With stormy weather lashing the country, we scour reports and forecasts for the East Coast hoping that everything is OK in Woodbridge. On Tuesday, 13 February Steve receives a phonecall from the Tidemill whilst in Southampton and enjoying being ‘grandad’ . . . “Steve, your boat cover has been shredded in the storm and there seems to be some damage to the deck and coachroof.”
What to do? It’s a long trip, but Kate lends him a sleeping bag and he sets off only to be caught in long traffic jams on the M25 to arrive cold, tired and in the dark just before 8pm. After a fine meal and a pint at the Anchor, he settles down for the night, cosy in the warmth of the fan heater, loaned sleeping bag and comfy on the new bunks. No damp inside the boat, and it will all look less bad in the light of day.
It seems that a warp had tangled itself round a belay pin, ripping it out and using it to flog the deck, mast, coachroof and bowsprit, smashing the glass in one porthole. Having no workclothes, tools or varnish, Steve called at Larkmans and James lent him an ’emergency maintenance bucket’ with everything he’d need to make a temporary fix. A call at Suffolk Sails resulted in the possibility of a temporary cover being made in the next few weeks . . . a long drive back to Derbyshire and Steve’s now at work on finishing the kitchen!
Following a particularly cold spell in late November, Steve began to worry about the boat. Not about leaks this time, since she’s safely ashore, or even strong winds, but about the engine. He decided not to risk it and set off for Woodbridge on Friday, 1 December for a lightning overnight visit to check everything out and winterise the engine.
One last trip down to Suffolk in November finds us staying with James for the weekend of the East Coast OGA AGM. We check everything out for the winter, and hope that the old boom cover will afford sufficient protection against the weather until the spring.
The old bunk cushions, stored under our bed in Derbyshire for ten years after being carefully washed, are still in excellent condition. The new bunks are made to fit the cushions, with some improvements on the underlying wooden structure
It’s a great moment when we realise that, after all this time, we’ll now be able to sleep aboard again!
Steve returns to Suffolk in the van on 12 October to be sure we’re ready for Ratsey & Lapthorn on Monday. It’s the Harwich Shanty Festival at the weekend, so Bev drives down in the car after the gasfitters have been. To make sure there’s good access for measuring, Steve moves the boat round to the long pontoon by the travel hoist on Monday, and we wait for Andy and Steve. The weather is good, if a little windy at times, and they leave with all the necessary notes to make the sails over the winter. Feels like a really big milestone.
There’s been a great deal of thought about how to be sure the boat is secure for the winter, and doesn’t cause too much worry as we’re so far away. The decision is made to store her ashore at the Tidemill. So, as Andy and Steve leave she’s lifted out again in the travel hoist and taken up to her winter quarters. We take home as much as possible for storage and leave her tucked up ashore, looking forward to a trip to Spain and Portugal. Three days later, Brittany Ferries phone to inform us that due to the hurricanes in the Bay of Biscay, our ferry is cancelled. We depart from Plymouth instead a couple of days late - pleased to have missed the full Biscay experience!
Along with tidying up the site, Steve’s hoping that the sailmaker will be able to measure up before the end of the season, so is keen to get the boom and gaff in place. There’s also nowhere left ashore to store any spars!
James helps bring the boom on board and Steve sets up the gaff and calls to make a date with Ratsey & Lapthorn. All fixed, Steve and Andy will drive up from Cowes on Monday, 16 October. So, it’s time to get on with stowing everything that can be left on board for the winter and making a start on the bunks . . . fortunately, the weather seems to be quite settled, and not too cold as we may need to work into the autumn to get everything ready for the winter. Bev leaves Steve in Suffolk and returns to Derbyshire where the plasterers will be making a start.
Now the boat is in the water, we have to dismantle the tent, remove it and clear the site where we’ve been working for the past ten years. Deadline is 18 September, so not much time! Steve cuts down and bundles the fabric, which is well past re-use, and James lends a hand with the rather precarious (and somewhat dangerous) task of taking down the scaffold. There are a few ‘near misses’ when balancing a ladder on pieces of scaffold, but the whole structure is finally stacked ready for removal tomorrow.
Having arrived back from Derbyshire just as the light fades, Bev joins Steve and James as they relax in the Anchor with a well-earned evening meal and a pint of St Ed’s.
Friday 15 September finds us loading the tent and scaffold onto James’ trailer. The scaffold is being re-used as new winter storage for ‘Charm’ when she comes ashore at Larkmans next month. It remains for us to clear the rest of the site ready for the next phase of development at the Tidemill Yacht Harbour – with a new road planned and clearance of the area beyond where our tent was.
Chris has kindly let us use his tent until the end of the month as Steve sorts out the scrap wood and makes a tidy pile for fitting out Cachalot’s interior next year. Carefully scouring the ground for discarded screws and nails, we gather a valuable pile of scrap to weigh in. It feels strange to see the site so bare and empty, thinking back to all that’s happened here over the past ten years . . .
Now that the tent is empty, there’s room for the mast to be under cover. Two fellow berth holders volunteer to help move it inside, with a mast trolley loaned by Larkmans.
The tent has to be dismantled, and it’s not before time! The lean is becoming more and more pronounced, and it seems unlikely to survive another big storm, but makes an ideal workshop to finish varnishing the mast as another bout of wet weather approaches.
As Steve cleans up the mast and applies several more coats of varnish, Bev returns home to get the ‘other’ project up and running again after the summer interlude. There’s the plumber and plasterers to schedule in as well as sorting out the new floor.
Steve finishes the mast, prepares the cross trees and gets the final bits of metalwork from Moray at BronzeWorks. It’s agreed that the best way to get the mast in is to take the boat to Larkmans again, so James takes the mast by road and Steve works at Larkmans to get the mast ready. Eager not to miss the tide, and having re-calibrated the depth sounder, Steve sets off a little early to motor up river and spends a few moments in the Deben mud part way to Melton . . .
After the launch, the bilge pumps were set and timed regularly – it all seemed to be going OK so we went sailing with James on ‘Kestrel’ with the East Coast OGA, setting out from Waldringfield for the August Cruise to Brightlingsea on 11 August. Andy agreed to keep a watchful eye on the bilge pumps, so Steve didn’t need to worry (much!) and could enjoy the sailing and a bit of relaxation for a week away . . .
On our return, the priority was to be the mast, but the bilge pumps were still running rather too frequently. Reluctantly, it was agreed this was more than just ‘taking up’, despite all the old tricks of sawdust under the hull . . . she needed to come out for a better look below the waterline. We could have had her lifted at the Tidemill, but a better option seemed to be the short motor up river to Larkmans, where James could have a look at her seams and do any work while she was left in the slings for 24 hours. The tides were just right, with high water around midday, so Steve motored up river on 23 August.
There’s still lots to do, but it’s not all work . . .
While awaiting spare parts to fit the bilge pumps and leisure battery, Simon and Steve start to think about the layout of the interior. There’s a detailed collection of photos on Steve’s iPad along with the carefully stored ‘patterns’ from the old bunks – all the cushions have been washed and survived the sinking and subsequent storage very well. They will all be re-used, on newly constructed bases. The old stove has been scrapped and will be replaced with a Taylors diesel heater and there’s a reconditioned Taylors stove to replace the old Calor gas twin burners.