“Why are you still in La Manga?”

It’s February 1st… and we’re still stuck in La Manga. Those of you who know us well won’t be at all surprised at the delay, but everybody else keeps asking us, “Why…?”

Essentially, the answer is, “‘Cos the boat isn’t ready.”

To recap: When we left South Africa, seven years ago, Mollymawk was fitted with a cooker and a bed – and with nothing more. We didn’t even have a loo. But the boat was sound and seaworthy, and the ocean was beckoning, so we simply loaded her up with wood, and steel, and all the other bits and bobs needed to construct and furnish the cabins; we piled all of our personal effects aboard, and then we cast off from the quay. Not a single person amongst our many friends and well-wishers deemed us anything but utterly mad, but we knew better: we knew that we would soon have the interior finished; we would build it as we went along.

Molly in the marinaIt took about a month for us to realise that building a boat while you cruise is pretty much impossible. Trying to build lockers and beds, and so forth, in a space which is already chock-a-block with food-stores, books, kids, insulation materials, pots and pans, toys, clothes, and the ingredients for the self-same lockers is a mathematical non-starter; you can’t fit two lots of matter into the same small space; even with the best will in the world, and everybody gritting their teeth in blind, dogged determination, it simply cannot be done. So we cruised on, in our half-built home, clambering over the clutter to get from the cooker to the bed, eating our meals on top of the insulation, peeing in a bucket… and all to the strains of the Admiral moaning dolefuly, “I can’t take any more of this!”

So it went on, with the days passing into weeks, and the weeks into months, and the months into years, until finally the Admiral screamed, “I really, really, really can’t take any more of this!”

That was four years ago, and since then we have been wallowing around in the Mar Menor, trying to finish the boat whilst at the same time trying simultaneously to earn our keep and home-school the kids. Fitting it all into the same twenty-four hours isn’t any easier than that previous mathematical problem!

Ship’s Cat helps with work in the aft cabinSo, what progress have we made – and how much longer will we have to wait before Yours Truly caves in and says, “We don’t really need a chart table – and lots of boats have leaking hatches. Who cares if the lockers don’t have doors; and we’ve managed without a fridge for the past eighteen years, so why go all soft and needy now?” How long before we hear the cry of “All aboard!” ?

Well, the first thing to say is that some progress has been made. In fact, since Nick stopped working on other people’s boats the rate of progress aboard our own has rocketed. Previously, we seemed to be running frantically upward on a down-going escalator; boats need constant maintenance and as fast as we built something new another item fell into disrepair. Under the new regime we are moving forwards again – at about the pace of the proverbial snail. What have we done? Well, for a start, I am writing this log-book entry at a table! Yes, we now have the usual dinette arrangement, of bench seats on either side of a table. Ours is not the usual teak-veneered job, however; ours is a rustic creation made from somebody’s antique floorboards. The wood is very dark and very hard, and thus it is emminently capable of repelling diesel stains, oil paint, and attack by children.

Ship’s Actress (seen here playing Nigella) in the chaotic galleyBesides this communal table there are now two others in the boat. The first is in the forepeak where the girls now have their own fully furnished and finished cabins. The Ship’s Mermaid wishes that her cabin were five times bigger and wants to know why it doesn’t have a door.
“We’ll work up to the doors,” says Daddy.

Meanwhile, The Studio (also known as the aft cabin) does not yet have any of the facilities which would entitle it to bear that name. There is no desk or easel. But the mega bed where the entire family once reposed has now been reduced to normal, queen-sized proportions, and lockers have been constructed beneath it, and beside it, and all around that spacious cabin. And I’ve finally hung up my collection of African masks (a symbolic statement meaning, “This cabin is now deemed habitable”.)

The mechanic’s workshop has also received a major reorganisation, so that he, at least, can now put his hand on the requisite tool for whatever job is in hand. But the galley is still a place of utter chaos, and the saloon still looks more like a ship’s hold than a living room. And the hatches still leak.

January 10th marked the twelfth anniversary of the day when we capsized in the Southern Ocean; the day which was the direct cause of our decision to build this much stronger boat. It was also the second anniversary of the day when Caesar started work on his cabin.

When he was six, and the new boat was still a pipe-dream, Caesar planned to build a moat around his cabin. By the time he was eight he knew that this was a flight of fancy. He renewed his design. This time the entire cabin was set in gimbals, enabling it to remain steady while the boat heaved about, and the door was fitted with a super-high-tech electronic lock.

Stormy Sky in the MarinaNow that he is older and wiser, the dot-com officer has come to terms with the idea of sleeping on a bed which rolls to and fro at the whim of the sea, and he is less preoccupied with the matter of keeping his sisters out of his domain. What concerns him now is quality. He is a man who demands perfection. This perfectionism is most apparent when Caesar is designing and constructing websites – his websites have to be absolutely perfect, right down to the last pixel – but the attitude is also reflected in everything else that he does. Before he can start work on his cabin Our Boy has to have all of the right tools, all shiny and new, and he has to have the right kind of weather, and he has to have the right kind of wood – not the pre-owned stuff that his aged parents prefer.

Even when the stars are in the right positions in the heavens and all the pre-conditions of the job have been met, Caesar still sometimes finds that he cannot meet the exacting standard which he has set himself. The third table aforementioned is in Caesar’s cabin, and the rest of the crew consider it to be a work of art – but its creator sees blemishes which are invisible to us. Likewise the bookshelves, which are cunningly designed (to accommodate all 26 volumes of How to Do Clever Stuff with Computers) are considered, by Caesar, to be in some way imperfect. I guess the lad must be a throw-back; certainly he has failed to inherit the attitude so dear to his parents and the one which we have been at pains to instil: “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly, and quickly.” Anyone with a more demanding attitude than this had better steer clear of boat building – unless he aims never to go to sea.

Misty Reflections in the MarinaOf all the little details in Caesar’s cabin none has received so much care and attention as the electrics. Hours and days beyond all count have been devoted to the exploration, consideration, and explanation of the equipment which will power his computer when cruel fate parts it from the shore supply. In particular, much time has been spent researching low power, high intensity lighting. Caesar is very keen on the idea of LED lights and has recently talked us into buying some special ones made by a guru in Fiji (of all places). If they work as well as the manufacturer claims we will let the world know.

Two years to build one small cabin…? Well, to be fair it isn’t just Caesar’s perfectionist nature which has delayed the process; he and Xoë both spent the first half of 2007 with their noses to the grindstone, working towards their GCSEs. And since December they have both been single-mindedly studying for their A Levels. This removes two able-bodied crew-members from the workforce and leaves the rest of us having to do the chores for five.
(“Well, what are parents for?” says You Know Who.)

There have been plenty of chores to do, besides the ordinary run of the mill stuff. The sails needed overhauling; the liferafts were due for a close scrutiny; the radar, when last invited to reveal the mysteries of the unseen world over the horizon, coughed out a cloud of pungent smoke – so, that was another thing which had to be replaced (with another second-hand machine for which we have yet to find a plug…).

And we also need to repaint the hullIn the midst of these activities the self-steering rudder was seen to have split its sheathing. Then, the clear PVC window in the folding sprayhood suddenly expired, which means that I have to make a new hood. These are just some of the jobs which have kept us in La Manga for the winter, but they are not the major cause of the delay. The most taxing and time consuming chore of all has been to move all of our belongings back aboard the boat.

Three years ago we rented a garage, and in it we deposited pretty much all of our worldly goods. In went most of our clothes, all of Roxanne’s toys, the wetsuits, the windsurfing gear, most of the sails, one thousand books, and a vast assortment of chandlery and lumber. This last category included half a dozen bilge pumps awaiting installation, a spare set of bottle-screws, several coils of hefty rigging wire, a loo, some large pieces of stainless steel, and enough wood to fit out at least three 50 footers. Emptying the boat of all this clobber took almost two weeks.

Needless to say, sifting through the cobwebbed junk, deciding which items were just that, and finding homes in the boat for the remainder has taken even longer. Roughly three times longer, in fact. Throwing out the rigging wire was particularly heart-breaking – especially since, having done so, we will probably now break a backstay… It would have hurt a lot less if there was someone to whom we could donate the priceless stuff, but the Spanish do not go in for DIY boat-building, so off it went to the scrapyard. For weeks to come I shall be having nightmares about the criminal waste.

If all this seems like a pretty feeble excuse for being still stuck in a marina, when we planned to leave Spain three months ago – well, I guess it is; it’s feeble. But that’s just the way life is at the moment. We seem to be under some kind of debilitating curse which keeps us pinned down in the muddled mire, unable to rise to the surface and escape.
On a brighter note – they’ve been having some pretty nasty weather whither we were bound, in the Canaries. La Manga, on the other hand, has enjoyed a spectacularly mild and sunny January.

Ship’s Captain lets his hair downWhat is more, the captain has just announced that we are leaving on February 29th. (And this is a leap year, so he is not pulling our legs.)
What! Leave without a chart table? Without a fridge? Without an easel in The Studio, or doors on the lockers?
Yes, yes, yes, and no. We will have to have doors on the lockers.
And we will have to find some rubber for the hatches, and some new perspex for the companion way; we will have to attend to these, and to a dozen other chores which concern seaworthiness rather than comfort.
And getting them all done will only take four weeks, hey?
So says the man who reckoned he could build a boat in eighteen months.

Watch this space.


  1. Hey there,

    An excellent read, witty and full of charm…

    But today is the 29th of February and I just saw you pop in to iberianatureforum.com… So are you planning to set sail later this afternoon? Or has Caesar talked you into getting that satellite internet system 🙂

    Best wishes



    1. Caesar  (Mollymawk crew) 

      Clive – It’s the 4th of March, and we left this morning at 2 o’clock! We’re cheating, though; we’ve left the marina, but not the Mar Menor. We’re anchored just outside the marina now, and I’ve rowed in to the internet café – so no, we haven’t got a way of doing internet onboard! We’ll be anchored in the Mar Menor for the next few weeks, and then we’re planning to leave…

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