Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The right place, the right time, the right people

This afternoon, "Kotor's best" trooped on board Monty B. Onlookers thought we were having a party but there was little fun to be had. The visitors included the owner of the Kotor shipyard, a boat surveyor, a translator, Tim's colleague who is extremely knowledgeable and our friend Dave (ex super yacht skipper) who had arranged it all.

The outcome, after much poking about and serious faces, is, as suspected, that the rig is too tight for the boat. The mast appears to be sinking which could, as you can imagine, have some serious consequences. Why the rig cannot take this level of tension is another matter. There is possibly some rot in the deck around the mast step. Until the mast is taken down, it is impossible assess the extent of the problem.

However, the upside of all of this - and believe me, we were very happy with the outcome - is that it is fixable. As a temporary fix for the summer, the shipyard will be lifting our mast with a crane while we are still in the water and putting in a temporary support. The downside is that we are not going to be able to sail all summer.

In the autumn, the work begins in earnest. The plan is for the shipyard to build a cage-like structure to strengthen the inside of the hull and it will become an ocean-crossing beast. The work will be extensive and require the removal of much of the internal fittings - boo hoo - but the end product will be an incredibly strong boat with all its leaks fixed and we will have gained new skills and knowledge.

The most positive part of all of this is the warmth and support that everyone has shown us. The shipyard fully appreciate our financial and personal situation and said "How can we charge them?". They have offered to do the job at cost - with us working full time on the project. Unbelievably generous. They have also offered to teach me how to do glass-fibre work and will show me how to fix the damage on the stern.

We couldn't be in a better place to get this work done. A proven shipyard, a formidable team, a personal approach and an acceptance into the sea-faring brethren.

Interestingly, as the rig was loosened off, the hull let out some mighty cracks and immediately began to fall back into shape. There is still some distortion but nothing like it was. There is still a case to be answered on this one I think but we are not looking for anyone to blame (at the moment!).

We are just relieved that Monty B will live to see another day; albeit after a summer of floating rather than sailing (gutting - but even more incentive to get a few crewing jobs under my belt).

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Potential nightmare scenario 1

I have finally finished removing the green stripe from Monty's port side - hooray! Hours of sanding off revolting green paint by hand, whilst balancing precariously in Billy (the RIB) and getting soaked with freezing cold sea water have finally paid off. From the quay, the port aspect of Monty B looks strangely plain without its flamboyant green - but it is a big improvement.

However, the sense of fulfilment gained from a job well done has been over shadowed by my discovery whilst hull scrubbing yesterday. There appeared to be a large indentation in the hull, directly in line with the shrouds holding up our rig. Umm, that's a bit odd I thought. Hoping that it was a poor repair job from some previously undisclosed collision, I checked around the starboard side. Umm. This wasn't good; there was an identical bow in the hull on the other side. Coupled with the (seemingly ever increasing) dent in the deck around the mast step, this was irrefutable evidence that there was something going badly wrong with our boat. The pressures from the rig appear to have warped the structure of the boat. We had the rig tightened before leaving Greece.

A friend of ours, an ex-super yacht skipper and font of knowledge of all things marine, came to look at it today. Upon inspection, his expression was grim. He is arranging for the king of all things marine in Montenegro, the owner of the Kotor shipyard who has built boats for decades (as did his father and his father's father), to come along on Tuesday with an interpreter to cast a professional eye over the problem. We have also contacted Northwind - the boat builder - to see if they can shed any light on the problem.

We don't know the scale of the problem as yet or even what the underlying problem is. The rig could have been over tensioned but what is more likely, is that there is a structural weakness that has caused the hull to flex once the rig was tensioned up.

The upshot of all this is unknown but the outlook isn't too good. At best, we are going to have to shell out a great deal of cash to get this sorted. At worst, it is unfixable and we will have a boat that we can't sail and can't sell. And our dreams will be in tatters.

It is impossible to contemplate the latter until we know more.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Clouds and silver linings

The glowering clouds are wreaking havoc as they travel northwards and the water of the Boka is a deep emerald green as the mountain streams send their mineral rich, icy waters into the bay. The weather, once again, has turned unpredictable - or maybe I should say predictably stormy. The last few weeks of February were warm and sun-filled. Spring definitely felt like it was on its way with blossom sprouting and smudges of green softening the limestone crags. But March - The Old Lady as the Montenegrin's call it - has arrived with a bang. Literally in many senses: high winds sending us banging into the quay and dramatic thunderstorms streaking their way up the bay. The deep, resonant boom of thunder is incredible, bouncing off the mountain ampitheatre that surrounds us. The dogs aren't too keen, mind. We've had a couple of nights of wet and windy 3am missions on deck to pull in the anchor/lazy lines and add some extra security. 'Tis all part of the fun.

So, we've had some elemental drama - but none of this beats the drama onshore. The Base Manager left last week. He and family packed up their boat and left Montenegro which was a massive shock to both us and the company. There were lots of very good reasons for their decision and we support them completely but it left us in a potential pickle. They were the primary reason for us being here and we knew there was no way Tim could do the job alone - both in terms of volume of work and the technical expertise required. We were also going to miss them as friends; we'd spent every day with them since coming here so it's been pretty weird not having them around. I can't say much more about the situation for obvious reasons.

We were pretty gutted as it looked like we may have to leave too. Tim loves his job (weirdo) and is very keen to see out the season here. It will be invaluable experience. We have also started to make some friends and have suddenly acquired a fully-fledged social life. This is always something I am going to struggle to do without; that much I have recognised in the last 8 months. We also love this country. It is a place of unpolished beauty which drips history from every stone and we are no way finished here.

So, we decided to stay and see what happened. And so far, things are actually looking quite positive. The company have recruited a local engineer (who Tim is currently out beering with) who knows his stuff and due to his Montenegrin language skills, seems to be good at persuading other Montenegrins to get things done (funny that!). So for the moment, we are quite optimistic that we will be seeing out the summer here afterall. Hooray!

One of the better parts of Tim's job over the past month has been taking boats back and forth from the boatyard in Tivat for haul-out, cleaning and anti-fouling. I have crewed on several jaunts and it has been brilliant getting back out onto the water. The highlights have included getting the sails out on a top of the range 54 foot Jeanneau. It began with a momentarily terrifying fifteen minutes of trying to work out why the head sail halyard had dropped the huge sail into the sea - this was followed by the mainsail doing exactly the same thing at which point I knew it had to be something I'd done rather than a broken halyard and managed to quickly remedy the situation. What followed was an hour of blissful sailing. It all felt very natural and easy; a lot easier than getting our boat to fly I have to say - but then we have an entire harbour's worth of crustaceans and weed attached to the bottom of our boat which doesn't help.

Today we brought a boat back in weather we wouldn't have considered poking our noses out in several months ago. As we left the mooring buoy, it took full revs to move forwards with the wind on our nose and within minutes lightening ripped open the sky, followed 5 seconds later by a deep rumble. By the time we had reached the channel which leads from one large bay to another, there were thunderstorms either side of us and a towering beast of a cloud with a white-out of rain following us. The engine was emitting more smoke and less water than it should too. I admit that my pulse quickened but I felt exhiliarated rather than in any scared and realised just how far we've gone since last August. As it happens, we strangely managed to skirt both storms and only got a mild drenching. Witch powers ahoy!

Another memorable trip we've had over the past month was taking a catamaran to Bar, around 40 miles down the Adriatic coast. We left Kotor under a deep blue sky with mist rising from the water and cloaking the city walls as it rose towards St Ivan's fort. As we reached the Prcanj/Stoliv end of the Boka, the sea turned to ice. The narrow hulls of the cat sliced through the patterned sheets with a soft crunch, sending round plates of ice twirling across the water. It was one of those "had to be there" moments as the photos do not do it justice.

Oh, and not to be forgotten (I should update this more often), we took Monty out for a shake-down Sunday sail with our new mates, Jason and Birgitte. It was fantastic - got 5 knots out of her in full sail which isn't great but as I say, her bottom is encrusted (the boat's, not Birgitte's who happens to have a great arse because she is Danish). We had a great day and a sign of things to come I reckon.

And one last thing, Karneval. Two entire weeks of celebrations which involved lots of majorettes, from infants to developed young women. There is something not quite right about little girls in very short skirts, wiggling their hips in a suggestive manner. We stood in the rain and watched Klapa singing which is traditional acapella-type stuff and was actually good. And while our friends Gareth and Elaine were watching Jeff Mills do his stuff in Granada, we had our cockles warmed by the pop grup Bonoco, singing about "Rrock end rool" and various other offerings. The climax of all this fun - yes, it does get even better - was the Maskenbal (Masked Ball) at Disko Maximus (which, despite its name, is super-club quality - top dollar sound systems, lights, lasers, 4 rooms, plays techno and electro, has big name djs). The Maskenbal cost 5 euros to get in, was rammed (which is good in some ways as it stops you falling over) and played mostly Serbian pop music which, to my vodka/redbull/sudafed ears, sounded just like ska and I danced my socks off all night. We didn't get round to the mask element either which was a good job as no one else bothered.

Tim has now been out drinking with his new Montenegrin pal for 3 hours. Good on him. I'm getting some points in the bag for Saturday night when I'm off to Disko Maximus to see David Morales (yes, house music, but beggars can't be choosers).

Oh, and see our latest pics -