Windshifts: a Helpful Apprentice

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The author’s daughter, Rona, hard at work

The author’s daughter, Rona, hard at work

Working by myself I have completed myriad maintenance and upgrade projects on my Catalina 34, Ukiyo, have kept her in good shape and ready to sail, and have saved thousands of dollars in the process. When she breaks—and it’s always when, not if—I’m the guy who solves the puzzle and gets her fixed. Often it feels as if I’m barely ahead of the repair curve, and that I spend more time fixing the boat than sailing it. Sometimes the to-do list is as long as the done list.

My wife helps when asked, but I can see her heart just isn’t into sanding the cabin sole or changing fuel filters. (Can you imagine that?) And with two daughters but no sons as crew, I long ago resigned myself to a lifetime of solitary hours in my sawdust and teak-strewn man-cave, cursing my Y chromosomes.

Then one morning, daughter number two, Rona, cracked open the garage door and spied me varnishing the companionway ladder. “Daddy?” she said, diffidently. “Can I try that?” Without missing a beat I seized on this Tom Sawyer moment and ran with it. “Well I don’t know,” I said coyly. “This is the really fun part of the job, I’ve been waiting all week to do it.”

“Oh, but I’m good at painting,” she exclaimed, as she sidled up alongside. Carefully, I stroked up and down, watching her sparkling eyes follow the brush. I handed it to her, and before I knew it, my pint-sized assistant was painting, patching, washing, waxing, sanding and stitching, all under the watchful eye of her incredulous captain. Later, she crimped, cleaned, cut, coiled, bent, bolted, rigged and re-built; so much so, that I had to put boundaries on her efforts.

Oh what a thrill to have an enthusiastic apprentice to help with those onerous tasks. I’m embarrassed to say she has picked up boat-work skills faster than I did, and it won’t be long before she is better than me. Now I know why Euripides said: “To a father growing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter.” She never asked for it, but I have insisted on paying her an hourly wage and consider it money well spent.


Rona’s boundless energy appears to have no limits. Tears came to my eyes the day she asked to go up the mast in the bosun’s chair to install a radar reflector. I felt the heat of her mother’s glare before I plaintively answered, “No, you’re only nine, that will have to wait another year or so.”

As it was we still managed to plowed through our project list in good time, so that the boat was soon back in the straps and being lowered into the brackish water of the St. Johns River.

I’m dreaming now: In my mind’s eye I see my elderly self, reposing in the cockpit of a beautifully maintained sloop, gallivanting along the thorny path to Caribbean destinations, all with a competent, toothsome young lady at the helm, whom I will proudly address as Capt. Rona.

Capt. Robert Beringer’s first ebook, Water Power! a collection of marine short stories, is available at

Photos courtesy of Capt. Robert Beringer

September 2015



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