Astrid – Chapter 6
Out of her element
‘Rot in the stern post and worm in the keel.’ – Captain Greg Larkin (April 2022)
Bringing a 75-tonne, 22-metre, 95-year-old wooden vessel ashore on a small slipway in a tight river harbour is not a task for the faint-of-heart, the inexperienced or the short-of-funds.
Yet eventually the Astrid lay secure in her steel cradle, dripping seawater on to the concrete ramp. The port operations manager and his two trusty staff had ensured that there were no mishaps during the slipping, although there had been an anxious moment or two.
Astrid used the pressure washer to clear the marine growth from the hull. The schooner hadn’t been out of the water for three years, and she was looking a little shaggy below the waterline. She also seemed somehow vulnerable, almost forlorn, out of her natural element.
‘It will be okay, old girl,’ whispered Astrid, as she gazed up at the Astrid’s bow.
The marine surveyor was Captain Greg Larkin from Portland, a retired cargo-ship captain, now a wooden-boat builder of some repute. He was a short, energetic man with iron-grey, curly hair, a ruddy face and the weary manner of a man who had seen a lot of vessels with a multitude of problems.
He sighted along the keel from the bow, then stood back to the side, regarding the vessel from various angles. ‘No hogging, no sagging,’ he pronounced at length. ‘So far, so good.’
Astrid almost felt that it was she who was under inspection, being sighted, prodded, praised and critiqued. They had already spent two hours on board: Captain Larkin clambering around with his torch, screwdriver and moisture meter, knocking on every frame and bulkhead, trying every seacock.
Now he fished around in his pockets for the trusty screwdriver, advanced upon the defenceless vessel with a determined mien. ‘Let’s see what’s what …’
‘There’s rot in the stern post below the waterline,’ he indicated, straightening up after half an hour’s poking and tapping under the Astrid’s wooden belly. ‘You’ll want to take care of that before she goes back in the water.’
‘I don’t like the soft wood around these bolts, here, here and here – not at all. You need to draw them, repair the timber, replace the bolts.’
Here we go, thought Astrid. The just reward for following my heart, not my head.
‘There’s Teredo worm in the keel, too.’
She felt the blood drain from her face. The dreaded shipworm!
‘… She’s taken the ground recently and a metre or so of paint has been scraped off here,’ he pointed at a section of keel towards the bow. ‘That’s where the worm has got in, see? Not too bad as yet, but it can only get worse. You’ll have to cut that out, right back to sound wood, and scarf in a new section of keel, ideally jarrah but spotted gum will do. It’s not a small job for an amateur,’ he hesitated, looking at Astrid enquiringly.
She nodded, giving nothing away, though her heart was pounding. So far, nothing too bad. But what next?
‘The hull is otherwise sound,’ he continued.
Otherwise sound! Sound! Astrid felt a wave of relief wash over her. She struggled to listen to the rest of the report. She felt a strong urge to hug Captain Greg Larkin, to lift him off his startled feet and whirl him around.
‘… but the aft starboard chainplate for the mainmast is badly corroded and needs replacing. The deck and superstructure are watertight under the GRP sheathing: no apparent issues there. The portlights and hatches are all in good order.’ He consulted his notes. ‘The spars, masts and rigging are not included in the survey. You should get them checked, though.’
‘The wiring,’ he paused, sighed. ‘The wiring is shot. But you knew that. All needs stripping out, replacing. I’d suggest a full suite of modern instruments: sonar, chartplotter, radar, but that’s up to you. HF radio is a must, of course … All the safety gear needs updating … The liferaft doesn’t conform to regulations.
‘The engine is in good order, as are the gearbox, the shaft and the screw. I’d recommend replacing that leaky old stuffing box with a modern dripless valve.’
He sighed again. Paused. Frowned at his notes. ‘You’ve already purchased the vessel?’
‘Yes, I have.’
‘Hmm … You’ve done very well, Mrs Hansen. Sixty thousand dollars is excellent value for a vintage yacht of this size and character – in this condition. With a few repairs, as discussed, she’s basically seaworthy.’
Jubilation! But he was still speaking …
‘If you don’t mind my asking: why was she so cheap?’
‘Oh, the previous owner wanted to renovate her – but he underestimated the cost. Ran out of cash and credit, the poor man, and needed a quick sale. Hence the low price.’
‘Ah. Well, his loss was your gain. Provided you don’t make the same mistake, haha! … I’ll have my full survey sent through to you by email. Upon payment of my invoice.’
‘Wonderful! Thank you again, for coming over at such short notice.’
‘You’re welcome. Good luck with her, she’s a beautiful little ship. Only the second Bermudan schooner I’ve ever surveyed. An unusual vessel for these waters …’
After Captain Larkin had left, Astrid gave Astrid an affectionate pat on her rounded stern. ‘We’re going to have so much fun together, smuk pige1,’ she whispered. On an impulse, she spread her arms wide and pressed her cheek against the yacht’s flank – before looking around, blushing, to see if anybody was watching.
Next week in Astrid:
Astrid brings cousin Lottie up-to-date with recent developments …
smuk pige (Dan.) – beautiful girl