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by Burton Blais - Kemptville, Ontario - Canada

Thought you might be interested in my most recent boat make-over project.

She's an old Mercury 15 sloop named "Ms. Zen", which I acquired last Summer from my very good friend Robert to keep on a mooring on the Rideau River in front of my house. Robert understands my love of small classic boats and I was very touched when he entrusted her care to me.

The Mercury is a well known racing class south of the border, and while my particular iteration is probably more than 40 years old, Mercury 15's are still being built by the Cape Cod Shipbuilding Company (how salty is that!). These boats come as either keel or centreboard versions. Mine is the latter.

My experience so far has been that even with her bagged out main she is a very swift boat, and with her deep cockpit & side decks she is a dry boat which can stand up to a breeze. My little daughter and I have enjoyed many a Saturday morning sail on silvery ruffled waters, coming in for a mid-morning "brunch" before setting off for another days' activity with the rest of the family, having had a proper dose of sailing to tide us over 'til the next time. These serene moments with my daughter are absolute magic, and for that I shall forever be in debt to the good friend who put this vessel in my path. Truth be known, she is really Becca's boat - I am just the caretaker.

When I received her she sported a very tired finish (her deck had been painted green - ugh! - with what appears to be latex house paint by a previous owner, and her brightwork sorely needed rejuvenation). But her worst feature was a fixed deep rudder which kept catching the weeds and high bottom of her Rideau River home waters. Something had to be done to rectify this problem. To my mind, it simply does not make sense to fit a fixed rudder on a centreboard boat which is otherwise intended to be beached and generally manhandled in the shallows.

And so I set about modifying her existing rudder by cutting off the "fixed blade" portion, and shaped a new rudder blade cut from a piece of 3/16th marine grade aluminum sheet, fabricated a set of rudder cheeks and a pivoting mechanism, including provisions for up- and down-hauls. The resulting rudder blade area is about 15% smaller than the original due to a miscalculation on my part when I ordered the aluminum plate from which it was cut. I have yet to launch her so cannot comment on the effectiveness of this new rudder, but I remain optimistic...

Then I stripped and sanded the teak gunwhales, centrecase cap and washboards, applied four coats of Cetol Marine Light, sanded down the painted decks and transom, and repainted with Brightsides marine paint (making my own custom blend from pots of different coloured paints I had on hand to achieve a nice taupe which is more in keeping with that classic boat aesthetic). Mi esposa Amalia is working on making a Sunbrella sailcover to protect the main while she languishes in the sun on her mooring. She's also up to her elbows in fabricating cabin cushions for our Alberg 30, "Mahseer".

I also purchased a pair of 8' oars for auxiliary propulsion. A bit short, I own, but I am just too lazy to fabricate a pair from scratch, and 8' is the maximum "standard" length I could obtain through our local chandler's. Now, I never use oars as they come off-the-shelf. There are several essentials that need attending, such as fiberglassing the tips with epoxy to prevent them from splitting out - and to support their inevitable use in poling off the bottom - applying at east four coats of spar varnish (hate the factory finish!) and, of course, leathering!

Remaining projects to make "Ms. Zen" that much more "just so": contrive some sort of removable rowing thwart spanning the cockpit while clearing the awkwardly positioned centreboard case (wonder if a "clip on" flexible seat like on a child's swing set would work?), install newly fabricated oarlock mounts and a jib boom to make the latter self-tacking so I can lazily beat up the narrow confines of my river.

Ah, a zen prospect indeed...

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