Archive:  Year 4 - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 "Lights and Tunnels"

It’s after midnight and I find myself in a place all too familiar these past weeks.  Exhausted.  Covered in drywall and bilge water.  In a blind panic regarding budgets and deadlines.  Yearning for the sleep that, even if it had washed over me hours ago, wouldn’t be nearly enough…  

It has been six weeks since I tore up my first corner of carpeting, and exactly one week until ‘Sweat Equity’ shoots the final episode of my renovations.  The 30th is the day I am expected to be (gasp) completed with this massive endeavor.  It has been hard and unpredictable, but overall – one of the single most satisfying hurdles I’ve had the pleasure of leaping.

When I updated here last, it was almost exactly 4 weeks ago.  I was in the midst of lifting the floor – a none-to-simple process, even in a house that can’t sink.  There were two issues that made lifting the floor and getting to the hull an important part of the process:  Firstly, the floor was bad.  It was bowed in some areas, sloped towards the wall in others, and just generally betrayed a need for attention.  The second issue lifting the floor addressed, was my complete ignorance of what lied beneath.  

Before seeing it, I knew only in theory where my fresh water holding tanks were located and what condition they were in.  I suspected that my sewage holding tank was located somewhere between the head and the bow but only knew for certain where the pump-out was.  There are blue prints and schematics for boats, of course, but that is one of the most wonderful things about them – they evolve.  The Road had two previous owners to me – one installed the kick-ass stereo system that allows me to rock out equally at the helm or in the galley.  And another who laid lovely new floor and carpeting – covering and eliminating every hatch that was built in.  Who knows what else had been done…

Once the sub floor was removed, I saw the guts of The Road staring back at me from some decades of darkness and spider infestation.  It was a stark moment to see my most treasured and necessary thing - that which I hold in an almost magical status - suddenly laid bare and her working pieces in plain view.  Like seeing your dad get nervous...

There was good news and bad news to be discovered.  I already knew that the stringers, support beams that run along the fiberglass hull from bow to stern, were not in good shape.  They were weak for sure, a knowledge that made me leery of taking The Road out on the River for the duration of the summer.  How bad it was, however, was anybody’s guess.    As it turned out, the stingers were weak, even broken in a couple of spots, but repairable – not as bad as it could be.  The primary concern suddenly was, how do we repair and strengthen them; and how do we secure the new floor on top without stressing them further.  

Capt’n D suggested the solution might be to buttress them.  This involved running long, 1”X4” planks along each stringer, sandwiching them between newer, stronger boards.  Ultimately the idea has worked beautifully, however, we had an initial frustrating setback when our idea to adhere the pieces together with Liquid Nails failed and we were forced to use bolts instead.  A couple of days and some money was wasted, products had to be returned and exchanged… it was at approximately this point in the process that I started to love to hate Home Depot.  

The bolts worked, however, and after a few long days and nights of simultaneous puzzle-solving and heavy lifting – the stringers were strong and the new sub floor was as level as a thing can ever be on a boat.  

Phase two, the walls and windows:  Like with the floor, I was already aware of how short of perfection my walls and windows were.  In the head, for example, during heavy storms, rain water would occasionally pour in like a faucet…  It was quickly pumped out by the bilge pumps, but a hole in a boat is not something one ought ignore for long.

Each of the five windows in the cabin were removed, cleaned, re-caulked, and re-installed.  It took about three days, and several exemplarily helpers, but we did it and without injury.  What water had come in over the years, however, had left it’s mark and each window also had a significant amount of plywood framing that also had to be removed and replaced.  

And as long as you’re there, how about those pipes?  The pipes that notoriously freeze in the depth of Winter and leave me both hugely inconvenienced and in fear of their eminent bursting.  A full day was spent insulating the pipes and the walls behind them.  In one area, however, where the wall did not expose the plumbing, I drilled a hole to reach them, and promptly hit the pipe, putting an unmissable hole in it.  My nightmare.  The water has been off for weeks, so there was not an immediate emergency, but I could feel my eyes dilate and my pulse quicken when I absorbed what I had done.  The pipe.  I put a hole in the fucking pipe.  Shit.  Shit.  Shit.  

A friend coo’ed me back to rational thought - ‘… this isn’t a big deal’,  ‘… you can fix it”, “… this stuff is bound to happen”.  Days later, he proved to be right and the injured pipe was soldered and back to only moderate inadequacy.  

So there I was, a month into a 7-week project, working on it hard every available minute, and I’ve only just moved on from the fiberglass hull and exposed wiring.  Glad as I was to have the structure taken care of, my heart sank at the prospect of how much more there was to do.  

Equally heart-sinking is my blatant lack of understanding and overall handiness.  I really don’t know what I’m doing.  Up to this point, I haven’t had the slightest shred of responsibility for the structures I’ve lived in.  I recall, five years ago, giving myself a genuine self-congratulation for changing an air-conditioner filter in an apartment I rented.  Guh.  

Throughout renovations, what I have done aboard The Road has been the result of a kaleidoscope of contributions.  Many times, it was Capt’n D and I shoulder-to-shoulder staring at a web of unexplainable, nautical functionality and getting a proper boater’s education. Tragically, however, Capt’n D is not available every minute of every day - having a job, a family, and river duties that call him out for days at a time. Often, Capt’n D would come aboard and explain what I needed to do and what to expect.  He’d loan me the tools, give a few warnings and then see to his life. 

As much as part of me just wishes that all of this was done, and that the hard stuff could fall off my shoulders – I can’t deny the thrill I’m getting from standing back, seeing how much She is improving, and knowing that it is being done by my hands.  

But certainly not my hands alone.  Good god.  On occasion I have spent days or nights working totally alone – MPR and Grace to field my attention.  Most of the time, however, I am joined by a collection others who have thrown themselves into this with only my meager offerings of Jimmy Johns and Jameson to compensate them.  

And, god bless ‘em, most of them were theater and film majors.  

Which is not to say they don’t know anything about construction.  George, for example, one of my best girlfriends, single-handedly supplied me with a lesson in drywall, a few of the key tools to execute it, and a long night of dust-coated labor in bad lighting.  Rhiannon, a singer-songwriter who currently works for the circus, came down two days in a row, after work, and in a dress to do more hauling, measuring and sawing than I’ve seen in my life.  Melby, a film shooter and editor, ratchet strapped endless drywall and plywood to my car AND hauled it down a plank over open water…  To even suggest that I am doing this alone would be criminal.  

I am, in fact, doubly lucky in the sense that I also have a few bona fide experts on my team.  Amy Matthews, who hosts ‘Sweat Equity’ and has literally built houses all over the world, comes down on a regular basis with her state-of-the-art tools AND a six pack of beer.  Chris Gorecki, professional faux finisher and muralist, spent three hours aboard last week while I was at work, painting my new walls to a textured gold that has been dropping jaws ever since.  If time allows, he may also be painting a map of the River from the head waters to the Gulf of Mexico on my ceiling.  He can even make it look aged and textured like an old map with holes and imperfections…  

This all on the heels of what has been a fantastic experience with the furniture design students from MCAD.  The eight students in the Environment Design class first came aboard on August 24th.  They saw me, the Boat and the whole task-at-hand for the first time.  One week later, on the 31st, Amy and I went to the college to see their design boards.  

It was no less than mind blowing, and if only I had money and space unlimited, I would have green-lit the lot of it.  They had sketches, fabric samples, dimensions and floor plans.  Having met Grace on their visit, one of them designed a footstool that doubled as a doghouse.  Another, an L-shaped couch to fit in perfectly along the port wall.  Complete with big drawers underneath and lights along the bottom.  There were vanities, under-counter stools, hidden bars and hanging shelves… It was with some self-restraint that I didn’t bawl like a toddler or hug them all in uncomfortable gushing.  

As it stood, considering the limitations of time, space, and budget, we came to a conclusion on three specific pieces.  The L-shaped couch, the footstool that converts into a bar, and a vanity I am affectionately knick-naming “Transformer”.  This thing wheels around; holds wigs, make-up and hairdryers; and can be folded down into a comfortable ottoman.  I have gone back once since seeing the designs and got to watch some of the construction, which was wild.  The pieces should arrive and be installed in a mere five days.  I’m a-twitter.

In the meantime there has been a mountain of other stuff to do, of course.  I can say, without hesitation, that I have never even noticed a cabinet until I was intending to buy some.  I’ve heard the phrase, “oh what lovely cabinets” in my life, but I don’t know what the hell that means.  It’s a shelf that hides the stuff you cook with. 

And suddenly I find myself in the third store of the day - from big-box to remnants - holding a tape-measure and at an utter loss.  And as well-intentioned as they may be, the average ‘Home Improvement Professional’ doesn’t understand boats.  

“Yes, this will work, a wall can hold it.”  They’ll say.

“My walls are 2” thick.” I say.

Blank stare.

“Your floor plan is wrong here.” They’ll say.

“Where?”  I ask.

“Your stove is too small.”

“I have a small stove.”

“No stove is that small.”

“I live on a boat.”

Blank stare.  

“Is this mold-resistant?” I ask.

“Sure.  How wet is your basement?” They ask.

Blank stare.  Small smirk.  

Today, however, felt a lot like victory.  I put down the last plank of laminate hardwood last night; and this afternoon the cabinets had doors AND legs.  For a quick, but encouraging second, I saw Her in her new skin and was spurred by it.   

Tomorrow I’m picking up my sink and pedestal for the head, selecting trim and toe-stops, and rehearsing for a show I open at the Mystery Café on Saturday night.  

Good work is good. 


Galley Before and after.     


Stern View: Before and after. 

Next Post: October 6, 2009 "Blood, Sweat and Equity"

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WATCH THE FULL EPISODE of Sweat Equity featuring me and The Road:  First aired - DIY Network, 2010.  © Dawn Brodey 2012