The other side of boating

Stormy beginning

Who doesn't know it – the following morning you will leave and should thus start packing your suitcases. Usually, not a big deal – but this time… When we got home after a long working day around eight o'clock at night, a bad surprise awaited us. During the day the storm “Burglinde” had passed over Switzerland, leaving a trail of devastation. Our 200-year-old little house wasn't spared either. The mailbox was destroyed, a window sucked out and shards scattered all over – and the covers for our garden beds and various plants are still missing as of today.


After cleaning up the mess and packing our suitcases we hit the bed – only to be woken up four hours later at 3 a.m. because our flight was scheduled to leave at 6 a.m. Fortunately, Ben's sister (thank you again!) drove us to the airport and everything went well. With the time gain we landed at eleven a.m. on Santa Maria on the Azores. Greeted by a blue and sunny sky with temperatures around 20°C we first had to change our clothes.


Since there was a lot of work on our schedule (working holidays - yeahh) just about everywhere in the boat (including epoxy painting), we had decided on renting a small apartment. That way we could leave the mess in the evenings and sleep in a clean and restful place.


Lorena (Detlef's wife and owner of the apartment) was waiting for us at the airport and drove us to her place. The property is located in a quiet spot on the northern coast 200m above the ocean. Although very remote, it takes only 15 minutes to town and the marina. After unpacking and sorting out the material we drove (an old Jeep is included in the apartments already cheap rent) to the marina, with a tense feeling like every time, when you see your boat after a longer time. Will be everything ok? No damages or water inside?


But the concerns where not necessary - Ricardo, the owner of the shipyard, looks well after the boats. Except for some mold in the rearmost corners, everything looked good. Time to start preparing the upcoming projects. To get to the planned working places, it is often necessary to take apart half of the boat... This time we had to dismantle the exhaust, petrol container, water pump, toilet, lots of boards and pipes. Et voilà, after an hour there was a big mess everywhere.


Still a bit tired from the long day, we decided to finish a bit earlier and drove back to the apartment. There, on an estimated four hectares, two horses also live as well as eight geese and three dogs and they can walk almost anywhere. Danielle wanted to see the horses, so we started the search, following a small and steep trail towards the sea. It's logical, of course, that the horses were feeding in the rearmost corner, right by the side of the ocean. We were astonished, at how surefooted they moved in the steep and rocky landscape.


Long days

The next days, respectively two weeks where all the same. Getting up between six and seven, eating a hearty breakfast (hashbrowns, bacon and eggs), driving to the marina and starting work until seven in the evening. Besides removing some smaller rusty spots, it was necessary to paint the black water container with a special dye. But the biggest challenge was the replacement of the nine seacooks and an adaption on the draining of the cockpit. The old pipes and welding connections were rusting away, and you never knew if and when they might break.


First, we had to cut out the pipes, so we could drill a new hole for the fresh seacooks with a big core. As usual there was very little space for us and our tools. Because some of the pipes where still 4mm thick, it took some time, namely more than an hour to cut through each. Due to the many electronical installations in the areas we worked, it was not possible to work with a cutting disc – the very fine metallic parts would be everywhere and start rusting.


In areas with more than one seacook, and where the plates of the hull where very rusty, we decided to cut out bigger plates with a jigsaw. With special sawblades it went surprisingly well and took only one minute for half a meter through 4mm thick steel. The next steps were to adjust the new plates and weld them in place. Then came the preparing / cleaning everything for the painting jobs.


With all this work, the days passed incredibly quickly. Usually around noon, we stopped for a coffee and a piece of homemade cake in the near bar (for a total of three euros and twenty cents). Mostly Detlef, who also worked most of the time on his own boat, was there too. Almost sixty years old and traveling all over the world since he was fifteen years old, there were a lot of nutty, but interesting stories and theories to talk about. Eight years ago, he arrived with his girlfriend on Santa Maria and decided for the first time in his life to stay in place. Meanwhile, they got married and have a one-year-old son. Detlef is conducting construction work on the island for pensioners from Germany and Austria, who purchase ruins for restoring and spending their retirement here (because everything is so cheap, you only need 800 Euros a month). He also owns a famous tatoostudio in Germany, where he works a few weeks a year.



Next, we had to clean out the bilge of the engine room. For the first time since 1980 we took the 200Kg engine out last fall for accessing the space below. There, quite unexpectedly, was little rust – due to the spilled oil and diesel which served like protecting layers. So, there was only little rust to remove – but a lot of work removing the greasy layers. The concrete in the bilge (ballast) was socked too with oil. Every time we ground it away, five minutes later it came back out of the concrete. We then tried to make a blocking layer with acetone, working with a lot of ventilation and the diving bottle for breathing. With almost a liter per square meter it worked out not bad.


The next five days we were occupied with painting the new plates, black water tank, engine room and the cleaning small parts everywhere. One procedure took six to seven hours – we had to work carefully with the unhealthy epoxy paint (lot of ventilation and more than ten refillings of the diving bottle). You also had to be careful to not step into, or rather sit onto the newly painted spots, which were everywhere.... Because we had to wait ten hours for the next layer of paint (six layers in total), we often started painting at seven in the morning to be able to put on the next coat at five in the evening.


The weather too was not very helpful. There was also outside painting to be tackled in between the unpredictable showers. Asking the locals about the weather forecast, the answer was always the same; tem olho para céu – you must look up and you’ll know how the weather is... The temperatures at 15-20-°C were very agreeable for working. Most of the time it was also dry with only short sequences of light rain and some wind (but very humid inside the boat).


Again, we were very happy that the people on Santa Maria are so helpful. Particularly Detlef knew where you could get any material or what the best ways of application are. Joao too, from the local nautical club, even came on a Sunday down to help refilling our diving bottle. Also, people we met last fall came over for a visit to the marina to drink a coffee.


Every evening after work, we went to the two stores to buy a nice piece of meat for cooking at the apartment. Again, the prices were amazing. A kilo of veal filet 24 Euros / beef steak 7 Euros.


Day off

The second Sunday, we put in a break. After finishing with painting around two p.m., we drove off to visit Pico Alto and the nice village of Maia on the eastern coast. It's a beautiful drive across the island. Because of the daily rain, the landscape is greener and more colorful than in the sunny summers. The place is also very tranquil, because the tourist season will not start before June. In the restaurants, not much was going on too. The owner, an older funny woman who went to the States as a girl and came back some years ago, told us, that she hadn’t had the time yet to get food for the kitchen. But she had some fresh meat, cheese and bread at home which she would get for us to make grilled sandwiches. While we were waiting, Joao from the nautical club, who was also passing his day off at a friend’s house in Maia near the restaurant, came inside very excited, to tell everyone that there was a whale with her calf swimming unusually close to the store. And true enough, the two were passing between a fisher boat and the coast, only 40 meters away.


Stormy ending

Although we had worked up to 13 hours a day, it was getting close to the end. We still had to glue in the new seacooks with sikaflex and clean up the big mess. But it all worked out in the end – two hours before our flight, we were just able to dismantle the old propeller and put it in the bag to take home for making the calculations for a new one. The woman at the counter at the airport couldn't believe that such a small bag would weigh more than 25 kilos :-)


The weather forecast for the area between Lisbon and Zurich looked awful. Throughout the day airports in the northern part of Europe cancelled most of their flights. For eleven at night, when our plane was scheduled to land at home, more than 60 knots of wind were forecast.


However, thanks to the wind who was blowing from the west, the landing started one hour earlier (the flight usually lasts 2.5 hours!) than usual. In the beginning, Danielle found it kind of funny, when the plane suddenly went up and down, or even sideways. But the nearer the lights came the quieter she got, and the atmosphere grew tenser. The plane still moved from one side to the other, when we lined up with the runway – and we felt much faster than usual. But the pilots did a nice job and we put down with almost no impact.