Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wrong boat? buy it anyway.

It was February 2005, and we'd held the idea of living on a boat for some time. We thought we'd done our research carefully, read a load of books and magazines and had gone to look at a few that were up for sale. There was even one that we'd gone to see and liked so much we decided to buy it, but had been pipped at the post by another buyer. So in theory we were armed with all the right knowledge to prevent us buying a lemon. A cliche goes "buying a boat induces temporary blindness" and I reckon it's about right. We drove overnight from south London to Plymouth to view Wendy Ann and arrived at a small boatyard on Pomphletts creek to see the boat moored about six metres from the wharfside on a drying mooring. The only way to get on board was to make use of a small fibreglass dinghy that had "Wendy Ann TT" (tug tender) rather hopefully scrawled down one side in white paint. The dinghy leaked and was slowly sinking. I should have realised the portent. Undeterred we boarded what was to become my pride and joy and agony and sleepless nights. Took a wander round inside and was unbelievably not put off by the evidence of my eyes, amongst other things the contents of the hull were as follows. One engine (in about two hundred pieces). One galley (not functional). One sea toilet (mr Heath Robinson would have appreciated the odd arrangement of tubes and pumps with which the thing was made to go). A bedroom cabin made from sticks of old furniture (creative but deeply odd), 8 inches of greasy stinking bilge water and about fifty cans of aging MOD marine paint. I don't know why but I looked around, made my mind up, disembarked and announced to the broker who clearly couldn't contain his surprise "We'll take it". This folks is how not to buy a boat.
We did obtain an in water survey. It wasn't worth the paper it was written on, let alone what we paid for it. I was later to discover that broker and surveyor were old mates.. Bugger.
Two weeks later and financially much lighter we went back to figure out what to do. Over the phone our broker had refused to give up Wendy's previous owner's number whilst indulging in a character assasination that made us think he would be some sort of shifty criminally minded pathological liar. Psychologists call this phenomenon 'transference' and Rob Wheatley, previous owner of Wendy Ann turned out to be quite an earnest, nice guy- if a bit of a dreamer. It turned out that he'd been burned on the deal as well, the broker having creamed off a whopping 30% of the sale price. We couldn't really talk, having effectively stung ourselves. Anyway Rob mentioned that he'd taken the boat to a local shipyard for work to be undertaken two years previous. We called the shipyard and a representative offered to meet us at Wendy Ann. As we walked down the quay his attitude seemed to change from excitement on our behalf to dread, and he said " oh no, it can't be, but it's the same boat". I wondered what he meant and it transpired that the work undertaken on Wendy was a survey for a prospective buyer, who called the survey off half way through because he'd seen enough to know that the hull was totally and utterly shot. Our man from the shipyard had a look around anyway and immediately identified ten things which even a blind surveyor should spot, before pronouncing "aah well- all this can be fixed, but you're talking megabucks". I thanked him for his time and got off the boat with him, bidding him a hasty goodbye before waddling at high speed to the local pub with my arse going ha'penny sixpence. I thought that to shit yourself with fright was just figurative speech but I was very nearly proved wrong and made it to the lavs in the nick of time.
My learning experience had begun for real. We began to rue the rashness of our decision and realized that we could try to sue the surveyor- but his small print could lead to a long and expensive court battle with little chance of success. So we reasoned that instead of freaking out and giving up on our dream that was rapidly turning nightmarish, we might instead try and save the wreck of Wendy Ann 2. Now this kind of thinking is surely folly, throwing good money after bad. But rightly or wrongly thats what we decided to do.
It's not all bad, the overall shape and layout of our new purchase was so gorgeous that I could see exactly how it would all be one day. I just had to really really squint a lot. It also turned out that Wendy Ann 2 had something of a history. In fact quite a nice man who dropped into see us recently suggested we'd bought more history than boat. Correct. Wendy Ann 2 was actually launched as the much more workaday C129. She gained the name when bought by tug operator Harry Rose of Poole, Dorset in the mid fifties who named his entire fleet of tugs after his daughter. This explains the two that follows her name on our boat. Shortly after we moved Wendy round the coast (which I'll save for another blog entry) I was chucking lumps of rubbish off my boat when I was surprised by a guy who said that his dad used to be chief engineer on Wendy, after regaling me with tales of just how shipshape Harry Rose used to keep all his tugs he couldn't believe the state of disrepair she was in and I swear he was about to cry after I showed him what was left of the engine room. I did not feel very proud of my boat that day.
Once upon a time Wendy Ann was well looked after. We have large boots to fill and deep pockets to muster if we are to reverse the damage of years of neglect.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back in the Beginning...

I think I should write all this down, but like a lot of the experience of owning and working on an old tugboat it's difficult to know where to start so...The vessel known as Wendy Ann 2 is an old british Admiralty tug, built in 1939 and commissioned in 1940- made of steel and has been sat in salt water her whole life so I mean old. She's also practically scrap but for one reason or another we didn't realise this when putting money where the mouth was. It's true to say that Becky and I fell in love with Wendy as soon as we clapped eyes on her. It's also true that we were complete blithering idiots with absolutely no idea whatsoever what we were letting ourselves in for and were both sporting the very thickest rose tinted spectacles at the time. That was just over a year ago and an awful lot has changed since then. My whole life in fact. But I like a challenge and a learning curve and maybe, just maybe we'll succeed in our mission to save this boat and build a home aboard this once proud machine..