Wednesday, June 6th, 2012
Here off the coast of Virginia the day comes in fair and clear with light NE breezes. Skies overhead are a clear and bold blue and seas all around are small. The Picton Castle has yards squared and all square sail set. The spanker is not set as it would do little good and can be something of an annoyance sailing dead downwind as we are. Some 300 miles out of Martha’s Vineyard we ghost along steering for Cape Henry some 50 miles away to the SW. The ship steers easily. In the golden morning light the deck washdown is done, all is glistening wet and the duty watch is turning itself to the mission of polishing all the brass.
Now, as a rule, we do not polish brass much in this ship, nor very often. Years come and go between such efforts and the brass, such as it is, turns a delightful dull gold. We are quite happy with that as a rule. A goodly rule we figure. Seems sort of silly out sailing in the South Pacific tradewinds to be making this brass all shiny when in a moment of a passing squall it will be all for naught. But we are not romping across the South Pacific just now bound for Pitcairn Island or Tahiti or some such with flying fish scattering across deck or at anchor in some palm fringed cove with dugouts paddling in our general direction. No, we are in the North Atlantic and sailing to a big Tall Ship OpSail port with many Navy ships, and much shining up to do so the crew wanted to have polished brass. Maybe to just be like the others. And to be sure, the Picton Castle was once the HMS Picton Castle; 1939-1945, so we have a small right to some Royal Navy pride in this upcoming cavalcade of sailing ships and Navy ships; our ship is both. And easy enough one would think, to shine up what little brass we boast, but when brass has forgone the polish for some years this becomes a job to tackle. And you really cannot half polish brass. It has to be polished thoroughly so it gleams and shines or not at all. Half polished brass is a sight worse than brass not polished. And then even the technique of brass polishing is not without its required skill levels. It turns out that there is something to the job of brass polishing, you don’t just rub on some goop, and wipe it off, oh no, there is needed instruction and a good deal of effort to be applied in order to get brass buffed up. Of course, it is best to polish the brass and not get polish all over everything else, which is in the secret heart of brass polish; to get everywhere.
So Brass Polishing, commenced so blithely as an entertaining diversion is to become a dire quest and take up so much of the rest of the day. Tomorrow, naturally, all the brass will need to be polished all over again and again the next day. But at least it should not be so hard on the next go around. A chore indeed and one with fleeting success as the first wet hand mars the gleaming shine. Small wonder brass polishing was a Navy pastime in those heavily manned ships. Something to do and keep the many hands busy and out of mischief. And smaller wonder too that even the biggest of yachts with heaps of crew there to make all nice and shiny have almost all gone over to stainless steel and chrome, eschewing brass and the need to polish such. Like building pyramids, polishing brass is a delightful exercise in futility but impressive nonetheless and somehow we like it.