Doomed by Pride and Envy


My last big haulout was careening an old wooden boat on a mud flat in Benoa Harbor, Bali. We had hired a crew of four locals who worked with the tide, so we tried to knock off as much as possible long before the careening. Our intention was to concentrate only on the essentials below the waterline – inspect stuffing box, cutless bearing, prop, rudder, through hulls, repair as needed, and apply bottom paint.

Our haulout was purely pragmatic. We knew she’d look better with new bottom paint, but this wasn’t a trip to the beauty shop. Because most of the boats in the harbor were either fishing boats with rusty ports and weeping fasteners, or cruisers bearing the marks of years at sea – weathered Sunbrella, faded paint, and less-than-brilliant stainless and bronze – we weren’t diverted by any temptation to keep up with the Joneses. And under the press of a tight time schedule, our instinctual urge to turn our cruising boat into another shiny object was easily stifled.

When the time came for the first haulout on my newly purchased 1971 Yankee 30, Opal, I was committed to a similar approach. Each day on the hard drains dollars from the cruising kitty, so it behooves the DIY owner to have a plan and a schedule and to stick to them as much as possible. I had a plan and a tentative schedule, but, as any boat owner will tell you, the best laid haulout plans are bound to go wrong somewhere. In my case, it was human nature that bore me off the tracks.

Psychologists and anthropologists have many explanations for our attraction to shiny things. According to some research, the almost universal attraction to glittering object is a survival instinct. The sun’s shimmering reflection on the surface of a pond or lake means that most essential element of life, H20, is near. Upon reflection (no pun intended), the element of human nature that waylaid me was far more basic. It was just plain envy.

I don’t know if this was by coincidence or design, but the good folks at Salt Creek Marina in St. Petersburg, FL, settled Opal smack dab between two sailboats undergoing professional paint jobs. (Using Florida’s humidity to work in its favor, Salt Creek has the art of the spray job down to a science.)

One neighboring boat was a custom, expedition-equipped motorsailor that gleamed with a new coat of deep blue Awlcraft 2000, the yard’s hull paint of choice. (Awlgrip has a new line of LPU paints, Awlgrip HDT, but Salt Creek, for the moment, likes to stick with what it knows.)

To make a long story short, between seeing sparkling wavelets reflecting off the motorsailor’s hull as it launched, and admiring Salt Creek’s transformation of a 35-year-old Gulfstar 40 into the pride of the yard, my primordial brain took over. Plans for a quick single-part rolland- tip were scrapped for a professional spray job, and that, along with the bottom job, nearly doubled the price of my $7,000 bargain boat.

While I am delighted with the final results (see photo) of Opal’s new topside job, I offer my experience as a cautionary tale. Suppressing our increasingly expensive vestigial instincts is a fool’s errand. The best you can do to avoid the glitter trap is to pre-select a spot among the derelicts of the yard, where even the most amateur DIY paint job will elevate your boat to queen of the fleet.

Darrell Nicholson
Darrell Nicholson is Director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division and the editor of Practical Sailor. A lifelong thalassophile, he grew up sailing everything from El Toro dinghies to classic Morgans on Miami's Biscayne Bay. In the early 90s, he left a newspaper job to sail an old gaff-rigged ketch across the Pacific and has been writing about boats and the sea ever since. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.