Fall and Spring Boatyard Fever

Fall fever is in full flush here on the Northern Neck of Virginia. The local people call the cruisers heading South either the “come here’s” or the “snowbirds.”
Last evening, I saw Spray for the first time in five years. She is a Dutch-built steel hull. I first anchored off her in Annapolis in 1999. The owners, Hans and Marianne, became cherished friends, as we both wintered in Annapolis that season. They decided to sell her, and it next went to Bob and Bonnie, also cruisers I knew. So imagine not seeing her in five years to come across her at Krentz Marina and now owned by other friends who I have not seen in four years, Krina and Lutz. Ended up joining them aboard for dinner and a three-hour gam.

Cruisers are the fascination of the people who own boats but seldom get them underway. While cruisers are busy each day working on the smallest details of their boats preparing them for a season of steady use, weekend boat owners only seem to think about three systems: their toilet, air conditioning and stereo.

Yesterday, I removed the full boat cover and have been stripping, sanding, varnishing and wrapping the ends of lines. Next week, after launch, will be changing oil and filters and tracing electric lines for an intermittent failure of my bow lights.

Now that the Annapolis Boat Shows have passed, a stream of yachtie’s flows like ants into the marina every day with someone taking a day off work to decommission their boats. Backs bend with the weight of mattresses, seat cushions, sails, batteries, life rings, Dan buoys, cardboard boxes, charts, outboard motors, foul-weather gear, books, buckets, inflatable dinghies…

It is the opposite of the spring arrival—from mid-March in the Northeast, shadowy figures can be seen through the canvas-covered boats. It can be oven-like under these covers, even though summer is three months away. By April, the pace of work accelerates as more owners appear, pale but determined to have their boats in the water by Memorial Day.

In the fall haul out or spring launch, the humble ladder becomes the hottest property in the boat yard, and, I can tell you, it is guarded over as if it were gold. Around April, but seldom in the fall, the family makes its first appearance. The little ones play hide and seek among the propped-up boats and some practice their knots over lunch. Up in the cockpits, fathers resemble squirrels on alert as they endeavor to simultaneously bolt on the new compass and keep an eye on their children.

The shrill sound of power sanders announce the arrival of the wooden boat owners. There are also the young couples smiling at each other with buffing cloths and fiberglass polish, thinking all the time about how wonderful it will be snuggling up with one another, talking into the night with only starlight.

As the sun broke over the horizon this morning and I was enjoying my first cup of coffee, I was thinking that once Siskiwit gets to Florida for this winter, I will not get to share in the fascinating weekends of spring. The consolation is that although I have to do regular maintenance on the boat, I no longer load and unload the contents of the entire boat each fall and spring.