I find myself fantasizing about running away at least once a day in the shipyard.
It’s funny how quickly my worldview has focused into this one small ship in this one small shipyard in this one small town in New Jersey. I used to think about other things, didn’t I? Wasn’t I a person who read articles and had ideas that didn’t involve bottom paint or planks or ship gossip? Now I am a person who falls asleep sanding and fantasizes about watching her stories on Netflix.
A day at the Yanks shipyard begins with a thirty minute drive listening to country classics about America, beer and girls in tank tops or a radio dj duo counting down the days until Friday. When we arrive, and I swear it gets shorter every day, I take a moment and really consider my options. I could just keep walking. Would anyone pick up a hitchhiker that resembles Pig Pen from Charlie Brown?
I consider that it could be worse; it always could be worse. I love the people I work with- that’s huge. I know that it will eventually be worth it to learn this maintenance.
And that logic worked for the first two months. But at some point, I believe it fine and healthy to cast off the rose colored glasses and just speak honestly- this sucks a lot of the time. There are moments when I learn cool things and blah dee bloop but it sucks a lot too.
Days at the yard feel like this during our almost 3rd month…
Walk into the yard. Dodge the moody forklift driver who somehow is always blocking the entrance. Plug your ears when you pass the tugboat “Old Reliable” because someone is smashing something with a giant hammer and the noise is piercing. Then when you get to the office, about halfway to the boat, hold your breath because the Sea Streak ferry is getting bottom painted and that shit is toxic. This way, I am already dizzy when I get to the work site and put my bag down on the old cable spool that functions as our table. Climb the ladder. Pull up the tarps. Open the hatches. Get your job for the day- act surprised and engaged when it’s sanding. Do a bunch of bits with crew.
Sand for three hours with a 100 grit paper loosely gripped around a block until someone finally gives the idea to use the power sanders which knock it out in ten minutes. Listen to your friends listening to Harry Potter on audiobook. Wonder what you were doing for the last three hours that you could have been power sanding.Put on face mask, goggles and ear plugs. Escape into a private world. Wonder if power sanding is actually satisfying or if you are losing your mind. Decide it’s pretty satisfying either way. Feel the sweat pool up in your face mask. Hear your breath. Compare yourself to Darth Vader. Wonder if it’s worth it to remove said gear for some water. Probably not. Look up from sanding every once in awhile to make sure it’s not lunch time and someone forgot to tell you. Never. Ever. Look at the time.
Think “at least I’m not a nanny anymore.” then think- but if I were, I’d probably be at the zoo right now. Then think, like you always do, when does the character building stop? Remember vaguely the job you actually applied for…something about sailing and kids, was it? By this point, it should be lunch time.
After that, it’s probably back to sanding. Once you get in the zone, you might get called off to help plane down a giant beast of a plank of wood. Typically this involves 6 people but lately only four. Push it through the planer while wood chips blast you in the face and make their way into your underwear somehow. Laugh with shipwrights while you all hold up a one million ton plank. Pretty much standby to do whatever someone tells you to do or often, what three someones tell you to do. Listen to different projections of when we’ll get in the water. Water down the boat with a busted sprinkler so the planks can swell.
Bungle things up. A lot. I usually mess up everything once per task. A bent nail, bottom paint that doesn’t completely saturate the seams, you name it.
I’m also quite clumsy, it turns out. I’ve split my head open, power sanded my fingers, bruised my butt, gotten hit with a hammer and fallen down once. That was really embarrassing. Sometimes I wonder how I made it safely into adulthood. It’s a good ego check. I have to remind myself that there are things I am good at outside of Yanks shipyard. Then I’ll nail my glove inside of a bung hole (a real thing that never stops being funny) and think that this whole thing is an exercise in humility.
Planking is actually pretty cool. It’s like putting a puzzle together. A really heavy, splintery, awkward puzzle. I learned to drill and use an air nail gun. I like talking to the shipwrights about motorcycles and writing. I get irritated. I learn how to coordinate lives with nine other adults and coexist peacefully, even enjoyably. I learn that I better get better at being told what to do. I see how beautiful a thing a wooden boat really is. And I hope I can use this knowledge when I get my own boat someday.
It’s yard. It’s part of the experience. Intellectually I understand this. And we’ve started teaching on a borrowed motorboat so that’s stimulating. This boat hasn’t had this big of a project in twenty years and in some respects it’s cool to be part of such an intensive haul out. And now we are working two additional hours per day which is not exciting. So yard to me is lots of things that can all be true at once.
Today is my day off. I’ve had so much coffee I could probably fly out the window and coast to New York if I wanted to. And yet I stay here because I choose to. I want to see what’s on the other side of this shipyard wall. I want to be called a murderer again by a 7th grader who is horrified that I shucked an oyster in front of her. I want to ask Jorge the shipwright about his life in Greenwich Village in 1970. And I want to hide every single time the car is ready to leave for the shipyard.
The Yanks Shipyard guys have the right attitude. They asked me about our boat and I told them things were good but we still had quite a bit of work ahead of us.
“Well…Keep on Yankin.”
I guess that’s pretty good advice.