Character

The little boat did kind of look like a terrapin. It was a bit beamy and of a design almost guaranteed not to capsize. It was a perfect small tender for a larger boat. And a safe one for a couple of adventurous teens to explore the Harbor. I had enjoyed my time with the kids as they “helped” design the transom banner I’d carve for them.

What I hadn’t enjoyed was my negotiation with their smarmy parents. They thought my asking price could be negotiated – rather haggled down. So instead, I reversed my usual fifty percent upfront and the balance on receipt and told them to pay it all in advance. It was that time of year when everybody wanted their boat in the water, trim and ready for summer. I had plenty of work and had a rare event: a queue of people wanting my services. So pay up; they did.

I found a short of mahogany for the transom banner from the shorts bin at Spinney’s boatyard. A short is leftover when a long plank is cut to needed size. The remainder is too long to be scrap and too small for most other jobs. But it’s just perfect for small carving jobs. Neither boat yards nor carvers make money on waste. I went into the office to pay for the wood and noticed that Terrapins “master” was in the office arguing with Spinney over storage costs for the previous winter. As he left, Spinney and I exchanged looks. As soon as he was out of hearing range, Spinney mentioned that the client might not find room for storage at Spinney’s next winter.

I delivered the banner on time and spent little time thinking about Terrapin, her owners, or their motor sailing Yacht called Queenie. But around the end of August, Queenie’s owners came asking me to carve quarterboards for Queennie. Hoping the payment issues were settled, I quoted a fair price for carved and gilded letters in teak. But once again, there was an eternal haggle over the cost of stock, gold leaf, and my labor. I eventually told them to go to a painter for lettering because I was too busy to take their work.

Not more than a month later, Events hit a pinnacle when Queenie needed to be hauled out for storage. Spinney told them flat out that he was downsizing his storage capacity, and they should move their storage cradle and find a new location for the winter storage. More than a few disputes had dotted the season over the use of utilities, mooring, and repairs. Every cost was disputed, slow paid, and full of anger.

Queenie was finally relocated to Grays on the other side of the Harbor for more expensive storage prices – old man Gray had seen the smoke coming from Spinney’s ears and decided to charge a premium for his last spot. The sign painter heard my complaints at the diner over breakfast one morning. The ships’ chandlery ceased offering credit for Quennies supplies, and the sailmaker was reluctant to take their business, and they wound up doing business with someone over to Boothbay.

We were sitting in Spinney’s office on a windy October morning, drinking coffee by the woodstove, when the topic of Queenie and her owners came up. They had spent an entire year creating bad feelings wherever they went. Spinney mentioned that the Harbor was a small place, and rumor traveled far and wide with great speed. Eventually, it caught up with them.

Spinney sipped his coffee, stroked his cat’s head, and opined that “It was best to remember Tom Paine’s advice that “Character is much easier kept than recovered.” 

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