” This post is a work in progress and so headings have been added that as yet don’t have the pictures and video posted, please feel free to comment and you will have helped make the finished post better, Thanks Mark”
There must be a million people who could have written this blog but there should be more who actually did! The road that leads to a “Boat Project” is a narcotic little trip with the smell of Sunday morning coffee as you brouse the sites that house these adventures. I had wanted to sail away from as young as I could remember. My Granny asked me before I was 9 “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I said that I wanted to have a boat and beome a lawyer ,I remember a few years later being asked the same question and answering my dad with the anwers ” I want to be a petrol pump attendant” I digress, certainly I bought my first boat in my teens and it was a triumph in that it was cheap and old but worked and was already in water. You will see the value in that later! Over the next years I progressed and owned 3 more sailing boats and again all in sailable condition and I took pleasure in owning them all. Hang in there I am getting to the point!
I just couldnt get this sailing dream out of my craw and I guess I was bitten by the “SV Delos ” bug while they where still a pair of hapless adventurers sailing and making the dream work, needless to say I was done for from this point on.
I can tell you how many boats I looked at but it probably wasnt enough. On bloody ebay of all place I found the vessel that would be the foundation of my dreamd and several nightmares. She was a 48 ft “Bruce Roberts” Cutter but she was in need of work and in Enkhausen in the Nederlands. When I first saw her she was for sale for £29,950 and dhe looked a lot of boat for thre money, they always do. I didnt have that much ready cash but I spoke to the owner and tried a number of deals to swap property or toys with money either way. I was dealing with a scrap man in Lancashire and so as good as I thought my negotiating skills where I was fighting out of my weight,
As the UK winter closed in (For those not in the UK winter is a bit like the miserable summer but even colder and wetter) I noticed that the price had fallen to £27,500 I had just sold my house and was cash fluid , I had also taken on a deal with a marina that would enable me to store and work on anything I wanted to without charge for a period of 2 years. Simple, sail the boat to the UK and drop it on a low loader and bring it to Nottingham not far from where I lived. When you say it like that it sound pretty easy.
I had managed to get the deal in writing and so planned to spend the gap between Christmas and New Year in Holland and get a chance to stay on this boat to work out what was involved.
At this point I should point out that the boats name was Acheivement and Colin (Tonks) my uncle was in this with me. We where looking forward to the drive to the Nederlands as much as Christmas its self, that a lie I hate Christmas and find normally its the cheapest day of the year to fly any where, Friday the 13th is also a great day to fly!
Well, the boat had ben “Subject to a small panel fire” and the smoke had perculated around the boat. We are not scared of a little work , it’s better if someome else is doing it but a little hard work “never hurt anyone….” The Dutch Fire brigade had done sterling jod of smashing the windows and filling the boat with water. You can see on the picture above the front 6 windows are “Boarded up”
A few phone calls and a few tears later and Chris the scrap man accepted £13,500 I was a the owner of a boat in Holland! As quick as a flash I transfered the £5000 deposit to seal the deal and now it was time to plan my SV Delos trips around the world drinking rum in the Caribbean and time on sandy beaches with diving and photography taking most of my waking hours. How far was I wrong?
From time to time life throws you a curve ball, sometimes more than one at the same time just to keep you on your toes. This was one of those times, they say that “What does’t kill you makes you stronger!” This is Bollocks “What doesnt kill very often nearly kills you!”
In the space o a week the Marina deal went south and the scrap man phoned me and says “Really strange thing happened Mark, at the same time as you paying your deposit I had another deposit paid , only a few seconds before your money hit my account! So the fairest thing to do is to return your deposit.”
Now for now the reasons are not important but I had been in court in Wolverhampton and not had a good day, for those who know it’s about half way to Bolton and so I decided it was time to find the man I had paid my deposit to. I got to the street name where the boat boutique was but failed to see the entrance, time was creeping on and so i called Chris and asked if he had time for a coffee? He replied “pop in any time mate” I responded by saying that I am near a stinking shit hole that is full of ponds of black engine oil and I proffered the question “was this ant near you” He seamed surprised that I had made the effort to drive from Leicester to Bolton to see him..
Needless to say I was walked past the German Shepherds which actually wernt that feierce really and in to the office. We had that cup of coffee and chatted about German Sheperds and boats and confirmed that we where in fact “mates” To that end he was going to talk to the other guy and persuade him that he did not want the boat after all. The following day Chris called and said that he had talked to the guy and that he really wanted teh boat and that he would now return my deposit. I suggested that I kind of set my heart on this boat in Holland and really did want him to go through with this deal. Another day or two passed and Chris came up with a great idea to solve this dilema. We would both write to him with our best offer for the boat and he would choose the one that he fancied taking! What a great idea I cant understand how I never thought of that idea?
The followin day I decided it was time to help my friend out because I felt he lacked direction and that maybe I could distill his thought to make him see “the bigger picture”.
After all Chris we are mates and you know I would like to help you? well I have decided that I don’t want to take part in this odd sealed bid affair and that my idea was more practical. I explained lined that I understood that he wanted to do the right thing and that I was able to help. I said the best thing I can do is issue proceedings against you so that you can show the other guy how serious I was, Of course I wasn’t going to go all the way to the High Court with my order for specific performance, well not unless he decided to accept the other offer. I expected him to reply with gratitude what with me helping him with the problem, but he didn’t. In fact I would say I don’t think we where “mates” any more. I told him I would let him think about it overnight and would get the paperwork organised in the morning if we could find a way ahead.
Great news Chris the scrap man decided that he was prepared to sell me his boat and the story of “The Gnu” was born! I transferred the balance and now I was happy…
It was time to make a plan and I got an old sociopath buddy , Bill to help me out and so we drove back to the boat with coils of cable, instruments, tools and even a kitchen sink. Now Sociopaths get a lot of bad press but not all is deserved, by definition they have no care for anyone or their feelings which on the face of it seems bad. However, those traits often mean that you get a fair amount of work achieved, no pun intended! Bill, also had a good drink of OCD thrown in as well so as long as everything went his way you could be almost sure that things would go well! OCD is another under rated condition, I had one staff member who used to love organising the back of my BMW 320 Estate. It meant that during the week I could use the car like a skip knowing that by the weekend it would be like an operating theatre , back there! I may be speaking out of turn but now I think about it Helen was a Beacon of how I like to treat people she applied for the job as a polisher which sounds harmless. The polishing machines where so frightening that they where house in a concrete cellar so that they would not escape and attack children in the street. H was a little gal and I feared that the polishing machine might eat her and we would never see her again. Just the sound from these machines was terrifying! I said that I will show you the cellar and you can decide if you want to “Give it a go” To my shock she took to it like a duck to water and it was a full 5 years before she came out, and said “I’m on holiday for the next two weeks, when I come back I want you to call me Alan instead of Helen. Naturally I laughed nervously, Life doesn’t prepare you for things like this and I did what I do as a self defence and tried to make a joke… It didn’t go down well. I said ” I once thought about a sex change operation , I didn’t mind them cutting my cock off but I didn’t want my brains shooting out” Alan continued to work for us for another 5 years or so but I know that he never enjoyed the works Christmas party like the old days. I would get pissed and say each year ” I remember in the old days I would take H to the top of her street to make sure she got home safe and now Alan takes me to the top of my street to make sure I get home OK! It was from a different time and it was different then.
Back to Bill and the boat!
In less than a week the boat was a complete bag of shit but we had tested the engine running it hard for 4 hours on two occassions we had nav, vhf, life jackets and just about everything working. We are not talking fit out here just working. I said to Bill how much I had enjoyed working with him and asked if he was free next weekend. He replied anything you need! I replied well were going to fly over and sail the boat back to the UK and seeing that you know the boat inside out I need you “on board!” It took Bill nearly two more days to chack and double check all the work we had done, some how now that his life depended on it , it seemded that you could not be too careful!
We all flew out to Amsterdam that next week end and the legendry voyage back to the uk began! We set off at 4am to get ahead of the game and be washed out on the morning tide. It was a magical morning we left the harbour and made our way to the bridge that would swing open when we got close. It was 9am and I was loving every minute. Leaving and entering a port is an amazing feeling and after 20 years of sailing I still get a little buzz from the experience. I often think of Robin Knox Johnson who sailed round the world and when he approached Falmouth with crowds cheering was asked by customs ” And your last port of call sir? Falmouth he replied. Read his book, an amzing guy who could do understatement like a boss.
After the first 3 or 4 hours we where in the north sea and at that point you could feel the natural rythem of the sea, Bill felt it and popped that breakfeast back in to the sea. Its not kind to smile when you see someone being sick for several reasons , One is that I can when smelling sick be prone to the odd barf but because i have a very quick refresh rate it doesn’t hold me back, especially when going out on a small dive boat!
The thing that they say about sea sickness is true ” For the first 2 hours you are scared you will die and for the second two hours you are scared that you might live and have to endure the feeling”
The wind was now on our nose, the sun shining and Colin was in fine fettle on the helm and we were forced to motor, we were doing a steady 5 knots and I expected us to be heading in to the wash the following lunch. You can tell from his light hearted banter that Bill is sitting behind him almost turning him self in side out thinking about a fried brekkers!
Colin has been a truck Driver, a Fireman, A Stripper and a Roofer and so very little bothers him even staying alert and night. Bill by now was not interested in the fun we were having, didn’t want to do the sterering thing nor did he want the Mac and cheese I had prepared for him! The sun atrted to chase away the blues (not Bills) and the headed west to blighty.
I can remember but about this time there was a huge bang, It was n’t like hitting a container but it shook us! I looked into the water to try and sea what we had hit but nothing ,note to self to investigate later.
We worked on a watch plan so that Colin and I would do 3 hour watches and Bill would sit on deck with a blanky and watch us in between his knaps. All seemed well but some 50 miles out there was a hot wet smell that might have had an oily smell… I glanced below and the air had a faint blue mist in it. Colin was on the helm and I went below., it really wasnt good, I asked Tonks to drop us on to tickover and lifted the floor. My God a huge cloud of water vapour and smoke filled the cabin. I scampered up on deck like a rat. As i looked in to Bills eyes to ask a few meaningful questions I realised hat the lights where on beut indeed there was no one home
Night was closing in and there was not a soul in site, I decide to use the time to sail to the north in the hope of another long tack tha following day. without the engine we travelled 25 miles but not in the direction of Boston. I was starting to think that this may be a long trip, I was not to be dissapointed. We had provisioed the boat well and I was sure we had plenty for a 2 day sail and still enough for 5 days.
The day was not unpleasant but I was aware that Fosdyke was expecting us that afternoon. Cruisers often change their plans it is the nature of cruising. In this situation at this speed I knew that we could be tacking back and forth fro another day or so. It was at that moment a small plane flew by and then circled us. They called us on channel 16 and asked if we were ok. I explained the situation and that although not on holiday we had a plan and where ok. I asked that they contact the folks back at home and the boatyard to explain. All seemed a bit thunderbirds but what ever you say about the UK our coastal team is the best in the world.
The night came and the wind just died. In the morning Colin looked that the plotter for my watch and was convinced that I had sailed in a 3 mile circle because thats what the plotter showed. Of course it was just that we had been moved in a circle by the tide. With Colin on the helm we saw the first movement from Bill. His OCD had kicked in and it seemed that the gallon bucket of vomit was causing offence to he sense of smell. From my point of view he didn’t appear so steady on his feet and he dad converted quite a few litre bottles of water in to fish food. I didn’t click until I heard Colin shouting at him. In it’s self that is a atrange thing because as brutal as Colin can b e he is not known for shouting, the reason? Bill was tiptoeing along the deck slightly upwind of Colin and yo the untrained eye was intent on throwing the bucket in to the sea. Colin could sense that this Ballerina of the sea was going to cover him with almost 2 days of sick. Needless to say, he was stopped from his endeavour and he allowed the monster to sliver down the boat side and the young prince could once again fall in to his slumbers! The following afternoon he had taken on a new lease of life and was pestering to be useful, not!
By this time we had covered 120 miles and as far as it goes had passed the halfway point. On the morning of the third day I made the decision to run the motor on tick over with all the hatches open, at 3 knots it was conceivable that we would be tucked up in port by the following night. When we got to Hunstanton and the signal was picked up on my mobile and I thought it would be a good idea to contact the Marina and explain the situation so far. It appeared that we were further away from Fosdyke than I had hoped and we headed in to the wash.
Fosdyke is a great place with an interesting history buy the thing it is noted for his a huge tide and a bridge. “Fosdyke Bridge” id made of concrete and has and enormous steel buffer that as soon as you look at it reminds you of the worst You Tube boating videos you can imagine. we need and overhead clearance of 60ft and the bridge at hightide when yo are like to arrive is about 15.you can imagine this huge power of water forcing a sailboat under the bridge in a crushing motion like a car crushing plant forcing its victim under the water in a death spin until all the “sticking out bits” have been removed and become flotsam and jetsam.
We made good progress to Fosdyke and David offered to meet us at the mouth of the river so that we could have a controlles landing and not become part of the bridge! To this day I cant explain how it happened butthat under estimation meant than the power boat that was going to shepherd us in would not have time to get out as far as we were and then get back before the tide turned and so some tough decisions needed to be made. Both myself and Colin where getting tired and I decided the right course of action was to anchor off one of the sand bars and rest. The following day we would catch the incoming tide perfectly and moor at Fosdyke. Now here’s the memory test do you remember that bang that might have been an underwater container wel it wasn’t! It was our anchor leaving us with a last “fare well ” as it left…
I asked David his thoughts and he calmly said “It’s not a problem just call the coastguard, it’s what they do!” The next 5 minutes seemed to lasr forever. In 30 years UI had never contemplated calling the coastguard and here we where less than 2 miles from land thinking of calling the RNLI as a “taxi” By now we where out of the natural motion of the sea and Bill had come to life. My friend the master Mariner who had hardly moved for three and a half days was full of advice and criticisms of the journey. He had become animated as if some one had just switched the power on! Everyone and mean anyone can suffer from sea sickness and it is a fool who takes pleasure in seeing some one suffer but, Well better than me say bad things there is a pub in Norfolk called “The Church Warden” it is run by a group of ladies who conservatively are over 75 years old. When Bill walked in and greeted the owner in a condescending way she beckoned his face to hers and said ” Don’t listen to the little voices, there just running round inside your head up to no good” I think that says it all?
Back to the story and the part I was avoiding to protect the stupid (me) we had no anchor, we had an engine that was almost useless, we where all tired and it felt like we had been given the nod to call the RNLI. We contacted them on 16 and they despatched a small but powerful boat to tow us in. Of course the problem was that they also couldnt get in and out of Fosdyke with the tide being the way it was and so they took us across the wash to “Wells by Sea”. The feeling f you have never had it is a bit like being on detention our side the headmasters door (I am told) and once along side I certainly just wanted to sleep.
The following day I noticed a strand of nylon rope in the water and I pondered the thought that the engine may have overheated because we had picked up a rope along the way? I fished out my 2 mm shorty and had every intention of snorkelling under the boat for a look/see. the water was heart stoppingly cold ans as it reached my chest I decided that death froma heart attack would not be a fitting end for this particular “sea dog”.
I talked with the harbour master and he suggested that with having a huge and I mean huge long keel it would be possible to tow us on to a sand bank and let the boat dryout so that we could investigate the damage. So that what we did the following picture is one of my “burnt in memories!
We cut of the huge ball of cheap nylon rope that had welded its self in to a new substance never seen before that should be added to the periodic table. Afer this the engine seemed to have an effect on the boats ability to position it’s self in water!
We stayed at Wells for a couple of weeks too big to get into the inner harbour and so mooring along side in the outer commercial area.
All revived we returned to the boat , sadly Bill had decided he was too busy to come out to play, thats not true I forgot to post the invite and so we where a team of two!
Now the journey across the Wash in to the river and get the boat ready for its refit! All went well but there where forces at play! We arrived in good time and eased our way down the Welland. I could see that bridge about 200m ahead and the current hadnt “turned ” yet. We tied to an old wooden dock which had seen better days and decided to grab a bite to eat at the “Ship”. On our return the tide had turned and was now gently but firmly heading out. We wasted no time and got off the dock but alas we had found another blue nylon rope and it became a battle to get free. We approached our mooring with Colin on the helm. as we approached the pontoon I sprang “like a cat” on to the wet pontoon and in less than one split second I felt my 30 ton boat crush my thigh against the pontoon. The sound was like a splintering and then a “pop!” The pop was my thigh popping open and with that I slipped down in to the water. With the power of adrenaline I sprang on to the pontoon in time to see Colin drift back away from the Pontoon.
There are moments in life where micro decisions made by un connected people change the course of your whole life! I slipped my hand down my leg to find a new opening in my trousers as I slipped my hand in I realised I was slipping my hand inside ny leg! I managed to drag myself along the pontoon and up to the steel gate to stop people getting to the boats. amazingly the gate had trapped itself and the lock had not “clicked” closed. I dragged my self through a field of vegatables toward a mobile home with a light on. I knocked on the bottome third of the door and was greeted by a puzzled lookind guy who I much later learned was MateusCHECK He called the ambulance and I was aware I was loosing a lot of blood.
Colin un be know to me had run the boat in to the mud bank so that he could also call for an ambulance. It is a strange thing that you have thoughts that you can process so quickly when you need to. I knew I had to tell Colin that he was on his own and thatI was not coming back! I shouted I have broken my leg. While this ws not true it gave him all the inforamtion he needed to make the best decisions he needed to do. You remember things in strange ways but Colin has a knack of making decisions in the most amazing way. You could ask himif he wants tea or coffee and he make take 10 seconds to reply but on the other hand “shall we sail round the world could take five. Once set that decison is almost unshakable!
Here our stories diverge, I am now in the back of an ambulance with blue lights flashing and two amazing girls asking me questions and “chatting” I know realise that it was not my magnetic personality but that they where tring to work out my mental state! The time from getting in to the warm safe ambulance and the arrival at the Boston Pilgrim hospital seemed to be forever but in a really good way. I was amused by the ECG that was slowly printing out a record of what my heart was doing, in fact I was amused by everything, I asked could we have the sirens on as well as the blue lights but was told that “we only have the sirens on when we are moving”. The more I try to remember the more difficult it is … But , I do remeber two questions;
On a scale of 1 to 10 how much pain are you in, and answered 7. The angel that asked me that question said ” are you trying to be brave? “I said YES. The next question was Are you alergic to Morphine and didnt know but said NO. The paramedic clearly had forgetten the answer to her question because she asked On a scale from one to 10 how much pain are you in? I said I’m not in any painat all thanks and tell me can you write your phone number on my ECG?
I have tried buying Morphine in our village chemist but they just look at me disparagingly!
Mean while as my adventure was unfolding Colin was having his own adventure andthe RNLI from Skegness brought their super powerful brand new boat up the Welland and made my boat safe, they came back the following day to move the boat again.
In the morning I got to see the full carnage my leg had suffered and I needed a lift home. I called a mate, Rory Mcleod who drove all the way to the Pilgrim hospital and the adventure was drawing to a close.
The boat was lifted out and found her new home right next to the shower and shitters in the yard, How long could it take to refit a boat? there was a slight snag in that for the following 3 months I was almost bed ridden and the idea of climbing a set of ladders to get in to a boat just could not happen! The months past and the boat yard where understanding to my situation. They repaired the damage caused by the rescue.
The boat was ready when we where and it was not until spring that we visited the boat again!
Starting a job like this is a soul testing job! You start with a boat that appears to do all the things a boat is supposed to do and then you strip it out so it appears you have nothing, the logistics are one thing but the mental pain is another thing altogether. Don’t Do It! That’s not true but it’s not for the faint hearted.
The strip out should have taken a few days but as you dig you are stripping off layers like an onion. in fact it’s more similar than you might think, there are tears with every layer that you remove.
After the strip out comes the clean up!
To get the engine out was a work of art involving using a crane to dead lift the engine out. Over a period of years people modify their boats with all manner of stuff and these become traps to catch you out later. The oil in the engine was as black as soot and a lot of it spilled in to the bilges. He is an enthusiastic me being coaxed out of the bilges.
The engine out
We got the engine out to Tony who is a genius when it comes to Diesel engines. This one had managed to damage a ring and then score the bore on one cylinder. This meant re bore, new pistons. new rings and while youve got that far you might as well regring the bottom end and do the complete job, and so we did!
sails to be remade and repaired
Furniture to be made
Tony King made the furniture in the main cabin and then re upholster a complete set of seats and cushions to suite.
Engine to be refitted
Injectors to be refurbished
New oak console
New Oak Console
Rick built this oak console, which with hind site may not have been the best wood to use. After the instruments where fitted the wood expanded due to the wetter air found around October in the UK, this meant that some loving tweaking needed to be done after all the instruments where fitted
New Nav and lights
The Gnu holds 1500 litres of fresh water
She has twin 900 litre fuel tanks
New Cold water system
Main cabin wood work
Repair and repaint
I am no stranger to weeks spent in boat yards saying money by doing less skilled work. until now the biggest boat i have owned has been a Catalina 30. You would be amazed how much bigger a 48ft boat is? It actually works out with the different design of hull to be four times more area that my thirty footer.
New Soft Furnishings
Hifi and toys
The Dinghy is an ongoing story to date the tubes had developed a leak and the boat had been a tender from my Thompson 24 being only 2.3 metres. Clearly a dinghy designed for three people with a 2.2 HP engine will have little use on a boat that sleeps 8 people in 5 cabins. I have to confess, it does leak, it is too small and it’s 10 years old…. And I did run over it in my hearse one night in the dark! A hearse is a great vehicle if you have a boat. It has 5 seats and a cargo bay that is ideally suited to two people laying down and as many sails and long things you hay have. When I go anywhere men nod with appreciation and want to talk about the 4 litre engine and amusingly “Goth” girls ask if they can have their picture taken with it. I think its seen as a rebel thing but one thing for sure people love to talk about it! At the time of writing this section I am in Dubai and when I dropped her off the the airport parking the guy who was supposed to take her from me refused to drive her. Some talk of Juju and the spirits of the dead still being in the car!
Rigging The rigging is all brand new and it is something that carries more weight than you might
The last 10 day prep before lift off!
Back to the midlands for a last tidy up!