Monday, December 18, 2006

Refit: December update

Above: Chaos reigns below decks!

Work pressures, coupled with yesterday's less-than-sparkling attempt to get to Southampton, conspired to prevent me from going to see how Arabella's refit was progressing. But the yard's bills just kept on coming in all the same, so in desperation today I rushed through my meetings and made time to go and inspect the work done since September.

The refit was obviously going through a 'messy children' stage at the moment, with various people starting and stopping work around each other's progress (or lack of it). But the process was moving inexorably forward, and even in her unfinished state, it was becoming easier to see how Arabella would look when the work was finished.

Much of the interior work shown here was done in September and October, and the focus had now shifted to the exterior fittings. A key issue for me was the height of Arabella's guardrail. The original pushpit and pulpit were in great shape, and the stanchions had clearly been replaced at some stage and were also in excellent condition. The only problem was that they were all pathetically low. This had clearly been done with a view to maintaining the yacht's visual proportions, and it has to be admitted that in that sense, it worked well. But - call me a wimp if you like - I just couldn't see how they would engender any sense of security at sea. I like to feel that I am in, rather than on, the cockpit. I opted to double the height of the guardrail all round.

This turned out to be quite an undertaking. Each of the stanchions had an extension welded on (and the seam polished out for aesthetic purposes). The original plan was to weld extensions to the pulpit and pushpit, too. This worked well for the pushpit. However, extending the lines of the current pulpit would have led to it overhanging the bow by a considerable degree. Apart from looking odd, this would have increased Arabella's length to the extent that my marina charges would have increased. That didn't seem good for my blood pressure. After taking a deep breath, I authorised the fabrication of an entirely new pulpit. It looked the part, but I would have to claw back the cost overrun somewhere...

Once I had checked the work and taken pictures, I sat down and made a list of the other things that need to be done. Once I got back home and typed it up, it ran to four pages. Damn. I'd learned the hard way on this project that planning was everything, so I broke down the list into as many constituent items as possible and tried to put them into some semblance of order, according to their priority. Then I asked the yard to sit down with me in January and work through the list together.

I'm determined to get Arabella back into commission this coming Spring - before I forget how to sail. If all the work can't be done before then, she can go back in the water unfinished and then come out in the high season, when I rarely sail (I hate the Solent when it gets overcrowded in high season) and the yard is quiet again.

Above: New self-tailing winch (note the custom s/s base) and cockpit instrument heads to starboard.

Left: Plastimo Contest compass to port.

Above: View forward, showing an example of the stanchions which have been extended to create a full height guardrail, and the new pulpit beyond

Above: The new pulpit.

Left: New wooden panels to the rear bulkhead. The Studer Innotec MBC battery charger has now been installed alongside the 240V consumer unit (lower background).

Above: A composite photostitch showing the instrument panel, among the debris, awaiting installation.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An Unsuccessful Trip/"Deep Water"

SWMBO and the kids had left to spend a month in Italy, trailing behind them dark mutterings about the fate that would await me if I allowed work to prevent me from joining them for Christmas. So, having been a good boy and gone into the office on Saturday, what better way to pass a Sunday than to go down to Southampton and check on the boat for the first time since September?

Work had been especially heavy throughout the autumn, coupled with which I had picked up some kind of chronic cough which kept me close to the office or home. Now, feeling increasingly on the mend, I realised that this was the one and only chance I was going to get. As an added bonus, the movie Deep Water was showing at the Harbour Lights cinema in Ocean Village, so I could kill two birds with one stone and catch the movie too.

Normally, I get the train to Southampton and take the pushbike to reach the marina from the station. For whatever reason, I chose to take the car. Big mistake. The traffic making its way south-west out of central London was horrendous. I found myself in a seemingly endless snake of traffic making its way through Battersea at two miles an hour. I was just debating pulling a U-turn and heading over to Waterloo to do the sensible thing, when I drove, at a heady 10 mph, over the kerbs of one of those silly little islands that they put in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. I winced as first the front offside wheel, then the rear one, graunched over the curb which felt like it was at least six inches high, and crashed down on the other side. A grumbling noise and a floppety-floppety sensation confirmed my worst fear. Oh for pity's sake. I pulled the Alfa over onto the pavement, carelessly scattering the pedestrians who seemed to feel that they had some right to be there, and sure enough: the front was completely blown, the rear badly cracked and scarred.

Out with the jack and the space-saver (almost flat, another fine example of Italian car servicing only a few weeks ago) and whipped off the flat and replaced it with no trouble (we're self-reliant, us yotties). There was no point crawling on to Southampton on a deflated spare, and anyway the rear tyre wasn't safe, so I managed to find the nearest Kwik-fit and emerged, just as it was getting dark, £190 poorer.

Expensive game, this sailing.

Anyway, I did get to see Deep Water, at the Curzon Soho, and very good (and deeply moving) it was too. Try to see if it if you can. A tragic tale of an inexperienced sailor's compulsion to push himself to the verge of bankruptcy and beyond for the sake, hang on a minute!

Friday, September 22, 2006


I went to the Southampton International Boat Show today - much, much better than the London Boat Show at Excel. Apparently the London show is going to be 'revolutionised' for next January, according to the yachting mags. It'll need to be.

Apart from wandering around the boats on show and dreaming (as well as picking up even more ideas that can be copied for Arabella's ongoing refit), I trawled through all of the equipment stands with my wallet at the ready.

I spent a long, long time at the Raymarine stand, staring lustfully at their C-series plotters. Very, very tempting. I wasted the poor salesman's time for far too long. But in the end, I'm proud to say, I walked away. Far too expensive for my budget, and anyway I don't (and won't) have a radar to overlay on the chart display. I was thinking hard about AIS, which could also be interfaced with the C-series plotter, but actually I didn't much like the way that AIS targets were displayed on the screen. So it's back to the handheld plotter for the time being.

Instead, I wandered over to one of the large chandlers and actually got a very good price (£50 off list) on a NASA AIS 'Radar', so went for that instead. Then found the guys from the yard on their stand and upset them by explaining that they would need to find somewhere to squeeze it in. They didn't see the funny side. I was told very firmly - no more kit after this.

Just before catching the train back home, I wandered over to the marina and checked on Arabella, now safely blocked up ashore. I'd forgotten the camera (again), but was happy to see that the yard had cleaned her up really well and had made a start on installing the instruments and transducers. I'll try to take pictures for my next posting here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back on dry land again

Arabella was lifted out today, so that the yard can start work on the exterior items and instal the new transducers. I opted for Raymarine ST60+ instruments, as they do a decent 'value' pack containing all the bits for Speed, Wind and Depth. Also a NASA Navtex. I nearly cried when I wrote out the cheque. Was I really still the same person who had been so proud of saving all that money in this very blog, not even a year ago?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Refit: August update

Arabella's refit is going well - the yard is quieter now that most people's boats are in the water and being used, so it's full steam ahead.

Another two months have passed by and there have been a lot of changes since my last entry. So your intrepid blogger braved the rain in Southampton today and came back armed with plenty of photographs for the record.

The chippie had managed to get the new, full bulkheads installed - by cutting them in half and reassembling them in situ, amidst much cussing and increasing of his invoice. Still there they were, and they certainly weren't going anywhere. In fact they were by far the most solid part of the boat now. Little short of a nuclear blast would dislodge them. The first attempt at the instrument panel had all the hallmarks of experimentation for which the British marine industry was famous - in other words, it was wrong - but nevertheless it was possible to see that it would work, once those pesky measurement thingies sorted themselves out. The water tank worked first time - it was 10 litres bigger than specified, and I had visions of the boat submarining into the Solent chop if I ever filled the tank right up, but still there it was, functional, neat and big enough to supply water for, ooh, a transatlantic crossing at least. More information alongside the pictures below.

The Southampton Boat Show is coming up, which will hopefully be more user-friendly than the absolutely dire London Boat last January - I'm looking to pick up some bits for the refit, so let's hope there are bargains to be found!

Above: The new, full bulkhead has now been installed. My fear that it would feel claustrophobic after having experienced the cabin without any bulkhead at all turned out to be unfounded. The carpenter has managed to keep the proportions just right and access to the forecabin remains as easy as it ever was before (i.e not very, but tolerable).

The port side bulkhead, reverse side, viewed from the forecabin. The yard has left an access hatch to the seacock under the galley sink. This will have a matching panel, held in place by latches, as a quick-removal cover.

Above: The boxed-in tidy to the port side, aft of the stove. The 240V and 12V distribution panels are now in situ, as are the 240V socket and the Silva VHF DSC (which came with the boat when I bought her, but which had never been connected up or used). The blank space between the radio and the socket is unfortunately too small to hold the instruments that I agreed on with the yard, so they are going to have to re-cut the panel and shift the distribution panels and the radio aft by a few centimetres, in order to gain the necessary space. An ST60 Graphics Repeater and a Nasa Clipper Navtex need to squeeze in here. Forward of the socket, to the right of the picture, is the new tidy which runs forward to the bulkhead. The whole length has been installed in such a way that the (original) stove cover will still slide freely aft to act as a chart table/work top if required, and to allow access to the stove. Most of the new joinery has either not yet been varnished or has only received one coat, so it will look a lot nicer when that has been done.

Left: This is the new, custom made Tek-Tanks fresh water tank, sited in same position as the original (in fact, strictly it has been installed inside the original tank). It holds 46 litres, but the idea of sticking 46Kg up in the bow like that doesn't strike me as too intelligent, so I doubt it will ever be filled right up. In the background, the filler and breather pipes which lead up to the new deck fitting. This was never installed on the 'deluxe' boats by the manufacturers, leaving the proud new owners to fill up with a hose-pipe through the forehatch. We had a debate about whether to box the pipes in for cosmetic purposes, but to be honest the yard has done such a nice job on them, and I like things that look functional and well-made, that I think I'd as well leave them as they are. Note the badly cracked foreheatch, which is leaking - another item for the list...

Above: The new filler fitting to the foredeck.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The refit begins in earnest

Above: Acres of space! Arabella's former half-bulkheads have been removed. Will I regret replacing them with full bulkheads later?
The old tidies have also been stripped out in readiness for replacement, port and starboard, except for the fiddled shelves over the v-berth.

I'm not proving to be very good at keeping this blog up to date. It's not my fault. I blame the British marine industry. A string of small-time operators masquerading as a multi-billion pound combine and charging its customers accordingly. So despite my paying money on account, giving clear instructions and not chopping or changing them - well, not much, anyway - the yard had spent from January until the beginning of June doing what they often did, namely not very much at all. Of course, they had made a start, a sufficiently good start indeed to ensure that Arabella was effectively unusable, despite being afloat at her marina berth.

So you haven't missed much, because there hasn't been much to report. Anyway, I finally remembered to take the camera with me on a quick trip down to a bright, sunny Southampton today to check how things were coming along. And sure enough, fate smiled upon me and proved me wrong - there had indeed been progress.

This may or may not have had something to do with the hassling calls I had put into the yard after that weekend, a few weeks back, when Mario, my Italian brother-in-law, returned to view progress on Arabella once again, this time accompanied by Giuseppe, my other Italian brother-in-law. They stood on the dock and watched perplexed, as the outboard started almost on the first pull and I leapt ecstatically around the cockpit, yes!yes! A certain amount of sotto voce commentary was going on as they smiled and nodded appreciatively... Si! Si! It's true, you see? He keeps calling it a "yacht"..where do you think he keeps the oars?. After that, the yard came under what might be politely described as some customer pressure.

Back in the present, Arabella was bobbing happily at her berth, still as dry as she always was when I went to check on her. Just as well really, because now that work had started in earnest, I didn't fancy the idea all of that sawdust and other debris getting into a damp bilge and turning to wood-paste.

The old half-bulkheads had been stripped out, as had the tidies to port and starboard in the saloon. This had turned out to be something of an ordeal for the carpenter, who had adjusted his invoice accordingly. Try as he might, he could not get those half-bulkheads to budge. In the end he took a saw to them, or was it an axe, and had begun muttering darkly about how the hell he was supposed to get full bulkheads in there to replace them.

At some point in the Spring, it had been decided (by me) that the sliding worktop to port would double as a nav station with repeaters to the cockpit instruments. Actually, it was quite a good idea, but it wasn't easy to implement. The space for instruments and distribution panels below decks on Arabella was limited, to put it mildly. The putative nav station was on the port side, but the 240V consumer unit and the battery charger went to starboard, which opened up significant wiring challenges, especially as I was insistent that I didn't want cables trailing like spaghetti across the saloon. In the end the cables were run in a conduit up the starboard side of the cabin, under the V-berth forward, and back down the port side to the aft corner of the saloon, whence they erupted like maddened serpents.

After doing all the usual checks and taking pictures, I sat in the cockpit for a while, basking in the sun, and dreamed how she might look when all the work is finished, then gave up - it was just too difficult now that the bukheads had been removed. Arabella's interior seemed incredibly light and open, and twice the size that it had been before. I toyed with the idea of telling the yard to leave her like she was for a few minutes, before giving myself a good shake and telling myself to stick with the original plan. In truth, I was also a bit unsure sure whether the bulkheads provided support to the mast. I'd seen pictures of other Pandoras with compression posts, and didn't fancy having to resort to that if I could avoid it. Space was tight enough up forward as it was. So I drifted back to contemplative bliss, while all the people who had boats that they could actually sail enjoyed one of the nicest days of the year out on the water.

Above: Looking aft, starboard side - the 240V consumer unit has been installed against the rear bulkhead. The battery charger has yet to go in.

Left: Port side aft - a tangle of wires reveals where the electrical panel will be installed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Turning the corner?

At last! Using my innocent brother-in-law as an excuse - he was visiting from Italy for the weekend and made the mistake of expressing an interest in seeing Arabella - I managed to get down to Arabella this afternoon.

I was dreading the trip, to be honest. After being left for such a long time, I fully expected Arabella to be full of water - and as for the outboard...

What a little star! There she was, bobbing happily at her berth, 32 year-old hull as dry as a bone inside and the outboard started on the first pull!

To my brother-in-law's alarm I suggested, in a moment of euphoric delusion, letting slip the lines and just, y'know, motoring out of the marina to have a little look-see. It was a beautiful, calm day, just right for motoring out and poking around. Mario looked wildly round for some excuse to escape, and I shook the petrol can and realised that we were borderline on fuel anyway...

Back to reality. I took the chance to remove the sails and all the upholstery and brought them home to store in the dry. It also meant that the interior was left clear for the yard to get to work- I had decided Arabella had earned the right to 240v shorepower and a freshwater tank. A reward for not punishing me for ignoring her.

But to be honest, I'd started thinking bigger than that. It was fairly clear that I'd bought Arabella too soon. No buyer's remorse - it's difficult to regret acquiring a clean boat that costs so little that you can pay for her with your Switch card - but a dawning realisation that I couldn't abandon my wife to her fate with the children while I went off sailing at will. Worse, my job had gone from being merely demanding to being ridiculously time-consuming. Not only was Luisa seeing less and less of me all week, but work was eating increasingly into weekends. And so the slippery slide began. It made sense, didn't it, if I couldn't really use Arabella this year, to commit to getting some of the longer-term jobs attended to. Those cushions, for example, in that horrible orange colour. That manky old depth instrument and worn-out compass. The lack of interior lights, assuming you ignored, as I did, the AA powered plastic lamps that dangled forlornly off screws twisted into the half-bulkheads. That flimsy curtain between the saloon and forecabin - in truth, it was all one cabin because of those silly half-bukheads, why it would be no trouble to fit some decent full bulkheads in there...

I blame Mario. If he hadn't stood there with his brow furrowed, staring at poor little Arabella...Where I come from, yachts are large and white and beautiful, and belle donne drape themselves over them. And this? What is this thing he shows me and says it is a 'yacht'?

Financially, the decision was been helped by the fact that I'd managed to walk through the entire London Boat Show for a whole day the weekend before and had left clutching nothing but a £10 book. Absolutely useless show: my wife gave me a five hour head start before arriving to do her customary tour of all the yachts we couldn't afford (that'll be all the yachts on display, then). She enjoys touring them imperiously, annoying the salespeople with lots of questions for no purpose other than her own amusement. Actually, so do I.

After three hours I had given up and was sitting in the bar waiting for her to hurry up and arrive. I had no idea who these people sell to, the stuff they were hawking was quite obviously within the reach only of the filthy rich or those terminally stupid people who thought it made them look good if they mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy a new yacht and then maxed out their credit cards to kit it out. I could do all of that without even buying a yacht. I'd decided to try Southhampton later in the year, to see if it came any closer to meeting the needs of the 'average', impecunious yottie with a second-hand boat and a budget.

Meanwhile, where was the phone number of that guy from the yard?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Long term frustration

Ahem, four months since my last post - and other than quick inspection and maintenance trips, poor Arabella has seen very little of me.

With a new addition to the famiglia (James, born on 29 September) bringing us firmly into "two under two" territory and more work than I could eat at the office, the last few months have been a bit too intense to allow me to spend any real time on the boat, less still keep my blog up to date. In summary, therefore: at least I got another coat of varnish onto Arabella's companionway washboards and another five coats of Dex onto the handrails, so they're protected for the winter. From which it will be deduced that I still haven't quite got around to actually sailing my pride and joy...

Arabella was craned into the water in November, and the boatyard have been good enough to keep an eye on her for me, so at least I know that she's, well, afloat for a start. They had indeed carried out the surveyor's recommendations, so she boasts a new bilge pump and cockpit drains. They've also quoted me for a water tank and a basic 240v shorepower system, which I am just weighing up at the moment, so I'll report back on that some other time if I decide to go ahead.

Meanwhile, the London boat show has come around again...I can feel my wallet flinching already ;-)