Of dentists and boats

Somehow I got to thinking that someone trained in dentistry might make a good restorer or wooden boats. When I have been working on old wooden boats, one of my jobs has ben to use a number of short picks to locate soft and rotting wood. Then I use the most precise tools that I have to remove all of the rot while leaving as much of the healthy wood as possible. After making sure that I have cleaned out all of the rot, I need to restore the original shape of the wood. When possible, I use a variety of fillers, such as wood flour mixed with two-part epoxy, or epoxy thickened with other substances. Other times, I need to cut out an entire piece of rotted wood and make a replica to replace it. Dentistry has some similar aspects. Of course, I’m not qualified to be a dentist and they have to deal with infection control and work in a sterile environment. No one has ever accused me of having a sterile shop. And a dentist is usually working in much smaller areas than I, although I have had some places that are hard to reach.

I have a friend who is a dentist and he has, over the years provided me with some items that have been helpful in my hobby of messing about with wooden boats. He has given me some boxes with gloves that I wear when working epoxy to keep my skin from being exposed to the toxic chemicals. He has provided me with a few small plastic medicine cups that i use for precise measurement of fillers and glues. And it seems to be easy to talk to him about what I’m doing with boats. He seems to understand the process very well.

Of course a dentist doesn’t often get to work with the actual material. The enamel of teeth is a natural product that once damaged needs to be replaced with a synthetic. The crowns of replacement teeth have been made of wood, precious metals including gold and, most commonly these days, ceramics. I do think that one product that is used in some implant and other dental surgical procedures is a kind of bone dust that is similar to wood flour. Wood flour is fine sawdust, usually gathered from a power tool’s dust collection system. I typically use material produced by a belt sander. I think that surgeons save bone fragments from orthopedic procedures and some of it can be reused in other procedures involving bones, such as inserting an implant rod into a jaw bone.

Dentists, however, probably don’t often want a hobby that seems so much like the work they do for a living. On the other hand, an old boat needs no anesthetic and it really won’t complain except by reducing its performance on the water if not treated properly. And when a wooden boat restorer is filling out insurance claims, it usually is the product of careless and injury not an attempt to get reimbursed for work that is already completed, not that any dentists I know went into their vocation for the love of insurance forms.

Just to show you the strange ways that my mind works, I was thinking about wooden boat restoration yesterday as news about Hurricane Michael battering the Florida panhandle began to come in on my phone and other devices. The storm seems to be really causing a lot of destruction in coastal areas. The Florida panhandle is home to a lot of small sailboats and some very practical day sailers. I wonder how many of the damaged boats are restorable and if there are boat lovers who scoop up the damaged boats and invest hours upon hours restoring them.

I, of course, won’t be finding that out. A trip to Florida right now is out of the question. If I did go, the focus of my trip would have to be helping people, not messing with boats. And the cost of a trip to Florida would mean that any boat I purchased there and hauled home would be too expensive for my budget. On the other hand, there is a story that was widely reported of President Trump’s visit to storm-ravaged areas in North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. According to the reports I read, the President spoke with an older man standing in front of a small brick house, behind which was a large yacht that had washed ashore and was shipwrecked against the man’s wooden deck. When asked if this was his boat, the man told President Trump, “no.” The president said to the man, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” Then he commented to reporters, “I think its incredible what we’re seeing. This boat just came here. They don’t know whose boat that is. What’s the law? Maybe it becomes theirs.”

I’m pretty sure that the owner of the boat and the insurance company that covers the boat and perhaps the bank that holds a lien on the boat don’t think that the President’s interpretation of the law on the matter would give the boat to the homeowner. Maritime law takes a pretty dim view of piracy, even when the ship is wrecked. There are specific laws governing salvage of boats and ships.

But a big storm must make a lot of work for those who repair boats. And sometimes it seems plausible that it might make a bargain for someone who was willing to invest a lot of sweat equity in restoring a badly damaged boat.

Cleaning up after a severe storm involves a lot of decisions and there are many interconnected parts. The fate of boats should be way down the list of priorities. People, however, become pretty connected to boats. All you have to do is go through a marina and read the boat names off of the sterns of the craft and you’ll discover that most boats have a story behind them. A brush with a storm and a careful restoration might add to the story and, in the case of at least some boats, to even result in a change of name.

So far, however, I’ve yet to see a boat named “Dental” or “Tooth Doctor.” It wouldn’t surprise me. After all I’ve paid more money to my dentist over the years than I’ve invested in boats - clearly enough for him to be able to afford a boat if he wanted one.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!