I won’t repeat what I was muttering as I scrambled down the ratlines, but pirates might have held me in high esteem had they been in earshot. It was a humiliating descent and the crowd gathering on the pier made it even worse.
I was the new deckhand that summer on a 70′ schooner out of Rockport, Maine. We were fitting out for the tourist season, during which we would take up to 20 passengers on weeklong windjammer cruisers. It was the ideal summer job, I thought, and I didn’t want to blow it.
I had been sent up to paint the mastheads some fifty feet in the air. They were white, typical of a traditional gaff rigged schooner, atop mast of solid Douglas fir. The mastheads themselves were at least six feet tall and were home to peak halyard blocks, spring stays, trestle trees, and cross trees. I climbed rungs lashed to the shrouds to reach them.
Not wanting to carry and keep track of any more gear that I needed, I opened a gallon of Interlux #220 on deck and tied a light messenger line to the wire handle. Sticking a paint brush in my back pocket, I went aloft with the other end of the line. It was a fine spring day and the view was breath taking; not the least of which was the young mess cook working over the wood stove in the galley. My plan was to carefully hoist the bucket up once I was settled in the cross trees. Little did I realize how badly the messenger line was twisted. As it stretched out with the weight of the bucket, it began to unwind, slowly at first. As I continued to hoist, the bucket picked up speed, spinning faster and faster. Then, like a washing machine out of balance, it wobbled and cast whorls of white paint into the air, splattering the deck and awning below. “Oh, s—t!” or something to that effect. My mind raced through the limited options: pull it up, drop it, catch the next bus out of town? Dismayed, I lowered it quickly back to the cabin top. Fortunately, it landed upright. I dropped the messenger line after it and swung down onto the ratlines only to watch helplessly as the paint can began to slide toward the edge of the cambered cabin top in the slippery white mess.
The deck and cabin top cleaned up pretty well, but the large canvas awning looked like a veritable Jackson Pollock painting. It actually wasn’t bad in that regard; I let it dry in its new abstract state and hoped for the best.
The captain, as it turned out, had majored in abstract painting. As he paid my wages that week he said, “I know art when I see it, Jackson, and this isn’t it. It needs something, maybe some black and silver, or a delicate tracing of ochre. But don’t even think about working on it again. If you survive the summer, I’ll give you a recommendation to art school in the fall.”
Tony Allport is a SAMS accredited marine.