Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On the Slip

Life in London has gone on as usual, but there is the constant siren call of a beautiful big boat in the perfect harbour in Eyemouth, and once we had Christmas out of the way we were ready to answer it.

The excitement of seeing Heroine again got us up and on the road by 5 o'clock in the morning, and in Eyemouth harbour for late morning. Too early to say what time we got there. Not too many speed cameras..

Funny to think that the journey by sea took us nearly 5 weeks but by road, not long at all.

Heroine is up on the slip - sitting on her massive keel, and braced in what it called a cradle; and she is one heck of a big baby.

Since we have been away, all of the metal parts of Heroine have gone - the wheel house and deckhouse that made her face, all the cranes, mast, winches, engine, gear box, trawl gallows.

This photo is taken from the pointy-end, just where it meets the cradle and in the misty distance Jim (shipyard manager) and Skipper can be seen in discussion.

Another thing - I wonder if you remember (I will never forget) how we trundled over some rocks in a bay on the East coast of Ireland, well the reason that the keel was not damaged can be seen here - a huge thick plate of iron, that works like a shoe. Hob-nailed boot, really.

Rather unsettling picture of Heroine "headless". I suppose like a house the windows are the eyes and now she does not have any. This work was done back in the autumn, and I am glad I wasn't around to see it. The rufty-tufty boatyard foreman said it was a good thing too because I would have wept "like a gurrrl" , well, he only thought that last bit. Actually, just leaving her makes me blub. Almost as much as watching that lovely old film "The Ghost and Mrs Muir"; Rex Harrison as the spirit of a salty mariner haunting the beautiful Gene Tierney.

Old wheel-house - ready for the scrapyard. We have salvaged the old windows but whether they will be worth tidying has yet to be seen.

The capping strip, which is the edge of the boat that you can sit on has gone. It was fairly rotten because it had caught all the rain water from the old shelter-deck with nowhere else to drain. I am a bit worried because the tops of the ribs are exposed, and on one or two of them, I could pick bits out with my fingers so they must be a bit "gone". They are the bits sticking up all around the edge of the boat in the picture below.
All the superstructure missing must surely be a step forward but it feels as if we have less boat than we started with, until you look at it and see the tennis court-sized deck.

For Heroine-addicts - not that the combing around the main fish-hatch has gone, that is because this part of the deck will be inside the new deckhouse.

In the background here is the fishing harbour during the storms of this January. Eyemouth is one of the best sheltered havens but even Jim the shipyard manager said that the water in the harbour was "smoking". I hear that this means that the wind is so strong it is blows the tops over like a breaker and then creates thick spray, that looks like plumes of smoke.

During these storms a boat was lost out of Dunmore East (where we had dropped Lenny the ex-skipper of Heroine, from whom we bought her in summer 2005). This was awful news. Dunmore is a small fishing community and it is certain that everyone will have known the men who died - the father and grandfather of one of them had also both perished at sea. Another death was at Ardglass, where we moored on the ice quay in Eire - the father of a fisherman who had been lost the year previously. The father had been walking along the harbour wall and was swept out to sea by a huge wave. Hearing this makes fish and chips taste a bit different.

We found out that before Heroine was "slipped", instead of sitting 9 feet down in the water, there was only 3 feet that was wet. That was while there were still 10 tons of pig-iron and railway sleepers in her bilges, so without all this rusting metal she would probably float on a damp flannel. I am even more convinced that going to see in something that is inherently buoyant is a good idea. Steel is beyond the pale, I am afraid and apparently the hardwood iroko of which Heroine's sister boat "Valhalla" was built will actually sink, in plank form. We have beautiful oak and larch.
Of course, there is displacement and all that stuff to do with the physics of the thing, but it still makes for a more comfortable ride. In much the same way as I think that flying in a hot air balloon would be peaceful, because of its inherent floatiness.

Here is some of the iron ballast taken from the bilges, the old railway sleepers are there too.

(Eyemouth sky is not really pink nor, I must add, is any part of the boatyard, it is coloured in proper manly colours, such as rust and navy and grey. I need to tinker with this image..)

On the voyage to Eyemouth we could
not ignore the rumble from the propellor but convinced ourselves it was just a damaged blade and therefore a bit un-balanced. In fact, the propellor bearings were completely destroyed, so we will need to buy a new propellor shaft, bearings and maybe even a new propellor, but I don't know quite why.

We have sold the old Caterpillar to a great chap in Kilkeel (and the gearbox) and hope he gets good use out of it. I will be sad to have heard the last (literally) of it because the new Caterpillar (discarded by a fellow boatyard customer) is a higher revving engine and will therefore the tone will not be as deep and rich.

The existing propellor is barnacled and damaged, and might have been bronze at some point, and seems to be hanging onto the boat by a thread. Another reason for wild-eyed reminscenses at what we went through in our ignorance.

The great space left downstairs by the removal of the engine, gearbox, generator, fuel tanks is vast. The boat's ribs and planks are cleaner and very beautiful.

The oak has been steam cleaned and some of the original light golden colour is emerging. It is my dream to sand them all back to this condition, our shipyard manager thinks this is funny, he recommends coating them in some kind of black stuff, bitumen or something, no doubt a very practical step instead of my high maintenance plan.

In these pictures the revelation of the beautiful oak is starting. Some of the ribs have sisters - there is another partial rib lying alongside. I wonder if this is part of the original construction or because of damage in the past.

We are hoping to corner one of the chaps that built Heroine, but they seem reluctant to talk to us; one in particular who must be in his seventies. I plan to corner him in the fishermen's pub and ply him with drink until he yields to me.
On the subject of pubs and fishermen, we were delighted and flattered to be greeted by some of the Eyemouth fishermen on this - I think they now know who we are and that we are not just day-trippers.
We walked up the alley away from the harbour, and past the tiny fishermen's pub and we heard a "Heyarrite?" from a chap smoking outside. I have been swollen with pride ever since. It's a bit like going on safari and trying to be accepted amongst intelligent lions who finally throw a tiny bone in your direction.
No one who earns such a hard living under such dangerous conditions owes us any interest, so the open gestures of friendliness was just wonderful.
During the years before we bought Heroine, we read a great deal about the British Isles, through the eyes of foreigners, particularly Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux. I must say that between the hilarity of one and the erudition of the other, the overall impression was not good at all. I had not anticipated finding anyone in the UK who I actually liked, I expected them to be rude and selfish, like most Londoners, but with extra chips on their shoulders. How wrong I have been.
The very best love affairs start well and then continue to bring increasing joy joy at each discovery because everything one finds out about the new love is good and delightful. This is the way with Eyemouth. Not only is it home to the most perfect little fishing port (pop. 3500) but here also is gourmet ice-cream; Giacopazzi make about 20 flavours, in the way that only Italian Scots can, and down by the beach (more on this gem later) is MacKay's, who make Buccleuch Beer flavour, but more importantly where one is tempted to leap over the counter to bathe in their true vanilla sich is its double creaminess, an experience apparently slightly warmer than swimming in the North Sea in the winter, although I am determined to to it before February 2007 is out. The town beach is a sandy strand (well it would be) that runs in a crescent about half a mile long, ending in craggy and grassy cliffs.