reaction - disagreement over what was in the sale, civil matter. “You can sue him if you want ma’am.” Where they going to get the money or time to do that? One of the marina workers said the previous owner had even wanted to pull into the travel lift slip to remove the generator, but the marina wouldn't let him. Next weekend there was more scuttlebutt. I heard it second hand, but apparently there had been a nasty altercation between the warring parties. The previous owner called the buyers fools, at which point Freddy threw him off the property. Nobody’s seen him since. Guess I didn’t know him very well at all.

the General Brock

Which brings me to another little story, and a confession. A while back I sold the General Brock to Jim Renforth. First there were the negotiations. What a pair of lightweights we are. Then there was a delay because of a wedding, and then some trouble with bank bureaucracy. After the deal was finally clinched, Jim, his good wife Chris, and I set off together for a little training cruise. It was dark when we turned back home. The General was feeling his way between the markers. We were practicing using the GPS and charts, and getting used to range markers. I was having a great time. But at one point the conversation fell to paint. “Say, why is the hull kind of dull and gray? I thought it was shiny before,” Jim asked. “Ah, er, that's 'cause the paint’s coal tar epoxy, and I umm…Well I coated it with Armor-All to sell the boat,” I answered, “Doesn't last too long.” “Umm, you could paint it over with epoxy or urethane if you want it shiny,” I offered apologetically, feeling pretty sheepish. Then to his eternal credit, and my eternal relief, Jim Renforth laughed. And it wasn’t a derisive snort either, but a good-natured belly-shaker. “Yeah, I can paint it over with epoxy,” he said with a grin that I could see in the dark.

Forgive me Jim. I didn’t know it was you when we first met. I did leave all the gauges and switches. We are none of us lily-white, are we Shipmates?

Paul Browne
CC&BW, Geezer Boatworks

p.s. I showed this story to Jim Renforth before I sent it to Duckworks. I figured it was only fair. And Jim wanted to add a few comments (gulp). So here’s what he had to say in his own words:

Ah, yes--horse trading, the General, and Paul.... Oh, and don't forget the Armor-All. Yeah, we may be lightweights when it comes to negotiations, but I think we saw the spark in each other's eyes when the two of us looked at the General. Maybe that's why we went easy on each other. Listening to Paul's explanation of why and how the General's beautiful, shiny hull kind of dulled after a few days, and his total honesty with the whole thing (Armor-All of all things!) did bring a belly laugh to my being as well as a smile to my heart, because I instantly recalled a friend of ours years ago who thought himself quite the horse-trader. My Admiral, Chris, and I were dabbling in the horse business. She broke 'em, trained 'em; I barrel raced 'em. One night, around the campfire, this friend related to us his most recent encounter with a 'real horse trader'.

He was so proud of the deal he had struck with this 'gentleman' for a Quarter Horse brood mare he'd had his eye on. He had paid for her, loaded her, drove home and took her out of the trailer into the barn, and was beginning to groom and feed her. He worked his way towards her hind quarters, reached up to untie her copper-colored tail from its carefully-held position, only to watch the whole thing fall to the ground in a pile. She had no tail! The seller had very exquisitely arranged a crop of somebody's hair to her so that it looked as if she did have one. Well, our friend was furious at first and called his trading partner in a huff demanding recourse and his money back. The seller eventually calmed him down and soothed his ruffled feathers saying, "That's just for show anyway. You've seen her foals. Her tail or lack of one ain't got nothin' to do with what she throws; does it?" Ultimately, our friend agreed and was satisfied that he'd still made a good deal.

So, how do I feel about the Armor-All? Well, the gauges and switches are still there, and most importantly, at least the General's tail didn't fall off!

Jim Renforth
Valrico, FL