Heroes and Homebodies

This week the UK went into lockdown stating:

“People may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items, and to fulfil any medical or care needs. Shops selling non-essential goods have been told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together will be prohibited”.

Since my last post two weeks ago the confirmed number of cases in the UK has increased from 150 to over 11,500, and sadly the death toll increases daily. The NHS has a website with clear advice for the population. The John Hopkins University interactive map is a good resource for statistics on this pandemic plus there is the WHO situation dashboard. Public Health England also has a good link.

Here in Cumbria, the town of Whitehaven is eerily quiet. Usually in the mornings we hear cars rumbling by on nearby roads as the smell of coffee and bacon butties steam out from nearby cafes. Now, nothing except screeching seabirds and barking dogs. People out for exercise are practising social distancing as they walk their pooches along the waterfront. The dogs are the clear winners at this time.

Over the past week I’ve gone out couple of times to get some fresh Irish Sea air and sunshine as I walk along the daffodil strewn cliffs, maintaining a visible distance between other walkers. Unlike a house we can’t walk around the boat so it’s nice to get out for an hour a day in the fresh air to clear the head.

A teasing Irish Sea

The winter storms have eased and the past few days have been delightfully sunny and warm – it reached 13degC today! The light breeze blowing over the Irish Sea is teasing my senses – I’ve never wanted to sail away as much as I do now!

No social distancing for sheep

Last weekend I popped into Aldi and their shelves were bursting with groceries – no problem there. Tesco’s shelves have run out of many items. Yesterday I went to grab a few ‘essentials’ at Tesco located next to the boatyard. They’ve now introduced a maximum limit of customers within the store at one time and others waiting to enter must line up outside leaving a 2m buffer between each other. Shop assistants wear rubber gloves and ask that customers stay clear of them at all times. Contactless payments in the UK are being increased to £45 from £30 to make payment easier without having to touch anything.

Whitehaven harbour in lockdown

The cruising community, people like us who live on a boat, are uniquely suited to living in isolation for weeks at a time. Not only are we fully provisioned (as we had planned on sailing away next week for the summer season), we can find a multitude of ways to keep ourselves entertained or busy. We have also fine-tuned the art of doing everything slowly – perhaps reading a book, researching or knocking off a few jobs, which there’s always plenty of. Yesterday Wayne fitted some new outdoor speakers, and today I think I’ll polish the topsides…

Keeping busy during lockdown

I keep in contact with many sailors who are also in lockdown throughout the world. The Ocean Cruising Club as well as Noonsite and other Facebook sailing pages for various sailing locations are adding details of the lockdowns around the world. Some we know have passed through the Panama Canal only to now be stuck on the Pacific side as many Pacific Islands are no longer allowing entry by foreign vessels. For now at least we are thankful to have structured our lives to live simply, but who knows how long our luck will last.

This week the Whitehaven Marina closed with only a couple to run the marina. Yesterday the female and male shower block and loos were closed leaving one unisex toilet/shower open for people to use. With the majority of users being male, I now have to share my morning ablutions with stubble trimmings and vertical toilet seats. Clearly an opportunity for everyone to pitch in and keep shared spaces clean. My hands have never been so clean!

A big thank-you must go out to the real heroes of this pandemic – the health professionals, police, ambulance, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, cleaners, etc. – all putting themselves at risk for the sake of others. Also, a special thanks to the paramedics and health professionals in Bendigo who only last week saved my brother’s life – so thankful Australia has a great health care system.

So grow your hair, clean your stove, read a book, clean your fridge, do some sewing, stop hoarding, take it easy, if you can.

For the sake of others, follow the rules, #staysafestayhome.

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Stayin’ Alive in Whitehaven

“Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother/ You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive/ Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’/ And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive/ Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive/ Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive”

 

Tucked up in Blue Heeler drinking my morning mug of hot coffee I’m evaluating the ceaseless but nonetheless important news coverage of the latest global disasters: Stock market crashes; global coronavirus pandemic; locust plagues in Africa; panic-buying of dunny rolls; all this fast on the heels of last year’s disasters. What a crazy time. The fact that Donald Trump is ‘Leader of the Free World’ and that the UK has BREXITed seems bizarrely normal now.

As COVID-19 sweeps across the world causing chaos and confusion, some are confused by the chaos caused by others. I check the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Situation Dashboard to get the facts rather than the opinions of so-called experts.

While any premature death of the vulnerable and aged is of course very sad (and I hope anyone reading this has not and will not experience this), on the flip side, a little levity and a positive attitude may cheer up those who are anxious about impending doom. For example, some are sharing the best tunes to wash your hands to such as two verses of ‘Happy Birthday’, or the Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’. Those who want to be really careful go with the lengthy ‘Stairway to Heaven’ while those preoccupied with mortality may choose ‘Death is Not the End’ by Bob Dylan.  Advice from Boris ‘BoJo’ Johnson is to wash your hands to ‘God Save the Queen’. God help us!

After nine years travelling around the world crossing international borders along the way, we’ve never experienced anything quite like the current situation. Our upcoming plan for the next few months was to sail south to France, Portugal and Spain. We still may do that, but at present news is trickling in about possible restrictions in place for vessels entering ports.  On that basis, we’re not sure where we’ll travel in the coming months during the swell of the pandemic.

For now, I’ll leave the dismal news where it is and shift my focus back to relative normality.

All is fine at Whitehaven Harbour

I’m happy to report that although the temperature remains cool in Whitehaven, we now have twelve hours of daylight and daylight savings returns at the end of March. Getting out for a walk is quite pleasant, although I was doused in a brief snow shower the other day when I walked up on the hill overlooking the town.

Some boats don’t receive any love…

Yachts that have been sitting idle for months at the marina are finally getting attention by their owners in anticipation of the sailing season. We are happy to potter around the boat for now.

In my last post I shared some of the improvements we’ve made to Blue Heeler over winter, and since that time we’ve continued busying ourselves with a variety of jobs.

Our Lewmar genoa cars and mainsheet car were all taken apart for inspection and refurbishment. These outdated cars needed a few parts to bring them back to life. Rubbers for the track ends, Torlon balls and other replacement parts were sourced from a variety of places including an Ebay store and another chandlery that had a few new but obsolete parts for sale. The curse of dissimilar metals is a constant problem on a boat and the cam plates on our mainsheet traveler has to be fully replaced. These were hard to source and we are still waiting for the backorder to arrive to complete the job.

Current project – the “Waynemaker Watermaker”

One large project Wayne has thrown himself into is to build a ‘bespoke’ watermaker. Dubbed the ‘Waynemaker Watermaker’, a project such as this may be a little ambitious for most people, but Wayne is in his element, quietly researching to make sure he has the correct pump, motor, parts, fittings, etc. The boat is littered with all sorts of elbows, tee connections, tubes and hoses but the watermaker is almost complete. The watermaker will produce around 80 litres per hour and costs around half the price of a branded watermaker. Having a watermaker is not really needed in this part of the globe, but in remote locations it certainly is a luxury. If you want to know more about how he built it, contact us or check out our future posts.

With the end of winter, our boat is ready to go sailing, almost. We hired a van from Enterprise car hire in Whitehaven to pick up our stuff from storage and used the vehicle for dropping off our old gas bottle at the Workington tip, plus had our new Safefill composite bottles filled.

Our sails were hoisted on a fine day and the other items we had stored were stowed in their respective lockers. Condensation is still a problem but the lockers are clean and I monitor them from time to time.

With all the improvements we’ve made over the past couple of years, we’ll leave the UK with a sound vessel so we can enjoy more time sailing and have to do less major projects over the next ten years. The UK has everything we need to do the work, or we can easily source parts from the EU and shipped to us here in Cumbria. Most of the old unwanted parts were sold on Ebay (our old Webasto heater went to a guy in Bulgaria) and I’ve tidied all the lockers and documented the location of everything so we can find it in future. We’re really happy having Blue Heeler in top condition as we formulate plans to eventually return to Australia.

So until such time as we leave Whitehaven, we will continue to keep abreast of any news impacting cruising yachts and alter our plans as we see fit. We may decide to head north again – Norway or Iceland, who knows. In the meantime, here’s a link with some tune suggestions for washing your hands for 20 seconds – perhaps ‘Stayin’ Alive’ for those Bee Gees fans.

Stay safe everyone.

 

 

 

 

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2020 vision

How quickly the years fly by. As one year ends and another begins, I like to think it’s a chance to focus on the important things in life and try to forget about the woes of the previous year. But as we all know, life goes on.

On 27th January 2011, we sailed away from Melbourne – so we are now into our tenth year living aboard Blue Heeler. We are blessed to live this life. Despite the blustery wet conditions outside, our boat is warm and we have everything we need aboard Blue Heeler, but I do wish I could be nearer those I care about; when it really matters.

Over the past few months, it’s been hard to watch Australia burn, particularly as the fires in Victoria consume areas well-known to me. Over 80% of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales went up in flames plus all the coastal towns that have lost everything is really devastating. But the Aussie spirit will lift them out of this tragedy, as always. The scenes of burning wildlife and farm animals was truly horrible – those poor animals didn’t stand a chance and the population may never recover. So very sad.

Outer harbour, Whitehaven

So as the world turns as it does every year, our world has slowed down somewhat over winter. My last post shared the details of all the projects we’d undertaken aboard Blue Heeler since September last year. Boy we were busy! But after a very enjoyable Christmas with friends near London, we had a decidedly quiet New Year’s Eve and it’s been quiet since then. Well, when I say quiet, I mean we’ve been doing other jobs inside the boat, quietly.

I was asked recently why we are always ‘fixing’ the boat. It’s not that we are always fixing the boat, but we are always improving the boat, or at least maintaining it. Our boat is now 23 years old and so are some of the remaining items aboard. Salt, stress and constant use deteriorates everything on a boat and things just need fixing or replacing.

Our Webasto diesel heater died a slow and wretched death. Despite refurbishing it two years ago, the bit Wayne couldn’t source and replace at the time eventually stopped working so rather than keep the thing alive, we gave it the last rites and installed a new Autoterm Planar 4D 4kW diesel heater for half the price of a new Webasto (built in chilly Russia so it’s gotta be good!). So far it’s working a treat. The Planar was recommended to us by a friend in Germany last winter – thanks Andreas!

Other small jobs such as resealing the galley bench-tops and head; replacing cooling fans to the fridge, replacing our old gas cylinders with new composite Safefill cylinders, planning our 2020 sailing season, and so on – the sort of jobs that we need to do and can do during the winter.

Vestiges of Storm Brendan over Whitehaven harbour

The weather has surprised me. I thought it would be very cold (0-2degC), but typically the days are around 7degC and usually no less than 3-4degC at night. It does rain a lot though, but I manage to get a couple of hours each day to go walking or riding (I’d go mad if I had to stay on the boat all day).  Storm Brendan recently blew through the area, but despite the 60kn winds up on the hill, we had no more than 30kn tucked down in the harbour.

There’s plenty of trails and routes around the region. Whitehaven is the starting town of the C2C cycle route (it’s actually the Sea to Sea Route) to Tynemouth on the east coast. It’s around 220kms and crosses from the west coast across the Lake District to the east coast of England. It’s one of the UK’s most popular routes. I only cycled 20kms before scuttling back to Whitehaven, but it would be good to do, perhaps not during winter.

There are also plenty of walking tracks around Whitehaven. I tried to walk the route along the sea-cliffs, but it got a little boggy. So I rode my bike instead, but got bogged and had to ride on the roads. The steep hill going down into St Bees is fun, but not so much coming back uphill. There’s also plenty of walks around St Bees, including a Coast to Coast walk.

BREXIT

And finally, this week we have BREXIT. It’s been a long time coming, and still no-one is really certain how this will affect their everyday lives. As far as we know nothing will change substantially during the ‘transition period’ until December 2020, but BREXIT will have implications for us and others in the same ‘boat’ as us (figuratively that is!). We have British Passports and plan to spend time in Europe so will probably have to abide by the new ‘90 days in and 90 days out’ rule. As far as the 18-month rule for boats entering the EU, that is also unclear as to when this is triggered. So, I guess we’ll just wing it and see where the cards fall. No point worrying about something we have no control over.

So that’s what we’ve been up to. The good news is we have a couple of months left to get our stuff out of storage and fit the boat out for sailing. (we put all our sails, etc., into storage to give us more space while we do all the work). Still, there’s a good chance a cold snap will remind us that winter isn’t over just yet. Daylight hours are almost at nine hours as the sun slowly returns to the northern hemisphere.

I do hope your 2020 is filled with good times and happiness. Many people we care about have had a hard time so far this year, and we can only hope the year improves for them.

Until next time…

Sunset over Whitehaven
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Home is…

“I read within a poet’s book
A word that starred the page:
‘Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage!’

Yes, that is true; and something more
You’ll find, where’er you roam
That marble floors and gilded walls
Can never make a home.

But every house where Love abides,
And Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home:
For there the heart can rest.”

– Henry Van Dyke, ‘A Home Song’

 

With much of the two-person jobs completed and after two very busy months working on Blue Heeler, I took the opportunity to fly 17,000kms to Australia for a fleeting visit. I hadn’t been home for two years and although Skype and FaceTime are convenient for a long-distance traveller to keep in touch, it’s not quite the same as a visit. My disappearance gave Wayne quiet time to fine-tune the engine repower and finish off some of the projects. The engine had to wait until my return for its official start.

Two days of train and plane, once again I was back in the great rugged land down under. The photo above shows just how big this vast continent is compared to the UK.

Out from Tullamarine airport along the country roads, decaying remains of slow kangaroos, or even slower wombats, are strewn along the roadside. A big roo would certainly wipe out the front end of my rental car so my tired eyes scan the road for wildlife. The parched countryside shows little evidence of winter rains with barely a green tinge to the thirsty paddocks. Summer is just around the corner and it was already hot and dry in Victoria. Terrible bushfires up north in New South Wales and Queensland are a deadly reminder of how harsh this country is.

It’s good to see Mick again after two years. He looks the same as always and once I’ve slept off some of the jetlag we venture across the McIvor Highway to the Axedale Tavern where a ‘chicken parma’ is high on my list to devour. Mick introduces me to the friendly folks of Axedale, some whom I’ve met before, and we enjoy a few drinks too. They are good people at Axedale and regularly support amazing fund-raising efforts for the Australian NPC Disease Foundation. 

A couple of hundred kilometres in the northeast of Victoria is the town of Benalla where Mick’s sons live; my nephews Matthew and Tim. While I notice the town hasn’t changed much in the almost 40 years since I went to school there, I do detect changes in Matthew and Tim and the deteriorating effects of the terrible NPCD. From beneath Tim’s waist-long dreadlocks, he is frail. Still, I am received with big grins from both which delights me no end. I give them both big hugs, thankful to see their smiles again. While Tim spends much of his time quietly plucking one of his eight or so guitars or new banjo, older brother Matthew mows his mum’s lawn to within an inch of its life while his fur-friend Buddy looks on. I hug them once more and say farewell as I hold onto the tears that fill my eyes. I’m not as brave as they are.

Lakes Entrance

In Gippsland in the east of Victoria I spend time with my mum and dad, both octogenarians. One day we visited Lakes Entrance stopping for a pub lunch after wheeling dad along the waterfront. Their current house is filled with memories of my youth – a familiar rug I crocheted forty years ago; familiar Tupperware in the cupboards; perched in the pine hutch a simple polystyrene can holder with a poorly stitched ‘DAD’ on black vinyl; and a set of World Book Encyclopedia from the late 1960s which is now a historic relic and amusing to flick through after all these years.

We talked, laughed, napped and enjoyed the mild but windy spring weather. Before long it was time to say farewell and once more I depart.  From the coastal plains of Gippsland to the leafy outer suburb of Healesville the familiar road is windy and scenic. Along the Healesville/Koo Wee Rup Road the tall trees and flourishing green undergrowth is so different from the flat land to the east. Overlooking the town of Healesville is the adorably cheery home of my brother Dave and Judi and the Squeaky Door Artspace. Such incredible talent between the two of them and their property is a canvas for complex mosaics and incredibly expressive paintings. It’s good to see them again as we sit on their back verandah sipping a cuppa and admiring the surrounding hills.

Soon enough it was time for me to return to the UK. I drop my rental car off and fly 20 hours, stopping halfway in Abu Dhabi. A ride on the London Underground, then a few hours north and I’m back at Whitehaven in time for a beer with skipper before a much-desired sleep. I’m so happy to see him so he gets a big hug too!

Whitehaven, our winter home

The next day I was given the momentous task of pressing the start button for the new Volvo engine. I press the ON/OFF button then START. A slight cough as coolant and oil began their journey around the engine, then it settled into a regular hum. Hooray! With relief Wayne let out his breath and I smile at him – my husband of 37 years has many talents!

Three months of long hours and finally we launch

We spend the subsequent few days finishing off the work – reinstalling the cockpit floor/engine room lid; fitting the new toilet/holding tank; replacing a broken bearing flange for the Windpilot and painting it up; plus some minor plumbing jobs and getting in some walks before the weather turns colder and the days darker.

Soon after on a cold, calm day the guys in the boatyard, Alan and Ritchie, launch our little Blue Heeler into the chilly water. Before the travel-lift slings are removed though, we scurry about the bilge and engine room checking the many newly installed skin-fittings and hoses for leaks – luckily no drips or alarms going off. Wayne checks the rudder and engine room – all good.

The engine purrs with seawater gushing out of the exhaust as it should. The new Flexifold prop and refurbished rudder feel smooth as we motor towards our winter berth. By the end of that day, tools are stowed and Blue Heeler is tidied up and reverted to its former glory. We are both tired but manage to clean ourselves up and go out for dinner at the local pub. It was time to relax.

For those interested in the more technical side of the work we did, I’ll follow up soon with some notes on the engine repower. Until then…wherever you are and whoever you’re with, there’s no place like home.

There’s no place like “Blue Heeler”

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Almost there…

Since my last post, I’m delighted to announce that Blue Heeler now has a new Volvo Penta D2-50 engine. That sounds so easy when written down, but changing engines hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park.

We were asked why we eventually decided on a Volvo over a Beta or Yanmar engine. For a while Wayne had his sights set on a Beta engine, mostly due to its ongoing affordable parts and good reviews. Volvo parts on the other hand are horrendously expensive compared to other manufacturers, but in the end, the overall cost of the Volvo versus the Beta wasn’t so different, and the mounting ‘footprint’ of the old Volvo was the same for the new Volvo – so the scales tipped in Volvo’s favour.

Over the past month, we’ve worked every day towards improving our little Blue Heeler – some days the smallest seemingly most insignificant jobs can take hours. The four main projects this year– new engine and propeller, drop rudder to replace skeg and bearings, install new toilet and holding tank, and replace all the skin-fittings. In addition are the usual jobs we do when the boat is hauled such as antifouling.

During this same period, my sister Diana visited us at Whitehaven. But as we are living up high in the boatyard in a state of relative disorder aboard, the boat was in no state for guests so she found a BNB in town not far away. Despite me helping Wayne with some jobs and running to the marina office to pick up parcels and deliveries each day, we managed to spend most of our days together taking day trips to Workington and Cockermouth, or just walking around the hills overlooking the town of Whitehaven to finish up with dinner aboard and a few drinks. Fortunately the weather was pretty good during her visit.

On one of those fine, calm sunny days during Di’s visit, we’d arranged to lift in the new engine. Had we waited any longer the lift would’ve been delayed for two weeks as the travel-lift was due for a service. After the bimini roof was removed, the travel-lift was expertly driven close to the boat by Ritchie so the jib crane attached to the travel-lift was in the optimum position to raise the new engine six metres from the ground to the engine room. Wayne, myself and boatyard hand Dave stayed on deck to direct the engine through the small opening of the bimini structure then down through the cockpit floor into the engine room. My sister Di had the important role of event photographer.

The engine length is exactly the same size as the cockpit opening, but with cables and wires in the way, suddenly it seemed smaller. Inch by inch, Ritchie lowered the wire with the engine dangling on the end until the 250kg motor was at the entrance to the engine room. Using an additional lever hoist, we angled the engine so that it eventually made its way down below the forest of cables and wires. From here Wayne could direct the new engine onto the floor of the boat. We would fit the engine on the new mounts ourselves. Now at the bottom of the engine bay, the hoist was removed and the boys backed the travel-lift away and helped us return the lid of the bimini. All done in an hour!

From here the fun begins…

New prop shaft and Flexofold propeller

To ensure the angle of the propeller shaft meets the gearbox at the exact angle, the engine mounts needed to be raised at least 43mm. Thinking about what would be the most suitable material to use, I suggested G10 epoxy glass blocks rather than stainless steel, as the epoxy is tough and can be easily drilled. We’d recently bought 10mm sheets of G10 to use as backing plates for the skin-fittings and it was fairly easy to cut. Having four blocks ordered was straightforward and these arrived within two days. Everything we need for these projects has to be delivered, but good job the delivery system in the UK is really good so everything arrives fairly quickly from all corners of the UK (except our toilet which came completely smashed in a box).

Again, this job sounds easy when written down, but eventually Wayne worked out the exact locations of the mounts and using a newly purchased 500kg lever hoist, we raised the engine and Wayne secured the blocks after which we lowered the engine on the mounting pads for the final time.

With the engine finally in place our attention was drawn back to completing the final couple of skin-fittings. Unable to have too many jobs on the go at one time, it’s better if we both work at one thing at a time – it’s more efficient and less chaotic on board. Although while he has his head buried in the engine room, I might finish off some plumbing, prepare the hull for antifouling or duck out to Tesco for groceries.

This week we installed our rudder, new skeg and bearings so that big job is almost finished, with the cosmetic exterior work remaining. As I’d already spent a couple of days painting the hull while Wayne worked inside, only the rudder and a few other areas need antifoul before we are launched.

The new loo…

Our new Jabsco toilet is waiting for its turn – still upside down in the saloon with the holding tank and new valves also yet to be installed, but that’s an interior job and less important than making sure the exterior work is done. As it is, I’ve had to wait until midday to start painting as the dew-point is too close to the outside temperature, which is not ideal for painting.

Of all the jobs, the skin-fittings and valves are finally completed; the rudder is in, and the engine is in with only the connection of hoses and wires. The antifouling is 99% done and daily deliveries to keep the marina office staff busy are finally dwindling.

First coat of antifoul…looking good!

Last weekend the clocks changed back to UTC time so now the sun rises around 7am and sets around 5pm and the days will get much shorter as winter approaches. The days are quite cold now – already the mercury has dipped to 1degC. This time last year we were heading south from Norway on our way to Germany to hole up in Flensburg for the winter.

To finish off October we had a surprise visit from old friends Rex and Claire from Perth, Australia. With a table of Halloween ghouls seated nearby, we enjoyed a meal and a few drinks and talked about what we’ve been doing for 12 years since we last met and how we’ve aged since the 1980s since we first met Rex! Great to see you both!

So, with most of the work done that require four hands, I’m taking a jaunt myself, flying to Melbourne for a fleeting visit to see the family, who I haven’t seen in two years. This leaves Wayne to spend some quality time with his new engine and work on the final stage of the engine repower. When I return we’ll start the engine up then we can return our little Blue Heeler back into the water. Oh, and there’s still the loo to put back together.

Until then…

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