The red book
Every project boat needs a to-do list, but which is the best list to make a start with?
The first time I stepped onto the project boat as owner, I had with me a little red notebook. I am looking at it now. The first list is none too detailed, partly because the whole works was deep under filth after a five-year sojourn in a Hebridean boatyard. The list suggested that the requirements were new sails, repairs to the engine, a new sprayhood, a new stove, a new head, and plenty of miscellanea in the way of skin fittings, hoses and perhaps a touch of wiring here and there.
There followed a list of phone numbers of people who would be helpful in acquiring these things. Looking back into the numbers, I cannot now remember who any of them were, except for the engineer. The next list is of weather forecasts for the first week I spent on the boat in the yard, dodging drips from the faulty hatch seals. It makes soggy reading. The next list is even worse, mentioning cabin sole, rotten; wiring, ditto; cutless gland, antique; propeller, corroded; and engine installation – done by somebody with slight experience of domestic plumbing but a stranger to marine practice.
The list after that deals with the installation of a new engine and the flogging of the old one to a forklift operator. Next come suppliers of propellers, whose prices varied from a thousand quid on the south coast of England to a quarter of that on the east coast of Scotland.
The next few lists are gritty objects. We are in the land of tinned wire, stainless Jubilee clips, sink seacocks, screws of all shapes and sizes, and (for reasons I cannot now recall, but perhaps breakfast) eggs. In fact this phase recalls very few memories, as the yard was now in perpetual twilight through which rumbled tour coaches from whose windows hundreds of Chinese tourists peered into the drizzle where their guidebooks said the mountains should have been. Furthermore I was spending perhaps too much time in the pub.
The tourists returned to Beijing. I returned to the boat. The lists changed in nature, reflecting a new policy of practical economy. The sails and the sprayhood would do another season or two, and as for the head, this was a boat, not the Ritz.
The lists now featured miles of halyard and outhaul and control line, and a new topping lift on the mizzen, and an automatic bilge pump to stop the boat filling up with Hebridean downpour the second I turned my back.
Riffle more pages and the lists are down to the small stuff, infested with an orgy of ticks. We need a nut for the wheel, tick, and a tankful of fuel with bug killer, tick, and the stuffing box needs attention, tick, and so does the catch for the forehatch, and the domestic battery needs measuring so we can make the tray. There is to be a new Kobra anchor, and a gastight gas locker with a drain outboard, and the stove is an antique but has been restored by the only man in Britain licensed to do it, tick, tick, tick. The solar panels are on, screwed down and connected up and ticked, two small ones instead of one big one, one to port, one to starboard, so there will always be one in full sun never mind what tack we are on. Six months ago the idea of being on any tack at all would have been a wild fantasy. Now it was so close it was getting hard to sleep at night, and the pages of the red book were covered in fingerprints in Epifanes Rapidclear and cream Interdeck and blue antifouling.
Some of the last lists are of things that can be got rid of, for instance 10 x 13A plugs in the saloon in case you want to dry your hair while arc welding, while making meringues, while watching TV and boiling six electric kettles while on shore power, and never mind if the lights of the town go dim.
And finally, there on a page by itself is the single word WHISKY, for use during the ceremonies of relaunch.
So here we are, safely round Ardnamurchan and anchored in the charming harbour of Coll, just to the west of Mull. The sun is still out, and there is still some of the whisky left, and here is the red notebook. If anyone still smokes they can use one of those ruddy lists to light their cigar.
‘We are in the land of tinned wire, Jubilee clips, seacocks and screws of all shapes and sizes’
■ See this month’s Cruising Notes on page 96 for a handy website where you can list all the jobs that need doing on your boat and set yourself reminders to getting around to doing them.
Lists, lists and more lists to do
Flotsam and jetsam Sam Llewellyn writes nautical thrillers and edits The Marine Quarterly. He is currently patching up a 30ft ketch