This admission of guilt comes with requisite red-faced shame.
Friday I was over at my mom’s, where I keep my boats. She’s got a two-car covering and I have only a single, which my truck sleeps in.
Anyway, I got to looking over my runabout. It’s not like I don’t see it just about every day, sitting there under a tight gray tarp. I started building it, you may recall, in 2001 and launched in May of 2002, a 15-foot replica of a classic 1940s mahogany outboard runabout such as the ones made by Chris Craft and others.
Three years ago, I kinda lost interest in it. I was going through some stuff, I guess, and the price of gas got so goldurned kooky. In fact, the registration had expired in 2005. Sometime early last year I did get interested in it briefly and in a weekend flurry of energy, I removed the back seats and floorboards, dedicating that area to fuel, battery and cargo. I never was happy with the performance with four people aboard so I converted it into something of a little "roadster," a two-seater and in a pinch someone could ride in the back on the bottom battens.
That was about it. She needed a little work on the lower unit of the 1958 Mercury Mark-55 40-horsepower engine, but I promised I’d do that later. I never did.
So I got to looking at it, and I felt bad. She was sitting on a trailer, tire flat off her port bow. Feeling shamed, I went and got some fix-a-flat in a can stuff, but when I tried to inflate the tire, it just spewed out the side. I examined the other tire: Though marginally inflated, dry rot had taken its toll on both.
I decided to take the tires off and have them replaced, but one of the lug studs had separated from the wheel hub somehow, and I couldn’t get the nut off. Frustrated to the point of insanity, I rolled the thing to my house on the flats…it’s only three doors down, and I took it slow!
The old girl was dirty and full of carpenter bee gunk. They had begun to bore into the deck framing! The embarrassment continued to compound itself like a fly-by-night credit card company’s interest rate. I grabbed a spray bottle of Simple Green and a buncha rags and got to work.
In an hour, I had her pretty clean and shiny. The chrome still needed polishing, and I hadn’t crawled under the deck yet to clean out mud dauber nests, but she looked much better: Proud, long bow, elegant in her lines, a gentleman’s boat, I thought, though a gentleman would have taken better care of her.
My neighbor came over and remarked how well the finish had held up, and like a big dummy, I couldn’t remember if he lived next door or not when I built the boat. When I asked, he kinda gave me a funny look and said sure he did. Hours later, as I was cleaning under the deck, the Simple Green fumes must have triggered the old synapses in the brain and I slapped myself in the forehead with the bottle for being a dummy. Not only did my neighbor live there at the time, he coaxed me into the launch, came with me for that first run and took pictures, along with my other neighbor across the street, of the whole monumental occasion! I apologized to him later that weekend, admitting that I suffer from CRS…Can’t Remember Stuff.
Chagrined, I went in the house and got online with Wildlife and Fisheries and renewed the boat’s registration. Then I set to work removing the front floorboards and redesigning the seats so that they mount directly to the longitudinal battens. I always felt like I sat too high in the boat, and my knees were in the way of the steering wheel. Hopefully, this will clear up some room. I also didn’t like that I couldn’t see under the floor boards. The boat has never leaked, but should it ever do so, I want to know, pronto!
Later I polished up the chrome, which did a lot to make the old girl sparkle again. I got to reminiscing about driving her up and down the bayou, her nose lifted just over the water like a fine runabout with a semi-planing hull should, the old Merc chattering on the back like only an old Mercury outboard sounds. Nothing else in the world comes close to that sound.
I still need to get her a new battery and get that lower unit repaired. I pulled the wheels off after cutting the bad lug off, then pulled the hubs as well, since they need new grease seals and I’ll have to install new lugs and new tires on the rims. The trailered boat is now sitting on jack stands under the garage.
While I was testing the new seat design for fit, I remembered suddenly what I wrote in this column that spring five years ago:
The boat squatted under the sudden power of the engine and the nose angled upward. The stern wiggled a little bit as she tried to get her sea-legs. The prop churned great boiling swells in the water. Then, as if she suddenly realized that this was what she was made for, that this was her true element—not the building form in the garage nor the trailer on which she was carried—the boat leaped forward, nose still up, and the engine roared as it, too, seemed to catch the water and push mightily against it.
As we accelerated, the wiggle in the stern ceased, and the boat dropped her nose, low on her haunches now, and we sped off down the bayou, throwing a rooster tail behind, parting the black-green water as we went slicing through it.
I doubt I’ll ever forget that moment. In the midst of the sheer glee, I realized that I had actually done something. This concoction, this conjuring of wood, glue, screws and dreams had a life at last. She glided over the water, straight and sure, and did all that a boat is supposed to do. I had done something, and I didn’t have to take a socially acceptable, government-stamped and accredited class to tell me how to do it. My pains and tribulations had culminated into this.
I don’t know how I had forgotten that feeling. Too much clutter in between, I guess. Too many ringing phones, clocks on the wall, deadlines and obligations. To much concrete and steel, chatter and LCD screens sowing tumors in my brain, making me lose things in dark corners, until I stub my toe on them and the pain sparks remembrance.
And I realized I had never named her. I felt an even greater sadness for that. I had bandied about a number of names over the months before and after she was launched, but never could settle on one.
I still don’t know what she’ll be called, but it has to be something akin to Forgiveness. Or maybe Second Chance. Whatever I decide to put in vinyl letters on her transom, within a few weeks I think we’ll take to the water again. Because, after all, as Ratty said in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, "There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not."