The enormous job of getting Ms Ann ready for her long awaited (and now postponed- see below) plunge has begun in earnest, and we need to seal her topsides up against the ingress of rain or burglars. This started last week with porthole installation and also finally beginning the construction of a replacement after wheelhouse cabin, yeah- that big hole in the deck in front of the funnel where the yellow peril of an old cabin used to be.
I’d designed the cabin months ago after a heated discussion (argument) with B during which we discussed the choice of materials with which it should be built, I wanted steel, she wanted wood. I lost the argument (sorry- discussion) and began sketching our ideas down on the back of welding stick boxes. Slowly my brain began to hurt as it tried to contain the complexities of our proposed design so I moved on to graph paper and pens and eventually came up with something that I thought would suffice, drawn to scale. We had some more arguments as Becky struggled to interpret my chaotic drawings and I struggled to put descriptive words around them. Then I had an argument with myself as I attempted to calculate a cutting list with which to reliably order the correct amount of timber. After taking some headache pills I threw caution to the wind and went ahead and ordered the stuff. Two thousand pounds worth of sawn Iroko bulks. After getting off the phone I numbly decided to take even more headache remedies and went to stand in the corner of a darkened room with a bucket over my head until I felt better. This state of suspended relief was not to last however, as when the huge pile of timber arrived at saxon wharf the following week I found myself scrabbling around for my cutting list (and the pills) and wondering why I’d ordered five times more wood than I required. Luckily this was to prove a false panic in the end, but I aged about ten years in an afternoon, especially as I was on my own at the boat and faced dragging these enormous lumps of tree across the yard and into the tent alone, if it hadn’t been for some Very Helpful fishermen on the boat next to me I would’ve doubtless provided some interesting entertainment for the shipyard staff- and probably also have snapped myself in half.
Now, an event such as the one all this was leading up to was obviously not planned overnight. I managed to fluke a week off from both of my jobs and persuaded my dear friend Mark (he’s the Scottish wood expert, I’m the numpty) to come to the boat for the same week. Getting these arrangements to align neatly with things like actually having the timber in my possession, remembering to buy glue, screws and pencils, and making sure my thicknesser blades were sharp as hells teeth was some sort of mission, but in the end it all somehow fell into place like some big happy accident.
So I found myself doing a lap of the M25 last Friday night to collect Mark and all his tools, loading a borrowed pick up with even more tools AND Supersam, B and Jan the following morning and driving in convoy through the bank holiday traffic to begin a frankly industrial amount of wood butchery and porthole fitting.
While everyone else cleared the engine room, installed those portholes and the restored aft ladder and made a temporary timber cover over the bosun’s hatch Mark and I took THREE entire twelve hour days to bring the gargantuan pile of rainforest down to planed and sized lumber suitable for our plans. The tent floor quickly became swathed in mountainous drifts of very expensive sawdust. Unfortunately for everyone else it wasn’t until they had to leave us on bank holiday Monday afternoon that we were actually ready to begin chopping iroko up to length and preparing all the complex joints.
The rest of the week was a bit of a dusty blur. One thing that had really daunted me for some time was the knowledge that whilst I’d learned a lot about working with steel over the last few years I still knew not very much at all about wood techniques, and I was about to undergo a crash course. With my own stock. Which was worth two grand. Ooooh bugger. This was a large part of the reason why I was so dependent on Marks assistance, at least to point me in the right direction. To his mild annoyance though I’ve got to say I quickly found out which way was up, and enjoyed working with a new material rather a lot. I decided upon a theory that whilst steel can to a certain extent be bullied, wood has to be persuaded, and also seems to talk back. But once I learned how to sharpen a chisel properly I was away after a fashion, and happily chopped away.
Two days after we finished thicknessing the timber we were finally able to haul some of it up to the deck, we’d got lucky and had two pieces of heartwood that complemented the colour of the existing wheelhouse nicely and after hours and hours of preparation we tested our back muscles and heaved the first one up. Then we heaved it down again for some major adjustments. Then up again, then down. Inevitably some time elapsed and by Thursday morning we only had two structural members clamped where they belonged. This was however, a bit of an optical illusion, as M kept assuring me that the greater amount of work was in preparing each piece- and he wasn’t wrong. When B arrived late on Thursday night bringing our relief rations and beer she was treated to a viewing of our first attempt at dry assembly, comprising of most of the new cabin walls, door jambs, bottom and top plates, posts and stringers.
As my efforts with a chisel and router got neater our physical state was starting to get distinctly ragged. We’d been working ‘til gone nine every evening, so when B arrived and we started into the beer the results were a foregone conclusion. Yep, Hangov ers all around. Friday was an utter mess, I think I spent three hours just working out how the frame should interface the after bulkhead and another two hours cutting a single piece of wood. Most of the time I just gawped at the wood, then the drawings, trying in vain to understand why all the numbers wouldn’t stay in my frazzled little head. We stopped work at six that evening as our dribbling and pencil dropping had clearly got the better of us.
Over the weekend our dry assembled frame was partially dismantled and the first curved rafters prepared for addition to the structure, the realisation dawned that we weren’t going to even come close to finishing all the components, so we staggered to a Sunday afternoon finish satisfied just to reassemble with no glue, what we’d done so far, clamp it in place and begin the process of extracting ourselves from the boat which for the first time felt as if it had started to become home, albeit temporarily.
I’ve just experienced something that will live forever in my memory as one of the hardest, but most enjoyable weeks of my life, to have shared the experience with an old friend made it utterly unforgettable and the return to reality has been tinged with that quiet sort of culture shock you might sometimes feel after a really good holiday when on your return, even the familiar seems strange.
Mind you, we worked so hard our grandchildren will be born tired. I drove for over five hours on Sunday evening to get Mark and his tools home, and somehow thrived my way through work yesterday with no apparent ill effects whatsoever. Today however was a completely different story, forced out of bed too early I quickly began to feel very odd indeed, like I was coming down with a bug or something, it rapidly became apparent that I was suffering from a deep exhaustion and I was left with no choice but to make my excuses and crawl back under the duvet, where I remained for the entire day. The price exacted so far for my nine days of mayhem has been a total of 18 hours sleep since last night. I’m awake now but fuck me do I feel weird, and I have a feeling my body is still not done settling the debt. I’ve worked out that we’ve invested 214 man hours in the cabin construction so far, and that there’s probably about the same again before we’re done. Never mind the ‘sleep when I’m dead’ philosophy, I feel halfway there already so I’m getting back under the duvet now while I have a chance. Night night.