Sizing Up Boat Projects — The Five Basic Elements
by Vern Hobbs

There is a fable about a farmer who had a huge rock in his field. Season after season, he plowed around the boulder, certain that moving it would prove overwhelmingly difficult. Finally, one day the farmer decided he must try. To his surprise, the giant rock proved to be merely a thin sheet of soapstone, which crumbled and was easily cleared away.

Many boat owners find themselves facing that same dilemma. Confronted with a project that seems to daunting, we procrastinate, or maybe just learn to live with an ongoing problem. The result of such inaction ranges from annoying to dangerous.

A good way to address any repair, maintenance, or upgrade project is to first analyze it with regard to five basic elements: Talent, Time, Tools, Materials, and Expense. Any boat keeping task, from replacing a frayed dock line to a major re-fit becomes more imaginable, and therefore manageable, when viewed from these perspectives. Analyzing the project using this method allows us to itemize the resources that will be required, and quickly segregate realistic do-it-yourself jobs from those best contracted out to professionals. This five element project analysis also lends itself to that marvel of modern life - the decision chart. (See illustration of the Matrix).

Can I do this job myself? Follow the matrix, and decide.

Let’s consider a sample project such as installing a bow cleat, and run it through the five step analysis and decision chart.

Talent: “Do I have the necessary mechanical skills? Do I know how to properly install a bow cleat?” If the answer to both questions is yes, and do be honest with yourself, simply move down to the next box. If the answer is no, the chart offers two courses of action: (1.) Obtain the requisite skill and knowledge, or, (2.) Hire someone who already has them.

Talent, in this context, is simply a learned skill. Our sample project requires the ability to use simple hand tools. You know, “righty tighty - lefty loosey,” that sort of knowledge. Beyond this, we must learn the steps involved in the proper installation of a bow cleat. This specific knowledge is easily obtained by reading one of the many books or articles written on the subject. My trusted sources are the writing of Don Casey, and Nigel Calder.

Talent is the human element of our evaluation, so before we move on, consider this often overlooked aspect: “Am I able to do this job alone?” Many of the tasks necessary to maintaining a sailboat are simple, but require more than one person. Our sample project, for example, might necessitate someone going below deck to tighten nuts, while another remains topside to hold the bolts against rotation. Remember, your helper must also possess the necessary talent for their part of the job!

Time: Okay, so we’ve obtained the know-how required to bend on that deck hardware, but how long will it take? Einstein said time is relative, which suggests he might have owned an aging sailboat. Time is also the greatest variable of the five elements. Degree of skill, availability of material, and weather, are just three of the many factors that will determine how long the job takes.

The best method of estimating the time required, is past experience, either yours or someone else’s. Remember that quality work always requires a healthy investment of time, so be generous with your estimate. If the time required isn’t available, our decision chart once again offers two avenues: (1.) Delay until you have the time, or, (2.) Hire the work out.

Tools: These next two are the most straightforward of the five elements. The same sources used to obtain the knowledge required for the job will also specify the tools and materials needed. Tools are also often the element that sends us directly to the right hand column of our chart, especially where more ambitious projects are concerned. Jobs like repainting the bottom or stepping a new mast often require equipment and facilities simply not available at the Do-It-Yourself level. Our sample project, however, requires only a measuring tape, pencil, drill, screwdriver, and a wrench, so, we continue merrily down the “yes” column.

Good planning makes even the big jobs manageable.

Materials: Satisfying this element requires we once more research our “how to” literature, make a list, and trek off to our favorite chandlery, checkbook in hand, of course. If the “materials” element poses any dilemma it might lie in choosing from the wide variety of products on the shelves. Standing in my local chandlery, I see no less than five products advertised for the purpose of bedding various types of hardware. Thanks to my research I eliminate all but two just by reading the chemical content listed on the label. Choosing between the remaining two products leads us to the fifth, and final element.

Expense: This is considered last because it represents the sum of the other four elements. If we decide to hire the work out, the question of expense is answered in the form of a written estimate. If possible, obtain at least three, from reputable professionals. The cost of a do it yourself project is determined by simply tallying up the costs of the other elements. Adding ten percent to this total will account for typical oversights and help avoid unpleasant budgetary surprises. If the estimate proves too burdensome, delaying the project until the necessary funds are available is usually the only sensible course of action. Unfortunately, if this project involves a matter of safety or seaworthiness that delay may mean no sailing for awhile.

The analysis of our sample project, however, has found that we have satisfied all five elements and are ready to install that new boat cleat ourselves! So let’s head down to the boatyard and get started!
Vern Hobbs is a freelance writer who likes to write about all things nautical. He currently maintains a classic, John Alden designed, thirty-five foot cutter.

Vern Hobbs is a freelance writer who likes to write about all things nautical. He currently maintains a classic, John Alden designed, thirty-five foot cutter.

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