Brighter Days Ahead

Spring commissioning is in full swing aboard the Karen Marie these days. The boom cover is getting stitched up, spare parts are on order and cluttered cabinets are starting to see some semblance of organization. On the list of chores to tackle this year is to refinish the topside brightwork, a project that has been underway since we first bought the boat 2 and a half years ago.

The toe rail—the wood trim around the perimeter of the boat—was first on the list, as was the companionway hatch and handrails. Constantly exposed to the sun and salt water, these sections need varnish for protection from the elements, but they’re also some of the first things people see when coming aboard. I typically don’t mind doing brightwork; the sanding and varnishing are mindless tasks that require only time to do correctly. Pop in your headphones and off you go.

This year Clark Boat Yard packed the boats in like sardines, requiring me to sand the rail while straddling both mine and my neighbor’s boat. I’d like to say I channeled my inner Michelle Kwan and nimbly sanded the toe rail down to bare wood. I’d like to say that after years of practice I applied the varnish with the brush control of the great Michaelangelo. I’d like to tell a lot of lies, but since my grandma reads this blog, I’ll confess: I haven’t been able to touch my toes since 2010, and as far as being nimble; I might as well have been wearing cinder blocks for shoes. And brush work like Michaelangelo, I was more like Picasso.

I’d be reaching down with my left hand to wipe up spilled varnish from the hull while my right hand was spilling more into the cockpit. It was a mess. It really is no wonder why sailors get such a bad rap for their foul language. Part of the reason for this mess was trying to finish too much in one day. Rush and cut corners when it comes to woodwork and the results will show clear as day.

Karen and I would go down to the boat again on Sunday to finish the job. With the extra help, I’m happy to report things went much smoother. After I would sand a section down, Karen would follow up with a rag and paint thinner, cleaning up the dust. While I varnished the outside of the toe rail she tackled the inside. Funny thing, I didn’t hear her curse once. With a tag-team effort we finished up at a respectable 2:00, with enough time to get back to Connecticut and enjoy some of the day.

The good news after all this is that I learned to not be a hero and recruit an extra pair of hands when possible. The bad news? Karen has a whole lot of varnishing in her future.

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