The Weight of a Big Boat Project

The book glows inside the tablet propped on my chest. The words jumble. I want to finish the book. Just a few pages. I should plow through. But why waste that joy on a diminished consciousness?

Above, the first drops of a rain fall like ball-bearings, almost pleading with me to sleep.

In the galley sink, there is a dirty teaspoon; a stained coffee mug; a crumbed plate. Can they wait? A few hand tools clutter the nav desk. Teak trim sits in small piles near the spot where they were removed, days ago. The headliner from the starboard side of the salon and forward cabin is piled up on the forward cabin sole. Thirty-year-old rough fiberglass, plywood and twists of wire are exposed.

Surely, not everything must be put away. The disorder tugs at the seams of my skin. But this is fixing season, not sailing season, I tell myself.

While I sleep, water trickles down the shrouds, through holes in the boat’s winter shrink-wrap tent, and down to the deck. The holes are taped closed but water insinuates, it always finds a way. On the port-side, water turns blobs of the teak deck dark grey. On the starboard-side, it gathers on a black rubbery, tar-like coating laid down by Taiwanese boat makers three decades ago. The water collects in pockets and then dribbles away.

These last three weekends I pulled up most of the teak deck on the starboard side of the boat. Thirty years ago, the teak on Zennora was as vivid as Georgia clay in a sun shower and probably more than half-an-inch thick. Since then, the boat has had at least three owners. She has sailed from Taiwan to the U.S. She has lived on the Great Lakes and traipsed the Caribbean Sea. She has fought Atlantic storms that twisted her hull and strained her chain-plates.

Through it all, sailors have rushed, scuffed and shuffled across the decks. At the dock, bristles and acid washes have etched away. As have the sun, salt water, rain and ice.

There is little left. In most places, the teak is no more than a quarter-inch thick. It is too thin to repair the screw attachments that hold the boards in place. There are deep ridges between the grain. In places, it bows. If the deck is not restored — with or without teak — water will find its way into the core. It will rot and ruin Zennora. It must be done.

As I pull up the boards, my mind wanders.

2017-02-07-21-47-51I pry up a board and consider the effort the boat makers made putting it down. I knock a chisel between a board and the fiberglass deck. I contemplate the Chinese symbols scrawled on the backside of interior wood trim. They spoke Mandarin, that I know.

The hammer skips off the chisel head and it echos off the cabin-top. The fiberglass sounds healthy. There was no production line at Taiwan’s Mao Ta yard. They would have laid the glass for the hull and deck by hand and with a brush.

The impact driver ratchets a stubborn screw free. The interior would have been custom built, often with hand tools.

I chip away at the corners near a chain-plate cover: What tools did they use?

The electric saw drones and whinges as it breaks the seal between two boards: I imagine the workers would have progressed slowly, peasants and tradesmen working for pennies.

Broken teak piles up: What did these workers talk about as they built her out? Did they contemplate who would own her as I now contemplate them?2017-02-05-14-58-00

Black rubbery tar gloms to my boots: Did they work wearing shoes or not? Plastic sandals maybe. Shirts? Were they also mariners? Perhaps sailors? Unlikely.  How did that deck appear to them when the last worker raised himself up to inspect their work? How did it feel under foot?

I did call a number in Taiwan that was once associated with the yard but the call went to an automated message. I found a lawsuit between the original owners of Skye sailboats and Mao Ta Lumber and Yachts, dating to 1979. They were arguing over copyright infringements. There was nothing in the legal chatter about the workers at the yard. I could find no pictures.

I like to believe the workers patiently put Zennora together, probably not with love, but certainly with care.

That thought comforts me as I work through this project. Long boat projects can be daunting, especially as a live-aboard. The boat is often in a state of tumult. Dust and debris in the head, in pots and pans, in toothbrushes, hair and teeth. Between the sheets. Sometimes even in dinner.

I still have the other side of the boat to clear of teak. (The cabin-top and the cockpit will keep their teak, for now.)

I must still scrape and clean the black tar from the fiberglass. I must still repair and fill the minor damage caused by thousands of screws in the deck. I must still put down a new layer of glass where once was the teak. And then paint it and then apply a non-skid surface.

And still not miss the 2017 sailing season?

It sometimes seems, if I lift my head, that the end of the project is out of sight.

Best to keep one’s head down. Keep working every week. Be patient.

I allowed myself to put the book down and not rush to the ending. I will not fret. I will allow myself to complete the work, like the book, exactly on time. Which will be precisely when I am finished.

But I did wash the dishes.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. bob says:

    A long way from the guy whom told me he made a mess of spackling a wall after re running an electric wire.

    1. Mo Tamman says:

      Ain’t that the truth. I remain, however, a weak amateur. I hope all is well with you and yours.

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