You know the one. Nearly every boatyard has a ‘work-in-progress’ tucked away somewhere. Likely it’s something unique or uncommon, a boat with character. Usually it’s old, often but not always wood. In most cases it has suffered declining or misguided maintenance in the hands of previous owners, or else it’s been abandoned altogether, and now some optimistic (delusional) soul is undertaking a stem-to-stern restoration. Passers-by pause and shake their heads as they study it with a mix of awe and sympathy. They politely mumble, “but it’ll be beautiful when it’s done,” and then back away as though this condition might be contagious.
For years I’d I sailed a lovely little gaff-rigged catboat. Unfortunately, due to a fear of capsizing that I may have ‘accidentally’ instilled in my husband when we first met, he was not a fan of sailing. In fact, getting him aboard my boat was like pulling teeth and most times I sailed alone or with our daughter. Once she left for college I was single-handing and silently dreaming of something with more cruising capabilities. Sitting among the ‘death-row’ derelicts at the boatyard where I worked was an abandoned 32’ Cheoy Lee trawler. True, she was a powerboat, but if I ever expected to cruise my choices were a stinkpot or a divorce. She was sturdy, full displacement and single screw with a deep, concrete-ballasted keel and a massive rudder. But she needed serious work, the sort that strains wallets and relationships. For years she’d been in the back of my mind… until one fateful day. My husband had stopped by during lunch and we walked along the river’s edge. He looked over, noticing the Cheoy Lee, and said, “You know, if you didn’t have your sailboat we could fix that trawler up.”
In the end we didn’t wind up with that particular boat, though fate paired us up with a sister-ship. She needed work as well, though in theory she wasn’t supposed to be quite so much of a project. In theory. You know how it goes: that little drip is never truly little and each project reveals several more lurking unseen. Where you draw the line is another post entirely, but for the last two years we’ve remained on the hard, watching the ebb and flow of boats around us as we toil away. In that time I’ve come to realize that restoring a boat is much like writing a book. It starts with a dream, but that’s not enough to see it through. At the far end of the boatyard a collection of boats sit silent and forgotten. Long ago each had been someone’s pride and joy; now they remain as lonely reminders of abandoned dreams and failed aspirations, much like manuscripts in a desk drawer.
Be it a boat or a book, if you want to see it through you’re going to have to work at it. There’s an order to the plan of attack: first you make sure everything in the hull or the plot is structurally and mechanically sound, then build out from there. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Everything takes longer than you can ever anticipate. Both undertakings involve a significant investment of time and sanity, none of which you can ever hope to recover. You’ll be met with looks of confusion from those who don’t understand what you’re doing or why, and it’s not even worth trying to explain. Odds are neither the boat or the book will make any financial sense, but when it’s all said and done that’s not what really matters. People will see the end result with no idea of the perseverance it took to reach that point. It takes a certain ability to see beyond the work to the potential, to press on in the face of adversity even while all seems endless and hopeless, knowing in your heart that it will, indeed, be beautiful when it’s done.