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The day I beat a split pin

From 1 to 10 October 2021, Yachting New Zealand is joining Steering the Course: a worldwide festival to encourage women into sailing. I say: Go for it.

I stood alone on my newly purchased, 30-year-old yacht in the haulout yard and wondered what the hell I had done. In the cockpit lay a job list that ran from changing the oil and fuel filters, sanding the tiller, worrying about osmosis, repairing rotten cockpit seats, removing the rudder which had electrolysis (elec-what?), packing the stern gland (huh?), and repairing a corroded exhaust. It was so easy to write that list.

The only job I had a hope of tackling was sanding the tiller. It started well but then I had to remove the broken tiller extension and it was secured with a split pin that refused to budge. I was yet to understand that, on boats, you can solve many problems by applying the basic principles of levers and fulcrums.

And that’s pretty much how it went. I’d start something. Get stuck. Start something else. Get stuck. Then someone would show me how to tackle one of those tasks. I had a boat full of corroded fittings and, Graeme, a friend I’d met at Boatmasters, told me it was all about technique, not strength. No matter what mess I got myself into, he always knew how to get through it. He gave me a piece of steel pipe to increase the leverage of the socket handle. I broke two bolts. He taught me about vice grips and Easyouts.

I also started marshalling my team among the various chandleries, paint suppliers and engineers. Some were really helpful; others, not so much.

But experience is what you get just after you need it. Like when I mixed my first batch of epoxy, forgot to put it in a shallow container and it cooked into a hard, fizzing mass of hokey pokey before I’d used it. Like when I mixed the next batch and, terrified of using too much hardener, had to wait four days for it to go off.

Weeks, then months went by. Others boats arrived on the hardstand as car loads of helpers swarmed in. Tools buzzed and whirled and banged as topsides blemishes disappeared, broken hatches were replaced and hulls anti-fouled. Then my new friends would book the haulout guys – we called them The Flintstones – and their gleaming boat would slip back into the water and off on a cruise, leaving me alone with my job list.

Except I wasn’t alone. People dropped by to meet the ‘bird with the boat’, and I discovered the greatest menace to boat work: bystanders. I got tough: if they weren’t an engineer, an electrician or a boatbuilder, or at least proficient in one of those disciplines, they could bugger off.

But something weird was happening: I was so motivated. I’d be at the boat at 7am, then change into my city clothes in the carpark, head into work and be back at 5.30pm until it was dark. I’d never seen me like that before. Gradually, I was changing the boat, and she was changing me.

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