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.


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?



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.


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.