Thursday, March 24, 2011


[Kyle]After spending what seemed like months with only a day at a time the boat, I finally got a few days off to get some real work done on Footprint. Near the end of our long winter jobs list was pulling the boat out of the water for some much needed maintenance.

I had originally planned our haulout to be far enough in advance to allow for the contingency of bad weather, etc., but when my April schedule arrived at work, all of our backups were effectively eliminated. It suddenly became very important to get it done at the first available opportunity.

Of course, nothing went as planned. As the day approached, the weather forecast for Preston was for really high winds – almost assuredly in excess of what the crane can handle, not to mention the difficulty of getting Footprint from the dock to the pickup spot. By the time I arrived home, the forecast was for winds of 30 knots, gusting to 50. The second day wasn’t looking good either. The third day had a forecast that was hoping or a two-hour lull in the afternoon. Maybe we could get it done then. I sure hoped so because the fourth day was everybody’s day off and there wouldn’t be enough personnel to perform a lift again until after I returned to work.

I decided to kill some of the intervening time and stress with a nice, long run. As I left, I noticed another boat moored to the wall by the crane. This meant that even if the predicted lull did come later, Footprint would be second in line for a lift. I had serious doubts as to whether they would have time before closing to get both boats out of the water. I was so worried about it that I cut my run short in order to make sure I would be back before closing time to discuss the situation with the marina. When I got there, Chris, the Manager, confirmed that there would be no way to get both boats out in the lull. The day after that looked better and he was willing to bring on extra staff for the day if it was necessary to perform our lift. Well, that was a relief. Maybe this wasn’t going to be total disaster after all.

Chris continued, “Now, we have another problem. At first, you’re going to be angry, but by the time we’re done talking, you’re going to be happy.”

Well, we’ll see about that. He proceeded to tell me the swing bridge between our dock and the crane, which even our dinghy can’t get under without an opening, had suffered some sort of mechanical malfunction and could not open. At that point, I wasn’t actually angry, just really worried and disappointed. He explained that they hoped to have the part the afternoon of the lull and then also hoped some more that it would fix the problem, but if they didn’t it would be at least after the weekend before they would be able to try again. Not good. Chris kept asking me things like how badly did I really need to be out that particular weekend. Oh, this was not good. I told him it wasn’t good and again he promised to make sure I ended up happy. He asked me to give him a few minutes to think and promised to call later.

I used the intervening time to run to the hardware store to buy supplies for the haulout. He called me when I got back and explained his plan: In the event the bridge was not fixed by 2:00pm the two days hence, he would call a mobile crane to haul us out about half an hour later on the near side of the bridge. They’d plop us right there in the marina parking lot. We’d have power and water and the showers would be really close. The only downside would be that we wouldn’t be behind the fence. I had pretty hard time figuring out how I could be upset about this and had to eventually admit that I was indeed happy and went back to getting the jobs that I could in the meantime.

A couple of days later about an hour before they were supposed to test the bridge, I was back in the same hardware store buying even more stuff. Chris called me and said they think they got it fixed and were going to do a test swing in five minutes, could I be ready? I asked for ten and rushed back to Footprint for a very hasty departure.

I was relieved that the howling wind of the last couple of days had completely stopped, which made manoeuvring much easier. Since this is England, the wind was, of course, replaced by a cold, straight down rain. No matter. I threw on a rain jacket and cast off.

Then the most amazing thing happened. As I cleared the float and made the turn into the fairway everything changed. Suddenly, I was once again a sailor at the helm of my boat, not a prisoner of winter trapped aboard an algae and bird dropping covered little cave. For the briefest of moments, I was free again, even if it was only for a very short distance.

The bridge did open (Whew). Once through, I was gratified to find that I could still bring Footprint to a perfect stop with half an inch between her fenders and the wall as if I’d been doing it three times a day for the seven months I hadn’t even touched the helm.

Footprint gets a pretty nice crane lift out of the water

The guys at the yard were ready to go and had the slings attached within minutes. So far, every time Footprint has been hauled out, it has been with a travelift or some other type of mobile crane. The boat is pulled into the lifting berth, where she is then picked up and then driven to her spot in the yard. Preston Marina has a fixed crane. It is bolted to the ground at the edge of the channel. All of the boats hauled out for the short term spend their time in the yard in the shadow of the crane. Longer-term haulouts are put on trailers and driven to their spots. This means that space on the ground around the crane is very limited and packed with boats.

The spot allocated for Footprint was on the other side of that big monohull hauled out just before us (and before the bridge broke). In order to get Footprint to her spot, it was necessary to lift her out of the water, swing her under the sterns of two boats through a channel with no more than six inches to spare (as in three on each side), and then slide her in sideways to her spot with the crane boom passing over the intervening boat.

It was an impressive exercise to watch. Chris directed the whole thing with only the most barely discernible hand signals and not a word spoken. The crane operator, Jack, followed looking through crazed windows and moved the beast in increments of an inch. This was made more impressive by the fact that the only straightforward movement of the crane is up and down. Lowering the boom means the boat goes both down and away. Swinging the crane takes the boat in an arc – some forward, some sideways. In the end, Footprint squeaked into her spot as the rubrail at the bow kissed the anchor roller of the boat ahead. The boom of the crane was just brushing the backstay of the boat behind. Now that’s a shoehorn job! In the end, Chris decided to give us a little more breathing room by using a forklift to pull the bow of the boat ahead away six more inches. It turns out it was his boat. The one he’s had for thirty-two years.

Once it came time to lower Footprint down on blocks, the guys at Preston did the most careful and conscientious job I’ve ever seen of blocking her up. So far, along with Bobby’s boatyard in Sint Maarten, our count of yards we like is at two. Well done, guys.

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