Resignation is not the same as giving up

Johnny Kadlik’s crew replacing windows, siding and trim on the crew quarters known as “The Shack.” The work out at the Isles is relentless. Photo courtesy Jack Farrell

June 2021

By Jack Farrell

Some things are obvious. Firing up the sander and going to work on the 58 running feet of Aloft’s waterline gets the job done a lot faster than merely staring at the boat and wondering how you’ll ever get it ready to launch. But I have been wondering a lot lately. This month the boat turns 60 years old, and I will turn 66. If I pull it off, it will be our 20th season together. It’s hard to imagine not having her in my life. But sometimes it seems like it’s just too much work.

It is too much work to do all alone, and I’ve had lots of good help keeping Aloft alive over the years. But the old guard is aging out of the business in our area. I can’t blame them. Working on wooden boats is tough. I reached out to a few of them last week in search of help with the brightwork and I got some sympathy, but no solutions for this year. Retired boatbuilder Bob Eger has done most of the hardest work on Aloft over the years. Without him she would have been in the scrap pile long ago. Feeling my pain, he stopped by to cheer me up. That helped a lot, and I went back to the sanding with renewed vigor as soon as he left. Bob is a man of few words, hard work and great compassion – a salt of the earth kind of guy.

Bob’s visit reminded me of a gifted finish-carpenter with whom I worked way back in the last century. Vern Buck was a carpenter from the old school with a pencil tucked behind his ear and a folding rule in the leg pocket of his overalls. And while he didn’t work on boats, his speech was full of colorful old-time phrases, many of nautical origin. In spite of being raised in eastern Essex County in Massachusetts, the closest he ventured to the ocean might have been the night his son got his truck stuck below the high tide line on Salisbury Beach. But with Vern on the job, we always framed a scuttle hole or two for access to attics and eave spaces, exchanged scuttlebutt during coffee breaks, and worked hard to keep things from going scuppers-up while raising wall sections and ridge poles. In contrast to Vern’s quiet ways, he often said I had “the gift of gab.” I think that was meant to be a compliment, but I’ll never be sure. Vern suffered all the noise quietly alongside our group of chatty would-be carpenters, still managing to teach us something useful every day we worked together. Salt of the earth he was, too: “a practical person of great worth, reliability and virtue.”

Just about 10 years ago, as I was becoming responsible for the 34 aged and mostly wooden buildings on Star Island, I surveyed the scene out there with another aspiring carpenter, head of the island crew for that summer. Johnny Kadlik is as salt of the earth as Bob and Vern, and the island has benefited as much from his commitment over the ensuing years as anyone in recent memory. On that rainy day in April, we counted the bare patches on the newly installed hotel roof. The strongest gusts lifted the six-month old vinyl roofing from Elliott Hall like an un-guyed spinnaker. We watched the wind drive cold rain through the gaps in siding and trim. The whole enterprise seemed doomed. But the sun came out the next day and we went to work. Since then, we have applied millions of dollars in improvements to siding, windows, roofs, porches, plaster, paint and infrastructure. And I’ve watched Johnny grow into an accomplished craftsman and project manager. Last week, on a day when things were again looking a little impossible out there, I sent him a picture of the star he worked into the rebuild of a shoreside bridge we call the truck trestle. The deck planks in which the star was set show considerable wear, even after just five years. What makes all this so frustrating for me is that no matter how hard we work against them, the weather, hard use and the passing of time seem to be relentlessly chewing away at everything we do. Especially with boats and buildings, the work can never be really completed. In reply to my message with the picture of the star, Johnny told me that he might be good for one more season next year. In that case maybe I will be, too.

Meanwhile, out at Star Island, the unofficial capital of the Isles of Shoals, the open-up season has been even windier than most, putting hardware, dock lines, boat handling skills and nerves to the test as the gusts whistle across the top of the stone pier. A younger crew is coming up to manage things this year, and they bring new ideas, enthusiasm and energy to the work. I knew some of them a decade ago when they were more like kids. The island is an aspirational place that stands for hope and light, and the promise of a better world. Now it’s their turn to give it a go.

The new boat plans are still under review at the Coast Guard. The long process strikes me as unacceptable and of dubious value, but there’s nothing I can do to change it. I named the proposed boat Shining Star last year when the idea first took hold. Now, thinking of Johnny’s tire-worn wooden star cut into the deck of the once-new bridge, a symbol of hope and light, the boat-to-be seems more aptly named than ever.

I read once that embracing the concept of resignation is the key to personal peace. A practical resignation is not the same as giving up. It is an unresisting acceptance of the inevitable – and it includes patience, submission, tolerance and fortitude. In that light there’s little point in fighting with the Coast Guard over boat plans, or worrying about island needs beyond the work we can do right now. I guess it also means that I should put off fussing over Aloft’s brightwork until I can find more help. I guess it should be obvious that such a change in mindset will make for a much happier summer – and a lot more sailing. I’ll just cross my fingers and hope that nothing goes scuppers-up in the meantime.

Jack is a USCG 100-ton master and the facilities director at Star Island at the Isles of Shoals, where Aloft, his Ted Hood-designed wooden sloop, lives most of the summer.