The “Tres Hombres” on dry land (by Daniel Haller)

Voluntarily and together

The men grab gloves, one makes do with a blanket. Then the lid comes off the end of the long box. Steam rises. They quickly get the hot plank out. But wait: you imagine a board, not a plank. With a thickness of 8 cm, this one looks more like a beam. They take it to the port stern of the “Tres Hombres” standing on dry land, where removed planks have left a hole in the hull through which one can see the former stern tube from the time when the ship was still under the engine. They routinely fix the tapered end with screw clamps to the plank below the hole and press against the hull with wooden beams and jacks. Then it becomes clear why screw clamps bear their name: meter by meter, they force the originally straight plank onto the arched hull, giving it the necessary twist. After about half an hour to and fro, the thick wood nestles against the hull. here it stays and cools down overnight and thus takes on the shape with which it fits into the outer skin of the ship.

For hours, the volunteers who work on the annual overhaul of the “Tres Hombres” boiled water in converted gas bottles and fed the steam through thick hoses into the chamber, which is insulated with old sleeping bags and woolen blankets. At the same time, others were working on further planks, making templates from long strips of plywood, cutting out the rough shape, planing, and sanding the raw Douglas fir planks taken from the sawmill. They work on a plank on starboard that had already been steamed yesterday, fastened it with steel jacks, car jacks, wedges, and screw clamps, as well as beating it into position with a large mallet. It is taken out again to make the final adjustments by hand. The adjustments are not enough and the process continues the next day.

Inside the ship is largely empty. The partition walls have been removed, and even the steel water tanks have been lifted from their anchoring so that the frames to which the old planks were attached and new planks are fastened, with thick carriage bolts, can be accessed. At the same time, you can get to places that you would otherwise not be able to remove rust. The noise of the needle guns operated with compressed air, the hand planes, and angle grinders that are used in various places would be unbearable without hearing protection. When you meet for a coffee break or lunch, dusty figures emerge from the hull.
Anyone who needs a helping hand in between will find it quickly.

What appears to be chaos at first glance quickly turns out to be an accumulation of goodwill that can be coordinated with just a few words. English is spoken, as onboard. In between, you can hear French, German, and Dutch. The professions are just as diverse as their origins: one morning, a Canadian aircraft mechanic is standing on the scaffolding with a brush and paint who has given up her job at Boeing. The German electrical engineer, who no longer liked his job in the auto industry, joins his first plank. It fits. And when I needed a partition to remove the completely rusted door lock of the companionway to the Foxhole, but had no experience with the dangerous machine. A Hungarian with the dreadlocks turned to help me. He brings experience from the heavy industry as well as being a video producer. The replacement for the brightwork on the bow, which broke on the return across the Atlantic, was carved by a young Dutch carpenter who lives on a nine-meter boat like alternative youths elsewhere in a trailer. The work is then painted by the German wood sculptor who studied architecture. On one side of the ship, electronic rap pounds from the loudspeaker through the noise of the machinery, while Mali blues and Fela Kuti’s Afropop play on the other.

The jobs are distributed by a Dutchman who has been with the “Tres Hombres” since the beginning. He was increasingly bored with his work in construction because it was more and more about the assembly of prefabricated houses. Then the Israeli ship officer is greeted with a loud hello, who also brought a friend in work clothes with her. The French DJ, who installed his electronic equipment on the ship on which we are temporarily housed, planes the newly installed planks smooth from the outside, while the former test ski driver and outdoor article marketer from France and a rig specialist from Holland hammer hemp into the cracks and then seal them with tar. “Love Tar” – someone wrote with a black handprint on the refrigerator standing outside, which houses butter and cheese for snacks or the after-work beer.
Theoretically, work ends at six, but hardly anyone starts clearing away the tools, unrolling the cables, and wiping up the wood shavings with a broom before half-past six. Most of them have never sailed on the “Tres Hombres”. Some hope to be able to ride in the future, others are just so proud, with bright faces, to help set up an alternative for bed and food.

Braked by Corona
Wednesday, the beginning of autumn: the wind is strong. It almost rips the flat bowl with the paint out of my hand. If I dip the roller in the paint, which is based on linseed oil, sometimes a gust of paint tears a thread of color in the air. Below me a colleague is covering the waterline with masking tape, I have to stop so as not to stain him. Later he “chases” me and, for his part, paints the area below the masking tape with copper-based antifouling paint, while a black drop of paint flies onto the left lens of his glasses when I coat the hull above the waterline with elegant, shiny black.
A week and a half ago we put in the whiskey plank. This is the name of the last plank that closes the hull again and that – analogous to the topping-out in a building on land – is celebrated with a bottle of the appropriate spirit and a short speech. The work on the outer skin was far from over: In addition to caulking the joints with hemp and tar, we sealed all the holes in which the screws are countersunk with wooden pegs. In addition to the new planks, all the small areas where the old paint was peeling were sanded and primed. So the fuselage got the appearance of a patchwork quilt – now the final coat is twice as fun.

Despite the wind, the mood is almost euphoric. We would have wanted to let the Tres Hombres into the water today. But the ubiquitous Corona protective measures have delayed the progress of the work. But now the mood is rising: there is paint everywhere, this time to Latino rhythms. Final sprint. The ship is supposed to go into the water the day after tomorrow. However, I’ll miss the party: Since the corona numbers are increasing all over Europe, my relatives in Switzerland would not understand if I extended my stay. So I’m on my way home. But the feeling says: It doesn’t have to be the last time.

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