by Lin Pardey
Half of each day the boat is afloat, half it is aground, high, dry, steady, sitting right next to my boat shed on a tidal grid. Reason? We are finally finishing a refit that was supposed to take six or eight weeks and has been ongoing for more than a year. More important, we are on the countdown. Just ten weeks to get Sahula ready for another ocean passage.
That’s not to say we haven’t been sailing during the past year. We have. We’ve been getting away every second month for a few weeks at a time. My almost five decades of life afloat has taught me: Nothing helps a refit as much as taking a sailing break. Even if the boat is a mess, even if you have to shove everything into boxes and live a bit rough, sailing away for a few days or weeks helps keep up the enthusiasm. And the bonus, it gives you mental space to sort out the necessities of the next phase of the refit. But now we are on the home stretch—or should I say the true run-away-from-home stretch.
For the major portion of our refit, we had Mike Hayes, a retired boatbuilder, helping for a few hours a day with all the woodwork inside Sahula. My partner, David, between times spent being the builder’s apprentice, took care of ripping things apart, inspecting every crevice and cranny for rust (Sahula is a steel, 40-foot Van de Stadt cutter), then descaling and sealing and repainting the hull surfaces. I did the general dogsbody work, sourcing and sorting supplies, sanding and varnishing, painting the finished woodwork, applying band aids when necessary. But a few months ago, Mike realized he had to get back to refitting his own boat. David was okay with removing and replacing a large part of the overhead paneling and the majority of the remaining jobs. But his woodworking skills and the patience to deal with the bits of trim we needed are limited. All of a sudden, I was faced with a new reality. If I wanted the wood trim to match the work Mike had done, I had to try something new.
During the years I worked alongside my late husband and sailing partner, Larry, as he built our boats and repaired other people’s boats, he had taught me how to safely use basic woodworking tools and machinery. I’d learned to sharpen a chisel or scraper so I could remove the tops of wood plugs, or clean up pencil marks or sawblade scratches before applying the varnish or paint that made a customer’s boat look good. But up until a few weeks ago the only wooden things I’d actually built were some rickety sawhorses for the shop and a paper towel holder as a gift for a favorite sailing friend.
Then David came walking up to the house and said, “Lin, the only way I can think of to hide the wire connection for the overhead light in the salon is with a little wooden box. Are you willing to find some time to make one?”
Talking more boldly than I felt, I said, “Of course.” After all, how hard could it be — a simple little rectangular box just 11/4 inch by 2 inches by ¾-inch (32mm by 50mm by 19mm) deep? Then I climbed on board the boat and realized that everyone would be able to see the box—everyone who sat at the salon table, or turned on the overhead light!
Slowly, methodically, I set to work; first creating a rough sketch of my project, then measuring, not once but twice before marking a cutting line on each piece of timber (is it correct to call the small scraps I was using “timber”?) As I plugged in the small bandsaw, I remembered the sign Larry had drawn up before he let me use a bandsaw more than 50 years ago. It read, “Have you ever seen a nine fingered piano player?” Carefully I cut the small scraps into even smaller pieces. Two hours later I had done a practice run, piecing the four tiny sides and bottom I’d cut and sanded together to be sure each one fit correctly, figuring out how I was going to clamp them together while the glue dried. Then I carefully and quickly as possible mixed up some five-minute epoxy, spread it on both sides of each joint just as Larry had always done, then aligned and clamped my miniature project together on a square of baking paper on the workbench.
Late that afternoon I set to work sanding off the excess glue so I could finally see if my joints would have met Larry’s standards. I applied the first coat of varnish, then ran up to the cottage and urged David to come and see my tiny creation.
I am quite proud of him. He didn’t laugh. “It will do the job perfectly,” he solemnly said. “So now, how long will it take you to make the trim for the loo area?” David also didn’t laugh when I put the box in my pocket before we rowed across the bay to have drinks with a neighbor. Nor did he tease me when I carried it around for four days and showed it to other friends.
Now, two weeks and about three dozen pieces of trim later, I am considering buying another chisel to add to my arsenal. For I have found I really enjoy working with wood, figuring out how to cut a compound angle right the first time, how to measure the correct length for a piece of trimming timber that will have to be bent to conform to the underside of the deck. It is like working on an intricate three-dimensional puzzle, but with a far longer lasting sense of accomplishment.
“Real difference between you and I,” David commented just a day ago. “I think you like working on the boat as much as you like sailing.”
Looking back over the years I have spent around the marine world, I think he may be right. I am one of those people who not only loves sailing, but enjoys taking care of a boat, making it look tidy, organized, sometimes even easier to use. On the other hand, I am also aware there is a potential pitfall—the tendency to, as Larry would often say, “trip out on the job.” I have watched a lot of folks get so carried away with trying to make their boat perfect that they actually never got away sailing. I was reminded of this when I asked David to help me secure a piece of trim in place. As the last screw went in, I realized the joint didn’t fit as well as it could. “I’ll take it down and make a new one tomorrow,” I said.
“Come on Lin, it’s good enough,” David said. “Besides, who is going to sit on the loo and look at the overhead trim joints. Let’s just get this job done.”
He is right. As much as I am enjoying my new-found skill, time is passing, the open ocean is calling and, if I put a bit of putty in the joint before I paint the trim, even I won’t notice the less than perfect fit.
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