It’s been nearly a year since I moved to Bristol. In my eyes, I’ve been doing a whole lot of writing about boat renovation but not enough practical work. I’ve been having the odd day or two working on a fishing boat that I bought in September to pass the time, but nothing compares to the excitement of buying a new boat to live on. Up until last week, I have been land-locked and living in a flat with no hope of getting a new boat, at least not anytime soon. Living with my partner Georgia; our plan was always to stay on land for 6 months whilst we looked for a new project but with the bills mounting up and funds dwindling, we soon found ourselves back at square one; broke and renting.
Not having a place to truly call my own hasn’t been my only dilemma. The problem with holding down a job and renovating boats is when you do have money, you don’t have time, and when you do have time you don’t have money! The very definition of a double edged sword, as my boss recently put it. The cruel irony; if you are working to pay for materials then you don’t have the time to use what you pay for!
Regardless of finances, my itchy feet could wait no more; bored of throwing our money away on rent and council tax, myself and my partner decided it’s time we took the plunge yet again and bought another boat.
After dropping the hint that I was looking for a new venture to the security at the boat yard, the next time I came to work on my fishing boat there was an another offer on the table. A boat had come up for sale in the yard, I’d seen it in passing and just presumed a boat that size would always be hideously over priced and unaffordable. I’d never thought to enquire about it.
We arranged a date to re-visit; hand shakes were made, registry papers were exchanged and we had bought the boat!
The Money Pit
It is a Seamaster 950 named “Serendipity”; 31ft in length and made from fibreglass with a wooden interior. She was exactly what we had been looking for. A happy compromise; it was big enough to convince Georgia to live aboard again and small enough to be affordable.
Built as an off-shore cruiser in the 80’s, it has been recovered from the watery depths after previously sinking. The last owner lived on it, but only temporarily (for 4 years). At £1300 we decided to go with our gut instinct and enter a world of gains and pains; boat renovating once again! Had I paid £8000, I would have gone over it with a fine tooth comb, but for £1300 we decided it was worth the gamble for a quick sale.
The boat was full of rubbish inside and out, with both engines missing. One engine stood next to it under a tarpaulin. It was a diesel inboard engine; a Volvo Penta of some description probably, the only brand of inboard I am familiar with having had a Volvo Penta MD1B on my last boat. I gave a sigh of relief that this was something familiar to me, but never the less, this is still an engine that I don’t know the history of.
The first step was to clean out all of the rubbish; loading my partner’s car a multitude of times, we eventually managed to clear out the boat and started to explore the potential of our new home. Obviously completely overlooking the pain it will take to get it to the point where it’s livable!
First Night On The Boat
First things first, I decided to assess the work that needed doing to bring the boat up to a liveable standard. I’d picked a day when I was finishing work early so I could rush to see the world of pain I was now entering. Insulation, water, heat, gas, electric, windows, structure; everything is on the table! Simply everything my brain could store needed thinking about. With nothing but 5 litres of water and a few cans of beans, I walked up the wonky ramp and aboard “Serendipity”. She would be my home for the next few days. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the tin opener and the microwave I had imagined on the counter, seemed to have gone walkies. Finding an old kettle I went for what was probably the most dangerous and crude way of heating a tin of beans known to man, de-labeling and slightly opening the lid and putting it in a kettle with the button held down! The eco-conscious would love me, but the electricians would turn in their graves! Either way, I had hot beans and could get to work.
I want to start from the outside in, so took to the deck. I had made a night time visit to the boat before we bought it and put my foot through the floor. It was like a scene from The Money Pit but none the less it made me giggle (as traditionally British people do when faced with dire situations).
At some point, the cockpit area had been renovated using the poorest plywood known to man and non-treated decking wood. It was a heap of shit to say the least but for a short while, it probably served its purpose of providing a cockpit area to stand and store goods. The result of this awful renovation, however, was a totally rotten structure. I began to tear the rotten wood away; I was sweating and increasingly panicking as I ended up dismantling the whole of the outside deck! All that was left was a piece of wood right under the doors of the cockpit entrance; fortunately the support for the doors and cabin floor in the boat. It looked a mess but I decided to go to sleep for the night.
The boat is poorly insulated but as it is summer I was lured into a false sense of security. I thought it would be fine to sleep with nothing but a pillow that I had made from a ripped up old bit of curtain and scrap foam. I don’t need a quilt I thought to myself – oh how I was wrong! At about 3 am I woke up and much like in the desert, the temperature had dropped and I was freezing my balls off! I pulled a mouldy heated blanket that I had previously thrown away to grasp with my now loving arms. It was for a single bed, perhaps designed for someone who only had half a torso as it was barely enough to cover my whole body, but that with the dust covered overalls I had laying around I managed to get back to sleep.
That night I didn’t bother to try find my phone, embracing the semi-outdoors hobo experience. The next day I began to clean out the thick gunk; oil from the bilge of the cockpit. It was rank and my only real light was the fact I had previously bought a Titan wet and dry hoover from a car-boot for £5.00 (already becoming my best purchase to date). I poured washing up liquid into the bilge with water to try and remove it. Fresh running water isn’t available at the boat yard so rain water harvesting seems to be the way to go about it at the moment!
Whilst sucking up the remainder of the now slightly less dreadful water from the bilge, I stumbled upon something that was two big to go up the hoover end. It was my new phone. It had been under water for a good 14 hours. It was deader than lobster in butter sauce but this is why I now buy my phones second hand! When renovating boats they have a shelf life of 1-2 months before I anilite them. Some good old fashioned “what time is it mate” to strangers later, a cancelled train and two buses and I was home. I now knew that all of the wood in the cockpit area needs to be replaced with the best marine quality wood that I can get my hands on.