We had the happy news that Ruairi had managed to persuade the boatyard to haul us out with their winch. Haul out day was arranged for May 9th, a week after our arrival. The big winch was able to pull Gaia up the gentle slope on greased logs. Heavy webbing strops were looped round the two front crossbeams, close to the hulls to spread the load. The whole process was successful and carried out with skill and professionalism by the yard crew.
Our crew this year was veteran helper Paul from America, he came to claim his first sail on Gaia after helping us for three years in Messolonghi. Then there was Italian Fabio who after briefly meeting us the previous year, had brought his 25ft fibreglass catamaran from Bari on the ferry, giving James and I a lift from Bari airport. Before launching his own boat he came to help us.
Also from America came Shawn and Casey. After meeting me at the Florida Hui the previous year, they had booked a sailing trip on Gaia together with two other Wharram builder/sailor couples later in May, but they came early to help us with the work. Shawn and Casey had built a Tahiti Wayfarer, called ‘Wilbur’, and had been coastal trekking on him in the Sea of Cortez and Gulf of Mexico. Shawn is a skilled woodworker and has been restoring Wharram catamarans as well as building ‘Wilbur’.
Constantino came from Cyprus for a week. He had bought a second hand Tiki 21 in need of TLC and was keen to meet us and learn. He came with a hire car and was very useful in getting supplies and speaking Greek. Together with him I ordered some new matrasses in Lefkada for three of the cabins. With more guests coming to sail, the cabins had to be smart and comfortable.
Antifouling And Other Below Waterline Repairs
Apart from antifouling we had a few other small underwater jobs. The previous year we had found that one of our forward centreboard cases - that had been decommissioned and sealed up many years before - had filled up with water. There was a leak, we had pumped the space out and found water was entering round the echo sounder transducer that we had fitted into the closed bottom of the case. Resealing this could only be done ashore.
The previous Spring we had also discovered some seawater in the galley bilge. Some heavy submerged lump of something must have thumped into the hull, low down below the floor, on the inward facing side (!), probably when she was moored along the outer pontoon in Messolonghi in an easterly gale when it can get very rough there. I could see some minor splintering of the plywood on the inside, where there was still some seepage, no sign of any damage on the glassed outside. We had had this type of damage in two places before in Gouvia marina (Corfu) many years ago.
The best way to repair such damage whilst afloat is to glue an epoxy-coated ply pad on the inside with Sikaflex, which will stick to damp wood and moisture cures. Now the boat was out of the water we found the small dint of impact. I sanded out an area of the glass sheathing and removed some crushed plywood and let the area dry for several days in the dry warm Greek wind. After some filling I re-glassed it overlapping on to the feathered edges of glass. Some final filling and sanding and the damage was invisible.
One should note here that epoxy coated bilges can have water in them for a prolonged period without problem. As soon as the bilge is bailed out, cleaned and dried, it is as good as new. When building your Wharram, make sure all interior surfaces are well epoxy coated, particularly the underside of the floors as any water in the bilge will condense on these undersides and cause mould leading to rot if not sealed properly. Also sand all fillets and coat over them to create smooth surfaces for easy cleaning! Any glass cloth in the bilge should be smoothly finished for easy cleaning.
Shawn tackled the prep work for the antifouling aided by Fabio, an unenviable dirty job, he also applied most of the antifouling paint. Paul resealed the echo sounder transducer and checked the rudder fittings. Casey did a lovely job repainting Spirit of Gaia’s ‘eyes’. A boat needs to see where she is going.
Spirit of Gaia’s original launch date was May 16th 1992. We arranged the re-launch on her 26th birthday. Our friends Julius, Carli and their two sons joined us from Cornwall. Julius is a hot-shot BBC cameraman travelling the world making programs like ‘The Planets’ with Professor Brian Cox. He and Carli want to make a documentary on the world of James Wharram. I invited them to come to Greece to get some interesting footage of Gaia’s launch and sailing.
It was also James’ 90th birthday on May 15th, so we all trouped to our favourite restaurant in the hills above Vliho, where they cook locally grown meats over a huge charcoal grill. We ate a delicious shared meal of all sorts of Greek specialities, followed by a birthday cake, supplied by the restaurant. They do that sort of thing in rural Greece.
On launch day the water level in Vliho Bay was particularly low, which made things more difficult. There are no tides in the Mediterranean, but water levels vary due to wind direction and air pressure. That day the water never rose.
We left the planning of the launch to the experienced yard crew. They hooked up the winch cable through a pulley block on the waters edge and led it back to webbing strops round the front crossbeam in order to pull the boat downhill. They prepared logs to slide under the keels as she was slowly pulled downwards. It was slow and difficult, so they added more grease to the logs to make things slide easier – they render pig fat in a big barrel for this. Then the ‘expected’ happened, she suddenly slid backwards fast. Only they had not yet placed logs further down the slope, so when she reached the tipping point on the last log the sterns dipped down and the rudders and skegs buried themselves in the gravelly silt. Oh shit!!
After a few panicky moments when we thought the rudders might have been damaged, we discovered we had been very lucky that the hull cover plates of the rudders were not fitted and the rudders aligned with the hulls and not secured (All Pahi rudders are in a rudder well and located under the hull, not stern hung like the Tikis and Classics). So when they hit the silt they shot straight upwards about a foot, off their bottom pintles and up into the rudder wells. No damage done, the skegs are very strong and withstood the impact, just one missing nylon washer, lost in the mud.
The yard crew were a bit shocked, they now had the difficult task to raise the sterns again for the final slide into the water. They did this by sliding their boat trailer under the boat with its hydraulic pads under the aft cross beams. It took a lot of time but eventually Gaia was afloat. I don’t think the yard will ever want to repeat this type of launching. However, we think it could have gone smoothly if only there had been sufficient greased logs under the keels all the way down into the water. After all that was how Gaia was launched the first time.
We spent the next couple days sailing, with Julius wielding his huge camera. He filmed close up shots from the dinghy and long distance shots from a small island, with us sailing backward and forward with sails set to perfection to get the best sailing footage. There nearly was a disaster as Fabio steered the dinghy close to the side of Gaia with Julius standing in the bows concentrating on Gaia’s bow wave. He got so close that Julius and camera were nearly knocked over. It would have been a very expensive mistake.
The next week was devoted to more repair works, with Shawn tackling two more plywood rot areas in steering pod and hull deck. The old Yamaha generator was taken apart by Fabio, and Paul built some very useful shelves for the galley.
Sailing With Our American Wharram Builders And Sailors
The rest of 2018 was spent sailing. We had a great two weeks with our American Wharram builder/sailors, getting to know the best anchorages around the Southern Ionian Sea. Spirit of Gaia was everything they had hoped for.
During the hot summer months Gaia was again moored in the ‘raft’ under guardianage until our return in early September. Not much building work was planned for the Autumn, we would focus on sailing - starting with a week’s ‘Wharram Workshop’ on September 1st. Here was a chance for people to learn all about sailing, handling and building their own Wharram; a chance to talk and learn from James and myself.
First of all I taught the crew how to rig the Wingsails and all the running rigging, another day we tightened the Dyneema standing rigging. We discussed boat building, trimmed sails and had some great sails between Lefkas and Corfu where the week ended. The three participants were all building their own Wharram (Narai Mk IVs, with Wingsail rigs) and felt they had learned a lot. Again the firebox on the centre platform was a great focal point to sit and talk.
Reunion With Largyalo
During this week we joined up several times with our German sistership Largyalo; we were last together in Messolonghi Marina in 2016. The previous year Largyalo had sailed to the Carribean and our friend Paul had sailed back across the Atlantic with them. This was the first time both boats were afloat together and it was lovely to see Petra and Berti again. With the boats alongside each other one could see the difference in size. Gaia is the pure standard design, whereas Laryalo was skilfully enlarged by Berti to make her into a more luxury charter boat (please do not do this unless you are really skilful, building Largyalo took about twice the number of build hours!). Gaia weighs approx. 12 tons loaded, Largyalo at 65ft around 16 tons. We moored up in the lovely bay of Fraxia, just outside from Nidri. During our week sailing to Corfu we met up twice more. See: www.largyalo.de
Kilovar, 50 Year Old Bill O’Brian Catamaran
We were joined there by friends on their 50 year old Bill O’Brian catamaran, called Kilovar. Owners David and Ellie Wilkins last sailed with us on Gaia in 2005. Kilovar was professionally built in high quality mahogany marine plywood and has been owned and lovingly maintained by David and Ellie for the last 25 years. In fact she was built for the father of the now well-known multihull designer Nigel Irons, and I believe he crossed the Atlantic on her as a child. David and Ellie were in the process of selling Kilovar and were sad to give her up, but after 25 years as live-aboards they were moving to a new phase of their lives.
Sailing With Old Friends
We did two other 10 day voyages with German friends from years past, who we last met in 2005 further North in Ormos Fanari, and sailed together. They wanted to return and re-experience their treasured times sailing on Gaia. They were not disappointed and very pleased to see Gaia looking so good. Our son Jamie and his American girlfriend Liz joined us for a month as crew and redecorated two more sleeping cabins in breaks between sailing. The restoration of Gaia was nearly complete. All that remained was painting the deckpods.