Checking the boat in winter can feel like a chore, but it's fun to potter on board and might just save a catastrophe, says Jonty Pearce

Jonty Pearce:Living so far from my berth – a 300 mile round trip – I can only manage to visit once Aurial every month during the winter months, and even that has to be entered into a busy diary to reserve the time. We usually set off at 1900 on Friday night and tend to get there at about 2300 – not ideal, but it gives me a slow Saturday morning and enough time to do those little jobs that always need to be done. We always seem to leave later than planned on Sunday. I like to think that Carol’s genetic lateness is usually a contributory factor, so we are doing well if we get home by 2200. This makes weekend boat checks a tiring task, especially if we meet up with friends Norry and Hutch; this time, led further astray by Beryn and Tamsin, I hit my bunk just before 0300. I am writing this before work on Monday morning, and feel distinctly blurry.

But it is all worthwhile; on arrival this weekend I found my shore power cable dipping into the water, with the plug less than an inch clear of a sulphurous power-tripping event. The cable is now secured to the pontoon to stop trailing hosepipes or feet putting my electricity supply at risk. While I was there I also changed the atrocious plug that cuts the live wire when put under the slightest tension; I binned it with relish. Without these monthly checks such issues could go unnoticed: If a power failure deactivated my frost heater the water pipes could freeze, the bilge pumps could flatten the battery in the event of water ingress, and mould could attack the upholstery if the dehumidifier was off. Mooring ropes can stretch or chafe, halyards could loosen and drive neighbours mad by clanking against the mast, or cockpit draining holes could clog with leaves. Boats deserve a monthly visit. Were I closer I might visit weekly; or just go down to enjoy the nautical equivalence of an allotment shed, complete with barrel of sherry.

This weekend, while Carol attempted to attack a surfeit of domestic paperwork, I did some sorting and tidying aboard. This was mainly to clear the intended location for the new Raymarine VHF base station; these things are always larger than anticipated when they arrive, but I had the ideal space behind a seat back where sundry papers had gathered along with the ship’s backgammon and mahjong sets. All were relocated, and the empty space now holds the radio parts in preparation for installation. I’ll have to renew the main instrument panel once the old radio comes out, but overall it will become less cluttered. I can’t say the same for the space by the companionway where the active loudspeaker – again larger than hoped for – and the VHF handset will go, but I’ve worked out how to do it.

My final task was to see if the nice new chartplotter bargain from eBay would fit on the binnacle underneath the grab rail. It won’t. It’s just too big by a whisker. I’ve researched a smaller unit that will squeeze in, but costs more money, so I may sell the original MFD as well as the new one to fund the one that fits. Or just re-work the restricting binnacle grab rail and alter the cockpit table.

These challenges are typical of a winter boat check. Mulling over my plans and researching the internet for different options is all part of the fun. It keeps me happy for weeks as the clock ticks by to commissioning time when we can use the boat for its proper purpose, hopefully with all the winter upgrades fitted and working. Or not, as the case may be. I suspect I’ll still be working out how to fit a quart into a pint pot in mid summer!

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