December 2, 2004
We've spent the past couple of weeks on the hard in a boat yard in a Florida swamp. It hasn't been fun. In fact, the most comparable place, real or mythical, that comes to mind is Hades. We should hasten to add that we don't mean to disparage the Indiantown Marina, where we and a few hundred other poor souls are incarcerated. ALL boat yards are hellish places. It wouldn't be so bad if all we were doing was working on our boat, although this is always an exercise fraught with frustration. Our misery is compounded by the fact we're LIVING on our boat while the work is underway.
At the end of the work day, "Little Gidding" resembles an eviscerated cadaver undergoing a never-ending autopsy: her insides are ripped apart, the coroner has left his tools strewn about, and various damaged organs are piled up everywhere. With daylight fading, we descend the ladder and join the lineup at the shower building, just in time to feed the swarms of mosquitoes that appear at sunset. Our head and galley aren't functional. The best we can do in terms of cooking is to boil water in the morning for coffee. Eileen used to really enjoy a cup of tea before going to bed. Not now. "If I have anything to drink this late I'll have to get up in the middle of the night and probably kill myself climbing down the ladder in the dark," she says.
Out of necessity, we've discovered the culinary attractions of downtown Indiantown, straddling highway 710 about half a mile from the boat yard. The population of Indiantown is predominantly Hispanic; many of the residents work in the surrounding sugar cane fields and citrus orchards. Spanish is the primary language, you won't hear much English spoken on the streets. One of the benefits of this cultural diversity is decent Latin American food at cheap prices. At our favourite Guatemalan/Mexican restaurant, we point at unknown but interesting looking concoctions at the steamer counter and are served large heaps of savoury stewy stuff. We don't know what it is, but it sure tastes good. Back at the boat, we clear enough space to make our way to our berth and call it a day.
The memories of the evening meal have long faded when the sky begins to lighten and some unidentified heavy machinery coughs to life in the distance. The yard dogs bark at each other. It's down the ladder and across a stretch of gravel to the communal toilets. David returns with a pot of water for coffee. Steaming mugs in hand, we survey our dismembered boat -- still wet with dew on the outside -- and plan our day. The sun is barely above the horizon and we're already getting depressed.
If this is Hades, then we must be Sisyphus clones. Sisyphus was that ancient Greek guy who got on the wrong side of Zeus, the Olympian king, and was condemned to roll eternally a great stone to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back down again. David decides to glue the keel tube back to the bottom of the dinghy, the same tube he glued down last year. Next, he's going to replace the zinc collar on the propeller shaft which, if it's doing its job correctly, will start dissolving the minute the boat is launched. And then there's his favourite boat chore: sanding the bottom of the hull and rolling on a few layers of expensive ablative anti-fouling paint -- paint that's designed to fall off. Eileen is going to refinish the exterior teak at the bow and stern. She knows every detail of our trail boards. She scraped and sanded and finished them ten months ago. "I wouldn't mind doing this half as much if I thought it would last for any length of time," she moans, "but these stupid boards are going to need re-coating again before the end of the season."
Misery loves company. Whenever we're feeling particularly hard done by, we console ourselves by the fact that our list of boat projects mostly comprises routine maintenance items. Nothing too major, excessively expensive, or ultimately insurmountable. We're surrounded by inmates less fortunate than ourselves. "Did you talk to Ira on 'Summer Wind'?" Eileen asks. "He put the wrong kind of bottom paint on his hull. It was incompatible with the old paint and now he has to sand everything off down to the gelcoat."
"I was wondering why he was looking so glum," David replies. "And Ted on 'Take It Easy' doesn't appear too happy, either. He just found out his watermaker is bust."
Yes, things could be much worse. Back in September, the eyes of two hurricanes went directly over "Little Gidding"; first hurricane Frances, then Jeanne (see our September 16, 2004 entry). When we got back to the boat yard last month, "Little Gidding" was looking pretty much as we had left her. We were amazed that the tarp we had tied across the boom was still in place. Aside from a few inches of water in the bilge and a blown apart crew overboard pole, there was nothing to suggest she had been blasted by 120 mph winds.
Much of the credit for "Little Gidding's" survival -- and the survival of most of the other boats in the yard -- goes to the marina staff. Before the hurricanes hit, they tightened all the jack stands and tied down every boat with heavy webbing anchored to the ground. Ironically, the majority of boats fared better than the homes in Indiantown. One of the yard workers who worked to save our boat lost the roof to his house during the last storm. After he heard his story, David stopped complaining about the reappearing rust stains on our transom.
Despite the best efforts of the staff, twenty-two boats were toppled by the hurricanes. A few were holed and several lost their masts. One of the write-offs is lying on her side only fifty yards from "Little Gidding", a few shreds of headsail still flapping in the breeze. We were lucky. Right now we're grumpy and dirty and fed up with redoing what we've done before, but in a few days we're out of here. Unlike Sisyphus, we can escape our punishment ... at least until next year.