May 2016 to January 2017
Six months of hard yakka have trundled by.
Hard Yakka is a brand of clothing from down under. It’s very tough work clothing and the words are now synonymous for when you’ve been working hard, long and/or its been particularly tough going.
And I can honestly say the past six months have had some seriously hard yakka involved.
We finally departed Santa Fe, NM in May 2016.
After a long round of working towards getting a new home ready for Mum and Dad in-law we were on the road again. We were headed towards a new adventure that would hopefully define our life into the foreseeable future; rebuilding a boat large enough to carry us wherever/whenever in the world we wished to go.
However, first of all we needed to get this new/old boat of ours out of its resting place where it had been for the last 14 years or so. Then we would set her up in a new situation that would allow me to do the work necessary to launch her, and get her ready for exploring the world beyond the horizon.
So in May 2016 along with our two cats, the brothers ‘Portside’ and ‘Starboard’, we loaded our G30 Chevy van, the ‘Egg’, with our worldly possessions. We also loaded our Baja Bug ‘Buggles’ onto the modified car trailer and poured more worldly possessions into said bug; then we strapped on some kayaks and an outrigger canoe float because no journey feels right to use without playboats.
Soon enough we were highway bound for the place we fell in love with a year and a half ago; Pirates Cove, Josephine, Alabama.
It was an exciting time as once again we were chasing our own dreams, but after spending years in one spot and with hardly any travel or adventure, I was surprised to find my nerves were jangling with anxiety. What if the van broke down? or the trailer failed in some way? or if when we got to Pirates Cove we were told, ‘no we don’t really like you – go away’? or when we got to the boat we found some calamity had taken place and it was just a pile of ash or simply… gone?
I was worried about everything!
Yep, apparently that’s the way my mind works. There was a time when living as an edge dweller was my comfort zone. I really enjoyed the uncertainty of life in all its complexity. I lived out of my van and I taught outdoor education; risk assessment and management were part and parcel of my day to day life. A myriad of things can, and do, occasionally go pear shaped but with the right mind set and confidence in your skills and experience, the challenges were always welcomed. Now I found myself unnerved by circumstances that were once a norm for me.
Once upon a time, my wife and I had our own little business teaching canoe and kayaking skills, from introductory to instructor training level, even advanced expedition training. If ever there was the opportunity for things to go pollywompuss, taking a group of newbies in sea kayaks and teaching them how to play in the surf rates pretty high!
Anyway, the point being that now I was back to the stage of being scared of every little thing going wrong; in fact I was waiting for the ‘when it goes wrong’ not the ‘if it goes wrong’. In one regard I suppose it’s a healthy thing to go through; as a well skilled and experienced expedition paddler/instructor it was easy to forget how intimidating the world can be, and going back to this level of uncertainty has been a real eye opener.
So… we trucked the van, Buggles and the two cats down to Pirates Cove. And wouldn’t you know it… nothing failed. Nothing went missing and we were welcomed back big time. In fact reuniting with the people of this delightful hamlet gave me an emotional lump in my throat… not very ‘manly’ I know, but there you have it.
In the South
We unloaded the bug from the trailer at The Cove, then spent a few weeks decompressing and catching up, before we headed off to the boat in Texas.
Due to the scope of the project, we ultimately decided to move the boat to Alabama where we had found such a great community of people. To achieve this goal I designed cradles for each of the hulls with the ability to slide them up onto the trailer.
The cradles needed to be assembled under each hull and the center deck areas cut away. We then winched one hull onto the trailer and trucked it back to Alabama, then returned to Texas for the second hull. Each trip was 500 miles one way, for a grand total of 2000 miles, and again my anxiety about something going wrong was off the chart the whole time. In the end we only had one blowout on the trailer, a rebuild of the front brake rotor assemblies on the van, a rock crack in the windshield and a weld failure on the trailer.
Once set up in the new work area, the job of cutting away bad timbers, finding problem areas that were hiding during the first survey, and building a new dream began.
Luckily only a couple of places had hidden rot and for the most part the findings of my initial survey held true. Time had not been kind to the crossbeams nor some of the panels but for the most part it still appeared doable as project.
Working through the heat of summer and its attendant humidity was quite severe. For a while there, simply climbing aboard each morning brought on such perspiration that being hosed down would have produced no less soaking, resulting in clothing so wet that could literally be wrung out. One day, however, I came way too close to the point of no return.
After a few too many days of too much heat, obviously not enough water intake, and pushing long hours in the sun, it hit me. Mid afternoon that day the world would not stop moving around me, coming in and out of focus, vertigo and I found it very difficult to focus coherent thoughts. I sat in the shade for a while to recuperate and realized the effects were not diminishing. A good soaking with hose over my head was providing a small amount of physical relief but the sensory symptoms were not abating.
I very carefully drove Buggles back to the van where Casey was working, stupid I know, but in my defense my mind was on the blink. Stumbling, I got into the A/C of our van and sat down while trying to explain to Casey what was going on. As I was talking, the van walls kept pulsing around me and I was getting a bit nervous at this point. I asked Casey to walk me over to the showers so I could just sit in the cool stream of water for awhile. I seriously did not think I would make it walking on my own; I was way too close to dropping from exhaustion.
For the longest time after that episode it only took the smallest amount of heat exposure and I could feel myself quickly failing. It really forced me to slow down and work a little more carefully and with greater attention to my well-being. Through it all, I was drinking at least five or six liters of water a day, and only passing a very small amount of urine, so the amount lost through sweat must have been huge!
Back to crossbeams and other stuff.
There were areas under, and within, the beams where water had made its way in and rotted in sections, resulting in very weak joins.
When I discovered these, I became even more happy with the decision to remove the beams and change the boat to ‘I’ beams lashed with ropes as per designers specifications.
In contrast, some of the beam sections were so well constructed and glued to the hulls that removing them would require the entire deck and cabin section to be cut away. Rather than go down that rabbit hole I decided to cut away only part of the beam leaving an ‘L’ shape that has become a part of the mounting pads for the new ‘I’ beams. Should be super strong and has saved an enormous amount of work.
The bow section of the starboard hull, about four feet from the top of the bow stem to near the water line was rotted out completely. It got re-laminated and a new deck section and hull skin were laid in. It was very satisfying to see the two bows looking the same again.
There were plywood reinforcing laminations curved under the center decks where they joined to the hulls to provide strength and, I think, splash redirection to any waves that might make it that high.
As I began to remove these reinforcing pieces I found that water had gotten into the laminations and in places were as soft as a sponge. With the amount of water that poured out of the plywood at the first cut, it may well have been an end to the entire project because if it had soaked the inboard hull skins, replacing those would have been monumental. Luckily these reinforcement pieces were glued to the outside surface of the original fiberglass coating of the hulls and no water had made it into the hull skins themselves.
To provide full standing head room and give a little bit of rake to the side profile of the hulls which I find appealing to the eye, the two cabin roofs have had the center sections raised. It looks kind of like an islander trading vessel cabin of a bygone age, well to me it does anyway.
The deck area just forward of the two cabins have been returned to the original design height with curved hatches allowing easier access to the forward bunk areas. I can’t wait see what it’s like to sleep in there with the hatches propped open to the night sky.
It actually feels like I’m close to moving the hulls down to the beach while I build the crossbeams, finish off the painting and set up the new center decks.
At times I feel like progress has been painfully slow, but then someone points out the actual work time put into the project, after waiting for rain periods and cold weather to pass, (the rebuild is taking place out in open), and the fact that a month or six weeks was taken out to return to Santa Fe, NM to help family. Upon reflection I’m really stoked with the progress made and I am now enjoying any down time to focus on other areas of our life project… like writing and photography.
And so after six months of seriously hard yakka I can see a delicious light at the end of the tunnel; one that has sunrises and sunsets on beaches kissed by gentle tides and warm tropical breezes… and rum!