Dumb boat owner turns to “Smart Rail” for a dry ride

The Times fishing columnist's Tashmoo-18 is outfitted with her new spray rails and ready for the water. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

From time to time, it is possible to walk around an Island town and glance into an open doorway and see a painting of a nautical scene, or on a less artistic scale, a deteriorating boat surrounded by weeds sitting in a yard. It is all evidence of Vineyarders’ long affiliation with the sea.

I lay claim to no seagoing heritage. There were no years honing my skills at a yacht club. Growing up in Dorchester, my father owned an outboard engine he would throw on a rental boat at Quincy’s Hough’s Neck boat livery when we went flounder fishing in Boston Harbor.

I am an accidental boat owner. I won my Tashmoo18 skiff in a raffle almost 20 years ago. I know only slightly more about seamanship now than I did the first day I launched my boat and pulled the starter cord right out of the engine, after repeatedly trying to start the engine without giving it gas — oh, you pull the throttle out, I later learned.

I discovered that for all its attributes — stable, solid, economical — my boat was very wet. Vineyard wits had already christened the Tashmoo, built for a short period on the Island, the Splashmoo. There was no arguing the point; not when I needed to dress in full foul weather gear while making my way through any chop in a quartering wind.

To be fair, my boat was not built with spray rails, located just above the water line for the purpose of deflecting spray. The original pamphlet I received with the boat listed PVC spray rails as a $200 option. Without that option my nicely proportioned hull, built on the model of Maine’s Jonesport lobster boats, appeared to be designed to deflect spray directly into my face (now I know why Maine fishermen get that weathered look). In a good sea and wind the spray took on a bucket-like volume.

My friends recommended I add spray rails. I procrastinated. I had no appetite for drilling holes in the hull, so I became adept at ducking behind the small console. Several years ago, I fashioned a small windshield to give more cover. But that did not stop the annoying problem of water riding up the flared hull and washing over the gunwales into the cockpit.

This season, I decided I had had enough. So I did what any experienced seafarer would do: I typed spray rails into Goggle. What I found was a product called “the Smart Rail,” produced by Smart Marine Products located in Needham (not Needham, China).

I went to the company website thesmartrail.com. A headline asked, “Tired of getting wet?” Yes, yes I am, I murmured to the computer.

The Internet bazaar has products for every problem. It is always smart to proceed cautiously. So I was encouraged by an article in Power and Motor Yacht magazine and on respectable websites that described the Smart Rail system.

Essentially the company produces two models of specially designed PVC spray rails, one for smooth hulls and another for chine hulls. The rails are bonded to the hull using high tech adhesives that eliminate the need to drill into the hull. They are not cheap, at almost $600 a pair retail for the basic nine-foot model.

I emailed the company a photo of my boat and asked for some information. I received a comprehensive reply from Chris Hodges. In his email, he addressed me as “Captain Nelson,” a nice touch but clearly not warranted by my skill set, and he described his own boating experience in Vineyard waters. I was encouraged.

I contacted Everett Bramhall of West Tisbury. Everett told me he had installed smart rails on his Regulator and experienced a 75 percent improvement. I was encouraged.

I procrastinated. A nice wet return ride from Gay Head to the Lake Tashmoo launch ramp put me over the edge. It was time for an improvement. The timing was perfect. The company was offering a discount and free shipping.

My smart rails arrived two weeks ago, packaged in a long square container. I read the instructions and reread them. I admit I was nervous about the task in front of me.

I am not a craftsman. I accept my limitations. I measure twice, cut once, and return to the lumber yard for more wood. Caulk and wood glue are my friends. I have super glued more fingers than objects. Now, I was going to handle an epoxy used to connect tiles to the space shuttle.

The spray rail comes with an adhesive bonding strip on the top and bottom. It allows for no fiddling. You are stuck with where you stick it.

The process is relatively straightforward. Clean the hull, mark where the rails are to be placed, apply the supplied primer to the rail location, remove the liner from the rail’s bonding strip and slowly place the rail in position as you pull the tape off.

The bonding strips create a slight gap along the top and bottom edges. You fill it with a structural adhesive squeezed out of a specially designed mixing tube where the rail meets the hull. For obvious reasons the instructions make it clear this is a two-person job.

To help me with this project I knew I needed a special person, someone with patience who would maintain a good humor when I began to panic or grew demanding — I needed my wife Norma.

We tackled the job on Sunday. Given my project track record, the possibilities for disaster seemed limitless. To my great surprise, I managed to stick both spray rails on evenly. I also managed to add the adhesive, which had an odor that reminded me of getting a crown put on a tooth, without any major disasters or joined digits. We took it slow and were still speaking to each other once the job ended.

It was a bit of a learn as you go process, but the rails appear to be quite solid. I still need to taper the front corner with a sanding disk. Of course, the big test will come this weekend. If you see me at the wheel without rain gear on, you will know I am a very satisfied customer.

For more information on Smart Rails, call 1-954-445-8897.

Matt Bass moves on

Environmental Police Sergeant Matt Bass has been reassigned to the lower Cape and Falmouth area, effective this week. The lateral transfer will cut down on the daily commute Matt made from his house in Falmouth.

Matt began his Vineyard assignment in July 2009. He proved fair and diligent about following up on complaints. He knew when to use his discretion and when to clamp down. The Island was lucky to have an officer of Matt’s caliber.

“I enjoyed every minute of it,” Matt told me. He is not going away. He will continue to patrol Vineyard Sound and cover the Island. “Don’t hesitate to call anytime with questions or issues,” he said.

A new EPO will be assigned to the Island.

Hooter is hot

Captain Russ Lawrence of Edgartown emailed Monday and reported the following: “On this morning’s charter, we boated two albies and a skipjack, mixed in with the bonito and blues.”

When I caught up to Russ, he said the skipjack was the big surprise. As for location, he would only reveal southeast corner of the Island.

Julian at Larry’s said some albies and bonito are popping up off State Beach, but the reel action is at the Hooter where bonito are plentiful.

Support sought

Rick Willoughby of Willoughby Galleries in Edgartown asked me to alert readers to the plight of New Bedford commercial fisherman Larry Yacubian. Rick said that at least a dozen Vineyard fishermen have worked for Mr. Yacubian as crew aboard his scalloper out of New Bedford/Fairhaven.

“It would mean a lot if some Vineyarders were to express support for Mr. Yacubian, along with that of Senators Kerry and Brown and Congressman Barney Frank, among others, for the obvious injustice that this matter has created,” Rick said.

According to a story published in “Saving Seafood,” a commercial fisheries site, Captain Yacubian “lost his business, his boat, his license to fish – and literally the family farm – as a result of a Federal prosecution described by the United States Secretary of Commerce as having ‘overstepped the bounds of propriety and fairness…'” For more information go to savingseafood.org.