At Large: Haul-out

I don’t think there is an annual moment when one takes a week to make a personal assessment. There ought to be.

There may be moments when one looks around at the wreckage and disrepair of a year gone by, shrugs, and staggers on. But, I don’t mean those sorts of mercifully fleeting moments. I mean an occasion when one stares unblinkingly at the deterioration that a year has wrought on one’s plans, one’s ambitions, one’s treasury, and one’s own sorry carcass, then calculates the toll, rolls up the sleeves, and puts things right, or at least as right as the natural course of things allows.

New Year’s Day is a possibility. You know, the resolutions, the sloppy sentiment, the sense that with the new year, everything’s fresh. But, the track record of permanent effects resulting from resolutions made at New Year’s is poor. No one feels very well, and who has the energy to make big plans when one has such a jackhammer headache.

April 15 is another possibility, but that’s all about trying to defeat the taxman, who has his own very detailed calculation of the condition you’re in, and he wants his generous piece of your action. You may not know what happened to all that money, but he does. You may not have made an unflinching analysis of income and spending, but he has.

But, if you happen to have a boat, big or small, there is a perfect, inescapable annual moment for assessment and repair. That moment is now — spring. It’s time to haul the boat out of the water, set it on the land where you can get in touch with all its parts, including those that are hidden most of the time, to see what wind, weather, water, tides, and your own occasionally monumental stupidity have done.

Slime, grass, and barnacles have taken hold on the bottom. The paint on the sides is cracked, and what’s worse, the errors you made the spring before in preparing the hull for painting have endured. The rouge and blush you hoped might disguise all the dings and scrapes have washed away. The varnish is utterly missing in places — many places. She looks, and you feel, a long year older.

On the other hand, if you are lucky, and at times I have been, no planks will be popping off, water won’t be rushing through the seams, and another year afloat may be assured with the application of some sandpaper, putty, paint, and varnish. And, most important, the haul-out means that nothing is hidden any longer. You know where the soft spots are, where the blemishes reveal themselves, where the accumulated dents and scratches of years announce that the old girl’s got some age on her, but with your diligent help, she’ll totter on.

And, if you’re even luckier, one of the boys you’ve grown expressly for this purpose will be on hand to scrape and sand and paint. You are reminded that it was real foresight to have fed and clothed those boys, knowing that, as the years have passed, you would accumulate some leaks and wormy parts yourself, and need the help.

Besides, getting together with one or both of the boys to do the scraping, painting, cleaning, mending, chivvying and general boat-keeping work is pleasing beyond words. And anticipating the fun that will follow the work is pleasant too.

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. 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. During the annual haul -out, your life is on the line.

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.

Back in the water, the work becomes less onerous. Bending on sail. 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. We can set up the awning over the cockpit, so that it is cool and breezy.

Even though it would be splendid to get out sailing every day, it’s splendid enough to haul-out, to clean and reorganize, to sift through the remains of last season, and look ahead — to know that nothing is hidden, everything is attended to once more.