Over the years, 48° North has decked the hulls with a variety of boating related yuletide joy. Since it’s that season again, we’re digging into the vault with some stories of holiday’s past to help get you in the spirit. 

In 2015, the crew of Yahtzee spent Christmas at a friend’s house in Skykomish celebrating, enjoying the snow and, restoring their Quartermaster 8 dinghy of course.

The crew of the Washington State Ferry Samish chuckled when I rolled our dinghy, Hornpipe, over the ramp and through the car ferry’s deck in Friday Harbor. With the boys tucked behind the dinghy’s thwart in their carseats and our bags loaded as to not set the balance off, we’d walked over half-a-mile to that point and were greeted with smiles and waves along the way. I guess you don’t see that everyday.

Rolling Hornpipe onto the Ferry in Friday Harbor.

When we decided to spend Christmas with our friends and fellow sailors at their house in the mountains, I didn’t initially think it was going to turn into a full on session of boat projects. Alas, that is exactly what happened.

Acting on my buddy Mike’s suggestion to utilize the wood shop in their barn (and his expertise), we brought the dinghy along for some much needed love as well as its daggerboard, rudder, tiller, and oars. And while a blanket of snow fell outside, we fired up the wood stove, rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

No matter what size boat you have, projects always seem to take longer than you imagine — and it was no different while working on our little dink. Hornpipe needed to have some spots in the gel coat fixed and the transom — which is marine ply sandwiched between fiberglass — needed to dry out and then be routed and filled with epoxy to prevent water from getting back into and rotting the wood. After putting it on sawhorses next to the wood stove, water immediately boiled to the surface and the dry out was on. Epoxy was soon to come.

Hornpipe enjoying the warmth of the wood stove.

The finish on the oars was so bad that they would get, and stay, waterlogged for days on end. After drying them out we epoxied the tips and gave them several coats of new varnish. The rudder and daggerboard were in worse shape. They, too, needed to dry out and then get a good sanding. Once dry, we determined that the rudder was actually a lost cause and it quickly became firewood. After doing some cursory research online, Mike and I came up with a much more modern and efficient shape for the new rudder and also crafted a new tiller to replace the shoddy old aluminum one. Not only was it nice to have the proper tooling of a professional wood shop, but having usable scraps of wood laying around was a huge bonus.

While all this boat work was taking place, we also managed to carve out some time to enjoy the snow, celebrate Christmas and Magnus’ birthday and New Years with our good friends. Plus, with Stevens Pass just 15 miles up the road, incredible powder days on the mountain more than made up for the time spent sanding and varnishing. But alas, it had to be done…

Sand. Epoxy. Varnish. Repeat. Ski. Snowboard. Sled. Repeat. Sand. Epoxy. Varnish. Repeat.

That was the basic rhythm of our days spent in the beauty of winter in the Cascade Mountains with our friends, but as the fun of the holidays came and went, progress on all of our dinghy projects moved slower than anticipated — which was not shocking considering that they’re boat-related and we were in a winter wonderland.

When the old rudder became firewood we expected the new build to take less time than refurbishing what we’d had. Oh, how silly was that logic? But after designing, building, shaping and epoxying it and the new tiller, the updated versions were far superior to the old and — thanks to Mike’s superior craftsmanship — looked great, too.

The refurbished daggerboard and new rudder and tiller do their final drying by the fire.

Similar to the rudder, the work on Hornpipe’s transom took on a life of its own — going from a modest project to one that seemed painstakingly long. The sodden plywood sandwiched between fiberglass wasn’t rotten, so we decided not to cut the outboard layer of glass out to remove the wood. Instead, we reasoned that drying it out would be best before sealing the top. We expected the wood to take a while to dry, and when we thought the progress was coming to a head and flipped the dink over, water poured out of the port aft corner. Not good.

After some choice words, we decided once again that since the wood wasn’t rotten, there was nothing left to do but continue the drying process. So there Hornpipe sat for a few more days as we fed the insatiable wood stove. With the dink upside down, though, we were able to work on some spots in the fiberglass and got those done in relatively short order.

When the transom was finally moisture free, we filled the top with several steps of epoxy and waited for it to dry. The last stage of work, then, was to epoxy on a nice piece of cherry that Mike custom-shaped to the top. Predictably, the final task here was more sanding and epoxy. Even though the transom project took much longer than we anticipated, the final product turned out great and the stern is a lot lighter now that it’s not saturated with water.

Porter became a frequent visitor to the shop to inspect our work and “lend a hand”.
A nicely shaped and varnished piece of cherry caps of the transom.

In the end, we got a lot done, but left a little more on our plate. After finishing the fiberglass repairs it became obvious that the boat needs a paint job, so that go put on our to-do list. Alas, after 11 days nestled in the beauty of the Cascades with wonderful friends, it was time to return to Yahtzee. With our refurbished dinghy and accessories, we loaded up once again and trekked back onto the ferry. What an adventure!

A huge thank you goes out to the crew of SV Arrow for going way above and beyond in hosting us! It was certainly one of the most memorable Christmas holidays our family has had.