SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — At Stone Cove Marina on Salt Pond Road, the winter blanket of shrink wrap has come off several boats.
A hot sun Saturday reminded Jeff Robbins that enjoying his watercraft is just around the corner. Before that can happen, though, this South Kingstown resident has the buffer out, polishing the hull of his 40-foot Luhrs cabin cruiser named “Ohana.”
“If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t own a boat,” said Robbins with a laugh about the yearly prep work that owning a boat requires, whether it’s powered by winds in the sails or gas in a fuel tank.
It is that time of year for boat owners to get ready for summer cruising and chartering. For some, these are floating vacation vessels, but all of them need attention before the season begins.
For Robbins, polishing is just one of the many tasks that ensure the vessel is well-maintained and ready to operate on the high seas. For him and for others, the work comes with the expectation of a payoff.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, he plans to do more “island hopping,” as he calls it. Trips to Block Island, Long Island, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are among the stops planned this summer, he said.
But while the boat is in dry dock, tedious — and sometimes grueling — work comes first.
Spring prep chores add to the love of boating, said several owners recently in boat yards as they got ready for launching their vessels sometime in May.
Stone Cove Marina owner Steve Wood, who has been working around boats and has owned the marina for nearly 50 years, said his operations also help some owners who want to pay someone to do it.
“It’s a lot like farming,” he said. “You plant the crops during a specific short season. We have basically a month and a half to get them ready by May/June.”
The work done by his staff and boat owners includes more than painting hulls to protect erosion of the part that remains underwater.
He said boat owners need to wash and wax their vessels across the top side and replace the various zinc material on shafts, rudders and other places.
The metallic parts of a boat need to be insulated with zinc anode to prevent their corrosion. Zinc, being a high voltage conductor, ensures that the current flowing through the boat and the water exits from the zinc anode.
Owners and those doing these preseason reviews also need to check various parts of their ships’ engines. This includes an oil change and an inspection of the outdrive so it is ready for starting the engine. They also check the entire fuel system.
Other parts of a boat that must be inspected are its cooling system, water pumps and thermostats, hoses for cracks, worn belts, the bilge pump and its exterior and interior parts, including living and sleeping quarters.
They also pull out all safety gear, which the U.S. Coast Guard can stop and inspect at any time to check if it’s working properly.
Doing some of this work nearby Robbins was David Tyrrell, owner of the 43-foot charter boat, “Mako.” Hoisted on stands, it’s in drydock for summer sprucing and maintenance. His deck hand of 22 years, David Beaucage, was with him.
The large black boat had a fresh coat of reddish-colored paint on its hull. Tyrrell painted with one hand, as his other arm had only a stub where fingers and a hand once were.
“See this,” he said, holding the stub of flesh up. “I got it caught in the shaft while fixing the engine five years ago. My strings from my hoodie got caught and pulled me into it.”
When doing this work, the captain pointed out, owners needed to be careful.
After the strings became entwined with the rotating piece of metal, his entire body was pulled by the terrific force inward, ripping off all his fingers and destroying his hand.
About 60 yards away, along the side of the “Even Keel,” a 48-foot Silverton, Phil Consigli watched carefully how he held the buffer — and his balance — while polishing the upper deck.
“I’ve been trying to get through this wax part,” he said about the work he was doing. His wife, Angela Rose, worked on the inside portion of the boat.
Asked about the chores he liked the least and the most, he gave a wide smile.
“Painting the bottom is the worst,” he said, “and the best is waxing it. It’s the easiest part. Light duty.”
Down the road is Ram Point Marina. Kenneth and Cynthia Strout of East Windsor, Connecticut, worked on the boat they dock there during the summer: the “Whistler,” a 40-foot Silverton.
Cynthia agreed with Consigli about crawling under the boat, lying on her back and brushing the long hull from bow to stern. “I hate painting the bottom. It’s quite challenging.”
A few boats over, Joe Hammond of Sterling, Connecticut, stood in the back of his 33-foot Bertram, which had no name. He has owned it for about five years.
He said he’s still deciding on the name, an annual chore he hasn’t quite fulfilled.
Nonetheless, each year he checks off the other required maintenance tasks. He listed them, echoing the words of kindred spirits out on this bright sunny day.
“And,” he said with a pause and then a laugh, “anything else that comes up that you put off during the year, too.”