Before the Tide Turns, a Boatyard Update

“Cruising is just making boat repairs in exotic locations.”
This is a popular saying in the sailing community, but one which we have never adhered to. (And, don’t even get me started on my dislike of the term “cruising.”) Yes, travelling and living on a boat dictates that maintenance and repairs will have to be made. However, if you view your time on board through this lens it will become very tedious, very quickly.

Instead I prefer the adage, “A sailor’s plans are written in sand…at low tide.”

This little ditty reminds us that nothing is permanent, and that we must be flexible. When life comes along and erases your plan (and it will) you always have the opportunity to rewrite it when the tide of confusion recedes. It is particularly helpful to remind yourself of this when in the boatyard, a place where almost nothing goes as fast or as easy as you want it to.

Cracked Engine Mount

We returned to Kate in December, full of hope and renewed spirit, ready to tackle the huge task of removing the engine for a full rebuild. It wasn’t until Steve got stuck into freeing the engine from the engine bay, in anticipation of the crane that would be needed to lift it out of the boat, that we discovered just how lucky we were to have limped in under our own power at all. Not one, but two engine brackets were cracked!

Manually lifting the engine out of the engine bay with a little help

Surprisingly the removal of the engine went smoothly, no damage done to the engine, the cabin or anyone’s backs. By New Years it had already been carted off to Manila by a engineering firm who we hired to do the rebuild. When the estimate came back we were happy to learn that there were no big hidden problems, which meant it would only be slightly more expensive than we had expected and there would be no time delays. It sounded like we would be back in the water by late February.

The engine finally returns

But February came and went, and our engine had yet to be returned, which meant all the projects that needed the engine in situ to be completed (the fitting of the new prop shaft, strut, prop, stern gland and coupling) sat idle as well. After 9 weeks, and a whole lot of frustration, we had the engine back in the boat and Steve was busy fitting of all the necessary bits to get us going again.

And then the phone rang.

A job offer for the month of April. A chance to replenish the Get Away Fund, which had recently been depleted due to our engine works. With the boat on the hard it was an easy decision. Although I did not look forward to another 4 or 5 weeks of shared bathrooms and hauling water on board, things could have been worse. After a few somewhat luxurious nights in our favourite cheap Manila hotel I dropped Steve off at the airport and returned home, list of projects in hand.

First up was painting the vee berth, a task better suited to one person living on board as two people sleeping on the sofa together is a little tight. Despite the sticky hot weather and occasional afternoon rains the painting went well. The new space was dressed up with a freshly dyed set of sheets and a thorough de-cluttering. Since we had done a big reno on the head only a few years before everything forward of the mast now sparkled and shone.

Then a few surprises. I made new curtains for the main salon and while the sewing machine was hot made a set of slip covers for the sofa. I finally found a fixture that would fit under the cabinet in the galley, so I replaced the tap that had been jury rigged several years ago. Unfortunately, these few, new bright spots made me realize that the paint in the main cabin was quiet badly damaged and yellowed but with Steve ready to return there was little that could be done. It was May. Time to get the last of the engine related projects done and back in the water before we forgot what it felt like to be afloat.

Steve worked like a demon, and all his careful measuring and planning were paying off. The engine alignment went smoothly, and the new coupling fit together. His fibreglass job to reduce the stern tube (the hole in the hull where the prop shaft exits) cured properly and the new stern gland slipped on without problems. Even the stressful, and time-consuming task, of manually cutting the new strut, making a backing plate and drilling 8 new holes in the bottom of the boat went to plan.

Which is why we should have known that something was up.

Our freshly written plans would once again be licked by the tide of life when other job opportunity presented itself. This time it would be for the months of July and August. I have to admit that I was starting to fray at the edges a little. We had both been feeling like a fish out of water for a while, but now it was getting hard breathe. I feared that if I volunteered to stay by myself for another 8 weeks I might run out of oxygen. But logically I knew that it would be fool hardy to decline.

After the crew morale recovered we regrouped at the low water line, stick in hand, ready to carve out another plan. Steve must have noticed the flicker of impending insanity in my eyes because over beer one evening he said he that he would accept the position, but only if I agreed to travel with him. I knew that my plane ticket alone would cut into his take home pay, but I also knew that money can’t buy you happiness…or sanity. I agreed.

With more than a month to burn before the job started we decided against putting the boat in the water, despite all our projects being completed and both of us champing at the bit to get sailing. Not only would we have to haul again in a few short weeks (an exercise that is ridiculously stressful for me when one starts to consider all that could go wrong while in the travel lift), but we would have to antifoul both now and then again when we splash in September. The smart thing to do would be to just stay put.

And we did, or rather Kate and I did. Steve took advantage of cheap airfares and went home to visit family and take care of some business back in Australia. Or he did after I convinced him that he needed to recharge his batteries. Although he spends more time away from the boat than I do he rarely gets to take a break. While away he is working long hours, and when he returns there are all the problems and responsibilities of boat life to take care of. I knew that he was burning the candle at both ends and that he needed a little time surrounded by the sights, sounds and people of home.

Meanwhile I would get to finish painting.

Which would put us in the envious position of having all the mechanical AND cosmetic projects ticked off our To Do list. When we finally splash we can both just relax and enjoy sailing. Hampered only slightly by an unseasonal typhoon in the area painting the main cabin went well. Bolstered by my success I also installed a new headliner, a few new cabin lights and managed a few coats of varnish on the nav station and dining table. The boat has never looked better.

Earlier this month Steve and I rendezvoused in Manila and flew out from there. Kate is still in the boatyard, safe and sound, buttoned up and waiting for our return. On paper we have very little to do before we are ready to launch; a few coats of antifoul, a couple bolts to nip up, some provisions to buy. Will things go according to plan? I don’t know. But after all these years I know we can keep our heads above water, even when the tsunami of chance is on the horizon.



8 Comments Add yours

  1. Bruce&Anne says:

    You‘re an amazing couple H&S and I have nothing but admiration for you both. Have a great break, n‘joy your time back in Oz, and come back refreshed and ready for the big splash.

    1. Heather Francis says:

      Bruce & Anne,
      I thought of you while writing this one, you are always such cheerleaders! Steve enjoyed his time in Oz, although maybe not the cold, grey Vic winter days. Very much looking forward to “the big splash.” Hope all is well with you two and life in the yard in France (?)
      Thanks again for your kind words,

  2. I may be opening Pandora’s box here, but I’m curious about your thoughts on the term “cruising”? As self-described commuter-cruisers (7 months on the boat someplace warm, 5 months on land working), we’re curious. Is there a stigma in so.e areas that we’re not familiar with, perhaps?

    1. Heather Francis says:

      Hello Keith & Nicki,

      The OED defines cruise as: A voyage on a ship or boat taken for pleasure or as a holiday. I have always found the word “cruising” to make life on board to sound rather easy-breezy and vacation-y, when really it is hard work. There are wonderful, lovely times, but like anything worth while you have to put your back into to make those times happen, and to be able to enjoy them. “Cruiser” and “Cruising” are north american terms, and there is a culture associated with them. Many other places just say sailor or yachtie, and that has always felt like a better fit for us. Perhaps when you peddle words for a living they matter in a different way. Thanks for reading!
      Safe Sailing,

  3. Laura Masterson says:

    Thank you, Heather for your very honest post. Good timing for us to read your account. We spent about 10 months and most of our money hauled out to strip and dry out the bottom of Pacific Hwy to finally deal with a recurring blistering problem and also paint the hull. It’s surprisingly difficult to explain to most cruisers why we invest so much time and money in our boat (for many boaters in this part of the world, the boat is a second home, used only part of the year). Finally splashed last week and, on the 50 ft. journey from the lift to the dock, our 30 year old engine decided to call it quits. We are now looking at another 2 months at the marina waiting for a new engine to be built and shipped. I like your line, ‘when the tide of confusion recedes’, we will write a new plan in the sand. We are grateful that our engine picked a good location to die (not a remote atoll or tiny island nation). And it’s good to know that we are in good company! Looking forward to future posts.

    1. Heather Francis says:


      So nice to hear from you two! I can very much imagine last week after all that time on the hard and you finally get her wet and then…I hope there was a beer and a sympathetic ear. I have always found it difficult to explain our plans, or lack there of, or constantly changing plans to others. As if life is some grand plan that always goes the way it should? Boats are boats; they demand time and money, and occasionally sweat and tears, just as any good life does. Rest assured you are in good company and that some day you will tell this story over drinks and laugh about it. Until then, best of luck with the re-power, and staying sane. At least you are floating and free from that unsettling fish out of water feeling. Thanks for reading, and taking the time to write.
      Safe Sailing (eventually),

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