Dec 25

Regarding the excitability of Boat People

Tag: musingsmattholmes @ 8:55 pm

Our windvane is a purely mechanical and exceedingly elegant piece of equipment that can be set up to automatically steer the boat for us. I was eager to put it into action one day this past fall so I stepped off the stern onto a support to get it ready–and a piece of steel tubing promptly broke off, nearly dumping me in the bay. A minor setback, I reasoned, until the very next piece I touched also disintegrated in my hands. Clearly it would need detailed attention (par for the course).

Over thanksgiving Jon and I removed it from the stern of the boat and took the entire thing apart piece by piece on the foredeck, under a tarp in the pouring rain. Every single bolt and washer came out–often unwillingly and sometimes in a few pieces. It was fun and gratifying to bring all of our skills to bear on the stubborn bolts and seized pieces. When victory was ours, we compiled a list of parts that we needed.

Our windvane is a Monitor brand, made by a company called Scanmar, and fortunately for us Scanmar happens to be in Richmond just 10 minutes away. I put the disassembled pieces of our monitor in the back of my car one morning and drove over to Scanmar to pick up the parts we needed. When I brought our 1991 vintage monitor in the front door, I was greeted by the three guys that have been making and repairing Monitors for the past few decades. A russian machinist with little english, another jovial guy also with a thick russian accent, and a british motorcycle aficionado complete with long braided ponytail and leather bicycle garb. They were an eclectic group, but they clearly shared an enthusiasm for their windvanes. It was as if I was Santa delivering an early christmas gift to three young boys. I was bombarded with advice and questions and answers as all three of them dug through the bin of pieces checking out our old windvane. They were unanimously excited and unanimously supportive of our do-it-yourself style. In taking apart our windvane, we had thought that we achieved an intimacy with the workings of the windvane, but these guys were at a whole different level. Between the three of them they could have had that thing back together in perfect condition in less than an hour–but they shared our philosophy and supported our style: we were going to do the work ourselves to save a few hundred dollars, even it took 10 times as long (which it most certainly will). I left the shop after an hour of continual conversation feeling happy and excited. It was like visiting old friends and sharing familiar conversation–with three strangers I had just met.

I am repeatedly surprised by how easy it is to instantly bond with other sailboat owners. As sailboat owners we share a common experience: the perpetual challenge and frustration of boat work. We all seem to experience the same breakdowns and problems–we all end up learning the hard way, making all the same mistakes and getting in all the same ridiculous predicaments. We all laugh at the follies of the learning process, and we are all proud of the hard-earned skills and wisdom that came from the effort (and expense). For whatever reason, the frustration of spending 5 hours trying to remove a single bolt is the type of experience that is not easily forgotten–and every sailboat owner has hundreds of these stories. In boat work, most of the victories are private ones–no one is around when you finally figure out just the right way to hold the vice grips with the index finger of your right hand and the ring finger of your left hand in order to finally reach that one nut that you accidentally dropped into the depths of the bilge. And who can you tell that story to who would understand how good it felt just to retrieve a silly dropped nut? Then the next week you end up talking to someone down the dock, who just happened to drop a nut down into the bilge, in the same place, while working on the same part of the same project, and would you believe he ended up holding the vice grips in just this precise way to get it out with his fingers just so. . .

We talk for hours about the minutiae of projects, because we feel so fortunate–and astounded–to find that someone else has gone through nearly the identical trials and tribulations. And it never ceases to surprise. Every time it seems unbelievable that you would be able one day tell the story to someone who was actually excited to hear it. Such is the nature of boat people, and one of the treasured aspects of the society we have joined by pouring our heart and soul and worldly resources into our sailboat.

I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of such a welcoming crowd; thank you to the people at Scanmar, thank you to the people in our marina, and thank you to everyone who has been so welcoming to us in the sailing community.

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