More Menor

Brilliant sunlight bounces from the sweat on Richard’s grinning face. He is as garish as our boat: orange t-shirt, blue legs, bright eyes contrasted against his deeply tanned skin and black and white beard. He is talking about which jobs he should or shouldn’t get on to next. I am watching his mouth move, thinking about hummus and astronauts while internally humming to the incidental music of my mind. It’s my day off, at last, and he just needs a sounding board. Yes, probably, okay, yep, you do that. Finally I tell him I’m off inside to write the blog, though I’m a bit stuck on where to start.

“You went to a festival and came back muntered, I did a bit of sailing, we’ve done some work on the boat. Write that.”

Oh sure, it’s that simple.


Part 1: The Island Of Death

The Mar Menor was stinky and green. We explored it for nearly a week, hoisting as many sails as we could be bothered with to plod from anchorage to anchorage. We were never in more than 5.5m of depth, and never far from a floating fish carcas or a shoal of pulsating jellyfish. I braved a swim on our first day once the sealife and seadeath seemed to have blown off the forbidden shore of the Isla Del Baron beside which we had anchored, but regretted it when a snorkel revealed nothing but more green – thick and streaky like a grim broth. I leapt out, poured a bottle of water over myself and shuddered.

It was on the Mar’s smaller central island, Isla Perdiguera, that we got to really meet the deceased. Rowing ashore we were greeted by the sight and smell of the dead seagulls dotted around the sandy brush. Several barely built structures stood as monuments to an idea that someone once had that someone might want to spend time there. They don’t. It stinks. But the hillsides are riddled with tunnels that were once used as storage for the surrounding bombing practice areas, and these have been blasted out to remove their explosives and are therefore now irresistably explorable.

We clambered the rocky pathways between them in a draining heat, torch in hand, avoiding the rotting flesh and snagging shrubs as much as was possible, and came upon a strange circular man-made crater in the ground. It was as wide as the boat and very, very deep, and at the base spread a tomato plant laden with some of the plumpest, most succulent looking fruit you can imagine. Always the foragers, Rich and I looked eagerly from the plant to each other and back. We tracked round the edge, desperate to find a way we could get in and out of the hole, but there was none. Just as Rich’s eyes were glinting with what I feared might be a makeshift abseiling plan, I saw it.

“Shitting hell, is that what I think it is?”

“What’s that?”

“That enormous snake skin”

“Oh my god”

Like a boss level in a computer game it seemed that someone had placed the only bit of nourishment on this deathly island in a pit with its greatest baddy. We found a huge stick and lifted pieces of skin out to see if it really was that big. It was. We used the same stick to prod the tomato bush a few times to see if we could see the skin’s owner. We couldn’t. We lowered the skin back in to the hole as a warning to anyone else who might find it, and stomped away skittishly, keeping a closer eye on the bracken around our feet, to watch a huge colony of egrets on the other side of the island.


Built a bit. Bombed a bit.


Dug a bit. Blew up a bit.


Don’t fancy your chances, mate


How big is it? And how recently has it eaten?


I can do without tomatoes


Cheerio, Island of Death

Another sail later we spent a couple of lovely days off Playa Honda, a beach that seemed to be built up for far more tourists than it currently hosted. Pollution means that the Mar has lost all of its blue flag awards, and though the swimming area was enclosed by a net (now thick with green fur) to keep the jellies at bay it was evident that business had seen better days.

We caught a bus for a day out in Cartagena and tried to eat all the pizza in a city full of incredible architecture, influenced by centuries of visitors and conquerors. Many facades had no building behind them but lost little of their beauty by being propped up by scaffold like film sets. We saw a castle and an excavated Roman theatre, and toured museums that astounded us with the craft of ancient people. “Those Phonecians, wow” we said, and “it’s amazing how little sailing has changed”. We swayed to good live music and enjoyed each other’s jokes, aware that we were about to be apart for a while. Here’s a few photos:

Finally we sailed to the airport at the north end of the Mar, and I flew away.

Part 2: Port Eliot

England is cold. Gloriously, refreshingly cold. It has my mother, my father, my sister and her son. It has green rolling fields and bubbly cider and friends who don’t need to ask how you are because they know it from your posture. I enjoyed all of these things in my first couple of days, dashing from family member to family member, grabbing borrowed tents and stuff I’d had delivered to them along the way.

By the time I got to Port Eliot festival I’d almost lost the nervousness I’d had about leaving Rich to single hand Gwen for the first time. He was reporting back in a timely fashion, asking my opinion on whether to anchor up or push on, letting me know each night that he and Gwen were okay. I set up camp away from my wonderful but (oh my god) noisy friends and set about having fun. This was the treat trip I’d promised myself in Mallorca, and I only had a few days to enjoy it.

I saw talks by the author Rich and I were reading last year, the comedian whose face I’d had postered on my bedroom wall as a teen and a man who’d sailed a boat we knew as part of a TV show recreation of the Bounty mutiny. I took part in fashion drawing and stamp making workshops. I hooted at comedians and spent hours captivated in the poetry tent. I ate and drank and danced and danced and danced.

More than anything, I spent time with people I know from my village, and felt the warmth of their brilliant friendship through the mud and the rain. When I welled up at a slowed down “Modern Love” in a Bowie theatre piece I turned round and they were swaying with me. When I walked the walled garden they were dressed up as lions, entertaining passers-by as part of a new festival arts project. When I wondered if I’d see so-and-so, they usually appeared with a drink in hand to chat shit for half an hour. When I slowed down and thought about going to bed they kept me drinking and dancing and talking, waving arms dramatically, coated in UV paint and biodegradable glitter, and suddenly it was sunrise already and the four day festival had ended.

I collapsed on to Didds’ sofa and didn’t leave for a day. Buffy. Catfish. House. Friends. Quincy (he lives on a boat). Something her boyfriend likes about people who buy second hand tat. Something with Philip Schofield getting people to do challenges. I hadn’t seen this much telly for a long time. I let my mashed up brain be soothed by its banality. I had a hell of a journey ahead of me.

Part 3: Hull on Earth

My brain still wasn’t working. I got a lift to Bristol, a plane to the Mar Menor, a bus to Murcia, a bus to Almeria, a bus to a town near Almerimar, and a taxi with Rich to the boat. This all took about 20 hours, about half of which I slept through, and was horrible save for the Almeria bus which had air con and an original language video of The Martian. I was carrying all my stuff plus a couple of hundred quid’s worth of crap that we’d ordered to my dad’s (mostly hammocks, flags and grab bag gadgets). I’d been injected for Africa by the doctor before I’d left, I was aching in every danced out limb, and I was hot – so unbelievably hot. The calm, breezy Cornish way of life had been easy to adjust to (although someone did point out I was swaying a bit for the first couple of days), but it seems this doesn’t work the other way round.

While I had been off destroying myself Rich had sailed the boat out of the Mar and all the way round to Almerimar, and had her taken out of the water. She stood exposed on the dirt of a boatyard, her undersides revealing concrete where the paint had yielded to a good blasting. While I attempted to recover (difficult, when your skin is boiling away from your body), he got the mast lifted out and cut sections of its tennon off to reattach further round. The mast has twisted so much since we chopped it down from the forest that it was facing off to one side, putting pressure on the spreaders and causing our tricolour to suggest a misleading direction in the dark. This operation rotated the mast back to straight, and I daubed some hopeful jollop in its ever widening shakes before it was set back in place.


For once, the idiot up the mast is not my boyfriend


This one is


He is quite bloody good at what he does, mind.

The next morning we woke early and began the process of sanding, stripping and grinding all the bits of Gwen that needed touching up. We worked in a breezeless heat that our newly acquired anemometer told us was 35 degrees in the shade, not that we could get in any, until three in the afternoon when I couldn’t take any more. We got an ice cream and had a siesta, and then we started again around six. We worked on until sunset and collapsed with a hastily concocted dinner on to a bed that was damp with our sweat. My brain had been shocked back into function and was as drained as my body.

A version of this work pattern continued for five days. We sanded the topsides and hull, ground the rust away from the push pit and repainted it, put waterbased epoxy, glass flake epoxy and tie coat on the dodgy patches of hull, put two coats of blue and new names on the topsides, replaced the anodes and put on a coat and a half of antifoul. The afternoon ice cream became an aspirational pillar, the motivator to keep going past lunchtime. We would shower before siesta and again before dinner, spending the rest of the day pouring with sweat. Oh, I’ve learned a lot about our sweat this week. Rich sweats fountains from his back right down through his shorts. I sweat from my face and chest, a dribble of salt water tumbling from my chin, making any face mask slippery. Though we longed to kiss or embrace after our week apart it was just too stuffy and disgusting, and we slept in the nude at an arms length.


Pre-patched hull


Post-re-scribbled bow

In short morning cycles I would get laundry and shopping done, and discovered that Almerimar is quite a pretty little town. The marina folk, particularly those in the office, have been incredibly friendly, and Chris who runs the boatyard chandlery and boat repair place has warmed to us enough that Rich has even been offered some work. He’s not going to take it, though, as another job has come up in Lanzarote, and that’s on our way. Though I’ve spent a large part of the last week feeling faint we have managed an incredible amount during Gwen’s week ashore and were rewarded this morning with watching her being plonked back in the water, dazzling and shiny in all her glory. Now she’s in the adjoining marina, where we still have a few jobs to do.


Hanging around the docks, waited to get picked up

But it’s our day off, I tell myself and Rich. I sit in the saloon, where it is still bloody hot but, you know, on the water Gwen’s bottom is being cooled off, and I type because I have spare time to type. Some antifoul remains on my toes, boatyard dirt ironed on to my foot soles, a stripe of Gwen blue in my hair, but I am mostly clean and it feels amazing. I can hear the ratatat of the sewing machine and I think Rich has made a mast boot cover because he’s a workaholic. I’d better get up there and take him out for a deserved pint.






You would not believe the mess of this place. You would not believe that two people could live in the mess that is the mess of this place. It’s been said so often – “we could really do with a tidy-up”, but it’s been instantly dismissed. Who has time to tidy up with everything that’s going on? Clothes and paperwork and cups cover every surface, the floor is strewn with shoes and wrappers, the galley is overrun with vessels and crumbs. In a small space mess is a disaster, but to deal with it seems too enormous – jobs have a hierarchy now, and this one is just beyond our line of sight.

There are six weeks left to go until we leave work and leave the marina, and we’ve entered an insanity which I can only report via a drunken burst. We both work full time for the money we desperately need to save to go away, and struggle through evening jobs and chores until a half-hour of hugs and encouraging natter before bed. We both work all weekend on whatever else needs working on. Nobody is in charge of the washing up or the cooking or the fire or emptying the wee, or even of making sure we have a wash or remember to say “hello” when we get home. This phase, a few weeks in, feels like one of Rich’s most acute obsessions, multiplied by two people on overdrive. It’s the final frenzied push that’s pushed us to something strange and traumatic, gripped with intense force in our shaking but determined fingertips.

I’ve been meaning to write for a while about the impact of leaving this place – and I will, but there isn’t room for that in this. I haven’t had time to reflect on it, or to see our great impending adventure for what it is, because I can only take one day, one hour, at a time. I lie awake at night thinking of small changes I want to make to the lesson plan I’ve been working on, of improvements I could make to the graphics job I’ve added to my workload, practical aspects that will improve the mini-opera (I’ve written that final song, at last), boat jobs we need to do, those we might have to change, what needs to be clean for what occasion in each of our day jobs. We both wake early. We hug and enjoy brief comfort before rejoining the fray.

So, tonight I popped out and got drunk. It’s necessary, sometimes.

What else? As far as the boat goes it’s mostly been small jobs and admin, ticked off yet another sub list which is taped to the galley cupboard door. There’s no big concern, there are just a hundred little ones. This weekend we sanded and primered our dinghies (and Rosy Primrose, who we’re finally repairing), happy in our toil in some rare sunshine, collapsing afterwards back in to our mess. I’d forgotten how tiring physical boat jobs are and returned to my computer work with a new appreciation.


Getting to know Bob a little better


Bob (yer uncle) and Fanny (yer aunt) awaiting primer

We’ve been spending too much on materials to get things finished, so Rich is about to start doing overtime to get back on track with savings, and I’ve taken on all the freelancing I can just about manage.  It’s probably best nobody speaks to us for a month or so. I’ll tell you when it’s nearly over.


A sail has been hoisted

Things that have happened:

1) A sail has been hoisted. But it has not taken us anywhere. Don’t get excited.

Gwen and Ren

Gwen and Ren. We’ve had a couple of nice Serenity pootles this week.

2) The swallows’ babies have started hanging out on Gwen. They had previously favoured the rusty white spray nearby, dozily bobbing about on her guard wires in their long rests between flights. Today they started to appear on ours too. They seem to find life exhausting. I completely understand.

3) Rich put in some shelves, mounted the radio and rigged up the bowsprit and the jib because he is a good, productive person.

4) I signed up for a half marathon in October because I’m a fucking idiot. Now I have to go running all the bloody time.

Things that have not happened: Big Joe didn’t organise a five canoe trip to Drake’s Island, the privately owned and abandoned defence isle which we most likely aren’t allowed on, and which we absolutely didn’t visit. We didn’t go and explore the catacombs of the derelict military barracks and it wasn’t amazing..







Foolishly not carrying my towel.

Foolishly not carrying my towel.

Catching Up

This morning, from Gwen.

Morning mist, from Gwen’s latest spot at the marina.

After a long weary winter of toil we have been eating up spring as though we’d never seen sunshine before, so apologies for the prolonged absence from words. Even now there is very little news other than hey, the sun is shining and so are our faces. Hey, we’re still not sailing, but we’re still close. Hey.

Emancipation from the shed had a strange effect at first. Annoyances, resentments, injuries that had had to be suppressed to get us through the constant work and planning and support and did I mention work, suddenly found an escape gap. I flipped out. It was needed. For a week as we did the last little jobs and cleared our stuff from the shed (and waited to put my last post on here) there was little in my mind but a catalogue of complaint, writing and rewriting itself in my head, sputtering moronically from my lips – I wanted my boyfriend back, I wanted my efforts recognised, I wanted never again to have to go through that shuddering hell. I hadn’t realised how far into survival mode I had sunk in those last shed weeks until I felt the daylight at the end. I am not a goddam boatbuilder and though I’ll help and help as best I can I never want to feel that weight of expectation, of never having done quite enough in the grand obsessive slogging nightmare, ever again. It gives Richard terrific drive but it burns me out in both body and mind, and I had begun to feel that I was of no importance unless a tool of some sort was in my hand. I wanted me back, now. NOW.

Rich flipped out in return – a combination of frustration with mine, exhaustion and (if you ask me) blindness to what manner of shitfest we’d just been through. There was an almighty explosion ricocheting with every manner of argument cliche, and then a steady scramble back to the relief of our cosy, cuddly near-normality. Peace at last, and a real chance to enjoy the bliss of being back on the water, with amenities close at hand and the sky a hatch away.

Old friends from the shed still come to visit us, though.

Old friends from the shed still come to visit us.

May came and spring sprung. Suddenly I had free time and at first I was terrified by it. I couldn’t draw any more, couldn’t rest without feeling guilty, couldn’t understand a world in which there is not something that needs to be done right now. When it hit me, it was glorious. Didds’ birthday party, Richard’s birthday, my (not a) surprise birthday karaoke – the world was suddenly about enjoying yourself again. Sod working at home – I work really hard at my job. Spare moments became opportunities to wander the fields, observing, photographing, writing, drinking chai, ending up in the pub, smoking, not running, eating myself into blubbery bliss. I have friends and I live in heaven! How did I forget.

Rich went back to work, I got more hours and in the evenings we’d play with kayaks that someone didn’t want (free toys) and fish off the back of the boat. And glory of glories – I got to start my own project. A few months back I designed a giant wearable puppet and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been making it in a secret hideaway.

Glamorous post-work fishing.

Glamorous post-work fishing (soon after this I got a camera with autofocus again, so shots like this should be a thing of the past).

For Rich's birthday and our 3rd anniversary I designed him a nautical tattoo, based on a picture I made for him a couple of years ago, featuring a compass to always find our way home. It's the unofficial symbol of Gwen, shown here the wrong way up.

For Rich’s birthday and our 3rd anniversary I designed him a tattoo based on a picture I made for him a couple of years ago. It features a compass which in sailor tat symbology is supposed to always find our way home. It’s the unofficial symbol of Gwen, and is shown here the wrong way up.

New kayak fun.

New kayak fun.

But nothing was getting done on the boat.

So as June arrived we made another list. This one’s a lot shorter than the last, but is not without its humdingers – notably the electrics, which Rich reluctantly finished off last week. The solar panels are up and wired in, as is the main switchboard, and we have some USB sockets for charging devices once we’re off the grid. Serenity’s fixed up (I learned how to scarph in fresh bits of wood to replace the rotten ones in the gunnel) and back on the water. We’ve bought some stuff, bolted the fire down, got some shelves and secured some cupboard doors with magnets in between our various excursions and a couple of heady nights of celebration.

As June wanes, urgency is mounting. We need to get the coach roof bolted down and stuff stowed away but we’re putting aside details like the nav lights and VHF to get the rigging ready, to get a first short sail out of the way so we can find out how much more needs to be done before Gwen can take her first proper voyage. This glorious evening I helped hoist Rich up the mast to attach the peak halliards, staysail halliard and some sort of jib halliard (he’s not quite sure what’s going on with that). I’m really fucking excited, but Rich seems composed as though it’s business as usual. I think forward to our first sail, whatever that will be like, the exhilaration of Gwen’s tip as she’s blown along, and the immense pride I’ll feel in the small jobs and big plans I’ve contributed to her transformation. What that will feel like for Rich, who has bought her, toiled on her and spent every spare penny on her for nearly three years, I can only imagine. For now he is consumed with the next job to be done, and still enjoying like me the freedom of long summer days in the company of a truly loved one and the best home in the world.

I got jealous so I've been promised a trip up the mast this week.

I got jealous so I’ve been promised a trip up the mast this week.

Lovely Cawsand. One day.

Lovely Cawsand, round the corner, will probably be our first destination for a summer anchorage.

All Good Things

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.

Go Gwen, go!

Go Gwen, go!

Rich driving Gwen.

Look at his happy little face. Rich driving Gwen for the first time.

Me driving Gwen.

A boat in my hands. The solar panel cardboard box and Grayhound as my backdrop.

Yelling hello to Grayhound

Yelling hello to Grayhound, her paint job still in progress.

Buoy collection squad, activate.

Buoy collection squad, activate.

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 moment of "what the fuck?"

One of many moments of terror.

Jamming a tree in to a concrete deck.

Jamming it in.

A mast, and a very happy man.

A mast, and a very happy Chard.

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.

Gwen, home and riddled with twigs.

Gwen. At home and riddled with twigs.

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.

A morning view.

Waking vision.

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.


Still groggy from a dream in which I forwent a steamy tryst with Tyrion from Game of Thrones (it must be the beard he has in Season 5) to return to Richard, I woke this morning to him calling me out from the dark forward cabin. He wanted me to witness an unusual presence in the saloon. Daylight.

The day before, while I went out for the afternoon and returned well after dark, the boat was moved from the back of the shed to just outside the front. Now the real world was streaming in through Gwen’s tiny portholes. After eight months of cold, dark, dusty, noisy shed life we had crept just far enough out to witness the start of a beautiful day. I threw on a top and some shabby trousers and had a cigarette and coffee on deck while I confessed the night’s indiscretions to my love, looking out over the boatyard like a fairytale princess who has been trapped in a tower for a long winter and has only just uncovered the window.

Hello world.

Hello world.

It was not long before Jonathan arrived to drive Gwen down the slipway. We followed and marvelled at her and received many a compliment on her paint job, got her nicely propped up on her legs and some blocks and climbed up to her from a ladder that became ever more submerged as the tide came in. Suddenly, it was summer. Suddenly working seemed like a terrible idea and cups of coffee and pottering about on deck were the order of the day. I took out my sketchpad and basked in the sun, trying to remember how to draw or relax or not work.

So much air. So much day.

So much air. So much day.

Remembering how to relax, watching the shitty dinghy.

Remembering how to relax, watching the shitty dinghy.

My scary orange deadeye children are shocked by the sun.

My scary orange deadeye children are shocked by the sun.

With the afternoon’s rising tide, however, came duties. Checking the ropes to start with. Discussing over and over again with visiting wellwishers how the water line isn’t the water line – we’ll find out what the real water line is when the tide comes in. Moving the ladder so we can still get things on and off. Running to the shed for something we’ve forgotten. Her arse started to bob, and people got hopeful – “she’ll be floating any minute” – and we weren’t so sure, but about 4.50 it happened. We amassed a team of assistants including two Johns and occasionally a Jonathan, and a nice guy from Brighton called Chris who had just bought a catamaran in the marina and was trying to fix its engine so he could get off our pontoon. Between many of us and many ropes we pulled and yanked and stepped and even windlassed Gwen over towards the pontoon’s floating steel mesh, and though we promised them all a beer our team dissolved and went back to work (or sailed home to Brighton with their windlass handle still on our deck – shit!).



Gwen nearly floats.

After the move

It was then back to merry sunshine laziness while the tide turned, followed by a cycle to the village for cider and cigarettes to celebrate while Rich began the evening’s main task of drilling and fitting the exhaust. When I got back the familiar scream of the drill was emanating from Gwen’s stern and I saw it emerge from a hole in the edge of the scum line that the water had formed, 2 inches below where it should have been but fine for the exhaust Rich has planned. I went and got in the shitty dinghy and pulled it round the small amount of remaining water to Gwen so that we could drill the rest of the holes from the outside.

There was this moment, when I was sitting in the dinghy only just still floating next to Gwen’s rudder, gripping the pintle with one hand and a rope with the other. Rich was sat in front of me, his extended foot jammed behind Gwen’s prop, both of us trying to keep the dinghy still. He showered me with the dust of old concrete as he drilled four bolt holes around one of two fitting holes for the exhaust and I put my head down and held on for all I was worth. Two geese flapped by with a honking, fluttering, mechanical noise and I thought “this is just fucking brilliant”. The whole day felt like that.

Tonight we’re knackered, again, and a bit sunburnt. Rich had to work well in to the night to get the fiddly exhaust plumbed in, so I’ve sat with him beneath the stars (STARS!) in the aft cabin to keep him company while I write this. It was a special day, so why not write it a post. Not our mast going in, first trip under our own steam or our first sail – those are yet to come. Today’s significance is small and forgettable in the large picture of what we’re doing with Gwen, but in terms of emotion it’s a boost like no other. Today we left the shed and went back to the water.

Black and Blue

I’m briefly popping my head out of “what the hell?” to write to you, breathe, and go back under. We’re tantalisingly close to completing the final push to get out of the shed – just a couple more weeks to go – and life is a frenzy of activity. It’s physical and mental, tiring and strangely calm. We labour all day and then soak in our lazy evenings, flopped in the cluttered saloon, reaching out to any simple distraction to numb our battered, buzzing minds. Welcome Tom Cruise, welcome Bruce Willis, don’t make us think too hard.

Spring looked like it was on the way and we couldn’t bear to be in the cold and dark for much longer. Soon after my last post Rich booked a date in mid April to put Gwen in the water and we’ve worked non stop to make that happen ever since. To start with, of course, we had an argument. I began to feel like I wasn’t Rich’s team-mate on the project any more, like he was taking my part in her story from me or missing it completely. We were both feeling pretty shit anyway – many months in a shed will do that to you. A silence fell – worse than rowing – the rotting away of resentment, insecurity, guilt. I felt closer to jacking it all in than I have for a long long time but determination to paint Gwen’s hefty rump kept me on board. We talked and talked and hugged and slid back in to our merry camaraderie, and to see us recently you’d think we’d always been a well oiled, if exhausted, machine.

Living by lists. This daily list book feeds from the master list on my computer. How did life come to this?

Living by lists. This daily list book feeds from the master list on my computer. How did life come to this?

We’ve scraped and wire brushed and filled and plugged and sanded and masked up, we’ve passed and held bits and pieces for each other and egged each other on. We put two coats of water-based and four coats of black two-pack epoxy on the hull, and one coat of grey on the deck.

In a moment of curiosity we prised open the tin of “safety orange” that was to adorn the rubbing strake. The lid popped off. Our mouths fell agape. It is lurid and hilarious – more neon red than orange, a colour difficult to replicate in this RGB space or look at without sunglasses. We laughed, and the colour scheme was rapidly revised. Scary orange for the deadeyes, spreaders and toe rails (where its inescapable visibility will hopefully stop us from falling off the boat) but broken up by something milder for the rubbing strake, for the benefit of all who see her.

The masked deck.

Scraped and masked.

Fun with noxious substances.

Fun with toxic substances.

Painting the dead-eyes. The worst job I have ever been given.

Painting the dead-eyes. My worst job .

It was with trepidation that we then popped open the tin of “mid blue” factory floor paint that we had ordered for the hull. It isn’t what we imagined (which was something resembling Serenity’s hull), but it is bright and bold, ever so slightly turquoise – lovely to look at and crying out for the Caribbean, better than anything we would have chosen ourselves. We painted the first coat yesterday and the second today and neither of us enters the shed without beaming at its light summery blue.

She's black.

She’s black.

She's blue.

She’s blue.

I still go out to work and volunteering, but the rest of the time I’m Gwen’s. Rich, of course, is in overdrive. He made a new tiller, put a fibreglass shoe on the keel with his friend John, fixed all manner of electrical and engine gubbins and finished serving the rigging and fitted it to the mast. We’re missing out on everything that is fun in the outside world, but finding entertainment in strange new jobs like moving the blocks beneath the boat or marking a stand-in water line by wandering around the boat with chalk and string.

New tiller and sporadically greyed deck.

New tiller and sporadically greyed deck.

Oiled spars in the afternoon.

Oiled spars in the afternoon.

The shoe crew.

The shoe crew.

This weekend boats have been returning to the water from the marinas and disappearing round the corner for adventures, and today the chirpy swallows returned to the shed. They’ve been to Africa and back, and we’re still here. Here and so so tired, flagging and leaning on each other for support. Today I helped with the Morse controls, oiled the spars and varnished the tiller and forehatch after the day’s painting was done. Tomorrow the final coats on the deck and hull and extra epoxy coat on the keel will be followed by more spar oiling and deadeye painting. Through all this the water shimmers in the distance, and it keeps us going, knowing that soon we will float back there where we should be, and that when we do, we will finally have a day off.

Mast top decoration.

Mast top decoration.