“How do you feel?”, says the First Mate, holding a glass of water and looking down at me worriedly. “You don’t look too good.”
“Ggggrrrrrkkkcch”, I say to the bowl on the floor next to the bed. “Not bad. But I’ve been better.”
I give her my best spaniel eyes look, a careful mixture of pretending to be brave but needing compassion at the same time. On one of the branches of the copper beech tree outside the window, two wood-pigeons stop cooing over each other for a moment to look at me pityingly, then resume their love-making.
It is two days before we are due to leave to head over to Stockholm and re-join Ruby Tuesday for the next stage of our Baltic odyssey, but instead I am lying in bed feeling sorry for myself, dry retching every ten minutes. It must have been something I had eaten the night before, but as the First Mate had eaten much the same, we still haven’t pinpointed what it was.
“I hope you recover”, says the First Mate. “It would be terrible if we have to cancel everything.”
“Gggggrrrrrrkkkcch”, I say to the bowl again.
“Well, at least it’s one way to lose weight”, she says.
As it turns out, I feel much better later that day, and the next day I am more-or-less back to normal. Whatever it was seems to have worked its way through.
We have decided to drive over to Stockholm this year, as we want to stay a few days with the First Mate’s family in Germany on the way, and there are things that we need to take to and bring back from Ruby Tuesday. Even more importantly, our carbon emissions are about half of what they would have been if we had flown instead.
“It’ll be nice to have the car when we do our provisioning as well”, says the First Mate. “I was dreading getting all our food back from the supermarket to the boat on our bikes.”
“Ah yes”, I say. “The Big Shop we had in Flensburg. I’ll never forget it.”
Not long after we leave, the car develops an intermittent rubbing noise in the port-side rear wheel.
“I didn’t realise that port and starboard could be used for cars as well”, says the First Mate. “I thought they are just for boats.”
“Well, they are really”, I say. “But I am just refreshing my boaty language again.”
When we get to Germany the man in the local garage looks at the wheel. We take him for a drive to show him what it sounds like, but true to form there is no noise.
“Well, without hearing it, I can’t really say what it is”, he says. “It’s probably just a bit of rust on the disk. Look, you can see it there. It’ll rub off shortly.”
I explain in my best German that we have already driven all the way from Scotland so it should have rubbed off my now, but he doesn’t seem to understand. I probably said something rude without meaning to.
That afternoon we visit some old friends of the First Mate, Peter and Katerina, for café und kuchen. The conversation turns to the war in Ukraine.
“Last year, there was a feeling in Germany that German support of Ukraine by supplying them with heavy weapons was wrong”, I say. “It was much better to all get round a table and sort out the issues diplomatically. Is that still the feeling?”
“I think that it has changed a bit since then”, says Peter. “Of course, we would all prefer the war to end and not escalate, but the feeling now is that Putin is so brutal that the only way forward is that he has to be beaten soundly.”
“But for that, Ukraine needs help from Germany and other western countries”, says Katerina. “So most people would agree now that supplying these weapons is necessary.”
“It’s hard to believe that people are thinking that way in Germany now”, says the First Mate. “When I was growing up, we were all taught that all problems could be solved diplomatically, and that there would never be a need for war in Europe again. How things have changed!”
We push on the next day towards Stockholm. If anything, the rubbing noise seems to be getting worse. I am starting to worry if we will ever get there, let alone get back. She’s not a new car any more.
On the way, we stop off at Hans and Gisela in Denmark, friends we have known since our days in the Philippines. We had visited them two years ago when we had sailed Ruby Tuesday up the fjord where they live. Hans works in Hamburg in Germany while Gisela works from their home in Denmark. Their sons and our son were born around the same time, so it is always interesting to hear what they have got up to since. We sit outside in the warmth of the late afternoon sun and drink coffee.
“We can’t make up our mind where to live when we retire”, says Gisela. ”I quite like it here in Denmark as I have a lot of friends here, but Hans is not so keen as his friends are mostly in Hamburg.”
“Perhaps you should find somewhere totally different to live”, say the First Mate. “Then you can both start afresh and make new friends together.”
“Maybe we should think about buying a boat and sailing around like you are doing”, say Hans. “Or a campervan, or something like that.”
“Why don’t you come and join us on the boat in Sweden this year?”, we say as we leave the next day. “We have plenty of room, and you would be most welcome. You can see whether you like the lifestyle or not.”
“It sounds like a good idea”, says Gisela. “We would love to. We’ll give it some serious thought.”
We catch the ferry at Helsingor in Denmark across to Helsingborg in Sweden and drive through miles and miles of endless forest. We find an AirBnB near Linköping and stop for the night.
“It’s funny”, says the First Mate. “I had this idea that southern Sweden was just farmland stretching off into the distance, but we’ve hardly seen any. It’s just trees, trees and more trees.”
“I think the north of the country is pretty much the same”, I say. “You’d better get to like them.”
We eventually arrive at the marina near Stockholm where we had left Ruby Tuesday. She looks in good shape, and the tarpaulins covering her against the snow are just as intact as when we put them on.
“Look, there’s Spencer”, I exclaim, as we take the covers off. “He looks happy to see us. I am looking forward to more deep meaningful conversations with him over the summer.”
Rolf, who kept an eye on the boat over the winter for us, arrives along with his wife.
“She’s fine”, he says. “Your boat, that is. But you won’t believe that we had late snow just three weeks ago, and everything was covered to a depth of 80 cm. But your covers did the trick, except at the back where the snow tended to lie rather than sliding off. You need to make that bit steeper next time.”
The next day, I load the folding bike into the car and drive to the local garage. They take the car wheel off to see what they can find.
“Look, you can see that the brake shoes of the parking brake are not attached to the backing plate”, he explains to me. “The shoes are not positioned properly, so occasionally they rub against the brake drum when you are driving. Hence the intermittent rubbing noise. It probably happened if the car has been standing for a while with the handbrake on and was released suddenly. We’ll need to fix the attachment mechanism and replace the brake shoes as they are almost worn through. We’ll need it for a day.”
It’s exactly what had happened. About two years ago, the handbrake had seized over the winter, and had suddenly freed itself when I had reversed the car. I cycle back to the boat, and then back the next day to the garage to pick the car up.
“I think we have fixed it now”, says the man. “I took it for a run this morning, and there wasn’t a peep. It’ll be fine now. Just don’t leave the handbrake on if you are going to let the car stand for a while.”
We spend the next week preparing Ruby Tuesday for the voyage. We have arranged for the engineer at the marina to replace the rubber cutless bearing that the propeller shaft rotates in. There is a lot of play in the old one and we are worried that the propeller shaft vibration might damage the seal that prevents water from entering the boat. He’s had since October to work on it, but has allocated the last two days before we launch to do it.
“It’s cutting it pretty fine”, I say to the First Mate. “What if something goes wrong?”
As it turns out, something does go wrong. The zinc anode that attaches to the propeller has gone missing. I put a new one on last year, and was hardly worn, but the engineer says that they will fit a new one. The new one needs to be adapted, so we have to postpone the launch for four days.
“At least it will give us a chance to wax and polish the boat”, says the First Mate.
We spend the next few days applying wax to the sides and polishing it with a machine. It does make a difference, but it is patchy.
One of our neighbours stops for a chat.
“I think that it needs a good clean first with a gel-coat restorer”, he says. “That will remove all the grime and grease and bring up the true colour again. Then you need to apply polish to seal the pores, and finally wax to give it a shine.”
There’s more science in cleaning a boat than either of us realised.
“Yours is looking good”, says the First Mate, admiring his hull that he has been working on for the last week. “But you have somehow managed to get some paint on your head. Here, let me try and get it off.”
Before he realises what is happening, she has a cleaning cloth soaked in white spirits and is rubbing his bald head furiously.
“There”, she says triumphantly. “That’s got it off.”
He’s not sure whether to be happy that he can go home to his wife paint-free, or to be unhappy at the invasion of his personal space by an unknown woman. Luckily he goes for the former. The next day, he is still talking to us, but I notice that he is wearing a hat, and keeps a discrete distance from the First Mate.
The day for the launch arrives. We awake early and work our way through the list of small last-minute jobs that have to be done. The crane arrives, and Ruby Tuesday begins her ponderous journey to the slipway. I am reminded of the giant Saturn rockets moving to the launch pads at Cape Canaveral. Well, sort of.
She is lowered into the water, and I jump aboard to make sure that there is no water coming in anywhere it shouldn’t be. All shipshape so far. I start the engine, the First Mate jumps aboard, the lines are thrown to us, and we reverse slowly out into open water. We head for the temporary berth on the other side of there marina where we have arranged to stay for a couple of days to finish the preparation work in the water.
As we approach the entrance, the engine stops.
“That’s funny”, I say. “It’s never done that before.”
I start it again. We motor slowly into the marina and head for the berth. The engine stops again. There is a strong cross wind, and Ruby Tuesday begins to drift, powerless.
“What are you doing?” calls the First Mate from the bow. “You almost hit that boat. Keep the engine running.”
“I am not doing it on purpose”, I call back. “There’s something wrong with the engine. I hope that it wasn’t damaged with the cold temperatures over the winter.”
I manage to get it started one more time and enter the berth before it gives up completely. No amount of turning it over will start it again. But at least we are tied up safely.
Then it dawns on me. At the end of the previous season, I had turned the tap on the fuel tank off, and had forgotten to turn it on again this season. The engine had used all the fuel in the fuel line and filters, then had run out.
I need to use the manual fuel pump to bleed the system to get rid of any air that might have entered, and also to fill the filters and fuel lines back up again. Twenty minutes later the engine is running sweetly once more.
“It’s lucky it didn’t run out a minute or two sooner than it did”, says the First Mate. “I wouldn’t fancy being blown all over the marina without any power. We didn’t even have the sails up.”
She has a point. It doesn’t bear thinking about. I make a mental note to add turning on the fuel tap to my ‘De-winterisation’ list. For some reason it wasn’t on there.
Robin and Brigitte, Welcome back! Brgds, Martin
Thank’s Martin – looking forward to the new season. If the weather carries on like it is at the moment, it will be great!
Yes, good to see you back on the water.
Peter & Joanne
Yes, it’s a good feeling, for sure. Looking forward to seeing you both in due course!
Very nice to hear that you’re heading out on adventures again, and very much looking forward to reading all about it!
Thanks Birgitta, yes looking forward to discovering new places and people and learning more about this fascinating part of the world!