Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Picture Post.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What do you reckon ten pictures cost?? As you can see, my dear friend Jan came to help out last weekend. The engine room floorbearers project got started in earnest, I fed Robin a chocolate beef stew (which he really wasn't sure about until he tried it). In spite of the still long lists of jobs to do, Wendy is suddenly looking very nearly ready for her next stage of painting, all the work we've already done is joining up to create a seriously good looking proposition- so I went for a lie down in the engine room.

Must dash, gotta get in the car and drive back down there right now, we've another delivery of steel this afternoon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Yellow Peril.

You know that yellow box that sat immediately after our lovely teak Wheelhouse and was affectionately known as our ‘aft cabin’ despite the fact that it didn’t sit anywhere near aft at all, just aft of the bridge? Well…
Far from being an original feature of ms Ann’s superstructure, this part has changed radically several times during the course of her history and the cabin that we inherited was constructed probably about ten years ago by her previous owner. Ever since we bought Wendy Ann 2, we’ve known we’d eventually rid ourselves of the current structure and replace it with something more to our satisfaction. Why? Simply put- it’s construction. It was built of 2x4” pine beams clad with regular construction ply (not the waterproof stuff either), with a cobbled together lineout and NO insulation, but it’s most idiosyncratic feature was probably it’s portholes. They were actually washing machine doors. It’s true.
B and I agreed that it should go, but we differed strongly on the when bit. My attitude was to save it until we floated again, as removal seemed to me to invite even more work on ourselves besides which it’d leave a bloody great hole in the shape of our vessel. Becky however, was more of the ‘lets get it over with, I hate the thing’ school of thought- but for many months this difference of opinion had sat, quite amicably, at stalemate. Until that is, two weekends ago.
You’ll note I’m writing about this big yellow box in the past tense and therefore what follows is sort of inevitable.
Toward the end of a working Sunday (is there another kind? I forget), in order to have a little stretch, I stood with one foot upon the starboard bridge step, the other upon the bulwark and leant casually upon the aforementioned cabin with my outstretched right hand. There was a dull crump as the cabin gave way and my hand went right through it, and although unhurt- I was, not to put it mildly, rather surprised. So, after gathering my wits I cast around for the nearest available pointy object and happened upon my trusty Stanley knife. Thus armed I set about prodding around the hole that my hand had created and within minutes discovered that the entire starboard side of the cabin was extremely rotten. The only thing giving any strength and holding the appearance together was a thick layer of paint, beneath which the ply and timbers had become so insubstantial they readily crumbled to dust and yielded the strong aroma of forest floor.
Later that evening I called up miss B to declare that the stalemate had tipped in her favour, a titbit of news to which she responded with obvious glee, and hardly gloated at all. I then opened a cold beer and successfully demolished a good chunk of the cabin with my bare hands. Oooh, it made me feel such a man I can tell you.
So last weekend Becky got her wish and came with me to the boat, I swear she just likes smashing stuff up. Removing the aft cabin turned out to be fairly simple, but it was a long day of no small effort. Basically I spent the morning rearranging the supports of wendy’s tent as scarily one had up until now sat directly on top of the rotten cabin. B carefully removed the after bridge windows and I ran a coarse bladed jigsaw up either side of the cabin to physically separate it from the wheelhouse. At this point we got a bit stuck as for how best to continue, with the inevitable result that I became waxy and took a wrecking bar to the cabin’s lining in order to illuminate how best we should complete the destruction.
I may possibly have mentioned before that Wendy’s previous owner was evidently extremely fond of the use of mastic sealant in his construction methods. Lineout removed we could see that what we had was crappy timbers assembled with a hotchpotch of second hand screws and clout nails and almost every single ill fitting joint secured with a ton of BLOODY sealant! Again! After fighting this stuff as it thwarted our efforts by clagging saw blades and jamming attempts with crowbars for the last fucking time I resolved there and then to seek him out, tie him down and force bloody mastic into every single orifice I could find to see how he likes it. I mean, I wouldn’t mind so much if the stuff he’d bonded together with it had any lasting substance of it’s own. Anyway, I’ve since calmed down a little bit, and Becky has made me solemnly promise not to become a very singularly minded psychopath, but she’s keeping me away from skeleton guns, just in case.

After a bit of frustrated head scratching we realised that the weak point was where the walls met the roof, which turned out to be hardly secured at all, and the rot wasn’t helping much either. I finally developed a plan of attack, B took a break for the loo but not before beseeching me to wait for her. I couldn’t, so while she was gone I quickly cut the bolts which secured the timber uprights to the coamings, got my shoulder under the roof and allowed the rotten starboard side to fall in. I then administered the coup de grace simply by letting go of the roof whereupon the entire cabin collapsed sideways with a satisfying crash. It took us until 7.30pm to smash the resulting mess into manageable chunks, heave the whole lot over the side and completely fill one of Saxon Wharfs large skip sized bins with the remains of our now ex-cabin.
It was a knackering but surprisingly cathartic experience, and we congratulated ourselves as we stood back to admire Wendy Ann’s new and quite odd appearance. The gaping hole where the yellow peril used to be still gives me a fright every time I ascend the ladder against the boats port side, but at least with the abomination finally out of the way we can now attend properly to the steel coamings on which it sat. Some are surprisingly scaly and rusted, a discovery which makes this rather brutal demolition job all worth it I reckon. So it’s all good, just whatever you do don’t ask when we’re going to build the replacement cabin, instead rest assured that when we do, it’ll be properly designed, made of decent hardwood, have real portholes and be glued and screwed together sensibly.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

That Hatch.

Here's a couple of photo's of the new, largely completed engine room aft hatch, we're very proud of it too.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Wellwellwell. I’m still busy as all hell, no surprises there then. But I’m also back now. My apologies for the recent blackout, it’s fair to say that my life has taken on a new set of dimensions recently, and with one thing or another I’ve been too hectic to deal with writing entries in my little online diary. I’m sorry, because a ton of good things have occurred, some of which have been of quite large import indeed, and now there’s little chance of me getting them all down on screen. I shall nevertheless attempt to describe them now and probably utterly fail to convey the whirlwind that it’s all felt like to me but, here goes. I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore at any rate.

Becky and the Exam.
Back in August I was spending every spare moment alone at the boat, which included pinching extra days when I should probably have been at paid work, because B was cramming for her stage 4 equine care exam. This arrangement between us was made because I was trying to push my way through the hellish clean-out-the-engine-room-bilges-and-do-all-the-steel-edge-prep-process and Becky obviously had other things on her mind. This had all been fine for a couple of months, with me (dare I say it, I think I do) even relishing the opportunity to do our project management according to my own maniac set of rules for a while. However, on the August bank holiday this situation got up and bit me on the bum, quite hard. In order to illustrate how, here follows a short extract from my other, much more personal diary….

“Aversion Therapy- I’m really getting sick of being on my own at boat, and I crave like minded company. R is great and these days he’s with me for working days more often than not, which is a fucking good thing too. But it’s the evenings that slay me. No B, no friends, nobody. Just me; rattling around in a big dusty steel shell all evening and hating the solitude. If I was a better man I’d deal with this somehow, but I’m not, and I can’t so instead resort to drinking and smoking to forget, fooling myself that it’ll make me feel better.
I really want B to be here, to help ease this crushing emptiness of a quiet shipyard at night, but she’s tied up with work and that bloody exam looms and I know she’s probably just as lonely back home.
All I want is either A) to win, and float this fucker out of saxon wharf, or B) about a months sleep. Neither of which is about to occur and instead I miss my friends, my old social circles, my old life- and sometimes, like now, yearn to return to it, to run away from this awful steel responsibility, to fuck the whole thing off and get back on my bicycle, where I once belonged.
But that too would be a wrong I could not live with, face it- I’m in far too deep in every respect and now way beyond the point of no return. Got to keep going, just wish the journey wasn’t so damn lonely.”

It carries on in this morbidly self-obsessed tone for several pages, but hey, it’s my diary, what did you expect?
Yep, I was lonely, and it got so bad that I found myself hating Wendy Ann with the venom I usually reserved for things like the London underground, posh idiots and the Inland Revenue. Which probably explains the curious title of my diary entry.
I was really very very tired which didn’t help matters, so after much angst ridden deliberation, I wised up and went home.
Ten days later I accompanied B to Gloucestershire where she sat her exam, and passed with flying colours. Thank fuck for that, what a relief that was. She’d been absolute hell to live with for at least a week before taking the damn thing. But the result came as no surprise to me, knowing as I do my missus’s ability and professional attitude. Becky however, was deservedly over the moon because in the few days between the exam itself and the results hitting the doormat she’d successfully talked herself out of any eventuality of a pass occurring, the daftie. I seized my opportunity and immediately convinced her of my own need to drag her back to the boat for a bit of teamwork, which worked a treat- and soon we managed to fall in love with our boat all over again.

Plating Wendy’s Bottom.
Contributing hugely to my change of attitude was witnessing Robin’s progress at getting the bottom plates into place, that huge black hole in our hull along the entire length of the engine room disappeared remarkably quickly. The only part I had in it really was preparing all the hull steel edges for welding, which was a bugger in itself, but seeing these huge lumps of plate lifted into position and then bent expertly to follow the shape of Wendy’s belly was a really awe inspiring sight. It’s still going on now actually, the last assembly of plates was lifted a couple of weeks ago, and I was recently lucky enough to help by heating them from underneath along the keel with a massive oxy-propane torch while Robin applied mechanical persuasion inside with four chain hoists anchored at strategic points between the plates and our deckhead forming a pair of massive “X’s in the engine room.. I spoke on the phone to Robin an hour or two ago and he’s planning to weld the port side of these plates tomorrow, which marks the beginning of the end of this particular stage of the project.

The Big Brother.
The biggest reason for my delay in correspondence is this… I got a new job! The first joy of which was being finally able to say ‘stick yer labouring somewhere nasty’ to the poxy construction firm I worked for, to be fair they did pay me quite well, but the job, company and false promises stank, and after a year of keeping me hanging on for the fabled but never arriving next big site I really didn’t believe a damn word they said. So when I received a phone call from Jan Ellingsen of B.P Norse Marine I more or less bit his arm off to accept the offer he proposed.
So now I’m suddenly a crew member on a real, working tug, called ‘Storebror’- based out of Langstone Harbour in Portsmouth. Yep, you read right, it’s almost a dream situation for me and over a month later here I am, marvelling at my dramatic change in fortunes and still pinching myself to check this is really happening.
It’s currently taking up about 3 days of my week, so yes mum, I’m still doing my maintenance work in Epsom for the roof over our heads. The commute might be a bit longer but it’s also far less frustrating than trying to get into stinky London every morning.
My new job involves long, wildly varied hours and so often I inevitably find myself staying on board overnight. I’m thinking it really quite cool to find myself living at least a bit of my day to day life on a boat, even though it’s not our own dear Wendy Ann 2 yet. But hey, I’m testing the waters!
I’ve learnt an avalanche of new insight and hard information. It’s not so much learning curve as wall of education that feels like it’s landed Crash! Straight down ‘pon my head. In a short while I’ve already learnt 268 tonnes of new stuff and am really excited because I know that this is but the tip of an iceberg shaped experience of titanic proportions, and one I that am eager to plough into. I have a real sensation of having arrived. Not since receiving my first pay packet as a full blown London bicycle messenger oooh, nearly eight years ago have I felt this most unfamiliar, yet most welcome stimulus to my warped little mind. I am literally tingling with anticipation at where I could go with this kind of work. It absolutely fascinates me.
Everything about it, from the engine and it’s room which is a magnet to me and at the moment mostly shrouded in joyous noisy mysteries, to the ropework and the techniques I’m learning to handle bringing the barge alongside, or letting her on tow, to the unexplored ground of driving the tug (at present I take the helm only under the watchful eye of Dave, the skipper) and the applied science of navigation and the rule of the road, await my study. And study I will.
Storebror means ‘Big Brother’ in Norwegian (or some similar Scandinavian vowel cruncher), the connotations of which are clearly not lost on Jan who is himself Norwegian, and has brothers of his own.
I am probably indebted to Robin, and also to Britt for recommending me in the first place for all this. Thankyou very much indeed to you both, I am complimented that you thought of me.

There’s an awful lot more to the last couple of months, and repair work to Wendy’s topside is going very well indeed, including new portholes and brilliant aft hatch amongst other joys, suffice to say I’ve been making a concerted effort to be a useful apprentice to Robin recently… but I shall save all that stuff for another entry, and I really, really promise I won’t make you wait for long before I tell this time.