POSTED: Sept 19, 2020
En Plein Air is an old wooden boat and the two key words here are old and wooden. There are lots of jokes out there about a boats just being a way to dump money into the water, and while that is somewhat true with new fiberglass and other composite boats, it is very true of old wooden boats. Now for those of you who come to this website often you will know that on the electrical and mechanical she is absolutely state of the art using a hydrogen generator to drive a super quiet electric engine but the rest of her, what everyone sees, is pure vintage boat. Vintage here I will translate: high maintenance. But keeping her up is part of the relationship, so we carry on.
When we were at work with various bookings most of them involved a sail, so she would get out to clean off part of the hull on a regular basis. But not this year. Other than our crazy dash to north Africa, and Cape Verde and back to Malta we have been at rest in Malta. The above water line stuff, largely on the deck, I keep up fairly well, on a rotation of small sections of wood that is tidied up and gets new protective coats, but the hull is a different matter. While it is a bit less of a problem when in use, regardless of getting for a nice good run in the ocean the buildup on the hull is relentless. It is easy to take her out under power on a calm sea for a little outing but a real sail is something we have not done in months.
Part of the problem is that this is not a nice boat to sail alone or even with two people. Modern boats are amazing in their ability to be handled by two people easily, but one like this I have seen Captain Sven, and Captain Ciara handle alone but its not pretty and at one point I had to do a run alone and that was just foolishness.
So the guck on the hull was starting to get to both of us. Partially because both Ciara and I love this old boat, and partially because in these stressful times we start to project out to the future with nightmares of eventually two inches thick of dense guck killing this creature we have been entrusted to look out for. This is not the only thing that troubles me when I think about the future but it is one that I am reminded of every morning when I get up and look over the side. When Jim and I discovered our same medical problem many years ago we challenged ourselves to be more like the other – him more laid back and me with a bit more focus on the future. Well, thanks a lot Jim. Now I think about the future, which I never did before, and Covid has put that into hyper-drive.
So when two talented lads with hull cleaning gear came by to ask if we would like to get the hull cleaned for fifty euros for each of six guys I jumped at the chance.
Where we sit is in a marina that is adjacent to a real shipyard. There are power hookups and pump outs, and showers and picnic tables and grilling units and some fire pits and laundry facilities. Everything is well kept and clean but not luxurious. In the office there are some basic services and for a fee we can do scanning and faxing and they have a pretty good wifi that covers most of the marina. And what’s nice is that adjacent to it is a real shipyard so in the event we needed a haul out that’s there, if needed. So it’s a nice set up but this is a marina, not a yacht club
So these two enterprising lads had spent their summer off university doing hull cleaning. One of them has an uncle with a big live-aboard trawler that in exchange for cleaning his hull once every six weeks gave them a snuba system. If you have not seen one of these it’s a pretty cool rig that has an air compressor that sits on a small zodiac with long air hoses to feed multiple regulators so “divers” can go down to about 30 feet with an unlimited amount of air. You are still tethered to the zodiac so for experienced divers I think it would feel freakishly restrictive but for applications like this it is fantastic. So they bring as many other guys as the size of the boat warrants. For En Plein air they brought an extra four. These two guys do the underwater cleaning with big waterproof oscillating brushes (think electric toothbrush’s for dinosaurs) while one fellow mans the zodiac, and gets them whatever they need. Two other guys sit on semiboyant “chairs” in the water cleaning the waterline that gets the worst of it, and one fellow is running around on the deck and at times at the water getting the other guys gear and repositioning things
It was pretty impressive to watch, but I was spending my morning prepping for lunch. The deal I had with them was the pay of course but they had said they could probably have it done by 1:30 or 2:00 if they started at 7:30 and I had said I would serve them lunch and then we could all go for a sail and really give En Plein Air a chance to run. All six of the guys are sailors.
So what do you feed six hungry guys after working for a “stretched” morning? Fresh homemade pizza. With one oven with three racks in I could do three pizzas at a time and at 450f the oven time is less than twelve minutes so in doing seven large pizzas it was all about the prep.
I sometimes make my own dough but not often. Most good ports will have places to buy a prepared fresh dough and I just put my time into the toppings. These days I don’t use peperoni but have opted for turkey kielbasa. The veggie ones are sundried tomato, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and capers but in each case lots of herbs and a nice drizzle of olive oil and a brushed oil edge and sitting on a scattering of corn meal.
I have had a long relationship with Pizza. When I was a teenager, just a bit younger than the guys working on the boat, a number of us worked at a pizzeria called Cicero’s in Ottawa, Canada. The term worked is one that involved one or two of us with shifts and the rest of us hanging out in the place much like those leeches at Starbucks who arrive early with their laptop and buy one tiny coffee and stay all day at “the office”.
Eventually all but one of us were not only fired but were also banned from entering the place. I think the guy who ran it was partially upset with the decline in business as the general market conditions for “real “pizza as in the early 1970’s frozen pizza at the supermarket was a simple way for busy parents to cook dinner and a lot of people stopped being prepared to fork out the extra cost for something edible.
The following summer three of us worked for one of the guy’s dads who had a signage shop. We came up with the brilliant idea to make decals to put on frozen pizza boxes as a bit of a prank. I can’t remember how many we printed but we were able to sneak most of them onto the frozen pizza boxes for sale at our local grocery store.
There was a little trouble with the grocery store owner, and with my friends dad for misusing the decal machine, but it was sufficiently funny at the trashing of the quality of frozen pizza at the time that the fellow who had Cicero’s eventually forgot the ban on us and we could go back to buying pizza there and even hang out a bit.
Ah, but back to the pizza at hand.
With the range working at such capacity I did not have a way to heat the plates which is unfortunate, but Ciara had enough chilled beer on hand that the guys were happy.
The six lads did a great job but both with us, and working together they had to be reminded about the two meter rule and none of them had masks. Over lunch we had a bit of a glimpse of their perspective on this pandemic. At least two of the guys saw it almost as a joke, and only one took it at all seriously. Everyone saw its potential to harm but at ages like 19 to 22 they all found it hard to really respect the power of this virus.
Only two of them said they had any real conversations with their parents about the future which seemed strange to me until I remembered the inane conversations about movies or sports I would have with my parents instead of anything meaningful. Every day is a new one for them, and the vision of the future is more focused on what they are doing right then, or that night, not the years to come.
Both Ciara and I are painfully aware of how this virus could strip away a year or more of what are not a lot of really active years left. That idea that when shared, came as a major epiphany for these lads.
Because we follow these covid protocols pretty literally Ciara had planned for our afternoon sail to be based on a “station” style where each person doesn’t move much from where they are “stationed” but with this bunch that all broke down but at least they gave her and me some space.
This post might not be as interesting as some, but for both Ciara and me it was a significant day. We watched some hard working lads do a great job, cleaning away the guck on the hull and cleaning away some of our anxiety with it.
En Plein Air had a good run that afternoon and we came away with an understanding of how this current pandemic is (not) affecting some people, while most people over a certain age are totally anxiety ridden, almost incapable of performing basic functions and waiting for the end of the event to come.
It reminded me of two similar situations at two very different times. Janice had a military dad who was seconded to the U.S. military (from the Canadian Forces) and they were living in Key West during the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis. All the school kids were told that if they heard the sirens to get under their desks and to stay there until someone told them to come out. They did drills for this regularly.
The other situation was related to me by a woman I have gotten to know in recent times. She is about ten years older than me and shared that when she was a little girl during the war her father was a scientist and they lived in “The Secret City” of Oak Ridge Tennessee, and her father was one of those scientists working frantically on “The Project” -what we now know was The Manhattan Project. At the schools in Oak Ridge they told the kids (even really young kids) that if they heard the sirens they should immediately run out of whatever building they were in and up into the wooded hills surrounding the town, find a large tree and to hide behind it facing away from the town. They were told that when it became safe again someone would come to get them.
So like everyone else right now, most of us over a certain age once again are under the desk, or behind the tree, holding our breath figuratively and literally. I don’t know who that someone is – a smart millennial at Oxford or Harvard or in Mumbai or Beijing who finds the path out of this, or maybe the someone is us individually in our behaviors, or our collective selves in respecting others?
But getting the task of cleaning up the hull completed, watching these young guys truly love the pizza and beer, and reminding us that perhaps one day at time is ok at times, was in itself a way to dial back the anxiety.