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.