Adventures with Parnassus!

PART II - My Brilliant Career

By: PeaceRiverBP, 4:42 PM GMT on June 30, 2006

My Brilliant Career II (again, with apologies to Miles Franklin, author of the real book My Brilliant Career)

I emerged from my broken marriage with dashed hopes and a shattered heart, but I had no time to sit around and feel sorry for myself. My ex-husband had promised me that I’d never see a penny of his money, so I had to find a way to support the household. I had been delivering newspapers in the wee hours of the morning to add the family’s income, but it didn’t pay enough to cover all our expenses, and besides, I needed to change my schedule so that I’d be working while my young daughters were in school.

I started putting out feelers in boat yards and marinas to see if I could find a job in the line of work that I was born into and educated in. My father had been a commercial fisherman and built boats in the back yard and I had a vocational certificate in Marine Repair and two years experience in a well-known boat yard. I was soon hired by a newly opened boat yard that was owned by Ollie Johansson. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.) He was just a few years older than I was and his expertise was in yacht racing. He knew painfully little about actually working on boats and he seemed to be a little short on gray matter, as well.

I was hired as a ‘finisher’ which meant I painted and varnished the boats. Ollie started out giving me detailed instructions as to how he wanted each job done, but there were times when I knew what he was asking me was just plain wrong and even detrimental to the boat. I’d have to tell him that why it wouldn’t work. We’d argue back and forth a bit, but Ollie was my boss, so in the end, he’d insist and I’d have to do it his way. After he saw the results of ‘his way’ a few times, he relented and then he’d just tell me the end result he wanted and let me get there on my own.

I think his wake up call came when he wanted me to caulk the seams on a sailboat that just happened to belong to my insurance man. Ollie wanted me to use a hard caulking, but because this was a wooden boat, I knew that when the boat hit the water and the planks began to swell, the hard caulking would pop out and then the seams would be wide open and the boat would probably sink. I patiently explained why I should use a soft caulking, but Ollie would have none of it. So, I did as I was told. A day or so later, I had an appointment with my insurance man and he cheerfully asked how his boat was. I cringed and blurted out the whole story about the caulking and told him what was likely to happen. He just laughed and waved it off. The next week I received a phone call from my insurance man, still as good natured as ever; “I just wanted to tell you that you were right! My boat sank!” There are some times when I don’t want to be right. “Oh, I am SO SORRY!” I apologized. “That’s alright!” He chuckled, “ It sank at the dock and I instructed Ollie to let you fix it right!”

Ollie wasn’t the only one at that boat shop who had less than professional ideas about how work should be done. Several times, I’d be working on a boat that was up on blocks in the yard and while I was busy, I’d hear scuffling under the boat and think nothing of it. Until I moved and the boat would tip over because an idiot had stolen some of the blocks to block up another boat! Once I was aware of what was going on, I’d listen for sounds under the boat and spring up like a jack-in-the-box when I heard the scraping of the blocks being dragged out from beneath the hull and I’d yell; “HEY! PUT THOSE BACK!” And the culprit would sheepishly return the purloined blocks to their original positions.

Once, Ollie gave a broken wooden boat part to an employee and told him to make another one “just like it”.... so the guy made another one just like it.... broken exactly the same way. Another guy was doing fiberglass work and accidentally sat in a puddle of wet resin. Despite that he was warned that he should change his pants, he ignored the advice. You guessed it. The resin dried and his pants were fiberglassed to his butt. I never found out how he got his pants off; he never came back to work.

Ollie had a maddening habit of mulling everything over as though his life depended on it. When I’d finish a job, I’d ask him what he wanted me to work on next and he’d stand there; “Errrrr.... ahhhh.... ummm .... well..... hmmmm.... let’s see.....” for quite some time. He was so famous for this that when he went on vacation and his foreman was running things, I approached his foreman for instructions and he outright admitted that he wasn’t sure it was his place to decide which boat was next. “Well,” I said, “ Since Ollie isn’t here and I need someone to decide, pretend that you’re Ollie.” The foreman’s eyebrows went up, but he was agreeable; “Okay! Errrrr..... ahhhh.... ummm.... “

One day, Ollie sent me to work on a customer’s yacht that was being stored at a big marina. I was sanding and re-varnishing the bright work, a job that would take several days. While I was working on the boat, Ollie showed up and arranged to have the boat launched while I was still onboard. It was almost the end of the day, so Ollie hung around and at five o’clock, he stood on top of the fixed dock, called a bulkhead, where the yacht was tied up and announced; “ It’s time to go home now!” I had been so immersed in my work that I hadn’t noticed that the tide had gone out and now the top of the bulkhead was about two feet higher than the top of my head. “Okay.” I said to Ollie; “so how do I get off this thing?” “Jump.” Ollie replied. I looked around. Even an Olympic athlete couldn’t make that leap. “Ollie,” I began, “There’s no way I’m going to make that jump and it’s April so it’s too cold to go swimming,” if I didn’t succeed that’s what I’d be doing, “so think of something else!” Ollie assured me that it was an easy jump and I was just as sure that unless I sprouted wings and was able to fly up, I’d never make it. We bandied “Jump!” “No!” “Jump!” “No!” for a short time and finally I firmly stated: “Ollie! The bulkhead is about 7 feet straight up! If I miss, I’m in the water and I’m not in the mood to go swimming!!!” Ollie relented and squatted down, holding his arms out over the water; “Oh, alright. I’ll catch you.” I was incredulous. “What?!” “Come on,” Ollie motioned me forward, “Just stand on that stanchion and jump to that ledge and I’ll catch you and pull you up.” I looked at the stanchion (for non-boaters, stanchions are the poles that hold up the rope rail around the deck of a boat) and gave it an experimental shake to see how sturdy it was. It wasn’t. The ledge was about five feet up and not more than an inch wide, but about two feet below the top of the bulkhead. At this point, I figured we were both going swimming, because with Ollie leaned out over the water like that, I was sure my weight would pull him off balance and down we’d go. But, what the heck! If Ollie was game, I was game! I placed one foot on the stanchion and pushed off for the inch wide ledge. I had no sooner hit the ledge when Ollie grabbed me and some how managed to pull me up as though I were no more than a sack of potatoes.

My last fond memory of my two years with Ollie was the day I had been painting boat bottoms. I had completed five boats, so I was covered with five different color paints, and I’d been crawling and laying in the mud and sawdust under boats all day. This meant that I wasn’t exactly looking my best, so I wasn’t thrilled when Ollie asked me to run an errand for him and take a package to a UPS shop to be shipped out. I walked into the UPS office and saw the clerk’s mouth drop open. She was an attractive blond with nice slacks and a frilly white blouse and I was wearing several layers of my worse clothes, liberally splashed with a wide variety of paint colors, and caked with mud and saw dust. The clerk gasped; “Oh, MY!!! You’ve.... you’ve..... you’ve certainly.... been doing... been doing.... SOMETHING!”

She was right- I’d certainly been doing something.

Ollie’s reputation grew to the point where years after I’d left Ollie’s employ, I met a new neighbor and we found that we both worked on boats, so I asked him whom he worked for. He said, “I’ve been at Ollie Johansson’s Boat Yard for about three weeks.” An involuntary giggle escaped me. My neighbor looked perplexed; “Why does everyone laugh when I tell them where I work?!” He soon discovered why.

I moved on to working for a more professional boat yard, but that job also only lasted a few years. Boat yards and marinas had been suffering through years of hard times that meant frequent lay-offs for the employees and I had been doing odd jobs like working as an assistant pressman, in restaurants, and getting my own jobs cleaning houses or working on boats in between. The self –employment turned out to be more lucrative than working for other people, so I started a business maintaining fisherman’s fishing gear, filling in the slow periods with painting boats and houses to stay busy. This worked out very well because I could make my own schedule and enjoy as much time as possible with my rapidly growing daughters. But, maintaining fishing gear was hard, tedious, wet, heavy work. One day I was walking back to my truck from the fish pier after a long day’s work and I was, as usual, dressed in my worst clothing, covered with fish slime and gore and a tourist couple stopped me and asked if I worked there. I was stunned that they would ask such a question. What other excuse could I possible have for looking this way? Did they think that Cape Cod was like many other tourist sites with characters walking around in costume for their benefit? They took my silence as a sign that I hadn’t heard them, so the lady asked me again; “Do you work here?” “Yes.” I replied. “Well, “ she continued, “I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of fish they had in those boxes down there.” She pointed a manicured finger down the hill toward the fish pier. I shrugged, “I don’t know. What did they look like?” (Lots of different kinds of fish were brought in.) She described the fish and I told her that they sounded like cod. “Oh,” She looked surprised, “I thought they might be tuna!” I was about to tell her that tuna that caught around here were big fish, too big to be in totes, when her husband piped up; “There’s no tuna here! They’re only on the West Coast!” I laughed, thinking of all my tuna fisherman friends, “Well if that’s true, there’s going to be a lot of disappointed tuna fisherman!”

Because I grew up in this area, many of the fishermen I worked with were old friends I’d known most of my life. Every time the morning news on the radio would announce that a boat had gone down, I’d be on pins and needles until I found out that everyone I knew was safe. But, although commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, few fishermen waste time thinking about that fact. They were a lively, funny bunch and they enjoyed a good laugh as much as anyone. One day, I ran into an old school mate who was now captaining his own boat, as he and his crew were just coming in from a fishing trip. My friend and one of the crew were snickering, so I asked; “What’s so funny?” This elicited more guffaws but the story gradually came out. They had been out tub-trawling (long-lining) and had just made a haul, so they were culling and gutting the pile of fish that lay on the deck. One of the crew-, the one who hadn’t been laughing, was standing astride the pile, which had a big female monkfish on the top. Monkfish are a species of angler fish and they are mostly a big mouth full of rows of teeth that all angle backward and a tail. The females grow to about four feet long; the males are smaller- about half that size. This female monkfish was fully grown and she apparently didn’t like the predicament she found herself in, so to show her displeasure she chomped down on the closest thing- which was the crotch of the man standing over her. Luckily for the crewman, he was wearing baggy oil skins over his clothes, so all she got was a mouth full of rubber, but because her teeth angled back, she was hooked and the crewman couldn’t shake her off. So he turned to his buddies for assistance and said; “Guys....” thinking that they would be suitably alarmed by the gravity of his situation and run over to help him. But, no- they turned around and took in the scene and immediately started : HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! They did eventually rescue their friend, but they were still laughing – except the crewman whose oil skins were ruined – even after they hit the dock.

By the time I was in my late 30’s, I was getting really burned out on doing very physical work and I was keeping my eye out for something more sedentary that would be easier on my aching joints and muscles. Jobs were few and far between, but I finally landed one in a shipping department for a local business. The joke was on me, though. Little did I know that 90% of what was shipped out was cut slate- ROCKS! So, now I was spending my days carrying around boxes of rocks! Oh well, it was still a step up in the world. I was warm, clean and dry and the rocks were lighter than the loads I was used to carrying. The owners of the company were very good to me and I was eventually promoted to shipping manager. I would have been happy to stay there indefinitely, but then another job opened up at a marina.... that’s another chapter.

Updated: 12:45 AM GMT on July 01, 2006

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My Brilliant Career

By: PeaceRiverBP, 10:58 PM GMT on June 28, 2006

My Brilliant Career (with apologies to Miles Franklin, author of the real book My Brilliant Career)

Some of you may recall from past blogs that I have a commercial fishing / boating back ground. It is slightly unusual for a woman, especially since I am only five foot tall, therefore, not a large woman, but my father was a commercial fisherman, a sea scalloper, and then became a charter boat captain, so it seemed I was fated to be drawn to boats and the ocean.

But, it wasn’t always part of my plans. As a very little girl, I had dreams of becoming a ballerina. However, regrettably, I was and always will be rather clumsy. It is not an accident that my Chinese Zodiac symbol is the Ox. (You know the old saw: Clumsy as an ox.) Consequently, people tended to laugh when I would don the pink tutu that my mother had sewn for me and I would – to my mind- be gracefully wafting around the living room, executing leaps and twirls. But, reality was very different. No ballet career for me.

Then, at about the age of four or five, I decided I wanted to be a hill billy. I had seen some Ma and Pa Kettle movies that inspired me and I thought that they had life by the tail. I even owned an old, droopy felt hat that Jed Clampett would be proud of.

But, the insidious call of the sea was a Siren’s song. My Dad started building a small sail boat in the back yard and I would hang around and ‘help’ him. When the boat was completed, the whole family often enjoyed a sail in it on Cape Cod Bay.

At the age of eight, I was drafted to crew for my Dad on his sea scalloper, where I helped cull ‘the pile’ which was the contents of the scallop drag after it had been towed behind the boat, like a reluctant child being dragged through a store by it’s parent. After each tow, we would pick through everything that had been dumped out of the drag, tossing aside sand dollars and sea urchins, seaweed and rocks; get rid of the toothsome monk fish by gaffing them overboard, or at times, sticking a shovel in it’s mouth and letting it clamp down on the shovel, after which you could simply shovel it overboard; place the flounder, crabs and lobster in a tote for future meals at home, and lastly, the scallops went into the shucking box, where we separated the meat from the shell. That was the only part of the catch that we sold. It was a wet, fishy job, with long hours, but I didn’t mind.

I considered myself quite lucky that I had many adults around me who didn’t mind letting me watch or assist them work on boats or sit in as they told stories about nautical life. My Dad was particularly patient about teaching me things; he not only taught me about boats and commercial fishing, but he instructed me on how to run most of the equipment in his woodshop, how to carve and how to splice. He also bravely taught me how to drive his 1954 International pick up when I was eleven years old. (That’s a story in itself!)

I had hoped that someday I would meet Mr. Right and get married and have a family (June Cleaver was now my mentor) but I had a feeling that I would need all these skills that I had learned and that I’d never be a June Cleaver. So, I went to vocational school and graduated with a diploma and a certificate in Marine Repair. To earn the certificate, I had to be able to design, loft and build a boat from raw lumber. I also had to take a welding class. I didn’t do much welding. The welding teacher was laboring under the mistaken notion that he was teaching a “Coffee Break” class, because that’s chiefly what he did- hand out coffee and doughnuts.

After I graduated, I went job hunting. This was only shortly after the dinosaurs’ reign, and not long after the term ‘Women’s Lib’ was coined, so I had some amusing reactions to my requests for a job. “But you’re a girl!” was the most common. I refrained from commenting on the obviousness of that remark and kept up my quest.

I was finally hired by a very old boat yard that was owned by a local family. I loved the job and the family was wonderful to me. The owner kept telling me that he wanted to adopt me. It was never dull and my co-workers kept me on my toes and holding my sides with their antics. It was like working with the Three Stooges, except there about twenty of them! Someone fell, or was knocked into the harbor every day. (Luckily, I was never amongst the harbor-baptized!)

As I was walking down the dock one day to work in my next boat, I came to a sailboat as two riggers were fitting it out. One rigger was up in the rigging, suspended on a bosun’s seat, his partner was on the deck, handing him things. The man on deck said hello and asked which boat I was starting on, so we had a brief conversation, during which, the rigger held onto a spar, ready to pass it aloft. His partner interrupted to say that he was ready for the spar, so while still immersed in conversation the rigger obliged without looking to see whether or not the spar was reaching its intended target and we suddenly heard a loud howl. And then an indignant: “Hey! Watch what you’re doing!” Apparently, the man aloft got his Christmas goose early.

The same rigger was looking at a boat part one day and he mused; “You know, an archeologist will probably dig this up someday and say ‘I wonder what this was for?’” The boat shop’s welder was walking by and he chuckled; “They’ll probably say the same thing about you when they dig you up.”

One day, I was sent up to the sail loft to bring down all the sails for a large yacht. I had never been up in the sail loft, but I was aware that sails for boats that size could weigh several hundred pounds and were the size of an Old English Mastiff in a sack. Following the directions to the sail loft, I went up a rickety set of stairs that trembled under my weight as I went up each step. At the top of the stairs, I found a door that was exactly my height- five feet tall, and one foot wide. I peered through the doorway at the many shelves that sagged under the weight of sail bags and wondered how in the world anyone could get those sails up those fragile stairs and through that tiny doorway. But, oh well, my job was to get them out, so I squared my shoulders and marched in to tackle this chore. I located the sail bags for the boat in question and pulled the main sail off the shelf. It landed on the floor with an impressive thud and I then proceeded to drag it toward the doorway which must have come from an Alice in Wonderland movie set. The sail was clearly larger than the opening, but since it had gotten into the room some how, it seemed logical that it could also get out. I wedged it into the doorway, and pushed and pushed and pushed. I had a flashback to childhood and reading Winnie the Pooh, where Rabbit was trying to shove a Winnie the Pooh fattened on honey through his doorway. Rabbit’s solution had been to let Winnie the Pooh starve for a while until he could squeeze through the opening once more, but since these sails were not going to lose any weight, no matter how long I waited, I had to keep pushing. After a few minutes, a final heave set the sail bag free and it flew from its confines straight for the stairwell. The sail lumbered noisily down the steps like a panicked walrus sprinting down the shore to the sea and landed at the foot of the stairs with a conclusive crash. I stood hesitantly at the top of the stairs, watching the dust settle and then pursued my quarry to where it lay in a heap. I managed to get the monstrous sail up on my shoulders in a fireman’s carry, and feeling some empathy with Atlas, took my burden out through the building, stopped and rested a moment; shouldered it again, walked across the marina parking lot to the docks, stopped and rested a moment; and trudged down the docks to the sailboat, where I at last stowed the sail in the forecastle. This was repeated for each of the boat’s five sails and before the Spring was over, for every sailboat in the boat yard.

Speaking of heavy loads, one day, I saw one of my co-worker’s struggling with a 55 gallon drum that he was trying to load in the back of a pick up truck. He was a medium height guy with a slim build and not having much luck, so one of the beefy mechanics volunteered to help him. The mechanic was the size of a wrestler and prided himself on his strength, but he groaned and sweated and turned red and he manhandled the drum up the ramp and into the truck’s bed. After great effort, he finally succeeded, and leaning against the drum, he wiped the sweat off his brow and gasped: “Man, that way heavy! What the hell is in there?!” The owner of the drum raised the lid so the mechanic could see inside and with a happy smile he replied; “Lead!”

I kept a journal that was to fill several notebooks during my period of employment with this company, but these are a couple of my favorite memories from those happy days.

I stayed at this boat yard for two years and during that time I met my first husband. I was still very young; only 18 years old. We married and later, I did get to be a sort of June Cleaver; I had two daughters and I began a different career delivering newspapers in the wee hours of morning so I could be home with my daughters during the day. I threw newspapers out my car window for eight years until our marriage dissolved and I was forced to return to a more lucrative line of work and was hired by another boat yard.... but that’s another tale for another day.

Updated: 11:01 AM GMT on June 30, 2006

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Pennypincher's Blog

By: PeaceRiverBP, 7:17 PM GMT on June 05, 2006

I know that I can't be the only cheap-skate out there- so I'm curious- what are favorite ways of saving money?

Examples:
*Reusing water bottles
*Using plastic grocery bags for small trash can liners
*Washing windows with newspapers instead of paper towels
*Try not to buy anything unless it's on sale and have a coupon for the item as well!

These are just a few off the top of my head, but there has to be a font of suggestions and information available in Blog-land and I'd love to hear your favorites!

Also, do you know of any good penny-pincher's websites? As Home Owner's insurance rates increase, gas prices and the cost of living in general goes up, we're hanging onto every dollar for as long as we can.

Thanks!

Hmmm! One of my photos doesn't show on the blog- this has happened to me a few times. When I added it to the blog it said it was added and it shows on the "count" but it's not here. Anyone else have this happen to them?

Updated: 6:46 PM GMT on June 23, 2006

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About PeaceRiverBP

I've many passions but two of them are reading & camping, so naturally my camper's name is Parnassus for Christopher Morely's "Parnassus on Wheels".

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