Friday, August 19, 2011

The Intimidation and Simplicity of Confidence

In my first post of this blog, (Mathias here) I gave tribute to the people who have helped me cast off on this adventure.

There is one more person I had promised to talk about. But before I introduce him, let me back up and tell you how I came to meet him.

When I bought Dolphins, a Hans Christian 33, she had fallen into neglect for a few years because her previous owner, Luther Bridgman, had fallen prey to dementia.

Luke, as he was known, loved Dolphins (along with a series of other unique boats he owned.) And he loved life. I would have liked to have met him. Stories have it that he was full of ideas, optimism and an attitude of “Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead.”

While the Bridgman family was, at first, reluctant to sell her, the boat yard manager told the family: “If there ever was a person you will want to sell to, this is the guy.” (Thank you Scott.)

I bought Dolphins, but rumor persisted among some in the marina that I had finagled a dubious deal, taking advantage of a demented man.

For the first two summers of sailing Dolphins I kept finding peculiarities on Dolphins which I just couldn’t figure out. A few people said I should call the guy who maintained the boat for Luke. This guy knew everything about the boat, it was said. But someone else told me he had a lien on the boat. The last thing I needed was another complication in the boat deal, so I avoided making the call.

By the third summer, when the boat yard manager once again slipped me the unlisted phone number of this mystery man, I made the call. I introduced myself and said I could use some help on the boat. The voice on the other end didn’t agree to help, but said he would meet me for a walk-around the boat.

Enter: Gordon Lysle.

Gordon is a tall, slim, almost angular man with a matching long face. His posture is easy and relaxed. When he walks, it is with a forward lean reminiscent of a bird, perhaps a curlew.

He has spent a large part of his life messing about in boats, practically running the ferry company in Vermont and eventually owning the Charlotte Sailing Center marina for ten years. It was in that capacity that he became the personal caretaker of Dolphins.

Until his face breaks into a rare smile, Gordon presents as scrutinizing. And that is exactly how he presented that day we met at the boat.

We talked and walked about the boat. It was up on the hard and all pulled apart from the work I had been doing. Without the cushions, the backboards were showing and in one of them, there was a round access hole to a cubby which had been hack-sawed larger in an awkward way.

Gordon stopped in his tracks, extended his finger at arm’s length toward the defilement and asked in a dead tone: “Who did that to this boat?”

Let’s be clear: It was not a question. It was the accusation of a capital crime.

Despite a stuttering start, I was able to convince him of my innocence. But what had become immediately apparent was that I was not taking over ownership of Dolphins, but I merely had the honor to become her next steward.

Dolphins still belonged as much to Luke and to her caretaker Gordon as she did to me.

Somehow, during the hour that Gordon spent with me, I seemed to pass muster. This man, who I have come to learn, doesn’t suffer fools lightly, eventually said,

“Well, I only have a few clients left but I have a bit of time left to fit one more in.”

What followed have been three years of working with a man with whom I have developed just as much of a relationship with as I have with Dolphins.

With Gordon’s help we have renovated and restored Dolphins into the fully capable and comfortable cruising ship she is today.

Wait, let me explain what “his help” means: It means, he brings aboard a small, beige canvas tool bag about the size of a toaster. I call it his “Felix The Cat bag.” If you remember the old TV cartoon, you will remember that anything and everything came out of that small bag.

While I have five toolboxes and bags, Gordon, with his one, has done all the improvements to Dolphins. Once, while we were trying to enlarge a hole to feed a wire, I thought we finally reached the limits of his bag. We didn’t have a drill bit large enough.

“You don’t have one in your bags?” he asked. “Don’t make me go into my left pocket.”

He reached into his left pocket and pulled out a uni-bit.

Sort of like a nine-year-old boy. Never know what’s in his pockets.

So, by saying “with Gordon’s help” I mean that he brings his bag, I sit by and watch as he methodically plans, draws angles with pencils, tapes off areas, drills, fits, splices, meters electrical circuits, tinkers in the breaker panel, installs a heater chimney into my cabin roof, tubes new propane hoses, babies the engine, voila’s an SSB, presto’s a new radar and custom tower, routers a new helm station complete with new GPS, and lego’s together a windvane steering system.

In short, Gordon is one of those guys who knows everything. Well, everything that involves a tool. And I mean that.

To wit, here is a man who has:
Built his own barn, (post and beam)
Built his own summer camp on an island, (complete with windvane to power it)
Rides and maintains a Russian motorcycle, (with a sidecar of course)
Drives and maintains a 1970s Mercedes 240D in pristine condition, 
Built and flies his own experimental airplane, (A Zenith CH 701 for those in the know)
Deconstructed and recreated from scratch his 20-foot center-console AquaSport,
And this past winter, to stave off boredom, built a sailing/motor dory.

When his wife is not with him, then sitting next to him in the co-pilot’s seat of his plane, or the sidecar of his motorcycle, or squeezed next to him on a Sunfish, is his beautiful and exceedingly smart golden retriever.

Gordon’s omnipotence of mechanical know-how has been both educational and intimidating for me. Educational because I realize how simple it is to do things that I thought might be intimidating. And intimidating because I realize that things which I thought were so simple sometimes require specific knowledge.

“No, you can’t use a polybutane sealant for THAT.”

Hell, I don’t even know what Polly’s beauty pane is; I just thought the tube I was holding was a sealant.

And all the while, while we are working, he chits here and chats there. Never more than a few sentences at a time. Too little talk is boring. Too much is just idle mouthing.

And it has been mostly in these in-between times – in between me handing the wrench to him and him pretzeling himself into some impossible yogi position to reach a nut, that Gordon has helped me in ways that have less to do with all the stuff he has fixed and installed and improved on Dolphins. And more because of things that were said, and left unsaid, in between all of our chat fragments. Things that made me realize that I COULD indeed sail a boat across the Atlantic and through the seven seas.

And, more importantly, that I SHOULD.

And here I am now, doing it.

But not without his continued help. In every port, Gordon continues to play Houston to my Apollo 13 voyage.

Every time I tell him, “We’ve had a problem,” he is with me on the phone or emailing from his computer, walking me through the steps of dealing with failing electrical connections, overheating engines and clogging fuel filters.

Not always easy. One time, after hours of an exasperating session of tracking down some faulty wiring, over the phone, while I reported back to him every step I was doing, he said, “I feel like I working blind. With my hands behind my back. And boxing gloves on.”

So, here’s a thank you to Gordon:

Thank you.

I know I’ve said too much. Idle mouthing. Gonna have to learn which of Polly’s stain to abuse to seal my lips a bit tighter.

1 comment:

steve said...

What wonderful writing!!