Mussel Men

Friday, 1/19/07. The Victorians are winning; Bill Gates is not. Friday, day two, I try to activate my mobile office on the Whalen, but Outlook 2000, age 6, wont work. Neither will my Nikon D1X, about the same age. The pump on the graving dock, age 156, works fine, so does the WWII-era gantry crane, and the 1938 Whalen is holding up pretty well. Enough said, but that’s why posts are running late, I can't get data in to get posts up, and this seasoned photojournalist is reduced to making photos with a cellphone.

Back to ship issues. A shipyard experience is about expecting the unexpected, the uncertainty is only of degree, “how bad will the news be?” I hold my breath. PortSide hasn’t done any fundraising to pay for the boat yet, so we are limited in what we can do now.

Friday, I begin to deal with the revelations of Day One. Thursday afternoon, Ernie, the yard supervisor for Dry Dock 1, had phoned “hey, you have a hole in your forepeak right above the hawsepipe!” I go to the bow. Sure enough, the ballast water is shooting out of the boat. How had I missed that hole before? Clearly, the anchor had once pressed into the steel as if it were Play-Doh. The old girl won’t be going coastal for a while, I think to myself, so a hole that high up isn’t the worst. We’ll fix that ourselves out of the yard where rates are cheaper. Next!

Boyfriend John Gladsky, marine salvor and Steel Archeologist, is scowling around the bottom and dubs the prop “a tulip.” That would be an over-ripe tulip; each of the three flukes is bent back. Well, she’s currently dead ship, and the engine, if repairable, is not an immediate priority… I figure we can be towed when we visit other communities… next!

I check the pump room engine room that shares a bulkhead with the forepeak. Aha, another surprise: there’s piddling from a valve near the deck, an old crack from freezing damage. Thanks to the interim potbelly heating system, I’ve got lots of wood aboard and I shave off slivers, add some toothpicks to my quiver of repair tools and head forward. The wood will swell up nicely once wet. I hammer it in, add a cap of weatherstripping and bind it all with duct tape. It’s dry in 20. Lovely

Below the boat, a crew of ten sheathed in duct tape and rubber clothing is removing the mussel beard. The blue crust comes off too easily in places—a crustacean peel with the weight of the mussels pulling off a sheet of steel scale. I wince. We need that steel.

The workers are all Hispanic. As often happens these days, I’m glad my father was from Spain. I can converse with the work crew better than the supervisors who use broken Spanish and hand signals. Amongst themselves, the workers communicate in high speed Spanish or a series of whistles. The dock rings with whistling all day. Jorge, supervisor of the mussel crew, points out another leak. Water is coming down out of the forepeak! Ouch. This ballast water is proving a useful diagnostic tool.

The state of the steel will get assessed in waves; and money, or relative lack thereof, shapes the work plan. Charlie Deroko, the marine surveyor and I will work around GMD’s schedule. If we make them stop work, we pay a lay day fee for the day. Blam $750! If we time our work for a weekend when they are not working, then no fee. Stage one, Charlie Deroko will give the boat another round of audio gauging, basically a sonogram of the boat, and, yes K-Y jelly is used. A touch of the grinder to clean off the rust, a smoodge of jelly, and then the sensor is applied. Charlie spent two days surveying her last January, and concluded that the boat was not about to become swiss cheese. If she had been, I wouldn’t have bought her. She’s to serve PortSide, not the other way around.

Stage two, sandblasting will reveal other flaws once the blistered steel and loose coatings fall away. Done with a heavy and slow hand, sandblasting can also churn a new hole in the boat, so I’ll be watching the crew.

Charlie has illness in the family and cancels survey work for Saturday. Soon after that Ernie stops by to say that he has to check for lead paint, that’s done on every boat now, DEC regs, he says, and the lead testing team can’t make it until Monday. My friend Debby Romano is there to loan me a point n shoot digital camera. She asks all the questions which net long answers about tonnage of blast grit and costs of hazmat disposal; I just hold my breath. The yard won’t blast the boat and risk dispersing old lead paint until they know what’s on the hull, so GMD is doing nothing on the Whalen this weekend.

Debby leaves. I call John Tretout of Amorica, the go-to man for marine paint in New York. “Ah, don’t worry,” he says, “if there’s lead we’ll just encapsulate… give her a wash and then extra coats of paint.” I don’t like this. Her scabrious, neglected waterline needs more than a wash. She’ll look like dreadful without a blast, and the coatings won't hold as well

With that, and given that Saturday is my birthday, I decide to get off the boat. Also, I’m tired thanks to my rusty stove-tending skills. I haven’t used them much since the oil crisis of the 70s (I was a teen). Then, Mum, newly divorced, struggled to make ends meet, so we skimped on heating oil. A Franklin stove, a coal-burning potbelly. We didn’t need Carter to tell us to lower the thermostat. Well, that was long ago. I smothered ­the fire after banking it Thursday night, and woke at 0230 with cold rasping my nostrils. I spent an hour and a half rebuilding a bed of coals and arguing with Outlook. Enough to wipe out a girl on Friday. Saturday is gonna be a day off…