Woody Guthrie was wrong in his lyrical prediction that "everything's gonna be e-lec- tricity." Sorry, Woody, everything's gonna be plas-tic, and almost is already.
You see this particularly if you have a one- and a two-year-old around and you come home late and do three cartwheels and a tumblesault over various scattered petroleum-based breakables.
These breakables break and you throw them away. But now that most boats are made of plastic, too, the question arises, what to do when they break?
Obviously you can't just throw a boat away. Most of them are much too heavy.
You could put a plastic ball on the trailer hitch and go up a nice steep hill and see if that solves the problem.
Or you could fix it.
That's right, friends, we're talking revolution here. Something plastic breaks and you fix it. Some of the side benefits are the introduction of splintery glass fibers into the skin; the joy of breathing toxic fumes in enclosed places and the ever-popular right to work with materials that say clearly on the package, "Danger: Ingestion could cause DEATH!"
Friends, we're talking adventure.
Actually it's not quite as exciting as it sounds. And, as every president would attest, there's a real sense of achievement and satisfaction attached to stopping those leaks.
My guinea pig is the kayak, which, like everything else I own, was bought second- hand, a bargain. Some bargain. I should have known something was wrong when the seller, a friend (some friend!), threw in a bilge pump and a life jacket.
This kayak leaks so badly that if you gave me a snorkel I could show you the first paddle-powered submarine.
The first order of business was finding the leaks, which unsurprisingly was not all that difficult. Unlike wooden boats, which have a surfeit of suspect seams, glass boats are sleek and seamless. Chinks in the armor are fairly easy to spot on close inspection.
Two books told me what to do: "Fiberglass Repairs," by Paul J. Petrick ($6, Cornell Maritime Press, Cambridge, Maryland 21613), and "Modifying Fiberglass Boats," by Jack Wiley ($8.95, International Marine Publishing Co., 21 Elm Street, Camden, Maine).
Both recommended legal action against the seller. Failing that, they showed me how to fix the bloody thing.
Materials needed for this type of work are a hand-held electric drill with a hard, sandpaper-type grinding attachment; a can of polyester resin with hardener (you drink, you die); various-width strips of fiberglass "woven roving," whch is a soft, blanket-like material; some acetone, the solvent for polyester resin; a disposable plastic pan in which to mix resin and hardener; some rubber gloves, a bandana to keep the stuff you grind out of your lungs, and goggles.
Basic repairs are quite simple; making them look good is not. Since my goal with the kayak was simply to keep water out, I slopped patches on the outside and let appearances take care of themselves.
It's a piece of cake. You grind away the gelcoat (outer slick skin of the vessel) until you get to the underlayer, which is woven roving or other unfinished fibers impregnated with resin. To make a good patch you must remove all exterior paint and gelcoat from the offending area.
Grind away an inch or so on either side of the hole until you have a proper rectangle. Then cut a piece of fiberglass woven roving to cover it. Mix up the resin and poisonous hardener, paint a little over the hole, soak the fiberglass in the rest of the resin, slop it on and smooth it out, removing any air bubbles. It sets up overnight hard as steel.
The books explain more advanced techniques for patching from the inside, matching gelcoats and making actual modifications in hull and cabin design. But even these operations don't appear dreadfully complicated.
The worst things about working with plastic materials are the smell of the resin as it cooks with its hardener (reminds me of New Jersey during a temperature inversion), and getting it on your skin, which is why having acetone solvent around is important.
As for the kayak, I took it over Bull Falls on the Shenandoah last weekend and it didn't leak a drop.
A little later we were having lunch on a nice flat rock and somebody needed a place to sit.