On Thursday we finished off the antifouling, performing tours of the boat with cloth and sandpaper and paint at low tide, wellies clunking through smelly puckered black-brown mud at the aft end. I don’t really remember much of the rest of the day because of what happened later. Some messing about with things. Some friends coming to say hello. A nap. The tide came in, and Our Lizzie, the boat that was to take our place on the slipway, pulled up behind us.
We started the engine and sat for an hour to check that it wasn’t overheating. Then, for the first time since we’ve known her, and possibly for the first time since Jo and Eliot moved her up to the mill for her long stint as a houseboat or longer, Gwen moved under her own power. Rich took the tiller and between me and the chaps from Our Lizzie she was pulled with ropes round their bow and out on to open water, and she was free.
Rich gave the tiller over to me and I steered her through port and starboard marker buoys in the direction of Plymouth. Steering was simple – the tiller behaved exactly as I expected and we kept looking at each other, not believing that this was so easy. All that work, all those setbacks – the very fact that we should have done this a year ago for Rich’s birthday and were thwarted by an overheating engine – were over, and now we had a home that we can take whenever we like for a trip up the river, a night on a mooring, a fish in the channel. The sun shone, the breeze blew, and we beamed.
Grayhound, the construction of which Rich had been working on when we first met, was moored and looking beautiful in the channel. I drove a couple of circuits around her so Rich could yell hellos to their crew, including a very lovely Frenchman called Julien who had worked on Grayhound with Rich and was visiting on their recent cargo trip from France. We then toured a few buoys and tried out our picking-up skills, and Rich did some pirouettes to test out Gwen’s inclinations to steer one way and another. Then home to a new temporary berth in the marina, with Rich cautiously steering as I jumped off and secured her with a rope. Easy. Remarkable. A momentous day was over, and there was another to come straight after.
Yesterday morning was sunny and we woke early, Rich performing his usual coffee making duty with the aid of a freshly cleaned percolator, me trying to find something clean to wear in the laundry-laden clutter of the saloon. I eventually located a bra and had stripped my t-shirt and the top off my dungarees when a noise like ropes and thumping hit the boat, and I turned around sharply to avoid the gaze of whoever was on the pontoon. They weren’t, and through the portholes of the port side I saw figures clambering on board. I clothed my boobs sharpish and went to see what the hell was going on.
Julien and a friendly young apprentice from Grayhound tied their dinghy up to Gwen and had coffee with us on deck, merrily yabbering and smoking in the cockpit after admiring the interior. Julien had lived on Gwen for a time while working here in the ‘Brook, and was impressed by our modifications, finding it difficult to remember what had been where before. Once they’d gone another visitor popped round to share his boat plans. We are back in society, even in the early hours of the morning.
Once 9 came I managed to call and negotiate a short day of work so that I could come back for the afternoon’s terrifying endeavour, and set off with a “good luck” to Rich for his morning of mast movement. The amount of erection jokes that have been made possible in the last couple of days has pushed my friends in to a Carry On league of smut, and my colleagues proved no exception. I spent the frantic lunchtime shift becoming less and less jolly, more and more nervous about the mast going in, and when the time came I rushed back down the hill to find Rich seeming unnervingly calm. He wasn’t. He was bricking it.
The weather had taken a turn for the murky. Rich and I untied the boat and drove her down a little way to another pontoon, close to the crane. Nathan controlled that while Rich and Graham helped shift the mast, which was already tied up and ready to go, from the shore to the sky. I watched from beneath the crane as they leapt from gravel to pontoon to deck and guided the bottom of the mast in to the hole in the deck, then went to join them. From below Rich yelled instructions which I translated in to hand gestures to Nathan – up, stop, down. Soon the rectangular end of the mast was in the corresponding groove in our saloon floor and Rich started bashing in wedges below and on deck.
A chilly wind was nipping when we said goodbye to our helpful mast-droppers, and we decided to wait until the tide had changed to attempt to return to our berth. Rich and I attached and modified the forestay with some extra shackles, had a warm up inside, then started reeving up the dead-eyes for the lower shrouds. It wasn’t too difficult, but it was cold and a bit miserable after the exhilaration of throwing a massive stick in to the boat. Fortunately those Greyhound lovelies Marcus, Freya, their little son Malachai and the other two from the morning’s visit appeared in two dinghies from their distant craft and came to bless Gwen with beer and raise our spirits for the journey home. Once we got back to our berth we both sank in to what little sofa was spare and finished the beers off.
Rich modified the floorboards to take in the mast and put the headlining back up while I made us a big hearty dinner, and it didn’t feel like anything was really real. From a distance, now on board, the mast didn’t look so huge. From outside, Gwen looked like a sailing boat – a sailing boat! What the hell? From the inside, there was a tree where our table used to be. It wasn’t until I woke this morning (at 11.30 – our first lie in for I don’t know how long) and saw the mast through the scratched glass of the second-hand hatch above my bed that anything seemed to make sense. We live on a sailing boat and that’s our mast and that’s my view in the mornings from now on. Okay then. As you were.
I struggled to write this. I haven’t had the words after this week – it’s a huge step followed by a huge step, a baffling journey in to nearly there. Rich is such a clever, talented man, and I look at him with pride, admiration and a sliver of envy for having brought this crazy plan about. I dream about where we’ll go, and I feel my own pride for my part in Gwen’s resurrection. I look forward to forging my own creative sanctuary in her newly functional belly and I crave more sleep, some brief holiday, and then a return to making our dream come alive.