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


Chris said...

Great to see some activity on your blog again! Is it not normal practice in the UK to rig bubblers in the winter to keep open water around the boat? We've had a colder than usual winter so far here in Virginia too. We've had some ice here in our river, but nothing like you are dealing with. Best of luck.

Mommy Dearest said...

How did you get to have your photo taken with Billy Bragg? C'mon, there must be a good story there too.

Always such a pleasure to read your blog. I've missed that, though it sounds so damned cold, I'm glad (for once) to be living in the warm desert.

Happy Holidays!

SV-Footprint said...

Hi Chris.. I'm not really sure if you are a Chris I know, or someone who's stumbled across our blog - but good to hear from you (maybe you are Chris B? I tried to link to your name, but it implies your profile is private so I can't see any details).

As for bubblers, yes, I've heard of them being used in the USA. The weather here is unusually cold this year and the cold spell(s) are lasting much longer once they arrive; such severe and long freezing events are not considered normal, and so the infrastructure isn't to hand. (Britain is only just about coping with keeping main roads open and trains and planes running). This marina only had freezing issues once before (last year = for two weeks in February). If this pattern continues, there will be all sorts of new opportunities for selling such equipment - and I'd probably be looking at an apartment!

Carla - as for Billy Bragg, he's just an amazing guy and made a point of making himself available after the show.. Happily spending 5 minutes or more with anyone that wanted to meet with him. We didn't have much to say to him, but he was exceptionally warm and welcoming personally. He's a favourite singer and song writer of mine, although my best friend Annie is concerned I'm subjecting Kyle to my Billy Bragg CDs! (She apparently recalls being subjected to them herself years ago, trapped in the car on road trips with me!).

The Espar heater is doing a sterling job - so very glad to have it, life would certainly be miserable without it; as is the 5-10 minutes the place takes to warm up once I arrive home in the evening.. brrr..

Chris said...

Hey Kyle, we have never had the pleasure of meeting. I just stumbled across your blog a few months ago and enjoyed reading about all of your adventures aboard Footprint. My wife and I have a 37 ft cat that we keep docked behind our home here in Virginia and cruise close to home in the lower Chesapeake Bay. We don't have a blog or anything. The google account was just created to allow me to post comments to the blogs I read while daydreaming. There's nothing hidden behind the private profile, just some blank fields.

I did get to spend a fantastic 3 days in Scotland back in the early 90's during my Navy days. The British sailors that were hosting us at Faslane claimed that they were the first three consecutive sunny days they had seen in months. I saw enough to know that I would like to make it back one day. Work and children keep our voyages short these days though.

Thanks for going through the effort of keeping up the blog. It's a great distraction for daydreamers like me.