• Eliza Brown

Keeping A Boat Afloat | Denia | Spain

Updated: Apr 7


The signs that the end of the summer season had arrived came upon us on a particular day in early November. The strong, cool winds were howling in from the south east, straight into the bay of Palma. Regardless of the weather we were eager to set sail. An extensive list of jobs awaited us at our destination. Varnishing, painting, plumbing and replacement electrics. The sooner we set sail to Denia on mainland Spain, the sooner we could crack on with our plans.

To our relief, the clanking masts and rigging abated by late afternoon. White horses could still be seen beyond the harbour wall that sheltered the marina. We planned to have an early supper, grab some sleep and set our alarms for midnight, when calmer seas were forecast.

It was magical setting sail from Palma in the deep, dark, crispness of the night. We slipped away from our berth in the marina, departing from the sheltered safety of the quay, slowly hoisting the mainsail and headed out to sea. The bulbous moon hung luminous in the clear night sky with the remaining yachts casting silhouettes on the calm harbour water. Glancing back at the receding island of Mallorca, only the moon and the magnificent Cathedral were illuminated in the distance.

Easing away from the lee of the island, the waves began to build and the wind was strengthening.

It was reassuring that the 72ft modern classic built, wooden yacht would carry us safely through the night. We alternated our watches with two hours on and off. The choppy seas didn’t afford us much sleep during the night whilst we jolted about in our bunks. The hardiest of our crew, including the Captain, did not escape sea sickness. I too, felt nauseous and my cooking could not be the cause!

We spotted glorious, mainland Spain the following evening just as the sun was setting. A kaleidoscope of colours painted the sky. Rich oranges and pinks combined with deep sea greens and blues.

During the summer we had experienced exploding water heaters, leaking hatches, suspect wiring and frequent engine problems confirming that what we needed to do was essential to put right the wear and tear during the winter ahead.

I did not relish the prospect of spending the winter scraping and sanding in a dusty yard. The idea of remaining in the same port for any length of time is daunting, especially with my incurable passion to travel. I knew this would be challenging however, I launched myself into the task and used the opportunity to learn about the upkeep and complex maintenance of a modern classic yacht. My goodness, I have discovered that there is much to ‘take on board’!

Preparing the boat for varnishing took first priority. Those who have experience of life on a timber built yacht will appreciate the enormous amount of work required when preparing to revarnish every surface. The timber had worn away in numerous patches and the exposed areas were turning yellow. Our professional helpers had arrived having travelled from Antigua, Australia and Cornwall in England. We were now a team of six including the Captain and myself.

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The work began and continued at a steady pace with long shifts on most days. Heat guns and scrapers in hand, layer after layer of old varnish was stripped back to the bare wood.

The hatches and toe rails proved awkward and labour intensive where there were grooves, carvings and detailing.

Two weeks in and the first stages of the stripping process was complete. The sanding could begin. Endeavouring to remain cheerful through this relentless process proved challenging, however, it wasn’t too bad once you had established a rhythm.

Working to a budget, everyone pulled together to push on with the varnishing process. Sanding between each coat of varnish to key the surface for the next. Dust is the devil!! Protecting the boat from dust was essential. A professionally built tent is costly and was not an option with the constraints on our budget. Our team set about constructing our own tent using PVC pipe slotted onto stanchions and bent across the boom. Securing the blue tarpaulin sheets with cable ties and extra timber this tent covered the entire boat and created a dust free zone which stood through gusty winds and rain.

My galley was in dire need of refurbishment. Large areas of varnished surfaces had suffered the ravages of cooking time and had become badly scratched, flaky and dull. The oven was corroded and long past it’s best and the surrounding paint had peeled away from the walls. I took on the soul challenge of reviving this space and I was delighted with the results after several coats of varnish. The surfaces are now glowing and the floor is gleaming. It was necessary to tape and protect all of the varnish before painting the remaining walls. For me, with the additional bonus of the installation of a new oven, this was the icing on the cake!

Slowly, layer after layer the entire boat began to transform both above and below deck. Twelve coats in total! The delicate grain within the mahogany became enhanced by the silky, transparent surface. Several weeks along and with only a few coats remaining, the end was in sight.

The Captain began to set me new challenges. Plumbing! Ensuring that all sea cocks were firmly shut, I began to remove and replace old pipe work. Fathoming out from memory the inputs and outputs of an air conditioning unit and water purifier certainly put me to the test. Consequently, I learnt that it is wise to photograph, label and record every layout of every system before removal!

I was relieved to know that the boat would not sink after testing every outlet of every pipe for potential leaks.

Post Christmas saw the boat being lifted out of the water and set on its cradle in the yard.

This was our opportunity to blast the anti-fowl with a pressure washer in readiness for ... yes ...

more sanding! The hull would be shining, bright and white for the coming season.

The anchor has been dropped on the yard to remove the weight from the boat whilst she sits out of the water, the loose fairleads redesigned and welded, the generator removed and serviced and a new air conditioning unit installed. First Aid Kits have been replenished and updated along with testing all safety equipment. Engine overhaul completed and meters of unruly cabling now tidy and simplified. The newly upholstered deck cushions and tailored boat cover will ensure that that all of our hard work will be protected.

The owner of this fine vessel will certainly see a transformation. The scale of necessary work that has been carried out in order to keep this boat afloat is astonishing!

My friends often ask me what I get up to when we are not sailing the seas? I am often found unblocking the bilges, peeling paint from my face and fingertips, I now have fisherman’s hands that feel like sandpaper, however, I have an enormous feeling of satisfaction and a sense of achievement. This has been gained from all that we have accomplished in the last few months.

I have certainly enjoyed the challenge and I am looking forward to the day that we proudly set sail for the coming season on this beautifully restored sailing yacht.

By Eliza Brown


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