IN PRAISE OF THE DIY BOATYARD
Last month I put it to the readers about DIY boatyards. Do you prefer these yards? Are you willing to pay more in lay-day rates to use a DIY yard? Do you have a favorite DIY yard? It wasn’t a very divisive question because everyone seems to love DIY boatyards, and several of you gave a shout-out to your favorite. As an illustration last month, I used the graphic of one of my favorite DIY yards, Ventura Harbor Boatyard (in Southern California). Reader Wayne Wright had something to say about Ventura Harbor Boatyard, so he gets the first word . . .
I’ve used Ventura Harbor Boatyard twice. I loved the facilities and the people.
Being in Boat Owner 101 when I acquired my 1965 Pearson Rhodes 41 put me in the Napa Valley Marina boatyard. As I found myself in way over my head, it was an educational experience to say the least. Being in a DIY yard was like being at a camp for boat owners. The yard crew could handle any need I’d have, including switching from an Atomic 4 gasoline engine to a Westerbeke 4-108 diesel engine. By the way, I got the Westerbeke from a boat that was given to me in the yard and that I subsequently salvaged out — that only happens in a DIY yard. I learned more during my two years in that yard than I have in the last 40 in the grocery business. I met people from all walks of life, including a rocket scientist, a retired fighter pilot, and people who had raised families on their boats — all of them working on their boats. The learning curve was long, but I’ve learned fiberglass, woodworking, diesel maintenance, painting with two-part paints, marine wiring (both AC and DC), and how to sand. I loved every minute of it.
–Mike Lee, Rhodes 41, Wind River
My wife and I have a 1978 B29 we sail in the North Channel area above Lake Huron. We have a slip at Spider Bay Marina in Little Current, Ontario, our home town. For the winter, we store our boat in Gore Bay at Purvis Marine Storage. We can do as much or as little of our own boat maintenance as we want. If we need advice from the yard professionals, it’s free. Norm and Diane are great to deal with. They are honest and look after our boat like it was theirs.
Years ago, there was a bit in Good Old Boat about the difference between boatyards and marinas. I trust you’ll get a chorus of replies in support of the notion that it’s not just a question of semantics. Where I live, and this is probably a universal truth, the scarcity and value of waterfront real estate is rapidly putting the old-school boatyard on the endangered species list. I couldn’t be a boat owner were it not for my neighborhood yard. I’ve been a frequent flier there for 20 years now. I truly think of the folks there as family.
Human resources anywhere are limited; if you need a job done that requires expertise, you wait, you take a number, you pay through the nose. Having people who know you, people who can appreciate your circumstances, people with whom you share a level of trust that can be achieved only over the course of years of haulouts, bottom paintings, rigging crises, plumbing issues, as well as the accumulation of simply good old family history, is priceless.
Over half the traffic in the yard involves boats that work for a living (mostly crabbing and oyster harvesting). These folks get preferential treatment, but everybody gets along. There is nothing but respect around the yard, as well as plenty of talk. (Do all boat yards run on gossip?)
I happily use (and recommend) the Brownell yard in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. This yard allows boat owners to putter around on their own craft. The yards that don’t allow this kind of thing are probably too dependent on lawyers’ admonitions, simple greed, or both. Brownell charges me a flat $195 per month to keep my 30-foot Cape Dory motorsailor on the hard. Haulout and launch are additional, as is shrink wrapping, but the total is about two-thirds of what I was charged at the previous yard for exactly the same work. Brownell also has a list of competent nearby mechanics and electricians at hand for jobs that are beyond my skill set.
–Buell Hollister, Glencannon, Padanaram, So. Dartmouth, Massachusetts
I have used Canal Street Marina in Chicago, as my boatyard of choice over the past few years. They allow 24/7 access and they place no restrictions on DIY work. When I run into trouble, they offer a helpful list of vendors and repairmen who can assist. I’d never consider going somewhere that didn’t allow DIY work on my good old boat.
Do-it-yourself boat yards have kept us going for the last 40 years. Only once have we paid someone else to work on our boat. It was the end of a two-year refit of Entr’acte when we decided to try the Coppercoat bottom treatment. Although we could have applied it ourselves, we decided to treat ourselves and have it applied professionally. A friend recommended the Napa Valley Marina boatyard just outside of San Francisco. We said the magic words “Do it!” and left them to it. The results were fabulous and the crew at the Napa Valley Marina boatyard were thorough professionals in every respect. We cannot say enough good things about them.
Napa Valley Marina boatyard is a do-it-yourself yard in every respect. We lived on board and worked on various projects (while the crew worked on the comprehensive Coppercoat preparation and application). At the end of each work day, Kirby either met with us personally or telephoned to give us an update of the day’s progress. I can say that at no time during the exacting preparation and application process did anyone attempt to rush or cut corners in any way.
Another great aspect of working on our boat at this boatyard was seeing so many young folks building their dreams. We counted no fewer than 10 couples working hard, day after day to either build from scratch, restore, or prepare their boats for voyages. Watching them reminded us of ourselves all those years ago and made us feel young again.
A big thank you to Mike, Kirby, and the entire crew at the Napa Valley Marina boatyard.
–Ellen and Ed Zacko, Entr’acte, Sun City, Arizona
Unfortunately, there are no DIY boatyard options that I know of on the north ends of Kentucky or Barkley Lakes. I wish there were. I would happily pay a higher lay-day rate to be able to work on my boat myself, and the labor savings would more than offset a reasonable increase. I’m happy to pay for specific equipment or expertise I don’t possess, but even the best mechanics won’t care for my boat the way I do.
I live in North Jersey, but for 10 years have wintered my boat in the Viking Boat Yard in Buchanan, New York. I can do whatever I want to my boat so long as I am considerate of others and clean up my mess.
–Brent Charnley, Lopez Island, Washington
Brent, we’ve heard other good things about IMC. Our friends aboard Vagrant, who used to keep their boat on a mooring in Pirate’s Cove, just swung by, here in Ajo, to echo your recommendation. –Eds
I’d kept my boat in the Hartge Yacht Yard on the West River in Maryland for several years until a couple of years ago, when the new yard manager set a rule for no DIY work below the waterline. I was used to painting my own bottom but was told I had to hire the yard to do it for me. When I asked whether that edict was an eviction notice for me, the reply was, “just tell me when you want to get wet.” So, I moved south on the Chesapeake Bay to a marina on Rockhold Creek. I was perfectly happy there until the owner decided to sell. The new owners started a powerboat dealership, so looks like I’m going to have to move yet again.
I have a 1966 Tartan 27 that is a work in progress. My Atomic 4 is out of the boat and I’m wondering if the yard has the skills to drop it back in when I’m ready. The wiring on the older boats doesn’t meet standards, so I’ve been taking the opportunity to move the fuse panels and starter switch out of the engine box (much easier to do with the engine out). I’m used to taking my time, splitting time around the house with boat time. Now I must focus in the spring on getting things done and getting back in the water.
We have the pleasure of being at the Beaconsfield Yacht Club near Montreal, Quebec, where, during the sailing season, we can work on our boats ashore and enjoy access to a great team at Shipwright Service.
I do a bit of DIY (and I even worked at Shipwright Service for a while). I have often contracted Shipwright Service to do work and they do a better job that most DIY people would. I am a believer in specialization. They will also rent tools and sell consumables (such as sanding discs) and are always available for pointers. The crew at a good boatyard will often have the skill to do something blindfolded and in far less time than I could, and with a better outcome. For example, a good shipwright will have fiberglass work dialed down to knowing just how much hardener to add given the temperature outside as well as knowing the practical amount of epoxy and fillers to mix for a given job time/size.
It is nice to be at a yard where I can opt to do some of the drudgery before hiring the pros to come in to do the technical work, the best option.
I have used Cerritos Yacht Anchorage in LA Harbor as a DIY yard for bottom jobs about five times in the last 20 years for my Catalina 25. I usually schedule my time over the Thanksgiving weekend, so that I have 4 days off work to get the all the grinding/patching/sanding/more patching/more sanding done. I believe it’s one of the last remaining DIY yards around here. Always wonderful people there.