In praise of ‘good enough’

Though striving for mediocrity, David’s finished product — at least to these squinting eyes — seems to be in a different category. Photo by David Buckman

The maintenance of a sailboat is possessed of a certain intensity for those of us who are marginally mechanical. Demanding a keen eye and a grasp of the nature of a wide variety of materials and complicated technologies, the cost of failing to act prudently can range from annoying to dangerous, which is enough to scare a slacker of my low order into paying reasonable attention to boat-keeping tasks.

Some projects, however, are more cosmetic than critical, and on those I’ve learned to linger, which is why the job of replacing the Leight’s hatch was three years in the procrastination phase. The tipping point finally came, as they eventually do, and I told myself it was nothing more than building a small door. Easy peasy. I should be able to knock it out in a weekend, I imagined, forgetting that such tasks invariably prove more involved than my optimistic initial assessment.

While I took a mandatory 7th grade Manual Training class, napkin holders and rooster-shaped lamps haven’t translated well into boat projects. Never having been called a craftsman, my tools are of dubious quality, and I was impatient to get jobs done and checked off the “To Do” list, which is one of the most annoying things of all.

So it was I came to know the Good Enough School of Marine Maintenance. Falling somewhere between quick-and-dirty and adequate, the simple ways were my friend. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with perfection, but it takes a long time to achieve, and time is the thing. Time to sail, time to meld into the quiet, and pursue the manifold pleasures known to a mind at ease. One of the more valuable tools in the quiver of a GESM practitioner is squinting. In the softened focus of a nearly closed eye, things look better.

Boat woodworking is an art and a colossal bother, and of its tenets I possessed only the most tenuous grasp. I cut out the hatch trim boards from a piece of mahogany left over from an old project. The plan was to rout out channels in the boards to accept the plywood hatch body, but being a bit clumsy with a router, I decided that capping the plywood would be easier. Cutting out the trim and louver boards, widthwise, then edgewise, and planing them down was fussy work. The weekend over, I had a pile of boards on the bench and rust-colored snot.

The hatch perimeter trim was cut, fitted, epoxied and clamped, one side at a time, to the hatch body. That took another two days. Hard to believe, but the 6”x11” louver was three more days abuilding. Days of not unpleasantly measuring, spacing, eyeballing, epoxying and making tiny epoxy fillets. Sanding it smooth took most of another day. Cutting out the louver hole and gluing up the trim, one side at a time, accounted for an additional pair of days.

I found myself slowing down, stopping, looking and squinting, and coming away satisfied that it was serviceable enough. Sanding was slow and transformative work, as I nurtured the subtle arc of the louvers, then varnishing and sanding, varnishing and sanding, again and again. High gloss. Five coats of it. Two days became two weeks. The honeyed mahogany had a particular richness that transcended my crude attempt to civilize it. It was perfectly good enough, and that’s what counts.

David Buckman’s book, “Bucking the Tide,” is about discovering the New England and Fundy coast in a wreck of a $400, 18-foot sloop. It’s $19, including shipping. Send your mailing address to buckingthetide@gmail.com.

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