Monday, October 19, 2009

A Big Pile of Wood.

Yep, that’s all it is. As with any big building project I guess, there are some jobs which are dull as ditchwater, but nevertheless have to be humbly done before anything exciting can happen. Yesterday I spent over five hours doing some home tanalising, sloshing nasty brown preservative liquid over all my prepared 2x2 in the final stage of preparation for battening out the hull, or at least a bit of it. Even with all the skylights and portholes wide open I was still thankful for whatever providence that had led me to invest in a couple of decent 3M breathing masks months ago (when I still had some cash) and leave them in their seals waiting for an eventuality such as this. I tried it without a mask for a few minutes just to see what interesting effects the fumes might have on my neurosystem, and the results packed a bigger hit than a few of the illegal things that I’ve tried over the years. So after a long stagger around outside I decided that breathing apparatus was indeed the way to go.
I laid down one of our super heavy truck tarpaulins to prevent filling the bilges up with preservative and gaily began painting away, stacking up the timber neatly as I went- the idea was that any overspill on top would percolate through the pile and soak in even more to the lower layers. Everything went fine until my pile reached towards hip height. At this point there must’ve been a passing speedboat or something, because Wendy Ann rocked ever so slightly and the whole pile promptly collapsed, burying me to the knees. A moment of chaos followed while I played pick-up-wet-sticks, before deciding to give up and fashion a kind of wood hill instead, and stand sort of on top of it to finish the last thirty or so pieces.

It’s a bigger pile than it looks in the photo, and I’m now crossing my fingers that there’ll be enough to do the whole forward accommodation space-the front end of the hull basically. In the background of the picture you can also see the four ‘IBC’s, bulk containers which are lurking in the engine room like unwanted guests- who’ve turned up too long ago, long since drank all the booze, and are now just sitting there in awkward silence. They contain four tons of water ballast that I reckoned we needed for the short journey round from Southampton, as Wendy Ann were a scarily lightweight fifty tons at the point of launch and I was desperate to get the skeg as far underwater as possible for the tow... I’m now dying to get the damnable things off because as there’s a crawl space around each they’ve eaten a stupid big chunk of future living space.

With that in mind we’re still gradually accumulating manganese steel ballast. Now luckily we’re slowly collecting the small ones, which are quite handleable, but also quite heavy little lumps. And because we’ve stuck to the rule that whatever goes in the bilges must be painted first here they are with their protective coating:

For this I used bitumen, which is about the only use I can think of for the world’s stupidest paint. It’s like painting with sodding treacle. It never quite sets, which means the smallest bit sticking on your hands, hair or worse, your feet transfers bloody everywhere. And it eats brushes and gloves. Life is just too short for attempting to clean brushes that look like the creature from the black lagoon’s done his teeth with them.
Actually, I’m being a bit naughty- it is very cheap, and because of bitumen’s aforementioned fluid properties it does make a pretty ok sealant against rust. It tends to get right into the lumpy bits and provide a good, if unpleasant barrier against the elements. There’s still no way you’d catch me being all beardy and traditional and using it anywhere whatsoever on the exterior though, that sort of use is the reason why some very clever people invented two-pack epoxies.

Next weekend we should see some proper action as a result of all this boring splatting about, and I’m now in a ridiculous feverish state of childish excitement about at last getting the Hilti guns in for that battening. Can’t wait.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Becky, Seb, and Blowing the Bloody Doors off.

I was the luckiest man on planet earth, because on Friday night B travelled with me to Wendy Ann 2, and stayed for the entire weekend. We had ourselves an absolute blast.
The big task was all about taking the sliding bridge doors off and rehanging them properly. We needed to change them from their broken and bent bottom rollers (original including the mangled bits and hurriedly rehung before the launch) to the fancy the-pants-off top hung system into which we invested a sizeable amount of cash in the parts for some months ago. While we were at it we introduced some much needed and very effective draught proofing to the gap between the doors and the wheelhouse itself, and for good measure ripped and planed up a bunch of teak for the next phase of the wheelhouse windows project…
But I have no real need to elaborate further about all this (unless you really desperately need to read the boring then-we-did-this-next stuff all the time), except to say we got it done with grace, even if we did end up indulging in racing woodwork and working well into the night on Saturday. No- I want to talk about me and my missus.

I am so SO pleased that Becks managed to find the time to come for the first time in a couple of months, and I cannot WAIT for her to do so again. It’s difficult for her to get the time as she’s recently struck out on her own business wise and is now more married than ever to the world of horses and horse welfare- early indications show that it seems to be going well though, which in any recession has got to be good. And it’s been weirdly difficult for me holding on to a boat shaped dream for both of us in the meantime over the months. Because although I’m completely obsessed with the tug, at the end of the beans it’s all still about us and our love for each other; the big fat romance that, after one glass of red too many kicked off the potentially fatal idea of ‘lets do up an old boat and live on it’ five (?) years ago. Good God. It’s been only a few years, yet a few tons of steel and teak has changed our worldview beyond recognition. It’s done a few cool things for the skills I have too.

Occasionally, owning a huge dream like this is a burden. It’s bigger than me, bigger than both of us- so the need to constantly maintain one’s own belief that we’ll get there eventually isn’t always easily done. Staying strong as a person, and therefore as half a couple is sometimes tough when the task of putting together a new life seems to be going in different directions, or all just going to ratshit, and the dream home still has no running water, heating, or floors.
It’s still a hell of a test of a relationship, this pursuit of a mad dream. And I particularly feel for Becky, because when she’s not been able to visit the boat because of the career chase it’s like she has all the slog and none of the reward. This weekend was a refreshing change. And after it I’m relieved to know for certain that yes, Becky still definitely wants to live on a boat.

Sometimes it’s best to stick a finger up at adversity, to celebrate even when the overdraft is maxed and it’s beans for supper yet again… We’ve a duty to remind ourselves we’ve got something great as a result of all the sacrifice. “Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your own wheelhouse” (thanks Baz Luhrmann) worked well for us on Saturday night.

In case you’re wondering, this is what the title photograph of this blog entry obliquely refers to; My old work bike, now relegated to occasional provisioning runs over the bridge to town represents my past, Becky’s red wellies that cost her a mere tenner are her present, and the background is of course our future. And we’re more determined than ever to have one living full time together on board. Come hell or high water.

By the way….

Wendy Ann 2 finally has the first two of her total complement of six cowl vents.

Unlike the other four which are much larger and still waiting for repair- these ones are not original, we found them and haggled like fuck in a junk shop a couple of years ago. As you may be able to tell I’ve fitted them to the generator room deck at the stern, where they’re providing just the right amount of ventilation to that lovely big generator rumbling away below.
They need a fresh coat of the right red paint inside, and a serious belt with some brasso on a regular basis, but they’re already doing what they were designed for which is the important bit.
Now I’m dying to get the others repaired and installed, as I’ve got a bit of a thing for cowl vents, they always make any vessel look like it’s Time for Teletubbies.

The Tortoise.

Some weeks ago I visited my Dad and his family, and whilst we were discussing all things houseboat shaped he gave us this:

It’s something of a family heirloom, the daddy having acquired it when I was maybe only six or seven years old, he bought it off some gypsies because he himself was planning on a travelling life. However, he never used it for its intended purpose but somehow miraculously hung onto it for all these years instead, and now we’re immensely proud to call a tiny piece of family history our own.

The Tortoise Stove company turns out to have quite a lot of its own interesting history (go on, google it) and the company motto was ‘slow but sure’ in reference to the speed with which the stove burned it’s fuel, the boast being that it made it more economical and efficient, and sure enough these words are embossed on the front of ours, which is the smallest model made. It’s so wee I reckon it’s probably designed for solid fuel but only experimentation will tell, and anyway someone may want to correct me before I indulge my pyromania; and we know it won’t heat the whole boat. But anything’s better than enduring minus 7 centigrade for several nights with no heating at all during the worst of last winter, which really was not funny at all.

We’re gleefully stealing the stoves motto for ourselves. The reasons should be obvious to anyone who’s read more than a cursory glance at this blog over the years.

Becky and I are enjoying arguing in our customary manner over where exactly it should go on Wendy Ann 2, and I’m itching to get on and make a flue for it out of heavy wall 3” pipe, as it handily has a slightly unusual 3 inch flue size.. Luckily our boat already has an original provision for just such a flue, as long as we put the stove down in the forward accommodation, which is fine by me. This boss shaped provision sits on a steel box in the superstructure just in front of the wheelhouse and is currently covered with a blanking plate that I made just before the great unveiling in February, but it will be no problem at all to remove to take a pipe instead- that's what it's designed for. So positioning decided all I have to do is cast a substantial concrete block into the floor level (and tile it) for our tortoise to stand on- hey, we need the weight anyway. Then go and pester my friendly local steel merchants and make that flue before I install the flue and start burning stuff. Hopefully just in time for the worst of the winter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Privilege of Friendship.

For the first time in ages last weekend I had company at the boat, first Jan, then Pete joined me for a couple of days of big work in preparation for the coming winter. As you can see, we finally got the first insulation into the cabin and wheelhouse. I’d designed the structure to be fitted with 50mm celotex first, to be followed by a layer of rockwool. I’m currently doing some work on a building site and you’ll never guess what the site agent was about to put in the skip… As A: we’re as poor as church mice right now and B: I’m not that stupid, I kindly offered to save the site agent a bit of space in his (admittedly empty, but that’s not the point) bin. Two midweek dashes to Littlehampton later and Jan and I had plenty of lovely insulation to play with at the weekend, and enough to not only do the proper job for free, but also a bunch of leftovers to jam around the steel bulkhead at the back of the cabin (underneath the windows) temporarily while we save up for proper sprayfoam.

Speaking of which, before we can sprayfoam out the hull all the battening has to go in, which is why we spent Sunday emptying the engine room of all the 2x4 that we’d stashed from taking the tent down at Saxon Wharf, ripping it in half to make 2x2, and throwing it through the planer to clean it up a little. All this required making huge piles of timber on the island that we’re moored to, and of course I checked the tide times. But come high water we found ourselves with pause to reflect that sometimes the amount of tide can vary considerably from predictions. Today it turned out, was going to be one of those days. My little book clearly said ‘Sun 4th October HW1300 5.8m’ and I know it takes a six metre tide to begin to flood the little path that leads to Wendy Ann. So I was a little surprised when we found ourselves moving all the piles of wood to higher ground in a bit of a hurry and then wondering if the planer/thicknesser would float away. Even the fishermen with whom I share the island remarked upon the large amount of water kicking about, and between us we reckoned that we were looking at a tide of maybe 6.3 metres or more.

There was no point being upset about the enforced break in proceedings, on the contrary- my attitude was 'bugger, my workshop's flooded... what fun!'. After packing things that needed to stay dry away, and whilst lunch was warming up on the stove I decided to celebrate being in waterworld again by going for a little swim around Wendy Ann. Christ it was cold.

Now we’ve got a large amount of battening, maybe enough to do the whole forward accommodation/galley part of the hull, but before I can go mad for Hilti guns I’m going to have to treat it all with timber preservative which will be a days work in itself I’d imagine, but it’s one big step closer all the same. Whilst the frankly enormous pile of timber was out of the boat and that big silly tide was up, we did manage to lower a load of iron ballasts into the bilges from the floor of the engine room which they’d occupied since our launch. As they weigh well in excess of 150kg each and there were sixteen of them, I’d had no chance of moving them before now without friendly, and strongman assistance. Peterkin and Jan true friends, my thanks to you both.