Boat yard life is hard. A non changeable flight and limited budget means we are racing the clock from the moment we arrive. The boat has stayed in an overgrown backlot on the hard since we returned from Mexico 6 years ago and has developed her own ecosystem of mud daubers and mahogany melting mould. We turn feral, scrubbing, sanding and grinding her hull and decks back to life. We don't have a working kitchen or fridge so head out to eat one junk meal a day when it gets dark, like hungry wolves and sustain ourselves with uht milk tea from dawn til dusk. Water's sneaked into the ferro cement in places so precious days are lost researching and then sourcing the best epoxy system to make repairs - the one we had used a decade ago has since been banned by the FDA and is only available in Australia.
We are under the trees and it's brain boilingly hot and humid. Blase after acclimatising to living without aircon in Uganda we hadn’t realised it was going to be this unworkably hot. The heat builds over days into a crescendo of day-dark thunderstorms. We get on, and get on - laughing at ourselves in this joined-at-the-hip, every waking hour, mad-dog mission but over boil into screaming fights about whose body hurts the most and who's worked the hardest, usually on a day when our hurtling pace has been stymied by a newly discovered piece of rot - a new problem to overcome within our dwindling timetable.
On some days I set a timer for every hour and a half so that we remember to pause our power tools, peel off our Darth Vader masks and glug some water from a gallon bottle. Sweat quickly runs off any repellent and mosquitos gleefully bite every patch of exposed skin - I am dotted in toothpaste at night to quell the itching. Despite wearing masks and surgical gloves the chemical cocktail of mineral spirits, bottom paint and acetone builds up and leaves a metallic taste in my mouth and an ache in my kidneys. My hands and feet are black with ingrained yard grime and chin spotty with general lack of wholesomeness . But the heat and the work makes me feel stretched out, lean and in action. Between the grime and discomfort, the simplest pleasures are vivid and precious. Clean t-shirt - cold beer - post powertool peace.
Wild life gives slipped glimpses of why we are bothering. A garter snake slithers by, and one morning the door is covered in a squirming mass of catalpa caterpillars. The trees which laughingly shake their leaves onto freshly painted decks make gentle shade and waltzing, bowing shadows. Tea drank outside in the expectant and slow moving still of the morning sees squirrels and red breast birds and groundhogs scampering, hopping and bumbling around.
Other boat owners who are working on their boats are warm, supportive and fraternal, they drop by and tell us technical and gritty tales of working the shrimp boats in Louisiana and a contract to scrub the government steam tunnels in DC. Sometimes a rolling, laughing conversation is tumbleweeded by a wide chasm in political and cultural accord and I put on breathy podcasts about love and progressive politics as a kind of softpower phone speaker whispering campaign, but power tools are loud and we're running low on data.
I look up from sanding the decks or the hull and catch shimmering moments of things I want to get down on paper. I have an itching inventory of scenes, the neighbouring pilot house rotting without its hull that looks like it’s bottom half is in the underworld - complete with shiny sad fog horns, the ‘what is he building in there’ near-blind block building with the unravelling ribbon gates and spools of video tape in its front yard, the Dundalk community allotment under the pylons with its defiant swaying giant sunflowers.
We grab some good time away from the yard, an afternoon with Tiel and Meredith sailing their boat that was recently resurrected from the same yard. A quaker meeting with its yellow wild flower centrepiece and beardy solemn-smiled impeachment campaigners. The hour before closing gulping in the Matisses at the art museum. A couple of weekends down at Matthew’s red house haven on the Eastern shore, me drawing all day and sprawling like cats in front of a night screening of The Big Blue.
Back to the yard and our fraying schedule. We put on our overalls and they quickly turn black as we smack-brush the copper heavy antifoul onto the hull. We lie on our backs to reach her underside and disturb the finger sized crickets that are hiding in the cool underboat shade. I think about not thinking about the necrotic brown recluses when my hand is reaching up into the cobwebby drop keel.
There’s a lot of groaning and creaking as with days to spare she’s slung up and away from her stands in the boat lift and it seems as thought the trees in the backlot won’t let her go. They’ve grown around her during our long absence and she brings a snapped branch of leaves in her rigging to the the water’s edge. We stay in the slings of the travel lift but afloat in the water while we check the thru hulls are watertight and bilges are dry. There’s an alarming sweary moment when Rupert realises we should have tightened the prop bellows down harder as Chesapeake water trickles in but he soon tightens it and slings released, Sandpiper is splashed. Back in her element. I wake up early to sit out on deck with my tea, to marvel at how different she feels now she’s back in the water.