When luck defies better judgment

Posted 10/19/23

This is a column about ribs.

I’m not talking about the ribs at Appleby’s   that my son and daughter-in-law would drive out of their way to get, nor am I writing about a …

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When luck defies better judgment


This is a column about ribs.

I’m not talking about the ribs at Appleby’s   that my son and daughter-in-law would drive out of their way to get, nor am I writing about a broken rib which can be painful. The cure, as I discovered, is a matter of time and not sleeping on it. That seemed somewhat disconcerting, because I thought I would have at least gotten an x-ray. Time worked, but time can also be the bane of ribs – the ribs that you’ll find in a boat.

As I’ve written in prior columns, I own a 19-foot Rhodes that is probably 40 years old. There’s quite a fleet of Rhodes-19s in the bay. They are owned by sailing schools and raced  as well as to just get out on the water and enjoy the Bay.  The original Rhodes-19, like mine, were built by O’Day . They are still being produced by Stuart Marine.

The boats are either of a keel or centerboard design.  Mine has a keel that weights 415 pounds.

I bought the boat from an avid racer some ten years ago. He spent a winter “tricking out” the boat to make it go as fast as it could under class rules.  The hardware and lines were the latest high tech stuff, expensive but dependable.  The boat was outfitted with foot straps enabling the crew to hike out to windward and an internal hand pump to drain the bilge because when you’re pushing performance to the limit you can misjudge and take on water, which is not a good thing.  The boat had numerous racing features including lines to tweak the tension of the jib, loosen the backstay and adjust the traveler.

If you’re not a sailor don’t let all these terms stop you from reading on. In simple terms this was a VW that had been transformed into a Porsche.

Just how fast it went, however, depended on who was sailing it.

Bill Hickey and I started racing a Rhodes when a fleet of 12 to 15 boats were on the line off Bullocks Cove on Thursday nights.  We would regularly finish in the bottom quarter of the fleet until I bought the speed machine.

I won’t  forget our first race. We had a lousy start, which often decides the outcome of a race. Relatively soon, however, we were passing boats. I asked Bill, “what are we doing differently?”  He didn’t know and I didn’t know. We just  kept doing what we were doing and soon were in front of everybody.  There was a problem. I hadn’t checked the course. I never paid much attention to the course because we followed everyone else.

I looked back and a dozen boats were following me.  I was heading for a channel marker frequently used for our races and everyone came along with me. When I crossed the finish line – my first “first “in a Rhodes – the race committee cheered.  The bloom didn’t last long. That evening when the committee announced results, I along with those who trusted me to be their leader were disqualified, Only one boat sailed the proper course making it both first and last.

The lesson learned, we made sure to check the course  in subsequent races. We did reasonably well season after season.

To get back to ribs, when I took the tarp off the boat this spring and prepared for the spring rite of sanding and painting, I noticed a sixteenth of an inch crack between the hull and the keel.  I hadn’t caulked the joint in years and didn’t think much of it until I checked the bilge.  Although built of fiberglass, the boat has a series of oak ribs running from bow to stern. Four of them have metal rods extending up from the keel. That’s what was holding the  415 pound iron  keel  in place.

A friend who works on boats came over to check it out.  In no uncertain terms he said, “don’t sail this.”  What was even worse, he said he couldn’t do anything until this fall. I was faced with losing the entire season.  I looked for  another boat, but in the end concluded this would be a summer sans sailing. That was until I talked to  another sailor, John Cavanagh. He introduced me to “liquid wood” , a two part epoxy designed to penetrate dry wood turning it rock hard.

My son, Ted, announced I was crazy. Even with liquid wood, it was too risky. Yet, I went ahead and after liberally coating the ribs with the epoxy sauce, launched her.  It wasn’t  a stellar racing season, but I was on the water, the keel didn’t fall off and the boat didn’t sink.

Two weeks ago, she came out and I trailered her home.  I removed the floor boards for a full view of the ribs. One of the four holding the keel was like a sponge, exposing the keel bolts. The other three supporting ribs were intact but rotted. Without any effort I could push a screw driver through them.

Ted wasn’t ribbing me. It could have been a disaster.

 This was my luckiest sailing season…I stayed afloat.

ribs, boat, boating


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