Jonty Pearce and his pontoon mates are made homeless for the winter when a howling gale necessitates some marina repairs

Jonty Pearce: I am told that the piles anchoring Neyland Yacht Haven’s pontoons were sourced from surplus oil pipes left over from when the refineries were constructed. Now 30 years old, the ravages of salt water and last year’s seasonal gales caused a pile failure in the upper basin, and Aurial spent the winter opposite her usual berth while the rust-fractured pair of pipes were replaced. Very sensibly, the major job of renewal of all the upper basin piles has been planned for January and February. This massive undertaking will entail the removal of all the walkways, pontoons, and fingers before craning out the old piles and dredging the basin, driving in new uprights, and replacing all the floating tack.

The upper basin will be emptied – so all its usual inhabitants, including Aurial, who usually remain afloat all season have to find new homes while the works are done. Those owners in the know swiftly arranged a temporary transfer to vacant lower basin berths whose usual occupants spend the winter ashore, and the adjoining Dale Sailing’s shore storage facility was quickly filled. I missed the boat, so took advice on alternative hibernation.

My approach to Milford Haven Marina paid dividends. The very helpful team confirmed that, despite the sudden surge in demand from Neyland occupants, they had spare capacity for a lift out and storage ashore. I bit their hand off at the offer, and went into their office to sign the relevant contract. A lift-out date was pencilled in for just before Christmas, though I had not yet worked out how to get Aurial round to the slipway for craning out on a Monday full of surgery work obligations. The alternative plan of booking a winter berth afloat in Milford Haven was foiled as it seemed we could not book in advance, so we agreed to take pot luck and book the shore storage but with the option to switch to a floating berth if one was still available at our planned lift-out date.

During our weekend sail I spent a few hours after anchoring marking the chocking and lifting points using measurements and sticky labels supplied by the Southerly Owners Association. As Aurial is blessed with a lifting keel she does not need a cradle, a couple of carefully placed sleepers does the trick. I replaced the malfunctioning wireless keel remote control and cycled the keel’s hydraulics up and down to ensure that it would function properly on the day; it sometimes sticks slightly coming up when it has had a long period of inactivity, though the weight of the boat always pushes any keel still drooping safely into its housing when drying out. Well pleased with the results of my labours and with a smoothly lifting keel I felt ready for lift-off.

It is typical that all my maintenance, useful as it was, would be rendered unnecessary by a Monday morning telephone call from Milford’s very helpful Shayne Busby the day after our visit. Having been informed of my query regarding a winter floating berth, he swiftly confirmed that despite the surge in demand not only could he could allocate me a space in advance, but that he had one of an appropriate length available for Aurial. I eagerly accepted, relieved that all the hassle of lifting out, storage, and lifting back in would not be necessary. All we need to do is motor (or sail) from Neyland to Milford for Aurial’s three-month holiday before returning to our renovated berth in the upper basin. All the monies work out nearly cost neutral, so I’m a happy bunny, as is Aurial with her perfectly functioning keel and smart lifting and chocking point markers. And I don’t have to shell out more cash or take an inconvenient day’s leave to move her round to the craning point. Thanks, Shayne!

Reflecting on all these negotiations, I realise how lucky I am to be able to leave Aurial afloat in such a protected and well-monitored marina all year round. Any underwater maintenance can usually be completed whilst dried out on a beach, and my careful application of four coats of epoxy and four coats of Coppercoat before her first launch has meant that I escape the task of annual antifouling. But next winter might be a different matter. I will be retired with spare time on my hands, and I feel that the standing rigging is due for renewal. At least then the local storage will not be full of evicted yachts seeking alternative winter quarters.

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