Last season I was using a 13 year old laptop (no kidding!) as my chart plotter. Its battery was almost completely dead, and I suspect it was gobbling amps from the battery at a frightening rate. Having said that, it worked perfectly well in all other respects.
I have replaced it with this (see picture). It cost the princely sum of £179.99! It is extremely limited in the number of external ports it has, and in the size of the RAM and hard disk. The woman in PC World looked at me when I presented it at the counter, and asked if I knew how cutdown it was, and please don't bring it back if it doesn't do what you wanted to do.
It does what I want it to do excellently, although the screen is a little small, but for that price you can hardly complain. It is quite a high resolution screen, and I'm using with Naviionics charts and the program PC Plotter. I've also using it with a variety of other programs, and given its limitations, it really works quite well - although I wouldn't want to use it for something like video editing, for example. The keyboard is also rather basic.
The PC Plotter version I had was little elderly now, and it didn't take very well to being installed on Windows 10. I e-mailed the people who produce it, and got back a link to the download of the latest version, which they gave me without any further charge.
I must say that this is a considerable improvement on the earlier version. It now does everything that I need from a plotter programme. I haven't yet found a feature which I would like in the programme which it hasn't got. There is also something intangible about programs - what you might call the 'look and feel'. Some programs feel right, and this is one of them. My one small objection is that it uses a menu ribbon as in Microsoft Word, rather than the more conventional drop-down menus!
PC Plotter website.
This winter the boat has been in Gosport Marina on a 'cheap' winter deal. The problem was leaving it in Germany every year is that maintenance is not that easy when the boat is 1000 miles away. Of course, I could do a lot of these jobs whilst I was on board, but the advantage of having it here is that I can clear out a lot of the junk, and at the same time I'm not having to live with the inconvenience of paint fumes or varnish fumes.
Two years ago, again whilst the boat was in Gosport, I fitted a flexible water tank. I should have known better. I had had two in the past which have both split along a seam. This new one was no exception.
My main water tank holds 110 litres, and although it has a gauge, the sensor in the tank tends to stick up at the top, so that it appears the tank is always full. This is not terribly helpful. Although an extra water tank is not essential, it gives peace of mind.
The problem was that almost all my lockers were too small for a rigid tank. However, one of the jobs I embarked on was to clear out all the lockers, clean them (I ended up painting the insides), and writing down everything that went back into each individual locker. I discovered the locker that is at the front of the forward cabin was larger than I remembered. I rarely use it since getting to it is usually a complete pain. I took out the tape measure and began investigating. I researched the tanks available. Eventually, I ordered one, and when it arrived, took it up to the front of the boat with some trepidation. Not only did it fit, but there was plenty of room - I needed the extra space for the fittings. There was an inlet hose from the flexible tank, which I managed to re-route, and it turned out to be exactly the right length. I connected in an outlet hose, and both these you can see in the picture. I tried filling the tank to test it out, but after a few litres, the water just overflowed back out. The tank needed a breather pipe. The next snag is that the breather pipe needs a fitting which involves cutting a hole in the hull, and I was reluctant to do this. I then had a brainwave – I cut into the existing breather pipe for the main water tank and put a T piece in, and joined the second breather pipe to the first.
This has an interesting side effect. When filling either of the tanks, water goes up the breather pipe when the tank is full, and this is the usual indication I have the tank is now full. With the new arrangement, water goes up the breather pipe of one tank and then into the breather pipe of the second tank so that both tanks are filled one after the other.
Getting a reasonable photograph was not easy. There wasn't much light in the locker, and photographing a white translucent tank against a white background was not straightforward, but it seems to have worked! One of the useful features of the tank is that it is translucent, and if I want to see how much water was left in, all I have to also take a look at it.
I travelled down the Kiel Canal again this year, since I was bringing the boat back to England rather than leaving it in Germany. There was a lot that needed doing to it (and I have had a very successful autumn fixing various things), and it's difficult to do them when the boat is 1000 miles away.
Although there are a few bridges across the canal, there are also small ferries which ran back and forth, carrying mainly foot passengers, and also cars, vans and the occasional truck. The ferries have AIS, which means I can spot them well in advance. It also gives the name of the ferry, and these are rather curious. They are all named after German ports which were seized during the Second World War and given to Poland or to other countries. Thus there is the Kolberg (Kolobrzeg, now in Poland), the Stolpemuende (Ustka, also in Poland), the Königsberg (Kaliningrad, now a Russian enclave) and even the Memel (Klaipeda in Lithuania).
I do hope these ferries were not named in a spirit of revanchism!
Last winter had been very mild both in Germany and in England, so I was tempted to go out early to the boat. In the end, I chose the weekend before Easter. I drove out on the Sunday, and had arranged to have the boat put into the water on Tuesday, but when I arrived, it was blowing hard, and the harbourmaster was very pessimistic about the chances of being able to launch the boat for the next few days.
Tuesday morning dawned grey and overcast, and the skies became increasingly leaden. It then began to snow. I was sitting in the boat, still on the land, when I heard a knock on the hull. It was the harbourmaster and his assistant.
'Merry Christmas, Mr Hill,' he said. He spoke little English, and I speak little German, but he got over the idea that whilst the snow was falling there would be little wind. Did I want to be launched here and now?
The answer was yes. There was only a brief weather window, so I got everything ready as quickly as I could, and the boat was towed through the falling snow down to the crane. It went into the water and I took it round to a berth.
The snow stopped a few hours later, and the wind began to rise. By evening the snow had all melted. But I was very grateful to the harbourmaster, acting above and beyond the call of duty. Here is a snapshot from the marina webcam. Prospero can be seen centre left.
Seen in Vaxholm Marina, Stockholm.
On my way to the Baltic, I passed through the Netherlands. Inevitably I was boarded by the immigration people at Den Helder, who wanted to see my passport and so on. I moved on to Oost Vlieland, and this time was boarded by the Customs people (they also boarded me there last year!).
They looked at my papers – I told them I had already been boarded by immigration – but they said they were more interested in financial matters, such as my VAT status. I did have a copy of the original Bill of Sale which I have scanned and had on the computer. They looked at this and nodded. Did I have the original invoice from when I bought the boat? No, I said. In that case, there is no proof that you have paid VAT. We will be in touch!
And indeed they were. They apparently wrote my home address in the UK, but not surprisingly, didn't get a reply since I wasn't there. They then sent me an e-mail asking me for the invoice. I was rather surprised by this.
I did mention in my reply that 'VAT is payable to the UK Government for items purchased in the UK, and they are happy with the tax status of the vessel. The dealer is registered for VAT in the UK. Why is it the concern of the Dutch government?' Their reply was 'When you're coming out from sea with your pleasurecraft and you get Customs control, they will ask you what the VAT status of the pleasurecraft is. That concerns all EU countries when coming out of the sea'. (I know it is bad form to make fun of those whose native language is not English, but I was amused to be addressed as 'Best mister Hill'.)
I also pointed out that the name of the agent from whom I bought the boat was on the Bill of sale, as was his VAT registration number. This was of no avail: they still wanted to see the original invoice. I haven't yet been home to look for it, but I very much doubt that after eight years I can lay my hands on it.
Update! When I got home, I decided to search through my computer. Over the years, I have upgraded computers and fitted new hard disks. Whenever I fit a new hard disk, I always copy everything from the old hard disk, which means that I have all sorts of junk hidden away. Deep in the depths of ancient folders, I found a Word document which was the original invoice. I converted it to a PDF and sent it to the Dutch Customs. To my slight surprise, I got an e-mail back accepting the PDF and saying they were quite happy with my VAT status!
Nordeney has a lighthouse (see right. Picture from Wikipedia). It's 10 kilometres from the harbour. I know that, because I cycled it. The light house is 60 metres high, and there are, apparently 252 steps on the staircase up to the top. I'm afraid I didn't count them: I'll take their word for it. Coming down took almost as long as climbing up. And then there was the 10 kilometre cycle ride back. So - all in all, a strenuous day!
My berth at Royal Clarence Marina was due to expire at the end of March, and so I intended to set off back to the Baltic on April 1. I was at a dinner the previous Saturday where I met someone I had known for many years, and rather jokingly asked if he wanted to come and crew. Rather to my surprise, he agreed.
Our first destination was Eastbourne, and to get the tides correct, we had to leave at about 4 AM. We cast off in darkness and in somewhat murky conditions, with virtually no wind. As we made our way out of Portsmouth harbour and down the approach channel, the murk thickened to mist and then fog. Visibility was down to less than 100 metres and we were now navigating using the laptop and a Nexus tablet. We rounded Horse Sand Fort without even been able to see it, and headed east for the Looe Channel off Selsey Bill. I used the tablet to aim for the green buoy, and rather to our surprise it popped up within about 10 metres of where the tablet said it should be.
The fog slowly thinned as we came past Brighton we had tide with us until Beachy Head. We turned round the headland and motored close to the shore to avoid the worst of the tide before arriving at Sovereign Harbour at Eastbourne.
The next day arrived with some wind – it was forecast to be east or southeast, and we could almost make Dover on that forecast. Unfortunately, the wind turned out to be north of east, which meant Dover was dead to windward. We had made a very long tack out, and I went down to look at the chart. We were approaching the shipping lanes, but I also realised that we were on quite a good course for Boulogne in France. We held our course, and fortunately the shipping lanes were fairly quiet since the AIS was playing up, and arrived in Boulogne in good time. Assiettes de fruit de mer was better than fish and chips in Dover!
Soon after I arrived back in England, I received an e-mail from a fellow Huzar owner, telling me that he had a problem with his rudder. I wasn't very happy with my rudder either, and so I asked him what the problem was. Apparently it had been loose in the bearings, and he had noticed some corrosion of the aluminium rudder stock. When they dropped the rudder, they realised it was severely corroded, and he decided to have the rudder stock replaced. When they cut the rudder open, it was a complete mess inside, with various bits of odd foam stuck here and there.
He had a new rudder stock made from stainless steel, and the inside of the rudder filled with buoyant foam, before it was closed up again. The picture on the right shows the rebuilt rudder before it was closed up. The three bars coming off the stock are referred to as tangs.
I had been intending to have the rudder looked at in Germany the next winter, and Herr Gregor at Neuhof had done some preliminary work, but in view of what had been discovered, I decided I had better have it done now.
The corrosion on my rudder stock seemed even worse. Where the stock rotated in the bearings, a groove had been worn in the stock which you can quite clearly see in the photographs. Furthermore, one of the tangs had actually come away, which you can see in the right-hand photograph.
Although the whole business cost quite a bit of money, it was certainly worth having it done before going back across the North Sea. The last thing you need is for your steering to fail whilst crossing the shipping lanes in half a gale.
These are three pictures of the old rudder stock. (If they seem slightly odd, that's because the originals were considerably blurred due to the slow shutter speed. I found a program called SmartDeblur, which has done a pretty good job.)
The picture on the left shows the groove that the bearings have worn into the aluminium. The middle one shows the corrosion of the aluminium by the upper tang. The right-hand photograph is where the tang has come away completely, either due to corrosion or poor welding in the first place.