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On Living Aboard

With the temps hanging in the nineties with gooey humidity levels, I was once again thanking whomever that gave me the foresight to install a real marine AC unit, one with a water cooled evaporator. It keeps Patty O’ quite comfortable in spite of the heat. When we began this living aboard adventure it was with the thought that we would be meandering up and down the coast, with a possible side trip across the Gulf Stream to check out the Bahamas. That hasn’t happened yet for a number of reasons, which I won’t go into. Suffice to say, that is still the master plan, but for now, we’re here.

A marine AC unit has, as I have mentioned before, a water cooled evaporator with overboard discharge. This has caused some confusion from time to time with people who have never heard of this type of unit. Every year, when the AC is running a lot, like lately, there is bound to be at least one well meaning person who is sure we are sinking due to the amount of water the ‘bilge pump’ is discharging overboard. A couple years ago there was a man who refused to accept my explanation of what was going on and insisted that we were sinking. When I assured him that we weren’t, he smiled and walked away. It didn’t help the situation that Patty O’ came out of the water a couple days later so I could work on her trim tabs and swim platform. The guy walked by and said, “See? I told you, you were gonna sink.”

While doing some routine maintenance, I’d found a soft spot on a plank on the starboard side, which indicated the possibility of some rot. I had asked my friend Ritchie, the master woodworker to take a look. He came over after completing one of his perpetual rush cabinet jobs. It seems that all his customers are in a hurry, and can well afford to pay for the privilege. It never seems to bother Ritchie, he says, “Hey. They wanna pay for it, they’ll get it.”

He met me for coffee on Wednesday morning and afterward we walked down the dock to Patty O’. Ritchie looked closely at the spot I’d marked on the shear strike, the topmost plank on the starboard side. He got that thoughtful look that told me he was deep in thought.

“Did any water freeze on deck this past winter?” he asked.

I was about to respond with a sarcastic remark, but what good would that do? There had been several occasions when just that had happened, in spite of my every precaution. Clearly, my choice of winter cover has been totally inadequate, and this was the result. I resolved there and then to reevaluate the winter cover for the coming season, climate change notwithstanding.

“She’s gonna to have ta’ come out.” Said Ritchie.

“The boat or the plank” I asked. He gave me an odd look.

“Both, I’m thinking.” He said. “Have you got any of that yellow pine left from the last job?”

I know we have some, stacked away in the storage locker we rent for things too big and bulky to keep aboard, and stuff we never use but can’t bare to part with. “I’ll have to check.” I said. “If not, I’ll head over to Rhode Island and see if they have any. I’ll check the unit when we’re done here and let you know.”

I knew the Blonde would not be happy when she heard we’d be out of the water, probably for a week if I remember the last time. Oh well.

Ritchie said that he had a slow period coming up and it would be good to have something to do.

After he left, I ran over to the storage unit to check on the planks. We never throw away anything that is left over on a repair job on Patty O’. You never know when something will need attention. There were several planks stacked up at the rear of the storage unit. Yellow pine, and some good white oak as well, but it was obvious that there wasn’t any that would work for this job. Close, but unless we wanted to scarf two together, I’d be heading to the Rhode Island sawmill.

I’m sure that there are those who wonder why I just didn’t pick up the phone and call them. I tried that once a few years ago and got the following message:

“If ya want sumphin bad enough, you’ll come by. If not, leave a message and who knows? I might even get back to ya.”

The place is way back in the woods, in the north west corner of the state. This is the part of Rhode Island that most people don’t see.

The place looked pretty much the same as the last time I was there. A broken down tractor sitting where it last quit running, a couple of ratty looking trucks. One long shed, stacked with planks, seasoning. It took almost fifteen minutes before I found someone to talk to. The guy I dealt with on previous trips was nowhere to be found and a question as to his whereabouts produced a very vague answer.

All that changed when I asked about yellow pine.

“Is that long leaf ya want?” he said.

“Yup, if you got any.”

“How much ya need?”

I was tempted to answer, “As much as it takes.” But held my sarcasm. The guy couldn’t help himself.

“I’m thinking one by twelve, sixteen feet, two of ‘em.”

He tilted his head a bit to the side, much

like the way I see Ritchie do when he’s deep in thought.

“Might be. We’ll take a look.”

Following him over to a shed in back of the long one, we climbed a set of very rickety stairs. You’d think that a lumber yard could do a little maintenance. No ‘Employees only’ signs around here.

The top story of the shed was surprisingly neat compared to the rest of the yard. There were stacks of exotic wood, carefully wrapped in plastic wrap. Less expensive boards were stacked with spacers between them. He walked over to a stack toward the rear. Pulling a couple planks out he set them on two saw horses. “Howz these?” he said.

I am certainly nowhere near as good as Ritchie when it comes to wood, but I’ve had enough experience to know what I’m looking at. Squatting down and peering along the grain like Ritchie had taught me, I could see that one of the planks had a bit of a twist and wouldn’t be suitable for boat work. I pointed to the other one. “Got another one like this, and I’ll take them both.”

“What’s wrong with that one?” he said pointing at the one I’d rejected.

“It’s not good enough for what I’m gonna do.”

“Humm. Boat job, huh?” he said.


Walking to the edge of the loft, which had no rail, he cupped his hands to his mouth and hollered, “Charles! Get up here.” loud enough to be heard in Connecticut. When Charles got there, he was directed to wrap the two planks and secure them to the rack on my Dakota pickup. We retired to the office to complete the transaction.

Having no idea what the planks were going to set me back, and remembering that the place was a cash only operation, I had made a withdrawal before leaving.

The office was much like the rest of the place, except for the desk, which was completely cleared, except for a ledger book and a calculator. He punched up keys on the latter. Then, he surprised me by opening a laptop computer. Typing with two fingers, he hit enter and a printer that was out of sight purred as it printed an invoice. Resisting the impulse to gulp after seeing the price, I instead nodded and said, “Seems fair.”

I counted out the money and he watched me closely. Handing him the bills he made them disappear.

“Thanks for stopping by.” He said.

The drive back to Connecticut was a bit apprehensive as I could see black clouds of a thunder storm making up. Luckily, it held off until I got the planks unloaded and into one of the yard’s big sheds, empty this time of the year.

I would have stopped at Ritchie’s to show off the planks, but the threat of the storm made that not a good idea. I had asked Ritchie to come along for the ride, but he begged off, citing a repair on his house that Linda, his wife, had been wanting done for a while. “I’d better get it done if I want dinner tonight.” He said.

Back aboard Patty O’ I had just sat down with a glass of ice tea when my phone rang. It was the Blonde, my wife. She rarely calls from work, and I rarely call her there ether, unless it’s urgent. We usually send text messages during the day.

“Hey, what’s up?” I said. “Everything all right?”

“Nothing’s wrong, just had a minute.” She said. “I’ve got a chance to go to a conference dealing with some new CAD stuff, and I think it’ll be worth it. Besides, you did say that the boat was going to have to come out.”

“Hey, if it’s something that’ll help on the job, go for it. Where’s it gonna be?”

“Phoenix.” She said.

“Ouch!” I said. “I hope it’ll be inside!”

“Very funny. How about I grab a pizza for tonight. I’m in the mood for that.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Only thing. The company isn’t going to foot the bill. They’ll give me the time off, but that’s all.”

“That’s not an issue. Its work related, and it’ll be a good tax deduction.” I said

“Didn’t think of that.” She said. “Ok, I’ll start things moving. I just wanted to run it by you first.”

That was going to work out very well. When the boat’s out of the water for any length of time, she gets antsy and isn’t fit to be around sometimes. She hadn’t said how long she was going to be gone, or when she was going to leave, but I’d find that out and then schedule Patty O’ for a trip to the hard.

It was a simple matter to text her and get the date. It was going to be the following Monday and lasting ‘till Wednesday. That would give us plenty of time to get Patty O’ back in the water. In fact, Ritchie figured that it would be maybe a little over a day. If so, it would give me a chance to do a quick bottom massage as well, and we’d be all set until next season as far as bottom work was concerned. It looked like everything was coming together just fine, thank you very much.

We had our pizza in the cockpit. The afternoon breeze had cooled things off nicely and it was a joy to sit and watch the goings on around us.

She talked about the conference and I could tell that it was something she was excited about. I didn’t understand all the words, but that didn’t matter. Raising my glass of wine toward her, I said, not for the first time, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

“You know it, Bubba!” she said.

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