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Meet the Blogger: Paul Calder

Paul Calder is a blogger on SAILfeed, where he has been sharing the progress of refitting his boat, living in New Orleans and getting a wee bit of guidance from dear ol' dad, Nigel Calder, an author and expert on boat systems. Read on to learn about Paul's hands-on process.

Paul Calder is a blogger on SAILfeed, where he has been sharing the progress of refitting his boat, living in New Orleans and getting a wee bit of guidance from dear ol' dad, Nigel Calder, an author and expert on boat systems. Read on to learn about Paul's hands-on process, what he's learned from the project and where he's heading now that his boat is finally off the hard.

You’ve worked through numerous projects getting your Cape Dory 28 refurbished. Has it been helpful to keep a log on Sailfeed and record the process?

It definitely has, even though the Sailfeed log is quite a bit behind where the boat is actually at. Writing this blog has gotten me into the habit of actively documenting nearly every step. Even just thinking about this process at the beginning of a job rather than the end makes all the difference when it comes time to write and with my photos on hand I can remember just how each piece went together.

It can be difficult and a bit frustrating when I'm working on my own—try taking photos when everything is sticky with epoxy and you only have 15 minutes of working time! But it is very nice to have a record of the process.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far?

It's a bit droll but the biggest lesson I've learned is that preparation is vital and often more time consuming than the job itself. Nine out of ten times I go out to my boat with just my bicycle so it's not really an option to run over to the store and get another paintbrush or some odd size screw. I can't count how many times I've been stymied for the day simply because I didn't think ahead to one little thing I would need.

I've wasted a great deal of time and mental energy jumping back and forth between projects while trying to keep track of each little piece I'll need to bring the next time I come out. Then of course there's the one about everything taking at least twice as long as you think it will.

Any good tricks you’ve picked up along the way about staying on budget?

I try to re-use anything that I can and to some degree I allow the order in which I do things to be dictated by my ability to find good deals. Like I said, it can be frustrating to juggle too many tasks but I save a lot of money by restraining my urge to run to the store and buy a bunch of parts, or a tool, just to finish a project. Instead I'll wait on that job until I can source stuff second hand or at a good price and I'll wait to buy small parts until I can order a bunch at once.

Particularly if you keep your boat simple, there's a lot you can make yourself instead of buying and if you have a project big enough to justify the paperwork many chandleries will allow you to open a business account with a discount on their retail prices.

You seem to have a fabulously large workshop filled with useful tools. How do you manage that while working on such a small budget?

Well I suppose I've been hoarding tools ever since I got to New Orleans and as for the shop, rent is cheap when the roof leaks! By buying tools before I need them I've been able to get a lot of bang for my buck. I'll scour Craigslist, yard sales, etc. and if I see a great deal on a tool I'll buy it, even if I'm not sure how I'll use it. Almost invariably these finds become “essential” tools within a month or two. I also love old tools—they're cheap to buy but often better built than the new stuff. My decades-old drillpress and grinder—two of my most used tools—are flood victims I rescued just before they would have become scrap. With a bit of cleaning and a new cord they worked just fine!

Where did you grow up and how did you wind up in New Orleans?

I grew up with my family maybe two-thirds in Maine and one-third in the Caribbean on the first two Nadas: an Ingrid 38 and Pacific Seacraft 40. As for New Orleans, some of my mom's family is here in Southern Louisiana and they built the first boat on the North shore of Lake Pontchartrain, which is where we kept it docked for many years. So in a way I guess this is a sort of homecoming. Still, I ended up here in New Orleans through a pretty convoluted path and actually wasn't even thinking about boats when I moved down here. I suppose it was only a matter of time before that history caught up with me!

I really enjoy living here, the city has a very beautiful and raw feel and it seems nearly all its histories are connected to its waterways in one manner or another. There is a great community here (and a history to match) of people messing about with boats on shoestring budgets in all sorts of weird ways. I have friends sailing a Cal-20 they bought for $1 and rebuilt and another who every month or two turns out a beautifully crafted plywood boat he built in his garage, often using found materials. Then there's the functioning mudboat another friend made out of the back of a pickup truck for the film Beasts of the Southern Wild. I've always enjoyed sailing with my family but it was such an inspiration to come down here and see a younger crew of people cobbling together these crazy boats just to get the hell out of the city and onto the water.


Your father is purportedly the world's only Trotskyist yachting journalist. How about you? Do you lean left like your dad, or have you rejected his politics?

Oh I definitely share those leanings, along with the majority of people I've met in the cruising community. There's something about the freedom of being autonomous on the sea which meshes with a worldview where people are focused on taking care of each other on a very local scale while preserving a lot of individual autonomy and, of course, trying to protect what we have left in our deeply scarred oceans.

You seem now to be following in his footsteps in this regard: fixing up boats and writing about it. Does this surprise you?

I've been fighting this for years but I'm finally starting to resign myself to it! Really though it's a bit ridiculous how my sister and I have followed in our parents’ footsteps. When they were about our age they were living on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain where they were building a boat and my mom was making fine art prints and paintings of swamp scenes. Now my sister and I both live on the South shore of the lake where I'm rebuilding this boat and writing about it while she turns out stunning prints of the Bayou and paints cypress knees—a technique I think my mom invented!

How frequently do you get your dad on the phone to say, “How do I get this to work?” and how much do you figure things out as you go or use outside resources?

I try to have a pretty good grasp on a task through print and online sources before I tackle it but it's very often that I turn to the Nigel Calder Helpline for advice on how to do things. This is especially useful for applying general knowledge to the specific circumstances of my boat and for on-the-fly questions in the middle of a job. It's something I'm very lucky to have.

On the other hand, I've learned to take his advice with a grain of salt! For example, I spent quite a few unnecessary hours making chainplates far more heavy-duty than they have any reason to be because he's so used to thinking about 35ft+ boats that he suggested 18"x2"x1/4" when I called him up to ask about dimensions.

My dad has also come down here a few times to work on the boat so we were able to knock out the most technically dense tasks with the expert on hand. Things that would have taken me weeks to figure out, like installing the engine, only took a couple days with him here.

In this post, you talk about the frustration of a project in near completion, and taking a step back to give yourself the time you need to get the job done right. How did that work out, and how can people properly budget not only their money, but their time on a project, when it’s so hard to know when you’re starting out?

Actually, I'm a big proponent of self-delusion. For the past year I've been saying (and almost believing) that the boat will be in the water in a couple of months. This has really helped motivate me, albeit in spurts and starts. But the flipside to giving myself totally unrealistic goals is that I don't take them too seriously. When I get in the zone I'll happily put in 10+ hours a day, every day without it even feeling like work but I try not to force myself when I'm not feeling it. I have a bunch of other things going on here in New Orleans: a great job, various projects for myself and in the community, and of course the seasonal construction of elaborate costumes, which is pretty much de rigeur here. So I work on the boat when I have time and energy and when I get burned out or pulled away I focus on other things for a while. This way I'm able to really enjoy the work I'm doing without driving myself to ruin. 

So I guess the advice I would give is that with a big, somewhat vague project like a sailboat refit, you might actually get more done if you allow a lot of flexibility in your goals. Try keep in mind that ideally you want to enjoy the process as well as the product!

Do you plan to cruise your boat once now that it's launched? Where do you plan on sailing?

Absolutely. I still have plenty to do to prepare for bluewater sailing so there will be at least a few months around Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf coast but as soon as the boat is ready I'm headed South. As to where, no plans yet. First target will probably be the Bahamas or the Yucatan depending on how ambitious the crew and I are feeling. I suppose that will depend on who the crew turns out to be, as of yet I've no idea!

Photos courtesy of Paul Calder

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