Sunday, July 23, 2017

A different take on stuff...

Every tribe has certain markers, common characteristics or habits shared by a majority of the members. One characteristic of the cruising tribe is a nonchalant attitude when it comes to filling one’s life with bits of this and pieces of that…stuff. The travails of downsizing from a the typical American home filled with personal items to a boat is a part of nearly every cruiser’s story. Even after the move is made, finding room for the things that were brought along is a regular challenge. As time flows by, even some of the things brought along, things felt to be “essential”, get lost in the corner of some little cubby somewhere. Months go by, the thing gets forgotten and, even though it might still be on the boat, it is one more thing dropped from life’s space. Then the boat shows up in a boatyard somewhere…and suddenly there is stuff everywhere.

Mid-project on our old boat. Stuff everywhere and plastic protecting the scratch-prone surfaces

Boat techs live and work in cubby holes. That is where the wires, pumps, hoses, and switches dwell that we run, change, clamp, and replace. But rare is the event where we can reach, or even see, those things after opening a door and lifting up a hatch. What we will see are trash cans, life vests, cleaning supplies, dishes, cookware, bedding, towels, and clothes. Getting to items needing repair often requires moving mattresses, cushions, or multiple pillows out of the way. And then the question becomes, where does one stuff the stuff that needs to be moved in order to reach the stuff that needs to be fixed? The interior of any boat getting extensive work rapidly takes on the look of a giant, 3-D, Chinese puzzle. One can’t move anything without it fowling something else and, once it is moved, there is no place to put it. It is one of the peculiarities of working in a boat yard, there is no storage space off the boat. Even if there were, think of a boat on the hard. It is the second story of a house that has no first floor, with only a ladder for getting to the street.

Working in the cockpit is only marginally better. Open any hatch and what is found are fenders, lines, deck brushes, hatch boards and more life vests. They will quickly fill a cockpit so tiptoeing around on the coaming, on that aforementioned second floor, is a regular exercise in maintaining one’s balance. Sometimes the stuff ends up on deck. In any case, at the end of the day it all has to go back in the lockers so at not to be blown around or utterly soaked in the ever present thunderstorms that frequent these parts. (I know, this stuff is supposed to get wet. But stash a wad of rain soaked life vests in a locker; close it up tight for a week or so in the Florida heat, and then be around when the owner pops the top before leaving with his boat - and after paying a rather sizable bill.)

One of my personal trials seems to be engine hatches - Catalina engine hatches in particular, though they are far from the only offender. Once the hatch, unwieldily, heavy, and dirty, is removed, where to put it? There isn’t enough floor space to set it out of the way. Even if there was, it would likely be covering access to someplace else that needs to be reached. Can’t put it on the table, hell, the table itself is already in the way. Can’t go on a counter. Engine hatches end up being a lump of inconvenience to be suffered for the length of the job. On top of that, getting in and out of the boat is now an exercise in exercise.  The hatches that swing up are, sometimes, worse. There is simply no way to get in and out of the boat with the hatch up, and the head room under the hatch is often severely limited. Banging the back of one’s head hurts just as much as any other head hit. At least the blood doesn’t run into the eyes.

Mattresses are another spiteful thing. Drag one out of the aft cabin to reach a leaking holding tank, and what to do with it? A giant, floppy irritation that is going to sag in the way no matter where it is stashed. Often, before the mattress can be moved, the bedding has to be removed. How is a sweat stained, grubby boat tech working in temps well over 100 degrees going to manage that without staining the pretty whites and, once again, where to stash them so they stay pretty and white? Sometimes, before removing the bedding, a pile of dirty clothes has to be moved. They didn’t include that in the “boat tech guide to happy living” brochure. I don’t worry about staining dirty clothes.

It doesn’t help that, when working on a boat, we generally bring a bunch of our own stuff on board, hoses, extension cords, fans, lights, and tools. The boat is already full, now it is over flowing. Getting tangled up in one’s own extension cord and thus pulling one’s own light down on one’s own bald head, followed by a cascade of screwdrivers and wrenches, is just one of the joys to be found in this profession. Try to turn to get out of the way and skin one’s shins against the engine hatch.

Sometimes we get a boat that has just recently been purchased. The original owner has removed all of the stuff, and the new owner has yet to put replacement stuff on board. A happy occasion. Last week included working on just such a boat. Only a trash can and a couple of small bins of brick-a-back stood in the way of reaching the autopilot computer. Cockpit lockers were only half full. If access was needed to the port side, everything fit in the starboard hole, and visa-versa. The lockers themselves were large enough to crawl inside and move around…some. One day it started to rain and pulling the hatch cover partly closed meant I had a dry space in which to work while hanging the ram and rudder position indicator. How cool is that? There was even room in there for a fan, so it really was cool…er.

The inside of the boat wasn’t near as much fun. The cabin was tiny! Standing up inside was impossible, being on my knees was the exact right height for “standing” at the sink. Half way along the settee, going forward, the ceiling dropped a foot or so lower. Already bent 90 degrees at the waist to move means not really looking where one is going. Ouch. I soon learned to move slowly in that boat, caring not what that meant to the labor bill.

The v-berth was already stuffed full of cockpit cushions, topped by the helm wheel. Gaining access under a settee meant piling cushions from one on the other, filling that side of the boat nearly to the ceiling. Needing to be under both at the same time was, fortunately, only needed once. On that occasion the cushion pile went on the galley counter, completely blocking the companionway. Finding a place to stash locker hatches was a constant challenge. This was a very pretty boat, with high gloss varnished inside decks and teak glowing in the sunlight. It is the kind of finish that will scratch just from brushing it with a hatch corner or belt buckle; that will nick at the touch of a screwdriver blade. Cardboard and tape were liberally applied, but had to be folded up and stashed somewhere when the floor needed to come up.

Then, of course, the floor needed to be stashed someplace as well.



Hugh said...

I'm curious whether, now that you've seen and worked on many boats that lived their lives in salt water, whether you are glad you have a boat that lived in fresh water most of its life?

Deb said...

@Hugh - I won't speak for Tj but my personal thought is that the level of owner care is much more important than where the boat is located. I've seen freshwater boats that were disasters and salt water boats that were pristine because the owners took proper care of them. Is it more work? Yes, for sure. But I honestly think winter in fresh water was much harder on Kintala than living her life in saltwater.