Monday, July 30, 2007

Ships in the night.

No, this is not a comment regarding the state of my current relationship with B. (nope, it’s just a really hackneyed title, alright?)
Instead, I’m proud to report that I actually did an Interesting Thing last Saturday morning.
On Friday afternoon I received a phone call from Britt, a good acquaintance of ours- she does all sorts of things involving boats; one of which involves taking control of the discharging of dredger barges that dock at the Cemex wharf just downriver from us at Saxon. Anyway, she’d found herself shorthanded for the boat coming in on that nights high tide and asked me if I’d help out. Of course I immediately said yes.
The result of such foolhardy agreement found me stirring myself (and a very strong coffee) at the accursed hour of 2.30am to meet Britt, and a bloody huge boat coming up the river in the dark. Sand Weaver carries a payload of about 2700 tonnes of sand and aggregate, which she sucks up from the dredging grounds off the Isle of Wight. She works pretty much round the clock, comes in to Southampton to unload then heads straight out to repeat the process over and over again, this is indeed one hardworking ship and one which I was about to help bring in to the quayside.
After donning a hardhat, hi-viz jacket and life jacket, I was assured that the task which lay ahead of me was straightforward as well as interesting, and so it was. Sand Weaver pirouetted in front of us and presented starboard side, nose first, and somewhere in the night Britt caught the line thrown down from the high bow. I caught the stern line and dropped its eye over the bollard, then did the same with the spring. Said Hello to a member of the crew (who later kindly made us some sweet coffee), and listened carefully as Britt explained the ins and outs of running the huge conveyor on the wharf that the boat unloaded into. We made a great big mountain of aggregate, and watched over the machinery as a marvellous blue morning dawned, and in spite of the ship’s own boom conveyor suffering from hydraulic hiccups we'd successfully discharged two thousand four hundred and something tonnes of stuff onto the wharf by about 6.30am. Then it was time to haul in the gangway, let go the lines and wave goodbye to the boys on board and that was that. I dropped Britt off at her place then headed back to Wendy for another weekends work. I really, really enjoyed the experience, and finally have some paid work in Southampton. Result.
Any readers who also regularly check out Tim Zim’s blog (it’s over there, in my links corner) will not only probably recognise the name of the ship I helped tie up, but may also spot his own boat, the Lady Jane- visible (just about) in the background of one of the pictures, it was a much better, kind of gulls eye view in real life though.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Black Spot.

Couldn’t resist it could I? No- I had to drive straight from work in Wimbledon to the boat in Southampton last Wednesday night just to prove I could apply rustroy to all those freshly ground engine room bilges. Dammit job took me till midnight so consequently Thursday was a bit of a mess. The first half of the job was going ok, as I worked from inside the boat downwards- but the second part found me kneeling on the floor trying to splot the stuff about in a box, over my head. In spite of wearing overalls, gloves and goggles throughout (and a long shower prior to leaving the yard) I still managed to arrive home in the wee small hours looking like a friesian cow and smelling like a chemical weapons programme.

I’ve finally managed to scrub it off my thumbs though.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Welders do it in all positions.

Every single last rivet, plate line, pit and insert has now been welded up starboard at midships, including underneath thanks to the amazing Robin. This is no mean feat as this side was by far the worse off - but now it looks infinitely better and the completed hull here stretches two thirds of the way from the stem. Now he’s making a start on doing the same thing to the port side, poor bugger. There’s a LOT of hard work in these rivets, but the (growing) finished area does somehow look and feel so much more solid and reliable, and I have every confidence that this treatment will render Wendy perfectly leak proof in the end. The fact that chunks of daylight are no longer visible from inside is a dead giveaway for a start.
Why on earth are we doing things to this extent? (there being over four thousand rivets on the entire underwater hull.) Well, the greater proportion of Ms Ann’s rivets proved after blasting to be extremely wasted by the passage of corrosion and time. A sea of nasty pits was also evident and so, long ago, the decision was made to weld ‘em all up in order to ensure none of them would give out on us in the future. Effectively the hull under the water line is becoming a continuously welded structure that now just looks like a traditionally riveted craft. But it’s a long, arduous process with tests for Robin such as having to weld overhead whilst lying more or less propped up on the yard floor, and finding a layer of bitumen behind every rivet and seam (I’m told that this is how shipbuilders prepared joints before assembly to create perfect seals), the bitumen catches fire and blows out all over the place under welding conditions. This level of weirdness means it does really take an expert to deal with them, Fun. So I’m thankful to him for maintaining his sense of humour during this latest stage of the evil challenge. He’s amassing an interesting collection of burnt leather garments and an array of seats and stools and blocks of various heights on which to sit and stand. My current favourite is the sort of piano stool affair with the bright green upholstery that appeared a couple of weeks ago.

I guess we all have to throw our toys out of the pram occasionally, God knows I indulge in this sort of behaviour with alarming frequency- but Robin’s being great, even though he knows I know that it’s driving him nuts, he’s still going and to my knowledge hasn’t even run away screaming yet. This is unquestionably a Very Good Thing Indeed. And when, by dint of his efforts port matches starboard, those new plates can go in at the keel (a process which hopefully will have the virtue of being a bit more interesting at least) and that’ll be it, ta daah- all the hull work to the back of the engine room will be done.
Ooh, I make it sound sooo easy and quick- but I admit it, basically there’s a whole shit load more to do before we’re through this phase. And I sort of have a deadline in mind too. Which I suspect is not worth the paper I’ve written it down on, nothing new there then eh? If in the hypothetical future for some inexplicable reason I go completely mad again and decide to buy another boat (in which case I’ll probably require heavy sedation and locking up for my own safety) but I’ll NOT BUY ONE WITH RIVETS! Get ‘em away! I don’t care if anyone says they’re sound, I shan’t do it. God no, Lesson learned. Aaaagh!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mad People.

Last weekend I was truly humbled by a visit from some good friends, who knew what they were in for as they’ve all been before. In some ways this fact merely confirms their status as complete and utter lunatics, Who in their right mind volunteers for this stuff? Supersam, Marianna, and Jan the man clearly did, and helped celebrate my birthday in the roughest possible style, as we joined forces in order to get the engine room bilges beaten.
With the bottom of the hull around midships still off it has to be done now, but the task involves squeezing into some uncomfortably tight spaces and then switching an angle grinder on. Needless to say this work is extremely tough and very, very dangerous. But by the end of Sunday afternoon (and after a monster vacuuming session) the majority of those bilges positively glittered and are the cleanest they are ever going to get.
There’s still a bit more to do in there, but after our combined efforts there’s a hell of a lot less than this time a week ago. Obviously this brings me an enormous sense of relief- and I’m no longer calculating the job to take me two months of weekends on my own. So boys and girl, you’ve made one deranged boatbuilder into a very proud man indeed. Thankyou, from the very bottom of my heart.
- oh, and that barbeque outside the shed on saturday night was the most fun I've had for ages, nice one!