UC Berkeley News


The boat restorer
Nancy Schimmelman

| 13 September 2006

Nancy Schimmelman (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Nancy Schimmelman hasn't lived on solid ground since 1992. An IT manager in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, she began restoring a gutted 42-foot Herreshoff schooner with her husband in 1989. They moved on board a few years later.

Working evenings and weekends, it took the couple five years to complete their task. In an old wooden boat, nothing is straight or square, explains Schimmelman, so fitting a piece of wood in a curved corner takes a great deal of time — and patience. With no such previous experience, she says, "I had to learn by doing."

In 1994, Schimmelman began volunteering for the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She now teaches a host of boating-related classes, and has devoted several hundred hours to the auxiliary this year alone. Her volunteering activities run the gamut — from assisting the Coast Guard with helicopter practice to rescuing boaters and windsurfers. The latter occasions much gratitude. "When a cold, tired windsurfer gets carried far from his launch point, we try to get him out of the water before the chill becomes life-threatening," she says, explaining that it's not unusual for people to underestimate the winds and tides near the Golden Gate Bridge.

Schimmelman is familiar with the Bay's vagaries, since she sails the schooner on it frequently. She and her husband now make their home on a larger powerboat, a 1969 Chris Craft, that they dock in Emeryville. Wooden boats require more maintenance, says Schimmelman, but "living in some modern fiberglass boats can be like living in a Tupperware container — clammy." Though she sacrificed closet space and bookcases for her lifestyle, the tradeoff is well worth it, she insists: "When I feel the wind and water rock my home, I feel really connected to the planet."

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