I’ve been unusually tardy of late, as far as updating my blog that is. My last post was back in August and the weeks have slipped by so quickly. Prompted by inquiries from friends I thought I’d better give an update.
So, what in the world are we up to now?
After a week or so wrapping up our sailing season dodging tricky winds within the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, we took a quick detour to Bangor in Northern Ireland to avoid the south-westerly winds, then had a fantastic sail directly to Whitehaven Marina in Cumbria. That was our final sail of the season. Over the past three years, the idea of replacing our old engine with a newbie had reached fruition, and our focus shifted entirely towards weeks of major work aboard Blue Heeler. By the end of August our sailing season was over.
So what’s wrong with the engine? Nothing more than age (happens to us all!). At over 20 years old and although still running (it got us from Australia to the UK and still has plenty of miles), we want a sound engine to spend the next few years without major mechanical troubles which would likely present themselves between some remote islands in the Pacific. Plus the fact, Volvo parts are horrendously expensive and overall the price of a new engine seemed like a good deal compared to buying a number of other parts while the engine grows older and less reliable.
Before we could even figure out exactly what was required, we first had to find a place where we could do the work ourselves while also living aboard. This isn’t easy in the UK as few places allow live-aboards in a boat yard. Fortunately our far-reaching search was fruitful, and Whitehaven Boatyard came to the rescue. In early September Blue Heeler was hauled out, washed and supported in a cradle – this is our home for the autumn months.
An engine repower can be complicated on a boat, but Wayne has all the skills and experience to do the work himself and with me helping of course. While the boat is out of the water, we’ve taken the opportunity to do other major jobs too. Removing the rudder was a priority. Although we’d dropped the rudder in Thailand back in 2013, we weren’t happy with the slight movement that had developed since then. It made sense to remove it to replace all the bearings, seals and this time install a brand new bronze skeg. This skeg, plus other unique parts for the boat were sourced via Hallberg Rassy’s HR-Parts division.
One place that has to be kept in good condition is the head and ours was getting a little manky. The stainless steel holding tank was original (circa 1996) and although the welds were touched up in Thailand (as we had a little leakage) it seemed like the perfect time and location to replace that too. We had thought about a plastic tank, but the size and weight didn’t seem to fit the space well, so we opted for a tank specifically designed for the space – also bought from HR-Parts. Over the side the old one went, along with seized ball-valves and stinky hoses. Our toilet bowl and pump were also original and the base had broken (a potential disaster in rough seas!), so over the side that went too. I even splashed out and bought the best sanitary hose I could find; it has a vanilla smell. Can’t wait to have a new dunny that smells nice!
One job that may be easily overlooked by boat owners until it’s too late is seacocks and skin-fittings. It’s not always easy to identify whether a skin fitting (aka through hull) is defective. Over time the metal can weaken and fail – skin-fittings and seacocks/ball-valves. Out on the ocean is not the place to find out whether your bronze bits have deteriorated. Some of ours looked okay but once removed we could see that although the handle turned, the ball was fixed in the open position. In two cases the balls were entirely missing. Over the side they went!
The job to remove and install skin fittings and valves is laborious (we exchanged nine) as they are usually located under the floor or at the back of a small cupboard suitable for a pint-sized person. The valves can be quite costly once additional fittings, hoses, and other items are added to the order.
Then there are the sometimes unexpected jobs that crop up along the way; corroded sea strainer connecting pipes, changing the layout of the engine room; removing wiring and other components; replacing tired engine room insulation; installing strainers; running errands; dealing with Raymarine service division when our MFD died (that’s a whole other story!). Before we could even begin any work we had to remove sails, drogues, guitar, bags or stuff, and anything else we won’t need for the next six months and transport it to a storage place in nearby Egremont.
As Chief Passer O’Tools and Logistics Organiser, my initial focus was to thoroughly clean the interior of the hull – engine room oil spills, mould and other goo that builds up over time in these cold latitudes, plus scraping hours of old sealant. This gave Wayne time to understand how he would install the new engine and study all the technical stuff.
Keeping the boat habitable and the beers cold is pretty easy to do despite the disorder. Each day I prepare an easy crock-pot dinner (amazing what you can cook in a slow cooker – lasagne, Tom Yum, whole chicken) and after a day’s work we quickly tidy up, have a beer, a shower, then have a feed. If we are really busy, there are many eateries around Whitehaven (the nearby Fraser’s fish and chip shop offers a huge piece of cod with chips – yum!).
Staying focused on what has to be done keeps us on track to get the major done before the weather turns cold and horribly wet. We are up early and finish at normal knock-off time, but work seven days a week. So busy that we haven’t even explored the nearby pubs in the six weeks we’ve been here. But we did have a lovely distraction with a visit from Ann and Chris who we sailed with in the Indonesia/Malaysia rallies back in 2012/2013. Great to catch up over a beer and lunch at nearby Bransty Arch pub.
As I write this, Blue Heeler has no engine, no toilet and no rudder installed and we’ve almost finished installing the final valves and skin-fittings. Tonight was a crock-pot feast of roast lamb with a cheap bottle of Spanish Tempranillo from Tesco. I’ve already sold the old engine on Ebay and our new Volvo engine arrived last week, on the same day as our new toilet plus a heap of other stuff. In the middle of all this chaos, we’ve managed to stay fairly positive within the confines of a small boat in a boatyard.
The good news is that Whitehaven is pleasant enough to walk around and the people are very friendly and give a cheery “Y’orright?” in delightful Cumbrian dialect. Tesco is just next door so it’s easy to grab groceries in the middle of a busy day (their selection of wine is pretty good too!). The marina complex is a five minute walk from the boatyard and has good showers, toilets and laundry facilities, and friendly people. Anything we need can be bought online and the delivery service in the UK is impressive. The boatyard has toilets, electricity and water and a few rabbits darting around. Strong winds can be a little unsettling so high above and it rains a lot. Whitehaven has an interesting history so I’ll write more about that in the coming months once the work is done.
So that’s about it for now. My sister Diana has flown from Perth Australia and will visit us this week so that will be a pleasant distraction from the work; although we still have the antifouling to do and the extra hands would be useful…
Next time I hope to show you lots of shiny new stuff aboard our little Blue Heeler.