For a dory
Thursday night, on craigslist looking for boats like always. Could be a mental illness to work on boats all day and then come home and search for them online, dream about them at night, post pictures of them on your wall. Maybe it’s just one big escape fantasy.
Scrolling down the thumbnails, I see something I like the looks of. It’s a 17 foot swampscott dory up in Sechelt, British Columbia. I just have to go up and get it, that’s all.
lacking a trailer, I organized a rendezvous in Everett to pick one up for $700 on Saturday morning. Saturday rolls around, I wake up at 3am, try and sleep a little more, finally rousing myself. Rummaging around, cursing softly when something makes noise. I brew an obscenely strong cup of coffee and head out.
It was still dark as night on the roads, I was trying to eat toast with peanut butter and honey while steering with my leg and got some on my pants. Driving towards Kingston, feeling a little uneasy about the ferry crossing. The electrical issue with my truck had cropped back up. I was just hoping it wouldn’t cut out when it was time to disembark on the Edmonds side.
The ferry ride was brisk and fresh with a steady breeze coming down the Sound. I found the private bathroom that is tucked away on the top deck for my morning constitution. There wasn’t any warm water on tap but I tried to wash out the honey spots from my pants anyways, without success.
Back down on the car deck, sitting in my truck, I was first in line, so I could see the bow of the vessel approach the loading dock and plunk into place. I started to say little prayers, rubbing the dash board like it was a large cat. The prayers must have worked, the truck started and we went rattling up the ramp.
A while back I had been riding the Bainbridge ferry and heard two kids arguing about which end of the boat was the bow and the father just kind of looked off over their heads with a practiced disinterest. It took everything I had to not interject and tell them that they were both right, they both win, the boat had two bows.
So back to my stupid story… I knew that the plug on my truck that hooked into trailer lights needed some work. It had been all packed with dirt and the grounding cable was hanging loose, just dangling there. The only place that was open at that hour was a Home Depot so I went there on the way passing through stripmall culture desert. Directly inside the Home Depot I behaved as normal, walking past every isle and thing I needed in a state of bewilderment, until reaching the concrete section, which is at least reliable in that it’s always at the end of the store. This is where I typically remember what I’m doing and turn around determined to read the little signs.
after walking in confused circles for a while I finally found something I was looking for, but was immediately distracted by a robot with a bowtie coming towards me. It was a tube on wheels with a light for a head and for some reason, a bowtie. It came down the isle, paused ominously facing me for a moment before turning left, perhaps deciding not to kill me yet. This was just after I had been confronted with a tv screen set at eye level that showed footage of me standing there and also footage of a man watching the footage of me standing there. I thought that I had a voyeuristic kink, but this didn’t do it for me at all. I went to the self checkout, blooping items with the blooping wand while a woman watched me. I think I was doing what would have been her job, she waits until I pay and then tells me to have a nice day. She has been provided with an orange apron for when things get messy.
I go outside and lay under the truck to fiddle around with my lights and feel pretty clever when I think I’ve got it all sorted out. Another thing that makes me feel clever is the click of my Milwaukee pen light, fresh out of the box. Whatever I thought I was doing down there was at least punctuated by something crisp.
When I pulled up to the trailer guy’s house in Everett his little dog started to bark at me. He told me his dog’s name but I can’t remember what it is just now… Peanut Butter maybe? No that was breakfast, I think it was Butterscotch
Butterscotch never stopped barking at me and I didn’t ask if that was normal or if it was just my vibes.
The trailer was wider then I expected, something like eight feet wide. I imagined myself taking out cyclists or mailboxes with it, which made me uneasy.
When I hooked the lights up to my savvy repair job the lights didn’t work. I wasn’t about to drive to the border to be turned around by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police because I was a danger to society, so I told the trailer guy that I’d go down to the autoparts store and sort out my issue.
The issue proved to be beyond my abilities as I spent the better part of three or four hours on borrowed cardboard trying to wire rewire the problem plug.
I decided to drive to a prettier location if I was going to be spending anymore time trouble shooting so I went to a park that overlooked the waterfront of Everett, honestly a pretty sweet spot. It was also nice to not have a bunch of big trucks trying to see how close they could drive to my thin protruding legs.
After a few more hours of fiddling around I started feeling thirsty, but not for water. And hungry but I’d only brought canned sardines and unwashed chicory which I ate with bread. The sand in the chicory reminded me of picnicking on the beach on a windy day, which I have done many times. But today I was not at the beach, I was on a bench. I spilled some sardine oil on the bench and thought about how that might make someone’s pants smell, so I sacrificed my one good napkin to clean up the oil. (at the time of writing the napkin had been washed and is now back in regular circulation)
I got to catch up with my friend Riley when I went back to the truck and saw he called. I always like talking with Riley on the phone. He cracks me up, even when he’s talking about how shitty something was, or maybe especially when he’s talking about how shitty something was.
I wanted a beer and was curious about Everett so I went downtown. Everett is weird. I’m still not sure what to think about it but I ended up at the Independent with a bunch of stocky homegrown folks on their way to a hokey game. The air was thick, tart and savory like an off-brand hot pocket. I drank two beers, the first two the bartender recommended, both West Coast IPA’s the E9 was syrupy the Lucky Envelope was crisp and good.
One of the bartenders was beautiful in a billboard kind of way. I wouldn’t have noticed, with my head buried in the truck maintenance manual, but the woman to my left complemented on how nice her hair was. I looked up to see the slow motion hair bounce that I thought only happened in shampoo commercials. I had the thought “I wonder if she thinks it’s attractive that I’m reading a maintenance manual” and then remembered that I’d also been talking out loud to myself and writing notes in a tiny booklet covered in bilge paint. My presence, if anything, was concerning. I went back to mumbling about the difference between amperage and voltage.
I ended up eating down the road at “the New Mexicans.” Sitting at the bar was like being in the kitchen, they were kind of hustling around and putting things together, mixing drinks and griping. Someone needed to go and get more chickens from QFC.
I could tell that the woman serving me was the owner, nobody else has the keys to that much spunk. She was nice, we got to talking a little bit. They took the restaurant over a year before covid. What a shit show that must have been. Then again, Mexican food travels well.
I was pretty tired by this point. Wondering back to the truck, the big plate of nachos anchored me to the seat and I just kind of passed out slumped over until a street guy woke me up with something he said as he walked by my window. “Good luck budy,” which would normally be encouraging but was contextually ominous.
I decided to head out to La Conner as I had never visited the small town and I figured my odds of being rousted by the law was less out there. On my way I found myself on a narrow farm road with old dilapidated houses glowing with amber lights from behind frosty window panes. Old trucks and rusted equipment poked up from the tilled earth like big whale bones. I came to a turn and saw beyond a large aluminum shed with two flatbed trucks parked side by side, thinking it a good place to tuck away for the night I pulled between them and worked myself up to face the cold. As soon as I went over to the passenger side and started unpacking my sleeping mat a headlight beam from an approaching truck illuminated swept over me and I froze like a racoon in a dumpster.
The truck continued slowly down the side road and stopped only about a hundred meters away from where I was. I figured I would wait for him if he decided to come over and ask me what I was doing. Watching him there, I was confused by his motions. He left the lights on, didn’t pull off the road and was going back and forth quickly from his driver-side door to the bed over and over. Then I saw him go out into the dirt field in front of me and begin to assemble something. I couldn’t make out from the silhouette what it was he was putting together. It was about waist high, had some legs to it and a larger plate like structure on top. He went back to his truck, accidentally setting off the alarm and then, after turning it off, lit a cigarette. I could see the flash from the lighter as he tried about ten or so times to light it, finally taking a big drag and crouching down. He was just posted up, watching the object in the farm field. I decided this was too weird for me to set up my sleeping stuff. He must not have known I was there, so it was likely startling when I crept out from between the flatbeds with my lights off and swung around to go the opposite way on the farm road.
I finally got into La Conner sometime between ten and eleven, the town was deserted except for a few stalwart tavern goers. The road between the quayside buildings was of concrete, a seam down it’s middle which gave the downtown an old working port feel, though the buildings, beautiful as they were, now housed mostly touristy stuff, carvings of eagles, little ships wheels, souvenirs, dust collectors.
I drove around town twice looking for a place to sleep and a water spigot that hadn’t been shut off for the winter. I finally settled on a spot in front of a “no parking anytime” sign… naturally.
It only rained a little on me during the night, I was feeling luxurious with three sleeping pads beneath me and was completely unwilling to get up when I felt the first drops. All I did was pull the tarp over, that was tucked by the cooler and dozed off again.
It was cold and a bit damp in the morning and my thoughts were limited to where to find a cup of coffee. I remembered having seen a place on my way into town so I packed away my sleeping stuff and went to start the truck. Nothing. So here we were, broken down in front of the no parking sign. Some folks were taking notice who were on their morning stroll but I just pretended like I belonged there.
Popping the trunk I did my usual routine of checking and cleaning terminals in the ignition system and popping out the starter relay and blowing on it like it was a Nintendo cartridge, which only seems to work for Nintendo.
My efforts were fruitless as one might guess. I was going to have to walk into town, get caffeinated and work on the truck when my brain was actually functioning. I bought some big sticky bun with nuts on it and drank coffee in a courtyard where there was a live plug to charge my phone, which also had developed a habit of dying unexpectedly. Maybe the galaxy is telling me to join the amish.
I got back to my car and the problem hadn’t fixed itself like it sometimes does. The bigger problem was that I didn’t have any tools and if I really wanted to do some poking around I’d have to unhook the negative terminal from the battery. Nothing was really open in La Conner on Sunday… Much less Superbowl Sunday. But I figured the Chevron on the reservation side of the river would have a crescent wrench. I took the footpath up to the bridge and walked over. It was like night and day, seeing the Swinomish neighborhood in contrast with the victorian white folks neighborhood back in town. Emil gave me a call and I got to gripe to him a little, he tells me it’s probably just my battery and I should try and get a new one or check the ground connection. They didn’t sell batteries at the Chevron but they did have a crescent wrench. outside a father and his two kids roared up on quads. I slipped on the high-viz gloves I bought, and then took them off half a block later deciding they were too highly visible.
I got back to my truck a while later and a fella who had seen me in the morning saw me again as I fiddled around beneath the hood. He said something like “still here huh?” “yurp!” I replied. He was walking his black lab named Kenai, his name was Doug and he lived on a hell of a nice ferrocement boat named Jean Marie or something like that. He turned out to be a great guy, bringing me a bunch of tools and helping me poke around under the hood a bit. His hunch was that it was the starter relay, he said “it’s either the relay or the starter itself.” He had one of those great little tools where you can test continuity with a lightbulb. He went prodding around while I turned the key. He even offered to give me a ride into Anacortes to the nearest auto parts store but I refused like I always do. He left me with the tools and went back to his boat. We both surmised I’d have to wait until morning when things opened up again. I was feeling tired and a little hungry, so after eating sardines and sandy chicory again I sort of just passed out where I sat in my cab. I woke up when a lady got out of a car next to me. “You alright?” she asked. I looked up with drool smeared on the side of my face. “oh yeah… yeah” “You know this is private property right?” As it turned out this was parking for the private dock, they’d had some break-ins so folks naturally had their hackles up. But even Doug who had tools stolen recently said that he preferred being trustful and had left me with all his sockets and box wrenches. I explained my situation to the lady as best I could, having just woken unexpectedly from a good dozing off.
After she left I took stock of my situation, blinking and scratching my neck. I decided to give the key one more try before throwing in the towel and much to my surprise the engine turned over! I gathered up Doug’s tools and carried them down to the dock to plopped them on the deck where he told me to put them. I saw the woman who had just woken me up on the stern of her yacht and told her I got my truck started, then realized it wasn’t the same woman. She said “that was my sister you were talking to.” Why they decided to both wear the same red sweater is beyond me, maybe they thought it was cute.
I pondered my options while the truck sat there rattling away, I could just drive all the way home and keep the engine running the whole time, or I could drive up to Anacortes, buy a new battery and a new starter relay and hope that solved it. If I did fix the problem I could drive to the South end of Whidbey Island and take the ferry over, a much more direct route. They don’t let you idle your engine on the ferries so I’d have to fix the problem if I wanted to take it. I decided on the latter, not wanting to drive the long way down to Tacoma and up.
I drove up to the O’reilly’s in Anacortes about 20 minutes away. parked in their dirt lot and bought the relay and battery. I borrowed a few tools from the guy inside, who called me bro. Or was it boss? He called me boss.
I swapped out the relay and hooked up the brand new battery, getting in the car whispering “come on baby” to myself. I think everyone whispers something like that when they really want something to work. The incantation didn’t have any effect, nor did the things I bought. Rosie, my truck, was dead again. This time at least in the parking lot of an auto parts store. I was all cashed out on troubleshooting though. I went in and exchanged my old battery and asked the fella behind the counter where the finest dive bar was. He didn’t know, had just moved to town but the guy to my right did. “There’s the Brown Lantern, or there’s the Anchor” the Anchor was a half block away.
I walked into the Anchor Inn and took my first gulp of the musty air that lingered within. There were five or six folks slouched over the bar, some pool trophies glinting in the haphazard lights and sheets of pulltabs that had slumped over in a clear case mounted on the wall. There were a few oversaturated T.V.s playing the Superbowl, which had just started. A really old fella came through the door with his oxygen tank and posted up, ordering a beer. The mood was appropriate for what I expected. I scouted out a plug to charge my dead phone behind one of the pool trophies in the dark nethers of the bartop.
When I sat down a guy about my age came through the door, and sat just to my right, unshouldering his waterproof backpack. He ordered a double Jameson on the rocks and took a sip. “what brings you to this illustrious establishment?” I asked after the appropriate amount of silent sipping. “Supply run, you?” “Truck broke down.” “Oh shit what’s going on with it?” “Won’t start, you turn the key and it doesn’t make a sound it’s just like this.” I start turning an invisible key in silence. “What kind of truck is it?” “94 Toyota pickup.” “you know I bet it’s the starter, have you tried hitting the starter with a stick or a hammer or something?” “No does that do something?” “Yeah you’ve got to hit it pretty good but it gets it going sometimes.” “Really? That’d be amazing… you know if by chance you end up leaving around the same time I do and you feel like whacking a starter with a stick..” He laughs and says yeah maybe. I turn to the bartender. The bartender is a sturdy blond woman with tattoos on her arms and a sharp wit. I say to her “I’m going to get this guy his next drink, he’s going to help me whack my truck with a stick.” “I don’t need to hear about how you guys are going to go whack-it in your truck.” she replies, and the joke sticks, suddenly we’ve changed from strangers meeting for the first time to a couple of jerk offs.
Once the dust settles on the jokes, which kinda made their way around the bar, I asked him, “what do you mean by supply run, you on a boat or something?” “Yeah, came in on a ferry, I live out on Blakley Island, there’s no grocery store out there.” He pretty much is the maintenance guy for the whole island community, had been living up in Alaska for some time and decided to move a little closer to civilization but really felt more isolated since he was just posted up on the island and didn’t have a boat to get around or anything. The ferry had a late start that day so he was stranded in Anacortes just like I was.
After I bought him his second drink he bought me my third and then I think we lost track, I do recall looking up and being astonished by the floating platforms and the atomic red of Rihanna’s outfit at halftime. We started talking about whatever we’d been up to over the years, drinking and gabbing, meanwhile the bartender is giving us a hard time about almost everything. She’d written his name in her tab book down as “mustache’s friend.”
When you grow a mustache out as long as I have it becomes an identifying characteristic. It becomes worthy of comment. Nothing’s worse then when you run into someone who’s got a mustache like yours and they just kinda look at your upper lip and say, “nice mustache” and you’ve got to say something about their mustache and then there is a silence. Maybe in the old west, this was when they went for their six shooters. It almost makes me want to shave it off every time.
So I’m sipping on my beers in a slow and steady fashion thinking I’ll likely be sleeping in my truck cab in a dirt lot and might benefit from some cushioning for my nerve ends. But Dylan, wow, he’s on his seventh Jameson. To top things off he orders me some Rye whiskey, it’s good but that-is-it, we are toast. I’ve changed my verbiage a little “Ok it’s time to go cudgel the truck.” The bartender takes the low hanging fruit and gives us a hard time, but she had also come clean about her kinks, which were graphic and numerous.
We both get up and head out the door, into the drizzle and dark of the night. We weave our way up the sidewalk to the O’reilly’s and scrounge around for something to tap the starter with. Before we can get a good angle on it a guy from inside the shop comes out and sees what we are doing, walks up and asks “bad starter?” Dylan says “yeah we are going to give it a good whack and try and get it going.” “Is it a manual?” “Yeah” I reply, “then why not bump start it?” Dylan is in disbelief “Of course, man why didn’t I think of that!” I’d never heard of it. They kind of explain it to me but really we just start pushing the car, they push it back while I steer it and straiten it out to give us some runway. Then I hop out and start pushing, Dylan jumps in the driver seat and puts it in second gear then pops the clutch, she fires up! I couldn’t believe it. Somewhere in the middle of that graceful ballet the O’reilly’s guy asked me if I wanted to sell him the truck and offered me 3 grand, Dylan who was in the driver’s seat at the time calls out 5! I’m like, jeeze okay.
Dylan and I feel like old friends by this point, which is aided by the drink, standing there with Rosie idling in the pouring rain. I pat him on the back and thank him for the help and we both agree it’d be fun to hang out again before long. We say goodbye and I climb into the driver’s seat and then it occurs to me. I’ve got to drive this thing all the way home, about two and a half hours around through Tacoma and up. Also I’ve got to work in the morning. I was kind of looking forward to calling work off on account of being stranded but now I’ve got a long night’s drive, and a long days work ahead of me. Fortunately there is a food truck just closing down in the dirt lot, so I swoop in there before it shuts down. The cook is a guy about my age and even though he had already started closing up, he makes me a sandwich really quick, which basically saves my life. I think I told him he saved my life and then got in my car, conveying food into my mouth from the paper bag.
I made it home without incident, though the last hour was like swimming in a pool full of molasses in a pair of overalls. I finally got home some time around midnight, eyes all red.
In the morning I was handed a 20 inch drill bit and given the task of drilling through Adventuress’ solid cast iron keel. The keel had been poured in 1913, had been perfectly intact for 110 years and now here I was, Haggard as a trench hog with heavy machinery in my hands. It would be a grueling week, but at least I had my truck near home and I’d like to think, a new friend up on Blakely Island.
Yellow Cedar and Cigarette Smoke
You’d smell it before you saw him, the smoke of American Spirits mixing with the sharp aromas of turpentine and yellow cedar billowing from the steam box. Clint had been called in like a mercenary to the frontlines of a war being lost. “Blue Peter” had a firm launch date in a little over a week and the stern of her hull was gaping open, in need of gross hulks of lumber and fine tuning, of twisting and finessing, of coarking and oakum, and after all that, paint. Management put me alongside Clint, to learn from a seasoned shipwright how big tough jobs were buttoned up quick. Clint’s voice was always being choked off, Years of smoking, of yelling, of breathing dust and toxins had the effect of wrecking his larynx. We’d be wrestling some cross section of a full grown tree, 30 foot long, 2 feet wide and I’d be shaking like a chihuahua under the weight and he’d be yelling over the roar of the power planer but his voice was cutting out and I had earplugs in and dust in my eyeballs, I went tumbling down with the massive timber in my hand, but it wasn’t even lunch yet, the day was young. You had to get up and get on with it. After the many hours of careful patterning, planing, cutting, saucing and steaming the plank was ready to twist and hammer home. The last task in this mammoth undertaking was to cut the butt just right so that it squeaked into place, driven home with an eight pound sledge. He showed me briefly the technique for achieving this flawless bit of carpentry and stood back to smoke nervously while he watched. The saw that screamed above my head was a Milwaukee 10 inch, weighed as much as a bag of russet potatoes and vibrated like a passenger plane taking off. I held it upside-down awkwardly above my head Because the hull curved in towards the keel there, I was on my knees being showered by sawdust, hot breath fogging my glasses and then the beastly saw started to bind. I wasn’t sure why it was binding so I took my finger off the trigger. Clint came over and yelled something which I could understand so I just said “O.K.” and finished the cut. To my great relief it fit perfectly. Smack, smack, SMACK! The sledge drove it home, wood to wood tight. “You’re golden!” He said and gave me a fist bump. On to fastening!
An extra hour
April 12 2022
When I say “we” I am referring to, the five or so salty folks who had labored hard together on the MV Seawolf for nearly half a year. We said farewell to her crew yesterday as she lay tied to the dock in the evening.
We had been warned of the approaching deadline well in advance, but it’s a strange thing, given a hard deadline of the sort, with so much entrails still hanging out, with a whole mesh of scaffolding and shrink plastic encasing you and the ship; you don’t see a way out. You think maybe it will go on forever and after a winter that brought snow and endless grey freezing drizzle, it may as well have been forever.
She was all rotten in her timbers, frame ends all punky, her deck frames rotting away below the house, the rabbit on her stem succumbing to the forces of decay. She had been afloat since the second world war and nature was calling her back. But there we were to reverse that process and heave giant beams of tropical wood upon her and drill holes through them that smoked with heat and hammer galvanized bolts as long as your forearm and fasten nuts, grain-crush tight. We removed her deck, as it was, a nightmarish layer cake of epoxy on top of plywood on top of bullshit on top of the navy yard’s original job, cutting through the cotton and tar and tight grain doug fir that had clung to her beams for 80 years.
Lou and I were new on the job when the Seawolf came off the slings, dripping and snarling. It was my first week on the job and my first foray into being a shipwright. We were sparkly eyed, a little scared, and excited. We had to get that ironed out of us in a hurry, we were being handed serious tasks, cuts of consequence with pricey timber.
Well, we went through it all and near the end we got close, but like a boxing match where you are on the ropes and bloody as hell they just had to ring the bell of the final round and call it. She wasn’t all the way done. I want to say I feel good about what we did, and indeed we threw all our hearts and souls into the new wood on her. But it wasn’t done, little details hanging in the breeze as she fired up to chug North to Alaska.
Coworkers kept updating me on her progress through the inside passage and I tuned in, half interested. Really I was just thinking about the deluge of rain that would be soaking her soon and hoping her crew had a chance to clean up the dust from the frenzied push that coated the deck in dust from purple heart and filings from the aluminum and put some oil on it underway. We didn’t even have time to oil the deck! Near the end there we were working weekends and nights, we were hustling like beasts, like bandits. Working while she was tied to the dock, working while she was being hoisted into the slings of the travel lift, cussing through clenched teeth.
Around sunset on the last day, a Monday, it was quitting time on that job, the last thing I did was take a block plane to the crutch that held the gangway so that it would fit in place without having to kick it hard. As the sun sat up on the cliff top getting ready to recline into darkness I took the last few passes, lowered the gangway and the owner, Kimber, walked over it, down the steps and gave me a hug. That was the best ending I could have asked for all things considered.
The next day we were given one hour in the morning to “make another pot of coffee.” So we could come in at 9am fresh for the next push. Just like that, one mad push over, the next well underway.