Boat checks: the ultimate time sap

Boats involve an inordinate amount of faff. Don’t ever buy a boat and expect each season to simply jump aboard and sail it straight off into the sunset. I mean, you absolutely can try this, but you may then find yourself three days from land with water flooding into your boat through an ill-fitting porthole or becalmed with no working engine or with leaking heads spreading the sweet smell of urine throughout the vessel, the delightful list of possible mishaps goes on.

So, before you merrily set sail, it is highly advisable that you first check the rigging, sails and deck fittings. Then you’ll need to check the engine, the winches, the anchor windlass, the bilge pumps, the heads, the batteries, the navigation lights, the charts, the gas, the water system, the seacocks, the fire extinguishers, the radar reflector, the dinghy, the life jackets. The list goes on and on and on.

Once the nine thousand or so checks are complete, it is very likely they will have exposed a number of repairs, tweaks and new parts that need obtaining, fitting or completing.

Of course, the decks need scrubbing, the hull needs the once over, the metal may need a buff and polish. Down below, cupboards need emptying and cleaning, linen needs washing, floors and surfaces need wiping. Any friendly creatures – currently ants – that have, in your absence, claimed squatters’ rights need some healthy encouragement to find alternative home.

Once any repairs have been completed, then the checks need to be done all over again.

You’ll need to think about provisioning, depending on how long you plan to be at sea. Be organised and make a list – see exhibit A below. A sailor with low blood sugar is an unpleasant sailor.

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Don’t forget fresh water, plenty of fresh water – we’ve all heard the horror stories of the sailors of old who tried to drink seawater and went mad.

If you are lucky enough to know of a boatyard which will complete any more serious technical repairs in a timely and reliable fashion, you are luckier than most. Usually a trip to the boatyard may add another few days to a year onto your desired departure date. After the professionals from the boatyard have done their work – check it again. You’ll probably discover, as we did, that they have made a few modifications of their own which are not welcome. For instance, when refitting a gearbox, cutting the wires to the bilge pumps without replacing them or refitting a porthole so that it now leaks, a lot.

Finally, once you truly are satisfied your boat will stay afloat, sail in the right direction and not be entirely inhospitable to live on, you need to wait for favourable weather to get you where you want to go.

So, all in all, it would be very easy to own a beautiful sailing boat and never go sailing at all. You could choose to spend several happy months simply checking, primping and preening your yacht to perfection before laying her up for the winter and doing it all again next year. Why not cut out the stress of sailing altogether.

Pete and I have been in Lagos on the Algarve in southern Portugal for five days now, and apart from a few minor details, we are ready to set sail. The weather however has a different view on the matter.

There are six to eight metre swells forecast out west beyond Cape St Vincent with 30 to 35 knots of wind coming from the North West – precisely the direction we wish to go in. So, unsurprisingly, we’re waiting this one out.

Happily, Lagos is a lovely town with some great places to eat and drink nestled in amongst its narrow paved streets and white washed buildings. But more on that later, I’m off for lunch.

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