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Clock Work

A home workshop project evokes a little nautical nostalgia.


I wasn’t sure what the trouble was, really. For some unknown reason, the forged-brass clock that usually hangs near Betty Jane’s lower helm station had started chiming with diminished fervor. Instead of a bright ting, ting, it was going tunk, tunk. So I removed the screws holding it in place and brought the clock home for repair. I’m certainly no clockmaker, and my time’s a little limited these days, but I’m an American male with a home workshop, a pegboard loaded with tools, and a workbench. I oughta be able to fix anything, right?

The magic started shortly after I’d spread a few pages of the New York Times on the bench, positioned the clock in the middle, and commenced fiddling with one of my small, precision screwdrivers. Although Betty was miles away, enduring the cold, lonely wiles of winter in a North Florida marina, I began feeling very close to the old girl somehow. And what’s more, a few of the favors she did me during our early days together came to mind.

There was that moment, for example, shortly after my wife BJ jumped into a rental car and departed Maryland’s Duffy Creek Marina, where I’d taken delivery of Betty. With my new boat surveyed, purchased, provisioned, and otherwise made ready for the long-anticipated trip to her new home in Florida, I stood beside her, feeling strangely unenthused and a bit bereft because I wouldn’t see my wife again for weeks. Betty seemed to nod a couple of times, fetching up on her lines at the behest of some errant ripples. It was a seemingly sensitive and reassuring gesture that I’ll never forget.

Then there was the wild and woolly evening a week or so later when Betty, my friend Chuck, and I pulled into Bucksport Restaurant, a waterside eatery on South Carolina’s Intracoastal Waterway, having contended with high winds, overwhelming rain, and menacing tornadoes for the better part of a day. As Betty’s quarterguards brushed along the pilings, a friendly, slicker-suited hand proffered a dock line from the blackness, then proffered another. While the meal we enjoyed inside was memorable enough, I best remember the warmth Betty’s varnished-teak interior afforded afterwards, as she rocked against her fenders in the downpour.

And finally, there was my boat’s spirited but graceful arrival at the North Florida slip she’s called home now for several years. Although I’d nearly perfected my technique for maneuvering a single-engine inboard boat without a bow thruster, I was nervous nevertheless. Would Betty dally embarrassingly with wind and current like she’d done in Charleston? Would she tire of a dirty fuel filter and falter like she’d done in St. Petersburg?

“Nope,” I reminded myself, as the chipper little bell in the forged-brass case on my workbench struck a resounding ting, ting. “She slid in slicker than clock work.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.