Christo wrapped buildings in fabric and created art; I wrap boats in tarps and I get what looks like an encampment. When I moved into my home in 1993, I had a lawn surrounding the house, a garage in the basement, a detached garage, and two off-street parking spaces in front. There wasn’t a hint of my boatbuilding habit to be seen. Now, 29 years later, my cars have been exiled to the street, the detached garage has eight boats in it, the other garage is my workshop, the off-street parking is occupied by a canal boat and a Garvey cruiser on their trailers, the east yard has a kayak, the west yard a gunning dory, and the lawn in the back yard is all but covered by a Caledonia yawl, a sneakbox, and a teardrop trailer.
Each of those vessels has at least one tarp covering it and unfortunately it’s not a storage system I can turn my back on. In the winter I have to sweep snow off the tarps to keep its weight from tearing them. When it rains, I have to bail the water that gets into the boats from the leaks and pull tight the tarps that have sagged and pooled water. When it’s windy, I have to make the rounds and check the tarps for loose lines. On the plus side, I only have to mow half the lawn that I used to. And crawling under a tarp that’s pulled snug against the hull helps keep me agile and forces me to practice patience. I can squeeze my head under the tarp and scrape my midsection around the gunwale, but my trailing foot always get captured by the edge of the tarp, which inevitably gathers in tight creases at my ankle. I can’t see what’s happening back there, so I just trace circles with my toes until my heel pops free.
The two tarps covering the boats in the front of the house have cords connecting the tarp of one boat to the trailer of the other. Making my way along the passage between the boats is like ducking under and stepping over laser beams in a jewelry-heist movie.
I keep a pump and a sponge aboard each of the boats that collect water, and once I settle into dewatering, I enjoy the time aboard them, especially on warm days when the heat trapped by the tarp brings out the aroma of varnish and enamel.
I used to buy the cheap blue 5-mil poly tarps. They’d hold up for a few months, but they didn’t stand up to a summer of sunlight. In less than 2 years they were letting water through with alacrity and beginning to disintegrate. I left one tarp on well past its useful life and a windstorm tore it apart and scattered pale-blue plastic confetti flakes and streamers across the sidewalk and up the street. I spent nearly an hour sweeping it all up.
I now use 10-mil tarps, and after 3-1/2 years the two oldest of them have begun to leak, but they’re not yet falling apart. The most durable tarps I had covering my boats came from a 48′×14′ 12-mil vinyl billboard for Coors Light Beer. I found it neatly folded and abandoned by the side of the road. It was so heavy I could barely lift it. I spread it out on the less trafficked side street at home and cut it into pieces to fit the boats. The section for the canal boat had on it FRESHM—six letters from “refreshment”—printed so large it could be read in satellite photographs on Google Earth. Eventually, even those tarps grew brittle with prolonged exposure to sunlight and their coating cracked and leaked.
Until I move out of the city to farm country where I’d have outbuildings or a barn for my boats, I’m stuck taking care of my tarps. I suppose it’s like owning dogs. I see neighbors walking their dogs and tidying up after them every day, year after year, and they don’t seem to mind the demand on their time and attention. The difference is that tarps are outdoor pets, and they never seem happy to see me.
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