Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day Blog

View from Laughrigg Fell - the Lake District

[Kyle]For those of you who saw me standing on the ice and decided I was completely crazy - perhaps! But, I had a good plan for the rest of the day; it involved snuggling up on my warm and cosy boat, with boat heaters on, enjoying the occasional glass of whisky and some lovely hot potato soup. Maryanne (!!), in a demonstration of why we are actually perfect for each other, decided she wanted to spend the day hiking the hills of the lake district in sub-zero temperatures. SO, off we went in a rental car to go and spend a day familiarizing ourselves with some of the many ways to die in Britain's climate.

I want to reiterate! This was Maryanne's idea. I was for staying inside the toasty warm interior of our ice bound boat. However, in the true fashion of me, once she got me out there and pointed me in the direction of the highest hill (which by the way was shrouded in cloud) my tail started wagging and I was eager as ever to go sprinting to the top with her in tow. It was actually a beautiful, stereotypically winter, day. Fresh snow covered the fields, we saw several groups out sledding, and the low temperatures, which we were properly dressed for, kept the ground from being being boggy and muddy and horrible. Except for a few patches of thick ice, the weather made for easy going.

The views of the valleys with the hills beyond and the lakes below (lakes in this area are called tarns), were monochromatic but stereotypically Christmasy. At the highest point of our frozen hike, the 3:30pm sunset broke through to give our black and white little world some fiery colour; magical. It really was very nice and at the end of the day I had to reluctantly thank Maryanne for dragging me out of the homey warmth of Footprint. This was just as well because the homey warmth, in spite of the effort of the heaters, really wasn't that homey nor warm.

Earlier that morning, before we left, I found I could not get water in the galley sink because the pipes from the port tank on the other side of the boat had frozen. One of my clothes lockers had also frozen shut; glued to the outside of the hull by a pair of frozen t-shirts. The night before, while making the bed, I'd discovered our mattress was frozen to the hull at it's foot - where the condensation had turned to perma-frost. Don't worry though, the top of the bed (the part we sleep on) stays nice and warm throughout the night and by the end of the evening I'd managed to melt enough of the pipes to do the dishes following our traditional Christmas dinner of potato soup (using the ice cold tank water).

The almanac tells us that tormmorow tomorrow we'll have 29 more seconds of daylight than today, now we have finally passed the winter solstice - bring it on. Every little bit brings us closer to the spring that seems so far off right now.

[Maryanne]YES! we had a car. We were not expecting to have a car for the Christmas break, but Kyle's messed up work commute left me booking one as an emergency, thinking I'd have to travel to Edinburgh on Christmas day to collect him. Luckily he made it home a day earlier than we expected (and 3 days later than planned originally) - so we were left with a car and no mercy mission. Without a car, I'd have been happy to spend Christmas holed up with the heating on full, but with a car, I was determined to explore, and I knew Kyle would love it if I could just get him out of his cocoon. We've not really allowed ourselves to plan weekends of 'fun'; priorities have been boat jobs, and dull household chores on our rare days off together. Nobody could convince me though that we should be doing boat jobs on Christmas day - so I wanted to get out and see some of the lovely (relatively local) areas and to show Kyle some of the best of England. As he mentioned, he took some convincing, but it was worth it! We both loved it.

Cristmas Day walk - a rare moment with the Lakes (practically) to ourselves

Merry Christmas from Footprint

[Kyle]Merry Christmas, everyone.

We got up this morning to -3°C (27°F) inside, -10°C (14°F) outside. I had this idea of taking a Christmas photo of me standing next to Footprint in the pre-dawn light for posterity’s sake. Some day, we’ll look at that photo and remember just how cold it was that winter in Preston.

Note that I am not wearing shorts because it wasn’t that cold (although the lack of wind helped). I was doing it as a precaution in case I fell in. I didn’t want to wreck any of my warm trousers. It turns out I needn’t have worried about that. Traction was my biggest problem.

Brrr... It looks like the ice stops just beyond where Kyle stands, but it's just an illusion - a difference between once broken up ice and smooth, (relatively) new ice - all is pretty thick right now

[Maryanne]Oh Yes, my husband! I did check before he started this particular plan if he'd got insurance all paid up, and he'd heard of the Darwin awards. I was a little concerned, after all the it seemed quite a miracle that he'd made it home for Christmas at all - I really didn't want to lose him so close to the boat. Thankfully the ice is pretty thick, and he's survived to tell the tale of the Christmas where he could walk around the hull and clean the boat!

I hope you all have a wonderful day, and don't venture on anything daft yourselves! Keep warm and happy

Maryanne & Kyle

Friday, December 17, 2010

Haven’t heard form us for a while? What have we been up to?

[Kyle]We’ve been up to the decidedly less glamorous side of the cruising life.

I’m afraid life for us since arriving back in Preston from Conwy in August has been a bit of a long slog. I’ve been commuting across the Atlantic several times per month for work. Maryanne got a job in Manchester that, when combined with her commute, takes her away from the boat fourteen hours per day. We both arrive home exhausted with little motivation to tackle the long list of jobs hanging over our heads that need to be completed in preparation for any spring sailing along with more of the Irish Sea.

Plus, up here at 53° 45’ North, it is dark most of the day this time of the year. These days, the official sunrise isn’t until well after 8:00, and it’s back down again before 4:00. Even at its highest point, the Sun barely breaks 13° above the horizon, which even on clear days just clears the trees and buildings to the South, providing at best a heavily slanting light that offers no warmth as comfort. The small amount of useful daylight limits the amount we are able to do, especially outside. The other day after seeing Maryanne off to work in pitch dark, I waited for daylight and then went for a longish run. By the time I got back, showered and fed myself, there was less than three hours of daylight left. I was exhausted and could have used a couple of hours to recover a bit, but I couldn’t spare the time.

Marina full of ice and snow, but Christmas season well underway

Compounding this difficulty is that in early December, all of Britain suffered a polar cold snap, driving temperatures well below freezing. This, of course, made going out even during the brief hours of daylight unappealing.

Aboard Footprint, I am constantly reminded of the vigorous arguments I had with Tony Smith when we purchased her about the necessity of having heat. He insisted Scotland was not that cold (North of here, by the way), and that heating up a cup of tea on the stove would produce enough heat to take the chill off the cabin in the morning. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I’ve heated whole POTS of coffee and the most I’ve ever seen our digital thermometer rise is a tenth of a degree Celsius from such efforts. On days like that, our little space heater can’t keep up, but throw in the Espar heater and we can be nice and toasty.

A few days ago, Maryanne and I woke up all snug in our bed. I said good morning to her and she disappeared behind the fog of my breath. It hovered there for a few seconds and then turned to ice crystals, which fell lightly on her face.

We weren’t cold. We could probably survive a winter almost anywhere as long as we never had to leave the warmth of the bed. We’ve probably got a couple of quilts too many, but we refuse to remove them on principle. I mean, c’mon… ice crystals!

As is our normal practice (on those few days when I’m home), I was the first to get out of the warm cocoon of our bed to fire up the heaters and start the coffee. I checked our weather station before starting the heat: -.7°C (30°F) inside, -7°C (19°F) outside.

A couple of days before, the water in the basin started to freeze a thin layer at the water’s surface. It began in the fairways then spread toward the boats until only an inch or so remained around the hulls of the occupied boats with heat. Eventually, even that small space vanished. The ice grew thicker and thicker. Every now and then, I would go out and punch through it with a boathook to see how thick it was. This particular morning, while the Espar roared to life, it took a couple of serious jabs to penetrate the ice. It was almost an inch thick. Everything was covered in a heavy coat of frost, I stepped onto the dock, still barefoot, and walked along pushing and pulling on Footprint. The dock and the ice cracked and groaned with my weight, but the boat wouldn’t budge. Back inside, as I moved around, I could hear the ice cracking as Footprint settled on her new lines with the load shift.

This seems to have become our new normal condition. Some days we can wiggle the boat back forth a couple of inches, some days we can’t. One Saturday, we walked into Preston to see a Billy Bragg concert. It was wonderful, and afterwards, he even made the time to talk to Maryanne and me for a few minutes. He really is one of the good guys.

Billy Bragg - great evening, worth the treacherous journey home

By the time the evening was over and it was time to make the walk home, ice fog had been coating everything for hours and the entire surface of the city was slick. With every step, we could feel each foot smearing along the surface, never holding firm. Nothing was safe to grab for support. Lampposts were slippery, railings were slippery, the walls of the buildings were slippery, cars were slippery. A few times, out of instinct, we would grab for each other, which immediately led to a frightening and comical dance, where we jerkily circled each other as our legs and arms flailed around wildly while we tried to regain balance. Eventually, we had to agree to walk far enough apart that when one of us fell, we wouldn’t drag the other one down as well. It was a long walk home. Every single step had to be slow and small and taken with arms out for balance. It was so cold, but it was impossible to walk any faster than about 1/3rd speed without falling. By the time we finally made it back home, we were both sore and exhausted from straining every muscle along the way to keep our balance.

The cold also ran the risk of freezing the pipes to the docks, so the marina shut off the water. At first it wasn’t a big deal because we thought it was only going to be for a few days. Then we ran out of water. When it happened, there was no relief in sight from the weather, so we had to haul jugs from the tap at the marina office down to Footprint and fill the tanks with them. Of course, on the day, there wasn’t a dock cart to be found, so I made six increasingly long trips from the office with a 40lb jug of water in each hand. Next time, I’m definitely not going to wait until we’re dry before filling up again so I have the luxury of waiting for a cart. A few days later, with everybody else desperately low and a slightly above freezing day, the marina relented and turned on the water and found leaks everywhere. Now it looks like the water’s going to be off all winter. Ugh! The office said they’ll try to get something turned on as close to the docks as possible, so we don’t have to make the whole walk, but it looks like jugs are going to be our only source of water for a while.

The days of cruising in tropical breezes seems a long way away, both ahead and behind. I have never wanted a Winter to be over so badly in my life.

View from the office Kitchen

[Maryanne]I've settled into my job in central Manchester, and I'm pleased to report that I'm enjoying it, and that everyone is really nice (no, I don't expect they'll be reading this). I'm enjoying working in the big city; the company is an IT company, and very relaxed (Guitar Hero in the Kitchen for whenever you feel like kicking back!). We've had several really nice lunches out and a fantastic Christmas dinner too.

Of course moving back was not about work; it was about time to re-connect with my UK family and friends. Having a permanent base in the UK, and given my location, I've also been seeing plenty of my best friend Annie, who lives just outside Manchester with her family.. Even Kyle's spent some time there although he was thoroughly engrossed in a 3-D jigsaw puzzle of the earth (I never saw him as a jigsaw guy - but now I know how to keep him out of trouble!). I've met up in Central Manchester (for lunch, or dinner, how decadent) with several friends from times past. It's all been fun.

Kyle builds a new world, while I catch up with friends

Before starting work in early November, we took one last trip to the States for a friend's wedding, I've had visits from family members, and I'm off for the new year on an England Mega-circuit to see everyone (well, almost everyone) - so we're making the best of our new home in the UK and catching up with friends and family; it feels good. I've even had a Gemini boat friend from Bermuda come to visit (Thanks Mary!).

Kyle and Maryanne at Angie's Wedding