Spinney let me accompany him one afternoon while he did a marine survey of a sloop one of his regular customers was interested in buying. The sloop was on the hard, so Spinney first walked around, taking in the general lines and appearances of the boat. Next, he noted and mentioned to me items the general upkeep and condition of the boat.
“Many people think a coat of paint will hide disrepair, but you’re not only looking at the superficial, but you’re also looking at the deeper fitness of the vessel, and paint can only hide so much.”
Walking to the transom, he got up on a ladder, closed his eyes, and ran his hands along the wood. Then, smiling, he hopped down and brushed his hands off. ” Transom is overdue for work. If the owner ignored the transom that badly, the next spot I’ll check is the garboard planks.” The garboard planks are the wide planks closest to the keel. Spinney pulled out a long icepick and gave me a playful look, then he stabbed the garboard, and the ice pick slid in easily.
“Well, I’ll finish the survey, but I’d never advise Johnson to buy this sloop; too much work deferred too long and not enough maintenance. So forgo the basics this year, and in the next, you’ll have double the work to do on a wooden hull.”
On our way to Spinney’s boatyard, I opined that he must have a lot of experience in surveying to know what to look for when doing a survey. He gave me a narrow-eyed squinty look, shook his head, and reminded me that experience isn’t wisdom.
“Wisdom is acquired by understanding the lessons of experience. Most people go crazy gaining experience but take no time to examine its lessons. It’s all a rush to add something to a resume. Years go by, and they haven’t gained a single shard of wisdom from all that experience.”
This getting of wisdom is still something I work on bit by bit. It sounds so easy, but it’s so difficult.
To get somewhere by “going ’round Robinhood’s Barn” was a favorite saying of the Cap’n and his family. If I wanted to take the scenic route somewhere rather than the direct route, The Cap’n told me that I was going ’round said barn to get there.
It wasn’t just in terms of directions to or from places that this expression got used. Taking too many steps to do something would also earn you the saying – delivered in a lecturing tone. I like to do my research, gather my materials, and plan my work. So sometimes, it was confirmed that between inspiration and execution, there were several weeks. It’s still true – there are at least six projects in the shop that I work at fitfully. To me, it’s just wisdom to be prepared, but to the Cap’n, it was procrastination.
Periodically, I’d be annoying and ask the Cap’n for directions to the proverbial barn. He’d merely stand there, Stuff his pipe, light it, puff puff, point the stem at me, and remind me that standing around talking was not getting the job done. It went on like this throughout the years I knew him; the interplay between us about the barn and its location became a set piece in our discussions. Family members would roll their eyes when we got started.
The Cap’n was famous for running down a bargain when looking for replacement hardware for his boat Psyche. We’d chase around every marine supply store in the area before winding up at his favorite salvage marine outlet. Of course, I accused him of going ’round Robinhood’s Barn to get where he knew he was going anyway. He’d waste so much gas and time that it was hardly practical in terms of cost. One day I went into the shop and hurriedly made a crude sign with “Robinhood’s Barn” and a large arrow carved on it. Placing it in the back of the car before one wild expedition for used fittings, I waited until he went into the his favorite salvage store. Taking the sign and the stake I had put it on to the driveway, I pushed it into the ground.
I stood by the car, waiting for him to come out with a Cheshire cat grin on my face. When he came out, I enjoyed watching the double-take expression on seeing the sign. Showing the practiced abilities of an old Master Mariner, he smiled at me and said, “well, there you are, Wes. You wanted to know where it was!”
I use the expression to this day and always have to explain what it means. But I still have no idea where Robinhood’s Barn was.