Our winter maintenance… and some!

It is mid March 2020. The weather throughout this winter has been mostly cold, wet and windy. Drifter has been protected from the worst of it by placing her under cover in an open ended shed at a boatyard near Plymouth. This type of facility is useful, but is few and far between in the UK so we were very pleased to find a suitable space in one of the sheds at the friendly Voyager boat yard at Millbrook, on the Cornish side of the River Tamar. Here we have been working most days since November on our beautiful barge.

Being undercover has allowed us to best perform the multitude of winter maintenance tasks in everything except the stormiest days. This includes the sanding, varnishing, oiling, painting or servicing of just about every thing on the exterior of the barge, and also checking the interior electrics, plumbing, heating, engine etc. We do this to ensure there are no surprises during the coming season.

Everything on the exterior of the hull that can be unbolted or removed was done so back in November 2019. This has included removing the mast, boom, bowsprit, leeboards, rudder and much much more. It took just over a week to remove all the fittings around the hull, leaving a rather slim (if you could call a barge slim?) hull for us to sand, prime and repaint.

A varnished wooden mast gets quite a beating from the wind, rain and sun over the year, so it was stripped to bare wood and re-coated with 12 coats of new varnish. It is now looking fantastic. Its many fittings, ropes, wires and blocks were also thoroughly checked and serviced. The leeboards received similar attention. We also had the local carpenter service/modify our large and heavy wooden rudder.

This might already seem like a lot of work, but the biggest task this winter has been renovating the teak deck. We decided to remove the teak from the top of the boat in order to deal with some detachment. This is a massively technical project involving an almost endless number of tasks and hours of work.

In order to remove the teak, we had to first remove the lining on the inside of the barge, including the insulation. Then we extracted the hundreds of internal stubby screws that secure to the teak above. After we then removed the teak handholds (unfortunately these could not be saved) we were able to lift the teak off in manageable segments. Fortunately no teak deck was damaged during this process as it is now quite difficult to obtain and very expensive to replace.

The now revealed steel surface then had to be stripped of all its old sealant, then needled to removed some rust (which was the reason for the detachment) and finally made clean and bright with a grinder. Two coatings of epoxy paint were then used to seal the surface. The interior surface of the steel was also treated with preserving oil and mastic.

The segments of deck were then reintroduced one by one being secured with abundant specialist adhesive and those hundreds of screws from below. This had to be done over several days as we allowed the adhesive under each panel to cure before refitting the next. The joints in the refitted segments of teak deck then had to be filled with new caulking. 8.4 meters of new teak handholds were obtained from the Netherlands and fitted. It took us over 10 days to fit the handholds which are through bolted from above to below.

On the inside new insulation is installed on the ceiling. Only now can the interior ceiling panels be replaced. We decided to do away with the plain plywood panels and have replaced this with tongue and groove spruce boarding, painted white. Over 70 strips of up to 3.5 meters in length had to be sealed both sides with two coats of a special paint before installation, (using up approximately 8 liters of paint and taking several weeks). We used the local shipwright to fit it all and it has given the interior a very classy and traditional finish.

In all, the deck refurbishment took approx three and half months, working 6-8 hour days almost every single day. We undertook most of the work ourselves, literally hundreds of hours of work. It was a good job and we are both very happy with the knowledge that we now have a very solid, warm and watertight roof over our heads which should be good for years to come.

Wood burning stove on barge
We could not resist adding a wood burner!

Speaking of warmth, we also installed a wood burning stove for the chillier times of the year. Also not an easy task to retro-fit to a boat and required us to obtain a specialist wood burner from Canada to fit into the space we had available. We have had it lit a couple of times and it is absolutely gorgeous. We are looking forward to some very cosy times ahead.

When we hauled Drifter out in October 2019, we did notice some problems with the paint on the underwater hull. This took us by surprise considering our already massive work list. We decided to get in the professionals who over a couple of days sandblasted off the old paint system and re-applied a specialist epoxy barrier. We then refinished the bottom ourselves with further coats of primer and multiples coats of anti-fouling. New zinc anodes (which protect the steel hull from corrosion) were also fitted.

In case you were wondering, we did have a little bit of a break in February. We spent a few days in Whitefish, Montana where we enjoyed amazing skiing and USA hospitality. This, fortunately, was about two weeks before COVID-19 stopped the airlines from flying.

We have indeed done a massive amount of work on the barge this winter, but still somethings on our ‘wish list’ will be left for next winter as the sailing season is coming up fast and we have to get the barge back together and on the water.

Although COVID-19 will mean our ability to offer sailing trips might be effectively stopped in 2020, we will be living onboard and enjoying sailing around the beautiful River Fal area. We will sharing stories and pictures from water on this blog. Please consider subscribing (on the right or below) to receive our occasional news by email.

Stay safe all!