Boatyard Blues -August 09, 2001
It's hurricane season in Trinidad and they're playing our tune again. It's called "The Boatyard Blues". Today's rendition has an all-percussion prelude: the gentle tapping of a marine surveyor's hammer on a delaminated rudder; the sharp clang of a cold chisel on a recalcitrant cutless bearing. The travel-lift roars to life, providing a throbbing bass line. The rhythm section fills in with the hiss of the pressure washer and the whine of a nearby grinder. Somewhere a cordless drill bursts in with a string of treble notes, soon to be obliterated by the wood shop's screaming band saw. Against this instrumental background, we hear snatches of libretto:
"Hey, skip, need anyone to do a little varnishing today?"
"You told me my bimini frame was going to be delivered yesterday..."
"What do you mean I need a rebuild - there's only a thousand hours on that engine!"
"I said navy blue, that's royal blue..."
"You're going to charge me what!?"
The day's just begun and already the music is swelling to a crescendo. Then the skies darken and there's a not-so-distant rumble of thunder. The din suddenly dies as tools are dropped, hatches slammed shut and workers scurry for cover. The torrent is short-lived. In a few minutes the sun is out again and the song resumes.
If we're lucky this year, the concert will be brief. A few minor fibreglass repairs to the keel, replace the prop shaft zinc, slap on a couple of coats of bottom paint - no big deal. Hell, we might as well wax the topsides while we're at it, maybe even touch up all those scratches on the boot stripe. Now what about that bit of excessive play in the steering? Maybe we should have a closer look at the gudgeon bearing. And then there's that funny little clicking noise when the engine's idling slow...
Unfortunately, all too often our boatyard sojourns seem to expand to Wagnerian proportions. Trinidad is a dangerous place for undisciplined cruisers during hurricane season. You have a lot of time on your hands, the sailing options in the immediate vicinity are limited, and there are all sorts of smiling, helpful people offering great deals on everything from canvas work to engine repairs. Worst of all are the other boat owners. An insidious culture of boat improvement mania pervades. Cruisers who are normally budget conscious find themselves caught up in a frenzy of repairs and upgrading.
Call it competitive boat maintenance. The guy on the next boat over gets new cushions and suddenly the ones you've been perfectly happy with for the last couple of years are looking pretty sorry. Someone else gloats about the great dodger they just had custom made. Before you know it, your boat's ripped apart and your credit card is maxed out. But if it makes you feel any better, you'll have lots of voices joining in on the chorus when you sing the boatyard blues.