I am writing this while quietly gliding along the Ionian Sea somewhere midway between Greece and Sicily. We are sailing aboard Largyalo, sister ship of Spirit of Gaia. See Part 4
Largyalo spent the winter with Gaia in Messolonghi marina. Petra and Bertie, her owners, worked many weeks this Spring getting her painted and doing many other jobs to get her ready for another Season's sailing. She was relaunched on 9th May and ready to sail on the 16th, the day after James's birthday.
We arrived by car in Messolonghi at the end of March accompanied by Michael, our Dutch helper. We were ready for another stint of work and hoping to get it all finished before planning to return home sometime at the end of May. Tony, my other helper last Spring, who was also planning to come had to cancel as he had hurt his back, so it was Michael and I for the first couple weeks. James was also with us, his plan was to write his book whilst enjoying being in Greece, surrounded by boats and sailing people. After several years away he could reconnect with Gaia and get inspiration from her.
First thing to check was, were the termites truly dead? Careful inspection showed absolutely no signs of life, the insecticide had done its job and I was happy to start restoring the woodwork. We bought new plywood to fill in the hole. I first started making two new hatches to replace the two that had been too rotten to be repaired. It was nice to work with new wood and create something beautiful. Much easier than splicing new bits into something old.
In April we had more helpers arrive. There was Willie, a German sculptor, he took on the task of sanding down and oiling the toe rails, he then progressed to sanding down the bowsprit/pulpit, which was made from beautiful yellow cedar, but looked grey and dull. Willie got inspired to make a sculpture for Gaia's bow, a lady that will grace her bowsprit. He showed us photos of the many sculptures he has made from tree trunks and recycled timber, they have a beautiful pagan feel and their style will match our boat.
Willie was joined by Mairi, our chiropractor from Cornwall, she is very keen to learn about boatbuilding and woodwork and had a few days to spare to come to Greece. She became my workmate for repairing the deckpod. She got stuck in with a sander, preparing all the edges for new epoxy. She sanded the glass finish I had applied to the big heavy panel that would fill the hole and epoxy coated all the splice plates I had prepared. It was now ready to be glued into place. This was a milestone, finally a deckpod that would be whole again.
Next to arrive was Sigrid, Michael's Norwegian girl friend. She had helped us last Autumn. Her job was to sand the two gaffs, peel off patches of delaminated glass cloth and get them ready for new epoxy and finally paint.
I also made new outer deck coamings for the new hatches. These had been badly rotted and had been removed completely last Spring. We were lucky in that we still had some curved pieces of hardwood that had been cut as spare 23 years ago when the original hatches were built. They had been lying in our workshop waiting for this moment. They fitted perfectly. After gluing them in Michael made nice fillets to blend them to the deck.
On the 12th April the citizens of Messolonghi organised a huge procession through the town, the ‘Exodus’ parade, an annual commemoration of the yearlong siege of Messolonghi by the Turks and the Exodus of the people of Messolonghi in 1826.
Hundreds of people dressed in traditional Greek costumes slowly proceed through the town along a special route, music bands playing, ending in the Garden of Heroes, a memorial park to the people that fought for the freedom of Greece. Messolonghi is the town where Lord Byron came in 1824 as one of the Philhellenes to help in the fight for freedom and later died. He is still remembered as a hero in the town and has a museum and big statue (see: www.messolonghibyronsociety.gr)
James, Mairie, Willie and I walked to the town to view the parade, hundreds of people along the route all watching as the sun set and darkness fell. We celebrated with a drink in the gardens while the music played on and still more people walked the procession.
Soon Mairie had to leave, then Willie and also Michael and Sigrid. For one day James and I were alone, but the next day Paul arrived from America.
In Paul I had the perfect workmate. Paul was an experienced machinist and engineer with a life of precision work behind him. He is building his own Hitia 17 back home in Oklahoma. We met him in Florida at the Hui in 2012. After meeting us there he decided he would devote 2 months of his time in helping us get Gaia back in order, but also to learn more about boat building, repair and about our life philosophy and designing. He also wanted to come to Europe to experience what life is like outside the USA.
Paul spent many hours talking to James over lunch and dinner. The politics of America and the UK were discussed at great length. In Oklahoma (previously he used to live and work in Colorado), Paul is a lonely soul in a sea of land locked people. To learn about the attitudes and lifestyle of people in the Midwest was a revelation for us. Life in Europe is very different. Amongst our friends like Petra, Berti and crew on Largyalo, amongst all the other yachties of various European nationalities which we sat and talked with over a regular Sunday BBQ, Paul found much in common with his attitudes to life, food, health and culture. He most certainly wants to come back to Europe and particularly to Gaia, to sail on her next Spring.
Paul and I got a great deal of work done. All the wood and epoxy work got finished and we were able to start painting. The first paintjob we tackled was the orange hull sides. The orange paint we applied 23 years ago was Awlgrip Persian Orange. Awlgrip pride themselves in producing guaranteed colourfast paints and they have succeeded. Reds are the most difficult pigments to make so they don’t fade. Our orange paint was very expensive (reds are more expensive than blues), we repainted the outsides and the inner bows and sterns back in 1997 in Australia, the inner sides under the centre decking had never been repainted, but the colour there was still exactly as it was when new.
We started with very careful preparation. We borrowed Berti’s disk sander, which had a superb vacuum extractor attached. With this Paul produced a perfect smooth base for new paint. In our on-board paint store I still had a gallon of Persian Orange Awlgrip paint, which we must have bought in 1997. After a good stir with an electric drill the paint was as good as it was 17 years ago!
Painting was planned for an early morning start, when the temperature is still low, no wind blows and the hulls are still in shade. Petra and Berti, who had repainted their topsides beautifully earlier in the Spring, came to help, to show us how to do it. I had not worked with two-pack polyurethane paints for many years and a little help was very welcome. Paul was an experienced house painter, but the two-pack paint was new for him.
It is very important to apply two-pack polyurethane paint correctly, or it can become a real mess. We used a short mohair roller and a foam brush for tipping off. We worked with two people close together, one to roll a section about a foot wide, the other immediately tipping it off very lightly, just stroking it once and then not touching it again. We were very pleased with the results, suddenly Gaia glowed again, people stopped to look at her and commented on how beautiful she was.
I also repainted the orange logos on Gaia’s bows, they had been painted with normal paint and looked very dull and faded. Masking the black eye-symbol with plastic tape, the result was excellent.
Two-pack polyurethane paint is very prone to bleeding under masking tape. Petra discovered that the best tape that does not bleed is a (red) plastic tape, which she had discovered in France, I found I had a bit of a roll on board, also some blue, no idea where I got it. I intend to discover where to buy more for when we paint the rest of the boat. It is not the same as most fineline tapes I have seen before.
With the orange paint finished it was time for a break. We had been working solid for weeks. Paul had come to help us with the promise of a sail on a catamaran at the end of it. By now we knew that Gaia was not going to be sailing this Spring. Meantime Largyalo had been launched and was getting ready to sail back to Majorca, via Zakynthos and Sicily. Why not sail with them to Sicily?
Petra and Berti were delighted with the idea. We moved on board after James’ birthday (celebrating his birthday aboard Largyalo is becoming a tradition!). To earn my keep I helped Berti with re-rigging the sheets on the main sails and early the next morning we departed for Zakynthos. It was wonderful to be at sea again, to see dolphins swim under the bows, to visit the magnificent ‘shipwreck bay’ in Zakynthos, to swim in the still chilly crystal clear sea, to steer during a night watch. I was able to relax and doze and not think about work. I was not responsible for this boat, Berti was the captain. This was my first ‘holiday’ for years!
Returning refreshed from our sailing trip, Paul and I continued with painting the masts, gaffs and boom, all of which we had spent a lot of time preparing. They had been varnished, but after all these years it was decided that paint would be more durable and need less upkeep. We applied two coats of epoxy primer, followed by two coats of two-pack polyurethane topcoat. We also painted all the new engine box lids, new hatches and other loose parts.
The white epoxy primer (made by Desoto Titanane) we used was even older than the Awlgrip paint. It was still a leftover from building the boat and bought in 1990/91. I had successfully used it 12 years earlier; after sitting this long it required some serious stirring (using power drill with paint stirrer) to distribute the solids in the bottom of the pot, but it then was good to use, also the activator was still fine. This paint has been on board for the last 22 years, kept in the dark under a bunk, but has been at fairly high temperatures throughout its life (15 to 30˚C), in the tropics and hot summers in Greece, it never got very cold or below freezing. I also used the original offwhite topcoat (also made by Desoto Titanane) left over from Gaia’s building time, again still good to use!
The yellow topcoat for painting all the spars was made by Jotun and bought new (we chose yellow so the masts will look like varnished wood from a distance. The new paint was no better to use than the old, in fact with a mixing rate of 10:1 was a lot more difficult to accurately measure than the other 2:1 paints.
The sad thing about renovation work is that after weeks of hard work - replacing, repairing, patching, fairing, sanding and finally painting…. all the hard work becomes completely invisible and the boat looks just like it used to do. But YOU know what is underneath, that should be satisfaction enough.
On the 4th June we were ready to head back to the UK, via a long trek through Europe, visiting boatbuilders, friends and family, finishing with a visit to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey, where James is one of the two Patrons (Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is the other) of the ‘Queenborough Harbour Trust’. They have recently received a grant of £300,000 for improvements with which they hope to attract more multihulls to use the harbour.
The last stint of work on Gaia will involve a lot more painting, replacing all the rope lashings, reassembling the rig with the new Dyneema standing rigging, checking electrics and maybe a new slatted platform. We will return in September and WILL launch her in the Spring. Anyone wanting to help, please get in touch.