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The first slugs of summer…

Kensa on her way back to the water

We’re getting there! Kensa’s back in the water and we’ve finished the water ballast tank and fitted a bilge pump. The temperature rose for long enough for us to get the fibreglassing work done we were hoping to do and after some fairly chilly days touching up paint and fitting the pump we relaunched Kensa at Percuil a few weeks ago.

Painting in the cold

Once we were afloat again, we spent some time testing and checking the water ballast tank was working and making a few adjustments to the bilge pump set up so that we were happy with filling and emptying the boat of water (a fairly high priority really…) and it was pleasing to see that with the ballast tank full she floated right on her designed waterline. Luckily we managed to find one lovely bright (albeit freezing cold!) day to go out for a test sail a couple of days later and we were really pleased with how everything worked.

Ready to sail

Unfortunately, not long afterwards the weather turned again and threw one gale after another at us for about a month. So we got on with other jobs repairing boats, painting and demolishing houses. Different houses, obviously…

Test sail

Then just as we were beginning to despair of spring ever arriving at all, the sun came out for a couple of days and everybody smiled! And the doom, gloom and doubt about our business choices came good again as we finally found some lighter winds and warm air which we’re tentatively hoping might last a while. With this came a flurry of activity from us both and we’ve spent the last week collecting more potting and netting gear, sorting out Kensa’s summer mooring and picking up some of the fishing books again which had become somewhat dusty and untouched over the past few weeks.

Our kitchen is once again harbour to an array of fishing gear and if I leave Si for a second he purloins a chopping board, a knife or our washing up bowl to use to make or store lines and nets. This morning the transducer for the fishfinder was in the sink and this afternoon there is a gill net on the kitchen table. We spent a romantic evening last night with Si watching YouTube videos of people laying nets with a dubious jazz soundtrack (at least I think it was nets…?!) while I checked the weather for the zillionth time this week.

Si trying to keep warm

Si spent an afternoon last week down at Gorran Haven talking to a retired fisherman who had some pots and gear for sale. He had started fishing in the thirties, so of course remembers fishing under sail well. He was so helpful and full of advice, talking Simon through the various designs of crab pot and considering which would work best for us fishing without an engine. Nowadays, most boats have electric pot haulers, so the weight of lobster and crab pots is less critical than it was when they were being hauled by hand.

Si came back from Gorran armed with two pots, infinite lengths of rope and lots of stories. One thing that Mr Pascoe said that was taught to him by his grandfather particularly stuck in our minds. Apparently, when you start seeing slugs and snails about in the garden, crabs are on the move and it’s time to start laying pots again; a reference to brown crabs’ migration inshore in late spring. At the time in a freezing easterly this seemed an unlikely prospect for the near future, but then last night while out walking the dog I looked ahead at the path and realised it was full of snails on a kamikaze mission from the bank to the flowerbeds. Never been pleased to see them before!

march13

The last couple of months have taught us good lessons about the uncertainty of fishing. This was of course something we were aware of from the start, but I don’t think we’d fully appreciated how dispiriting prolonged bad weather can be when you have all your interests invested in a new business and you’re trying to make it work. All this is nothing new, however. For generations, Cornish fishermen have spent spells of bad weather (sometime entire winters depending on the fishery) working ashore as labourers, painters and decorators or in other trades, waiting for the weather to improve and fishing to start again. The other night I was re-reading ‘More Tales from a Cornish Lugger’, an excellent and highly amusing account of the Cornish mackerel fishery in the 1970s written by the lovely and brutally frank Paul Greenwood, a good friend of ours ever since we met him in Brittany on his Looe lugger Erin, while on our way home on Planet. The following passage sums up the last month beautifully and gives us much encouragement for the future:

“A winter gale might be over and gone in twenty four hours. There again, it might last a week, or a really bad spell of weather could set in making it impossible to go to sea for a month. You never knew; life as a fisherman is a complete lottery. There are good times when you think you will never be poor again, and times when the boats are double roped and fendered alongside the quay as the storms run up through the Channel one after the other. […] It is then that you seriously doubt the wisdom of the life, but when the sun shines again and you can once more enjoy the freedom to range the Channel hunting the mackerel shoals, then bad times are soon forgotten and you wouldn’t swap your way of life with anyone.”

The lighthouse from Kensa

Why aren’t we catching any fish??!!

I’ve thought long and hard about what to blame this on and have decided, eventually, that it’s all the ballast tank’s fault.  The thing is, despite our best efforts, we just can’t seem to catch any fish from where Kensa is at the moment. It’s a lovely spot, but utterly void of marine life. I would blame overfishing and factory trawlers and those evil evil supermarkets and their buying power, but I think it’s more to do with the fact that Kensa’s currently about two miles from the sea and firmly on dry land.

Kensa on dry land

It’s been a strange long winter and we’ve been away from home quite a bit. Si’s lovely dad Martin died last month and it wouldn’t feel right to pick up our blog again without saying how lucky we were to have had him with us from the start of our project. He was such an enormous support and help to us and we are so proud that he was there to launch Kensa with us in August. Without Martin Simon never would have gone sailing in the first place and been inspired to make a living from boats. For a while now when we’ve lost somebody we loved we’ve made a habit of going sailing on Planet and doing a voyage in their memory. So as soon as Kensa is back in the water, our first trip out fishing is for Martin.

si martin kensa

Before we went away we took Kensa out of the water to dry her out as we’d noticed a small patch of dampness in the water ballast tank area. The water ballast tank is an ingenious little feature that Si included in her design to improve her performance and stability in a range of conditions and to allow her to be as seaworthy as a much larger boat in heavier winds and seas. It’s an enclosed tank space in the centre of the boat which is filled with sea water via a seacock and pumped out using Kensa’s main bilge pump. You can see it in the picture below; it’s the unpainted section next the person asleep. I have no idea who that is. In average to stronger weather conditions we’ll be keeping the tank full of water in order to keep Kensa stable and floating to her designed waterline and in calm conditions or when we have the whole boat heeling with fish (obviously this will happen ALL the time…..!) we will pump out the water to empty the tank and make her lighter for rowing when there’s no wind to sail or to keep her floating higher if we are weighed down by a catch.

The water ballast tank

So, all of this means that the tank area is constantly wet. We decided not to seal up the tank completely before we’d finished rigging and testing Kensa out so that we could have plenty of opportunity to check everything was working as it should be. As it was, despite having coated the planks inside Kensa with two layers of epoxy we were slightly concerned to notice slight discolouration on a small area of two of the planks in the tank area which suggested it was possible some water was seeping into the planks from the inside. Having emptied and dried the tank completely while she was still afloat, we’re happy we’ve eliminated the possibility of any water coming in from outside (and I’d like to see it try, given the layers of fibreglass, epoxy and paint it would have to get through!). So we decided the sensible option would be to get her out of the water and fully dried out before lining the tank with a layer of fibreglass. This way we’d avoid any niggling concerns about possible water ingress once we were fishing properly and using the tank every day.

Getting ready to fibreglass the tank

We’ve got the glass cloth panels cut to size, the epoxy keeping warm in our house (it’s become a dubiously semi permanent fixture in our living room!) and we’re just waiting for some slightly warmer weather to get the job done. Although it’s not too cold for working outside or painting, epoxy resin is difficult to work with in low temperatures. It becomes very thick and slow to react the colder it gets and if it’s applied to cold surface or in a cold ambient temperature it may not fully cure properly, which can lead to a very bad fibreglassing job indeed. And unlike a bad paint job, which is bad enough in itself, rectifying a bodged bit of fibreglassing is nigh on impossible to do well, not to mention costly! So although we can work small wonders with a tarpaulin and some fan heaters, a starting temperature of above 5 degrees would be good!

Making up fishing kit at home

The good news is that once that’s done, we’re ready to relaunch Kensa and get fishing! There will obviously still be quite a few teething problems to overcome, but we’re sort of looking forward to that too, in the knowledge that sorting out any snags and reaching a point where we can sail and fish effectively from our boat is an exciting challenge in itself. We would have liked to have made more progress with that by now, but given the weather we’ve had for the past few months I’m really not sure we’ve missed all that much. More easterlies anyone?

Simon and Stella on the jetty

The other good news is that waiting for the weather to improve gives us time to get on with other things, like making up fishing kit, updating this and most importantly, training up our first employee and crew member Stella. For those of you who haven’t already met her (turns out she loves going to the pub….nightmare!), Stella is a ten week old spoodle with a penchant for chewing wood and ropes. Quite how this will work out on a wooden sailing boat I don’t know, but we’re hoping to channel this into knot tying, pot hauling and tea making capabilities before the year is out! So far she is showing every sign of loving the water – as she should do with a spaniel for a dad and a poodle for a mum – and now that she’s had all her jabs, we’re hoping to take her for a little row in the punt this week. In the meantime, here she is cutting her teeth on an off cut of Kensa’s planking and generally looking (not entirely accurately) like butter wouldn’t melt….

Stella eating Kensa

A spot of light reading….

Well with a bit of a broken laptop things have been quite slow here on the design front, but this has given us plenty of time to do some more reading and research. We paid a visit to Steve Neal at Fibrefusion last week to discuss profile cutting our design, and he was able to show us the capabilities of his machines and therefore the parameters within which Si’s design needs to work. Not only this, but we had the chance to catch up with Steve’s progress on his 18ft racing gaff cutter Daisy May and to fuss his black labrador. And best of all, Steve has very kindly lent us a computer to work with while we repair or replace the laptop Si usually designs on, which has refused to switch on since one fatal evening two weeks ago when I packed it away into its bag in a fit of tidiness. Moral of the story….

We’ve also been trying to find out more about fishing under sail. This has had some really interesting results, but I’ll talk about it separately as it deserves a post to itself.

The weather in the last few days has been quite extreme, so in many ways the fact that we haven’t started building our boat yet is not the end of the world. I’m sure we would have come up with our fair share of problems by now if we had. All the same, after two years living on Planet, it comes as a surprise to wake up in the middle of the night during a gale and not put our heads outside to check the lines.

Another change to our lives comes in the form of our reading habits, which have become rather more fishing than fiction. Our bedside tables are now both stacked with fishing cookbooks, local history books, boat construction books, catering supplies catalogues, memoirs of the Cornish fishing industry and my personal weekly favourite Fishing News. I feel I am becoming quite discerning about the centre page spread featuring ‘Boat of the Week’… With this in mind, I’ve set up another page for our blog called ‘Links’ where there are references for books and articles we’ve been using, as well as links to useful websites. Let us know if you have any recommendations.