Time passes. Things change. The kids grow up and become otherwise occupied.
But, spring arrives each year and with it the moment to get the boat ready.
Years ago, one or both of the boys was around to join the scraping, painting, cleaning, mending, and general boatkeeping work that precedes the fun.
The chores fall into two categories. The first is demanding and very important work. You have to sand the topsides and the bottom, then paint both. You have to grease the propeller, which has these tiny set screws and tiny grease fittings that try their best to get lost. The boat is perched over the sand, and if a tiny set screw finds its way to the ground, it's lost. No two ways about it. Plus, almost every substance you work with is toxic to some degree, even lethal in the most extreme circumstances.
Among the worst jobs is changing the oil and the four filters - one an oil filter, the other three for fuel - on the engine. There's a sequence of events that must be followed, or else the engine won't fire off when you're done. I've never gotten the sequence right, not once in all these years, and then it's a matter of draining this and bleeding that before the engine finally clatters to life, signaling the end of the tough stuff.
By the way, mixed in with these demanding jobs, there's the crippling pleasures associated with working on your boat while other folks work nearby on theirs. One afternoon, Christian, in a suit of white coveralls, a respirator and goggles, was grinding away on the red paint on the bottom. I was working on the topsides. One friend after another came by and stopped to talk, to me. I had a good long chat - about politics and sailing, two generally incompatible subjects - with Greg Coogan, who was doing serious work on his centerboard sloop nearby on the railway. I was working on the topsides. Christian carried on, but when Greg resumed his own work, Christian shut off the grinder, removed his respirator and goggles and asked, in that pointed way they have honed to an art form, "So, you going to do some work today, old man, or you just talking?"
I thought about reflecting aloud on the years of desperate toil that had accrued to my account, and upon the brief experience he'd had on the business end of a grinder, but he's heard stuff like that before, so I chose discretion. After all, there was a point to what he said. If we want to get sailing, we have to get the work done; he was working, and I was gabbing. It's a perverse pleasure of the fitting-out season.
But then there are the more pleasant jobs. For instance, bending on sail. Matthew spent the weekend to help with the boat chores, and putting on sail was fun. But, there are dozens of small tasks associated with the work, and wouldn't you know it, in preparing the mast, I had got one of the most important rigging details wrong. I had the topping lift, some rope that holds up the heavy boom, backwards, and the topping lift leads to the top of the mast. Somebody had to get hoisted up there to switch it around. That fell to Matt who, dangling in the bo'sun's chair, must have reflected on pop's muddleheadedness.
Then there's the matter of where I put all the little pieces of hardware and the specialized lines when we put the boat away in the fall. Then, I could have put my finger on each and every bronze this and Dacron that. By this spring, that treasure trove of clarity had been depleted. We were hunting in the cellar, the garage, and every nook on the boat. It takes more time to find stuff when you need it than it takes to do the stuff you're trying to do.
So, it's July. The fitting-out season has attenuated, until it threatens to consume the sailing season. Now, it's mostly cleaning. Cleaning the smelly bilge. Cleaning the mossy woodwork. Cleaning the sink and the dishes. Washing the towels and the seat covers that spent the winter aboard and smell like it. While I'm working, I've set up the awning over the cockpit, so that even in last week's global warming, it was cool and breezy, delightful really. Even though it would be splendid to get out sailing every day, it's splendid enough to clean and reorganize and sift through the remains of last season. What should be thrown out, what kept.
I've settled on a new strategy for keeping track of the boat's vast inventory. I've got a collection of plastic tubs and toolboxes from Shirley's and Ace, plus a Sharpie. On the outside of each container, I'm listing what's in it. Sometimes, there are difficult choices to make. Should the electrician's tape go in the Electrical box, or should it go into a box with other kinds of tape - sail repair tape, rigging tape, mast boot tape, Duct tape, etc.? Such an issue often requires coffee and a long period of contemplation before the most efficient outcome will be recognized.
Then there's the question of storing all these new containers. There isn't much storage aboard the boat, and all of the available space is curvilinear. All the containers are square or rectilinear. That's perplexing. Some stuff has got to be harder to get at than other stuff. Which should be out front, which squirreled out of the way in the deep, dark recesses? More coffee and sitting around will be required to figure this out. Thank goodness.