06/06/2012 06:23 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2012

Chasing Raynbow

Some chefs get their motorcycles out in spring. I go to the boat yard. The weather turns warm enough for slow cure epoxy and the label on the primer says it's okay to paint. I don't have a motorcycle. I have a 35-foot trawler that was built in Hong Kong from white oak and red cedar around the time of my own birthday.

I saw RayNBow in a newsletter I'd been getting. It was free to whoever was willing to become the boat's second owner. Ray Norton (RayNBow) had ordered her. His widow was gone and no one was left to take care of her but me. I had her trucked from Glen Cove, LI to a yard in St. Leonard, Maryland.

I've had years of wood working in school where I tried to get passed my brother's legacy. It took carving a cello to get the guys in the shop to quit calling me Mark's little sister. When my ex-husband took a sailing class and wanted a boat of his own, I was drawn to the wooden ones. We decided on a 30-year-old sailboat with a fraying canvas deck and a wooden mast half eaten by termites. We spent a summer stretching new canvas and rebuilding the mast. I lost the sailboat in the divorce.

After a dozen years as a single-mom chef, I hit a comfortable stride. Colorado Kitchen was no longer something to fret over. The kids were big enough to find their way home from school. I had spare time to take her apart and put my big boat back together.

My years in the yard with Raynbow have been about much more than saw dust and bronze screws. I've learned a couple of things.

I've learned to accept my tragic flaw -- I do bite off more than I can chew. As long as I can remember I've fallen victim to the nagging pull that compels me to attempt the "impossible." I owe it to RayNBow to control myself. I've turned my back on several other worthy project boats.
I've learned the unwritten rule when in a marina. You wave hello to anyone and everyone that comes by. I can tell a marina newcomer that has no command of the steering-wheel pinky lift, or the hands-occupied-in-a-paint-can chin hi-five.

I've learned that there will always be someone watching me wrestle a fastener out of a rotting plank and call me crazy. I was crazy when I wrapped paper thin spruce around a bending iron years ago for the ribs of the cello. When word got out that Colorado Kitchen was smack dab in the middle of a transitioning neighborhood everybody called me crazy. But it became the talk of the town and I believe its success empowered other new restaurateurs to think outside the box, or triangle, or downtown.

I've learned that water is my "frenemy." There would be no RayNBow without water. And it is water that is making her dissolve before my eyes. Water in all the wrong places is turning her red cedar planking and marine grade plywood into mush that I've flaked away with my fingers. I'm in a constant battle to keep it out and all boat owners know: water will always find a way in.
I've learned that there are times I have to close the book and recall my own experience or a trick I learned in high school wood shop. There really are no rules to restoring an old boat built almost 50 years ago. Sometimes the answer for any question is in my own gut.

Just as I would not serve a broken hollandaise, if the scarfed in section of frame doesn't quite fit, there is no "that'll do." Everything I do to RayNBow has to be perfect.