The Story of the Merit 23

As James mentioned, this isn’t our first boat restoration rodeo. When our first son Matthew was 6 months old, we purchased a mid-80’s Merit 23 that needed a serious amount of work. The entire hull needed to be redone. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have agreed to the purchase of the boat had I known exactly what “soft hull” was and what the repairs would entail.

Chalk this up to why naivete can be a good thing for boat owning newbies.

What followed the purchase of the Merit was months of James covered in epoxy as he filled in the hull to prevent further structural failure. Months of evenings spent alone with our kiddo while James buried himself in the boat.

It was not fun. Newborns are hard people! Boats are hard! Apparently, somehow, we thought we could do both.

Thank goodness we were that naive.

The boat project was a beast, there’s no getting around that. But the payoff was immense. For an entire summer, we had weekends full of fun for only the cost of a lunch that we could take aboard. Thanks to the Merit and my husband’s duty station at the time, USCGC Tampa, our eldest son grew up as comfortable walking on boats as he was walking on land.

He first experienced swimming in a river, which, in my mind, is hands down the best place to swim.

We saw dolphins and huge container ships and other sailboats on a regular basis, which in the world of a one-year-old is freaking awesome.

So it is with some sadness that we say goodbye to the Merit, named Proteus but never christened.

But, I’m not gonna lie, I’m really looking forward to not having to pee in a bucket.

Ship-shape and seaworthy

Her maiden voyage under sail is complete. Sadly, I was unable to be there for it but James shanghaied a few neighbors with sailing experience for an impromptu sail while the boys and I were at a family reunion in South Carolina. Lucky thing we weren’t there! The roller-furling apparatus still isn’t entirely functional so it took everyone’s best efforts to get her underway and going, but it worked! Our boat sails! As James put it, “We no longer have a motorboat with two masts.”

I wish we had some pictures from the maiden voyage but, alas, I was not present and James was busy making sure nothing disastrous happened so there are none.

So, to appropriate a meme that’s been going around, I present:

What our friends think the maiden voyage was:

Tall Ships Parade in San Diego Bay for Festival of Sail
(photo by Port of San Diego)

What James thinks the maiden voyage was:

Red Sail In The Sunset
(photo by Patrick Doheny)

What Carrie thinks the maiden voyage was:

sailing boat
(photo by elisaboba)

What the maiden voyage actually was:

Hanse Sail 2014
(photo by zeesenbot)

All photos used under a Creative Commons license. 

James Speaks Pt. 2: Updating the wooden parts

We’re beer and pretzels rich, not Hinkeley/Morris rich and were staggered by the cost of trying to replicate original equipment Toerails and Taffrail on Hull #9.  I spent a lot of time working with various local timber suppliers and decided Cumaru stock would be my most economical choice.  Here’s what I learned…

Cumaru is HARD!!!  Nails bounce right off it!  Planes gouge it!  Plan to sand sand sand! Cumaru is oily!!!  Rub your hand on a finished piece and it leaves your hand waxy.  PU varnish doesn’t stick to it! PU glue can’t bond it.  Glue with epoxy after an acetone de-oiling. To finish it bright, you must first shellac it.  Shellac stabilizes the oil present in the Cumaru, bonds to it/with it and seals the piece.  2 coats of 1/4 cut shellac, then on to polyurethane!


For now Cumaru is cheap, and pretty.  Easily sourced in 1″x6″x16′, it is being used for outdoor decks in high end homes.  My old man (who worked for Back Yard Boats in Alexandria VA in ages past) couldn’t initially tell it wasn’t mahogany.

It milled extremely well with high end saws and routers, going slow.

Regarding the toerails, Dad and I scarfed them together (8 to 1) and bent them.  I glued with PU glue and the more stressed scarf joints came right apart.  We remedied the scarf Joints with big clamps and epoxy. The bend is easy, the Cumaru followed the twist nicely in the thickness we used.  Our toerail is not, however, remotely as robust as the original at 1″ wide by 1.5″ high.  If time weren’t an object and “full restoration” were my goal, I would use a series of strips in these dimensions to laminate as I went along, building off of a strip bolted to the gunwhale, and shaping as I went along to achieve the needed dimensions.  Cumaru is available at Portsmouth Lumber in Portsmouth VA for decking applications.  I don’t recall the board foot price but bought 100ft linear of 1″x6″ for under $100.

Carrie took a hand in this project too.  She cut all the plugs for the rail, while I held a baby.  I was proud of her for taking on some new tools and processes.