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Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Hull #48" or "How I Learned to Polish Brass"

The Captain, ready to compare hull numbers with other Saga 43 owners

“Hull #48.”

That’s the answer to the question we’ve been asked many times.  The conversation is set in motion by another Saga 43 sailboat coming into sight. Waves and knowing glances are first exchanged from one cockpit to another across the water. 
Buddy boating through NYC 2016

When at last there is verbal contact between the two boats, the conversation almost always progresses as follows— “Nice lookin’ boat you got there,” one of the two parties calls out with a grin. It’s a cheesy introduction but one that is perfectly acceptable within the cruising world.  In short order “the question” is put out there “What’s your hull number?”  Now, why is this important, you ask.  A reasonable question.  A boat with a hull # in the single digits may have been built “before the little tweaks that were later discovered to be advantageous, were built in.” A boat built near the end of the production may have had subtle changes made to the design which were either a good thing, or a bad thing and this spawns yet a different sort of discussion. 
Our SAGA 43 with resident Border Collie

We have had the good fortune to meet several Saga 43 owners over the past year and a half.   One day this fall, we met the owners of Hull #1. Hull #1 was built in St. Catherine, Ontario in 1996.  Ours was built there also, in 2003.  Hull #1 is 7 years older than our boat but it looked years newer!  
Brass door handles after polishing

Those sailboat owners really know how to take care of a boat!  The cabin sole (floor) was perfect; all the woodwork inside the boat was satiny and shining.  The brass handles, hinges and knobs gleamed. The stainless steel was shiny.  In short, Hull #1 was awesome!  Hull #48, by comparison, was decidedly not.  After seeing the beauty of Hull #1, a truly well-cared for boat, inside and out, I recognized that Northern Star also has that same beauty within her.  We had allowed it to fade by benign neglect.  She needed some good old-fashioned elbow grease. I discovered a compulsion to polish brass.  The drive to make our boat shine struck home with a vengeance. 
Profile of barometer, badly in need of polishing

We were traveling down the ICW on our way to Vero Beach shortly after we met Hull #1. Carl was driving the boat and I started polishing, tackling the largest items of brass first:  the ship’s bell, lantern, barometer, inclinometer, porthole mirror and the 7 wall lamps.  Polishing those took the better part of three long days on the ICW.  I discovered several important things about polishing brass during those first days.  
Badly tarnished bell hanger

First off, my old standby, liquid Brasso did not do as good a job for me as Prism Polish.  Prism Polish is a thick paste, sold in marine supply stores.  It comes in 8 oz. and 16 oz. jars and is not easy to tip over.  It was easy to apply with a cloth, paper towel or Q-tip.  Smells pretty decent, too. 

The beauty hidden beneath the tarnish
Second, the more tarnished the brass, the more helpful it was to use paper toweling to rub the paste off.  I went through 3-4 rolls of cheap paper towels by the time I was finished with all of the brass on the interior of the boat—this in spite of using only 1/2 sheet each time. The wood fibers in the paper towel added just enough abrasion to help remove the black tarnish. I ended up applying most of the Prism paste with Q-tips because I could be more precise in applying it only where I wanted it and I think it was less wasteful.  I was pleased to find that the Prism Polish did not stain or appear to harm the woodwork surrounding the brass. I had started out by taping around the items to be polished thinking the paste would be hard on the woodwork but it was not.  That saved me some time.
Our porthole mirror gleams!

Taping was unnecessary

Third, I found that it made sense to polish a number of things at the same time.  Allowing the polish to sit undisturbed on the brass for a few minutes before coming back to it to rub off loosened up more tarnish than when just putting it on and immediately wiping it off.  
Hinges that did not look promising

Fourth, the first two or three applications of the paste yielded only a small amount of greenish residue and did not look promising.  One could be disheartened and think that was going to be the end result.  By the time the next applications went on however, the brass was sloughing copious amounts of black residue.  It was not possible to remove all of that with only a few more applications.  The black kept coming off time after time.  Many of the items that I polished had twelve or even more applications of paste before getting to the point that there was very little black coming off on the paper towel. 
Beautiful hinges

Fifth, even though some brass had pitting that wasn’t going to go away with polishing, I found that the polishing was still worth doing.  There was yet enough shine to be had to make the piece look much improved.  
Ships' bell

While I was learning how to polish brass, I was also becoming painfully aware of just how much brass there is on the interior of this boat. There are 4 walk-through doors with pairs of brass handles, accompanying sets of hinges and the locking mechanisms;  3 hanging locker doors with brass hinges, handles and pulls; 19 smaller cupboard doors with pairs of brass hinges and pulls, 21 drawers with brass pulls; 18 overhead lights ringed in brass, and finally, hinges on the table, at the navigation station and handles on the electrical panels.  Gasp!  What had I begun?  I’d barely scratched the surface.
Nav station desk hinges
Nav station cupboard fasteners

Sometimes, obsessive traits can be helpful.  I did complete the polishing of all of the above although I tended to ignore the hinges inside cupboards that I can’t see.  All told, this project took several more days to complete— a few days on the ICW and a couple more after arriving in Vero Beach.  I finished just in time for the arrival of our Christmas guests—my two children from Portland, OR and Carl’s son and his girlfriend from Chicago.  
A shiny inclinometer

Nobody happened to mention how nice and shiny the brass was. I would have been very surprised if any of them had.  Brass is supposed to be shiny, right?  Why then would a person comment on what is as it should be?  I’m amazed that I’ve lived on this boat for more than a year and a half without realizing there was all this beautiful brass hiding in plain sight all around us. 

1 comment:

Mark Bennett said...

Clearly, Ardys, you have too much time on your hands. Nice picture of Carl, though. He looks happy.