Reinforcements Arrive

Wednesday, 1/24/07

0630 Charlie Deroko, no lie-a-bed he, calls with his punch list of steel to repair. He tells me he’s taken almost 300 audio gauge readings on the boat between last year and this. He knows the bottom.

0930 smoke emerges from a forward vent. This is interior paint smoldering from heat on the exterior of the hull. Freddy, a very conscientious burner, is removing the snaggletooth remains of bow fenders long gone. “Weldments” Ernie calls these steel chunks, which always reminds me of a potential Altoids slogan.

0940 Joe Smallarz, a supervisor in Dry Dock #6 shows up, eager to see the Whalen. He provides the name of someone who may have parts for the Whalen’s cannibalized engine. I continue to hope some retired engineer will show up and adopt parts-hunting as a project.

Joe Eckhardt, the chief estimator, arrives for a walk through of the proposed steel work. I love Joe. He’s been working this harbor a long time, knows his stuff, and is a taut, old school man of few words but I think an appreciation of this endeavor shines through. Joe even knows what those weird long wasted bands of steel near the stern are. “An old way of attaching zincs.” How old? “Forty years or more.” Amazing that they survived this long.

1100 I have a chat with Guillermo, a compact, formal Mexican knicknamed “Machine” because he never stops moving. All the other workers have taken off for lunch, but he’s still tidying up the dock. He’s proud of his progress picking up the place, and well he should be. The last shipyard tenant here, known by some in port as Eastern Testicle, left it a mess. Despite the dock’s landmark status, the last occupant blasted dents in the granite, welded fence to a gantry rail, broke the top of the gantry crane and more. Machine is clearly all about work. He has lived here 14 years, and lives in Sunset Park, but has never heard of the Mexican funfest in Red Hook where the Mexican baseball league, and Latin American soccer teams and food vendors make Bay Street hum on weekends.

1200 reinforcements arrive. Karen Dryland, whose father Alf Dyrland, was captain from the late 50’s to the late 70’s, and her husband John Weaver are coming to help clean up. Sooo welcome. The accommodations are a mess. The sandblast dust pushed its way into the boat, some of it shot up the galley sink pipes before I put saucepans over the drains. A weekend of slush has carried the larger grit through the cabins. Dried mud is everywhere. I’ve been too busy to finish washing dishes, a slow process that requires boiling water in the unheated galley, and a sink full of dishes sits covered in frozen suds. Karen will tackle the galley, and John will shopvac the cabins.

Despite the mess, I feel things coming together. I’ve bounced back. I was so exhausted the day we arrived. I’ve re-mastered my firebuilding skills and carved out some domesticity in a world of no plumbing or central heating. I now know how much steel work there is to do, and there’s money to cover it. I can breathe. And in that space I can reflect on how GMD is doing.

Things feel good. The senior staff like the boat, and seem to like the effort to save her. They are impressed with her condition “we’ve seen worse in working boats.” They are allowing us to penny pinch and bring in our own steel, and they’re willing to take the time to give me estimates as we go along so I can match work to funds. The Hispanic crew clearly likes my being able to discuss the work in Spanish. Ernie, the dock supervisor, is really on top of things and totally supportive, and a kicker to work with. And this historic dry dock is a grand, handsome place to be. It wows all the visitors. I appreciate all this tremendously, especially given the brush we had with another yard, a lower bidder, who didn’t do right by us in the end.

We lost five months waiting for them to book us. I agonized during the wait but am now hugely relieved that they’re not doing the work. Everything feels right here. Actually, in retrospect, the wait served us well, thanks to the generosity of the free berth and support at American Stevedoring. What felt like a hiatus then I now see was time to get more in tune with the boat, to pull off some large proposals, and to give some very popular tours of the tanker in the Red Hook Container Port during openhousenewyork weekend. Right now, I could wish for warmer weather, but otherwise wouldn’t change a thing here.

1330 smoke curls up through the fidley grating. Freddy must be burning off those weird long steel pieces. A firewatch is set up. Power cords and water hose snake through the fidley. Blowers blast air down the cowl vents to push the smoke out. More mess and racket.

Karen plugs on behind the closed galley door. She calls me in excitedly about an ashtray. “It’s Norsk tin! Maybe my father brought it… well, maybe not. There were lots of squareheads (Norwegians) aboard then.” Her father emigrated from Norway; she explains the patterns to me,. I’ve made it a rule to not discard things on the boat (except the girlie calendar in the kindling bucket) until I know what they are or might mean. I’d admired the ashtray but had no idea the provenance. Karen and John are great to have around-- not only because they are helpful and fun-- they have such personal associations with the boat and are eager to share them. Alf died in the late 90s, but they have all his papers and have begun pulling them out so PortSide can compile some history of the boat, her crew, and her service. John has been emailing me excerpts. I now recognize Alf’s foreign handwriting in some moldy logbooks I found hidden under the drawers of the captain’s bunk.

1500 Freddy knocks off the hotwork and the day crew begins to pull out.

1625 Karen and John leave and I rush to tidy up and leave. Painting will start tonight, and I’m keen to avoid that smell. Another night off the boat.