Who says there’s no such thing as a free boat? Rob Kun­stadt and friends res­ur­rected a ne­glected P26 The Bone­yard Boat

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New life for a derelict sloop; an­other go for the Panama Posse

Af­ter a sea­son of club rac­ing, the Skip­per (aka Kevin McHugh) and I were on the hunt for a faster boat—who isn’t? The Hud­son at Kingston, New York, is a tricky spot to race: shel­tered by hills on each side, it is nar­row, fluky and tideswept. Watch­ing the win­ners from the back of the pack, we no­ticed the 1970s de­signs with rad­i­cally swept­back keels had an ad­van­tage claw­ing against the cur­rent in light air. We scoured on­line ads and the lo­cal boat­yards for 50 miles around. Then the Skip­per’s sharp eye landed on a “free” sign posted way back in a bone­yard of old craft tucked away at the far end of our very own ma­rina.

It was a Pear­son 26, a no­to­ri­ous PHRFbeater sport­ing just the keel-shape we wanted, al­though other than that it was a sad sight with lit­tle to rec­om­mend it. Due to the owner’s health it had been sit­ting ashore for 12 years— right un­der a tree giv­ing shade for moss to grow and easy ac­cess to Ron­d­out Creek’s river rats.

Worse still, the hull had been on jack­stands the whole time, as op­posed to a cra­dle, and the stands weren’t well placed, so that those at the stern had pushed right up against the cock­pit lazarette’s thin hull, rather than against a bulk­head. Dents! Maybe this could work any­way, I thought. Let’s call it an “IOR bus­tle.”

Quick ac­tion by the Skip­per se­cured own­er­ship of Wil­low for our team. New York State reg­is­tra­tion in hand, our first step was to move her out from un­der the tree to a spot with wa­ter and elec­tric hookups. In­spec­tion re­vealed an un­ex­pected sur­prise. A Good Sa­mar­i­tan, con­crned that the un­tended hull was col­lect­ing rain­wa­ter, had drilled a 2in hole in the bilge: a good thing since both cock­pit drain hoses had long since de­te­ri­o­rated, so that rain fall­ing in the cock­pit had been go­ing into the bilge in­stead of through the sea­cocks. A “bath­tub ring” in the cabin told the tale. Un­for­tu­nately, since the hole was drilled from out­side, its place­ment was un­lucky— right un­der­neath a hull cross­brace— so there was no ac­cess from in­side to make a re­pair.

Of course, ev­ery piece of rope on Wil­low was moldy. When we touched the tiller it also cracked right off at the screw holes, and the hatch­board ply­wood was peel­ing apart. At least the river rats had been happy: pa­per tow­els from the gal­ley and sail­cloth chewed from the cen­ter of both the main and jib had made for a true “Ritz for Rats.” Fi­nally, the speed and depth dis­plays, left un­cov­ered in the sun, were toast. The good news was that a newer set of sails (in­clud­ing a brand-new asym spin­naker) had

been stored off the boat, and there was a mag­netic com­pass still in its car­ton, not yet in­stalled.

As we sur­veyed the wreck be­fore us I sug­gested that we paint Wil­low black and re­name her Rat Rod, but the Skip­per wouldn’t go for it. He re­fuses to be seen driv­ing any­thing less than Bris­tol fash­ion and im­me­di­ately set to work with a pow­er­washer and boat soap—a hope­less case, I fig­ured.

Still, they say the best bilge pump is a wor­ried sailor with a bucket, and maybe the best boat cleaner is a de­ter­mined skip­per with a pow­er­washer. Af­ter a week’s per­se­ver­ance, the im­pos­si­ble seemed to have re­sulted: a spot­less hull with only the teak trim worse for wear (hav­ing not taken kindly to high-pres­sure mas­sag­ing).

Af­ter that, with cold weather set­tling in, we made plans for the rest of the re­fit. Clearly, new in­stru­ments were needed, along with a VHF ra­dio and mast­head an­tenna, an­chor light, run­ning rig­ging, tiller and some dent re­pair. We also had to seal that hole in the bilge.

As we set to work, the dock­mas­ter, Vince, do­nated a tiller from his stash of sup­plies, and the Skip­per loaded a sand­bag into the lazarette over each dent. Af­ter some thought, a bronze plug with an ex­ter­nal flange seemed the most se­cure fix for the “Good Sa­mar­i­tan” bilge hole.

Alas, come spring­time, those hull dents were hardly any smaller. Clearly, it was go­ing to take more per­sua­sion than just a few sand­bags, and with race sea­son ap­proach­ing a fix was due soon. We there­fore propped a 2x4 against a ply­wood plate placed over the port­side dent with the other end stick­ing up into the cock­pit from out of the laz­erette. Run­ning a dock­line over the pro­ject­ing end of the 2x4, we then used the cock­pit winches to draw it taut, forc­ing the 2x4 against the dent. Leav­ing a por­ta­ble heater run­ning in­side the lazarette, we de­parted for the day with fin­gers crossed.

Luck was with us again. Af­ter a day’s treat­ment on each dent, they were hardly no­tice­able. To make sure they didn’t come back, we also re­in­forced the in­side with a strip of wa­ter­proof cel­lu­lar-PVC.

Fi­nally, the big day came—launch­ing, and the ques­tion as to whether the boat would ac­tu­ally float. Never hav­ing done this kind of hull re­pair be­fore, we didn’t en­tirely trust our work, prompt­ing the Skip­per to de­cide our newly re­stored rac­ing craft needed a more omi­nous name than Wil­low, hence her re-chris­ten­ing as Omen. I don’t think the Skip­per slept easy that night, but our luck held yet again, and Omen was still float­ing the next day. In fact, there was not a drop of wa­ter in the bilge.

Ul­ti­mately, the big­gest ex­pense of our re­fit was a new #1 genoa. Since the #1 on a P26’s sailplan is larger than the spin, we also opted to spring for a light-air tri­ra­dial that could work both up­wind and down (on a whisker pole).

When we hit the race­course for the an­nual Mar­itime Cup re­gatta held at the Kingston Sail­ing Club, the pay­off for our win­ter’s re­fit work was sweet: first place in the non-spin divi­sion, with three bul­lets in three races. s

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