Thank you to everyone who submitted a story to the nonfiction portion of the Winter in the Bay writing contest. Today, we’re reminded that we live on the ocean, as Ian Hay and Jim Carwardine describe the joys and challenges of maintaining a wharf and restoring an old schooner.
You can still submit your nonfiction essay of 350 words or less or your fictional short story of 2,500 words or less anytime for sharing. We will post those stories here once all contest entries have been published. Let’s keep telling our stories of the Bay!
Wharves and Slipways
When I first visited my home, a misty picture showing the house in the early years of the 20th century hung on the wall by the door. It showed a cluster of small fishing sheds, wharves and simple shingled homes crawling up the hill behind the church. Sailboats swung at their moorings in the foreground while small workboats could be seen dragged up on the skidways at the beach. Today, one wharf and skidway remain, slowly succumbing to decrepitude and neglect. Every winter ice gets into the cribs, wreaking havoc as it moves with every tide. Floating docks and engineered moorings have all but eliminated the need for the rag-tag coastal infrastructure of years past, but there is something enchanting about these rough, spindly characters.
I wanted to understand the structures for myself, so I began mending a derelict wharf. I cleaned up the rotted pile of wood and debris that had accumulated in the cove. I piled logs and pulled nails, scrounged hardware, and sorted stacks of material. I even made myself a small deck out of the good lumber. It was satisfying work – I felt I was learning.
I came to recognize that these activities were once ubiquitous; annual mending of wharves when things were broken or amiss. Breaking ice from the pilings and cribs, hauling out wayward flotsam that threatened to crush boats and mire gear.
I especially look forward to my daily inspections in winter. I push snow off the deck, chip ice from the piles. I love walking the shore at low tide, pulling frozen mats of seaweed away to reveal bone-white logs poking through the sand, evidence of bygone industry. I imagine myself standing here a hundred years ago in the pre-morning light, shoveling slush and shoring up the gangway. Just like today, neighbors would have gathered on the beach and shared stories, congratulated and coveted one another’s success, talked gossip. Just like today, when things broke, they lent a hand. These structures tie me to my adopted community, they remind me I am home.
Ian Hay illustrated his story with Kathy Boutilier’s “Manuel’s Fish Store and Wharf, Peggy’s Cove, 1920.” To read Kathy’s inspiration for this work, visit the Winter in the Bay online gallery and click on the image of the sketch.
It’s More Than Just Fixing a Boat
Perhaps we are crazy…
If I take my own experience this winter in restoring my 90 year old schooner, the Glen Dora, there are several compellingly interesting aspects regarding her history, her builder’s story, other boats made by the same builder, other documentation of the boat, talking to former owners about what they did for repairs, how she sailed, did they have any photos they could share, etc. Then there is the actual restoration – most of the historic materials are not available paint, putty, seam compound. The new materials don’t work on old wood as the old wood has soaked up oils and other waterborne contaminants.
The paint is a case in point. The old oil based paints—alkyd paints—were banned from household use because of their VOCs. But…alkyd oil based paint still exists but it’s called metal paint and the makers are prohibited from saying they are the old paint. I had to make my own linseed oil putty and seam compound because it isn’t made any more.
Then, there are the old tools – caulking irons, hand drills, galvanized parts, learning the old methods of using materials and tools, adapting modern tools to old uses, learning from the old folks as you expand your network of experience, documenting that experience as you talk to them and learn it myself—I have many videos of the skills and techniques I have learned as well as errors I have made.
There is connecting and adding to the various forums on wooden boat building, maintaining and sailing. There’s the local history to learn, There’s the family connection where descendants have inherited stuff and stashed it in a closet 40 years ago. There’s also new connections to be made with those descendants. There’s historical locations and activities that may have been overlooked over time. Then there are the stories you uncover.
This is not an exhaustive list. The learning still goes on…
Then we go sailing…
Jim Carwardine chose Debbie Smith’s acrylic painting “Winter on the Bay,” to illustrate his story. To see Debbie’s inspiration for her painting, visit the online gallery and click on the image.