A few weeks ago, in the parking lot at the Tisbury Wharf Company on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, the 41-foot schooner Ismael rested out of the water on blocks. Her owner Fred Murphy and his friend Max Gibbs were workig on this year’s routine of spring maintenance.

This was Max’s seventh season helping Fred out in the gravel lot, on their perch above the harbor. Fred was getting ready to paint the boat for the 50th time.

“I’ve owned the boat 51 years,” Fred said from six feet up on the staging, where he was using an old paintbrush to chase dust from the seams between the boat’s wooden planks.

Max Gibbs helps keep Ishmael looking good. — Ray Ewing

Fred is retired now from his career as a merchant mariner. The only time he didn’t paint the boat he was away on a ship.

Ishmael was built as a yacht in 1929; Fred’s 51 years with her is only a little more than half the schooner’s life.

“I like painting the boat,” Fred said. “When you’ve got good staging it makes it easy.”

Pump jacks held up a two-board-wide catwalk all the way around the boat. Jeff Craig, a sailor friend of Fred’s and a veteran shingler, lent him enough sets, with shiny aluminum posts, to surround the boat.

Fred pointed out he could adjust the heights of their platforms by pumping the jacks.

“I only haul it to take care of the waterline,” Fred said. “The waterline takes a beating.”

Ishmael owner Fred Murphy. — Ray Ewing

Meanwhile, based on their preparations, it seemed like they were about to put a perfect coat of paint on the boat.

“You forget about it as soon as it hits the water,” Max said, quoting a repeated line of Fred’s.

In one corner of the bulwark, the grain of the wood was open.

“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Fred said. “The wood is just going to do what the wood is going to do.”’

He had packed it with an oil-based seam compound. Max handed him a can of solvents and a rag so he could wipe it in well and remove any excess from the surface so that when they painted the boat it would stick and the paint would seal it.

“I bought the boat when I was 23 years old for $22,000,” Fred said proudly.

He was a merchant seaman without a mortgage, and he hadn’t yet met his wife Sarah.

The boat leaked from every corner, but zooming up and down the east coast during his leave from the Merchant Marine was fantasy living for a carefree young sailor.

“She is in better shape now than the whole time I’ve owned her,” he said of Ishmael.

Local boatbuilders Jeff Robinson, Andy Lyons and Myles Thurlow have rebuilt the schooner in parts over the decades.

“That’s Jeff Robinson,” Fred said, pointing out the boards at the edge of the deck that must have started extra thick then were gracefully carved to carry water away from the joint at the bulwark and out through the scuppers.

On the forward side of Ishmael’s cockpit, there is a square hatch in the seat. When it hinges open you get full access to her diesel engine, which is rare on a full-keeled sailboat, where engines are usually surrounded by the interior. When Fred showed it to me, the little engine room was very clean and the engine looked freshly painted.

“Best part of the boat,” Fred said.

On the surface of the harbor, below the boat, where Ralph Packer’s barges often rest, a school of mackerel snapped to the surface. They disappeared as suddenly as they arrived.

Max, who works for Aquamarine Dockbuilders in Edgartown Harbor, told a story about Zach Klumick, our friend and his, who was driving one of the company’s powered barges they call ‘the Slab’.

“When I was pulling in this afternoon, Zach jumped off on the front of the dock, got his rod out of his truck and caught a mackerel before I could even finish tying the boat up.”

A few days later Ishmael headed back out on the water, ready for a new season with a fresh coat of paint.