Help wanted: Rastafarian contortionist

When all our work in the forepeak is done, I’m sure Barry’s memories will be of a challenging engineering project. We took out hardware, ground out fiberglass and balsa, added fiberglass, and replaced hardware. There were challenges and bumps in the road, but the end result is a sturdy, well-found boat.

Here’s the female version of it. Be warned. It’s a lot more, er, emotional.

I knew from the beginning that the bow pulpit needed to be removed and rebedded — the first time we looked at the boat, I had crawled into the v-berth, stuck my head partway into the forepeak, and said to Barry, “Eeewwwww — what are those ugly stains?” Despite the fact that I couldn’t get my head in there, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that we would have to remove the forward mast (ch-ching!) to do so.

OK, once the mast was out, this should be a simple, straightforward task. Ha! Not so fast, lady.

To get into this tiny bit of space, you have to lay on your back in the v-berth and slide into the forepeak through an access hatch that’s only about eighteen inches wide. Once your butt is through, you can sit up, but that does NOT make it comfortable. Your nose is now pressed against the bulkhead, and your tools and supplies are on the other side of that access hatch. If you’ve left them more than 6 inches away, you’ll have to reach them with your toes, because elbows don’t bend in that direction.

Years ago, we saw a fellow at Key West doing something he called “Rasta Yoga.” On Mallory Pier, at sunset, he would slowly fold his entire body into a plexiglass cube that was about 18 inches on a side. I now wonder if his day job involved climbing into forepeaks.

Anyway, Barry weaseled his way into the space, wearing the full Tyvek bunny suit and respirator. Then I passed the angle grinder through the hole left by the mast, and he started grinding away over his head. And feeling extremely guilty, I left. The entire boat was full of toxic dust, so I had no choice. Really.

To assuage my guilt, I volunteered to vacuum up the mess when he was done. At the end of the day, he peeled off the bunny suit, which no longer looked so cute and clean, and slouched off to the showers with a tell-tale red mark around his face from the respirator. I climbed into my own bunny suit and immediately started to sweat like a pig. The fit was lousy — the crotch was hanging somewhere around my knees, so I had to shuffle with my feet together. That didn’t matter, since I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get into the v-berth anyway. Then I rolled over on my back and slid into the forepeak, using the technique described above.

Damn. There I was, nose against the bulkhead, with no vacuum cleaner. Even if it was close enough to grab with my toes, I couldn’t fit it through the access hatch. So back out I went. I stuffed the vacuum in, slid myself on top of it (ouch!), then twisted around until it was on my lap. There are a lot of things (and people) I’d rather have in my lap than a wet-dry vac! And a screaming baby would have been much quieter.

When I finally came out, I have never felt less glamorous. I gave off clouds of fiberglass dust, and I felt like a toxic Pigpen. When I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I was horrified. The worst part was the hideous knit thingie we call the “head sock.” Bald would be prettier.

This trade-off continued for days, Barry, then me, then Barry, then me. Finally, Barry set up his mixing station on deck, creating batches of epoxy, painting them on the fiberglass pieces, and passing the resulting mess down to me through the mast hole. This was partly because of my guilt at letting him do the grinding, and partly because of history.

Back in 1990, we needed to make some repairs to our daysailer. We bought fiberglass and epoxy and read the instructions, and either of us could have applied it. But Barry was wearing contacts that day and had no eye protection. I had seven stitches in my thumb from a bagel-cutting accident, but we talked it over, and we knew that the one who applies the fiberglass wears gloves, anyway. And so our roles were established: Barry-the-mixer-of-epoxy (who only gets it on his gloves) and me, the-one-who-applies-the-fiberglass (and ends up wearing it everywhere).

I call it “toxic decoupage.”

Unfortunately, I hadn’t applied a lot of fiberglass since 1990, and I’d never applied it upside down, in a space only suited to a Rastafarian contortionist. And I’d never applied it in the dark — we were so desperate to put something IN instead of grinding stuff OUT that we started at dusk.

The result was a mistake. No, call it a learning process. Actually, it was just a huge mess. I had dripped epoxy everywhere — my arms, my head, my face, my chest. I’m surprised I could still breathe through the glop-covered respirator. I’d carefully donned safety glasses, but somehow had gotten epoxy on my eyelashes! And although I managed to emerge clean from the bunny suit, the suit itself had to be trashed. When the epoxy hardened, the zipper was history.

Worse, we discovered in the daylight the next day that the layup was just about useless, full of air bubbles and voids. Barry suited up, picked up the grinder again, and removed most of my work. I nearly cried, but wrote a limerick instead.

Me, an emotional, whining complaining female? Nah, just the willing victim of a challenging engineering project.

One thought on “Help wanted: Rastafarian contortionist

  1. Wow! I’ve done some nasty jobs, but nothing like that and I got paid for what I did. Your dedication shows; we’ll talk sanity later.

    A Yahoo group I’m on (MobileLiving) has been discussing whether a sailboat could be cheaper to live aboard than vandwelling. When I met you, you were vandwelling. I’d love to have your opinion on this one.

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