My workbench is always a mess when I am in the middle of a carving project. But this one was different. It was a small job that I was doing as a favor for Spinney. It only required a few gouges and a knife to finish what the original carver had set out years ago. For about fifty years, the unfinished transom carving had perched in the paint shop’s rafters at Spinney’s boatyard. Only the last two letters remained uncarved when I removed the half-century of dust. 

“You know, Spinney. You were a pretty good carver. Maybe you should have kept it up?” ” No offense Wes, but it doesn’t pay enough.” I laughed. If it paid enough, I wouldn’t be helping to haul boats, apply bottom paint, and varnish at a boatyard. “So why after fifty years, are we finishing the carving up?” ” It’s a surprise for a little girl.” He told me. 

 I finished Y and the R, did a bit of clean up sanding, primed the board with thinned marine varnish, and left it to dry. Daily I added another coat of varnish, being careful to leave the incised lettering clean and crisp. After nine coats, it was ready for painting the lettering and the gold leaf. The morning after finishing the gold leaf, it disappeared. I heard nothing more about it for almost a month. Then one day, Spinney invited me to a small relaunching ceremony. 

The little sloop had sat awash in a local cove for years. The summer visitor who had owned it had left it for a fast powerboat. In an act of sheer waste, he had abandoned the sloop. It had sat there gradually deteriorating and getting stripped of all hardware and rigging. Spinney hated waste and was uncommonly capable of seeing hidden value. Spinney was also cheap. He paid pennies for the right to salvage the sloop. We hauled it to the boatyard and gradually restored it. As summer arrived, we finished the rigging and sails.

Even though it was Sunday, the entire crew showed up for the relaunch. Nobody likes an unresolved mystery, and Spinney always held his cards close to his chest. So we knew little that he didn’t want us to know about his business. The sloop fell into that category, and we wanted to know.

The new owners were an older woman, nearly Spinney’s age, and what must be her granddaughter. We overheard snatches of a conversation between the woman and Spinney: ” Maynard, do you think she’s old enough?”, “You and I were at the same age, Nora. And I’ll give her lessons.” the young woman, about thirteen, was already getting ready to undo the mooring line and raise the mainsail. She seemed to know what she was about and wasn’t waiting for lessons. “Uncle Maynard, let’s hurry up. I want to go sailing.” Ah, uncle Maynard, Spinney’s grandniece, and that’d make the older woman Spinney’s long-absent sister Nora who the whole town knew had split from the family for reasons unknown.

” Uncle Maynard, do I start working at the boatyard tomorrow?” With a broad smile, Spinney replied: “Absolutely. You’ll start at the bottom, Wes will teach you how to scrape, sand, and paint boat bottoms.” With this said, Spinney stepped onto the sloop and shoved off the dock.

Zephyr shook out her mainsail and was on the breeze. And I had gained an apprentice.

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