Thursday, 28 August 2008

A Year on Monty B

Neither of us can believe that we've been living aboard Monty B for a whole year. I still often look at her in awe - “Is that boat really ours?”. I fall further in love with her, the more I get to know her. Almost every time we paddle towards her, or step back on board, I feel a well of warmth and pride that she is part of us and is at the core of everything we do. It is still so fresh and new, despite being a year in and not exactly having taken her far.

Those first few months aboard were so beautiful but also completely bewildering. The beauty has not waned: the sunrise, the sunset, the moonrise, the starry skies, the fish jumping, the wind, the ever-changing patterns and colours on the water – it always moves me, stirs the emotions and makes the eyes soft. It is my new drug – I am more than happy just to lie on a cushion and take it all in. How can you ever tire of nature, doing its thing?

We have learnt a huge amount though with every problem comes the realisation that we have a mountain to climb. We are getting quite good at bodge jobs (I blame Tim's period of employment for this, learning from a professional improviser in the face of having few resources). Everyone on boats has to be good at bodge jobs. But we also want to become good at doing a professional job too. This winter, with Monty ashore on blocks, we will have the time and space to move beyond just trying to put things right when they go wrong. We want to give her a proper overhaul. But it remains to be seen just how much we can get done with the resources at our disposal, both in terms of cash and what materials we can get hold of here. But we have the whole winter to concentrate on the job; so by the spring, she will be looking good and hopefully, leak free (or as leak-free as any old boat can be).

Tim has become an accomplished mechanic with the engine, nurturing it so it always purrs and it got us here in one piece which is testament to the way it has been looked after. Except at this very moment, as it happens, whereby we are becalmed and without engine as it has cut out mid-trip. Tim has his head in the engine compartment, dripping with sweat, bleeding things and replacing filters while I am on the look-out for some wind. (postscript: we ran out of fuel! Schoolboy error).

Autumn is going to be spent enjoying the sunshine (rather than hiding from it) and hopefully a bit of proper wind. It would be great if a Day out on Monty B continues for another month or so. We have been invited by Pete and Imy to crew the beautiful 60 footer, Aralus, from Split in Croatia, via Venice and Sicily to Lefkas (of all places!) in the middle of September. It will be invaluable experience, learning on such an amazing yacht with a great skipper who I trust implicitly and the lovely Imy whose happy, smiley face will get me through those pukey moments.

The foreseeable future is looking bright, much brighter than we could have believed a year ago. We have learnt so much, lived so much and seen so much beauty in a single year. I could never have imagined finding anything this fulfilling. Each day is still so special and we are finding both contentment and excitement in one bucket. And most of all, our plan actually seems to be working – yes, it really is – to all of you left back there: were we really so crazy?

Saturday, 23 August 2008

One year on

1015 16 August 2008
A year ago today we were struggling to fit our whittled down possessions into my Nissan Almera before eventually setting off at 10pm towards Dover, dizzy with the thought that we were finally leaving. A year on we are sitting on deck, being blown about to buggery in a freak summer gale, me tapping away and Timmy engrossed in Practical Boat Owner. I would say that a year's worth of experience has meant we now take the odd gale in our stride – and I guess, to a point, we do. But a year's worth of experience has also taught us that you can never be complacent, not for a moment – and in this case, we have been.

The weather has been scorchio every day for so long and our lack of internet access has meant that we have been a bit lax about checking the weather forecast. The skies felt a little odd last night and the air was tinged with smoke from a forest fire somewhere to the south. I slept on cushions on deck so I could feel the breeze on my skin and bask in the near-full moonlight. But I also wanted to keep one eye open as things just felt a bit weird. As the sun came up over the mountains, the wind picked up, the barometer had dropped and now we are in the throes of 25-30 knots southerlies which we are not remotely well placed for. The clouds are building, as is the wind, we cannot get a weather forecast but it definitely has the look of conditions that are going to get worse before they get better.

Our anchor windlass is out of action for the moment so we have two lazy lines and two mooring lines going back to a solitary concrete jetty. The lee shore (the shoreline we would be blown onto if our mooring didn't hold) is not much more than a boat length away and is rocky. We are moored bows-to so getting away in a hurry is not an option. So we are completely reliant on the lazy lines and hoping they hold. The engine is being warmed up, just in case and there is always something comforting about the hum of the engine when conditions are like this.

And a year ago today, my biggest concern was how to get an over-filled roof box to close.

0745 18 August 2008
Conditions didn’t get worse and all was well. Now sitting on deck with tears pricking my eyes as white rays of sunlight breach the mountain tops, spilling over to transform the bay from the cool, monochrome, sleepy place it was a few minutes ago. With the instant hit of blazing heat and perfect hot white light, the ancient rocks and scrubby plant life has burst into colour – man and machine wake up as the church bells chime from Kotor old town.

I was up at 0630 this morning, doing yoga on deck for the first time in ages. Our new mattress, courtesy of a friend’s dad (see Debts of Gratitude) has meant that I now sleep in when I get the chance so miss the absolute beauty of the dawn. I must get up earlier!

"Live music is over-rated"

11 August 2008
To quote Tim, the only person I have ever met that doesn't like music. But even he had to concede that Dave Clarke is a TECHNO GOD! Last week, for the first time since our arrival, Kotor's nightlife genuinely had something to offer. The four day Re Fresh festival was supposed to kick off with Darren Emerson waking up the dancefloor of Disko Maximus (the only club in the world which has tables on the dancefloor which people stand around, looking miserable whilst watching the DJ. Sadly, Emerson couldn't make it and was replaced by guys that played great techno but couldn't be described as Djs. However, a top night was had and I made it to bed around midday. On Saturday night the crowd at Maximus were just as impressed to see Timmy turn up at a nightclub as to discover what Djing actually means. I had forgotten what a good DJ sounds like – Dave Clarke was just such a cut above anything I have heard for so long. It reminded me of those heady techno-fuelled nights of the mid 90's, where you could find a full-on quality night most weekends. What happened to all of that? For a long time I had been thinking that I'd just tired of the same buzz but I now realise it is because that style of techno just isn't played any more in the UK and nothing else really does it for me. There are definitely some advantages to being in a country where the music scene is ten years behind.

No point getting too excited though as there will be many more nights of utter shite before something that good comes along again.

Home sweet home

1 August 2008
Something has changed and I don't know what it is – but I guess it has something to do with the news that our boat is N OT falling to bits. Suddenly this place feels like home – we feel settled here. My desire of the last six months to get on, get moving, set our “Round the World” plans in action has been replaced by a contentment with the here and now and just enjoying life.
Life here is great, it really is. Every single day brings something different and for what feels like the first time in my life, I am living in the present. The frustrations associated with the “sickness” of Monty B and the constant worry and stress has been lifted and although the jobs list has got no shorter, it all seems much more achievable now.

Some inspirational meetings of minds, firstly with the crew of Aralus (Pete and Imy) and secondly with a great couple with lots of connections to both our old and new lives, James and Lucie (our first charterers who became instant mates), has given our immediate and medium term plans a new impetus. Pete and Imy helped breathe new life back into Monty B by assuring us that she is a truly wonderful, strong beast of a boat and reminding us of how lucky we are to have chosen this path in life. James and Lucie have given us the confidence to take our ideas for A Day out on Monty B seriously and have very generously offered us their lovely apartment, for free, over the winter, so we have somewhere warm and dry to live whilst working on the boat. I hate to cop out of winter boat living on only our second year but the prospect of sleepless nights at anchor during gales, wet dogs and wet clothes and those bloody leaks is not that appealing. Our aim over the winter is to give the boat a complete overhaul and put all the necessary official bits into place to enable us to charter our boat officially next season. It has to be the way forward. We can see such a bright future ahead – at last, our plans seem REALISTIC!

I love living the dream but it's bloody good to have some reassurance that we are not living in cloud cuckooland and this thing can succeed. We are completely invigorated and excited by the whole “Day out on Monty B” idea and we know we can do it well.

So, our home for the next 12 months is going to be the Boka Kotorska. There is plenty of time in the future for blue water cruising – this is the ideal platform for building our skills and experience whilst making a wee bit of cash – and hey, I get seasick anyway!