Zen and the Art of the Endless Refit

Of boatyard denizens, sail-away dreamers, and a Balinese girl with her broom.


The forlorn monuments to Sisyphus are clustered in one corner of the boatyard where the summer weeds grow tall. They arrive by towboat, strapped to a flatbed, or propelled by their own sputtering diesel. The travel lift scoops them up, sways through the sculpture garden of dreams delayed and deposits them near the rusty chain link fence at the back where they wait . . . for someone . . . anyone . . . to deliver inspiration. The most neglected boats pass from owner to owner without ever creeping closer to the sea. But finally, by dint of sweat and blood and a steady pulse of cash, a few begin to stir. The spars, ropes, and hardware heaped around them are collected and reinstalled. What has been lost is replaced. What is broken is fixed. Scars heal beneath coats of primer and paint.

And then, just like that, these lucky suckers given a second shot are gone. Sometimes there is a goodbye. Or even a small splash party. But rarely does that promised postcard from the Grenadines arrive to reassure those still stuck on the hard that yes, another runner made it. So we are left to wonder.

Zen and the Art of the Endless Refit
Editor Darrell Nicholson is in the midst of refitting his 1971 Yankee 30, Opal. The refit of the Sparkman & Stephens designed sloop included soda blasting the hull down to bare fiberglass for a new barrier coat. (photo by Darrell Nicholson)


The boatyard, they say, is full of dreamers and doers, and the implication is that one is better than the other. Certainly, every yard-dweller recognizes that the elders bearing truly good advice rarely linger. They mind their list and knock it down fast. Meanwhile, the self-appointed storytellers, the peddlers of dubious sealore, the long responders to questions never asked, set up shop below your transom ladder. Occasionally they tinker on their own half-finished boat.

These are your convivial campground hosts. The yard is their home, and they couldn’t be happier than they are now, engaged in an earnest quest. Their aim is often mistaken for a yearning to sail away, to break free from ordinary days, to explore and to be truly self reliant—like the heroes of the books we read. In truth their goal is more grounded and familiar. It is the common human quandary, how to satisfy our wild imagination and still find comfort in the confines of the possible.

For those, like me, who struggle to remain attentive to a single task, a major refit can be daunting. Seven projects started and none of them near the end. A “to-do” list that fills a legal pad. A “to-buy” list to break the bank.

But then one day comes a reckoning, a realization that the lists unwind like endless scrolls no matter how much we grunt and strain. And this is quickly followed by a more reassuring notion: The litany of tasks unfinished has no bearing on the immediate task at hand—which is the only one that matters. When carried out with the right perspective, even the simplest chore, like tightening a hose clamp or checking for halyard chafe, can bring a liberating sense of purpose.

Zen and the Art of the Endless Refit
Wisdom from a Balinese sculptor: “There is always more sweeping to do.” (Photo by Darrell Nicholson)


Years ago, I trekked to the rural cottage of a Balinese sculptor whose work had enthralled attendees at the 1964 World’s Fair. His most famous pieces were marvelously intricate, turning teak into what looked like lace. But his prized possession was a rough-hewn life-size figure carved from stone that he kept on his patio: a girl sweeping. She wore simple clothes. Her head was tilted slightly as if she were lost in thought. Her expression was neither sad nor joyful, but one of contentment, curiosity . . . and conviction.

The sculptor explained that her work was almost done for the day, but that wasn’t why she was smiling. “She does not look at her sweeping and say ‘Look at the beautiful work I have done,’” he said. “She knows that in the morning there will be more sweeping to do.” To the yard denizens, forever-refitters, and the aspiring circumnavigators stalled by some mishap abroad, take heart. Even the most comfortable globe trotters wake up each morning with more sweeping to do.

And then there are those like me— forever looking for a bigger broom.

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.


  1. She was a 27 foot bilge keeled sloop. She drew 3 feet and was the perfect boat for the Bahamion waters. She came from England and her 2 keels kept her uprite in the drastic tides there. Her power was a 4107 Perkins and a Thames transmission. With all that power, you could practically ski behind her. That often came in handy. The only thing I knew of sailing was on a hobi in front of the Sonesta. Took the Coast Guard 6 Pack. I asked one of the Barry brothers for advise. He said that if you think you should do a thing, do it because there is a reason you thought of it. Armed with that piece of info, which turned out to be my salvation more than a few times. I made my second mistake. There was a storm brewing, the boat next to me at Sundays on the Bay , they worked for NOAH and said this will blow over in an hour and to follow them to Grand Bahama. My initial destination was Bimini. — Part of my 2 nd mistake was to take their advise and follow them. The storm grew from 15 to25ft rollers. The storm subsided and in 12+hrs I saw the 2 big smokestacks. My fiance du jour and her 2 young daughters were amazed at the clarity of the water, as was I. They enjoyed the roller coaster and no idea of the danger we were in. We spent about , I guess 7+ yrs. doing the. Bahamas. Greatest place to feed a family from the sea. I schooled those girls thru correspondence. Courses. So many experiences, good and bad as one might envy. We did the Intra Coastal as far up as Chesapeak. Mistake number 4 was tiring up at the Marina on your Island. Anchoring next to Yacht Club behind the Church, No Name Harbor and that v channel that went all the way to Crandon.I forget the name! Been doing a lot of that lately. My input to you might be to do everything, even if you need help.Mate


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