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.

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