It’s early March. The boatyard is gray and empty, with few signs of life… that is, aside from the raccoon tracks all over my decks. It seems some enterprising creature discovered by climbing the beams in the shed they could step across to my anchor and slip aboard. From there it was a simple matter of pushing in the screen in the forward cabin port, down the bookshelves, across the bunk and up to the galley, where ultimately they discovered that single bag of stale pretzels I’d left aboard as emergency rations. I can’t begrudge my uninvited guest their meal, especially since aside from the pillaged bag of pretzels there was no other damage, though I’ve lowered my anchor a few feet so it no longer provides a convenient gangplank for the four-footed bandit.
There are a few other signs that life is returning to the yard. The ice has receded from the river and crews are prepping the yard boat and the lifts. Docks are going back in. A cover or two has been pulled back and a lone extension cord snakes across the gravel. Next to the office, between melting piles of grungy snow a few crocuses have broken through the soil. Within weeks this place will be bustling with energy as boats shed their cocoons and the warming air is filled with the smell of solvents and fresh paint. The hum of sanders and the whine of the travel lift will drone from morning till night as boats move from the yard to the docks.
It’s a busy time, but a good busy. It’s a time to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen all winter, to catch up on life as you get things in order for those summer days ahead. There are those familiar faces, the ones that return year after year, though often I know them only by the name across their boat’s hull. There’s the older couple on ‘Fairwinds’, working away on that same boat they bought back when the kids, all grown and on their own now, were little. The fishermen with ‘Reel Good’, eager to launch early for the annual striped bass derby. And there will be new faces; there always are. The group of young friends with a scuffed up runabout preparing for a summer of waterskiing and wakeboarding. The retiree, proudly acquainting himself with that dream boat he’d worked years to achieve. A young couple ambitiously tackling a tired old sloop. We watch, realizing they have no clue where to begin, but what they lack in experience and knowledge they more than make up with enthusiasm and energy. And there will be missing faces and boats that sit untended, and talk of who became ill or passed away, and then you realize how little you truly knew about those people you’d known for years. But at least, looking back, there is a sense that the time spent with them was time well spent – laughing, swapping tools and stories, sharing drinks and dreams.
In this age of shopping centers and central air-conditioning, people have grown isolated. Modern life has fallen victim to its own success. A house in the suburbs with a big backyard and a driveway full of cars has created neighborhoods of commuters who rarely see and barely know one another. There was a time when societies flourished on communities working and building together, helping one another out. I suppose this is a big part of what I enjoy around the boatyard: that sense of community has not been lost. While there may be a diverse range of boats and owners, there is a certain unity. Backed to one another, transoms become porches and docks are communal sidewalks as we all pass one another while we come and go. People pause to stop and chat. A lifted engine hatch will immediately draw queries of “Everything all right?” and “Need a hand?” Friendships are forged as we sympathize, commiserate and assist, even if only to offer a cold beer. And I suppose that’s what I enjoy most about spring within this little village of eclectic boats – that promise of another season among friends, both old and new.Indeed it is. At least, in a manner of speaking.
UPDATE: Over the coming days I’ll be doing some updates/housekeeping here on this blog. I know some of my older posts have missing photos, and there are a few things I’ve written in the past for Write on the Water that I’d like to share here. I can only assure you that this is the start of much more. But in my usual cryptic way, I’m not going to elaborate on that just yet.
Stay tuned! (And thanks for hanging around this long — your patience will be rewarded!)