I was just looking at my old blog posts for the first time in a few years, getting ready to write this post. I was looking for the post about my very first woodworking project — our balky bedroom door. It was such an important step on my boat building journey that I couldn't believe I couldn't find it. I was so sure I'd written it, I kept looking.
But no, it's not there. I never wrote it. Either it didn't seem important in the moment, or maybe I just didn't have time. Funny, since that project, and my approach to it, was all about time.
Luckily, it's a story that I couldn't possibly forget, or leave out of the book...
A few minutes later, I maneuvered Helena back into the car. Telling the slightly disappointed-looking William that we would, “certainly think about it!”, I sped out of the marina, my tires throwing a larger spray of snow in William’s direction than politeness strictly allowed.
“So, why aren’t we looking at wooden boats?” Helena asked again.
Why? Wasn’t it obvious?
“For the same reason no one uses cotton sails anymore,” I said. “Or hemp lines, or dial telephones, for that matter. Time moves on. Technology improves. Civilization advances.”
But this line of reasoning didn’t seem to carry much weight with Helena. Not Helena the Brazilian who insisted we live in a ‘real’ house made of concrete; who required steam radiators that hissed and gurgled and warmed our clothes so beautifully on cold winter mornings; and who loved the impractical cast iron windows she’d lovingly restored.
“The thing is,” she said, “when you touch wood, it feels good. When you touch that powdery fiberglass stuff, it feels horrible.” She made a face.
“That’s the gelcoat,” I explained. “That only happens on older boats and you can clean it up with polish.”
“No one does, though, do they? They all have it. It’s horrible.”
Horrible. I was getting that part of the message. Pretty clearly.
“And then there’s the smell,” she said with an air of finality.
“That’s the diesel engine. Has nothing to do with whether the boat is wood or fiberglass.”
“But every fiberglass boat seems to have an engine. And they all smell.”
“But we need an engine.”
“That’s silly. Who would want a boat that smells?”
“And did you notice the deck? So much space!” She smiled, as if imagining herself sunbathing on that wide, flat deck under a hot July sun. Did I mention Helena is Brazilian?
I’d heard this particular complaint from Helena many times. Even when sailing on large boats, owned by rich friends, there was never a place to sunbathe. Or to even sit comfortably. Every square foot of your modern sailboat is covered by the cabin top, or a cleat, or a sheet track.
“Yes,” I said, conceding this minor point to female logic. “But the simple fact of the matter is, I don’t know anything about wooden boats. I have no idea how to fix them. And everyone knows that wooden boats require a huge amount of maintenance. In fact, they say you spend more time fixing a wooden boat than you do sailing her.”
I smugly rested my case, confident the argument that had satisfied two generations of American sailors would defeat even Helena.
She dismissed it with a wave of her hand. “You can learn!”
“But I’m not handy!” I said, suddenly feeling desperate.
“You always say that. It’s silly. Who told you that?” She waited for an answer as I floundered, not even knowing where to begin.
“Never mind,” she said. “You just need practice. And I have the perfect project for you to start on. You know that door in our bedroom?”
The door that hadn’t closed properly for fifty years? The door that generations of previous owners had struggled with—the marks of their futile efforts barely marring the edges of the fiendishly non-fitting, solid oak door? Yes, I knew it. I also knew that nothing I could say about that door would have any effect on Helena, who is rarely swayed by logic and who has a deranged but bracing confidence in my hidden (and even unsuspected) abilities.
Besides, she’d been bugging me about it for months.
“I’ll look into it,” I grumbled.
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Next up: An Unlikely Voyage, Part 3