She was a sailboat; a 35 ft. fiberglass hull Cheoy Lee Lion built in Hong Kong in the 1960s. She was gorgeous. Beautiful. It leaked like a sieve, but only from above. Her name was “Es Velero” which I’m pretty sure means “sailboat” in Spanish.
Please forgive the dramatic opening. This is not a love story. This is a story about labor.
The boat belonged to Mr. Brown. He bought the boat for a song on a drunken night, desperate. When we met, two days later, he was living there. An ex-Navy SEAL, a (come to find out later) deadbeat dad, and a very handsome man, Mr. Brown was a quality sailor, meaning he could pretty much fix anything with almost nothing, though he was not exceptionally bright. The perfect partner for Es Velero.
Es Velero needed copious amounts of work before she was a truly sea-worthy craft but that didn’t stop us from taking her out on the water; her hull was solid, the most important bits were intact, and she had a nice diesel engine that could motor us around. On sunny weekend days we would anchor off Waikiki and dive into the clear turquoise water with green kitchen scrubbers to remove algae and barnacles from the hull. Later I would lightly sand and apply a new coat of varnish to the copious amounts of teak that ran along the rails and the hatch entry and the cabin windows. If we stayed at the dock Mr. Brown would rig up a blue tarp to keep me in the shade while I sanded and varnished. I enjoyed the simple tools, the initial challenge of getting consistent results, the smell of varnish and reclaimed wood. It was very meditative and I got quite good at it.
The deck was teak too, gorgeous short and narrow planks, never maintained properly as far as anyone could tell. We kept meaning to get around to fixing it properly. The biggest problem was that the thousands of screws holding these boards to the underlying frame had almost all rusted out. Walking on the deck was similar to walking on a piece of plywood supported by a few strategically placed sawhorses. We quickly learned where the underlying frames were. During the rainy season if the tarps were not up I could stand in the V-berth facing aft and the boat would appear to be straining pasta or lettuce or something. Lovely little streams of water, running down the walls, forming droplets on the ceiling, ultimately coming to rest in the bilge, which, when the pump failed, I would empty with a modified one-gallon jug and a small cooler. Still, we slept on the boat some nights inhaling the smell of rotting wood, moldy sailcloth, and rust.
As the relationship waned (as laborious ones do) plans to replace the deck became more urgent: supplies were purchased, weekends were dedicated. The faster we worked, the closer the relationship got to dissolving and so, the faster we worked. It was sort of sad, what we ended up doing. Reclaiming the teak was beyond Mr. Brown’s budget so, armed with hammers, we set about smashing through the rotted wood and tearing it out, using cardboard templates and cutting sections out of marine plywood, fastening them to the frame, and coating the whole ugly mess with marine epoxy. The ultimate plan was to lay fiberglass over that but I was gone so I’m not sure what happened. I had scraped and painted the bilge (as fun as it sounds), cleaned and sorted the nautical charts, managed to get about 6-10 coats of spar varnish on all the good teak bits and halfway through the deck replacement Mr. Brown decided he wanted to bring in a new, unskilled, younger laborer. I suppose he thought his, umm… enterprise was large enough to start increasing the staff. I left, unceremoniously.
The truth of the matter is that I was never a very good sailor. I love being on the water and in the water and I loved working on the boat but I could never get the feel for the wind; I was always luffing up. I knew my lines and sheets and knots but I could not sail the boat. It bothered me a lot at the time, not being able to get the hang of it. Despite this massive character flaw, I have managed to lead a rewarding and fulfilling life. I’ve acquired many other skills and I attend group therapy for failed sailors, most of who are afraid of the water or can’t swim so I am a bit of a novelty to them. “The wind? You can’t get the hang of the wind?” They do accept me, despite my failures. So that is nice. Life goes on, as you know.