Thursday, April 09, 2009
One Bite at At Time
See what happens is this. You leave your home port after many years of preparation. The boat was at the dock while you outfitted, prepped, primped, polished, and laid in fifty cans of diced tomatoes. Then you left the comforts of home and started cruising. Which is great, mind you, but cruising is hard on the boat. Mexico is really super dirty. Children and cats and husband notwithstanding, it is fair to say I could be down here on Don Quixote all by myself and the boat would be covered in grime from bow tip to stern step in grime within a month.
And did you know the ocean is salty? And full of sand?!
Every day you live on your boat something gets worn down, dinged, scratched, or a little dingier. Every day the salt water gradually eats away the finish on the metal shiny parts, and the Mexican dust scrapes away at the plastic buffed parts. One day the dinghy oars scrape down the side of the starboard hull. Another night, the cat gets hold of a rug and tears it to shreds. Two weeks ago, every thread on the sail cover decided to simultaneously self-destruct in a puff of reinforced DB-92, sun-resistant dust. The electronics randomly quit, not always permanently but more or less in a fashion to render them useless as reliable tools. The sail locker builds a layer of mud and ocean gunk which ripens in the hot sun to a stench that rivals the kitty litter. Your children forget to use a cutting board one day and leave scratches on the counter top, your husband doesn't wipes his hands when changing the oil and leave stains all over the stairs. A pin box explodes and scatters pins everywhere which subsequently rust leaving long pin-sized shadows in odd locations in the cockpit like the outlines of murder victims etched into the white fiberglass floor.
The only way to combat this inevitable, inexorable process is with an equal, sustained maintenance effort. Every day, a little here... a little there. But no one does this the first year. Actually, there are a few who do. Beach Access does. His boat looks new. I don't know anyone else in their first year of cruising, however, who has managed to get anything constructive done this season, let alone set up a regular, consistent maintenance schedule which fixes as much as the cruising life destroys.
No... we're all dreadfully far behind. The world is fast destroying our floating homes. We're watching them literally shake themselves apart under our feet and now that the end of the first season approaches, panic is starting to set it. Because frankly, there is no effing way any human alive can catch up. We're in the 14th week of a 16 week semester, and we haven't read any of the course list. We talked the graduate assistant into giving us a passing grad on the mid-term then downloaded 95% of the contents of a mid-semester paper. We can barely remember from one day to the next what time the class meets. With two weeks left, we have to master the economic and political history of Western Europe from 1600 B.C. To 1950 A.D., and we can't remember if the Black Plague came before Joan of Arc or after the invention of the printing press.
Except it's worse. This floating monstrosity is not only our home; It represents roughly 50% of our net worth. With the market for yachts presently about as active as the market for the toenail clippings of dead fat white guys, we can't sell the boat to pay off debts, revert to a land based life, or otherwise escape the nautical trap into which we dropped our sorry asses. Cruisers who fail to adjust to the reality of their self-destructing floating investments, lose them. The boats sink. This is not a metaphorical literary device to induce sympathy. It is a literal truism.
I'd rather not go down with the ship, so after hyperventilating, screaming in my pillow for an hour, and indulging in a good cry, I set us up with a schedule. The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. The way to get Don Quixote back in trim is to do a little bit more than a little bit every day. Just as we spent nearly a year not doing enough, we're going to have to spend nearly a year doing just a little bit too much. Mathematically speaking, this should result in a fine cruising vessel with functioning equipment and decently maintained deck by roughly this time next year.
It's a start. We can not afford for this renewed maintenance energy to go the way of similarly well-intentioned New Year's Resolutions. It's okay be fat and drunk. It is not okay to be fat, drunk, and sinking.
Editor's Note: After writing this post, DrC and I got a super deal on a boat cleaning in La Cruz. All the crud was gone in a spasm of work by the fantastic team of Remington and Crew. All hail Manuel Labor! This allows us focus on the real "fixer upper stuff" for the next few months instead of cleaning cleaning cleaning.