AGEING cabin cruisers are a little bit like elderly actresses – they can still do the job for which they were originally designed but they need a good deal of make-up before they can take the stage with confidence.
Which is why this time of year finds most Thames-side boat yards resembling a convention for painters and decorators with enthusiastic owners scrubbing, polishing and re-coating their charges to get them ready for the forthcoming glorious days of summer (you heard it here first, folks…)
With all this energetic activity going on around us, my brother, Alan, became caught up in the fever and decided to give our old Seamaster cabin cruiser – Terra Nova – a makeover.
“We’ll just slap on a coat of paint, give the bright work some new varnish and she’ll look as good as new,” I cheerfully predicted, stupid man that I am.
What I’d overlooked was that you can’t cover up 40-odd years of neglect by ‘slapping on a quick coat of paint.’
Before we bought the Seamaster, she had sat on a mud berth in the River Medway for many years, building up layer upon layer of discolouration and slime on her once white hull. So any thought of giving her a quick rub down with a piece of wet and dry to provide an adequate surface for painting was ridiculously optimistic. In fact, several weeks of back-breaking scrubbing and sanding was required to give us even a chance of producing a decent finish, not to mention going round the hull several times with filler to make good the gouges, dents and holes which have resulted from her numerous skippers coming alongside with all the finesse and delicacy of a bulldozer driver.
And then there was the varnish work. The grab handles on top of the cabin roof and the rubbing strakes – the bits of wood that run round the top of the hull to protect it – were all looking terribly tatty. We thought it would take moments to get rid of the old varnish but the boat had other ideas.
For although most of the old stuff had already flaked off, there were stubborn bits that simply refused to part company with the wood.
No problem – we’ll use varnish remover, we thought.
This stuff is lethal, let me tell you, and should actually be re-labelled ‘skin remover.’ My brother still bears the scars…
Anyway, we’re now nearing the end of what has turned out to be a three month marathon and, if I do say so myself, the old girl is starting to look, if not in the Angelina Jolie class, then certainly in the attractive category of a Joanna Lumley or a Helen Mirren.
I can almost hear her murmuring: “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille.”