Sunday, December 09, 2007


In the Greenport boatyard with golden December light & long, slanted shadows. Corrugated tin outbuildings loom in rust, greys, beige. My hands had nearly reached their tolerance limit for exposure to cold air while photographing the skeleton of a wooden boat on a trailer when a man with a large, black-crusted scab on his lip came over. “That’s someone’s overambitious dream,” he stated in a voice that sounded like a ventriloquist’s. After we studied the keel & chines, then noted the extremely low water line painted in yellow, he pointed out that the screws originally used weren’t bronze & were therefore gone from the gaping battens.

The boat, we agreed, nevertheless had a fine shape—beamy, said the man, who introduced himself as C___. He backed out of the camera’s purview, admitting that he felt strange about his banged-up face. No longer with the time to restore boats, he renovates houses instead. Recently, in a hurry to complete a job, C. moved a ladder in the dark & failed to notice a caulking gun hanging from one of the rungs. Its direct impact cut him clear to the inside of the mouth as well—hence the stiff speech. He chose not to go to the hospital, though, because they’re liable to stitch you up tight the way they once did his eyebrow. “See? I look like I’m perpetually surprised. Perpetually surprised!” he said, feigning severe amnesia & indicating the right brow, which was indeed set higher than its mate.

A scattering of scraps lay on a table next to the slip where C. keeps his fiberglass-hulled sailboat, among them a rectangular piece of wood with circular drill marks in cookie-cutter pattern. “Those are bungs. You can also call them plugs. That’s teak; I got it off ___’s old wooden boat—you know, the big blue one right by the entrance. I also made a railing out if it. You can have it if you want.” He added that the plugs (which are glued atop countersunk fasteners in planking) should taper slightly, while I commented that the chunk of wood was like a mini sculpture.

It’s generally accepted that the wise old boatwrights are mostly gone now. So who will teach the craft to the next generation?

C. laughed at a recent memory. “I was reading Wooden Boat magazine—the last issue had a feature on plugs, & the two guys in the article, well, they were both doing it wrong. I mean, I know these guys—I like Brian—but they were promising to demonstrate how the experts do it, & here he doesn’t even know how to make a bung.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vivid, touching. Makes me think of Larry McMurtry.

December 11, 2007 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger A Kite Rises said...

Words used like a paintbrush, bringing the boatyard scene to life in subtle yet powerful colour. Beautiful.

December 11, 2007 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger kookaburra said...

[blush, blush]

Photos to accompany this small tale tomorrow, so you'll have some real colour then!

December 11, 2007 at 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This essay is like many articles in The New Yorker--I was pulled in by the grace and skill of the writer to a subject I know nothing about.

December 12, 2007 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger kookaburra said...

Are you all being paid to write these nice comments? Come on, confess!

December 12, 2007 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Christine (CA) said...

A wonderfully graceful piece.

April 12, 2008 at 10:20 AM  

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