shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

The Price of Perfection

March 30, 2015

During the last few months we have spent more time in an American boatyard than ever in our lives. Assuming that our experiences are not abnormal since this is your ordinary do-it-yourself yard, I'm noticing some disturbing habits of boat owners. A shocking amount of work is being done with their faces nearly touching the work surface, concentrating on areas measurable in square inches. Cove stripes are painstakingly painted with artists' brushes. Small bits of exterior teak are stripped, sanded, coated, sanded, coated, ad infinitum. Canvas is scrubbed with a toothbrush. Stainless is polished to what I assume (since you can't see it from the ground) is an award winning shine. And sailboats sit in the yard month after month, year after year. These sailors aim for perfection. But at what cost?

Readers often mistake our repeated reminders about the cost of actions as being cheap. (We prefer "frugal.") They often accuse us of being lazy because we don't work hard fixing all the wrong items on our boat. (We prefer "jealous of our time.") Dave's skills at repairing said broken items that we simply refuse to have are questioned. (Anyone who has paid for Dave's talent realizes that when it isn't costing him anything, he, too, can provide perfection.) And I am frequently called "preachy." (I think of myself as "informative.") These weekly reminders are not aimed at those who are already stuck in a particular cycle of "fixing things in exotic places." You've set your course, sail (or not) on. My purpose with this website is to provide an alternative to those who have not yet been sucked in. Something to consider. Questions to ponder. This week's question: At what price perfection?

Removing rust stains so marinas won't refuse to let us stay if we need to.
Not perfect, but functional.

Yes, there is the monetary cost, let's cover the obvious first. Though this theory applies to every non-essential item on a boat (basically everything but a sound hull, good sails, and the skills to use both to travel to paradise) including varnish, canvas, even courtesy flags, let's pick hull cosmetics as our example.

Perfection costs money. Supplies are the obvious expenditure, but it's not just the paint. When Dave was estimating a bottom job he said, "Add $500 for sandpaper." I literally laughed at him, sure he was joking. His estimate was short by less than 10%. Then there are the marina fees. When we are on the hard we calculate our daily storage. (We are currently paying $17 a day for the privilege of working on our boat on the hard.) We have found that having this number in our heads taints our opinion of "necessary" and colors our version of perfection. If you are like us, chances are you are missing work (freedom chips) in order to work on your own boat, so add what your salary would be otherwise to the price of your perfect paintjob. If you plan to pay someone else to do it, chances are you'll pay even more for a less-than-perfect end result.

Before and after

Money isn't the only cost of perfection. A reader commented on last week's post that most people with the skills are glad to have something to fix while they are out cruising. Wow, I think he has been hanging out in the wrong places, or at least with the wrong people. There is NO ONE I know who would rather work on a boat than be sailing, hiking, fishing, snorkeling, exploring, drinking, visiting, swimming, cycling, surfing, laying on the beach, sitting on deck, anything other than working on the boat. So even if you say money is no object (I find that most people who claim it don't mean it.) perfection still requires a sacrifice of your time, your life. Time you will never get back. If you were told you had 6 months to live, would you be wishing you had spent more time working on the boat?

The Bolger Sharpie we owned for a few years was roughly built. Epoxy drips were left to cure and then never ground off. She was a wooden box, and Phil Bolger's philosophy of "good enough to go sailing" was liberally applied, as it should have been. We were showing a neighbor in the harbor our new home when he rubbed his hand across some of the stalactite epoxy hanging from the overhead and said, "You are going to sand these off, aren't you?" I sighed and went on deck as Dave began his "It's a boat, not a piece of art" spiel. In order to make those minor aesthetic changes, we would have had to: remove every item from the boat, grind down the entire interior surface, sand it, vacuum the whole interior, wipe it all down, paint it, paint it again, and replace everything we had removed. Perfection is possible, but at what cost?

The time and money wasted in the pursuit of perfection bother me, but Dave's biggest concern is what owners are NOT doing while they are painting their hull and polishing their stainless. Time in the boatyard is time to verify that your boat is safe. When did you last inspect your chainplates? When did you last climb your rig? While you are making your boat pretty, who is inspecting your sails? And if you are not a proficient sailor, when did you last confirm your motor alignment? Check the hose clamps on all your fittings? The price of time spent on visual perfection alone could be the loss of your rig. Or your boat. Or your life. How pretty do you want your hull? If you strive for perfection, at least do it for something that matters.

There is a boat in the yard that we often compare to Eurisko. She has a perfect paint job, her exterior woodwork is varnished, the stainless gleams, she's a gorgeous boat. When we commented on how pretty she is, her owner said, "Yes, but your boat goes places." She's been in that yard, being worked on, for 3 years. At what price perfection?

Since we are slowly moving thing back aboard, MONDAY we'll share our various clothes storage solutions.

Recent Articles



People and Places

Yarns and Opinions




Bolger AS-29


Can't find your favorite post?

Did you find something of interest? Consider donating $1.
Thank you.