Up on blocks
February began with Paddy using Jif to clean anti-foul out of my ear and ended with me cutting paint from his hair. March started with a giant crane and finished with paint stains on my favourite jeans.
Lord only knows what April will bring…
Wildflower has been out of the water for the past couple of months, but it’s been a little more than her usual yearly paint and scrape. This time it has involved shortening her by around 45 feet and cutting a great big hole in the deck/living room roof.
Several years of wear and tear had meant the poor girl’s mast was not as well-supported as it needed to be. The mast step (a big chunk of metal at the bottom of the mast) needed reinforcing to stop it from flexing and it was time for new spreaders as they were beginning to corrode.
(For non-nautical folk: The mast is held up with stainless steel wires – but for these to work properly they have to be held away – the aluminum struts that do this are called spreaders and apparently they are kind of important.)
Paddy’s definition of the work that needed to be done was a little simpler – he told me that over a long period of time money had been leaking out of the boat, which meant she needed to be taken out of the water to have more money poured in.
The spreaders, while allegedly small pieces of aluminium, were actually made out of concentrated cash – and liquid money also needed to be painted on the boat, sanded off and reapplied, he said.
(Note: Sanding liquid money off is not only expensive but really hard work!)
Poor Wildflower looked a little stunted compared to the other boats and as a fellow shorty I felt her pain. Unlike her though, even with the aid of an industrial strength crane, I’m not going to get any taller.
Working on Wildflower has meant spending more time at Evan’s Bay yacht club and it has been great catching up with familiar faces and meeting new folk as they come through. The stories at the club bar have been highly entertaining too – with one of my favourites being about a seagull invasion.
A chap we met told us about a pair of gulls that had decided the bow of his boat looked like a pretty good place to make a nest. For two days in a row he managed to shoo them off, but he had to leave for a few days. On returning he discovered a two-story bird condo complete with several large eggs and two determined birds attacking him every time he got too close. In the end he decided it would be in everyone’s best interests to allow them to stay and eventually got kind of attached to the squatters – watching as the parents exercised their hatchlings by chasing them up and down the decks. Often he would be watching telly only to be interrupted by big goofy babies pecking at the boat’s windows (though they did learn the folly of that after interrupting his favourite shows one too many times.)
Paddy didn’t have any seagull squatters but he did have a dirty great hole in his roof where the mast used to be – so for the past couple of months he has been living with me.
We did the math and worked out this is actually the longest time we’ve lived together on land in the past five years. We were both a little apprehensive at first but – aside from my cat developing a rather unhealthy attachment to him – it has worked out remarkably well.
Paddy was fortunate enough to have a partner in crime when it came to chopping holes in his baby. His good friend Gregor the welder, who had helped put together most of Wildflower’s metal work ( including the pilot house I had so many reasons to be grateful for during our trip), was back on the case – cutting holes and helping put bracing underneath the deck and a thicker piece of metal at the bottom of the mast.
A few days (and a few beers) later Wildflower was super safe and solid and I had even more reason to be grateful to Greg.
One of the great and glamorous jobs I always get is scraping the gunk from Wildflower’s bottom. Being smaller and slightly bendier than Paddy means I can get into spaces that he can’t, which means I get the fabulous job of lying on my back scraping fishy smelling weed from the bottom of the boat. I also get to paint anti-foul on the places Paddy can’t reach (to stop more fishy smelling stuff growing on Wildflower’s bum) which is how I ended up with an earful of the stuff.
I must admit it can be somewhat unnerving lying under 18 tonnes of ship. I know it’s ridiculous and that Wildflower is safe and secure – but that doesn’t stop Anxiety Girl from thinking, what if there’s an earthquake? Would I be able to get out in time? It was a regular internal battle at first, but one I was able to win, and after the first week of boat work I didn’t even notice anymore.
I have also been spending a fair bit of time polishing rust spots out of Wildflower’s paintwork – and I’m actually pretty impressed there is polish strong enough to remove rust from steel. It’s a repetitive job, but the view from the top of the boat is pretty good – and blasting David Bowie on my i-Pod makes the time fly.
People ask why I do it when I could be spending my weekends in a much less goop-encrusted fashion, but the way I figure – I want Wildflower to look after me so it’s only fair that I help look after her. I feel much more confident about going to sea in a boat I know is safe, solid and free of rust.
On pulling her out of the water we also discovered that Wildflower’s propeller had a terrible case of acne. I was in the middle of sanding sea-goop from the blades when I noticed there were more craters than usual. On closer inspection it turned out the prop had a severe case of electrolysis (really bad corrosion that happens under water).
I’d heard the dreaded E word muttered a lot in connection with steel boats but had never seen it with my own eyes. It’s usually caused when two different types disagree with each other underwater - but in this case there was no real explanation for it – other than money had leaked out.
We sent it back to the manufacturer – who also had no explanation for it – applied a liberal coat of liquid dosh, and it now has a perfect complexion again.
The sit rep at the moment is that most of the painting, scraping and polishing has been done, the spreaders and mast step are shiny and new and – thanks to the intervention of a giant crane – Wildflower has her height back. All going well we should be back in the water – and to relative normality – in the next week or so.
PS - for those of you wondering what is happening with the book – it’s still really going ahead. Both the publisher and I have signed the contract and the next step is to work with them editing the copy. It’s still a long wait I’m afraid – with a publication date of March next year – though I should have an actual book to start promoting by the end of this year. It still doesn’t seem real yet but I’m sure it will eventually! – I shall keep you all posted with progress.