Friday, 18 February 2005

Not really much to write about this month other than the weather, which dominates life and death. No doubt about it this is the coldest place we have ever lived in. Doesn’t matter whether it’s called Fahrenheit or Celsius it all comes out as cold. During the day we manage a sunny and relatively warm -7°C or so. ‘course when you get in an exposed bit of town or on deck the wind chill rapidly knocks off another ten degrees or so. On Hannah we have our own micro-climate as, once the stove is lit, the temperature climbs to a steady twenty-eight C or so. We’ve mastered the art of using hard coal and many's the time, like now, the stove exhibits a cherry red glow as the coals heat up. During the night we let fire go out, too lazy to get up, and consequently the temperature is hovering minus twelve Celsius when we rise…….  Movements tend to be hurried at that point as we drag icy clothes over warm bodies at the same time attempting to light the cooker. The weather forecast for today warned of wind chill temperatures of minus twenty to minus forty Fahrenheit. But luckily it has been a little more sheltered here. But at these temperatures skin tingles very quickly from exposure. It’s easy to see why Inuit males have evolved with little or no facial hair. Beards are a real no no in this climate. No doubt I’ll shave when we leave… For the last week the cold has been consistent and the river has continued to ice. Today Bee looked out and realised the consistency of the ice looked, well different and before long we understood why.
View from the companionway ladder of cockpit and tiller the day Boston got 3' of snow
Naturally whilst we were taking the shots, Toots appeared to check out what the bipeds were doing so no doubt we’ll see a repeat of her last escapade. Once again in the early hours of the morning we’re awakened by a pitiful whimpering as Toots comes back on board, leapt onto the bed and announces, by a vigorous shake that she has fallen in the water- (Goons anyone) Luckily she hadn’t gone fully under but it took several days for her to fully warm up and her ears which used to stick up with little tufts, now droop slightly.

December will be remembered as the month we tried out alternative heating when we realised that our trusty stove had developed a leak around the water jacket. At first sight it looked as though the pipe had rusted through and we decided immediately to buy the coal fired oven, a Shipmate, we had seen in a local stove shop. Cast iron, designed for a boat and an oven rather a stove it was a wonderful looking contraption. We checked, measured and cogitated but finally took the plunge. It fitted but needed a convoluted set of tin chimneys to connect to the deck head fitting. It looked "just right" but the heat we managed to get out of was pitiful and the weather didn’t really allow for a learning period so sadly we had to return it. John Tani, a local sailor who has adopted us, remembered his sister had their parents old stove and so we took possession of a genuine fifties pot bellied stove. This produced excellent heat but was too big for Hannah and we arranged with the wonderful "Mr Metal" to weld up the seam of the water jacket. No doubt about it, the original Hannah stove is an excellent heater and fits in well with the overall ambience.

In was also in December that Nancy, a friend from Quayside warned us that a parcel was on its way containing, amongst other things, Marmite. It arrived in January and the smile on Bee’s face as she removed 3, 500 gram jars caused her to remark, somewhat wistfully I thought, "see, size does matter" But newspapers, yachtie mags, chocolates, cakes and toys for Toots made us thoroughly homesick and caused a spate of " Won’t it be great to see…" type conversations for the rest of the day. Toots is in her element as she gives Zebedee, the catnip mice a good seeing to, batting them from one end of the saloon to the other, leaping onto them with a forward somersault or standing up on her hind legs and punching away like some sort of bare knuckle fighter. Boy, the things that pass for entertainment here is worrying.

When we first arrived in Belfast we made friends with a Texan couple who were moored close to us. They were new to sailing but were determined to head south for Florida and try for a different life. We talked to them, gave them spare pilot books or charts and spent a day sailing with them to give a confidence boost. In November they set off, battled poor weather conditions and over the course of several weeks made it as far as Rhode Island. In a tiny harbour with good prevailing wind protection they were caught out when the wind blew up hard and veered into the harbour entrance with no warning. Tied to a mooring buoy the 3 lines they had securing them all eventually gave way despite motoring hard into the wind to ease the strain. The waves had increased in height to such an extent the block the buoy was secured to was lifting off the seabed and drifting them closer to other buoys. Of course the worst happened. As the final line parted the prop picked up a nearby buoy rope and the engine stopped. They lost their boat on the rocks, escaping with their lives and a couple of bags of clothes. Somehow, knowing the couple and their boat accentuated everything and left me physically shaken.

On Christmas day a local man who had befriended us visited. We didn’t see him as we were chopping wood sheltering in the lee of our van. He left a present, which on opening contained a box of hand made sausages. Now the box was lovely but obviously the contents were something else. We re-wrapped them and handed them onto Steve and Sue who live on a Vertue a couple of boats down. Steve had them open and began eating before Bee had completed the story. However we met our benefactor in a shop in town and he asked how we had liked the sausages…. We hesitated and then he said "Actually my daughter gave them to me and I can’t bear things like that so thought you’d be a worthy home" We confessed their final destination to his delight and he went off chuckling.

Feb. We went scallop fishing today, actually we went in the boat and Phil, the Captain went diving for scallops. I kid you not. To leave the harbour required some serious breaking of ice before we could move his boat. Once in the fairway we found our passage blocked by huge fields of ice. Varying in depth from half inch to two inches it creates a strong sshhhhhhhh sound as we travel slowly through it. We had visions of Hannah being forced to a stand still if we had tried the same manoeuvre. 

Once we arrived at the fishing ground Phil donned a dry suit and launched himself over the side. In the shelter of the wheelhouse with a welcome sun streaming down it still grew cold and here is this sane and, to all intents, normal guy swimming around twenty feet below us in freezing cold water. "Hell no" he said "its around 35°". sounds like splitting hairs as it still looks cold to me.

He did a total of five dives to collect a half-bucket of scallops. He also collected umpteen golf balls, pottery from a three masted schooner that had sunk seventy-five years ago and a couple of interesting bottles. As Phil collected he dumped the shells in a bag and when we collected him the bag was hauled up and Howard began "shucking" them. Shucking is an operation whereby a knife is inserted into the shell to prise it open. Part of the contents are then slit away and dumped whilst the scallop, a white muscle, is also slit from the shell and saved in a bucket of water. The remnants of the scallop are then scraped off the shell and eaten or at least they are if Howard is doing the job. No doubt Toots would have helped but she had jumped ship earlier as we were leaving the dock. Scallops are a real delicacy, apparently, and the catch would be sold before we even got back to harbour. Getting back proved to be harder than leaving as the lack of wind allows the ice to form unhindered and progress was slow as we had to drive a pathway through the thickening ice.

Bee has been reading a book on a couple who marooned themselves, deliberately, somewhere in Greenland and experienced minus FIFTY before the wind chill set in. Of course her conversation is now littered with "….suppose we stayed….." Rather like the time we went snowshoeing for the first time. The shoes, a bit like tennis racquets for giants, were strapped to our feet and off we set. I swear we hadn’t gone more than ten steps when Bee said  " Do you think we could snow shoe across the Antarctic………"  Watch this space....

And finally as we write this it’s Saturday Feb 5th, one of the local papers has printed on article on us and we’re busy planning our escape. Come April we hope to be on the move once again, heading for Nova Scotia and beyond. The weather has turned spring like with temperatures getting up to 5°C and we entertain thoughts of removing the tarp. As ever locals caution against it-we still have another two months of winter to get through they say- but… 

And then we found a pumpkin pie sculling around on the floor of a friend’s car. Unloved and unwanted we promptly rescued it and took it back the security of Hannah. Unfortunately the pie, previously frozen had been knocking around since Christmas getting hot and cold for a month and when cooked, tasted……….