Friday, July 28, 2006

Mini me

Isn't this the coolest thing? Yep. It's a model of Wendy Ann 2 in her Poole harbour heyday. And it's nearly accurate (no rusty bits, stem is actually more bluff, aft wheelhouse cabin has changed again since then.) I found it whilst idly trawling the web, and have tried contacting the maker to no avail. I wonder where it is now?

The Wendy House

We needed to have the hull blasted, Saxon Wharf often have very expensive boats laid up next to us which really wouldn’t appreciate (read ‘would sue us’) having all the crap from our blasting process deposited all over them. Answer; Build a shroud all around to contain the filth. Wendy Ann was going under cover. Under the scrutiny of the yard this would be quite a public and expensive operation- and the resulting structure needed to be strong enough to withstand the strong winds that blow up during the winter. So get it right first time then, make it, ooh- 24 metres long, 9 metres wide and about 6 metres tall. In a weekend. Should be a laugh. It’d only be the largest thing I’d ever made after all. We knew that post blasting the tent might remain in place for some time and didn’t really fancy a half baked or ugly solution so at Saxon Wharfs recommendation we called Martin Cox and co., who expertly shrinkwrap boats in special plastic (for blasting, transportation, painting etc) for a living. He agreed to cover a structure around ms Ann, just as long as we built it heavily enough.
Once again I owe the success of this particular chapter of the project to other people, to whom B and I are hugely thankful. You can see how we got along in the pictures, and every time we go down to Southampton and step into the Wendy house I’m amazed that we actually did it. There’s nearly a kilometre of two by four in the structure, and an awful lot of screws. So far it’s survived nearly ten months of exposure to the elements (touch wood, haha) and quite apart from keeping all our dust and shit from drifting onto other boats, it enables us to work with almost total disregard for the weather, at least the rain- recent hot and sunny conditions are no fun, no fun at all, you sort of boil in the box. The shroud also looks very neat and tidy from the outside, thus protecting Wendy Ann 2’s modesty while she’s the black (or should that be rust red) sheep of the shipyard. And I can run around the deck naked to my boots at 6am without scaring the security guards.
Mark Holloway, zero9John, Pawel, Richard, Wingnut, Leddermann Jan, and of course Martin Cox- you’re all utterly brilliant men of action.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Caveat Emptor

To hell with the back story. This is here and now. I am still well behind in catching up on events so far and intend to keep entries more or less in chronological order, but I think those that read this are entitled to a taste of where Wendy Ann and us are at right now. Then I can return to the other stuff.
An awful lot has changed since digging with the noisy boys, even so progress sometimes feels interminably slow, and I’ve realised that if I thought the work was hard then- I was wrong. This project is getting tougher.
Coupled with the heavy industrial nature working on Wendy Ann, the spiralling expense and sleepless nights filled with anxiety, the discussions, arguments and all round strain with which B and I are constantly testing our relationship make for an interesting time of things. I reckon the bubble of rose tinted optimism has well and truly burst some time ago. I would now say to anyone contemplating buying an old boat for the first time ‘Be really, really fucking careful because you might think you know what you’re in for but you do not’. Having written this I must stress that I’m still here, I still have a deep love and huge respect for my missus, and by and large I am still definitely enjoying the challenge of gonzo shipbuilding, so it’s not all bad. It’s just so exhausting, and scary. My life is completely unrecognisable from just a couple of years back and in some ways this is no bad thing, however occasionally I find myself standing there, energy resources burnt thinking ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ It’s teaching me so much about strength both physical and emotional, about faith, vision, and when to go to the pub.
This little outburst is probably brought on by the fact that at the moment I am enduring the process of needlegunning the paint, tar and scale from ms Ann’s engine room bilges. Heavy duty needleguns are devices which seem designed to destroy men as much as rust. Never mind the threat of permanent nerve damage brought about by excessive vibration, or the absurdly aggressive level of decibels that the thing generates- after chucking one about for two days your mind and body knows about it in a seriously fundamental way. After eight hours of it the largest part of the battle is within yourself and just trying to hold on to the thing let alone point it into that awkward spot of scale in the corner becomes an impossible battle. I hate it or rather hate being beaten by it, so drinking warm Stella that on the train back to stinky London I suddenly found my spirit again and wanted to turn around go back and let me at it. Grrrr. Now I still can’t wait to be there again, punishing myself- because each square inch done is one bloody less to do.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Team Noisy Boys

August into September 2005. Three weekends, four jackhammers, two shovels, five Very obliging mates and an atmosphere more suited to the gulags. All this would eventually be needed to achieve the impossible task of removing the concrete that lined much of Wendy Ann’s hull.
We knew it had to come out, did a test dig that revealed strata to the damn stuff. Sandwiched between good-looking layers of concrete was wet sand, gravel, and bitumenized steel rivet punchings. The last of these was probably original, but the rest had clearly been added later. At the interface between steel and stone there was a gap you could’ve slipped a credit card into and the metal underneath clearly wasn’t happy. Pouring concrete into boats is common practise, often done to help support thinning steel thereby cheaply extracting a few more months of commercial service from a boat that’s coming to the end of it’s life. It’s also true that many new working ships have concrete ballast right from the start, and in these cases; where the stuff goes over good steel that’s properly prepared it usually doesn’t present problems, however Wendy Ann definitely fell into the former category.
B and I dreading the coming weekend, even so we made our preparations, formed the beginnings of a very happy relationship with Handy Hire, and rapidly progressed our choice of tool from light through medium to ‘what’s the biggest you’ve got’- heavy duty breakers. (That’s Handy hire, call 02380 863275, based in Totton- these guys are really cool.)
I cried at the beginning. It’s the most unholy work I’ve ever done, narrowly beating the process of grinding paint and rust from deckheads (tell you later).
I’d lost the plot with frustration and fear after our first little attempt and, back in London; was rescued by colleagues Richard, zero9John, Leathermann Jan, Sleepy Jesus and DJ Chris- all of whom found me in bits, staring moodily into the floor one afternoon at work. These nutcases actually volunteered to get to Southampton and then put themselves through this torture. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why, I’m just sincerely grateful that they did.
We bought in ten sets of gloves, deafies and goggles.
The heat and the NOISE was just insane, We all wore both ear plugs and defenders, stripped to the waist and bounced around on the blunt end of the hammers. How on earth do road crews do this sort of thing all day every day? Hats off to them. I never ever ever want to do it again. (Recently I had to eat my words and get on with it, up in the forepeak, which I’ve rechristened ‘Get Me Out Of This Triangular Purgatory’. And we’ve just discovered even bloody more beneath the stern tube. Drat.)
The process was quite simple really, smash up concrete until you can’t see where you’re aiming anymore, scrovvel up all the lumps into buckets and rubble sacks, bash the concrete some more. You can usually tell when you’ve hit the boat because the note of hammering changes, not always though; a good few times I kept digging thinking- surely I must be near the bottom now? A little walk around the outside of the boat proved whoops, I was actually well past it- with the point of the hammer protruding cruelly from Wendy’s bottom. Not that it mattered anyway, when the job was done there were so many tiny pinholes in the bottom of ms Ann’s forward compartment that you could stand on the floor bearers and imagine the milky way beneath you. Next time (there won’t be a next time!) I would seriously just cut the bottom off the boat. This is not as crazy as it sounds. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight I realise that since then, in a roundabout way we’ve found ourselves replacing not only the hull plates, but most of the keelson and every other frame down there. So we could have had ourselves a much scarier but potentially more efficient time being brave and cutting large bits of boat off, concrete and all, much earlier. Ah well, live and learn.
This would have helped on account of the fact that by far the most frustrating part of the job was attempting to remove the loose stuff and hoist it up and out of the boat in manageable quantities. About ten ish tons of concrete went this way, and as a means of illustrating how naively determined we were, we determined not to hire a skip- choosing instead to dispose of our waste at the local tip, about a quarter mile away. B clocked up nearly fifty miles one weekend in her Ford Fiesta, suffice to say we tested that suspension good and proper, I guess we may have managed about 250 kilos at a time, and B would drive each load away thinking heavy thoughts in an occasionally futile hope this might help keep the front wheels on the ground. Amazingly we are still driving this car.
Every one of the maniacs who helped us has our profound and everlasting gratitude. John, on bass deserves an extra special mention. Barking mad, all the heavy tools were HIS Alright? Woe betide getting in this mans way, He’s afflicted by a sort of sadistic competitive streak- and took it as his own personal mission to dig more than everyone else put together. He worked like an absolute robot, refused to put the tools down at teatime, sweated rivers and bloody well got the job done. I did try to keep up, rising to my pathological lunatic friend’s challenge.
Richard was quiet, laid back and unflappable as he dug and dug for victory. Jan, the unbreakable Slovak did his usual thing and worked non-stop, displaying as ever his frankly scary east European work ethic.
Dj Chris comprised our wild card pt1, maintaining a completely irrepressible sense of humour, and seemed even enthusiastic about taking part. Wierdo.
Sleepy Jesus, wild card pt2, was very sleepy indeed after one of his big nights out on the potions and powders, but incredibly found it within his powers of endurance to lug breakers and heavy bags of rubble around all day after having no sleep whatsoever the night before.
These are my friends; they’re the sort of people that usually treat pubs like black holes. They’re irresistibly drawn into them, but once in they find it very hard to get out again. London’s bicycle couriers are for the most part professional drinkers and hedonists, but after 12 hours of graft inside Wendy we took ourselves to the local, and struggled our way through a pint and half each in a stunned silence. Now that’s a proper days work.