Written by: VAL ZACHARIAS
I come from Canada – the interior of Canada, the very driest part of Canada. While we do have oceans on three coasts, they are at least 1,000 miles away in every direction. If we did happen to have a day with a relative humidity of 30%, we were damp. Things like salt spray, salt mist, or salt air were all foreign concepts back in my Canada days. But even a landlubber like me can understand that getting your things wet is generally not good for them – a small step in understanding that getting things wet with salt water is probably worse.
Since moving to a tropical island, now surrounded by water by far, far fewer than 1,000 miles, I have gained a whole new sense of just how pernicious salt water can be on your things. But it took me awhile to realize just how all-consuming the salt in the air can be. I don’t live on the beach, mind you. I can see the sea, yes, but I live far enough away that I would never choose to walk down there. Having some distance between me and the salty ocean, it simply never occurred to me that I would need to take special precautions because of this new environment. But the salt air has since made its point.
Take my stainless steel table, for example. I had it for several years in Canada (in a basement of all places), and it was fine. Now it’s covered with freckles. When I brought it down here to Nevis, I think it started rusting the day I unpacked it. It hadn’t even occurred to me that rust would be an issue. I thought the fact that it was “stainless steel” meant that rust stains just wouldn’t happen. Far too late, I was told that the term should more accurately be spelled “STAINS LESS”, with the emphasis on the space between those two words. I was also told that the word “stainless” is carelessly applied to many different products, apparently legally, and if you actually want to have something steel last when you live by the sea, you have to buy “MARINE-GRADE stainless steel”. Guess what you can’t buy in the middle of Canada, especially if you don’t know enough to ask for it?
We also brought down a Weber grill. Its big fancy hood is still shiny as can be, but the rest of it – no way. Even the front face, where the knobs are, is covered in rust. Why would anybody put different grades of stainless steel on the same unit? If the hood needs the best quality, why wouldn’t the rest of it need that too? Perhaps the warranties are written in the hopes that people won’t read them, or don’t keep the paperwork, or are too lazy to follow up, or maybe their writers also live far from the salt air.
Appliances are another issue. I don’t think I ever had a rusty appliance before I came to this island, nor do I recall doing anything in particular to actively prevent my appliances from rusting. Here, it’s a different story – one cannot avoid doing battle. The house we bought came “furnished”, as in the owners left pretty much everything in it. That included lots of rusty items of all sorts, and I immediately assumed that rust is just something you put up with here. It turns out, that’s not true. People who’ve been here for years have lots of advice, some of which even works. For example, many people spray WD40 on all their metal, every month, and then wipe it off. Some say they wax appliances with auto wax, starting when they are new and pristine, and they don’t ever get scruffy and rusty. Who knew? I’ve learned that the best way to choose a solution on a rock is to find somebody who has had the exact item you need for years, without problems, and follow that person’s advice.
Of course another solution could be to disguise your rust spots with lots of strategically placed fridge magnets. You could even find an artist who could incorporate the rust spots in a brand new design. Better yet, you could cultivate an inability to see rust, or even acknowledge it. Repeat after me: “That’s clean, it won’t poison me, it’s fine.” (I’m working on it…)
Having had more than enough problems with metal items since I arrived rock-side, I had a new thought – “Plastic must be the way to go.” After all, we’ve been told for decades that plastic lasts for 100+ years in landfills, so surely it should last on a shelf on a porch, out of the sun. You have to admit that a gallon ice cream pail is made of pretty study plastic – clearly, they made every attempt to make it rough and tumble, with no regard for overflowing landfills. So I gave it shot and stored some chemicals in an ice cream bucket. The chemicals were not in contact with the bucket, they were in their own separate bottles, but three years later, the bucket has several splits from its rim almost down to its base. So much for that solution. People who are trying to deal with the ridiculous amounts of plastic in landfills should study the seaside environment – maybe it would provide a clue.
More than forty years ago, I needed an extra light, and there was no store where I could buy such a thing, or even a place to buy lamp shades. So instead, I bought beer sieves – conical baskets about two feet long and eight inches across at the wide end. Africans put them pointy end down in barrels of beer swimming with taka taka (solid particles you’d rather not drink). The beer seeps into the inside of the cone, where it is nice and clear and ready to be scooped out with a gourd. The sieves became lamp shades by the simple expedient of removing some of the basket fibers to let the light shine through. I kinked each basket to make a more pleasing shape, wired them through an old papaw stock because it’s hollow, and presto: I had a chandelier.
The point of all this is that I still have that chandelier, in perfectly good condition, hanging on the same island porch where my steel has rusted and my plastic has disintegrated. Perhaps I’ve finally found the perfect island rust hack! Now, the only problem is figuring out where on earth can I find hand-made baskets of that quality – on this little rock, no less.
Ah, well. Who wants to do that much work nowadays? Go ahead, sea air – do your best. I’m fine with rust now. And if I one day get frustrated with it once again? I’ll buy a few more fridge magnets and call it a day.