What comes easy won’t last;

What lasts won’t come easy.

Anon

The reality of owning a boat is not publicised as much as it should be. The reality of ‘living aboard’ is starkly different from ‘living the dream’. Still, the migration of people shifting from land to sea in search of a new, less encumbered lifestyle, seems to be growing, if YouTube is any indication.

While the illusion that cruisers spend their days sailing azure tropical waters; sipping Mai-tais at night; watching dolphins frolic at the bow (although we have done this…), the focus of our existence, and the reason we’ve managed to stay ‘afloat’ for over ten years living aboard is the attention we give our vessel and sticking to a budget.

The main focus of our lifestyle has to be keeping the boat afloat.

Blue Heeler, Southampton haul-out, 2021

This year is no exception. Our last haulout was 2019 when we put in a new engine and propeller. At the time, our hull was in great condition after a year in the fresh water of the Baltic. This year, the same excellent condition – I found only one barnacle tucked behind the cutlass bearing housing. Back in Trinidad in 2016 we stripped the bottom paint off right back to gelcoat and repainted completely. Since then, antifouling the bottom has been relatively easy and straightforward.

With Blue Heeler hauled for the eighth time in 12 years, we set about giving the waterline a light sand, then wet-scrubbed the rest of the hull before applying two coats of Hempel Cruising Performance ‘True Blue’. The growth up in this part of the world is minimal, unlike the heavy growth of the tropics, so that made the work so much easier.

With Blue Heeler looking schmick, we also arranged for a survey – a requirement of continued insurance for a boat over twenty years old.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but for some reason in the UK, marinas and boatyards don’t like people staying aboard their vessel while it’s on the hard stand. I don’t know why, as we are aboard during the day fixing things and moving up and down the ladder. The good news is that we found a no-frills boatyard for the work we needed to do. Itchen Marine Towage at Southampton on the River Itchen is a small boatyard and has all that we need to do the work ourselves. Sure, the ablutions are not fancy, but they’re clean and now that we’ve figured out the settings on the instantaneous hot water system, showers are hot and luxurious after a day of sanding and painting. The town centre of Southampton is about 1km away and chandleries, hardware stores, and so on are nearby too.

Living aboard during maintenance is ideal for cruisers around the world.

To keep costs down, we do all the work ourselves. Anything from dropping the rudder, replacing the engine, prop and shaft, through-hulls, bow thruster and so on (actually, Wayne does the thick of it, while I’m his enthusiastic assistant). If we need to have anyone do work on our boat, it’s usually because we don’t have the tools to do the job ourselves, such as removing a stubborn seal, or lathing out a cutlass bearing, or welding up an aluminium engine part. There are some things that we just don’t have the resources to do ourselves. The UK is a great place to source parts and products and delivery is usually within a day or two for most things.

The truth is, living aboard a boat is a numbers game. 90% of the time you’ll be planning, preparing, saving, scrimping, covered in bilge muck or antifoul, or waiting somewhere for a part to be delivered, or just waiting for the seasons to change. You’ll be away from your family and spend most of your days in isolation within 3m of your better half (who you’d better get on with).

The remaining 10% of the time you might be out sailing; and maybe 10% of that it’ll be just perfect.

From Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay to the Gulf of Mexico and Cuba; it’s that little percentage of heaven that makes this lifestyle worth it.

BLUE HEELER in 2011 Port Phillip Bay – and 2016 Sailing to Cuba

With summer approaching, despite the pandemic still raging across Europe, there is a developing optimism here in the UK re COVID – rightly or wrongly. COVID restrictions in the UK are gradually easing, and by 12th April non-essential shops may open, including hairdressers, outdoor venues/pubs, and so on. Boatyards are filling up with weekend sailors polishing and preparing their hulls and others with ideas of sailing the world planning their futures; there’s a sense of anticipation in the air and movement on the water as yachties, cruisers and sailors, look towards the horizon and set their sails accordingly.

With no firm plan due to COVID restrictions in Europe, we too are looking towards the horizon, ready for the next stage of our sailing adventure.

Until then…

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“I’m looking forward to the future, and that’s a good thing,
because it’s coming” – Anon.

Already a year has passed since Boris declared the first UK lockdown. Now there’s over 121 million cases of COVID19 worldwide; 4.2 million in the UK and mercifully, less than 30,000 in Australia. The UK has a population of around 68 million and already an incredible 24 million (almost the population of Australia) have had their first vaccination jab. I’m happy to report that figure includes us.

The vaccine rollout in the UK is quite impressive and is example of what the Brits are famous for. We had our first jab a week ago and we’re booked in for a second jab in 12 weeks. Mild tiredness and a sore arm is all we both experienced. With summer almost upon us (no proof yet, mind you), it’s certainly a step in the right direction as we prepare our imminent departure.

Living ‘off the grid’ and living a simple life has made the past year a lot easier for us than many others, and we’re grateful for that. But now our focus is to get outta here and continue our voyages.

With everything closed during lockdown, we’ve had no distractions and have busied ourselves keeping our Blue Heeler in ship-shape and making sure all is ready for ocean passages.

To make Blue Heeler even more prepared for offshore sailing and anchoring in tropical islands (can’t wait!), we finally bought some solar panels to fit onto the bimini roof we installed in 2013.

We’ve always planned to fit solar panels over the past seven years, but never found panels that were the right size, the best wattage, and the best price. Our bimini size was the deciding factor and sizing the panels was a little like a jigsaw.

Here’s a short video on the installation of the solar panels plus the MPPT controller.

Researching the right panel took us down the road of looking at semi-flexible panels. While they would have looked great aesthetically, they cost twice as much and allegedly live half as long as solid panels, so those on Facebook tell me. The three new Victron 175W panels on the bimini roof, plus 250W on the davit, give us a total of 775W – triple the solar of previous. The VictronConnect app shows the solar input and even with the sun low on the horizon it’s pumping in plenty of amps into our batteries. So now, we just need to find some sun…

Next week we depart Southsea and make our way to Southampton where Blue Heeler will be hauled out so we can paint the bottom and have a surveyor inspect the hull for insurance purposes. The forward cabin is filled with 4x 2.5 litre tins of antifoul, paint rollers, thinners, and everything else we need to do the job so hopefully we won’t be on the hard stand for long. The way it’s going here in the UK, non-essential shops and business are likely to begin opening after Easter so things are starting to look a little more positive.

Can’t wait to be back out on the water. Just need a little more sunshine and warmth.

Until then…

Our little visiting neighbour – Matilda
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“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Anon.

A year ago in early 2020 we were in the midst of completing major projects aboard Blue Heeler, fine-tuning everything aboard to reach our goal of returning to warmer climates to the south. I seem to recall confidently announcing something along the lines of “Now we’re on our way back to Australia…”. At the time I couldn’t have foreseen a year such as it was. None of us could.

Waiting…

By July 2020 we’d ummed-and-ahhed whether to stay in the UK, or cut and run and continue on our voyage south. As the pandemic overwhelmed countries one by one, the uncertainty around quarantine rules and border crossings became as clear as mud. So we made the decision to sit and take a wait-and-see approach.

The number of global COVID deaths over the past year is staggering and news of mutant strains is a little alarming. Here in the UK, over 120,000 poor souls have succumbed in the UK; while just the past month the US has lost 100,000 people – a very sad year for many families.

Southsea Marina looking north – heavy rain cloud over Portsmouth

Some brighter news; the UK vaccination program has jabbed around 15 million people since the rollout two months ago. The population is divided into a number of priority groups with the elderly, vulnerable, health and essential workers high priority. The Government is working towards those in the top nine priority groups to be offered their first jab by May, and as we are in the eighth priority group we hope to be included in the vaccination program within a few months. They hope to vaccinate every adult in the UK by July. The Government has issued a ‘four-step roadmap’ and all being well, some non-essential businesses will open after 12th April, but this all depends on the efficacy of the vaccinations, etc.

Meanwhile down-under, the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has placed ‘Do Not Travel’ advisories on 177 countries. While this makes sense from a pandemic viewpoint, these sweeping advisories nullify travel insurance for all medical emergencies, as policies typically state they won’t cover countries with a travel warning/advisory in place.

Eastney Beach – a little bit of sunshine is good for the soul

Five months have passed since we entered Southsea Marina, and we have one month left on our winter berth contract and we’re hoping we can leave at the end of March. I’m really looking forward to some warmth and would love to return to places where I can swim and don’t have to wear layers of coats, gloves, hats, boots, etc.

Our immediate plan is to have Blue Heeler hauled out for some annual maintenance in April then back on the water. After that, things get a little blurry…

Until then, we keep busy and stay focused on the future and whatever it may bring.

 

We’ve had some comments from readers interested in Wayne’s Raspberry Pi project. He’s certainly kept himself busy over the past few months learning how to build a simple computer from scratch and customise it for specific use on the boat.

During the cold dreary winter, he’s enjoyed working in the warm cabin doing interesting projects, rather than the usual jobs neck-deep in engine oil or bilge filth.

For those following the progress, here’s an update.

The SensESP board under construction

Wayne has undertaken two projects – The RaspberryPi Mini-Computer which I mentioned in my last post. Since then, he’s also built additional systems using SignalK and SensESP.

The Shelly 1 WiFi-operated 16A relay switch

His second project is setting up automated systems for gathering data or remote controlling switches accessible via the iPad. For this project he’s used a combination of ESP8266 Internet Development Board Modules or Shelly1 Home Automation Switches connected to various sensors. These can be bought from Amazon or gadget shops. Information on how to setup these systems are easily sourced via the Internet.

Connecting through our on-board WIFI router, useful diagnostic data configured through Node Red is displayed to the iPad via the WilhelmSK app. This includes useful data such as engine room temperature, house and starter battery voltages, outside/inside humidity/temperature/pressure, etc.

Customised layout with WilhelmSK app

The Shelly1 switches integrated through our WIFI allow access to remotely operate electrical switches on the main control panel. Essentially, any switch on the control board can be automated via WIFI using the Shelly1. (In the image above, you can see the switches located in the centre-bottom of the image). These WIFI automations enhance the already hard-wired switching and allow for remote controlling. So far, Wayne has setup on/off switching for the engine’s additional high-output alternator, the seawater washdown pump, a water pump for the watermaker, with plans to automate other switches too.

While we don’t plan to fully convert our vessel into a ‘Smart Boat’, there are immediate benefits of just the automations above. For example, while I’m hosing off a muddy anchor from the bow, Wayne can remain at the helm and turn the seawater pump on or off at the iPad while keeping an eye on my progress at the bow. There’s no need to run below to turn off switches.

So, while Skipper’s attempting to make our boat ‘smarter’, I’ve stayed busy keeping the boat cleaner, tidier, dryer and well stocked, and preparing it for our ongoing voyages. I’ve whipped up a few more courtesy flags, but with no idea which direction we’ll take, or where we’ll be allowed entry, I’ve had to consider all possibilities!

Where to? Morocco, Panama, Columbia??

Early February brought the Beast from the East, with cold wind blowing in from Siberia. This week though the conditions are a little warmer, and there’s a whiff of spring in the air.

Despite a cold and damp winter in lockdown, our time here has gone by quickly and we are both very keen to go. Anywhere. Just to be out sailing. That’s our goal.

Until then…

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This year is described by many as ‘unprecedented’, ‘apocalyptic’, ‘calamitous”, as well as urban slang such as ‘omnishambles’ and ‘hellacious’. Hunkered in Blue Heeler for most of the year, ‘tedious’ fits our situation. Besides the anxiety caused by COVID19 around the World, unforeseen health issues, relationship breakups, and loss of livelihood have upset the lives of those I care about. The recent death of my brother’s dog ‘Reg‘ made 2020 that much sadder.

After the initial UK lockdown, the sailing season opened in early July – three months later than expected. It was only a couple of months of fine summer sailing before the commencement of the second lockdown. In neighbouring Europe, lockdowns, quarantine restrictions and ‘essential only’ travel advice gave us little option but to stay put and wait it out.

Although we all yearn for a return to normality, we know it won’t miraculously happen at the stroke of midnight on 31st December. So we stay positive. Good news from Australia – after months of strict lockdown, the virus is almost eliminated. Here in the UK as infections continue to rise daily, a vaccine has begun it’s rollout across the UK, although it’ll be months before any positive effect is known.

At the same time dealing with the pandemic, the UK is hurtling towards self-imposed autonomy from 1st January. With no clear directive on what to expect, thousands of lorries transiting the Calais-to-Dover route are gridlocked as UK businesses have begun to stockpile goods. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the drawn-out season finale of Bizarro World dominated the news, overshadowing the disastrous mismanagement of the virus. (Not tired of all the winning, the malevolent protagonist is likely to star in his new spin-off series, so I don’t think we’ve heard the last of him and his cronies. Groan…).

On a brighter note, December 21, the Winter Solstice, is the shortest/darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere with less than eight hours of daylight here at Southsea. Longer days and warmer weather are always welcome. Last week, cold northerly winds chilled the air with a top temperature of five degrees and minus figures in the evening – the pontoons and deck covered in a slippery layer of dangerous ice so a sprinkle of salt/grit improves our chances of not skating into the drink!

December 2020 is our tenth anniversary of living aboard Blue Heeler. Back in 2010, the World economy was recovering from the GFC; Australia had its first female Prime Minister and the U.S. had a witty, intelligent and popular President… My, how times have changed.

Southsea Esplanade

Southsea Mansions

Cycle Path to Havant

Ye Olde Building, Havant

The RaspberryPi Project

Fortunately, we have no major projects to do over the cold winter months. Wayne is taking the opportunity to work on his Raspberry Pi project. So what is it? Basically, he’s built a mini-computer/SignalK server using a variety of single board components, stacked and housed, that capture, read, convert, store and display different data protocols from the boat’s existing data-producing gadgets (NMEA2000, NMEA0183, AIS, Seatalk instruments, etc).  Below are a couple of screenshots – one from Grafana, the other from WilhelmSK – showing current and historical information such as seawater temperature, depth, wind speed/direction, and so on. The screens are customisable and can display input from our Raymarine chart plotter, Google Maps, and OpenCPN. The display can be viewed on the iPad as well as external monitor which he’s also set up. It’s a pretty cool project!

Grafana interface allows customisation.

WilhelmSK UI screen incorporates Raymarine chart plotter and SignalK server data.

OpenCPN via the Raspberry and displayed on the iPad.

Cold weather cycling

For me, I like to get off the boat for a couple of hours each day for regular exercise – endless walks along the Southsea Esplanade with views across to the Isle of Wight, or into Southsea admiring the mansions along the way as I pick up groceries, or cycling up to Farlington Marsh to walk around the lakes, or perhaps a bit farther on to the village of Havant just for the exercise on a fine day.

Podcasts, researching, reading, cooking, grocery shopping, eating, sleeping and watching Netflix movies and TV series make up the sum of our day. We’ve also joined in the Ocean Cruising Club Winter Series webinars via Zoom, and follow the progress of the competitors in the Vendee Globe round the World race.

England’s latest approach to tackle the increasing number of infections of COVID19 is a three-tiered system (Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have different restrictions in place). Southsea is Tier 2, which means we’re unable to mingle with friends for Christmas. No matter though, I’ve put up the tinsel, bought some Christmas pud, and we’ll stay as warm as ‘pigs-in-blankets’ in our cozy floating home and watch Christmas favourites The Castle and Love Actually for the umpteenth time.

So, as 2020 nears its end (good riddance!), we hope your year has been kind, and we wish you and your families good health, happiness, fair winds and a brighter 2021. A special thank-you to all the champions that deserve a break this Christmas and have kept the wheels turning – healthcare workers, shop staff, drivers, teachers and other essential workers.

Stay safe, stay positive, and Merry Christmas.

Ally & Wayne x

 

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Last winter I was looking forward to spending winter on an overseas island somewhere to the south. Little did I expect the island to be Portsea Island on the south coast of England in Hampshire. Not quite the tropics, but the best we can do under the circumstances!

Portsea Island is an area of low-lying land with Portsmouth Harbour to the west, and Langstone Harbour and Hayling Island to the east. To the south is the spithead of the Solent with views across to the Isle of Wight. We stayed at Gosport three years ago, but didn’t spend too much time in the Portsmouth area, so it’s a nice change to have somewhere new to explore. We did pop in to Portsmouth Harbour and Gosport for a few days and caught up with fellow Aussies Mike and Nicki from ‘Zen Again’ who we first met on the 2012 Indonesia Rally. I took a ride around Gosport and it hasn’t changed much since we stayed there in 2017.

Busy Portsmouth Harbour

Our winter home - Southsea Marina

Our winter home – Southsea Marina

Our home for winter is the Southsea Marina close to the popular seaside resort town of Southsea located at the south-east of Portsea Island. The marina has a good vibe, friendly people, friendly dogs, and a convenient Indian Restaurant (Bombay Bay) and Marina Bar and Café. A small supermarket is ten-minute walk away next to a fish’n’chip shop, but mostly I ride my bike to the nearest Lidl, Tesco or Aldi to fill up my panniers. The entrance to the marina is barred by a cill gate which is raised and lowered with the action of the tide. We entered on the top of the high tide at 4m which gave us plenty of depth for our 2m draft.

Solent Fort

Forts no longer defending but accommodating

At the south of the island is the Southsea Castle, built during Henry VIII’s time, plus the D-Day Museum and other historic places of interest we’ve yet to visit.

To defend the important Solent and Portsmouth Harbour, forts were constructed around the coastline and on the Isle of Wight, as well as a number of massive sea forts in the Solent. The four sea forts were built between 1865 and 1880 to protect the eastern approaches to Portsmouth Harbour. However, the threat of invasion didn’t eventuate at the time and the forts weren’t engaged in war. But war did eventually come to Portsmouth.

Due to the strong naval presence, between 1940-1944 over 60 air-raids caused widespread damage and killed almost 1000 people. The Solent forts were used to defend the Portsmouth dockyard during this war (and the Great War), sustaining so much damage they were eventually mothballed in 1956. Nowadays two of the forts offer accommodation for guests and something to look at for the beachgoers gazing across the Solent.

Eastney Esplanade, Portsea Island

From the marina the beachside esplanade is a lovely ride or walk into Portsmouth. Otherwise we can cut through the centre of the island along a good network of cycle paths to admire the beautiful Victorian mansions and terraced houses lining the narrow streets.

To the east of Portsea Island is Langstone Harbour and Hayling Island. A small ferry battles the strong currents ebbing and flooding in and out of Langstone Harbour and carries passengers with their bikes across to Hayling Island. The island offers plenty of walking and cycle tracks. It’s a good 25km ride anticlockwise around Langstone Harbour back to Southsea with the option to stopping at Havant along the way.

Lockdown rules were relaxed over summer and as confirmed cases of COVID have risen sharply in the UK and Europe I expect new rules to be introduced over winter. Already tighter restrictions are in place in a number of regions to the north and around London. But for now, I make sure to take advantage of the daylight hours and fresh air to walk or ride for a couple of hours exercise each day.

Ready for winter

As usual at this time of year at 51 degrees north, we’ve set about preparing the boat externally for winter – removing and stowing sails; cleaning dinghy and removing cover for its annual makeover; painting Boracol on the deck to prevent algae growth over winter; flushing the outboard(s) and watermaker; stowing ropes and other topside items; plus many other small jobs. There are also below deck tasks like sorting out cupboards to alleviate condensation; converting the binoculars holder into a spice rack; and dragging out the electric appliances for cooking hearty winter meals. Staying warm, comfortable and dry are the main objectives.

To fill in our days over winter there are the other projects from ‘the list’. This year though we don’t have such an extensive list as last year, but we still need to plan and research the ocean passages coming up next year plus improve our offshore communications and navigation tools and the like.

Wayne is currently engrossed in a commendable project of building a device that will integrate our various gadgets – for a change, a less-physical project that doesn’t entail getting covered in oil and grease!

This weekend the UK clock rolls back from daylight-savings-time and we return to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Back in March 2019, the European Parliament voted to stop changing the clocks in the EU. So, in October 2021, EU member states will change clocks for the last time, although I think with all that’s going on at the moment, I don’t believe this change is confirmed. Not sure what the UK plans to do with their time zone and daylight savings, but I expect that’s on the bottom their ‘to do’ list…

So, while we’re so far away from family and friends, we are keeping as busy as possible, focussing on what really matters in life and not worrying about the unimportant stuff.

As Alfred E. Newman says “What, me worry?”.

Stay safe everyone!

 

 

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