- by Carol Standish
In London Goes to Sea - Restoring and Sailing an Old Boat on a Budget (Sheridan House, 211pp, $19.95), tinkerer, techie, author, sailor, Peter Baumgartner recounts in precise detail his four-plus year project of resurrecting an elderly and long ignored Cape Dory. The 27-foot sailboat built in 1977 had languished outside for 10 long years when Baumgartner, looking for a salty way to spend a recent $10,000 windfall, came across her in a Quincy, Massachusetts boatyard. It was 1998.
It’s hard not to love a Cape Dory. Both sturdy and sweet, she beguiled Baumgartner in spite of her dilapidated condition. Upon purchase, she was trucked to his backyard in suburban Boston where he intended to make her seaworthy in time for the next boating season. Before he lifted a scrub-brush he had set a not-so-tentative launch date in the following spring.
To say that Baumgartner quickly became obsessed would be a mild description of the state he quickly achieved by becoming a dilapidated-boat-owner. Working under lights, in the snow after work and on weekends, endlessly reading when the weather was just too nasty, Baumgartner launched London the following May. She has been given new plumbing, new lines, new life jackets, new barometer, new shackles and blocks (“etc”), new dinghy, new batteries, flares and electrical parts, a new fuel tank, a laboriously refurbished diesel engine, a home-repaired genoa, a new mooring and a new skipper. Baumgartner goes sailing for the summer—adding a new auto-tiller, stove, dish rack and cabin lights and a CQR before the end of the year.
Excluding the cost of the boat, he has spent approximately $9300 in the first 15 months of boat ownership. Tables are provided in a later chapter which expense out all running and fixed costs--which Baumgartner then divides by the number of years he’s owned the boat. He comes up with $4100 a year. “Not bad,” he writes. “Think of how much it costs to play golf or what the health-swim-tennis club membership goes for. As I tell my wife, who seems to be the one to whom I am always explaining how little all this is costing, some of the powerboats zooming by us must spend this much each year just on fuel.”
This cost-accounting and description of tasks encompasses the bulk of four and a half years and about two thirds of the book. For the most part, Baumgartner improves the boat in the cold seasons and sails in the warm one. Accounts of sailing experiences are much less rigorously detailed and, thus, provide a pleasant counterpoint to his heavy task-orientation. He sails alone, with family and with buddies and seems to enjoy it all. Wisps of self-deprecating humor creep in as the subject of the narrative relaxes. “My question hangs in the air by the sheer lightness of its stupidity.” Access to the engine is “carefully designed for a midget with freakishly long and flexible arms.” Sailing itself is recognized as a less serious activity. “Our goal seems farther away as the day progresses. This is the reality of sailing: sometimes you don’t get anywhere.”
London Goes to Sea is a carefully detailed account of a meticulous boat repair which makes it useful to anyone considering or already foundering in the long haul of bringing an old boat back to life. The accounts of the sailing trips taken by the author—the ostensible reason got all the hard work—pale somewhat in comparison to the descriptions of the repair tasks. Baumgartner is an engineer not a poet and he has done a fine job of sharing his passion.