With my ballot cast long ago, and a gut-ache from staring at the utterly nauseating election coverage, I could think of nothing more pleasant to relieve my misery than to grind fiberglass. Cataract had a few bottom bumps that we planned to grind down now and let sit and dry for the winter. A quick patch in the spring and back to the river she goes.

All was well until Janek started poking at some weird goopy stuff stuck between the bottom of the gunwale and the side of the boat. He sniffed at it and said (no shit, this is what he said), “These are mushrooms.” I laughed nervously and tried to go back to bottom therapy when he began tapping on the side of the boat and noted that it sounded quite hollow. Oh damn. Oh damn. The dreaded Briggs boat cancer. It has happened to a lot of them–water begets rot and it creeps down the side-panel, usually along ribs, where it cannot dry toward the inside of the boat. “I’m sorry to report to you, Ms. Cataract, that your tests came back rather poorly.” 

A quick survey of the rest of the boat was blessedly free of other metastases, so I set to grinding off the exterior layer of glass in the fungal zone. Yup. Boat cancer, sho’ ‘nuf.

And yup, right along a rib, where in my mid-1980s fiberglass infatuation, I had filleted the rib to the side, ensuring that any water that got in there could never escape. Those little wads of orange googe in the corner are more mushrooms. Or some kind of fungus. 

People ask me why I bolt on gunwales and never glue them on. Boom–twenty minutes later the gunwales are safely off and the tumor has been removed. That’s why.

Janek is grinding in the scarfs for the replacement piece.

And for tonight, the radiation treatments begin–a heat lamp to dry out any remaining fungy moisture. Once we epoxy the side-panel back together, we’ll do the chemotherapy–turn the boat up on edge and soak the entire area with Board Defense–a boatbuilder’s anti-fungal.

The take-away here?

1) Keep your eyes open when you are running a 44-year-old plywood boat. This kind of shit is always wanting to happen. As Bego once said, there are three things you don’t want to do to plywood: get it wet, bang on it, and leave it out in the sun. Uhhhhh….

2) Don’t glue those gunwales on. They have to come off with disappointing regularity.

3) If you must put fiberglass over wood in a boat that’s going to be treated this roughly, try to leave one side un-sealed so the water can get back out. ‘Cause you know it’s going to get in.