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New Beginnings

By James Wharram

Last Friday Hanneke finally returned home from hospital after 4 weeks. It has been more of a drama than expected. She went in for a re-do heartvalve replacement after the one that was fitted 6 years ago started leaking badly in the last year. In recent months she had been feeling ill and tired and badly out of breath at the least exertion.

The operation on 7th January was successful and she very quickly was back on the ward, feeling much improved and invigorated. However it was established that the cause of the leakage was Endocarditis, an infection on the heartvalve. The question was “what was the cause?”

Hanneke in hospital
Hanneke 48 hours after the operation, looking perky and explaining to me how to use her mobile phone.

We all thought it would be something she had picked up during the Lapita Voyage, some exotic tropical bacteria or other. To our surprise it turned out to be a very rare infection, no-one seems to have heard of in England, Q fever (though better known in parts of Holland and Australia where it occurs in farm animals, however she had not been in both places for years).

After this discovery, Hanneke, in her hospital bed, started reading up everything about Q fever on the internet and did some Sherlock Holmes research and tracked down where she could have got infected and this was, surprise, surprise, in Corfu as early as 2007.

That year we were in Greece for about 5 weeks to sail ‘Spirit of Gaia’ from Corfu to Trizonia in the Gulf of Corinth because the mooring fees in Gouvia Marina had escalated to the unacceptable. We were joined on this trip by the American trimaran designer Jim Brown and a film maker from Canada called Scott Brown. We had had an exciting time discussing the early history of multihulls – filmed for archive by Scott – and a lovely sail through the Ionian islands.

Jim Brown and James Wharram
The two Jims aboard Spirit of Gaia in 2007. (Jim Brown, James Wharram)

However, earlier, while Hanneke and I were quietly getting the boat ready, we had one Sunday run out of milk and as the shops were shut, while walking through the village, came across an old lady selling milk straight from her cow. We bought some, never thinking twice of the possible consequences.

On arriving back in Cornwall 3 weeks later, Hanneke was shivering and for a week was ill with a high fever. No-one could find out the cause, blood tests were negative. Now, nearly 4 years later we do know the cause and we also know the dire consequences.

Hanneke now needs to be on antibiotic pills for about 2 years to try to eradicate the Q fever infection, so the brand new valve stays in good order, but she has come home feeling in her words: “200% better”. Let this be a new beginning.

Robbins Timber truck being unloaded
Robbins Timber of Bristol.

There is also another new beginning. Liz Wood, whom many of you will have been in correspondence with if you have contacted this office, has had to leave her job after 13 years of working in our dispatch office. During this time she reorganized the admin office into the computer age, updating all paperwork into computer files, streamlining the work so a handover should go smoothly and all-round did an excellent job. Her departure was timed perhaps a little unfortunate with Hanneke in hospital, but that could not be helped.

Meantime our other office lady, Cookie Phipps, will try to keep everything going in the office, but she cannot do the work of two, so please bear with us if there are delays in getting answers to your emails. We are trying to find a replacement for Liz as soon as possible.

John using a plunge saw in the workshop
John cutting a bulkhead pattern with his Mafell plunge saw.

As you will also have noticed we have been updating our website, particularly the webshop. Due to security concerns it was essential that we updated to new software. This led to the shop being shut for a much longer period than we had anticipated, but it is now up and running again, though there have been still problems taking direct credit card payments, we hope to have this sorted very soon! (If you do experience problems making your order, please contact us!) In her last month's work, even over Christmas, Hanneke, tired and ill, devoted much of her time to help our webmaster with this website update, to the exclusion of much other work.

While Hanneke was in hospital, the building of Amatasi did not stop. I was too busy keeping everything and everyone ‘in order’ to have time to report on the website, but the ‘boys’ have kept going. The poplar plywood was finally delivered by Robbins Timber of Bristol, a little delayed due to supplier problems, but not their fault. It is very light and looks beautiful.

John and Michael glue up a hull side panel.

While waiting for the plywood, the patterns for the bulkheads, stem and sternpost were drawn out from (slightly rudimentary) drawings made by Hanneke in the last days before she went into hospital. The ‘boys’ also drew and cut out the first hullside panels on the new sheets of plywood. Last week they were joined by Seth Macinko, a professor on sabbatical from the University of Rhode island who is deeply interested in sustainable fishing practices and wants to build his own Amatasi for more efficient eco fishing around Rhode Island. He has been invited to go to Australia to give some lectures on fisheries management this week, but will return in about a fortnight to participate in the build again.

This January has been a time of new beginnings, Hanneke feels very positive about the future. Two months ago I felt the veil of the Chemo therapy poisoning of last winter lift and my brain started to clarify. I am now being checked out in case I also contracted Q fever. I hope not. For me the cure for everything will be the dream sailing I expect from the Amatasi in the coming months, I see this design has more possibilities than just a fishing boat.

- James Wharram