Itchen to get going

What comes easy won’t last;

What lasts won’t come easy.


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…

About blueheelerhr39

Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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