Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Highs and Lows

One might assume, given the title, that this post will have something to do with meteorology. That would make perfect sense, given the fact that we are now back in the Canary Islands with our new boat Seahorse. Surely, we must now be planning our next passage and be considering the weather systems that might be at play? Well, not exactly, no. The highs and lows that I bring attention to here are those of everyday life - good old mood swings.

Seahorse, back in 2014, when we first fell in love with her

Alex is rather fortunate in that he doesn't really get extreme highs and lows in terms of moods like I do. Although, he does have a tendency to get hangry and is often grumpy when he's sleep-deprived, so I guess there are pros and cons. I, on the other hand, experience life as a continuous barrage of peaks and troughs. When things are good, I'm super excited and perhaps slightly hyperactive…. When they are not so good, I fret and worry, and can't seem to think of much else except the problem at hand. Luckily for me, life is usually filled with more highs than lows, and I don't tend to stay down in the lows for too long.

Enjoying a BBQ whilst on holiday on the Algarve

After selling Red Kite, we took a short break in Portugal for our anniversary and my birthday, before heading back out to Lanzarote. A long fifteen months since departing the island, we set foot back on Spanish soil and headed for the marina. The folding bicycles that we bought last summer in Portugal were unpacked at Arrecife Airport and, laden with luggage, we cycled off with a glorious sunset behind us and our exciting new challenges ahead of us. Passing through the streets of Arrecife on a Saturday evening, the town was buzzing with live music and street food stalls. Apart from the sore bum and aching back at the end of the ride, this was a definite high.

Getting our folding bikes ready at Arrecife airport

Once at the marina (which had been completed since we left and was now bustling with people in its bars and restaurants), we located Seahorse, and hopped aboard with our bags and bikes. By now, it was dark, so I wasn't really able to see what sort of condition she was in after being neglected for so long, but my initial assessment was that she didn't seem too bad. Tired and hungry, we headed off to one of our favourite cheap eateries on the edge of the Charco and indulged in a meat stew (estofado) and Canarian potatoes (papas arrugadas). When we got back to the boat, we could hear music pumping out of the bar near our pontoon. Hoping it wouldn't continue on too late, we headed to bed. Unfortunately, at around midnight it got even louder as the disco swung into action, and continued until 6am. A few moments of relative silence ensued… before shoals of fish arrived to eat their breakfast from our hull, with their persistent "tap, tap, tapping". Note to self: locate earplugs.

Enjoying a concert at Marina Lanzarote from Seahorse's cockpit,
in the evening rather than the early hours of the morning

As the new day dawned on us, so did the reality of the task ahead. Our new boat, Seahorse, is a fine steel ketch with about a metre more usable space than Firebird. She is slightly narrower, but has a wonderfully protected centre cockpit and a separate aft cabin. The aft cabin, at this point, was completely full of "stuff", as was the forward cabin. This rendered both berths unavailable and meant that we slept in the saloon; Alex on the starboard bunk and me on the floor. The saloon itself was also full of "stuff" - even more so by the time we had each brought a large rucksack aboard, as well as a shared holdall. Every available surface was cluttered, and we couldn't (and still can't) sit down until we had packed away the airbed and sleeping bags.

Sleeping arrangements in the main saloon on Seahorse

The trouble is, when we bought Seahorse, the previous owner left everything boat-related behind, and we brought everything we owned from Firebird. When you combine the two, you are left with something more akin to a cargo vessel than a cruising yacht. Additionally, the head (toilet) was inaccessible (and still is) due to a plastic dinghy and a couple of life rings that are wedged in front of the door. Add to that an empty water tank that really needs inspection and possibly cleaning before refilling, and you are left with a unique and slightly stressful experience - camping on a boat. Water from jerry cans, washing up in the cockpit and either a walk to the toilet block or a bucket in the middle of the night, when nature calls.

Seahorse in her current state, with aforementioned bucket on the pontoon

This alone wouldn't constitute a low. I've always been a fan of camping, and don't need much in the way of space or creature comforts. However, when combined with worries about the enormity of the task ahead of us and the external appearance of Seahorse in daylight, it didn't take long for me to start fretting. I probably should have realised that a steel boat, left unattended in the water for over a year would start to look a little worse for wear, but it was still a worry for me to see her like it. On deck, the rust that we knew was there already had worsened and lifted the teak deck even more, and the rust patches that we had hurriedly touched up before leaving her were, in many cases, just as bad as before we had done so. She was filthy, but we couldn't risk hosing her down properly, for fear of causing the rust to worsen and water to leak inside the forward cabin.

No wonder the fish enjoyed feasting themselves, with this hanging off the hull!

Below the waterline, there was a forest of epic proportions - I've never seen so much fouling on a boat. Luckily, this problem was easily solved, with Alex going in and attacking it with the boat hook. He managed to remove most of the long weeds, but of course the barnacles and urchins were not going to be displaced so easily - they would require the use of a jet wash, once she was out of the water. All in all, our boat was looking very sorry for herself indeed, and I was regretting our decision to stay working for so long in the UK. This was a low point, indeed.

Alex clearing weed from Seahorse's hull

I spent a day or two lost in my thoughts and worries, managing to console myself with the idea that we could always scuttle her (sink her on purpose) if we really had neglected her to a point beyond reasonable repair, cut our losses and buy another cheap boat. There are always options, and believe me I was desperately thinking of all of them, based on my imagined worst case scenarios. Luckily for me, it wasn't long before my thoughts took a more positive track, helped along by Alex, some internet research and conversations with other boat owners.

I'm surprised the boat hook didn't break, under the weight of all the weed

Almost opposite Seahorse on our pontoon, putting her firmly to shame, is the most wonderfully kept steel boat I have ever seen. Called Tanamera, with a very friendly and hard-working German owner, she could almost be a fibreglass boat, her steelwork is that good. Through conversations with her owner, who has owned her since 1988 and managed to keep her impeccable condition for all these years, I started to feel a lot better about Seahorse's future. He didn't seem too phased by Seahorse's outward appearance, and gave us lots of handy tips and food for thought with respect to fixing her up. In particular, his use of stainless steel for the pulpit, stanchions and cap rail really interested me.

Tanamera, a beautiful steel cutter

On top of this, I decided to purchase a book about steel boat renovation, written by a marine engineer, using a birthday Amazon voucher from my brother that I had yet to spend. This was an encouraging read, which I have yet to finish, but it was reassuring to educate myself more about steelwork in general, especially as the author has experience of replacing an entire deck due to rust, and covers the processes involved in the book. Hopefully our repairs wouldn't need to be quite so extreme, but I was starting to feel more prepared in the case that it might be.

It could be worse... imagine having to maintain a steel boat of that size!

Keen to get Seahorse out of the water and get started on repairs, we began making boat yard enquiries. We already had a place reserved in a boat yard in Gran Canaria from December, but decided that we didn't want to wait that long. Our preferred option was to use the boat yard at the marina we were in already, but we knew the prices to be steep. Still, we made enquiries as to the possibility of a discount for a long stay and/or pre-payment, and I also contacted the yard in Gran Canaria to ask whether we might be able to arrive there earlier than planned. Meanwhile, Alex was busy in discussions with Beta marine, from whom we had decided to purchase a new engine. It felt like things were moving in the right direction, and I was back on a high.

Gorgeous sunset over Marina Lanzarote

Sadly, rather predictably, Marina Lanzarote were unable to offer any sort of discount to stay in the boatyard and at over double the cost of a marina berth, we realised that we would be forced to move Seahorse to Gran Canaria. Whilst the prospect of sailing to a new location would usually be very exciting, I was apprehensive about making this journey, and began to worry about the rigging, the engine, the leaks on deck, and anything else that my troubled mind could find of concern. Frustratingly, this all coincided with our company's year end accounts needing attention, so I was spending hours going through spreadsheets and statements, and on phone calls with our accountant. I began to feel frustrated that progress wasn't being made on Seahorse, and irritated that I wasn't in a position to do so. Ah yes, back on another low.

How to antifoul your boat, if you don't want to pay extortionate yard fees

Finally, with accounts and admin under control, we got confirmation from Gran Canaria that we would be able to arrive there at the start of November. This was fantastic news, meaning that we would be out of the water a month sooner than planned, and able to start work on Seahorse’s repairs. We started preparing in earnest for the 90 mile passage from Lanzarote to Gran Canaria, by first clearing out any unwanted items and belongings. This would have the desired effect of lightening her and making her easier to sail, as well as giving us some much-needed room to move below decks - essential for a passage.

We get up super early to do our Freeletics exercises by the sea,
whilst it's still relatively cool (22°C) in the mornings

We have been working hard on this task over the past few days, and have cleared out 216kg of excess weight so far. Unbelievably, 16kg of this was clothes! Hopefully, the local charity for homeless people will be glad with such a hefty donation. We now have a lot more free space in the saloon and, consequently, daily living is getting easier. Hopefully, within the next few days, we can sort out the water tank and once again use the taps to access running water. Once we begin removing the sails from the forward cabin, we may even be able to sleep in the same bed again! Exciting times!

Alex, holding a large pile of clothes ready to go to the local charity

So, right now I am back on a high, and making the most of it. I know there are lows lurking ahead (probably a good few of them hiding under that teak deck) but, hey, that's life. The main thing is being able to focus on the positive, educate myself about the reality of the negatives and get to work on the task at hand. When the task ahead seems overwhelming, I mustn't spend time thinking about its enormity, but focus on one small step at a time, and we will soon be making progress in the right direction. Before you know it, we'll be setting sail in our beautifully refitted boat, and the only highs and lows of significance will, once again, be those in the weather forecast.

Alex cooking a roast in the cockpit

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Red Kite Has Left the Building

Having already used 'Firebird Flies the Nest' as the title of the post when we sold Firebird, it was hard to know what to call this one.  We need to stop selling boats!

Moored at Windsor on my birthday
We had planned to carry on working until the end of August, then sell Red Kite, leave London and get back to the Canaries.  We had already booked our flights for this, so when the IT project that we were both working on got unexpectedly cancelled, we were left with five weeks on our hands.  It didn't take us long to come up with, unsurprisingly, the idea of a boat trip!  Seeing as we already had a boat, it would have been rude not to.

This gave us the opportunity to get some use out of Red Kite and let her stretch her legs, rather than just using the poor old girl as a houseboat.

We left Brentford Dock Marina, where we have been keeping her and set off up the Thames, full of excitement and enthusiasm.  However, it soon felt like the trip had been cursed and instead of being a leisurely cruise up the calm waters of the Thames, turned into an advanced boat maintenance practical exam.

Craning poor Red Kite into the boatyard

The first thing that went wrong was that our sterndrive (a bit like an outboard motor) started leaking oil into the river.  We didn't want to be polluting the Thames with it and also, it was embarrassing to enter a lock and have a slick slowly spreading out from our transom.  Crucially, however, if left unchecked, the gearbox would have seized, resulting in a very expensive repair.  There was no way of topping the oil up until the boat came out of the water, and we didn't know how long we had until this fatal damage occurred.  We looked up the nearest boatyard that could service the sterndrive, which was luckily only a day away.

Kate operating a lock out of hours (when the lock keeper is off duty)

We slowly made our way to Chertsey Meads Marine the next day, obviously pretty nervous about the sterndrive seizing at any moment.  Little did we know that the emergency of the day was actually going to be the engine cooling system.

Kate picking blackberries
We arrived at Molesley Lock and noticed steam coming out of the engine bay vents.  Upon investigation, we discovered that the coolant had mostly boiled away and it was lucky that we had noticed when we did.  Fortunately, the lock was actually also broken, so we couldn't make progress anyway.  A diver was in the water trying to fix a problem with one of the lock gates, so no boats could pass through the lock in either direction.

We immediately set to work fixing our
Me eating the blackberries
problem, which should have been a simple matter of pulling out the old, broken impeller, which pumps the river water up into the cooling system, and replacing it with the spare that we always carry.  Of course, it wasn't this simple as the old one was seized in place and the new one wouldn't slot in properly.  After much fiddling, tweaking and scratching our heads, dismantling most of the pump system in the process, we managed to get it all sorted.  We had literally finished pouring in fresh antifreeze mix, to replace that which boiled away, when the lock gate was fixed and we were able to carry on up the river!

We made it to the boatyard before the sterndrive self destructed and were greeted by the most friendly and helpful staff, who managed to get Red Kite all fixed up for us in just a couple of days.  We had been worried that this was going to take a week or two out of our trip.

Black Magic Pie
While we waited for the work to be done, we walked around the local hedgerows, harvesting tub after tub of blackberries.  I invented a gluten, sugar, dairy free blackberry and apple pie, which we called a Black Magic Pie.  We had to bake it in a bowl, as we didn't have anything else suitable, but it all worked a treat.

Taking Red Kite upstream after she was fixed up, looking for somewhere to moor for the night, we encountered emergency number three.  We had peeked our nose into a possible mooring spot, but it was too shallow and I managed to gently hit the bottom while I was reversing out onto the river again.  I didn't think too much about it until a few minutes later when there was a bang and the boat started shaking violently.  My immediate thought was that I must have hit the propellor earlier, weakened it, and now a blade had fallen off, unbalancing the prop and shaking our fillings out.  This was the last thing we needed: another haul out and a new propellor.

We limped over to the bank, where we inspected the damage.  As it happened, the propellor was fine, apart from the fact that tangled around it was a curious mess of white and brown.  Eugh, we had been nappied!  It turns out that disposable nappies are very strong and quite heavy when saturated with water.  A few minutes of poking at it with the boat hook took care of this problem.  The worst bit was trying to get the thing into a bin bag without touching it.  Here was us thinking that the Thames no longer contained biohazardous waste!

By now, we had received our fair share of bad luck and were looking forward to a stretch of being able to relax and enjoy the scenery.  This was not the case.

Pumping the bilge with an improvised tube
Emergency number four found us the following day when we stopped for lunch.  I shut the engine down, went below decks to write in the log and heard a familiar whirring noise.  The water pump was running, but why was it running?  I hastily shut the pump off and started investigating.  It didn't take me long to find out what had happened.  A joint in the pressurised water system had come apart.  Noticing a drop in pressure, the pump assumed that someone was running a tap and dutifully set about pumping water from our huge freshwater tank through the system.  Unfortunately, the 'system' now consisted of simply an open-ended pipe, which was happily pouring water down into the bilge.  The whole tank had been emptied, which must have taken quite a while to do because I had only filled it the day before.

When I lifted a floor board, I discovered that Red Kite's bilge has the same capacity as her water tank.  It was completely full to the brim!  Any more water and we would have seen it seeping up between the boards!

This was a pretty annoying problem, especially as I was looking forward to lunch and most things getting between me and food will make me angry.  As we didn't have anything stored in the bilge, it wasn't a serious problem (apart form delaying lunch).  Repairing the broken pipe was simple, but then we needed to empty Red Kite's new bathtub.  Bailing by hand would have taken forever, so that was out.  First we tried re-routing the freshwater system so that the pump would draw from the bilge, rather than the tank.  After all, the pump had filled the bilge, so it should jolly well clean up the mess.  This didn't work, though, because the pump wasn't strong enough to lift the water up such a height.  After some searching, we found some spare piping and could extend the bilge pump from the engine bay to the main cabin, which allowed me to pump the water out by hand in about twenty minutes.

This was our final emergency, thankfully.  I think we passed the test!

The rest of the trip was just as we had imagined.  We really enjoyed the scenery along the Upper Thames and the clich├ęd slow pace of life associated with inland waterways cruising.

One of the beautiful, peaceful mooring spots that we found

We put Red Kite on eBay and got lots of interest.  We sold her to a couple of families who will share the ownership and we're sure that Red Kite will be well looked after and will enjoy her new life.  We were just glad that all our emergencies happened at the beginning of the trip, so that nothing happened on any test rides and we could sell her with a clean conscience.

Showing two of the new owners the ropes

Now we're back out in the Canaries, on our new boat, which replaced Firebird about 16 months ago.  Details of the new boat will follow in the next post.

One of the many, many swans that can be found at Windsor