To enter a boatyard is to step into a world dominated by men. There are reasons for this, none that will get to the truth of how this has happened, but it is here a workplace where men are packed cheek to jowl. The men come as fathers, bachelors, husbands, brothers, and braggards. Religious beliefs vary, most no longer drink, all have lived hard lives, none raise as much hell as the hell that landed them here. Lessons have been learned, that’s why they’ve been hired on, fool youth has been completed and their most productive years are before them.
Boats are stood on the hard and secured with boat stands. This first step is done by skilled veterans. Hauling a boat out of the water requires precision, there is no room for error. One team haul the boats out of the water, power washes the bottom and then sets the vessel on the hard where the work will be done.
If you need rigging fixed, carpentry repaired, or electronics debugged there is a specific skilled man that will do the job. Boats from all corners of the globe arrive for services provided here at KKMI in Richmond.
Bob Hennessy will oversee the work done on my boat. I’d come in distraught about the shaft seal failure and it was Bob coming down below seeing for himself the failing prop shaft seal and then intoning in a soothing mellifluous steady voice how to best fix this rascal. I had about 10 ideas how I might do the repair and Bob swatted all those away but one, the surest one, the one his yard recommended, and the one I would use. This is why they pay Bob the big bucks.
The man coordinating the services to a boat is something like the conversation you might have with your doctor, or if it is serious, you know if it is life or death, these are the kind of conversations you might have with your surgeon. Bob will explain how they’re going to cut the thing out, in this instance the propeller shaft seal, so I may regain my sanity and boats seaworthiness. I am fond of the part where I get to go sailing off over the horizon to live and love another day. There is no hand holding, there’s no show boating, no taunting or teasing. There are no crybabies. My job is to shut up and follow along learn as much as I can so I might know more about how my brain and my boat are put together. I appreciate Bob’s skillful means. The reason I don’t have to have all the answers is because of men like Bob who do.
The boatyard was crowded. Two boats down from mine was perched on the hard a 35’ Camper and Nicholson sailboat. The sloop rigged boat is a Lloyd’s Register of Shipping certified vessel built to the highest standards. The boat is one tough go anywhere take on anything Swiss Army knife of a tool that gives a mariner a snowballs chance of making it through the eye of a tropical depression then not sinking so the skipper and crew may then live long enough to tell. I don’t understand how they’ve figured out how to ensure such feats of daring (reasonable minds may disagree but this could also be considered an act of sheer stupidity) but someone located along the River Thames has quantified the loads on hull and masts and forces of nature and put the name Lloyd’s on the odds of someone making it through with this particular vessel under what can only be considered as a storm-tossed nightmare at sea.
Sailboats of this kind are here being prepared for long ocean passages. One of the yards senior most experienced technicians was working at the stern installing a Hydrovane, or a wind powered self-steering device. Aligning the wind vane is precision work, the technician fashioned several mounting blocks from a special high strength epoxy resin laminate material. The nuts and bolts must seat perpendicular to the laminate blocks both on the inside and outside of the hull. Close isn’t good enough, right is right, literally each bolt and nut seats flush. The installation requires both patience and a fat purse as these hours add up and the expense is considerable. I watched the technician work two full days and there was still more to do. Fending off disaster at sea doesn’t come on the cheap.
The technician figured that I was trying to take care of my own boat and had bestowed his attention upon me as if by secret handshake, he made eye contact signaling I had permission to speak. Because boats are complicated, much as most marriages, therefore most owners have little time to give to their own boat or the sincere effort needed in keeping their marriage in top condition. I am one of the holdouts attempting to come out a champion of both.
This is the way it was, the way it is and the way it always will be. My working on my own boat meant I was likely an odd and quirky man, that I knew little but tried my best. It doesn’t take a technician long to figure out I’m the rare bird trying to do as much of the work that needing doing and that can-do spirit had earned me a pass and pity depending upon the hour of the day and quality of the whiskey involved.
Think of a boatyard as mansplaining paradise. Here is located a sanctuary where being told how to do a thing right the first time is near divine guidance. A dedicated owner once identified as marginally capable and not some knotted up halfwit going off about a mechanical conundrum, he knows nothing about is for sport and conversational pleasure elevated to be a target of idle chatter. Do I have the will to persevere or will the task at hand bring me to my knees until I am defeated? In the world of advice, the most stubborn of us cannot ask and therefore will not receive.
Upstairs in the chandlery is a vast floor of engine parts. An irritable bloke because of how Yanmar sells parts had to look over a schematic online and find part numbers for each individual item I will need to remove and replace the heat exchanger. There isn’t much cleaning a heat exchanger, but there are several steps to the task. This isn’t my first visit to this rodeo. By the last day in the yard the irritable gent upstairs opened the gate for me, he even smiled. I had passed muster as I whiled away day upon day undertaking all manner of tasks that I had showed some ability to complete.
A buzzer sounds over a public address system signaling that it is time for one of the two 15-minute breaks or the 30-minute lunch. Two men bring their dogs to work. Some of the most talented technicians tend to congregate with other most talented workers. The up and comers are men nearing 30. They’ve got plans to prepare their own boat for a future circumnavigation.
My sloop was put back in the water. Because I had opened the cooling system, I had to be careful on start up to be sure the coolant level was kept topped off. The propeller shaft seal technician hustled aboard to check the shaft seal was working as it should. Rather than takeoff immediately I remained at the docks overnight while checking and rechecking everything was as it should be, and my boat was seaworthy.
At daybreak I prepared the boat for sailing. Prior to my departure to bookend my experience Bob rumbled again in soothing tones about how pleased he was to see my sailboat made whole and that I had come through the experience without earning the outright derision of his workers.
Slipping the lines, I motored south out of the channel to Potrero Reach then with fair winds on my beam I hoisted my sails shaping a course west out into the bay.
In the deal I’ve come to see fixing a boat as proxy for fixing some broken piece of our soul and out of the repairs, time and trouble invested there sails a spirit open to the wonder and the glory and how we’re all folded into the mystery.
Moitessier imagined his boats to be an alliance, each making the other all the better. That fits what I have come to know. I am back from the yard, I am shipshape, and ready to go with all my heart giving it everything I have. To all of us I wish for “fair winds and following seas.”