Back to the Mother Ship

Back to the Mother Ship

When I first started working on Zodiac I didn’t anticipate how much I would love it and how at home I would feel with her.

Getting back to a wooden boat made a big difference. My first vessel Bounty was wood and since her I have only worked on steel ships; they just don’t have the same personality as wood. There is also an age factor for lots of wooden boats, Zodiac was built in 1924 and you can feel the history in her, even if most of her has been replaced over the years. At night laying in your
bunk with the generators off you can hear everything, you can hear someone sneeze at the other end of the vessel, but you can also hear the waves lapping at the hull. She has a certain smell to her, a combination of wood, grease, pine tar, paint and whatever other products have been used on her. Just like any other smell of home you don’t notice it after a time, but going away and coming back it hits you again and there is something comforting about that. Some of my old things from Bounty, a bag, collection of papers and little things that don’t get washed still hold her faint sent and it brings back memories.

Most tall ship work is seasonal, they are most active during the summer and Zodiac is no exception. Her sailing season starts off slow in March and gradually picks up speed in May, come July and August we are booked back to back. I don’t have time to breath let along time enough to shop so my shopping lists have to be thoroughly organized. Zodiac’s summer season is hard to beat, we sail around the San Juan Islands, down to Seattle and Port Townsend and then the big trip of the year north to Desolation Sound for two weeks. It’s a lot of hard work but I live for that, I love to cook all day, everyday, her winter season on the other hand is very different.

Late October Zodiac is put to bed, her sails and rigging come down, a large wooden frame and tarp is put over her and most of the crew disappears. I haven’t seen any of that, I’ve only heard about it, but this year I’m returning to the boat early and I’ll get to be a part of it. On weekends some crew return for a few hours to assist in maintenance, varnishing, caulking deck seams, replacing rotten wood and something greasy in the engine room. Lots of tall ship sailors avoid this winter period, you’re not sailing and you could be stuck in weather you hate, buried in snow or melting in the humidity. The maintenance that gets done is necessary, during the summer we don’t have the time for a lot of these projects and with people running all over the deck you can’t exactly put ‘wet paint’ signs on everything.

With all this work being done on the ship she looks a bit different. The cover makes a big difference, keeps the wind off and a little warmth in, plus it’s just weird to not look up at a big sky filled with rigging. No one really lives on the ship and those that do are there for the maintenance so things are a bit messy, no paying passengers to impress. Tools are left out at the end of the work day, a layer of saw dust coats everything and miscellaneous piles of junk have appeared where there were none before. It makes sense, why clean up in the middle of a long project when you are going to get back at it the next day. In about a month we’ll have our first sail of the season, everything will get cleaned up and put back to what I know as normal. Till then I’ll live around the work and enjoy the ship in her different state.


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