Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Renovations in and out

Today’s post was supposed to be about renovations, about befores and afters. About the realization of a plan. Work completed. The light at the end of the tunnel.
And it is. Or it was, at least it will be. But for now I’m thinking of a different kind of renovation. A reshuffle, cobweb cleaning of the mind. The kind that comes over you on the morning of a birthday. The culmination of all the years and days and minutes that have lead up to this very moment.
I sit in my rocking bed, noises of my captain, best friend and one true love upstairs in the galley, fumbling around trying to make me a cup of coffee. I am deep in thought. Feeling warm beyond the sweat of my brow, feeling lucky and blessed and so grateful for all the experiences my life has crossed path with. For the love and love lost, for my children, travels, jobs, struggles, joys… and he pops his head down into the passage, interrupting my thoughts with two bottles of instant coffee – “this one or this one? Sugar?”
I am grateful for the day to day of life. I vow at this moment to make a life renovation to appreciate it all. The salt water splash on my bum in the dinghy rides to shore, the constant rain storms that won’t allow our towels to dry on the line for days at a time. These are part of what is offered, along with the beautiful moments.
I will always notice the way JW’s eyes change colour by mood and lighting and his wardrobe. This morning the green has separated and there is a glowing yellow radiating from his pupils, giving way to a deep soulful grey. I love him. This morning I can see his soul. Like a child, like me. We are two naughty children, dared to run away with our back packs and not much more, opting for adventure and insecurity, and there are times we cling to each other with a fear so powerful it knocks us over. But we get back up and scamper around, learning how to sail, to live island to island, one mishap to another, broken boat part to the next, creak in the mast, leak in the hatch.
We have recently completed some long discussed changes to make this boat our home. It has taken a lot out of us, spiritually and financially. But it feels like progress.
It feels like a home that could take us places. Far away places, both spiritually and geographically. And as long as I have his warm strong hand in mine, I’m up for the challenge and the ride.
Below, some pics of the renos:

Making due - trying to make the purple velveteen cordouroy sofa look ok...

Life during renovations

Life during renos 2

When they cut out the wall of one of our heads

All the innards are gone, right down to the hull - OMG, it's so thin! There are holes!!!

The completed top cupboard! My new pantry and linen closet!

The completed bottom cupboard - to be used for tools and captain stuff

Finally collecting Shiloh from her unnatural home - heading back to the water!

En route through the boatyard - good riddance!

The renovated saloon - new chair, upholstery, table, and cut off nav seat (on the left - now a cupboard)

A view from further back - including new suede stools for foot rests, storage and seating!

And a view to the right....

And here's Shiloh - back in the water, new graphics proudly displayed, and a happy crew onboard

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A little list of what to consider before buying your dream boat

Being ‘on the hard’ for boat works makes a person introspective when it comes to what’s important and what matters in a cruiser’s life.
Why are we going through these painful weeks of camping in an industrial yard with shared toilets and showers and enough dust to rival a north African desert?
Do we really need a washroom converted to cupboards or a hard top bimini to replace our old canvas one? At the risk of sounding like a cruising princess, I'd like to think, YES.
The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. We should have bought a boat with these things in mind. We should have waited until we knew more about what we would find important in a boat. We shoulda, we coulda, but then we might still be sitting behind desks, looking out the window and wishing we’d taken the plunge – literally.
Back in the day of boat research for us, we knew absolutely nothing about a life at sea. The captain took me aboard a few monohulls, from which I emerged utterly claustrophobic, suffocated by the dark wood walls and submarine feeling inside, and convinced, having never sailed on one, that they were not for me. So it was narrowed down pretty quick to catamarans. Captain looked at a lot of forums discussing the common problems with certain catamaran brands and it was narrowed down further. We eventually chose a charter boat, since we knew that we’d still have to work a few more years, and she would have to do some work herself in a charter fleet. Hence here we are with a Lagoon 410S2, 4 cabins, 4 heads (washrooms), making quite a few not-so-insignificant changes.
And here I am, ready to indulge in a list – in the hopes that future boat buyers will benefit from what we’ve learned in our humble corner of the floating world so far…
What to consider when choosing a boat to live in and on and love as a home:
1.     Storage space/cupboards – From the first time we stepped aboard the boat that became ours, I wondered where we would put things. We don’t have much of anything really, yet the storage still seemed an issue. This Lagoon has tons of empty cavities, but they are in the most inaccessible, un-user-friendly places. Both front cabins as well as the original crew bunks in the bow of the boat are 6ft deep holes. You either have to lift mattresses and huge wood planks, or climb down a small hatch on a treacherous ladder to get anything in or out. I’m sweating and I’ve got cuts on my shins just thinking about it.

2.     Beds – considering we spend half our lives lying in these, the level of comfort makes a big difference to feeling ‘at home’. This model Lagoon does NOT come with standard size mattress spaces, with cut corners and tapering sides, and so we CANNOT even think of buying a sprung mattress that all landlubbers take for granted. And so, it’s foam. There is foam and then there is foam. And we’ve tried all of them. And nothing compares to a bed with springs. Ah, what I’d give for a good old posturepedic… When we got to Trinidad I sought out a good foam factory and ordered the best. We were so excited. It had 5 inches of reformed industrial foam with a 3 inch layer of soft foam glued on top. I had it covered and delivered and voila! We now have an 8 inch high block of rock hard bedding. Sigh…

3.     Helm seat – if you are going to do any passages at all (which really, you must), then have a good feel for the helm seat’s comfort. Ours came without cushions either under or at the back. And having a shiny fibrelass finish means that any cushion you try to slip under you will just slide right on out. Also, this thing was obviously made for a man of about 6’ tall. My feet won’t reach the platform below, so the seat cuts off my circulation at the thigh and I basically cannot sit there for more than a few minutes at a time. So I have to sit night watches by standing or leaning, or popping up from the cockpit table below to look out by the helm and then back again, continuously. These things make a big difference to a peaceful passage.
The full extent of the galley
4.     Counter space – the galley in any boat smaller than 50ft is small to begin with, but the layout of our Lagoon is such that there is no more than a couple feet of counter space. When trying to cook – especially for more than 2 of us – it is highly frustrating to say the least. When you step aboard a potential boat to buy, imagine yourself in there, cooking up a dinner for you and some guests. Possible? If not, think hard. The cruising life involves a lot of time in anchorages and aboard. You need to feel that you are not camping, but in your home. Small doesn’t have to mean cramped.

5.     Galley/pantry layout, storage – this is sort of like points 1 and 4 above, but specific to the galley is where to store food. I was recently on a friend’s boat and happened to be watching as she got some items out of the cupboard for cooking. I was awestruck. “OMG!, You have eye-level cupboards! You don’t have to spend 30 minutes with your butt in the air, blood rushing to your head, sifting through cans to find what you’re looking for! So lucky!”  Simple things make such a difference to life on a boat. Have I already said that?
6.     Veneer/finishing – imagine you weren’t a big fan of wood veneer, and even less of a fan of a garish orange, fake cherry look. Then imagine your ‘home’ is completely kitted out on every surface in every room with it. Walls, cupboards, fake flooring… you get the picture. I’ve seen quite a few South African built catamarans, completely white, glossy finish gelcoat. Modern, simple, easy to clean. I love it. Some don’t. You need to know what you like as you will look at it every day.

The orangey, fake cherry look that I'm not the greatest fan of...

7.     Hard top bimini – In my humble opinion, its best to try to get a boat with a hard top awning/bimini. Ours came with a navy canvas one. It’s hot hot hot under her shade and the canvas loses the waterproofing every couple of months. As I balance precariously on top, roller in hand, reapplying the waterproofing chemical I think, ‘Sunbrella is great stuff but it’s not invincible’. This is the ocean and the conditions are harsh. Sun all the time, salt, wind, rain… And the fabric rattles against the stainless steel frame in anything above 10kts.

A nice, sturdy hard top bimini, retro-fitted on a Lagoon here in Chaguaramas

8.     The dangers of production charter boats – Charter boats are made with that purpose in mind. They are slapped together in a production line – seems kinda obvious. But this means they lack the finishing, the panache of boats built for the sole purpose of cruising. They squish in lots of seating – for those 4 couples who’ve paid their USD $2000 each for the week with their friends onboard. Same thing with cabin and head space. Lots of toilets, not lots of cupboards. Fridge that fits lots of beer, deep freezer that chows electricity. All thoughts of the one-week-long stay. Not the forever sail. 
The Lagoon 410 layout

In retrospect, we’d never have bought a Lagoon, nor a Fountaine Pajot for that matter. The good old, strong Privileges, Mantas, Catanas, seem to hold their value and their popularity as great cruising boats.

Here I am at the end of my rant, I mean list. And here we are in Trinidad, finally addressing most of the issues above. If you throw money at a boat, you can make her just the way you want. The more money you throw, the more you get.
But for those of you who haven’t bought your boat yet, maybe you could just choose the boat that you like as is. That fits your needs. That can take you around the world, safely and as comfortably as possible. Just a thought.