My father was an artisan. He loved craft and beauty. So much so that as a kid, if I wanted to fashion a new Laser tiller in his shop, I had to be sure to cut and drill the Montreal hockey stick and attach the PVC tube for a tiller extension when he was not around. Otherwise, while he might appreciate my logic for the weight-to-strength ratio of those laminated Montreal shafts, he would be far more concerned with why I had not chosen mahogany. And which plane was I going to use to round the edges before sanding them? And wasn’t I going to varnish it (four coats minimum, seven coats recommended)? And when did I need it by? And no, today was definitely not going to happen.
Over many birthdays and Christmas holidays, Dad accumulated enough big fluorescent lamps to turn one very long section of his basement into a perfect varnish laboratory. Practically every piece of wood on the family Menemsha 24, except the toe rails, had been modified for easy end-of-season removal to be worked on during the winter. And not just the wooden blocks or the cockpit seats and locker covers or the hatch boards would come home. Rather, the entire cockpit coamings, the entire companionway hatch and its sides, and of course the forward hatch – everything went to the basement and onto custom made stands for sanding and varnishing.
Even still, getting Phoebe Snow in by July 4th weekend was always touch and go. My mother, brother and I pitched in a lot. We would listen to Mom’s beloved Mets (or the Yankees if the Mets weren’t playing) on the radio while sanding the dreaded toe rails. The threat of having to do even more coats kept us always going with the grain, wondering why that was necessary, and asking in our heads, “Wouldn’t this go faster if we used 220 instead of 320?” It often seemed that the All-Star break might be a more likely date for the first sail. For Dad’s part, I’m sure he internally debated the value of his labor force, but knew much better than to voice that out loud.
The best month of the year has to be June: part spring and part summer, and maximum daylight. It is the month to make every evening of the local racing series. It is the month to go directly from the kid’s game to the boat and go out for a dinner cruise. Heck, it’s the month to go for a breakfast cruise before the kid’s game! I therefore vow to pick up my wife at the 6:34, with a change of clothes, food and beverages, and drive straight to the boat at least once a week in June…and maybe even two or three times a week if the weather cooperates.
You know what is a really good month to get those last three coats of varnish on?
See you on the water!