Last week I helped my husband copper paint the bottom of our troller. It’s an annual job that I hate more every year I do it. It’s smelly, messy, sticky, and dirty. The worst thing is that it’s awkward to paint the underbelly of a boat when you don’t have much room to maneuver. You’re crouched down under the boat as it sits on a slab of cement that is still wet from the tide going out, so you don’t get on your knees. Now twist around with the roller full of copper paint and roll the paint onto the hull above you. Don’t let your head brush on the hull. Copper paint isn’t fun to get out of your hair.
This photo shows the boat hauled out of the water onto a parking lot. It’s much easier to work on a boat here than on a slab of cement near the shore.
We didn’t go to the shipyard this year, but used the grid (cement slab) instead. This means waiting for the tide to drop until the boat rests on a slab of cement near the edge of the shore. Once the water level drops enough, we can work on the boat while the tide is out. It’s always a bit of a race to finish painting before the tide comes back in.
I’m adding this bit because I’ve been asked about the ending. I was a mess by the end of the day. I felt I hadn’t worked this hard since last year at this time. I moaned and groaned and went to bed early.
It was that kind of situation that my character, Andrea, had to deal with when she helped Jim work on his boat in my novel, The Wind Weeps.
Excerpt from The Wind Weeps
Jim looked me over and scowled as I approached.
“What?” I asked. “Something wrong?”
“Yeah. I thought you were going to wear your worst clothes.”
“These are them.” I raised my arms up and dropped them limply at my sides.
“You have no idea, do you?”
I felt my face heating up. He shook his head and climbed up the ladder that was tied to the side of the hull. Above me, in the wheelhouse of the Serenity, I heard him moving things around, and moments later he came back down the ladder. “Here.” He tossed me a bundle of clothes.
The coveralls were way too big and I had to roll up the cuffs of the legs and arms. They covered me completely, but the crotch was down by my knees. They made these things to fit giants. Oh well, it wasn’t a fashion show.
Jim looked at me and laughed. He climbed the ladder again. This time he brought a pair of gum boots down from the boat. “You’ll have to put these on,” he said. “Those dainty runners just won’t cut it. We need to work on the bottom as soon as the tide goes out far enough to expose the hull and that often means standing in a bit of water. Anyway, even at dead low tide, it’s mucky down there.”
I was embarrassed to think how unprepared I was. I stuck my feet into the boots and put the runners on the cement retaining wall beside the boat. The boots were huge. I clomped around in them struggling to lift them with each step, hampered always by the low crotch of the coveralls. I felt hobbled. I took a deep breath to renew my determination. “So what would you like me to do first?”
“You can do the power washing of the hull. Have you used a power washer before?” At my shake of the head, Jim sighed. “No, of course not.”
He went up to the shop at the top of the beach and got a coil of hose. He tossed it over towards me.
“Go attach the end of the hose to that tap over there.” He dragged the power washer to the side of the boat, attached the other end of the hose to it, and set the machine on the retaining wall.
“Turn on the tap,” he said. “Now watch carefully.” He started the gas engine on the power washer and showed me how to run the wand back and forth to clean the boat.
“Okay, I think I’ve got it,” I reached for the wand. “It looks pretty simple.”
But Jim didn’t hand it over. He picked up a block of wood. “Watch.” He held the nozzle of the wand a couple of inches from the wood and squeezed the trigger to start the spray. Seconds later he stopped. “Now, see that?”
I nodded and tried to remember to keep my mouth closed. “Wow! It sure chewed a hole in that wood.”
“That is what I do NOT want happening to my boat.”
“For sure. I’ll be really careful.”
“Stay a good distance away from the wood and don’t stop and spray one spot for too long.”
“Got it.” I reached for the wand again, but Jim pulled it away out of my reach.
“And another thing. Don’t ever forget that the pressure in that spray is strong enough to chew up your toes right through your boots if you’re careless about where you point the nozzle. Think of it as a loaded gun. And don’t ever point it at a person—or yourself.”
I gulped and finally took the wand from him. I’d come to help and it seemed all I was doing was making more work and worry for Jim.
The power washing turned out to be fun though. I loved the way the gunk flew off the hull with the powerful water spray, leaving the wood so clean. Green sludge and hairy seaweed were forced to loosen their grip on the wooden planks. I got all the higher parts done first, and as the tide ebbed, I was able to crawl under the boat’s big belly where a few barnacles clung stubbornly to the underneath parts. I stepped back to admire the clean surface from bow to stern. The rusty burgundy of the previous year’s copper paint had soaked right into the wood.
“It hardly seems to need painting,” I said. “It looks so pretty the way it is.”
Jim crawled out from the cramped space where he was working near the bottom of the hull on the other side. “It’s cleaner now, but without a new coat of anti-fouling paint, it would be covered in weeds and barnacles in no time. Can’t afford to have any teredos latch on and start digging into the wood.”
“What’s a teredo?”
“It’s actually a kind of clam but looks more like a worm. They call them shipworms. If they get into the wood, it’s bad. Like getting termites in a house.”
“Oh, no wonder you have to do this copper painting then.” Now it was starting to make sense to me.
Jim nodded. “I’ve got the zincs replaced on the far side. I’ll trade you sides.”
“Yeah, okay. Why do you have to put zincs on?” I know I sounded like a complete idiot, but I wouldn’t learn if I didn’t ask.
“Electrolysis would eat away the metal parts of the boat, like the propeller, the rudder, and the nails that hold the boat together. I put zinc bars on for it to eat instead.” My face must have had a blank look as I tried to understand what he was talking about. He waved me off. “Never mind. Too complicated to explain. Trust me. They’re needed.”
I made a mental note to look up electrolysis. “Wow! You sure have to know a lot of stuff to run a boat. I used to think you just had to get aboard and steer.”
“Yeah, I can see how you’d think that.” He shook his head as if he was barely able to tolerate having me around.
“Guess I left myself open for that one. But you know, we have things back East that maybe you don’t know everything about.”
“I’m sure,” he said, rolling his eyes and turning away.
I picked up the power washer wand to get back to work. I could see Jim was running out of patience with all my questions. Way to go, Andrea. You’re too stupid for words. I would just have to show him I could do a good job and impress him that way.
I held the nozzle at the distance he had shown me and began to wash the far side of the hull. Sticky, stinky copper spray flew everywhere. As I glanced down and saw the condition of the coveralls, I realized what Monique was talking about when she told me I’d have to throw away my clothes after doing this job. I concentrated on the planks and cleaned them one by one. I felt all-powerful. Barnacles, mussels, and green slime—gone with one pass of my magic wand.
A long lump was sticking out between two of the planks, so I held the nozzle a little closer to get it out. Just a quick zap. The lump was a bit stubborn so I gave it another quick zap. And another, and another. At last it was starting to come off. God! It was a long one. Must be one of those teredos Jim was talking about. Well, he’d be glad I found it and got it out of there. I blasted it the whole length of the plank until a long piece of it plopped onto the ground. I laid down the wand.
“Jim! Come see this. Get a load of this teredo I found.” Since I had gloves on I didn’t mind picking it up to show him. When he came around to my side, I held it up and he looked shocked, just like I figured he would.
He turned pale and stammered. “Wh-where’d you get that?”
“Right here.” I pointed to the space between two planks.
“Jesus Christ!” he yelled. “Didn’t I tell you not to get that nozzle in there so close?”
“B-b-but I had to get it out of there.” A stab of fear went through me.
“God dammit! You are the stupidest broad I’ve ever met!”
“I don’t understand.” I could feel tears welling up. I blinked hard so they wouldn’t spill, but it was useless.
“This is the caulking between the planks. It stops the water from getting in. Oh, Jeezus!” He threw down his wrench and stomped off in the direction of the shop.
I sat down on the retaining wall and stared at my boots. No, not my boots—Jim’s. My chin quavered as I fought to hold back more tears. I clasped my hands together between my knees and wondered what to do next. Should I get out of these coveralls and go home? No. I wasn’t a quitter. I had really messed up, but I had to make it better or I’d never live it down.
For more of the story, read The Wind Weeps.