Sweepers, Sweepers!

Boats need cleaning, and as general maintenance helper and crew member supreme, it was generally my job to sweep, swab, polish and groom the pride of the Cove; Psyche. I spent a lot of time sitting in the cockpit as the 34-foot ketch swung at her mooring. People don’t believe me when I say that some of the best time I’ve spent on boats has been idly watching the water, the reflections, and the fish. Sailing is fun, but it can be a lot of work. Maintaining a boat was work too, but if you were smart, you took a moment, once in a while, to enjoy the sun, sounds of wavelets on the hull, and to watch the birds.
Lots of time, I didn’t bother keeping cleaning supplies near. Cora never came near the boat, my wife was phobic around boats, and the Cap’n was scarce every time you mentioned the word mop. I had cleaning down to a science. Sweeping, mopping, and checking the varnished wood. Once a week, I’d watch my reflection grow clear as I polished bronze and brass surfaces.
On occasion, one of the lobstermen in the Cove would come over to share a sixpack. That was how I heard that the Cap’n had been hatching a new “Let’s keep Wes in the Cove” program with my wife and Cora. According to Lowell, my boat maintenance skills had been praised to the skies by both the Cap’n and Spinney, a yard owner for whom I was the “Yaahd Cavah.” Spinney genuinely liked me and wanted to keep his source of billetheads, quarter boards, transom banners, and eagles close at hand. The Cap’n appreciated that his son in law was a useful source of free labor whenever there was a project. Cora wanted what was best for her daughter, and her daughter, my wife desperately wanted to stay in the Cove. I wanted to complete grad school.

That evening the scheme was introduced at dinner, then as now, many people from away owned boats that they were too distant from to maintain. Or they lacked skills or desire to take care of. Many wanted only to put on a smart cap, open a drink, and sit at a mooring while the exquisitely detailed boat impressed the visitors. This was the boating public I was destined to serve, maintained Cora, and my wife. It was true that swinging at the mooring on the ketch was not making me any money. Unlike many of the schemes dreamt up by my in-laws this one would make money; so I agreed.

The first thing I found out was that not all owners kept a tidy boat. Everything onboard Psyche got neatly stowed after each use. Generally, this appealed to both the Merchant Mariner in the Cap’n and my Navy training. Not so with other owners. Chain lockers and sail bags filthy, ice chests moldy, and bilges so sour that no amount of cleaning resolved the problem. After a while, on some of the worst jobs, Cora and my wife showed up.
The Cap’n showed up to supervise. Please don’t get me wrong the Cap’n knew how to do anything needed, and would when left to his own devices. Put him in front of a crew, though, and he’d pull out his pipe, and look off to starboard—Master Mariner at work.
We had a big job over to the harbor one week. It was going to be all hands on deck to clean up this party boat after two years undercovers at Spinney’s yard. Spinney said that one of the owner’s sons had made a right mess of it. After a quick survey, I agreed and quoted a price. Work began that Saturday. The Cap’n took up his usual place pipe in hand while the crew polished and cleaned below. It looked like it was going to be the normal routine. Then Lyman showed up. Lyman was the Cap’n’s baby brother. A man I admired greatly.
Lyman was a retired Chief Gunners Mate. He had it down. Nobody could stand around and look impressive like him. He had the Chief’s stance down cold – legs slightly spread against the roll of the ship, thumbs tucked into his belt, belly pushed for’ard, and a look on his face that says ” I ain’t taking any of what you’re dishing out mister. Now get to work.”
Lyman looked around at the debris-laden deck, picked up a broom, and threw it at the Cap’n : “Get to work, Frank!”

Then he uttered words that every Navy man has engraved onto his memory:
“Sweepers, Sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a clean sweep down both fore and aft! Sweep down all lower decks, ladder wells and passageways! Dump all garbage clear of the fantail! Sweepers.”