Aaaah – the romance of the high seas… the smell of salt air, the wind in the sails, at one with the natural environment, free from the travails of daily life….versus the reality of a boating existence.
I am and have been a conservationist, anti-fossil fuel waste, organic gardener and farmer. I don’t use chemicals on my body, or much in my food. I spend my free time looking after the ocean and coastal environment.
But I have never been exposed to as many chemicals, toxins and poisons as in this boating life. We’ve spent the last week burning holes in expoxy painted metal often in enclosed cupboards – and absorbing all those beautiful chemicals through our skin and lungs. We then paint the burnt metal with firstly zinc paint, then aluminium paint, then 2 pack epoxy paint. All poisonous, heavy metals we are putting in the sea. The anti-foul under the water is a blend of posions so toxic that marine weed and creatures can’t exist on it. That gradually dissipates in the water over a couple of years, and needs renewing. It is so awful that full body suits, breathing masks and gloves are used to apply it. Even the rust spots on the deck are removed with acid. The Perkins engine scarcely uses oil – great… except that you replace all 17 l every 200 engine hours! Another drum of unusable waste.
All of this is done in a dry, hot, dusty yard where years of accumulated afore-mentioned poisons blow around and through yourself and the boat when the wind blows its customary 25 knots for most of the bloody day. There are old wooden boats with lead on their keels; there are dying fibreglass boats exuding fumes. Everything is dirty and /or toxic.
All surfaces inside the boat are covered with a delightful patina of grease and grit. Here on the hardstand we have to keep a low profile as living aboard is not condoned by any OHS authorities who may be lurking; so all waste water has to be collected in a bucket then surreptitiously dumped in a corner along with bottles of overnight piss.
Col’s stature is a great asset for working inside the cramped spaces of the boat. He reckons he thrives on toxic chemicals, and his pygmy status is perfect for working in awkward places! He has actually climbed inside the fuel tanks to physically wipe them out. He has been upside down in cupboards, teetering on pipes and hoses – armed with welder, grinder or other weapons of mass destruction. He claims a whiff of diesel or polyurethane will resuscitate him. We both spent some time yesterday upside down in the handbasin !!! trying to renew the bathroom plumbing. I spent an hour this morning getting a hose clamp on a recalcitrant pipe… one arm in each cupboard door, alternately squinting through the louvres to see the screw or having my nose 3 cm from the manual toilet pump inlet. Developing new skills is admirable but I really didn’t need these on my cv.
And everything takes sooooo much time. Welding plugs in exisiting underwater plumbing outlets sounds straightforward but each one takes several hours… to grind, cut, weld, chip, brush, weld, grind, paint, paint, paint. It IS important that these are perfect welds because holes in boats are not recommended.
Mind you, we have only been here a week, and hope to be out in another. Some boats are likely to remain here for the term of their natural life. Perhaps time is measured differently when restoring some of these beautiful old ladies of the ocean. One of our neighbours, a gregarious, amusing, part-time boat restorer is laboriously manufacturing (cutting, steaming, glueing, clamping) sliver-thin karri laminated ribs for his 50′ ocean racing beauty. She’s been in the yard for 18 months.
But, when we (I) start to lose heart, I only need to look around the yard…..there are reminders everywhere of what might have been.