Monday, June 12, 2006

Out of our Depth?



Late June 2005, the weekly pilgrimage had gone far beyond chore. Wendy Ann had to come out of the water but we had no idea how much hull welding needed doing- having been dim enough to make a purchase without proper survey. Suffice to say we had an inkling it’d take more than a few weeks at an all in, they do all the welding and everything else type shipyard. So we decided on a kind of DIY approach, hire our own welder, do as much of the work as we could ourselves; that sort of thing- and we just had to move the boat somewhere suitable. Simple? Nope.
We’d realised she wasn’t going to make it as far as London- where we lived at the time. The cost of getting her there would be astronomical and we just knew there was no yard to take her to that’d do. In the course of investigations we discovered our eventual destination would be a place called Saxon Wharf, in Southampton. They had a rolling hoist that could lift up to 200 tons and plenty of yard space to accommodate what they called ‘filthy projects’ like us. At the time we were completely unprepared for just how filthy we’d be, but ho hum. We approached the impossible plan of moving a dead boat one hundred and ninety nautical miles with trepidation, correction- I was shit scared of what would go wrong. I had no experience of this at all, apart from a sort of nagging longing feeling every time I visited the local beach where I grew up in East Anglia. And I was suddenly aware that we were going to be literally out of our depth. The prospect of shifting a great big lump of steel and rust from the seeming safety of a muddy creek- (although now I look back and know that if we hadn’t come along it would have become a muddy grave for Wendy Ann before too long) and out into real sea water was too big for me to imagine.
We rang a whole bunch of towage companies and some of them really freaked me out by asking if I had MCA certification, whatever the fuck that was, but I was sure Wendy was too far gone for a ten metre swimming certificate, let alone some proper paperwork. Other towage guys filled me with horror stories about swampings, outright sinkings and Bad Things. So the telephone calls were not going well, except out of the blue one of B’s leads turned out sympathetic, reasonable and interested in taking us on. The madmans name was John Evelegh, and he runs Griffin Towage. After many many phone conversations we agreed on a date for our little venture to take place and duly met him in a motorway service station to hand over half the cash. This was weird, I was about to hand over a lot of used notes packed into the traditional manilla envelope to a man I only actually met half an hour ago over a crappy mcdonalds coffee. I was not in a very balanced state by the time I did and I tried to cover my nerves with much head nodding and agreeing with whatever the man in the blue overalls said. He was very nice about it though and even laughed at my unintended punning as he showed me pics of his tugs new propellor (proper job, and Fantastic!)
We had just introduced ourselves to the first hugely inspirational character in our voyage so far, although we didn’t know it at the time. This man is a bloody legend, someone once told me that he was shat out by the gulls and hatched by the sun- I’m sure he wouldn’t approve of this but even so. He’s frighteningly intelligent and encouraging and absolutely lives for Tugboats. And when we finally met him I was surprised at his youth, somehow I’d imagined some swarthy salty old guy from his voice over the phone.
Off we went to Plymouth full of advice about covering over any holes and hatches where the enemy salt water might ingress. Oh dear- where to start. We got hold of some squirty foam and set about filling all the holes we could find in bulkheads and decks. Suddenly I found an awful lot of holes. I’m still not sure that foam would’ve helped much if we started shipping water.
Problem. Johns main tug, Kingston- is a three hundred ton sea going monster (beautiful though) and there was no way that she’d get up Pomphletts creek to pick us up directly. We’d first need another kind of tow altogether. The last man who used Wendy Ann as a commercial vessel still ran a small towage enterprise in the area and we got in touch with him. His name was Nick Grenney. Nick agreed to take us out from up the creek and into the deep water channel where he said we could moor whilst waiting for Kingston to collect us. More phone calls followed and soon it was all arranged. One magical day loomed and the plan was set. On the morning tide we’d leave the creek and on the evening tide we’d leave Plymouth for good.
Nick arrived on his river tug threading his way through the narrow channel left between all the little plastic boats, and we figured it had to be him, he fitted the description after all, looking like a young angry popeye.. The rudder on Wendy wasn’t set quite straight so we had to start her donkey engine, which powered the hydraulic steering. Popeye siphoned diesel from his vessels own tank (I reckon he swallowed some in the process) and we cranked the old two cylinder Lister engine over by hand. Since our wheel was missing I proudly steered my new old boat with a 32mm wrench, and in the blink of an eye the mooring ropes were cast off and with the donkey going bangbangbang Wendy Ann 2 coughed into life, just about.
Out past the rows of pleasure boats Nick helped us moor to a pair of buoys. When I raised consternation at the new information that these buoys were connected to mere one ton blocks of concrete buried in the mud of the river bed, he replied by declaring “ this’ll make sea dogs of you yet”- with a wry smile; it was going to be that kind of day.
That kind of day developed a new and interesting twist when, almost as soon as we were deposited safely back on shore my phone rang. I’d already paid Nick and waved him bye-bye, but John was on the blower telling me that the weather was forecast to change direction and increase in force. Therefore Wendy Ann was to go no further until meteorological conditions satisfied him. Oh GOD. My boat is inaccessibly moored in an exposed position on two tons of concrete for christ’s sake what do you mean you’re not picking her up?!? Me and Becky argued a lot for a couple of hours and then I calmed down a bit. That evening we had no choice but to take a forlorn look at Wendy and drive a long way home.
I developed a pathological fascination with the Shipping Forecast, and my sense of paranoia went through the roof. Back at stinky work in London I was filled with frightening visions of Wendy breaking free and drifting out to sea, or worse- hitting something expensive. I convinced myself that we’d go back to Plymouth to find no boat, or scenes of maritime carnage. Or that the harbourmaster would find me and beat me up for being such a romantic whelk. Day by day that bloody forecast kept predicting the wrong predictions. Force 7? I think I started praying at one point in some sort of futile hope that an omnipotent deity would take pity on our predicament, but still the phone didn’t ring. I’d almost gone completely bananas with worry and given up when, Halleluja! B was talking to John and I gathered from the half conversation that I could hear that suddenly it was all on again. Over two weeks had passed and my hair was visibly falling out, but we jumped in the car, got out again at Southampton and took a train the rest of the way to Plymouth. This was because John wanted us on board Wendy Ann. Why? In case she started sinking. Very Excited now but this latest development rankled a bit, especially when he tried to reassure us by promising to give us lifejackets. And distress flares?! That’s ok then, no problem, how far from shore will we be? Only 15 miles? Fine fine, excuse me I think I need the toilet again.

17 Comments:

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6:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like it! Good job. Go on.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your are Nice. And so is your site! Maybe you need some more pictures. Will return in the near future.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello its nicholas grenney here how are you two doing hope all is well hope your having fun with wendy ann all best from pop eye lol

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