The Final Lap
Gaia work 2019 started on May 1st. My previous blogs and Facebook posts had again attracted new volunteers that wanted to experience spending time with James and myself whilst working and sailing on Gaia.
First to join us were Paul and Amanda. Paul hailed from Manchester, in fact from the same part of Manchester as James, so they had a common heritage to discuss. Paul had also been a rock climber and fell walker, just like James in his youth. His profession was landscape architect. Amanda was from New Zealand, but had lived a long time in London where she set up her own delicatessen business, specialising in cheeses. Three years ago Paul and Amada had given up work and left home with their dog Oscar to travel the length and breadth of Europe in a neat and compact campervan based on a Nissan pick-up truck with removable cabin. They came to Lefkas from spending the winter in Crete and could stay as long as they liked.
The same day Udo arrived from Germany. Udo came for two weeks, he was a lawyer who had built a 23ft Hinemoa many years ago, which due to family problems got abandoned for years in some woods. Recently he restored the boat, making it look very pretty, bright yellow with a nice deck shelter adapted from a commercially made tent. This showed he had the skills for restoration work and soon set to work on repairing a deck leak over the starboard bow centreboard case.
A Leaking Deck
We originally fitted the very slim, shallow draught hulls of the Pahi 63 with four pivoting low-aspect centreboards. Two in the bows for better windward work and two in the sterns for adjusting sail trim, or as two extra skegs when running before a gale. These boards look like the fins on a shark. After sailing Spirit of Gaia round the world we removed the two bow boards and sealed the keel slots as we found them too vulnerable when beaching. We had rarely used them, whereas we often used the stern boards to improve trim.
The centreboard cases are below bunk level, but can be accessed through a Perspex lid screwed over the top, visible when you lift the bunk cushions. Directly above the centreboard case we fitted a long narrow deck light through which the centreboard can be removed from the hull. These deck lights, made of heat-curved Perspex, are great for giving light in the bunk cabin, but have led to deck leaks and some rot along their edges. Three of these deck lights had rot, which we repaired in previous years. Now the deck along the last deck light also had a soft area.
The hull decks are made of an 8mm Douglas Fir plywood and foam sandwich, using cheap 20mm thick polystyrene, set between stringers, between the two layers of ply. Udo cut away the top layer of plywood, which was wet and soft where water had entered along the edge and found the lower layer of ply and other wood still in perfect condition due to being sealed with the epoxy glue. After removing the soggy foam and drying the area for a week, he was able to glue in a new top layer of plywood and cover the area with glass cloth. All the old screw holes for the deck light were also drilled out and filled with epoxy filler, so the screws would bite again when refitted.
A New Outboard Motor
Meantime Paul with some help from Udo tackled fitting our new starboard motor, which we had shipped from the UK. The old Yamaha 9.9, which we had assembled from parts back in 2012 (see Gaia restoration part 1), had started giving trouble at the end of last season, so the decision was made to buy another new one. This delighted James as he hates unreliable motors.
A Leaking Heart Valve
Whilst this work was happening I was making trips to the hospital with Amanda. A recent heart valve scan had shown up leakage, which was worrying after my history of two new Aortic heart valves and previous chronic Qfever endocarditis. The Greek hospitals were very efficient, the local cardiologist saw me instantly and got me an appointment for a more detailed TOE scan in just two days. The outcome was not conclusive, but they could not see signs of infection, so I was advised to take it easy and see my doctors at home as soon as I got back. I am writing this blog from hospital in Truro (1st July) as the verdict here is that there is infection, a recurrence of the pernicious Qfever. I am now told I will need surgery again in the coming weeks.
However, leaking heart valves apart, work progressed well. We fitted our Nature’s Head composting toilet and repaired one of the tillers. I dealt with a rotten edge of the chartroom hatch. Next big job was sanding and preparing the deck pods for painting. I focussed on supervising and mixing paint, rather than hard physical work. I felt fine, just got a bit quicker out of breath.
On Udo’s last day we celebrated James’ 91st birthday. We again had a lovely meal at our favourite restaurant in the hills. A few days later we were joined for a week by a lovely young couple from Milan. They were colleagues in a chemical research company when some years ago Giovanni started talking about his dream to build a boat, a Hitia 14. Kamila, a bright young woman from South India, got interested and asked if she could help. To cut a long story short, they built the boat together and two years ago they got married. Their Hitia is exquisite and they love sailing her. They had just visited Paolo (volunteer in 2017) in Milan and were thinking of helping him build his Tiki 30.
With their experience of applying two-pack polyurethane paint as a team on their Hitia, they were the ideal people to apply the paint on our deckpods.
At the ferry port of Igoumenitsa Giovanni and Kamila met up with Eiasu, another volunteer from South Italy who had planned to travel across from Bari with Fabio (see 2018 blog), but due to delays with Fabio’s boat and trailer decided to come alone and was able to get a lift in the car with the other two.
Again Eiasu was a lovely person, with a mystical soul. He had worked for ten years in two meditation communities in Germany and Uruguay, to help set them up, doing all sorts of building work. He busied himself with cleaning and sanding the deckpods together with Paul, Amanda, Giovanni and Kamila. Working as a group the prep work was soon done and all the masking tape applied, ready for painting.
Living and working together with a harmonious group is a lovely experience. Paul and Amanda soon were doing a lot of the cooking, which was great for me and gave me more time to relax. Having lived in a camper for three years they were quickly at home in a boat galley. Udo was a diligent dishwasher, even late on a dark, cold evening he would be on deck getting the washing up done, always cheerful. Living mostly alone at home, he was a quiet man who had gone through some hard times, but he enjoyed the company of others and he often sat talking late into the evening, revealing a dry sense of humour. Giovanni and Kamila came with a carload of Italian wine and other Italian goodies, with further contributions from Eiasu. Over dinner Kamila told us about her strict Muslim background in India, which she had broken away from by coming to live in Italy.
We often ate in the galley as the weather was not good. The nights were cold, much colder than normal in May in Greece. The weather was unreliable with often some rain or stronger wind and clouds. More like April weather for Greece. We could not have done any painting in the first two weeks, but it did improve later in the month.
Painting The Deckpods
The painting was done under our shade-netting awning on the first suitable day with little wind. It was not easy, but Kamila and Giovanni did a good job, which only needed some touching up the next day when the thinner areas were given a second coat. They spent the whole day behind facemasks, with Giovanni rolling and Kamila lightly tipping off with a paintpad, until both deckpods were finished. My job throughout was carefully measuring and mixing the paint.
Then followed more work in applying non-slip deckpaint, also on some of the hull decks, which had not been done in Messolonghi as we had run out of paint. It required a lot of masking off, with carefully cut semi-circular corners. The application of the deck paint was much easier, requiring only one person with a roller. We mix a special powder/grit additive in the paint, which works really well. One must stir the paint regularly to keep the spread of the grit even.
All the masking tape was peeled off, the two house Tikis screwed back on and we were ready to venture out of our slot in the ‘raft’ into open water. The motors purred beautifully as we headed out of the harbour. It was Giovanni and Kamila’s last day, so we were determined to get them out to sea, for a motor trip as there was no time to rig the sails and all the running rigging.
We steered our way through the fleet of yachts anchored at Nidri and headed towards the small island of Skorpios just a short distance out. Paul’s landscaping firm had been involved in developing the island when it was leased by a Russian oligarch a few years ago. It had been Paul’s last job, so we circled the island while Paul pointed out its special features. Big notice boards on the shore told us ‘private property, keep off’. Previously Aristotle Onassis owned the island and Jacky Onassis famously was photographed sunbathing naked there.
The short trip took us to our favourite bay, Ormos Fraxia, just outside and round the corner from Nidri. Here the water is clear, there are no houses and it is ideal for a swim. It was a lovely farewell to Greece for our two Italians, who left us that night to catch their ferry.
Back anchored in Vliho Bay we rigged Gaia with all her sails. Again the weather was not good, cold, with strong winds. The strong southerly brought our German sistership ‘Laryalo’ from Kefalonia into Vliho. They had spent the winter in Sicily at a boatyard near Palermo where they once more slaved away, this time removing all the old antifouling and applying new Coppercoat epoxy. They are hoping this will last and work well.
After a trial day sail on the 28th May with several extra friends from Laryalo and from a Dutch catamaran that had just sailed round the world, we were ready for a longer cruise. We had just five days to visit our favourite anchorages and harbours and we had some excellent sails between, though again there were very strong winds on the day we spent in Vathi in Ithaca. A lovely town in a beautiful land enclosed bay, but it can blow in there, so much that we were reluctant to use the dinghy in the heavy chop.
A Surprise Encounter At Sea
When sailing out of Vathi a beautiful old wooden fishing boat approached us closely from behind. We spotted a man with a camera taking photos. Then we recognised the photographer as Nic Compton, a well know yachting journalist, who started Classic Boat magazine many years ago in Falmouth. We had last seen him in Cornwall when he test sailed our Mana 24 for articles in Wooden Boat (USA) and Practical Boatowner (UK).
We hoisted sail in the light wind to make Gaia look her best. Then suddenly the staysail dropped back down to the deck. The large snap-shackle on the halyard had somehow given way. Quick to the rescue Paul offered to be hauled up the mast to retrieve the halyard. As ex-rock climber he had no fear of heights. When he came down the cause of the failure was discovered. The oversized snap-shackle, which had been in use many years, had developed crevice corrosion, crystallised and broken. Stainless steel is famous for doing this, hence we often opt for bowlines (attaching halyards and sheets) or lashings in preference to shackles.
With halyard restored and all sails set, the wind picked up and Gaia took off at speed in the direction of Lefkas island. The fishing boat was prepared to turn back and Nic was able to take some excellent photos. I must thank Nic for sending me the one shown here, which he sent me in hospital to cheer me up.
Oscar the dog turned into a proper ship’s dog, quickly learning to use our bow netting for toilet. He would cuddle up in the cockpit bunk with James when he got a bit chilly and joined us in the galley at night.
Tiki 36 ‘Kiboh’
Paul and Amanda have become boat people, they will be changing to a life afloat next year, as caretakers of Kiboh, Tiki 36 Nr.2. Her original owner, a Japanese surgeon, donated Kiboh to James Wharram Designs earlier this year. Andy Smith built Kiboh for Takahiro in 1991-93 in our yard in Devoran, around the time we launched our Gaia. He cared for his boat immaculately over the next 20 years, sailing her away from Cornwall to spend many years cruising in Greece. However five years ago advancing age stopped him from further cruising in Greece and the boat has been laid up on the hard in Leros marina since. This winter Paul and Amanda will become her caretakers and put their love and energy into Kiboh and will be sailing her next Spring. We hope to hear how they get on.
Spirit of Gaia awaits us in Vliho, looking as good, if not better as when she first sailed 27 years ago. I hope my heart surgery is successful and James and I can return to do more sailing. I would like to organise more Wharram Workshops, so people can join us and learn everything about building, sailing and the Wharram Philosophy, if not this autumn then next Spring. Anyone interested in participating, please write.