Heads Up

We have had a very productive week. It stated with a bit of a disaster though: the heads (toilet) broke down. It wouldn’t flush. We initially assumed that it was blocked, and I set about trying to unblock it. Given the nature of our system hardcore unblocking liquids of the sort available in shops are not suitable, so I researched various methods of dealing with the blockage that wouldn’t kill all the fish for miles around. First of all we tried vinegar. Nothing. Then we tried vinegar and baking soda. This seemed to help a little, but didn’t fix the problem. So I took it apart. A deeply unpleasant job, although I feel like I now have a real understanding of how it works. Strangely, there still didn’t seem to be a blockage. This was worrying, as the pipes are long and if the problem was near the other end it would be a real bugger to fix.

There was a certain amount of deja vu in this situation too. We had a similar problem about six months ago, and had eventually bought an entirely new heads. The old one had been so old (possibly original) that we had been entirely unable to find any information regarding it’s repair. The replacement is a Jabsco compact manual heads. A really popular make, with fantastically detailed and useful troubleshooting support. Which I probably should have looked at first. After dismantling and cleaning the pump I checked various diagrams to make sure that I was reassembling it correctly, especially the position of an oddly shaped piece of rubber. Only the piece of rubber didn’t quite match any of the pictures. That was until I realised that it was inside-out. It was the ‘joker valve’, and it had inverted. It was with a weird combination of annoyance and relief that I realised that this was the problem in it’s entirety. On the one hand, fixing the heads actually only involved undoing two screws, pushing a piece of rubber back the right way, and rescrewing said screws. On the other hand, I had wasted two days and a lot of cleaning products trying to unblock something that wasn’t blocked. It could have been done in five minutes. However, if it happens again…

Not all the work this week was retrospective though. The rest has given us a real sense of moving forward. For his birthday I bought Keith a marine sound system. It is designed to be built into the boat, but Keith felt that this would rather spoil the aesthetic (it is very plastic and modern, Teka is neither). He solved this is an ingenious way. He built the system in to a chest. It is still wired in to the boat, but no blooming great holes had to be cut in to the wood.

Our friend Bob, who is helping us learn how to sail, came over, and he and Keith put the mainsail back on. This is a double whammy of fantastic. It will allow us to do some much more serious sailing, and it has virtually doubled the size of the inside of the boat. When me, Keith, and another friend (Paul) brought in the sails at the start of last winter, we endeavoured to fold them as neatly as possible, and we did rather well. But they are still huge.

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The mainsail back where it should be

We were visited by Keith’s family again, too. Once again, they were hugely helpful. They brought with them the paint which we are going to use to redo the hull. It’s a Deluxe one which Keith has had recommended to him by those who know. We’ll let you know if it is any good. Keith’s dad also helped scrub the bottom of the tender. We felt a bit bad as there were a lot of fish eggs. The harbour is teeming with life, though, so hopefully we won’t have had too much of a negative impact.

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Father and son tender scrubbing

It was the other job which I am most excited about. I feel like I am constantly complaining about the lack of space. It’s not that bad, but it is a problem. Although it won’t be any more! Teka properly sleeps seven, but we removed a bunk a while ago in order to have space for storage, computers, books, etc. The plan was always to build a proper cabinet, but there always seemed to be something more pressing. But we did it! Keith and I measured and designed it. It is a total bugger of a shape, with not nearly enough right angles. The hull curves along the back, and then it narrows quite suddenly. See picture one for a diagram which was almost entirely not what it ended up looking like.

Keith and Bob went on an adventure to Homebase and bought the wood, hinges, and so forth. Keith and his dad measured, sawed, and generally carpentered it in to shape. It’s pretty much done now, just needs a lick of paint. I’ll post a pic next week of the finished thing.

 

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Bucket List: Gibraltar

I have been researching Teka‘s history. I think I am really starting to get somewhere, which is quite exciting., although there are still gaps. Decades long gaps. You can see what I’ve come up with so far by clicking here or navigating your way to the ‘About: Teka’ page. I will update that page as I find out more.

Looking in to all the places she has been works wonders as inspiration of places we want to go. Sometimes, when it’s cramped and damp it’s easy to forget that. Keith summed it up nicely the other day: We need to take her out. Living in a tiny house isn’t worth it, unless we use the sails! At this point we are very much at the local, costal, day sail stage. We are still learning. But the reason I want to do this (Keith’s reasons are overlapping, but not quite the same) is because I want to go places. Many, many, places.

One of mine is Gibraltar. It’s pretty much a given, really. Before the grand adventure we are intending to spend a season in the Mediterranean, and it would be tricky to get there from the UK without passing Gibraltar. It’s a somewhat less controversial destination request than, say, Madagascar. I have similar reasons for wanting to visit them both, though. When I am not Annie-with-a-boat, or Annie-the-bartender, I am Annie-who-is-interested-in-evolution. Specifically primate evolution. Madagascar is home to lemurs, and Gibraltar used to be home to Neanderthals.

Gibraltar are very proud of their Neanderthals, and have some rather amazing sites. Gorham’s cave, for example, has some intentional Neanderthal etching. Very exciting stuff, if you are me. That is another benefit of travelling by boat, when that boat is your home. There is less of a rush. Fewer compromises need to be made. We are intending to go everywhere that we want to go, so long as it isn’t too dangerous. The spot I want to visit in South Africa might have to be achieved by more conventional means, as the roaring forties are, well, roaring. But generally, the world is (will be) our mollusc. We can go somewhere, and, if we like it, stay for a while. If it’s rubbish we can leave on the next tide. At this point we have got a rough idea of our routes, but at this stage it is constantly evolving. Now we just need to do it…

(Caveat: that’s not all we need to do)

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Lemurs at Bristol zoo. Because they’re cute. Photo credit: me.

Varnish, Fame and War

Apologies for the lack of recent blog posts. It has been a hectic couple of weeks and the time rather got away from me. The weather has, largely, continued to be fantastic, and so work on the deck has also continued. Although it is incredibly time consuming, and the weather in the South West being as temperamental as it is adding a certain amount of gamble to each coat, varnishing continues to be my favourite job. The combined efforts of Keith and his family brought our down rails back to the original wood, and they are looking stunning! They have been positively glowing in the sunlight. Wooden boats take an awful lot of upkeep, but when the sun shines off the varnished teak it is really worthwhile.

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It seems like we are not the only people to think that Teka is a pretty boat. Part of the recent hectic-ness was my birthday, and Keith was bizarrely excited about my birthday card. What could have possibly been on it that he was virtually jumping up and down to give it to me? None other than our Teka. Bought from a card shop on Portishead high street, it was a photo of the marina, with our boat front and centre. We are famous! It is a little odd to think that there may be complete strangers out there with a picture of our home on their fridge door. It does reinforce our obsession with varnish, though. She really is a very beautiful boat, and we want to keep her that way. The cover of Classic Boat magazine, here we come!

There is a negative element to all this aesthetic work though. We have declared war. Our opponents don’t actually know that we have declared war yet, but we have. As mentioned before, there is a lot of wildlife around. On the whole, this is really enjoyable. Unfortunately, we have developed a seagull problem. Or, more specifically, a seagull poo problem. They keep sitting at the top of our mizzen mast and going to the toilet. The guano sets like Roman concrete! The most infuriating thing isn’t that we have apparently become an avian loo, but that it seems only to be us. We haven’t seen any on any other boat, even those which are left mostly unattended. When we asked the guys on our current port-side neighbour boat, Sea Grass, they denied any such problem. We are by no means the only masted ship, nor do we have the tallest masts. While it is rarer than fibreglass, we are not even the only wooden boat. So why us? We have nob idea. We have contemplated buying a bird scarer: one that is shaped like a hawk, but given the violent attacks by the seagulls on the buzzards which occasionally visit we aren’t sure about how long it would survive. It might even draw the seagulls as they ‘defend’ themselves and their patch. Send help?

Visitations

This week we had visitors on, and around the boat. They came in a range of shapes and sizes. First of all there was part of my family. Boat life can start to seem normal surprisingly quickly. It becomes ‘just’ life. I’ve heard it said that people often only go to their local sites – museums and so forth – when people come to visit. This week was a bit like that. I had forgotten just how pleasant it is to sit in the cockpit, even in harbour, and enjoy being aboard. So that’s what we did. We sat and nattered and ate nibbles and drank wine. Very pleasant. In these situations conversations often seem to turn to the future, and The Grand Voyage (where we sail Teka around the world) came up. It looks like we have some crew for the Iceland-to-Newfoundland leg!

The second visitor turned up whilst we were in the cockpit. Portishead marina is, as I have mentioned before, pretty good for wildlife of the winged variety. There are, of course, the gulls. They are big and bossy and loud. Interestingly they have learned how to open mussels which grow on the pontoon legs by flying them above the harbour sides and dropping them so they crack. Like a nautical lamergeier. I’ve seen a few people narrowly missed, and I am sure that it’s only a matter of time before I get hit by a plummeting mollusc. There is a pair of buzzards who fly over occasionally, only to get mobbed by the gulls. There was a grey heron which slept by the pontoon entrance, but I haven’t seen it for a while now. It may have finally got fed up with me accidentally waking it up every time I came home from work around midnight. Then there is our favourite, Colin. Colin the cormorant. We were sat in the cockpit admiring Colin, who was drying his wings on the next pontoon over, when he was joined by a second cormorant. We immediately named this one Connie. Not being experts, we are basing their sex on absolutely nothing more than a vague hope for the appearance of smaller cormorants.

Later in the week we exchanged my family for Keith’s. We were visited by his father, step-mother, brother, and dog. Their visit was rather more practical than the earlier one had been. While I was at work almost the entire down rail was sanded and rubbed with teak oil, and two bits of damaged caulking were fixed – one in the companionway hatch, and the other in the deck. The latter had been causing us no end of problems, not least that it had allowed rain in to the galley. It should, hopefully, now be water tight once again.

It was particularly interesting having a dog on board. We are very keen on getting a boat dog, although there are a few practical considerations which are preventing us. Not least the knowledge that boats arriving at the Galapagos are fumigated to prevent foreign spiders and so forth. It’s unlikely that a dog would be allowed on to such a fragile ecosystem. Fergus the Jack Russell hadn’t been on a boat before. Initially he was very nervous indeed. All vibrate-y. However, once he had checked everything out he was very happy, and seemed to pretty much decide that this boat was now his.

fullsizeoutput_9c0This week’s oddities of boat life:

3. Mentally categorising leaks in terms of vertical (i.e. lets rain in): not the end of the world, and horizontal (i.e. lets sea in): panic!

n.b. Horizontal leaks are, thankfully, hypothetical entities.

Yet Another One

With the improvement in the weather we have been spending a lot more time on deck. Due to the shape of the boat, the position of the engine and so forth, I’m fairly sure that we have more ‘outdoor’ space than we do inside. It is really quite lovely to spend a quiet hour away from the daily grind, reading on deck (currently P. G. Wodehouse). The weather has also inspired us to do some more work on Teka.

When we first got Teka we quickly discovered that several of the stanchions were thoroughly rotten. We took the boat to be fixed (which resulted in us being on the news as the associated boat yard was due to be closed). Almost immediately after getting two professionally replaced we discovered that four more were disintegrating. Luckily Keith had been watching the initial work like a hawk. Getting every piece of work done professionally is all well and good, but if your intention is long voyages then it’s probably best to learn yourselves. With some kind help from a couple of other chaps, they replaced another four. We thought, foolishly, that was the end of our stanchion troubles. Yesterday we discovered another one which had a rotten patch.

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This, as you can see in the photo, was a particularly awkward one. The majority of the others had been higher up, under the downrail. For the most part they weren’t structural or load bearing (apart from two at the stern). This one was different. The stanchion in question supports not only that section of downrail, but also a cavel rail with some rather crucial lines attached. Even worse, the rot was at the bottom, running the risk that it would let water in to the boat, or even worse, spread to some of the more vitally structural elements. All was not lost, however. Step up Keith, epoxy, and my all time favourite substance: resoltech. Keith cut away the affected wood, then soaked the remaining stanchion in resoltech. For those who haven’t been lucky enough to come across this stuff – it’s basically magic. It seeps in to the pores of the wood, pushing out any remaining water and solidifying it to a quite incredible degree. Keith then filled the hole with epoxy, sealing out the water. Problem solved!

We had apparently been the target of a bombing raid by seagulls too. Again, Keith stepped up. We had, luckily, recently bought a brand new bottle of deck cleaner in preparation for repairing the leak above the galley. I feel like I should point out that for the majority of this time I was at work, not just being terribly lazy! Unexpected maintenance done, we can return to our planned maintenance for the rest of the week. Tomorrow we are sealing the leak (especially vital as there is a LOT of rain forecast next week), and the weekend will involve the perpetual sanding and varnishing. I say perpetual, but we are making visible progress now. People say that wooden boats are a lot of work. This is true. There’s no denying it. But! Who doesn’t work on their home? It’s the great difference between renting and home ownership. When something goes wrong, the incentive is there to fix it, improve it, and so forth. It’s incredibly rewarding too.

Books on Board

As with any small home, space is an issue on a boat. This is confounded by the ‘extra’ things which are necessary for the nautical aspects of boat life: safety equipment, charts, radio, sails being kept inside during winter… Don’t get me wrong – Teka is incredibly well designed for storage. She is a deep sea boat through and through. Everything is a cupboard. But space still feels short sometimes. Add to this the fact that we are both rather bookish people, and there is a bit of a problem. Becoming a boat owner can feel all encompassing sometimes, but it doesn’t erase other interests. Keith is an avid historian, and therefore has an extensive selection of books on the life of Napoleon, for example. I am interested in even older things. Having just finished my degree I have accumulated a great deal of books on prehistory and evolution, as well as evidence of my love of a good story. It is probably unsurprising then that, since buying Teka, we have accumulated a few sailing books as well.

We were gifted a few. ‘Brave of Stupid’ by Tracey Christiansen is particularly good, although I can’t help feeling that perhaps the gifter was trying to make a point. It is a really witty account of a couple of friends sailing around the world, almost by accident. It’s packed with fun stories, but doesn’t pretend everything was, erm, plain sailing. It’s a really inspiring and entertaining read. Then there are the practical books. Unusually for myself, a great believer in the knowledge to be found in books, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that the best way to learn about boats and sailing is to do it (under the guidance of someone who knows the ropes already, of course). How-to books aren’t worthless though. ‘Hand, Reef and Steer’ by Tom Cunliffe is a personal favourite. Teka is gaff-rigged. While this is arguably the most beautiful of all sailing set ups, it has been out of fashion for a couple of years (i.e. since WW2). Cunliffe states that “by the 1950s anyone ordering a new yacht with a gaff rig would be considered eccentric”. This is particularly interesting as it immediately tells us something about Teka‘s history and the sort of person/people who commissioned her, as she was built in 1954. The popularity of the Bermudan rig can make information about gaffers a little hard to come by, which makes this book – lent to us by Teka‘s previous owner – a life saver. Cunliffe’s discussion of the pros and cons of a gaff ketch are particularly heartening, when it comes to the practicality of sailing with a small crew.

IMG_3308Then there are books about the beauty of the sea. We managed to get hold of an anthology of poetry about the sea, from 1887. It’s a lovely little book. My personal favourite is by Sir Walter Scott:

The helm, to his strong arm consign’d,

Gave the reef’d sail to meet the wind,

And on her altered way,

Fierce bounding, forward sprung the ship,

Like greyhound starting from the ship

To seize his flying prey.

Awaked before the rushing prow

The mimic fires of ocean glow,

Those lightnings of the wave;

Wild sparkles crest the broken tides

And, flashing round, the vessel’s sides

With elfish lustre lave.

While, far behind, their livid light

To the dark billows of the night

A gloomy splendour gave,

It seems as if old Ocean shakes

From his dark brow the lucid flakes

In envious pageantry,

To match the meteor-light that streaks

Grim Hecla’s midnight sky.

Pontoon Life and Oddities

The rain is absolutely hammering down today, but I promise that it was beautiful for the majority of last week. British weather is famous for being somewhat temperamental so we took advantage of the dry-spell to do some work on Teka. It was mostly sprucing jobs. We swabbed the deck, washed the hull, scrubbed the rib, and tidied the cockpit; I could understand the latter getting covered in leaves when we spent autumn moored under a row of trees but now? In the middle of a marina? In summer? The mind boggles.

Of course we were not the only people out and about. As soon as the sun shines the marina comes alive with people tinkering away on their vessels. Some are doing a few jobs before popping out in to the channel for an afternoon fishing, while others are getting their boats ready for a long summer of sailing. A lovely Moody has recently moored up near us, and the couple who own her were struggling with their mast. While I love our gaff-rigged sails, I had always seen the attraction in the very modern Bermuda rigged boats where the main sail rolls up in to the mast itself. This is how the Eas Mhor is rigged, but something had gone wrong and the sail was getting stuck. By this point we had all said ‘hello’ and admired each others boats while we got on with working on our own. After an hour or two of the four of us cheerfully working alongside, they asked for some help unsticking their sail. Despite being injured at the moment (and not being the greatest fan of heights), Keith happily popped himself in their bosuns chair and up he went! The plan was to hammer a wedge of hard wood into the part of the mast which had narrowed in order to – hopefully – widen it again.

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Keith and I are still relatively new to this way of living, and are still learning the ropes (pun entirely intended). There is one aspect of it which I really enjoy, and that is the camaraderie on the pontoon. It’s not specific to where we are now: there were many similar occurrences in Bristol. There was the time that the electricity went down on the whole pontoon and, once everyone had breathed a sigh of relief that they hadn’t broken their boat, clubbed together to work out how to fix it. There were borrowings and lending of tools and advice. There was a lovely dinner party. The same seems to apply here. When we first arrived several people came over to help us with our lines. A couple who were preparing their boat to spend the summer in Cornwall kindly donated us some rope as they felt that they had a surplus. And Keith went up the mast.

I have heard people – usually older – talking about the loss of community in society. It was never something which had bothered me too much: chance has thrown you next to someone, but that surely doesn’t mean you have to be friends? They might be a total jerk! I wasn’t sure whether it was even ever real. Surely it was just that strange nostalgic thing that people do, saying that everything was better in the ‘good old days’. (I challenge anyone to actually be able to date ‘the good old days’ and show how they were so wonderfully problem free, but that’s another story). But now I get it, and I love it. Perhaps I am being naïve, but it seems to me that the automatic setting is a sort of cheerful vague helpfulness between all sailors.


This week’s oddities of boat life:

  1. Waking up at 3:45am to rush around closing portholes and hatches because weather is happening
  2. Very big splashes = starting to think there might be a kraken in Portishead marina