Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Don’t Look Back – Too Often.

Yea - sometimes I wear a tie - now that I don't have to
Its better, I find, not to look back too often. What is ahead is infinitely more interesting that what has been
done. One time each year however, Susan and I like to review progress and share aspirations – she for her art, garden and potager, me for the boat, writing and my guitar playing. And then there is the joint stuff – house renovation projects, trips and voyages. The discussion, which we refer to as the ‘shareholders’ meeting usually takes place at this time of year in front of a log fire with a special heart-warming dinner and a bottle of better than average plonk. So, this year our meeting will be on Saturday evening on my return from Jersey where I am undertaking a writing project at the moment.

With the meeting in mind, I found myself reviewing my boating year the other day. How was 2013 as a boating year? Well pretty good considering I didn’t have a boat on the water.

Winter last year was exceptionally long – at times it felt as if spring would never arrive. But then in May the weather improved and Mother Nature made a dash for summer. Without a sailing boat, the two man sit-on-top kayak was the way to get afloat – and I have to admit it provided a lot of fun – paddling up creeks and into waters hidden from and denied to larger deeper drafted vessels, harvesting wild Samphire and cockles from mud banks inaccessible to everyone else. Something good about paddling too – getting the winter chill out of the old bones and sinew.

But then, toward summer I was invited to sail La Passagere – a heavy old wooden gaff ketch. We even took the mayor of Plouer out for a sail and showed him bits of his parish he had rarely seen.

Full summer, and I had the opportunity to crew a Moody 33 from Plouer to St Valerie en Caux – a delivery trip – a forty hour, 200 mile voyage north through the Channel Islands and the infamous Alderney Race, out into the English Chanel and then East, passing Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre, the mouth of the Seine, Dieppe, and on to our destination, arriving at dawn, a half hour before ETA.

Autumn, and I managed to crew a friend’s newly bought Cornish Shrimper, an unexpected bonus. He’d bought her to renovate and discovered that she was in very good order and there was no reason not to launch.

Late autumn completed the circle – I was back with the canoe and foraging for wild fruit along the estuary shores, pretty good for a guy living through a boat famine.

Memories such as these led me to digging out log books from even earlier voyages aboard my old sloop Seaward Lady a  24ft Macwester Rowan Crown and later aboard Susan of the Seas a twin engined Channel Islands 22. Glancing through the books over a glass of wine by the fire is certainly an instructive, if not always an enjoyable, occasion. In truth it’s a history of highs and lows - dates, times, distances, courses and compass headings – data that serves as a reminder of the successful and not so successful trips. Logbook data has its obvious uses at sea while on passage but  it’s often the comments made in the margins that are the most telling. ‘Skipper has close family connection to Captain Bligh’ was one that made me wince.  Another salt-stained almost illegible comment contained the words ‘skipper’and ‘pollark’ I think that’s what it said anyway. Surprisingly enough, I also came across a poem of sorts –

We were out one day down Carteret way
The waves were high and rollin’
Bail out! Sue hollered
But she needn’t have bothered
The bucket had a hole in.’

But enough of looking back! A free copy of the local tide tables landed on my doormat this morning and the shortest day of the year is already passed – sure signs that its time to get back to the boatyard.

For other aspects of this frugal life please read Frugal Living in France


Monday, 23 December 2013

One Step Forward

One step forward, two steps back – not quite but it sometimes feels like that. I was at the boatyard
yesterday feeling pleased that I now have the boat under cover, that I now have a twelve Volt circuit and that I’m now working on the final sanding of the gel coat (P 3000) more like a rub down with chamois leather than a sand paper. That was before I got into conversation with the owner of the boatyard – he’s a great guy, always there with helpful advice and support. Well today he pointed out something I had not noticed.

This boat has been modified. Originally she would have had either an inboard engine or an outboard hung off the stern. A previous owner had moved the rudder further aft and hung it off the transom in order to create space for an outboard well. To my eyes and those of others more expert than me, this was a good idea. The greater distance between rudder and keel should make for better manoeuvrability, and an outboard in a well gives you all the benefits of an inboard engine with the advantages of being able to lift her out and take her away for storage, maintenance or repair.

The boatyard owner had been intrigued by the arrangement and he had clambered around the boat to get a better look. In particular he wondered how the cockpit had been modified to keep her self-draining.

In his search he discovered an over-complicated arrangement whereby water landing in the cockpit was drained either side of the well to the stern of the boat to drain out through the drains which had existed before the well had been constructed. So far so good, unfortunately the well had been constructed of wood and fibre-glassed over and the cockpit water was able to run either side of the well by means of holes drilled through the well walls. It would have been better simply to drain the water into the well.  As it stands however, the arrangement has enabled moisture to penetrate the fibreglass shell and there is evidence of rotten wood around these holes.

It’s not the end of the world but at some point the well walls will have to be rebuilt. The situation isn’t critical, the current arrangement is still good for a few years and I could launch and enjoy her this season at least. Problem is – I don’t want to launch anything but an excellent sea boat. It is as if, we have come to a point where I no-longer own this boat – there is so much of me tied up to her that  she now calls the shots - she owns me. So, it seems I have another job to add to my list.

Maybe I should feel down and despondent but no. For some reason, I feel fine about it. The more you work on a boat, the more problems and challenges you overcome, the more confident you feel. Ok it’s a piece of work and an expense I hadn’t expected but  its part of the adventure so – bring it on! At times like this its good to remember that Joshua Slocum (the first man to sail around the world single handed) pointed out that when he had re-built ‘Spray’ for his voyage there were probably only two planks he didn’t have to replace. Well, if its good enough for him…… At the end of the day I'll get there even if I have to drag her to the water single handed!

Meanwhile for more news from this neck of the woods please visit my other blog at Frugal Living in France


Monday, 16 December 2013

Costs of Renewing an Old Boat

I took a major financial decision this week, one that may have major implications for my frugal philosophy.  I think it was the right move but only time (or less of it) may tell. Let me set the scene, the weather here is deteriorating, we haven’t had any snow yet but we have had severe frosts with night-time temperatures as low as minus 4 degrees C, plenty of wind and some rain. I’ve been working on setting up the twelve volt electrical system for the boat, sitting at home by the log-burner to read up on the subject each evening, and trying to apply the theory each day. For wet days I have transferred a good deal of removable wood to the attic where I can paint, varnish or oil it in comfort but there is a limit to the amount of work I can do in this way – at some point I’ll run out of wood to treat. Meanwhile my boat is exposed to the elements and, if last year is any guide, it may still be cold and snowy in April.

I need to get ahead but much of the work is weather dependent and two jobs in particular have been bugging me. One is the renewal / repair of the hatches and the other job is the installation of a 240 volt AC circuit for use in port and for charging the 12 Volt batteries – the best advice I have been able to obtain suggests I should leave this job to a professional. A badly installed 12 Volt DC system in a boat won’t kill you (although it might start a fire) but. a badly installed 240 Volt AC system will both kill and fry you. As for the hatches, well I’ve taken them off to work on them at home – but the boat is open to the heavens and to potential thieves. We get very little crime here and most of it is ‘opportunistic’ rather than planned but I can’t imagine a stronger invitation to an opportunistic thief than a boat without hatches.  

I was thinking about these issues when the phone rang and I received a request to undertake a project on behalf of my old employer (the States of Jersey).  It’s an interesting project and it will give me the opportunity of mixing with old friends and colleagues again. It will take time however, and although I can do much of the work from home, it will still have an impact on how much time I can devote to the boat.

My original idea on coming out of mainstream employment was to exchange time for money – i.e. I didn’t expect to have a great deal of money BUT I would have time. Well, there was one gross error in my calculations – I never planned to have to spend at least four times longer on any job that a professional. Its all new to me - these guys do it everyday. In effect, it’s an uneven exchange; I could earn enough in a quarter of the time I would spend working on the boat to have a professional undertake the boat work for me.

So here is my financial decision. I undertake the project, which will take between 15 and 20 days to complete and I use some of the income to pay for the additional cost of rolling my boat into a hangar where I can work on her whatever the weather, and then I use a little bit more of my unexpected income to have the 240 Volts AC system installed by a professional. Is that a cop-out? Have I sold-out on my ideals? Have I visited the same cross-roads where Robert Johnson made his famous pact? Who knows? Looks like I need to get my old suit dry-cleaned though.

Meanwhile - for more on Frugal Living in France follow this link


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Seaward's Christmas List

Here’s a blog post with a difference, written in the hope that Susan will read it – and act upon it. For years I am told, I have been difficult to buy presents for – especially at Christmas. A couple of years ago, we were affluent enough to purchase pretty much what we wanted without need to wait for Birthdays or Christmas. Now, our self-imposed frugal lifestyle means that luxuries have to be saved for. I quite like this idea of deferred gratification – the anticipation of waiting and wondering whether the right people have got the message which of course has to be subtly delivered - like a whisper in the ear.

When it comes to Simple Sailing and Low Cost Cruising, it can be particularly difficult. The stuff you really want is pretty obscure, and you can’t always trust partners to buy exactly what you’ re hoping for – lets face it guys, how many of us would dare to purchase the right shade of lipstick or nail varnish for our partners, confident that we have made the right choice. Well it’s the same for them with boating equipment. For example, to your partner a fish finder is a fish finder – Ah yes! But is it a Raymarine  or a Garmin? The other aspect of having to wait and hope rather than simply buy, is that you have time to choose carefully so, to you, the choice between  Raymarine and Garmin is crucially important.

Now while working on this boat I have tried all sorts of ways to keep costs down – DIY and low tech approaches are a given but one thing I have learned is that there is no saving in low quality. The most effective cost saving approach is to purchase carefully and well – going for the best quality you can afford – it’ll work better and last longer.

Now I’m hoping that these items will help keep me safe on the boat, and at home give me a better handle on the weather, and then of course, - a good read for the holiday period. So Susan, hoping you read this and maybe click a few links?

For The Boat - emergency dry bags

Outdoor Products 3-Pack Ultimate Dry Sack (USA Readers)

ocean pack dry sack (UK Readers)

For the Home - a weather station

Brand New Howard Miller - Howard Miller Shore Station - Clock, Barometer, and Thermometer "Home/Office - Clocks & Barometers" (USA Readers)

Howard Miller 625-249 Shore Station Weather & Maritime Wall Clock By (UK Readers)

And a good book to read! One of the first single hander's who found simplicity is the key to happy cruising

Voyages of a Simple Sailor (USA Readers)

Voyages of a Simple Sailor (UK Readers)

Plus, don't forget, if you're interested in other aspects of Living in France please visit the other Blogspot:

Frugal Living in France


Sunday, 1 December 2013

Classic Boats

Take a look at this beautiful classic sailing boat that turned up in my home port last week. I love her
traditional long deep keel, beautiful overhangs and wooden top- sides. She probably quite fast, an excellent take-you-anywhere sea boat – a cruiser for serious cruising, and she seems to be in remarkably good condition. Apparently a lot has been spent on her. Just look at that gleaming hull.

Now, you can’t do this, but what if you took a much closer look? What if, like me you could put your nose right up against her and look along the length of the hull? Then you would see countless hairline cracks in the gel-coat, visible only along the hull. Look straight at it and you won’t spot a thing. Truth is, there is something awfully and expensively wrong – the gel coat is crazed like a piece of Raku pottery and the only cure seems to be to take it all off and re-coat.

So here she is today partially stripped. Stripping is the easy bit – re-coating fairing and painting is going to take time and expertise. Good luck to her owner and his bank balance.

And, for those of you busy sanding and renovating a GRP hull, well here’s what she will look like if you sand too far. Interestingly, the gel-coat on this boat seems to be remarkably thin. The older boats like the one I’m working on have much greater depth.

Meanwhile here is another boat that turned up at about the same time. She’s a Westerly 22, a slightly older cousin of the vessel I am currently trying to renovate. She’s a funny looking old tub designed by Commander  Rayner  who went on to set up the Westerly Boat Company which produced one of the most popular sailing yachts of all time – the Westerly Centaur, there are plenty of these here.

As for this Westerly 22, believe it or not, examples of this diminutive sloop have crossed the Atlantic. Some say that with her turned-up nose she looked like a banana. Rayner preferred to describe them as ‘Whalebacks’. They were built like tanks and some say they sail like tanks also.

I hope she’ll stick around. As these boats age there are less of them to be found in the UK and they certainly are a rarity in France. It would be good to think that when I launch next year, my Nomad will be part of a larger fleet of classic Westerlies.

PS: If you want to read more about my neck of the woods and life here please visit: Frugal Living in France