Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Step in, step out

Peter, the crane driver, and Alex...before the mast went in
A couple of days ago I put a bottle of Pommery in the fridge. Believe it or not, we haven't drunk a drop of champagne since we arrived in France three weeks ago.  Last night was to have been the night. Enki would look like a yacht again.  Yesterday was the day she was booked to have her mast stepped. As it turned out, it wasn't a night for champagne. Let me explain.  

There was too much wind yesterday for Alex to feel easy in his skin about driving Enki for only the second time in the tight confines of the marina. He worried about angles and fenders and lines all day until the moment came, and there was nothing for it but to fire up the ignition and get the boat around there. Step one: he had to manoeuvre her alongside the concrete dock, right underneath the crane. Step two: when the job was done (it'd take no more than half an hour to tighten everything up, Markus said), he had to bring her back into the berth, in reverse, and now with the extra windage of her heavy rig to take into account.   He did a fine job, both going in and coming back in.

It was the unexpected happenings at the dock which kept the cork in the neck of the Pommery.

Enki's mast is massive. It took me the best part of two days to scour the grime off it with a Scotchbrite pad, and then rub a fine layer of protective paraffin oil into the cleaned-up aluminium. Here it is being lifted off the dock by the crane, driven by an exceptionally affable Belgian named Peter.

The mast had come out late last year because we had ordered new standing rigging - that's the stainless steel wires which support the mast.  As well, we had asked Markus to put the inner forestay on a furler, an arrangement which we had on Kukka and which we like very much.

Marcus has a reputation in the yard for being a meticulous guy. In fact, Alex decided to replace the rig here in France rather than in Turkey at the end of the year after he'd seen Markus's workshop. He was bowled over by how tidy it was, and how well organised. In all his dealings with us thus far, Marcus has been faultless. But yesterday, he admitted, he took a short-cut, and paid for it dearly.

It was exciting to watch the mast first being raised and then lowered to hover just above the deck.

I found myself envying the skills of men who work with such sureness and confidence around heavy objects and machines. They shout, they move their arms, leap from boat to dock, they laugh and point.....and the machines, which can swiftly crush and maim if mishandled,  do their bidding.

Stepping a mast is an everyday event in a boatyard, but the wonder of it is enough to make a man on his bike stop, and stare for many minutes in admiration.

A couple of Swedish riggers whom Markus had roped in to help, and his German mate Michael, tightened up the forestays. We were in business. Or so we thought.

The mast was dropped into place on the deck, the boat visibly sank in the water, and the riggers unwrapped the shrouds. We were watching from the dock, and sensed some confusion, something about the shroud being short. In the cabin of his crane, Peter waited, his face unconvinced by what he was seeing. Then with a bit of muscle, and help from the agile Swede who clambered to the first set of spreaders, the shrouds on the starboard side were screwed into place. The boat shuddered down into the water again. 

Then body language of the guys above tells the story of what happened on the port side. There was no way they could make it work. There was not enough length in the shrouds. There hadn't been on the starboard side either. The rig was horribly strained. And so they pulled it down.  Markus held himself together, but he was furious. "Well, it's either my mistake or theirs," he told us. "I'm sorry, but I need this even less than you do."

Half an hour later, he called us over to where the mast had been wheeled, and with a kind of grim satisfaction showed us that his measurements were correct. The new rigging, when laid against the old, fell considerably short on the side shrouds. The fault lay with the manufacturer, Sparcraft, which had mixed up two digits.  His order read 5530 mm. The shrouds he'd received measured 5350 mm. But he wasn't completely off the hook, he said. He'd run out of time that day to measure every piece of the new rigging against his order. He had two lengths to go, but Peter was waiting with the crane, and he was doing him a favour by working a public holiday. The two shrouds he didn't measure were the two which were short.

So, we still have some champagne to open.


  1. It made for a good story. Though I imagine that's not much consolation...

  2. Oh dear. The trials and tribulations of boat ownership. We never fail to be amazed by how much 'Murphy' can still upset events. A simple transposition!!! We hope the rest of your fitout is free of Murphy.