25 May 2016 | Sainte Marine
23 May 2016 | L'Aber Wrach
21 May 2016 | Port Pendennis
05 April 2016 | Northwood
28 January 2016 | Hemel Hempstead
17 December 2015 | Boxmoor
01 September 2015 | East Coast
01 June 2015 | Ostend/North Sea
31 March 2015 | Leverstock Green
23 February 2015 | Leverstock Green
13 January 2015 | Leverstock Green
14 October 2014 | Leverstock Green
19 September 2014 | Leverstock Green
15 September 2014 | Levington, River Orwell
Hammer House of Horror
29 December 2008 | Antwerp
It's been quiet on here for a long time. A very long time. This does not mean nothing's been happening. Just that I've been too depressed to write about it. To say that things have not been going well is an understatement.
We ran into trouble as soon as we started stripping the old teak deck.
First of all, what we found underneath the teak was not at all what I expected. I had been lead to believe that we had was teak on top of a balsa core deck. What we found was teak on top of ply on top of GRP. We started digging where I knew there were 'leaks'. Underneath the ply had turned into compost.
Further investigation led us to believe that in places the ply was still good.
Initially we worked out that about 80% of the ply was still good, other bits could be replaced easily. Then all the teak was stripped and the boat left for some time to dry. Even then the moisture readings remained alarmingly high. Where the ply looked fine on the surface it had started to rot from underneath. All of the ply had to come off.
This left an 8mm GRP deck. A Bavaria kind of deck - you felt a certain spring in your step. It became obvious very quickly that to restore rigidity and maintain structural integrity something needed to be done. Various alternatives were investigated, but after much palaver and calculations a decision was arrived at. Balsa wood would be laminated in and then the cork fitted on top of that. Deck thickness would remain the same as before, and the boat would be about 350kg lighter overall.
The necessary balsa and resin was ordered and we're finally in a position to say that at least progress is being made.
I've have given up all hope of sticking to whatever budget I had in mind. I just live from day to day now, and I hope I'll be able to pay the next bill when it comes. We're not down to Red Cross food parcels quite yet, but that point may not be far off.
So, where are we now? All teak has been removed and so has most of the ply. Amidships there's still some ply in place to keep the hull and deck stiff. It will be removed once the balsa is ready to be laminated in. A tent has been constructed to cover the aft end of the boat. To apply the resin we need a temperature of at least 15°C. Gas heater on deck, electric heaters below decks to heat the GRP from underneath.
The cockpit and coachroof have been stripped completely. They will be resprayed and once that's done the cork's ready to go on there.
Where do we go from here? The plan is to have the new balsa core laminated in by the end of January. Not a lot will happen in February as our shipwright's away on some R&R. The next step is to fit the cork in March & April with the aim to relaunch mid May.
It's only a plan, and we've had plans before, but this one I plan to stick to.
Lots of 'what if's and 'if only I had known's lately. Suffice it to say that I'm not going through this again - ever! I'm only going through with it because we're too far gone to turn back. And Guapa's just the boat for us. I'm convinced that when we're done she'll be better than she ever was. She has to be.
I had seriously underestimated the work involved. To be honest, most of it couldn't have been foreseen when we started, but still. I had not envisaged laying a new deck would involve ripping out pretty much the entire inside of the boat.
At times, I'm close to tears. New headlining for the saloon is on order. Again an added expense; but if I'm not going to do it now, I'll never do it.
Plans to re-engine have been shelved. I know of an ideal engine I could have at a knock-down price, but financial realities dictate otherwise. Unless they're willing to give the engine away there's no way I can afford it.
And then there's the standing rigging that needs replacing - a cost we cannot postpone. I'm in no hurry to lose the mast.
There we are - things can only get better. I've been promised that the next time I'm over to inspect the boat I won't recognise her. Here's hoping this is true. I could do with some good news right now.
07 November 2008 | Antwerp
There we are, at the end of the week - a positive note.
The rot is not as bad as it first appeared - along some seams and around the shrouds it's really bad. So bad it affected the headlining underneath.
On the positive side - more than 80% of the mulitiplex ply under the teak is still good. To be replaced where necessary, then the whole lot will be sanded and laminated and then the cork laid. Finally, a completely waterproof boat.
In some places the teak was still in 'as new' condition. Shipyard guru commented that if the deck had been properly re-caulked 6 or 7 years ago she would have had at least another 10 years left in her before needing a replacement (original teak was 15mm thick). By the time we got her 3 years ago it was too late already, the rot had set in.
Shipwright to start Monday, to have the whole deck stripped by the end of the week. Then she'll dry out for two weeks. Hope to see some progress from now on.
Taking winches home to be re-chromed and then cleaned & greased.
Every-one (including me) altogether more optimistic about the whole project than at the start of the week. The wrecking is all done, it can and will only get better from now on.
04 November 2008 | Antwerp
Long considered, long planned, finally here... time to strip away the old teak deck.
Trip to Antwerp - very relieved to find Guapa ashore and tucked away inside.
Better part of the first day was spent removing all the headlining down below. This would give me access to all the screws, nuts and bolts so I could remove winches, genoa track, cleats, toerail, windlass...
By the end of day two winches, windlass and cleats have been removed. Genoa track and toerails still to do (toerails are a ginormeous job - dreading it).
I had always been told that I had a GRP deck with a balsa core.
Last night I started scraping away some of the teak in areas where I knew it was bad. Bad as in 'I think the deck's lifting there a bit' Shock - horror
Removed some teak - what did I find? Compost is the closest possible term. Keep digging - finally solid GRP. WTF? Where's the top GRP layer gone? I assumed the compost was the balsa core.
Quick call to my 'shipyard guru' - 'I want to see this for myself, this is not possible'.
Didn't sleep much last night.
Called the yard that built Guapa first thing in the AM. Different story: only cockpit and coach roof are balsa core. Separate mould from the deck. Deck itself is solid GRP, then a layer of multiplex and then the teak glued on top of the multiplex. A sense of relieve.
Chiselled away most of the morning to clear as much of the deck in different places in time for the shipyard guru arrival around lunchtime.
Surprised to find most of the teak in condition going from 'not bad' to 'pristine'. The multiplex's condition OTOH - 'compost' to 'not bad'. In places it will need to be replaced. Just how much needs doing won't become clear till all the teak has been removed. Then - to be on the safe side - all the multiplex should be laminated and the the cork fitted on top of it.
Only day 2, and already we're looking at a couple of K over budget.
Amidst claims of 'we've seen worse', 'it's not that bad', and 'it's going to be all right' I'm left with mixed feelings. Structural integrity has not been compromised (she's still my yottie icebreaker), but the bills...
Decision made - I'm going to get a job on the side as a prostitute.
Ladies - this is your chance - a real man's yours for the night and for a price. Your chance to feel things you've never felt before. But not any time soon, as I expect to be too shagged out to shag for the next 10 days or so.
High and dry
17 October 2008 | Antwerp
Not much to be said about our passage up the Scheldt river. Other than the fact that I need to buy new charts for the return trip - somehow there were more buoys than there were in 2004. Big boys up close (less than a cable away) but they all proved friendly. Surfing in their wash.
No wind - whatsoever. My only worry - will we have enough diesel to see us to Antwerp? The fuel tank has crud in it and will be steam cleaned this winter. So, I had been told to empty the tank as much as possible. Job done. To be on the safe side I carried two 20ltr jerry cans.
Arrived off Antwerp HW-30. According to the almanac opening times of the lock are HW-1 to HW+1. Straight in? Forget it. I should write to the editors of Reeds. The lock opens at HW-1 and then again HW+1. This meant another 90 mins of what in the navy we referred to as 'masturbation navigation' (up and down over and over again). Boring, or what? Then, with 40 mins to go - panic. The ominous sound of a fuel starved engine. Quickly I emptied one jerry can into the fuel tank. Should be enough - and it was.
Once inside, finding a berth proved to be a different matter. The place was packed to the rafters. Boats rafted up three or four deep, everywhere, even in the fairway. Hardly any room to squeeze by, let alone manoeuvre or turn. At least there was no wind. I spotted one free berth but was promptly advised that I couldn't go in there. An hour of near disasters averted later we ended up... in that one free berth. If we had to move, we would do so tomorrow.
Alain was now well and truly in his element - jump to it. Get these sails down, both main and genoa removed and neatly folded and bagged in less than an hour. Removing the boom took no time at all. Experience, I'm still building it, but Alain's got a lifetime of it going spare.
Dinner at the very friendly Liberty yacht Club. And another early night - for Alain. Stayed behind (too long) to enjoy the hospitality and the beer. Learned a lot about the history of our boat. One of the people at the bar used to work for De Valk (the broker where we bought Guapa). Well, well, I never knew.
Found the harbourmaster the next morning and told him where we were. Was promptly informed that I couldn't stay where I was. New berth: alongside the fuel pontoon. Alongside and secured in no time. We left the boat there overnight. Alain had some commitments in Ostend and I still had to pick up a van so that I could empty the boat.
Thursday was spent emptying the boat - I never realised we had so much stuff. Everything had to go; from mattresses to dinner plates. From dinghy to duvet. Meanwhile Alain started tweaking the rigging. The van I had rented was packed - not much room left over. And I had thought the van would have been too big.
The wind had us well and truly pinned against the fuel pontoon. How the hell was I going to get to the pontoon by the crane? We were to first boat to have her mast stepped that morning, we had to be in place by 07H30. Just have to hope the wind drops overnight and shift her early tomorrow. Dinner at the Liberty Yacht Club - again. Too many beers - again. Well, the beers, that was me - mostly. Back to the boat. Pitch-dark, but no wind. I had one of my ideas again: 'Why not move the boat now?' What, now? Yes, now - no time like the present. It's amazing what a couple of beers can do to a man's confidence. Three minutes later we were tied up where we should be. Just perfect, so perfect it nearly made me cry. Why? Because it was a manoeuvre I will tell my grandchildren about and there was no-one to see it.
Unstepping the mast was another tight squeeze affair, but we got there in the end. The rest of the morning I just went through the motions - removing spreaders from the mast, tying up the rigging,... By lunchtime it hit me: I'm not going sailing again any time soon. Seeing Guapa laid up, without a mast, had finally brought it home.
What have I done?
13 October 2008 | Breskens
Alain showed up in plenty of time. Quick breakfast, last goodbye to Robert and we were off. Pleasant, sunny day - alas very little wind. It looked like the trip was going to be quite boring, but at least it wouldn't be a long one. We took turns at the helm. Motorsailing mostly. Then, off Zeebrugge, the wind picked up. I quickly unfurled the genoa - finished with engines. A steady and healthy 7kts boatspeed. Alain would not let go of the helm so I just enjoyed the ride.
Good things never last - as Knokke came and went the wind dropped and then disappeared completely. Furled, stacked and packed the sails - on with the engine again. I prepared warps and fenders (the few fenders I had left - lost two in the storm) and discussed parking the boat with Alain. I know what to expect and I like to think I know what I'm doing, but as this was the first time I'd sailed with just crew and none of the family I felt a briefing was necessary. Alain grasped my intention straight away.
As it turned out I needn't have worried, the visitors pontoon was strangely empty. Plenty of room to park a flotilla of Guapas. Off to find the harbourmaster, strangely the good man wanted us to move. Must have been something wrong with my hearing. Nice enough place - our first visit in daylight.
Bar seemed pleasant enough to book a table for dinner. Quick shower and off. The food was delicious and reasonably priced too. I commented to the charming waitress that to my amazement I had never had food this good in Holland before. There was a reason for it - the chef was Belgian.
Passage planning to Antwerp was a waste of time - channel markers all the way. Only thing to keep in mind: big boat has right off way. Another early night.
12 October 2008 | Ostend
Off to Ostend for the delivery trip to Antwerp. At first glance Guapa appeared to have weathered the storm of the previous WE very well. Upon closer inspection however, both forward fairleads had been ripped out as well as a part of the port toerail. What the hell happened here? Harbourmaster and sidekick strangely unavailable on their mobile.
Off to Antwerp to pre-position the car and return trip by train. One time and at very reasonable cost. Eat your heart out privatised British rail. Upon return to Ostend harbourmaster materialised. Horror story to be told. Previous WE F10 NW at HW. Not a pretty sight, several yachts broke their mooring, both warps securing Guapa's bow had broken. She was secured by the nearby maritime police using whatever they could find - in our case some halyards. These things don't 'give' - hence the ripped out fairleads and toerail.
Apart from that she was fine - some scuffmarks on the hull, but nothing some elbow grease wouldn't sort.
Passage planning for the trip to Breskens was a straightforward affair. Steer a general course in NE direction along the coast and you were bound to get there. Only 29NM - just the ticket. Time your departure right and the tide will carry you all the way there. You don't want to run afoul of the tide off the Scheldt river - I've seen yachts sail backwards there.
Crew showed up to dump kit onboard and a general chat about tomorrow's intentions. Discussion of the passage took all of two minutes. Alain's been to Breskens more times than I have had hot dinners. Speaking of dinners - had some very nice pasta. It's impossible to eat badly in Ostend. I'm sure you could if you tried, but you would have to try bloody hard.
Not much left to be said and done, off to bed early. Forecast for tomorrow SSW 3-4 - hopefully good for a sail.
27 September 2008 | Ostend
Across the Channel - to Ostend. Fourth time this year. We've done it so many times now... We could sail it blindfold. Stopover en route to Antwerp.
Friday, straight after work/school we made our way to the boat. M25 was behaving itself for once, the A12 on the other hand. So, it was well past six when we arrived in Levington. Less than an hour of daylight left - no time to loose. All aboard, stow provisions, remove our pick-up line from the mooring buoy, get Brigitte back ashore, trip back to the boat, secure Guapi on the foredeck. Rush job, but we managed it just in time. Macaroni cheese dinner and off to bed - early day tomorrow.
I slept soundly for once. Alarm set for silly o'clock. No wind to speak of, so no need to raise the kids. Pitch dark and quite foggy - visibility down to less than half a mile. At least I was in familiar waters. By the container terminal the fog lifted a bit - just in time. Progress was painfully slow, fouled bottom and foul tide - four knots over the ground (less most of the time). Two and a half hours later and I was still short of Cork Sands. I texted Brigitte - we weren't going to be in Ostend any time soon.
At least I had some company now - Evita and I took turns at the helm. An hour each, then we swapped places. Routine - it works - don't mess with it. Very little wind and what there was sat firmly on the nose. Long, monotonous and boring are words that spring to mind. Flat seas, blue skies and sunshine - not all bad then. Even Yanni joined us by crack of lunch.
Once again - nothing happened, and it happened bloody slowly. The only excitement to be had - crossing the TSS. Quite busy for a Saturday. Still, nothing we haven't done lots of times before. Just when we were about to clear the TSS, a Dutch ocean going tug appeared on the horizon. Doing well in excess of 25kts, and what a wake! Three meters at least, if not more. Despite my urgings to hold on Evita was quite slow off the mark. Tidal wave swept the deck. One very wet and pissed off XO. Yanni and I nearly burst out laughing. That would not have gone down well.
We cleared the smaller Westhinder TSS by dusk. I decided to drop the main (it wasn't doing much for us anymore) and get warps and fenders in place in the last of the daylight. And then, quite suddenly - pitch dark. Stars were out 'en masse', phosphorous wake - it was beautiful. If it hadn't been for the constant and persistent drone of the engine I would have been in heaven. Played some guessing games with the kids to relieve the boredom. Quality family (minus 1) moment.
Finally, Ostend came into view. It had been a very long crossing - just short of 18 hours. Still, I had informed Robert that we were coming and he had promised to keep our berth free. Of course, by the time we got there, you guessed it, another boat in our berth. It'll be sorted in the morning. In the mean time, find another berth. The place was heaving; clearly amateur week-end as only one boat had picked up a mooring, all the others were moored alongside - three deep. Having assumed we would be alongside I hadn't prepared anything to go on a mooring buoy. There was what looked like just enough space alongside by the fish-market. Let's squeeze in there. And we did. Off to the all night chippy - another disappointment - closed for annual holiday. So we reheated leftover macaroni and cheese. Off to bed, everyone under strict orders to sleep in. It had been a long day. Maybe not that long for Yanni.
Next morning off to find Robert. Easily done - just head towards the noise. Very apologetic, friendly and helpful. Squatter had already been given his marching orders. Our one man shipyard proved more illusive - apparently because of a new girlfriend. Then I set off shopping for food. One of my favourite Ostend pastimes.
Brigitte arrived just before lunch. We tidied up and had a quick bite to eat. All secured we abandoned Guapa for a fortnight. I'll pick her up in 2 weeks and deliver her to Antwerp by way of Breskens. And that will be that for at least 6 months.
Ferry home. Not exactly the end of seasons as I had imagined it. Only two more days of - hopefully - sailing left. What will I do with myself in the mean time?
20 September 2008 | Ipswich - River Orwell
We gave the boat a miss last week - let's just say we were on a break. Off to France for the week-end. Of course, it turned out to have been the first decent sailing week-end in a long time. We spent it in the deepest Auvergne - hundreds of miles from the sea.
This week-end we did make the trip. Not much wind but lots of sunshine. Main purpose of the trip: we needed to bunker. Fuel was on reserve - worst case scenario: motoring all the way to Antwerp. I figured we needed about 120ltrs. That should be more than enough.
Trip up to Levington went smoothly enough. Guapi launched in no time. Let's check if the fuel pontoon's free. It was. What was that? A sign - Sorry, No Diesel. No what?" Shotley? Lock to navigate + minimum stay charge. Woolverstone? Bring extra wallet. Fox's? Tight squeeze and there'll probably be boats moored up to the pontoon. Phoned ahead - fuel pontoon was free. Fox's it'll be. Their fuel's supposed to be clean - don't need any crud right now.
Checked the engine compartment - flooded (sort of). Four buckets full. It's not the engine - seacock closed. So it must be the stern gland. Packing or propshaft? Either way, not much we can do about it till the boat comes out of the water.
Relative wind - 1kt up the chuff. Let's not bother with sails. Handed the helm to Brigitte and watched the world go by on the foredeck as we motored up to Ipswich. Busied myself getting fenders and warps ready.
Took the helm just off Fox's - Brigitte and Yanni were roving fenders - front and aft. Half a meter below the keel and no wind to speak of. Came in, sharp turn to starboard (there's definitely something wrong with that autopilot ram) and then five minutes of forward (hard over starboard) and reverse (hard over port). In the end it all went very smoothly and I started to feel pleased with myself. Good, it has been a long time.
Tied up, fuelled, paid (ouch) and made a swift exit. Nothing to it.
Downriver, wind on the nose all the way. At least till past Woolverstone. Eight knots, fine of the bow and we managed about 1.6kts over the ground (against the tide), even touching 2kts at times. Whooo!!!
Dropped the sails just short of our mooring. I made may way forward with Yanni. Brigitte once again parked us without any hassle. Approach, pick up, secure - less than 2 minutes and not a word was said. Teamwork - I love it.
Drinks in the sunshine, quiet R&R. As the tide turned we made our way to shore. Recovering Guapi's always easier at HW.
Dropped by at Fox's again for a beer on board the good ship Jolie Brise. Belgium's finest: A Duvel (two eventually). Good man. Followed by something less auspicious and another nondescript beverage at the club over a curry. Time to go home, I think. Two rum and cockes (generous measures), two Duvels and two pints were beginning to take their toll. At least I'm not driving. I've been told I snored all the way back.
Next week-end - if at all possible - crossing to Ostend and then onwards to Antwerp in a couple of weeks.
06 September 2008 | Levington
What a year, what a year.
Been sailing today - replacement autopilot hydraulic ram not performing as it should. In fact, hardly performing at all. Hope it's just me fucking up the calibration. Too much current to attempt a rerun on our mooring.
Engine no longer leaking water - faulty impeller pump now replaced. Instead the engine's now liberally spraying bilges with lub oil.
Electric bilge pump acting up - sump pump fried by the sound of it. Manual bilge pump in the engine compartment refuses to play - again.
Main torn in two places - genoa just one tear.
Stern gland needs repacking (best case scenario) or propshaft bent after I ran over our mooring earlier in the year (worst case scenario).
Then, today - squalls and horizontal rain. I'm not even going to mention picking up the mooring buoy and recovering the tender. Suffice it to say that it was not a pretty sight.
Why don't I just play cards or collect stamps?
Money (lots of) committed to the new deck this winter. Little - if anything at all - left over.
Things I had hoped would last another few years all packing in at the same time.
Completely, totally and utterly - fed up!!
The only thing that keeps me going right now... the words of Stanley Norman Fletcher (Porridge): Don't let the bastards grind you down. But at the moment I find it hard to live up to them.
01 September 2008 | North Sea
Woke at 05H00 - neighbours awake too. Yanni slept in. Let's get cracking, according to the echo sounder there's 10cm beneath the keel. Cast off bow - I let slip the stern. Done.
Traffic lights on red - dredger in front of the entrance. Bugger. Did 360s for a while - slowly. God motored up to say goodbye. Exchanged pleasantries. Got fed up - Port Control: I'm sure we can squeeze by. OK, on your way then. Thanks.
Once we cleared the breakwaters - the moment of truth - engage autopilot. And Snorky was back in business. For all of 30 seconds. Something's wrong, very wrong. Switch off, back on. Same again, helms OK for half a minute and then just switches himself off. Back where we started.
To boot - no wind. Motoring and hand helming. Not exactly my idea of fun. Seven hours of boredom later and we have just cleared the main TSS. Fuel level in 'reserve' - will we get there? Then, as by miracle: wind. Phew, finished with engines. Let's do some sailing. Ten to twelve knots of wind. Not exactly going like a train, but sailing all the same.
Sailed all the way from the TSS to Rough Towers, past Sealand and Cork Sands to Landguard. Don't mind hand helming one bit when we're sailing. It improved my mood no end. Dropped the sails just past Landguard - too close to the wind. Motored up to our mooring and once again Brigitte parked the boat like a pro. With Yanni's help, I picked up the buoy at the first attempt.
To recap, the engine ran a lot smoother but the autopilot's still OOO. I'll try to recalibrate alongside next week. The bilges are dryer than they were. So, a partial result, of sorts. Sometimes it feels like the boat is falling apart faster than I can afford to fix her.