It’s been hard to know what to write.
Rich’s renewed enthusiasm for Gwen got him through a few minor jobs, the summer carried on sizzling and we prepared for a month or two of land-lubbing (for exterior painting) by running off to Port Eliot festival and leaving the grit blaster to strip Gwen down to her bare bottom. When we returned we were relieved to find that she appeared entirely intact, with only a few areas of past repair, wet patches and remains of paint blemishing her rough grey bulk.
We hopped on board (hopped – because I now KICK ASS at ladders) and were soon separately googling away on our computers like any boring couple who hadn’t just spent the weekend fuelling with joy and inspiration and cider. I found a variety of looping pedals and discussed them with Rich. He looked sick and told me what he’d been googling. Concrete.
One of the wet patches, the largest one outside the aft cabin, smelt strongly of diesel, which had prompted Rich to research diesel and concrete. He’d found some forums which suggested that the fuel, which must have leaked from a tank that has not been on the boat for as long as we’ve known her (probably much longer), may have corrupted either the wire around which the concrete is packed or the concrete itself. He smiled as hopefully as he could while I welled up, realising that if this was so there was little chance of us being able to replace such a huge area of the hull. Gwen would be okay to go back on the water, but there would be no way we could rely on her to take us on our travels.
I dragged Rich away from the boat and for the first time we discussed a real possibility of not doing the Gwen dream. We talked about alternatives, with “doing her up as a houseboat, flogging her and running off to the Caribbean to buy a smaller boat” winning hands down, largely due to the running off to the Caribbean element. But within a day or two we were stressed and fighting, our hangovers released and our fears untameable. Rich asked around the boatyard getting opinions (and in almost all cases, reassurance that it’s not that bad) from every yachtie, boat surveyor and diesel user he could find, and left behind I felt isolated from this potential crisis, as though he thought it didn’t affect me, as though she wasn’t my home too. The crunch came when he decided to move Gwen in to a shed until Spring, a decision he made without me but which affects me more than him as I live on her full time. I left the boat for a day or two to seek friends who would understand my frustration, returned to find that he finally had, but then he left again for the sea. I haven’t been happy on the boat since.
A couple of weeks ago Gwen was put in a shed in which she gets little light (I have to put the lights on to get things done during the day, even in this shiny summer) and little heat. I wake cold to the dark and want to stay hibernated where I am, I have to go up and down the stupid ladder with everything from litter to water to wee. My energy seemed to disappear and I stopped trying to start running again, or make myself cook or most things, really – it all seemed so hard. Social interactions could be tolerated for a short while before I’d have to leave to reset, normally to cry. Odd evenings out became lifelines between periods of stasis. Every bad or unstable thing in my life came together – my job is being changed to something I never applied for, friends let me down whenever I arrange things with them, my hormones suddenly seemed out of kilter. I slipped in to a fug and just waited for it to end.
I’m coming slowly and cautiously out of whatever malaise you want to call this, but I don’t think I can stay on Gwen for the winter. This is for a variety of reasons – money, comfort, sanity, Rich being absent for so much of what feels like endurance away from the bob of the sea and the expanse of sky. I’ve sent a sample Rich drilled from the affected concrete off to some experts who will let us know whether the sulphate levels are dangerously high and I am confident that it’ll be okay – I don’t know why. Gwen just seems too well built to be brought down by a fucking fuel. We’ll clean it off and paint her up and it’ll all be fine. And in the meantime, I’ll try to find full time work and weekday accommodation in the Mordor of Plymouth, where life is less windswept and leafy but where the rooms at least have windows to the outside world.
There are some small comforts in this shed. Up so high I am close to the rafters’ swallows and have spent many a happy moment watching them dart around or stand, pecking their chests and looking this way and that, preparing for their winter holidays to Africa. Today I walked all around Gwen and touched and smelt and stared at every part and reminded myself of why we love her and where she might go. Rich, still away for another week and a half, has recently become very concerned with putting my life at risk on her (which confuses me, there are a whole bunch of things that make me fear for my life more than a little diesel!) but I have told him that if he thinks it’s safe enough for him, it’s safe enough for me. I hope the test results confirm that. And if not, I guess I can cope with flying to the Caribbean, right?