SS23 “True Path” #507 – 2 year restoration. From Jim Lingerfelt.
I only began sailing four years ago – much to my regret because sailing and sailboats have become a passion. I bought a nice boat in good condition but I wanted to make some upgrades and changes. I had no experience so I originally sought a project boat to teach myself boat repair skills. After extensive research I narrowed it down to a Ranger 22, S20 or an Alberg design ( a good friend and sailing mentor sails a Cape Dory Typhoon and I love its traditional looks and handling). When I found the Sea Sprite web site, I soon decided I wanted a Sea Sprite. The enthusiasm about the boat, the depth of knowledge and the willingness to share were exactly what I needed. I started searching for my boat. I found it on e-bay and grabbed it. It had no trailer so I had one built and was still okay on budget. The seller was incredibly helpful (something I have noted in all SS owners since).
He had acquired the boat from a friend that had sailed it hard and done minimal maintenance and repair (e.g., two lower chain plates were missing and were replaced with pad eyes on the deck, etc.). His son had sailed it occasionally but not enough to justify keeping it.
My original plan was to fix it up enough to sail it – simple. I did a survey of the boat and found that the foredeck had serious saturation problems. That and the two missing chain plates were the only serious problems I found – as advertised, the boat is built like a tank. I drilled the fore deck full of holes intending to dry the core. Everywhere I drilled I hit water (I felt like a lucky oil man).
I stripped the bottom and found very minor blisters and the thru-hulls were in rough shape. The rudder was split and saturated but solid on the shaft. I drilled it too. I replaced the chain plates. After a month of hot sun the deck core was still soaked. I decided that major surgery was in order. I removed every piece of hardware from the deck (including the stem plate). With Don Casey in hand I took an hour’s worth of deep breaths (no exaggeration) and then cut out the entire foredeck from the cabin house to the bow leaving only the inner skin. I replaced the balsa core with 1/2″ marine plywood and sealed it with several layers of mat and woven cloth (all as described in “This Old Boat”). I installed a 2×4 oak beam under the new foredeck cut with a mild curve so water would run off the deck. I used a truck jack to raise the beam and to hold the deck in place while the resin cured. While it was curing I installed two bulkheads and bolted the beam to them. The space in front of the bulkheads will hold a removable anchor chain and rode locker. When it is ready, I will install a hawse pipe in the bow. The deck turned out beautifully. It is as stiff and solid as a concrete floor. And that’s when it happened – suddenly just getting her in the water wasn’t good enough… I wanted this boat to be as good as I could make her. I felt possessed – that the boat was pleading with me. It sounds silly but it is absolute fact that several times when sanding the hull she resonated with a deep and, to my mind, grateful hum. I decided I would keep her and use her for trailer cruising in the Great Lakes and on other lakes in the Midwest.
The color scheme was a major decision. I knew I did not want to leave the boat white. I wanted a “work of art”. Unfortunately, I am not the most artistic person around. If it wasn’t for my wife and three daughters I would be a sartorial train wreck. I used a simple drawing program to try many combinations and finally chose sapphire blue with a white boot stripe and white decks. I added a dark gold stripe to accentuate the sheer. I used two coats of Interlux primer on hull and deck and two coats of Interlux one-part polyurethane (sapphire blue for the hull, Interlux boot paint for the boot stripe and white for the deck). Most of the deck is covered again with non-skid.
The boat’s non-skid was shot so I researched non-skid alternatives. I finally decided to use Seadek. The owner of the company was great to work with and answered all of my questions. I liked the idea of having some padding under my knees when crawling around on the fore deck, too. I selected the sand color to contrast with the white deck. I carefully cut patterns out of heavy plastic and sent them to Seadek. They sent back templates that I altered as necessary. I returned the templates, they cut the pieces and I installed them. I worked alone but I highly recommend having a helper to peel and press. It went okay – not perfect, but only I know where to see the small misses. I fashioned an aft deck non-skid pattern from scraps Seadek had sent me at no additional cost. I like the look.
I fashioned an oarlock on a plug to go into the ensign holder. In the absence of wind, I will use it to hold a sculling oar. I built the sculling oar from an old row boat paddle I found in the marina yard. The yachting ensign is flown when under sail.
some point in the work on the boat I was reading a book on Zen and found a passage that described the “true path to enlightenment”. It hit me that this was the perfect name for my boat and so it is: “True Path”. I travel a lot in my work and I have kept a small statue of the happy traveling Buddha on my desk for years (no, I am not a Buddhist but I find a lot to think about in their writings). He is now ensconced in a wooden box mounted on the mast supports below decks and can be seen from the tiller.
The interior of the boat is a work in progress. I have a teak ladder to be installed (ebay again) and I have oak tongue in groove flooring for the cabin (dumpster behind a flooring place). The cabin will be white with teak trim (the salvaged old toe rail). Beyond that all planning is in the undecided phase.
Don Casey was a major resource but because mine is an old boat I also went to older resources and they were wonderful. Dan Spurr, Tom Cunliffe, Ian Nicholson, Ferenc Mate and Bruce Bingham to name a few. “Shipshape and Bristol Finish” guided a lot of the deck layout. Herreshoff’s “The Compleat Cruiser” helped inspire my commitment to simplicity. And the Sea Sprite Forum…priceless.
The work has taken two years, mostly due to my travel schedule. The work will continue, I am happy to say, and now I can sail her, too. It is hard to describe the satisfaction I feel in doing this restoration. I am pleased with the results. Some pride of accomplishment, but balanced with a lot of humility from lessons learned, mistakes made and corrected.
Here is a partial list of the projects accomplished so far.
Stripped deck of all hardware
Replaced two lower chain plates and reinforced backstay plate
Replaced entire foredeck as described above
Stripped bottom down to the gel coat
Replaced all thru hulls with tarelon flush seacocks (the previous were simply bronze thru hulls with no closing mechanism)
Repaired and faired entire bottom, including keel
Sealed bottom with four coats of VC-tar
Three coats of VC-17 bottom paint
Put all halyards inside the mast (thank you Robert Gainer)
Installed a cruising light – deck light combo at the spreaders Replaced all fiberglass hatches with mahogany hatches (the sliding hatch was a large ship’s hatch cover acquired on ebay and the other two I built myself from marine plywood and Honduran mahogany – all varnished with eight coats of Bristol Finish)
The toe rail was badly worn and pretty useless for bracing against so I pulled it up and made 1” high toe rails from Honduran mahogany (a hardwood store went out of business and I got it all at a steal) and again varnished in Bristol Finish.
When I removed the toe rail I discovered that the joint was secured by rivets and there were some minor separations in the hull deck joint. I removed all of the rivets, repaired the splits and replaced the rivets with bolts on 8″ centers around the entire boat. The bolts also secure the new toe rail
All cleats were replaced with larger bronze cleats. Center cleats were added to each side. I also installed a bronze pad eye at the bow to clip jack lines to in heavy weather and put another in the cockpit. I replaced the cockpit drains with larger bronze ones to speed drainage.
I love the lines of the Alberg boats and the motor well was a rough job that spoiled them. I sealed the bottom of the motor well and decided I would sail her without an engine. When one is necessary, I will use an engine mount that hangs over the transom and borrow an engine. This restored the beautiful lines of the boat.
I decided to convert the motor well into a lazarette. In contrast to the hour of hesitation that I had when I cut out the fore deck, I had completed two sides when it struck me that I had just cut a two foot hole in my deck without even thinking about it. I built a frame for the lazarette’s opening from Honduran mahogany. I sheathed it in woven cloth and used matting and cloth to glass it to the deck. I then built a hatch cover of marine plywood and Honduran mahogany to match the other two hatches and the toe rails. They all turned out pretty well – robust and certainly seamen like.
The sliding hatch and companionway was my greatest challenge. I had closed up one foot of the opening to make the cabin top stronger and to have a smaller opening. I was determined to use the ship’s hatch cover from ebay as my sliding hatch. The companionway was built, dismantled and rebuilt four times before I was satisfied. I had developed an obsessive streak I never knew I had. The drop boards were fashioned from Honduran mahogany as was the exterior frame. They fit well and look pretty good, too.
I removed all of the boat’s original wood work which was in rough shape – scarred and gray. I repaired and refinished it and put it back on. One side needed a new piece spliced in due to rot that was cut out. I replaced the finger deep grab boards on the cabin top with three loop teak handrails. The wood all has a solid weathered look that I really like. I will bung and varnish this summer.
I did not like the mainsheet control using two blocks on the aft deck, so I built a traveler from parts purchased on ebay. It spans the cockpit directly below the end of the boom and above and behind the tiller. This makes it easy to adjust from the steering position. It works well. I left the blocks that had been used for the mainsheet in the aft deck to be used as spinnaker blocks.
I replaced the sheet guides on the rails, again with parts bought on ebay. The winches work well and they were reinstalled in their original positions.
I replaced the port lights with new smoked gray Plexiglas but used the original frames, a little heavy on the life caulk but they don’t leak.