View Full Version : Lulu's Winter of Discontent

John R Smith
12-19-2000, 09:58 AM

I will take this opportunity to wish all of you, my excellent friends on the Forum, a Very Happy Christmas and a Whizzo New Year, from myself (the Gnome), the wonderful Kate, and Lulu of course. Thank you all a zillion times over for making our first season on the water much more fun than it would have been without you! Now, the piece that follows may seem a little downbeat and lacking in good cheer, but we are undeterred, folks, despite everything.

Lulu's Winter of Discontent

Oh, the dark days of winter, how dismal they are. It was the middle of November and there was endless rain, rain, rain. The trees were now bereft of leaves, daylight hours were short and the tides were never right. We had not been out for weeks. Kate and I had even mocked the timid folks who laid up their boats each year rather than continuing to sail. Now we knew why they did, and how wise they were. On the few occasions when the skies relented, we were both at work or Lulu was firmly on the mud. Enjoying our cruising in the summer months, we had foolishly forestalled much-needed maintenance, choosing to ignore the flaking paint, patchy varnish and ominous signs of rot. "We'll fix it in the autumn", we told ourselves.

Autumn had come and with it storms, floods and the worst weather for twenty years. I had booked some leave to coincide with a week of favourable tides, and did not get a single day working on the boat. Every precious afternoon it rained, so I gave up, cancelled my break and went back to the office. All the jobs that needed doing involved paint, varnish - and dry weather. On each weekend I went down for an hour or so to tend the mooring ropes, run the engine up and pump the bilge. I sat in Lulu's cabin as it poured down again, made cups of tea, and dashed out between the showers to desperately dry and seal another tiny length of rubbing strip.

I quickly found that working on a beach in winter is not much fun, and memories of the yard at Salcombe thirty years ago came flooding back. If it's not the rain trickling down your neck and ruining that fresh coat of paint, it's the wind, blowing paint rags into the mud and extinguishing the blow-lamp for the umpteenth time. And nothing ever dries. The cockpit sole is always soaking, feet start wet and stay that way, and the sand falls off the soggy sandpaper that once was crisp and new. The calls of the curlews, waders and gulls which had seemed so friendly in the summer, now seemed to mock this damp shadow of a skipper who grovelled in the ooze up by the bows.

Nonetheless some jobs got done. I managed to anti-foul the hull down to the bilge keels, varnished the cabin sides, and eventually raked out and sealed the rubbing strip from stem to stern. But mud which in the summer was a minor irritant, now spread itself over my jeans and lower body like a kind of evil poultice, refusing to dry. The only other person on the beach was Percy, equally unhinged and unwilling to concede the fight to winter. He and his sons Adrian and Peter were busy re-fitting the "Kathy K", a 1930s carvel boat with yacht-like lines. They too were struggling with the weather, desperately building a new cabin from ply and ripping out the rotten bulwarks. Together we screamed defiance at the heavens when the rain lashed down again, then each skulked off our separate ways as darkness fell.

Lulu lay forlorn upon the mud and stones, with seaweed tangled round her ropes, and halyards flailing in the wind. Despite my efforts, instead of looking better she looked worse. As I moved along the decks I ground in mud. Unable to finish any job before clouds gathered overhead, her topsides became a patchwork of primer, sealer and wood. The waterline was lost as I burnt my way down below the ancient layers of paint, and every step I trod squirted mud upon the boat. Soot from the blow-lamp blackened the remainder of the hull. I had fondly imagined finishing the topsides in a week - instead, a day per strake would be something to achieve. And how many strakes? I dare not count.

I consoled myself with the thought that she was at least more watertight than when we first looked round the ship. How I wished I could somehow gain the stoic attitude of Mr Rock, who seemed so unperturbed by all the woes of winter. He merely shrugged his shoulders and said "Well, wooden boat!", when we mentioned the rain pouring down the inside of the cabin. And when we drew attention to the lake below the cockpit sole, his reply was the same - "Wooden boat!". Perhaps if I repeated this mantra each time I encountered rot, leaks or crabs in the bilge, I too could achieve a Rock-like equanimity of mind.

Meanwhile Kate was working on the galley. New shelves were made from oak, the after-cabin was painted blue and cream and all it lacked was the new cooker, which we could not yet afford. This was the one bright spot in the boat. But our thoughts of winter trips out on the river faded fast. By the time the first autumn gales had come and gone, we had doubled all the mooring ropes, lashed the tiller and stretched extra covers overall. To make ready to leave the quayside now would have taken half an afternoon.

So it was that we found ourselves this winter, as the winter before, sitting by the fire in our cottage, memorising the Colregs, splicing rope and reading Maurice Griffiths yet again. We were warm and cosy, but our thoughts kept straying to a little wooden sloop down on the beach at Sunny Corner. We glanced at the clock - yes, she would be floating now. Was that the wind getting up again? We should have checked that mooring rope for chafe . . . Outside the last leaves of autumn fell from our pear tree in the garden, clouds rushed across a waxing moon and summer seemed a distant age away.


12-19-2000, 10:57 AM
Things will get better John, the solstice is three days away and the spring season is just around the corner.

Happy Holiday's to you and Kate. And don't forget that LULU is a "wooden boat" and will survive the dregs of weather just fine.

Thanks for brightening up a dark New England Winter day with your fine story.


Dave Fleming
12-19-2000, 11:05 AM
John and Kate
The very best of the Christmas Season to you both!
Snug by the fire ain't too shabby a place to be with foul weather all about.
Lulu will survive and next winter perhaps your ability and facilities for working on her will have changed.
Be happpy in the ownership/stewardship of a nice little vessel.
Is it time for another pot of tea?


12-19-2000, 11:20 AM
We have had cold here so we have only left the dock once since moving to our Winter slip. I have the new range but haven't moved it aboard yet. We did get a slight break toward 50 F (10C) a couple of weeks ago so she did get a couple of coats of varnish (I am using Epifanes Gloss Wood Finish). I have put the winter cover on (still not the best but fitting a cover on a boat with topping lifts, lazy jacks, peak halyards, running back stays, etc. is not that easy) so as with LULU clearing the decks is not that easy. Still we hope for a few beautiful days in the Winter for a sail. I like that Whizzo New Year not to mention Happy Holidays all around.

Keith Wilson
12-19-2000, 11:49 AM
Thanks, John, and Gleđileg Jól! Great story - makes 5 below (-21C) and six inches of new snow this morning seem quite pleasant. At least I'm not even tempted to work on boats. I recommend a strong dose of Maurice Griffiths or Patrick O'Brian, lots of tea, and some wet-and-dry sandpaper for those times you can't resist going out to work on her (3M does make it in all grits, it's just harder to find).

12-19-2000, 11:53 AM
"God bless us all, every one." Lulu too.

12-19-2000, 01:45 PM
I empathize with you John. While it has been cooler and wetter here too, there have been some good sailing days. But as I still haven't replaced the centerboard and rudder since our turtling experience, we haven't been out either. I'm convinced that nothing goes to plan or progresses quickly with sailing unless it's bad.

Dave R
12-19-2000, 01:58 PM
Thank you, John, for another installment.

Happy holidays to all.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
12-19-2000, 02:39 PM
Dear Lulu,

I am disappointed in you. You clearly have not got your keepers properly "house trained", yet. The right place for any right thinking wooden boat to spend the winter months is at the back of a nice big, dry-ish, cool, shed, in a boatyard. The keepers can work on you in comfort, you avoid all the drips through the deck, the frost lifting the varnish and other winter nasties, and emerge in the Spring perfectly painted and varnished, like a butterfly out of her chrysalis.

Failing to keep your owners Up to The Mark (i.e., bankrupt!) is letting the side down for the rest of us! Come on, now!

Yours ever,


12-19-2000, 02:41 PM
You know, John's writing reminds me a lot of a piece written by John Seymour and published in WB #96 (one of my all time favorite stories that WB ever printed). Thanks for the great stuff, and a peaceful and prosperous new year to all...


J. Dillon
12-19-2000, 02:50 PM

Do you ever need to buy paint or varnish with UV inhibitors ?

Dream on and as Abe said spring is just around the corner. Very soon the days will start to lengthen again.

The best of the holiday season. JD

Ian McColgin
12-19-2000, 02:55 PM
Lulu's just doing what a lot of those englanders do or want to do - gone native and squatting in the mud.

Dave Hadfield
12-19-2000, 03:40 PM
John, I recommend fighting the winter gales by finding some enthusiast with a warm, dry shop, and convincing him to allow you to make a set of blocks, or cleats, or some such thing there. It's a great pleasure to sit beside the wood stove, listen to the wind howl outside, take a draw on your pipe, and lay up a grommet for a block you've just carved. And besides the satisfaction, you can always use the block.

Anyway, best wishes for the New Year.


Dave Hadfield
12-19-2000, 03:40 PM
John, I recommend fighting the winter gales by finding some enthusiast with a warm, dry shop, and convincing him to allow you to make a set of blocks, or cleats, or some such thing there. It's a great pleasure to sit beside the wood stove, listen to the wind howl outside, take a draw on your pipe, and lay up a grommet for a block you've just carved. And besides the satisfaction, you can always use the block.

Anyway, best wishes for the New Year.


12-19-2000, 03:43 PM
I find that when I draw on my pipe, my mind tends to wander, and I get terminal munchies, but the music sounds better...
Perhaps I need a new pipe?

Greg H
12-19-2000, 05:46 PM
Roy...sounds like you've siezed and served the bitter ends of hardy hemp.

Spring is coming Mr Smith, not to worry. Happy holidays to you
Greg H.

On Vacation
02-12-2004, 07:49 AM
Will it ever get here? Snow and miserable rain today.