Saturday 24 March 2012

Crisp Lists

My last blog entry seems long ago when talk was of Christmas presents and the size of turkeys. Now spring is in the air and in Mallorca there isn’t a cloud in the sky. A warm breeze blows across the bay and sets the flags fluttering on the forest of masts that jostle in the port. The city of Palma is awakening from its winter hibernation and Mallorcans are emerging from shuttered apartments into the spring sunshine. The cycle path that runs the length of the bay of Palma has become a high speed race track, with German cyclists in fluorescent lycra stretched taught across beer bellies, peddling their high tech machines at great speed and overtaking the locals who favour a more gentle form of exercise, jogging or roller blading while talking into their mobile phones.    

Over the winter months I have been to Palma once a month to check on Juno and to carry out the winter maintenance. For a while the lists just got longer and the issues more complex as they were batted back and forth by email to Oyster and on to their suppliers; none of whom were keen to admit fault unless proven guilty with corroborative evidence, all under the watchful eye of Oyster customer support who wield their significant influence. However, at last the lists are shorter and crisper, the issues all have solutions and the invoices are pouring in. You may be wondering, why so many issues on a boat that is only 18 months old? It’s a good question - let me try and explain.

A boat like Juno is a complicated machine. She has a robust hull that can punch the heaviest seas, a mast and rigging that can drive her 32 tons through the water and be able to withstand hurricane strength winds. She has a diesel engine that can propel us through the water at high speed and bow thrusters to manoeuvre in tight spaces. We generate our own electricity, make fresh water, refrigerate and freeze our provisions, cook food, run the heating and air conditioning systems and run our satellite systems for navigation and communication. On top of all this we have auto pilots, electronic chart plotters and no end of safety equipment in case of emergency.

The other day as I was checking the oil level on a high pressure pump I was wondering why I had never done this before at home. We have a high pressure pump in Haslemere that drives the various showers around the house and yet in ten years I have never even looked at the pump, let alone thought about any maintenance. The difference is that in Haslemere, if the pump was to fail, I would call the plumber and within 24 hours it would probably be fixed and life would continue uninterrupted. At sea, not only is there no plumber on hand, but the consequences of the high pressure pump on the water maker failing could be a major problem. At worst it could be life threatening if we run out of drinking water while mid Atlantic.

So that’s the reason. Every piece of equipment has a maintenance schedule, a list of spare parts to be ordered, catalogued and stored, and some parts have components that have to be periodically replaced or serviced by specialist engineers. During the summer season the boat is on the water and when issues arise they are logged, parts are ordered but unless they are urgent, these issues get left to the winter maintenance season – and winter has been upon us with a vengeance. But then occasionally, when I find myself bemoaning yet another complicated engineering task that seems beyond me, I have to remind myself that instead of commuting to London at 6am on a cold dark morning in February, I am in jeans and T shirt on the deck of my boat in Palma, cutting a backing plate for a new navigation light before settling down to scrambled eggs and a cappuccino in the cockpit, with the prospect of a cycle ride to the chandlery for that vital bow shackle that attaches to the spinnaker pole.

But now most of the work is done, the sails are being delivered in April, and trips to the chandlery are no longer for transmission oil for the gooseneck gearbox – instead I am shopping for charts of Corsica, a Blue ensign to announce our recent ennoblement to the Royal Thames Yacht Club, and red LED lights to minimise power consumption on our impending trans-Atlantic voyage.  The plan is to leave Mallorca in May and head to the neighbouring island Menorca, then across the Balearic Sea to the southern end of Corsica and the port of Bonifacio. Then we plan to continue south down the eastern coast of Sardinia to Sicily and on to Malta before crossing to the Italian mainland and heading North up the Amalfi coast towards Rome and then back to the Balearics in September. An engine and generator service is booked in Palma before we head west out of the Mediterranean to Madeira and then to the Canary Islands in time for the start of the ARC in November. 

See what I mean about that commute from Haslemere station?

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