Thursday, March 24, 2011

Haulout - the dirty details

[Kyle]Day 2

Since it was late on the day of the lift, as soon as Footprint was secure, the yard staff left us for the night. Maryanne came home from work to a boat scattered with tools and supplies. Yard dirt was tracked all over the decks, along with a winter’s accumulation of algae, bird droppings and grime. The bottom was especially horrible. Our black bottom paint had mostly faded to the blue under layer, making her look horribly bruised from her last year’s fight with the Irish Sea. The water in the Preston basin is not exactly the cleanest and the whole waterline was ringed with dried brown and green scum, like the ring around an ancient bathtub that had never been cleaned. The whole mess looked completely insurmountable. It was very depressing.

We're hoping she'll scrub up nice!

But help was on the way. The first thing the next morning (a Saturday), Chris showed up with the power washer and gave us a brief tutorial on its use. I donned the full foul weather outfit and set to work. Oh, what a marvellous thing a power washer is! If they ever make one that weighs 2 ½ pounds and fits in a cutlery drawer, we are definitely getting one! What a great wet time I had spending the rest of the morning blasting away at a winter’s accumulated gunk while Maryanne stayed dry running errands and fixing countless things inside. It turns out Footprint is still (mostly) white underneath it all. She’s definitely beyond boat show condition, but she looked a lot better afterwards.

Once the top couple of layers were off, we spent the rest of the remaining daylight getting as much done as we could. When it finally got too late to work, we staggered to the showers for a wash, returned to the boat, cleared off some space to sit and eat and then went to bed. The next day, I headed off at 3:30am for another week in the U.S. and left Maryanne to chip away at our haulout list without me.

Maryanne called me during the week and told me she had arrived home to find the boat gone. A brief wander around revealed it to be on the other side of the crane at the water’s edge. The marina needed our spot so they moved us during the day. They had done the same careful job with shoring as before and had even gone to the trouble of moving the little pyramid of heavy wooden and concrete blocks that I had built the week before as a way to climb on board (a staircase).

When I got home, it was right to work. Maryanne had prepared the boat the previous weekend and taped off the waterline so I would be ready to go. Usually, after a long workday and then a long flight home, I allow myself a couple of hours nap before doing much, but this time, I just didn’t have the luxury. I immediately covered myself in protective gear and set to sanding our old bottom paint off. Typically, all the prep that’s needed before applying a new coat of paint is a good clean of the current layer, maybe a light hand sanding. This time, our old paint was not compatible with the new (or any other available), and had to be completely stripped off.

The grand entrance, and one grubby husband

It was horrible. It was all overhead work while lying on the ground or squatting. There was dust everywhere. It even got in the ventilation holes of my safety goggles. By the time the sun went down, I had been up for 36 hours and had little to eat. I was knackered. Despite all the protective gear I was so covered with filth that I looked like I just stepped out of a mine at the end of my shift. There was no way I was going to bed like that, or even sitting down to eat, or even going inside. I had to get to the showers. Rivers of gray mud went down the drain. I took three complete showers one after the other before getting down to clear water and then I took another just for good measure.

Day 3?

I had planned to start painting the next day, but the forecast called for intermittent showers so we decided to try and get as much of the hulls waxed as possible, plus a few other jobs. Of course, for waxing to be done, the boat needs to be clean and she was now covered in dust. She actually looked worse than the first day. If you’re thinking we should have power washed after sanding, we thought of that too. We actually needed to blast the bottom clean to prepare for sanding, so that wouldn’t have worked.

The dust was less worked in than the previous grime and came off with just a brush and a hose. We managed enough of a dry weather window to get everything below the rubrail waxed as well as prime the parts of the bottom that had gone down to bare gelcoat.

We finished as usual about half an hour after the light ran out, straining to see in the late twilight. Then came the routine of the shower and the clearing of space for a quick meal and the collapse into exhausted sleep.

Also, while in the yard we weren't using our holding tank, so the need for any middle of the night tinkle necessitated getting dressed and making a ¼ mile walk to the marina office in the cold for relief. The yard was really starting to get old.

Day 4?

The forecast was finally for some dry weather for the next few days, so it was time to start painting. The first coat was our usual blue. This is meant to alert us when the upper black layer is wearing off. We always get strange looks from people when we finish the first coat and have a boat with a carefully painted blue bottom. For some reason, it just doesn’t look right. Usually, nobody says anything until we cover it with black the next day, then they all congregate appreciatively and confide in us that they thought there was something wrong with us when they thought we were going to finish with the blue. I had a similar thing happen with my last marriage.

Back in

Maryanne was back at work and left me to put on the black layer as well as all of the final touch-ups.

The following morning after eleven days perched on blocks and a flurry of last minute jobs, Footprint was finally lowered gently back into the water. We had managed to chip away job by job from sun-up until dark and had managed to get her looking and feeling shipshape again. She actually looked kind of…nice.

The weather that day had improved to partly sunny and people were strolling along the waterfront in small groups. A small crowd had gathered to watch the show of Footprint going in and the subsequent bridge opening. Once again, I somehow managed not to do anything embarrassing as I pulled away for our berth. I just backed her away from the wall slightly and did a little pirouette to reverse direction, all like it was on purpose. At the dock a different crowd watched me swing her into place with the stern a couple of inches from the pontoon where I casually stepped off and pulled her in like I was walking a well behaved dog. Oh, this was just too good to be true. Two in a row? With an audience? I am just asking for it next time.

I still had a few hours before Maryanne got home from work. I used the time tuning our rig to the specs for real sailing and not just sitting around a marina. I filled the tanks and scrubbed the decks of all of the tracked yard dirt. Then I gave the inside a good cleaning including a treat of fresh, clean, new post-haulout floor mats. I ended up with just enough time for a shower and shave before she got home.

For the first time in a long time, it feels like we’re ready to go somewhere again. We still have a few more jobs to do, but most are minor and should be easy to accomplish in the next month or so. The bulk of them are no longer hanging over our heads. It finally does feel like it’s downhill from here, at least boat wise. Of course, we still have a couple of languages to learn, routes to plan and weather to worry about, but I’ll take that over lying on my back getting covered with toxic paint dust any day.


[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.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Spring is Coming

[Maryanne]Poor Kyle is suffering with several new terms and conditions at work. He's not got the worst of it, but many of his flight 'privileges' have been revoked, and commuting is now a whole lot more expensive all of a sudden. This, a miserable winter, and itchy feet have us seeking to leave England sooner than planned, and we are targeting Easter-ish (2011) as a departure date. That is maybe only 6 or 7 weekends away.

As you might imagine, life has suddenly got crazy; lists are everywhere on things to buy, do, to be done, and to check over. Other plans have been cancelled (we were hoping to visit York in March, oh well). Charts need to be bought, routes to be planned, languages to learn/brush up on, and a boat to haul out and paint. PANIC MODE!!!

At least that is how I see life right now.. Thankfully the waters have thawed out, and we see sunshine most days right now (while wrapped up still with hat and gloves). Over to Kyle.

[Kyle]The bitter chill of Winter seems to be finally starting to wane in Northern England. The amount of sunlight is increasing by more than four minutes per day. It’s finally not completely dark when Maryanne arrives home after a long workday or when we make the early morning walk to the train station. We generally take the same train in the morning. Maryanne gets off at Manchester Piccadilly. I stay on until the train terminates at the airport.

Having all of the extra daylight has made it much easier to get on with our winter boat jobs list. I had a large block of days at the boat as January transitioned into February and was able to get most of the major work finished that needs to be done. Since then, neither of us has been able to grab more than a day or two at a time or even together. The remaining jobs seem to be frustrating our efforts to tick them off. Something always comes up that makes them take two or three times as long as they should - we don’t have the part. The part we have doesn’t work and has to be sent back. The new one’s back ordered…

As the sailing season approaches, time seems to be accelerating. We are definitely feeling the pressure of the list and are both keenly aware that, although there is still a lot of time until Spring, the number of free days we each have with which to prepare is almost certainly down to single digits. Next week, I’ll only be home for half a day before it’s time to haul Footprint out of the water. Then it will be long, grubby days for both of us as we work hard to transform Footprint from a grubby, cluttered, slime-stained winter cave to the clean, shiny, freshly serviced ocean-going vessel we love.

The weather has finally reached the point at which is it above freezing most of the time. That and the longer days make it impossible for these two sailors to help but sniff the air and start looking toward the horizon. It feels like it has been so long through this winter since we have been out for a nice sail. We both find our heads filled with dreams of warmer weather and new adventures in strange places. It seems unreal that, before we know it, we’ll be sitting on deck, one hand on the wheel, craning our necks as we check that the sails are trimmed.