A journey in small increments and large setbacks


Small Increments

The boat proceeds at the usual glacial (pre warming) but steady pace. After a period of downtime recovering from my failed trip (around a week physically and several weeks mentally, albeit my finger is still crooked and I think always be now) I’ve returned to working on the boat in earnest. If nothing else my abortive venture late last year informs me as to where I should put my priorities in terms of preparing the vessel for another trip and I really need to make it work next time, assuming fate will at least let me get into the ocean again (there is a strange irony in welcoming the ocean as a place of relative safety).

I had the masts brought down so I could more easily renew the rigging wires, and as usual the tasks multiplied. I replaced the mast steps on both masts as the originals just weren’t giving me a feeling of solidity and confidence aloft (one had rusted through at a weak point and was almost useless, creating a rather challenging and delicate operation to pass it on that mast). It seems I need to clean, treat and paint the masts and apparently there is a risk in putting 2 part paint over 1 part, so I need to get more paint. I haven’t replaced the wires yet, ironically – I got as far as fabricating myself a crude rigging vice out of scrap steel though. I have a real dilemma with the rigging. I will have increased the displacement by over 40% when I have finished and this means increased stress on the wires. I cannot currently afford to scrap the replacement wire I bought way back (same size as before per surveyor advice as the boat originally sat) and therefore need to get as much out of it as possible. If I learn to splice the wires, I should be able to achieve terminations that are both affordable and able to hold virtually the same strain before breaking as the wire. Unfortunately, I can see no way to do so without consuming at least several weeks just splicing (and learning) and maybe more than a month for that one thing alone. The faster choice is wire rope clips, not really recommended for rigging (and the original rigging wasn’t even using the recommended number!) – for which I would sacrifice 20% of the strength of the wires. I’m not well provided with time (or money) so this is a dilemma and I have an uneasy feeling I will be forced (for the foreseeable future at least) to just go with the clips and expect to baby my rig that little bit more as a result (to be fair, I need to baby all my equipment, given how marginal I am with spares and contingency support). I do at least have a large amount of redundancy in the wires and if reacting promptly enough might be able to deal with a single broken wire before it became more.

In the best of traditions, when stuck on one project and presented with hundreds of possible choices, one starts on others. Last trip I mostly couldn’t operate the engine and transmission from the controls and so it was a priority to get them hooked up. I got into this situation because the vessel sat with a leak in the cockpit that resulted in the engine room being flooded (engine, transmission and all) for a couple of years while I was busy with life – getting divorced from my wife (a native of this country, and partly why I got a boat here). The flooding meant that the batteries were all destroyed and caused serious galvanic corrosion to the oil pan and engine mounts in the process. Naturally I had to replace the oil pan (the old one started leaking badly after being cleaned up) and engine mounts. The engine mounts were shimmed before meaning no vertical adjustment and I got the same engine mounts as before as recommended for my engine. However there simply wasn’t enough adjustment with the engine bed (presumably why they used the shims before) and I had to modify it (in a terrible rush to leave the country as this was last year) by dropping portions of it (cut, weld, drill). The engine was barely aligned after doing that (right at the limits of adjustment in some directions) and in an ideal world I need to remove and rebuild the whole engine bed anyway (as it is presenting a corrosion risk to portions of the hull effectively inaccessible due to the poor original design).

Anyway that sets the scene – when the engine was returned and aligned, it had moved forwards slightly and the control cables were no longer correct as someone had previously attached them to the hull and not to the engine. So I fabricated new brackets to attach the control cables better. I managed to attach the transmission bracket to the transmission itself which means it will now remain correct if things move around. The throttle cable had no obvious nearby choices to attach a bracket to the engine and so I went with a hull attachment but designed so it would facilitate later alteration with greatest ease if the engine moves again (just drill two fresh holes in two pieces of steel that bolt together for the new position). As always one does these things and mentally pats oneself on the back and ticks off the item only to find that you still have a problem. The throttle now works properly but the transmission does not – despite the control cable now being correctly located.

To understand that issue one must return to the past and consider that the transmission itself is now a corroded mess (it would be almost impossible to open for inspection and harder to close again). It seems it was full of rusty water and when originally operated it would only select reverse gear (not very practical given the complexities for getting to the ocean from here). At the time I ran it in reverse to heat it up in the hope it would loosen up and find forwards (and changed the transmission fluid until it started coming out cleaner). However that did not work – and it only selected forwards gear in the end with some assistance from a hammer. After that it eventually started to find forwards if the shifter was moved over far enough – but with the control cable hooked up – the shifter won’t move that far.

Consequently it’s a bit of a dilemma too. I can keep it the way it is, where I can only select forwards gear by applying power to the engine (which eventually violently slams the transmission into gear) and hope it loosens up more and improves. If it does not, this will almost certainly destroy whatever transmission I have left at some point. Maybe I can try the hammer every time I want to shift gear for a while instead (and slam it into gear if the situation demands) – or else I’m back to manually shifting the cable, which means an awkward trip into the engine room (imagine trying to explain that one to a coastguard boat with machine guns pointed at you?). Anyway, I’ve done what I can and the cost of new transmissions, amount of work to change and multitude of other issues means I just have to live with it for now – and hope…

I’ve reworked the step down into the main cabin that I had built last year and that failed to work as intended. It was meant to lift up and out if I needed access and that worked very poorly, leaving me to cut it away and to sail out last time with a big hole in the pilothouse floor adjacent to the control position (as unsafe as it sounds in a boat that’s being rolled around and a big part of why my fingers were where they were when they were crushed in the door). I reworked the design to install a hatch in the lower portion so I can store things underneath and get access to the side of the engine, and then weld in the whole assembly. As the hatch needed to be low profile to not hurt feet I went with invisible hinges which don’t work perfectly (first time I fabricated them), but will have to do. Ironically all this work is a knock on effect from a decision a couple of years ago to rework the access into the main part of the vessel such that I could install a watertight door between the pilothouse and vessel (and also site another door inside where it would have conflicted with the original steps into the vessel). That’s why I recessed the steps into the pilothouse, but I had no realisation when I decided to do that how much time it would end up eating.

I also replaced the voltmeter in the instrument panel as the old one was faulty and traced an intermittent but persistent ground fault that was mostly causing failure to start on the starter button (I’d like to move away from short circuiting the starter motor with a screwdriver if at all possible). There is quite a bit more to do electrically but I’m waiting on income so I can buy the tools and materials I need (some are ordered, but I don’t dare order wire in any quantity until I know exactly what I will need).

Finally I have started to rework the office part of the captain’s cabin. For around a year I have worked (for my income) while sitting on two large blocks of wood. I had a nice comfortable office chair which fell apart after a year and wasn’t inclined to throw good money after bad. I will build myself something durable and add a little storage in the area while I’m at it – but it will of course also cost time to complete. It’s part done right now.

If anyone who is reading this thinks it doesn’t sound like a lot to have done in a month, I can only assume you’re a professional who does this sort of thing often and who doesn’t have to earn a living and support a family at the same time. I am doing virtually everything myself with no prior knowledge or expertise and with the barest minimum I can get away with in tools and materials. I realise that rather than make that sound like a complaint I should spin it around and point out that if I can do all these things I have never done (or known how to do) before – just about anyone reading this could too, right?

Anyway, the fight goes on for as long as fate permits.

Large Setbacks

My girlfriend finally lost patience with me and told me our relationship was categorically over.

Well, actually she offered a superficial choice – between “boat” and “family”. I say superficial because upon closer examination it was not at all clear how choosing the non boat option resulted in a viable outcome. Rather a combination of immigration laws and lack of personal assets made it massively more likely to result in homelessness and destitution, which I might note is a pretty poor position from which to do much of anything except fight to survive. She never really understood my way of thinking – not so much disagreeing with it as arguing it was better to live for the day and the future be damned (even when children are involved, one she had before and one with me). Latterly she also became convinced I was nothing more than a dreamer and a loser who had no capability to do anything he was thinking about (I throw this idea out for general judgement, she might be proven correct, who knows?).

Although the boat became an emotional target of opportunity, it is by far from the key problem with the relationship. The key problem with the relationship is the international aspect. They tried and failed to get a tourist visa so they could visit here, and I cannot visit there without sacrificing the boat and everything I own (as I overstayed my welcome here having once been married to a national but the immigration process here having played a key role in destroying that marriage) as I cannot return here. I cannot go to live in their country without jumping through an awful lot of bureaucratic hoops and waiting a year to a year and a half even once all the complex documents are in order. I cannot readily return with my 50% British family to my own country (the UK) due to changes the British government have made during my absence. There are nations where we could currently go in theory, but to do so is still a large undertaking (and it is now academic).

So for now my priority is to get out of this country at least (in theory I could be disappeared at any time… though it would be rather unlucky given my generally non criminal nature) and retain as much access to my son as I can by leveraging the fact I financially support them (and one fortunate byproduct of a life lived in between the cracks of the modern world is that there is no court that can force me to do this). If things fall apart in the nearer future, I am not remotely sure how I can ensure my child survives – and that isn’t a nice position to be in.

Furthermore while I have recently got a visa to visit their country my original plan was predicated upon them coming to me and being able to continue to remedy the worst of my short term fixes sooner than later. If the vessel must sit unattended for prolonged periods in another nation some of those fixes become very large gambles indeed if not addressed. So yet again, another layer of complexity settles upon my world for me to try to resolve.

Finally just to add insult to injury – their country is Russia. All the signs are for a rapid increase in hostility between Russia and the western bloc (and I believe both sides are guilty and despise them equally for it). Coming from a country already being targeted somewhat by Russia in the visa process I can only see things getting worse in some way for me as a result here. I have this feeling that if there were a thousand people like me trying to make the sort of journey I’m planning to make, only a few would emerge at the other end. How long can I beat the odds for?

My girlfriend spent quite a lot of time and energy trying to get me to agree I was a loser and asked me to explain why I was not a loser. My answer was simple:

I don’t give up.