Dancing in the forklift ballet

The place where we’re hauled out right now, St. Mary’s Boat Services, has a unique way of turning a little boatyard into a big one — they put many of the boats on cradles, so they can be moved easily and packed more densely. They use a forklift and a specialized hydraulic trailer to move the cradles around.

There’s a fellow here named Jeff who happens to be the most amazing forklift operator I’ve ever seen. He can do ballet-like things with the forklift that other boatyards need cranes and other complicated equipment to do. Yesterday, I heard him telling someone that in addition to training and certifying forklift operators for all of southern Michigan, he used to be able to pick up a quarter from the ground and hand it to you — using a forklift. “Not this one, though. The controls are too slow.”

Yesterday, Jeff and his boss, Rocky, needed to move four boats in order to make room for one who was ready to splash today. The first two moves were easy, just towing a couple of folks on cradles to new spots. Flutterby was the third boat in, on jackstands, and right after they picked her up with the Travelift, a van pulled in, delivering two shiny new cradles. There was quite a bit of excitement, because this was the first time Rocky and Jeff hadn’t welded up their own cradles.

As you can see, the first new one works perfectly. Now Flutterby can be scooted around in the forklift ballet, too. At dusk last night, they moved us to our new place, right across from a huge live-oak tree that is full of the cutest little birds on the planet: Bluebirds! It looks like somebody painted their topsides with the same paint Barry used on our bottom.

Flutterby hanging in the travelift

Flutterby in the slings with her new blue bottom paint

Van with trailer and cradles

Two cradles arrived just at the moment when we needed one

Flutterby on a cradle with forklift

Flutterby on the new cradle with the forklift in the foreground. Now she’s easy to move and fits into a smaller space.

Bluebird on a tin roof

These charming little birds are the opposite of Flutterby, with blue topsides and rufous bottoms

Dream on

Golden light on Fresh Breeze

Golden light on Fresh Breeze

Like a young woman whose husband went away to sea, she waited patiently by the water. She grew old but never lost her beauty, and he never returned.

She was a grand old wooden sailboat, agreed by all to be the Belle of the Boatyard. Everyone who had ever taken a stroll in the boatyard was drawn to her elegant lines and sweeping overhangs. I had photographed her numerous times, capturing images of her accelerating but lovely decay.

There was no name on the boat, and her white paint was peeling to the silvered wood, highlighted with golden-orange rust stains. Rumors abounded about her mysterious past. Had she been owned by someone famous? How did she end up here? How could something so breathtakingly beautiful have been abandoned like this?

And then, around this time last year, I ran into Kenny on a Saturday. He had a big smile on his face.

“Whatcha doin’ out here on a Saturday?” I asked him.

“I think I just sold a boat,” he said. He turned and pointed. “That one.”

“What? How? Who?” I sputtered.

There’s a big movie studio in Wilmington, and a movie crew had driven out to the boatyard that morning. They were looking to buy a lot of old boat parts to use in a set, and Kenny suggested that they would do better to buy a whole boat. Then, in his low-key way, he showed them several choices.

Even her rust was beautiful

Even her rust was beautiful


Kenny owns a handful of the older boats in the yard; people sometimes stop paying their storage charges and eventually he has to take possession. What came as a surprise was that he didn’t own this one; she was not his and she was not for sale. I suspect that people had tried to buy her many times over the years. This time, her owner said yes.

That afternoon, when there was no one around, a truck pulled up next to the boat. A couple got out, and they walked around the boat. Eventually, the man climbed up the ladder and started carrying personal things off the boat. The woman went back and sat in the truck for hours.

I wandered over to say hello and congratulations. But as I got close to the man, I realized that congratulations were not in order.

He looked like he was about to cry.

The boat’s name was Fresh Breeze. She was his dream boat. She’d been in this very spot for 18 years.

The man’s name was Ken, and we sat and talked about how it happened. The dream and the boat came first, and then the marriage to someone who was afraid of sailing.

Over 18 years, the tree grew taller than her mizzen mast

Over 18 years, the tree grew taller than her mizzen mast and was home to many birds

When I asked how long it had been since he’d been out to work on the boat, he couldn’t remember. “A couple of years, I guess.”

From the evidence, it looked more like ten.

He pointed to the tree beside her. “That thing blocked my view of the water, so I cut it down a couple of times.” The tree was now taller than the mizzen mast, over 30 feet tall.

It started with a friend who had a sailboat. Ken recounted their adventures in the waters around Pamlico Sound like it was yesterday. Then he decided to buy his own boat and fix her up. He couldn’t wait to take his friend out sailing. At first, he came every weekend, puttering and painting. Then every other weekend. Then every few months. Years passed. Now his friend has died, and Ken can never take him sailing.

As his wife sat in the truck, I helped Ken grieve his dream. That dream was alive as long as he owned the boat and paid the monthly storage bill, even when the portlights fell in and the water poured out through the shrunken timbers. We didn’t speak of that. We talked about the places where he wanted to sail, and how much fun it is to anchor in remote places away from other people.

Eventually, Ken started to ask me about Flutterby, and my sailing dream. At the time, we had been hauled out for nearly three years, overwhelmed by the magnitude of our refit. The difference was, Barry and I were working together. Ken derived some comfort from the fact that some women do have a sailing dream, that we want to fix up boats and go cruising, too. His wife hadn’t been able to do that, but it was apparent that he loved her and was glad for the time they’d spent with their grandchildren.

He told me that the love of his family turned out to be more important than his sailing dream. He said it with awe, as if he was realizing it as he spoke.

A few days later, a boat-transport company came and carefully loaded Fresh Breeze onto a truck to go to the movie studio in Wilmington. I talked with Ken again that day, and he was doing better. He gave me lots of encouragement. As a matter of fact, we splashed Flutterby only about a week later.

Getting the grand old lady ready for her last voyage

Getting the grand old lady ready for her last voyage

I got tears in my eyes as I thought about Fresh Breeze, who will never be launched. People like Ken want us to carry the torch and live the dream for them. They’ve gotten called away by other responsibilities — work, family, other interests. But I can’t live someone else’s dream, only my own. I get called away, too, and I have no regrets about that. My family and friends are more important, too.

Now Ken’s lovely belle is going to be a movie star, and in a strange twist of fate, she just might inspire someone else’s sailing dream. Her parts are being used in a movie called “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” Film star Michael Caine plays a grandfather stranded on an island.

If even one young movie-goer is inspired by the movie to take up sailing, it will be a fitting end to the life of Fresh Breeze. We’ll never know who they are, but they will be carrying the torch for Ken, and all the others whose sailing dreams never came true.

Classic long, sweeping overhangs

Classic long, sweeping overhangs

The old and the new: Flutterby's masts through Fresh Breeze's portlights

The old and the new: Flutterby's masts through Fresh Breeze's portlights

The man in the magic pants

Lottery prizes come in many sizes. There are little wins, just enough to buy another scratch ticket. A medium-sized win of a couple hundred bucks feels pretty good and might pay for a weekend getaway. Then there are the big ones, the Mega-Super-Millions kind, that turn your life upside down forever, but in a good way.

If you’ve ever had a friend bring you chicken soup when you were sick, you’ve won the Scratch-Ticket Friendship Lottery. About a week before Thanksgiving, Barry and I hit the Mega-Super-Millions Friendship jackpot.

At the New Bern Airport with the sign reading "Welcome, Kris! We love you!"

The grand prize in the Mega-Super-Millions Friendship Lottery is this: One of your favorite friends gets on a plane in Capetown, South Africa, and flies halfway around the world. He shows up at your boat, which is propped on jackstands and surrounded by a mess of tools and toxic chemicals, and asks, while unloading a suitcase full of gifts, “Have you left me something in the job-jar?”

Barry and I had known for months that Kris was coming to the US for a vacation, but his plans weren’t fixed. He had about a month to visit his boating friends on the east coast before rendezvousing with his family for a skiing vacation.

Kris is currently between boats, but says that his wife gives him “time off for good behavior” to mess about on friends’ boats. Since everybody who meets Kris likes Kris, he has lots of friends with lots of different boats. On this trip, he started up in Connecticut in early November and boat-hopped his way down to Annapolis. Then he caught a plane to the tiny New Bern airport, where we picked him up. We were standing outside the door of the airport (I told you it was tiny — it only HAS one door) with a giant sign that said, “Welcome, Kris! We love you!”

That first evening, the three of us visited friends in two different New Bern marinas, then trooped over to Cap’n Ratty’s, a New Bern icon, for a celebratory dinner. Much later, we drove back to the boatyard, about an hour’s drive, and gave Kris a tour of Flutterby. He made a nest for himself on the port settee, which affords the most privacy but is a bit narrow for comfortable sleeping. At the time, the headliners weren’t installed, so his bed companion was a roll of insulation, at least three feet tall and four feet in diameter.

At this point, some of you are probably wondering how three people can live on a 33-foot boat that that doesn’t have separate cabins and is crammed with boat parts, Barry’s tools, and Margaret’s accordion. The trick is something we call “implied privacy.” Your crewmate is changing clothes? Turn your back! He or she just farted in the head? Turn off your ears!

Those of us who have crewed on many boats have figured this out. Kris is an expert in all kinds of unusual living situations, both on land and at sea. He’s been crew and captain of plenty of boats, and has done several trans-Atlantic crossings.

Kris wearing his magic pants with the air-conditioned crotch and the infamous Tweetie sweatshirt.

So, on our first morning together, we figured out each others’ routines, made a few minor adjustments, and everything went smoothly. The three of us sat down in the cockpit for a crew meeting, to see what exactly was in that job-jar. Then Kris selected a Flutterby uniform, so he would fit in with the crew.

Flutterby’s boatyard uniforms were, for the most part, completely unflattering, hideous, and mismatched. Each component was marred by paint, expoxy, or unfortunate holes. The trousers selected by Kris sported all three, along with a button fly that frustrated him so much, he simply left it half-buttoned. I would have thought doing up all the buttons would help keep him warm, since he was already complaining about the unique patented air-conditioned crotch.

Something about those pants must have been magic, though. With Kris helping, we started getting 200% more work done.

Perhaps the magic was really in the trailer. Kris had been working with us for a day or so when he needed a tool that Barry didn’t have. “Take him over to the trailer,” Barry instructed me.

You might recall my earlier comment that Barry and I had become “Keepers of the Keys.” The most important keys that we watched over were the keys to Charlie’s trailer, which he’d brought down from Ohio to work on his boat. He had left it stored in the boatyard when family duties called him back to Ohio, almost a year ago. This was the same trailer in which Buttercup had given birth to kittens the prior year.

I didn’t give Kris much background on the trailer, just walked him over there and unlocked the door. He took in the table saw, the drill-press, the circular saw, and the vise. I pointed out some of the other tools — routers, sanders, drill bits, and hand tools. Then I left him to do the job.

He came back, a half hour later, his eyes wide and his voice hushed. “Ooooh — it’s like Aladdin’s Cave!” What Kris had discovered was actually Aladdin’s Man-Cave. Any tool that Barry lacked (not that there were many), Charlie had in that trailer. Between Kris’ efficiency and Charlie’s tools, each job was executed quickly and checked off the list (or pitched out of the job-jar).

Working together, Kris and Barry rebed stern cleats (Barry is folded like a contortionist inside the lazarette)

Kris repairs a crack in our rudder

Kris paints Flutterby's bottom

In just over a week, we were ready to launch Flutterby.

The three of us had: Replaced one hatch, reinforced and rebedded stern cleats and pushpit, reinstalled the binnacle and steering system, installed engine controls, sanded the bottom, painted it with epoxy barrier coat and bottom paint, discovered and repaired a problem with the rudder, and cleaned the fuel tank.

Regarding that last job, I should not say “we.” Some of you might recall that I am an experienced fuel-tank cleaner, having practically crawled into the diesel tank on Kris’ boat to clean it before we went to the Bahamas in 2007. I do not shy from what might be considered the nastiest, most uncomfortable, smelliest, job in the jar. But Kris seemed to think that one good turn deserves another, so this time, he cleaned MY fuel tank. Bless his heart. That’s like another million in the Mega-Super-Millions Friend Lottery.

Along with all this work, we’d also enjoyed a bit of local color and celebrated Thanksgiving. On the holiday, we worked all day and went to the Backstreet Pub at dusk for their annual potluck. Although I was sore in new and unexpected places from crawling around under the boat with a paint roller, I was soaring. I wanted to shout, “WOO HOO! EVERYBODY! I PUT BOTTOM PAINT ON MY BOAT TODAY!!!!!” But I stayed quiet, knowing that nobody at the pub would understand my elation. “Yeah, sure, pass the cranberry sauce, will ya?”

Kris stirs the bottom paint on Thanksgiving Day

Barry and I painted the hard-to-reach parts. I only got a little epoxy paint in my hair.

Barry and I painted the hard-to-reach parts. I only got a little epoxy paint in my hair.

Despite all this talk of a job-jar, the real Flutterby list was on the computer, in Excel. Every to-do item that Barry and I could think of was in that file. A big red line separated the must-do-before-splash items from the rest of them.

The wonderful thing about Kris wasn’t just the third set of hands, it was the third, more experienced, brain. We’d been immersed in our giant set of projects so long, we sometimes lost sight of the goal. It was great to have him point out the jobs that didn’t need to be done right now. Those jobs were “below the line,” and some of them got deleted forever.

Finally, on November 30, there was nothing left “above the line.”

It was time to splash.

One good turn deserves another - Kris cleans my fuel tank, 2010

One good turn deserves another - I clean Kris' fuel tank, 2007

Everything but the Christmas tree

About a week ago, I wrote about our decision to stay here in the boatyard for the holidays. At the time, I was feeling sorry for myself, and my tone was so wistful that friends and family responded with consoling emails (my favorite was the invitation from Australia).

Then the celebrating started, and I forgot to be sad.

My dictionary defines “jamboree” as “a large celebration or party, typically a lavish and boisterous one.” Some definitions involve Boy Scouts or country music.

One of our holiday activities was attending the Christmas show at the Crystal Coast Jamboree with the Bock family, boatyard employees, and liveaboards. But the real jamboree was the evening’s dinner, held at a Japanese steakhouse. The chefs flipped and twirled and tossed the food to us as though we were trained seals. At one point, Kenny egged Dale into eating some wasabi for the first time. “DAMN!” he exploded, practically spitting sushi. “What IS that stuff?”

Our solstice bonfire - Barry, John, Marilyn, Philip

Our solstice bonfire - Barry, John, Marilyn, Philip

The days grew shorter and the nights longer. On December 21st, we celebrated the Solstice with a bonfire — well, actually a little campfire on the edge of the sandblasting pit. We ate roasted weenies, melted cheese sandwiches, and toasted marshmallows. Most importantly, we ran a 100-foot extension cord and plugged in a crockpot full of mulled wine. We were warmed inside and out.

It takes more than food and fire to properly celebrate the Solstice, though. This is the window between the lunar and solar new years, when evil spirits inhabit the earth and must be kept at bay by merriment and partying. At least, that’s what Philip of Oryoki said.

Our merriment included dancing around the fire in leafy green headdresses and playing some extremely loud percussion. “Extremely” means that some steel boats are more fun to beat on than drums. We bid the moon farewell (guess who did so by actually mooning it) and listened to every song I could find in our collection about the sun. “Eu Quero Sol” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” were the most apropos.

Philip chases away evil spirits

Philip chases away evil spirits

Then came the event that was my real reason for staying over this Christmas: A North Carolina oyster roast. I stuffed myself on steamed oysters dipped in melted butter, and Barry ate multiple helpings of deer stew and hush puppies. Dale sucked down more hot vinegar sauce more than wasabi peas, though. Everyone was smiling as we stood around the fire barrel, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company without any of that silly boat work.

Meps gets ready to slurp an oyster

Meps gets ready to slurp an oyster

Warming ourselves around the fire

Warming ourselves around the fire

After the oyster roast, the boatyard closed for the holidays, but we kept the fires of holiday spirit bright, celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas aboard our boats. Flutterby was chock-full of little wrapped gifts, sent from Washington and Florida and Oregon and Ohio, and cards — some of them homemade — from everywhere. Oryoki was decorated with garland and colored lights. We sported Santa hats around the boatyard and debated on which side the pom-pom should dangle.

Wonderful collection of cards

Wonderful collection of cards

Our Christmas dinner was a delightful sort of scavenger hunt — I got my 12-pound turkey out of the refrigerator on Ula G and took it to the lounge to wash it. Then we plopped it onto the huge propane grill that we’d rolled from Pelican (a monohull) to Oryoki (a catamaran) to keep it out of the rain. The turkey was just the centerpiece — the table on Oryoki groaned under cranberry sauce and stuffing and homemade rolls and veggies. The butterscotch pie waited out in the cockpit, and the whole thing was washed down with Marilyn’s homemade egg nog.

Happy couple at Christmas

I wore my Santa's helper lingerie all day on Christmas

Barry on Christmas Eve aboard Flutterby

Barry on Christmas Eve aboard Flutterby. Hot artichoke dip was a hit!

Nobody turned down the butterscotch pie

Nobody turned down the butterscotch pie with meringue topping (see Foodie Gazette for recipe)

Homemade eggnog by Marilyn - yum

Homemade eggnog by Marilyn - yum

Beginning on the 18th, each day the spirit of generosity and gratitude increased in my heart, until I felt like the Grinch — my heart was three sizes larger. I was connected to friends and loved ones all over the world, even when the phone stopped working for 24 hours on Christmas Day. There was so much love, right here! How could I ever feel wistful or sad? It was the best Christmas EVER.

Hero merit badges earned

“Your cat is cute.”
“She’s not my cat.”

“What’s wrong with your cat’s leg?”
“She’s not my cat.”

“You’re flying to Seattle? What are you going to do with your cat?”
“SHE’S NOT MY CAT!”

To other people, fostering a cat family looks a lot like having cats. We had a cat door, food and water bowls, and a playful, frisky kitty named Buttercup who followed us around the boatyard and frolicked under our boat. All of which explains the number of times in two weeks that we had to protest, “SHE’S NOT MY CAT!”

Aboard our boat, her two kittens spent all their time sleeping and nursing. When their mother climbed into the berth with them, they would make tiny, cute squeaking sounds, and she would respond with chirps. Then they’d find a teat, suckling quietly, and she would purr.

Barry with two not-his-kittens

Barry with two not-his-kittens

One night, just after I went to bed, I heard agitated squeaking. Buttercup was responding with more than the usual meeowing, purring, and chirping. When I went to see what was up, there was a soggy kitten on the galley floor. Buttercup’s water bowl was a small Tupperware cup, just big enough for one kitten — and one kitten had fallen in!

That night, she decided the quarterberth was not a safe place. She moved the kittens under the stove, where we had to get on our hands and knees to see them. They hardly noticed us, since their eyes remained closed. We tried not to spill popcorn or sauteed onions behind the stove.

Not-my-cat comes out from a kitten feeding

Buttercup Not-My-Cat comes out from under the stove

Less than a week before our departure, we got a very welcome call. Donna of PAWS had found a foster home for the three with a retired couple who are dedicated to cats. Imagine a large house in the country, surrounded by miniature houses, each with carpet, windows, and air conditioning. Our single mother and her babies were going to live in a real cathouse!

So we dropped them off at a vet for the transfer. Even after just three weeks, it was hard to say goodbye. We drove back from the vet wearing PAWS bracelets that say, “I saved a pet.” And in our email box was a timely message from our cat rescue mentors, Blaine and Suzy: “hero merit badges earned!”

But the boat was quiet and empty. The feral cats we feed sat at the bottom of our ladder, puzzled. “Where’d that girl kitty go? We didn’t mean to chase her away!” they seemed to say. We threw ourselves into finishing the masts and packing for our trip, as if working 19-hour days would distract us from missing the friendly cream-colored cat.

We’re in the Pacific Northwest now, with even more distractions. Still, I find myself looking at the photos of Buttercup Not-My-Cat — of which we have way too many — and thinking, “Yes. For a short time, you were my cat. Thank you.”

A Buckeye with a cat on his head

I was puttering around this morning, thinking of our new friend from Ohio, Charlie, and how it might be fun to start a drinking club here for Ohio expats. This may come as a surprise to our Seattle friends, who don’t even know about our Ohio roots. But as one astute friend said, growing up in Columbus, Ohio inspires long-distance travel.

Just then, Barry came back to the boat with a piece of nicely-shaped teak in his hand. He’d been over at Charlie’s trailer, using the bandsaw to shape a new piece of toe rail.

“Remember the cat that was hanging around Charlie’s trailer last night?” he asked. “She had kittens … on Charlie’s bed.” I grabbed the camera and headed over to see.

Charlie, with his trailer, truck, and boat

Charlie, with his trailer, truck, and boat

Charlie showed up last weekend to do some work on his boat, and everything about his rig — truck and trailer — shouted “BUCKEYE!” There were the Ohio license plates, the Columbus address on his trailer, and the bright red folding chairs with “Ohio State” stenciled on them in white 4-inch letters.

Barry and I, on the other hand, own two Ohio State t-shirts that we only use for painting and epoxy work, because we’re embarrassed by them. No other OSU paraphernalia — we’re very reluctant alumni. Sure, it’s a good school, but some people take the team spirit thing too far. When I lived in Columbus, I worked with a woman who dressed in scarlet and gray on Fridays during football season. I remember that this included a jumper with one gray knee sock and one scarlet one, an OSU sweatshirt, and a giant necklace made of buckeyes. And she hadn’t even gone to Ohio State, nor did she have football tickets!

Despite my reluctance to advertise my Buckeye affiliation, I had to get to know Charlie. We spent a couple of evenings hanging out around his trailer and talking, and discovered that he’s really interesting, and easy to talk to. He’s got a gigantic steel boat that’s trying to rust faster than he can get it in the water. The boat was such a mess, he’d been sleeping in the trailer. But he’s gotten the boat cleaned up, and last night, he said that would be his last one sleeping in the trailer — he was planning to sleep in the boat tonight.

Flutterby's feral cats

Flutterby's feral cats

Charlie has a really central location, right by the Travelift. The first time we’d hung out at his trailer, there had been a strange, friendly dog hanging around. Last night, when we stopped to talk, it was a cat, instead. She was orange and white and incredibly thin. She was very snuggly, rubbing against our legs and pushing her head on our hands to be petted. Charlie fed her some tuna, and she followed us back to our boat and we gave her cat food. But Flutterby’s two feral cats made her unwelcome, and there was a bit of yowling and cat-fighting under the boat last night. When I got up this morning, she wasn’t around.

After Barry’s announcement, I found Charlie standing outside his trailer, smoking a cigarette and looking a bit dazed. “I’m a Daddy!” he said.

During the night, the little cat had come into his trailer and climbed up on his head. Charlie likes cats, and has a couple of them at home. But he wasn’t going to have this strange cat sleeping on his head. So he moved her down to his feet and went back to sleep. When he woke, she was still at his feet, nursing two tiny kittens.

Charlie’s got a bit of a dilemma — he and his trailer, and the kittens’ bed, are going back to Ohio next week. In the meantime, he’s going to be sleeping on the boat and wondering what to do with three cats that he didn’t have yesterday.

Tiny cat with tinier kittens

Tiny cat with tinier kittens

The kittens that were born on Charlie's bed

The kittens that were born on Charlie's bed

The maiden on the maiden voyage

“Hey, is there going to be a party before you go?” I asked Ivan, when I ran into him in the lounge.

“Yes, I think tomorrow,” he said. His accent and careful pronunciation of English words makes him seem more solemn and serious than he is.

“What time?” I asked.

At this point, Val jumped in. He’s been grinding on his boat for over two weeks, a grueling and exhausting job. “Let’s start at noon…two pm…” he said with a grin. I rolled my eyes, knowing full well that boat work comes first, and parties don’t start around here until at least 5 or 6 pm.

So around 6 pm, we headed over to the dock where Kuhelli was moored, her extra-large Swedish flag snapping in the breeze. I’m going to miss that flag — putting it up on the backstay was one of the first things the crew did when they arrived. It’s been windy every day for the month they were here, and the flag danced with an exuberance like that of the crew.

I remember their arrival more vividly than most of our neighbors. It was April first, and we’d been spending the evening wishing Blaine and Suzy farewell. It grew cold and very late as we sat around the picnic table, sharing wine and stories. Past midnight, a car pulled up across the way at a boat that had been stored for some time. Several people got out and got a ladder and climbed on the boat. Even in the dim light, we could see that they were not average cruising-boat owners. Much too young.

Were they thieves? Vandals? Should we confront them?

They showed no signs of taking anything from the boat, so we decided to leave them alone.

For the next few days, half the gossip was about Blaine and Suzy’s departure, and the other half was about the three 20-something Swedish guys who’d come to fix up an older Halberg-Rossy and sail it back to Sweden. Ivan was the owner, with Lowe and Sigfrid as his friends and crew. (It actually took us forever to get their names straight — Ivan is pronounced “Even,” and Lowe sounds like “Loova”).

Anique teased them about their accents. Sigfrid came in one day, asking about jello. Jello is not a normal item in a marine chandlery, so she was completely flabbergasted. It finally turned out he was mispronouncing “yellow!” He need the pigment for his gel-coat repairs.

Like the young 3-man crew on Catania, they had boundless energy, and got more work done than any of us old-timers. Even after working well into the night on the boat, they would get up in the morning and go running. They scampered up and down the ladder like monkeys, taking it two rungs at a time going up and coming down frontwards with no hands. I saw Sigfrid doing push-ups on the dock and Ivan shinnying up the mast without benefit of a bosun’s chair or halyard.

One evening, we sat down and shared a meal, and we learned that they’d never been to the US before. Their impressions were fascinating, since they’d flown into Washington, D.C., driven straight to the boat, and not seen anything but coastal North Carolina since.

With Val and John, we tried to dispel some of their myths about this place we call “America,” going into heavy topics like immigration and politics and economics. Val has lived in Hawaii and Florida, and John has lived all over the US and sports Wyoming plates on his van, so it was a lively conversation about how different the rest of the US is from Beaufort, North Carolina.

One thing they did not like at all: The food. It took them several weeks to realize that Piggly-Wiggly was not the only grocery store, which would give anyone a bad impression of American food. They were amazed by the number of obese people and disturbed by the stuff sold as bread. Even when I brought them the best bread in the area, from the Havelock Swiss bakery, they were polite, but said it was not as good as Swedish bread.

They splashed the boat three weeks after they arrived, making me green with envy. But that was not going to keep me away from the bon voyage party.

Ivan had one more job to do up the mast, and Lowe quickly hauled him up to spreader height. We lounged on the dock, watching Ivan work and waiting for the barbecue to heat up. It was a perfect spring evening on the water, just enough wind to keep bugs at bay without blowing the brownies and salad away.

Sigfrid came back — he’s the most garrulous of the three. “As soon as we eat, we have to go get diesel. You’re all welcome to come along,” he said.

The party on the dock was starting to pick up momentum when Ivan looked at his watch and headed for the boat. Barry and I joined the three guys, and we steamed away from the dock.

Ivan pulls away from the dock Lowe aboard Kuhelli Sigfrid gets his first experience at a wheel Barry enjoys Kuhelli's sunset maiden voyage Meps enjoys a turn at the wheel

It was only a couple of miles up the waterway to Seagate Marina, but we snapped a lot of pictures during that time. It was, after all, Kuhelli’s maiden voyage with her new owner. I was honored to be aboard for the occasion and felt vaguely useful because I knew approximately where the fuel dock was.

When we returned to the dock, the party had grown.

“This is the second time I’ve been on a boat, underway, in a week!” I said to Audrey. She sighed with envy. Desiderata has been here for over three and a half years, and she and her husband have been distracted from their boat work by all kinds of health issues in that time.

The other crew that joined the festivities was from Happy Hour, a boat smaller than ours with two parents and four children aboard. At one time, they had even cruised with their two older siblings aboard, and I was curious to know how they found bunks for eight.

The answer was a forward cabin (two kids), two settees (two kids), an aft cabin (privacy for two parents), and a bunch of cushions on the floor for the remaining two. I wondered if they all had bruises from stepping on each other!

Compared to that, the crew of Kuhelli had luxurious accommodations, with a private aft cabin, a v-berth, and an enormous dinette. Their center cockpit has a hard dodger and a full hard bimini as well, so they’ll be protected from the waves offshore.

That cockpit was big enough for the whole lively party. Listening to the chatter, I thought of how we’d been at a farewell party when Kuhelli’s crew arrived. I looked around, but the boats in the yard were quiet. Just as well, it would be hard to top this.

But not for the crew of Kuhelli. In addition to an offshore passage to Sweden via the Azores and Ireland, they plan a stop in New York City.

Just after dawn, I heard a horn. I stuck my head out the hatch and waved as the boat slipped away. The time they shared with us was just Part One of the adventure — the rest is still to come, and they’re going to enjoy every minute of it.

Kuhelli’s website is in Swedish, but has lots of great photos: http://svenskavinnare.se/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=12 (or you can chuckle your way through the machine-translated English version)

Sigfrid also has a great photo site here: http://picasaweb.google.se/sigfridj (“alantseglingen” are the photos of his trip to the USA)

Ten thousand hours

I had a chilling phone conversation with my friend, John, last week. He’s been following my adventures in the boatyard, and he was puzzled by something. He phrased his question using an example he knows a lot about: Rally racing.

According to John, in the world of rallies, there are people who drive race cars (in his case, navigate), and there are people who work on race cars.

So he wants to know, am I just someone who works on boats, instead of sailing on them? Because in the years he’s known me, all I seem to do is work on boats.

I was flabbergasted. You know that story about the emperor with no clothes? That’s how I felt. “No, no,” I protested, “I’m not one of those people, like Oscar, who just work on boats forever.”

Oscar is the fellow here in the boatyard who has been working on his boat for 14 years with no sign of progress.

Still, I started to wonder, how does my working-on-boats time compare to my sailing-on-boats time?

Since I met John in 2002, I have worked on boats for 44 weeks and sailed on them for 25 weeks. Barry’s numbers are even worse — he’s worked for 48 weeks and only sailed for 23 weeks.

This brings to mind another phone conversation, this time with Lee. I was talking about my steep learning curve in fiberglass layups, portlight replacement, hatch installation, painting with 2-part paints, and all the other things I’m trying to learn this week. He pointed out that there’s conventional wisdom saying that a person needs to do something for 10,000 hours before they master it.

If I’m working toward 10,000 hours of boat repairs, I’ve got a long way to go.

Meanwhile, Lee points out that I already have my 10,000 hours in things like writing and graphic design. I would add marketing, editing, web design, content management, business analysis, cooking…

Which explains why it’s so much easier to sit down and write this than it is to fit a new hatch.

I also already have my 10,000 hours in one other area: Sailing. To answer John’s question, I’ll get back to that one of these days — after I learn how to fix boats.

Sleeping beauty

Catania

When the giant green tarp came off, a beautiful boat was revealed. She was long and slender, a classic design evoking an earlier era.

The beauty was marred, though, by the piles of dusty and mildewed gear that appeared on the ground under the boat. I wandered over to meet the new arrivals. “Looks like you’re having a yard sale over here,” I quipped.

Susie and Ron had the look of aging hippies — gray hair in a ponytail, young eyes surrounded by a network of sun-baked smile lines. Susie was wearing a path to the “free” table in the lounge, donating large jars with handmade burlap covers and labels that said things like “bulgur.”

Friendly, but too busy to talk.

A day later, their adult son, Ocean arrived, along with two of his friends. The story emerged in the form of boatyard gossip, with everyone contributing the tidbit he or she had garnered from the busy crew.

Ron and Susie had cruised Catania for 22 years, and Ocean had been born aboard. Now the parents had “swallowed the anchor,” living ashore in Maine. After six years, they realized they weren’t going to cruise on the 71-year-old boat again. Storage fees had added up to nearly the value of the boat.

I wish I knew know who came up with the plan — whether Ron and Susie offered, or whether Ocean asked. But the plan was this: To refit Catania and then hand her off to Ocean, who would sail back to St. Thomas. The timing was tight, so the young man recruited two friends to help with both the refit and the delivery.

The crew worked so fast and so hard that the rest of the boatyard community watched, astonished, with something like envy. While Barry and I agonized over tiny fiberglass patches, Catania’s crew fiberglassed the entire topsides. While we worried about painting the pads under our stanchions, they painted the entire boat. We haven’t even figured out what engine mounts to install, and they replaced their entire engine. One of them even carefully hand-painted the name of the boat on the sides of the classic yacht.

Catania’s bow

At night, the five of them, plus an aging German Shepherd, retired to a small tent trailer in a secluded part of the boatyard. We never saw them, except during daylight hours when they were working flat-out.

Finally, after about three weeks, they launched the boat, and she sat at the dock for a couple of days. The frenzied preparations continued, and the air was full of anticipation for the crew of three young men.

On a Sunday morning, the boys left Bock Marine. From the high vantage point of my deck, I watched the hugs and group photos. As they slipped the lines, Susie called out “Bon Voyage!” It was a touching moment, watching the older generation turning the family home over to the younger generation.

I ran into Susie a little later. She looked vibrant and happy; Ron looked tired. They were doing final cleanup and giving away even more stuff. We took the Britta pitcher; Blaine took the table saw. Then the truck was gone, headed for Maine. Where the boat had been was an empty space full of jackstands, cribbing, an old engine, and an abandoned windsurfer.

That night, I went into the lounge. “Did you hear? Catania is back at the dock. They had a leak.”

“Bummer,” I said, thinking of our friend, Dan, who has launched his boat four times and had to pull it back out for repairs each time. This sort of thing is not uncommon.

On Monday morning, I saw the three young men on deck, folding sails. Susie and Ron, who had been well on their way to Maine, returned around mid-day. Susie was smoking a cigarette, something I hadn’t noticed during the previous three weeks.

The Travelift came, hauled out the boat, and returned it to the original spot. What happened next left me incredulous.

They put the kelly green tarp back over the boat. Then the three young men got into a rental car and headed for the airport. It happened so fast, the gossip couldn’t keep up.

I ran into Susie a little later. “They got out the inlet, but they had some concerns. Ocean’s not sure what he wants to do, maybe come back next fall, or else we’ll sell it.” She seemed a bit shell-shocked.

“But, but, but…” I spluttered, unable to understand. By my reckoning, if they had two weeks planned for the passage, they had two more weeks available to work on the boat.

In just a few hours, the story went from heart-warming to heart-breaking. If I hadn’t been here to witness the drama, I wouldn’t believe it.

We’ve been working off and on for almost a year. Val and Gigi have been here a little longer, and Oscar has been here for over ten years. But our slow-but-steady pace allows us all to make progress, enjoying the process, without burning out.

As a reminder of this, Catania sits quietly under her green tarp, waiting for Ocean to return.

Boatyard bunny's mail call

About three weeks ago, my Dad told us to look for the Shpongle CD he had ordered as an anniversary gift. Oh boy! A present!

A day later, my brother called to tell me he was sending a card with some photos. He’d used up a disposable camera I’d gotten him, and now he was sending me some of the prints. Oh boy! Pictures!

I waited about four days, and then I started going into the office. Every day, I’d stick my head in an ask, “Any mail for us?” “No, not today.” After about ten days of this, I was a little embarrassed to ask. And I was starting to worry. What if both items were delivered on the same day, and the mail got stolen out of the box? It’s not a very secure mailbox.

Finally, I got a sheepish email from my Dad. He’d accidentally put his own address as the ship-to address. Just as I was writing him back, teasing him about his “senior moment,” my phone rang.

It was my brother, also sheepish. “You don’t have to look for that card any more,” he said. He’d put insufficient postage on it, so it got returned.

I sat back, laughing. Here I was, all excited about getting a couple of goodies in the mail, but they were just a tease — both senders had sent them to themselves!

On Friday, I had another “Oh boy! A care package” realization. I poked my head in the office. “I’m expecting another box…” I said. “Oh, sure, they probably sent it back to themselves,” Anique teased me. “No, really, it’s…” I broke off. I was afraid that if I told her what I was expecting, I might never see it.

Finally, I sort of mumbled, “It’s a box of homemade wine.” I didn’t tell her that it’s excellent pear, grape, and cherry wine from Yelm, Washington. But Anique’s reaction was completely unexpected. “You like homemade wine? Really? I have a jar of it in my car!” I looked at her askance, wondering why she would have a jar of wine in her car in the parking lot at work. I guess if she breaks down, like we did in Iowa, she could give it to her Good Samaritan instead of an inflatable space alien.

As it turns out, Anique and her boyfriend have a pear tree, so they made a batch of pear wine. They couldn’t even use all the pears, and they still ended up with a lot — a whole lot — of wine.

Boatyard bunny

Since it was Halloween, I went back to the boat and put on my costume — a big boatyard bunny, complete with Tyvek “bunny” suit and dust mask decorated with a Sharpie marker. The ears were real, though. I hopped across the yard, surprising a lot of serious, hard-working folks and making them laugh despite themselves. Nobody in the yard had any candy for me, so I played Easter bunny and gave candy away instead.

But when I got to the office, I got lucky. I held out my bag and said, “Trick or Treat!” Anique had fetched that promised jar of wine, which sure beats candy corn and little packages of Lifesavers.

I’m still waiting for my “Oh boy!” care packages — Dad’s Shpongle CD, and Hank’s card with the photos, and Tom’s excellent Washington wine. But the consolation prize, sweet North Carolina pear wine in a quart mason jar, was fabulous, and that makes the wait worthwhile.