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Gray rule

Every time I hear an acorn rat-a-tat-tat on the roof, my mind turns to the boat under its sleepy cover in the driveway. Those rolling nuts of doom always find a way under the cover. They’re like guided missiles in pursuit of nefarious ne’er-do-wells.

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They come in through the vents in the canvas cover, or bounce off of the casting platform, ricochet off the garage door, make a beeline around the cover straps and slowly roll onto the nonskid. And then they sit there till I use the boat or they end up in some corner undetected. Over time they leave a brownish red circle on the deck that for the life of me, I cannot find the right product nor time to get rid of. The oak leaves aren’t much better.

I like a clean boat. It’s just how I was raised. Don’t get me wrong, my 18-foot skiff built in 1991, is far from pristine but I wash the boat and chamois it dry after every use. She still looks pretty good, but sitting under an old oak tree has taken a toll on her. The corners of the deck were turning a light shade of green. The underside of the hatches were littered with black splotches like a paint-by-numbers book. The boat needed a nose-to-toes detailing in the worst way. With everything going on this year, however, I struggled to find the time and yet I couldn’t bring myself to pay someone to do it. Not because I’m cheap, but because I’m stubborn. Well, maybe a little bit cheap. I could hear my forefathers in my head saying, “why pay someone to do something you could do yourself?”

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My boat is not big. It’s not full of complicated systems. It would only take me the better part of one day to give the boat a serious cleaning and wax the hull. I’ve done it before. I own all of the gear. I have an electric handheld buffer and a five-gallon bucket full of cleaning supplies. But every Saturday that I planned to leave open to detail the boat fell victim to something. Bad weather, birthday parties, errands, deadlines … you know the drill. But as the boat got dirtier, and the leaves and acorns fell with more abandon, the internal dilemma of whether I should get out the hose and just commit to detailing the boat myself, or hire someone to do it, waged in my head like a screaming match between political foes on CNN.

After one particularly nasty thunderstorm I opened the garage to find a corner of the boat’s cover blown open and a pile of leaves, Spanish moss and other organic detritus in the boat. I looked at my wife like a puppy who just stepped on a thorn.

“Just hire someone,” she said, “give yourself a little present. You deserve it.”

“I just have to find a day,” I said. “I’ll get it done.”

The next time I went to use the boat, a couple of love-making frogs flew out from under the cover as I threw it open. They nearly smeared my glasses as I interrupted their fornication, and they left a pile of brown goop on the deck that came out of one hole or another. That was the last straw. I started to make some calls.

Where I live in Florida, there’s an army of mobile detailers that will drive to you. They often charge by the foot. I put some feelers out to friends and Facebook, and I quickly got several referrals. The first guy I called told me he started at $25/foot and went up from there. It’d be extra to wax the hull, he said. I tried to explain that my skiff only has one cushion and nothing much to it. He didn’t want to hear it and the thought of paying $450 or more to detail my small boat didn’t work for me. Then a buddy of mine with a 24-foot Pathfinder gave me a name of a guy he’d used, Cory. So I called him and he said he charges $13 to $15/foot for a wash and wax and $3 more a foot for ceramic coating. I sent him photos of my skiff and he must’ve liked the looks of it because he offered me $40 off as a first-time customer, which would cover most of the upgrade for the ceramic coating. Even though it pained me a tad, I decided to go for it.

A few days later, Cory showed up in a small SUV busting at the seems with cleaning supplies. It looked like he’d ransacked the entire car detailing aisle at the auto parts store. He had buckets and buckets of different products for different scenarios. Cory himself looked like a chubbier Bret Michaels from the band Poison, with a fadeaway ponytail and a wide headband. He was friendly and on time. To me, that was much more important than any outward characteristics.

Although I thought my boat looked terrible, he said it wasn’t that bad and he’d be done in a few hours. I went back in the house and back to work, after all, it was a Tuesday. Every once in a while I peeked through the blinds to see what he was up to. When I had a little break in the day, I went outside and asked him about his process. He was fairly tight-lipped but he basically told me that he soaked the boat down with a cocktail of degreaser, some sort of chlorine gel, water and a few other odds and ends he’s come up with over the years. He let that sit for a while then used a light pressure washer to spray it off. He worked on the stubborn spots with a few different brushes and products to get them out.

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He then dried the boat and used a ceramic coating on the hull. If you haven’t tried ceramic coatings, you’re missing out. I’ve been using them on my vehicles for a while now and they’re amazing. They go on easy and last far longer than your typical wax. The trick is in the prep. You have to thoroughly wash the boat and remove any old polish or wax. You then apply the ceramic with two soft microfiber cloths—one to wipe and one to buff to a polish. The ceramic coating Cory applied brought the hull back to life, it’s green paint glowing bright again. Cory also detailed the console, bringing the dull grey plastic back to its original black.

When he rang the doorbell to tell me he was done, I was shocked. It was about two and a half hours. The boat looked brand new. Decks as white as snow. Hatches glowing inside and out. I happily paid the man (he even took my credit card so I could score some rewards points) and then I stood in the driveway for a long while, admiring his handy work as if it were my own. A sense of satisfaction radiated inside my chest. It was money well spent and it felt almost as good as if I had done it myself. And now I had the entire weekend freed up to enjoy the boat.

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