Autumn In The Yard
For those of us who live above the Mason-Dixon Line, autumn is often a favorite month. The air turns crisp, the leaves change color and float earthward in sad pirouettes. The drier air is invigorating. In backyards and vacant lots, kids play football two-on-two. For the boat owner, it’s not the best of times—having to put your baby away under a shroud…in a kind of mortuary with antifreeze in her arteries.
And yet it is the brevity of the sailing season that makes us appreciate it all the more, makes keen our awareness of the transitions, makes ritual of mundane tasks, like hauling the special boat ladder out of the garage and lashing it to the car top carrier for the ride to the yard.
There’s no mistaking a boat ladder, what with its foam pads or cotton rags taped to the ends so the boat’s topsides are not marred; and the length of short stuff tied to the top rung so the ladder can be made fast to a stanchion. You remember how you learned this trick…the time you came out of the cabin, moved to the side deck and were about to take the first step over the side when you realized the ladder had blown down…and there it lay, 10 feet below! Do you jump, call for help or spend the night?! In the end, you hung by your nails over the side for long moments before dropping into the dirt, rolling like a paratrooper. You felt foolish and took consolation only in not hurting your back…you are, your spouse reminded you, at that age now.
Autumn in the yard you see friends you haven’t seen since last spring. Not your best friends, but acquaintances, good persons with whom you share this pastime. And it is not just the sailing, it is very much the boat, too; and these moments in the yard…watching the Travelift operator guide the slings under your boat, buying a cup of coffee in the yard store, talking to your neighbor about how he likes the new Acme 500 he installed this season. He thinks of you the same way you think of him: a yard neighbor with whom he’s cordial, halfway interesting, but not entirely his type, and at days’ end you each get in your cars and drive separate ways.
When you haul early, there are invariably nice weather days during which you second guess your decision. You envy the visible sails on the water. When you haul late, you work in cold and rain and you vow next year not to wait until after Thanksgiving. An autumn gale can make you righteous.
The work itself is not particularly fun. Changing the engine oil is the worst because the water pump hose must be removed from the seacock, which is buried below the engine; there is oil on it and you don’t really know what to do about it. Then you have to stick the hose end into a bucket of antifreeze and have someone in the cockpit start the diesel, which bangs and vibrates and the alternator belt seems dangerously close. The antifreeze disappears quickly and you scramble to pour more into the bucket, fearing that if you miscalculate a new engine will cost you ten grand. When your helper yells that the exhaust water is pink you yell back to pull the stop handle. The engine does indeed stop, shudders and wheezes like a shot animal. You breathe a sigh of relief. It is done.
Mildew is a concern and you may remove the cushions for storing at home. In a large garbage bag you collect all the half-eaten boxes of cereal, crackers and potato chips; the unused soda cans and beer bottles are piled into a sturdier canvas bag. You are tempted to leave them aboard to savor during your occasional winter visit, but they tend to pop when frozen.
At last you reluctantly climb the companionway ladder, slide the hatch shut and fit the lock. Climb down the ladder and lock it to the cradle or stands. At the car, you take a look back. Pretty boat. You’ll miss her. Time to head home. Hey, the game starts in 30 minutes!