Friday, January 28, 2011

Whistle while you work

Update:  by request, a photo of the hatch in question:

Gollum, gollum

Having plowed through most of the necessary jobs on Papillon, we have finally begun to tackle the cosmetics.  Erik has been looking forward to refinishing our teak since the day we bought the boat.  (And how do we know this is a boat-related task?  Because it is properly called "brightwork".  I'll only award that term a 6/10 on my nautical terminology list, because one could conceivably guess what it refers to, which is a major no-no in the sailing world.)

In her book on refinishing teak, The Brightwork Companion, Rebecca Wittman states that brightwork becomes an obsession, a descent into perfection.  It requires skill and a zealous perfectionism.  Clearly, just the project for Erik.  Brightwork involves stripping wood, removing all imperfections, then applying ten careful layers of varnish of varying but very particular composition and thickness, all in hopes of making the wood shine like a sheet of honey in the sun.  It is days and days of work.  And days and days.

(There are those of us who think life is a series of challenges to be joyfully overcome.  Then there are those of us who think life should come standard-issue with a bottomless pitcher of margaritas and an endless supply of books.  Let each of us refrain from judging the other.)

The hatch on the lazarette was Erik's first brightwork job.  A square of wood about three feet per side, it was sun-faded, peeling and cracked, as one would expect in bright sun and salty air.  Erik removed the hatch and lovingly scraped off the remaining varnish.  He filled the cracks with epoxy, sanded the wood and applied varnish for about three days.  The hatch looked gorgeous, even with five coats still to go.

And so, as I stood on the back deck and stared at the hatch, I wondered what exactly I should do.  I looked at the four tiny footprints in the freshly applied third coat.  I turned to Indy, sitting adjacent to the workspace, who was vainly trying to scratch wet varnish and newspaper from the soles of her feet.  I looked over my shoulder to Erik, loading scuba tanks in the dinghy, happy in his ignorance.
There was nothing for it.  As little as I wanted to do it, I knew the time was now.  The varnish was clearly still wet; maybe there was something he could do to recover the project.

My brother Colin volunteered to break news; like a coward, I leaped at the offer.  (Brave Sir Robin chickening out, that's me.) I watched the pantomime in the dinghy thirty feet away.  Erik moved rapidly through the stages of grief from Denial to Anger.  Then he got kind of stuck.  Arms wheeling like a windmill, theatre voice in full cry, he stormed onto the boat.  He was so loud that the Bahamian marina workers came rushing over, and this is not a rushing kind of country.

The girls clambered off the boat in alarm.  We deemed it prudent to absent ourselves for a while, so we went for a swim.  (Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin!)  I was pleased to see Papillon still at the dock when we returned; I had fleeting fears of our things piled in a heap on the dock and Erik away with the rising tide.  On board, Erik was hunched over the hatch like Gollum, still muttering dark words about how sailors of olden days had it right in banning women from their boats.  His Precious was ruined, but he was on the mend.

After a brief mourning period, Erik picked himself up and started again.  Extra protection was added to his workspace, in the form of a rope fence and a rousing game of "stop!" played with Indy, driving home the rule to turn around whenever she approached the barrier.

All was happy again.  Two days post-disaster, Erik once again had his honey glass.  He cleaned his tools, put his things away, then went back to check on the hatch.

Only to find that, although he had taped down the plastic sheet under the hatch, one corner had worked its way free in the wind.  And blew onto the surface.  And stuck.  And it was covered in polyurethane.

And I am so glad we were away at the beach when it happened.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good news, bad news

"Yeah, the blog is getting a little dry, isn't it?"
Well.  It seems my posts of late have failed to impress my bunkmate (and oh, the ingratitude! See if he gets another post in his honour.) Not that he doesn't have a point. Back in the chilly days of October, it was easy to be funny in a slipping-on-a-banana-peel kind of a way. As a person utterly new to sailing and, let's face it, hardship of any sort, it wasn't difficult to find things to grouse about.  My long-ago stint in Germany and working though the joys of the work permit system gave me practice in turning my teeny-tiny trials into something amusing. And, voila!  Instant blog.  It introduced a necessary element of schadenfreude to this enterprise: you, my dear readers, were far less likely to turn away in disgust from my privileged account of my two-year sabbatical if there were difficulties along the way. And there were. Many.

The bad news for you is that now we are in a warm place. And let me tell you, even higher on my list of peeves than laundry that does not dry is being cold.  This is a bad thing for someone from Canada, and played no small part in my agreeing to this adventure.  Erik can confirm that I spend much of my life below room temperature.  In a cage fight between the laws of physics and my icy hands of death, you should definitely put the milk money on me.

I've drifted off topic.  Point: cold = bad.  Cold = Amy indulging in great pessimism.  But when the sun shines... ahh, then, my friends, everything looks rosy.  The anchor is dragging and we're drifting onto a shoal in the middle of the night during a sudden storm?  In the Chesapeake, I may have just had a heart attack and had done with it.  When in happened in Key West a week ago?  Oh, gosh.  I'd better skip on over and get that anchor up then!  La de dah de dah!  And I did, and we repositioned, and then there was a parade with rainbows and puppies and everyone got free chocolate.  Or so it felt like.

Still drifting off topic.  My point is really this.  The bad news for you, for me, and for this little blog, is that nothing crummy is as funny in the sunshine.  I don't feel as rotten about it, so I can't complain effectively, so you don't get the same thrill for not living on this boat, and can feel all snug and secure at home even though it is -52 Celsius and eight meters of snow have fallen in the past ten minutes.  Unless I can make you say, "Ha ha!  My furnace is costing me $400/minute, but at least I'm not on Papillon!", then I have failed at my job.

Well.  Now.  My chickadees, I promise you, trials and tribulations lie in store!  We haven't stopped fixing dead engines during the night.  We still find ourselves surrounded by cruise ships and freighters at 2am, wondering how we are going to cross the Gulf Stream without getting creamed, and are those two little sets of lights actually one tug-and-tow waiting to de-mast us with its tow cable?  Dangers abound!  Annoyances proliferate!  And as soon as I get accustomed to this lovely Bahamian weather, I'll once again be glancing at the sky with heavy-lidded eyes and a sneer, asking, "what have you done for me lately?"

But, to tide you over until I regain my customary pessimism, I present to you this short list of reasons you can be happy you are not me.

I Am Happy I am Not Frolicking in the Bahamas on Papillon Because:
1.  I don't have to toilet-train a two-year-old on heavy seas in a bathroom the size of a linen closet.
2.  I don't have to listen to Erik and the girls invent highly dubious rhymes all day long.  (If I have to hear Indy say, "Domo arigato for scratching my botto" one more time...).  Note to future teachers of Indy and Stylish: send all vocabulary complaints directly to my husband.
3.  I don't have to haul a man >1.5 times my weight up the mast to fix things.  And let him down gently again.
4.  No one shakes my shoulder at 2am to say, "It's your watch.  Wake me in two hours."
5.  I don't have to be the only sufferer of seasickness amongst a Crew Without Pity.
6.  If I forget to buy something at the store, I can get it tomorrow.  Supplies are less than a dinghy ride/two-mile walk/tiny grocery store/cab ride/dinghy ride away.
7.  I have more than one functional electrical outlet.
8.  I don't have to re-prime my toilet every time I go somewhere.

There.  That should do for a while.  So, feel good in your life choices, friends.  And don't pity me as I collect conch shells on the beach again tomorrow.  Tra la la!  I'll be back to my grim self soon enough.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You do a montage!

Greetings from this side of 2011.  I trust everyone made it through the holidays without too many thrills, spills, or pounds of turkey weight.

Taking a look in ye olde mailbag, our dear readership is inquiring Erik's lack of posting.  Since no amount of encouragement has yet produced the written word from my dear counterpart, instead I present:

What is Erik Doing?

 filling the diesel tanks

 in the engine room

 at the helm

 back in the engine room

 fixing the outboard motor

 doing something loud and messy

 adjusting batteries

 checking the zincs

 fishing wires

 up the mast to work on the lazyjacks

 still up the main mast

 reconfiguring breakers in the electrical panel

 adjusting the mizzen sail

 measuring and marking the anchor rode

I think we can sense a general theme, here.  Erik is busy fixing disasters, and, more recently, making improvements.  Erik’s motto is that everything can be improved, be it boat, house, business, country, person or attitude, and he works to uphold that principle on a daily basis.  So don’t hope for him to write any time soon; he’s busy setting a new antenna.

The eagle-eyed among you will also notice that, behind every wall panel, under every floor board, around every corner, something is hidden in Papillon.  And I mean that in a very Matrix-like way.  Not a surface exists on this boat that does not conceal a bank of batteries, engine, pump, alternator (now I discover we have three!), pillow block, flag locker, sail locker, locker locker, or plain old chest of drawers.  It is fascinating, the storage space build into this place.  Oh, no, wait a minute.  It is a complete and utter thorn in my side.

Last summer, back in the heady days of our sailing lessons, I bought a pair of deck shoes.  Lovely blue Sperrys.  Being a thinking-ahead sort of a person, I left them on board when I departed, reasoning that I would have no need of them back on land.

Well.  Here we are, three months in, and I still can’t find my Sperrys.  Every room hides about thirteen sneaky cupboards.  I swear we’ve checked them all.  Under the bunks.  In the walls.  Under the spare sails.  Under the couches.  Behind the couches.  Nothing.  And I cannot bring myself to replace them, though my loafers are now disintegrating, because the moment I hand over my credit card the errant Sperrys will leap from their hiding place to lounge in the middle of the salon.  No, I won’t have it. 

I think I’ll offer Indy and Stylish a dollar to suss them out.  That’s good parenting, right?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas Past and Present

-->The Christmas of my youth was a rigidly formatted affair.  I say this with affection - it took none of the fun out of it for me - but there it was.  One knew that every year would follow precisely the same pattern as every other, to the minute.  The eleventh commandment: Thou Shalt Spend Christmas the Exact Same Way Every Year of thy Life.  Christmas Eve: 6pm N family party; 7pm church; 8:30pm K family party; 9:30 home, candle lit and to bed.  Christmas day: 8am wake up and wait to be allowed downstairs; 8:02am stockings; 8:15am breakfast; 9am presents; 11am watch movies in a chocolate-and-Pringles-induced stupor until 4pm L family Christmas.  Boxing Day (oh, look it up, ye non-Canucks): 3pm J family Christmas.  And so it went.  Year in, year out, decade after decade.  When Erik and I became an item and arrived at the dating milestone of “What about the holidays?”, I happily discovered that he and his family celebrate on Christmas Eve.  I endured the yearly eye-rolls for skipping that part of the schedule, we went to his parents on the 24th, his troupe of three was assimilated into the Borg of my family events on the 25th and 26th, and No Difficult Choices Needed To Be Made.  Hurrah. Even now, with children of my own, my family at large resists the changes that age and geography have brought, and insists we follow our ancient pattern as closely as possible.

And so, perhaps you can understand what a Big Deal it was when the family discovered that we would be away for Christmas this year.  More than one reproachful look was levelled in my direction, more than one subtle opinion lobbed across the dinner table.

This is not to say that Erik and I were blasé about the whole thing.  On the contrary, repetition had worn a groove in my soul, and I found it a bit wrenching to think of missing my very first Christmas at home.  Even when we lived overseas, we came home for those precious few days.  But this year, it was not to be.  And I was a little sad.

And then:

Yeah.  Swimming on Christmas.  Kind of takes a lot of the sting out of it.  And not to be callous towards you people living in a winter wonderland, but ha ha ha!

Frankly, we were lucky.  You’ve no doubt been too busy shovelling snow to follow our weather report, so I’ll give you the synopsis.  Weather in Florida this December: freezing.  And I mean, water-turning-to-ice freezing.  The whole month.  Maybe you aren’t boo-hooing for me that I only put on a t-shirt three days this month, but honest to Murgatroyd, was it so much to ask?  From Florida?

Throughout our cold, cold cold, oh-so-cold days and nights in the Chesapeake, Erik and I would huddle by the diesel stove and give each other knowing nods, whispering “Florida” like a holy chant.  We knew.  No matter it was unseasonably cold throughout Maryland.  And Virginia.  And both Carolinas.  And Georgia, which we skipped altogether because it was so cold.  We knew.  Florida was waiting, and with it the beaches and bathing suits.

Pfft.  Wrong.

Anyway, nuts to you, Florida.  We’ve had our fun, but, sunny or not, we’re pulling up stakes from Key West next week and heading for the Bahamas for...

Can you guess?

That’s right.  A belated family Christmas.