Once back, adjusting back to normal life didn’t take much effort. We were convinced the last 10 months didn’t really happen, it was all a dream.
I tracked the cargo ship from the USVIs -> Antigua -> Bahamas -> Rhode Island and so on whilst living at my folks with Trina, eating mountains of homemade sausage rolls and drinking gallons of tea, which is what the Butlers do best.
Not having any boats to deal with was bliss, and the longer the cargo ship took the better as far as we were concerned. We got the campervan back on the road (thanks Tom!), though only God knows how the poor thing keeps on passing the MOTs. It’s done about 2 miles over the last 6 years.
While the boats were out of sight, we stole a weekend and went to Wales, walked up a hill, slept in a field and weed in bottles.
Trina picked up a bit of work and I spent my days chasing recruiters, explaining the last 9 months away, listening to 20 year old recruiters’ concerns over my gap in my 15 year career.
Leading up to the boat’s return we had to sort out some importation paperwork. I looked at the forms, sat with my head in my hands while on hold with HMRC’s helpdesk for an hour, and then gave up. We used a shipping agent to sort everything out. Someone told us we had 6 months to pay the VAT on HC, but in reality we had to pay the VAT before HC could be released. The cost to import HC? £25k, and the kicker: they don’t work out the tax based on the exchange rate when we bought it, they use the exchange rate based on the month it was imported. So as the Brexit fiasco has only deteriorated further, and the dollar is even stronger against the pound… we have another £2,500 extra to pay. Agh!
The boats arrive
The boats turned up on the 6th June, and I still didn’t have a contract. By this point I was starting to get a little bit twitchy. But the arrival of the fleet kept us distracted from our fast approaching financial meltdown.
The plan was to take Excalibur to Town Quay marina in Southampton temporarily, and put HC on a floating pontoon up the Itchen at Kemp’s yard. Trina had figured out this was economically the most appropriate course of action. We would then return to Excalibur and take her to Haslar marina, where she’d reside at a discounted rate and be put up for sale through Boatshed.
The day had come! Arriving at the cargo ship (if that’s the correct terminology, perhaps VBFS is better) was pretty exciting. Chipper, we trotted up the stairs to find ourselves on a platform next to the ship that went nowhere, leaving us stranded in the air about 20m from the cargo ship, so we trotted back down.
We walked up to the ship and were directed to some steps, where we were greeted by a chap with a clipboard, hats and vests. The captain came down and greeted us. We were a bit early so they lead us to the canteen for a cup of tea while we waited.
After being waited on hand and foot with tea and biscuits we were told to go up on deck, and wandered around until we found a ladder up to the boats.
The first job was to get up and take off the backstay and remove the topping lift. Which wasn’t a problem. Though HC being locked was a problem. I climbed up onto Excalibur to find the boat unlocked and Excalibur’s keys on the nav table. But no HC keys anywhere. So with a few tools, we broke into HC and checked around. Still no keys.
The guys said they’d drop us in the water and if we couldn’t find the keys, they’d move us along a bit whilst we arranged a tow.
We had a chance to inspect the stupid external bow thruster, which caught that 2 mile nylon rope in the Caribbean Sea. The weight of the rope has pulled it away from the base. We just need it to work for a few more trips, and then it’ll be thrown in the bin where it belongs.
Up up and away HC went, they lifted and spun her with expert precision. It’s amazing how packed in the boats are – with little room for error they spun her around and moved her over the side. We then stepped off the ship onto HC which was suspended at the ship’s deck level.
They then lowered us down, and into the water. We checked for leaks. None. Straps were taken off and Trina started calling the delivery skipper back in the USVI’s. He surprisingly picked up (at 3am Caribbean time) and told us he doesn’t lock the boats he loads, and always leaves the keys on the nav table.
With no keys and no desire to stay any longer rafted up to a cargo ship, we called for a tow. How much to tow a boat 1nm? £360+VAT. By the way, I’m putting all the costs in, as if I’d have come across this blog a year earlier I’d be interested to know these kind of things. Itchen Marine Towage came to our rescue. Top guys. They towed us to Town Quay Marina where we were greeted by the marina staff, also top top guys. Actually, I’d say facilities-wise Town Quay marina is amazing. The staff are great, there’s a communal gas bbq, marina bikes, awesome showers. Perhaps not a beauty spot, but otherwise a brilliant place to hole up in if needs be.
Back we went, back to the ship. Walking through big car parks, and past industrial buildings. Nodding to security chaps on the gates.
We went through the routine of removing the backstay, and stepping off the cargo ship onto a less stable Excalibur, suspended 20m up in the air.
Once in the water, we crossed our fingers we wouldn’t need another tow. The engine started, no problem. I should have kept a solar panel connected to be on the safe side, but we were up and running. There was a slight pang of guilt that Excalibur’s days with us were numbered. There’s absolutely no sense in keeping two boats, actually there’s no sense in having one boat, but my brain did do a quick day dream of a life where I didn’t have to let Excalibur go. Then reality hit as we touched down, tied up and gave each other a high five.
Excalibur’s last trip
A few days later we took Excalibur for her very very last trip, straight to Haslar Marina. We definitely knew we were no longer in the Caribbean, we froze our bloody nuts off on the way to Haslar. Poor thing, I feel like we’ve ‘taken her to the farm’. The cock of the revolver will be the final time we close her washboard padlock. Agggh!
With both boats back, our next challenges will be to get Excalibur ready to put on the market, and get HC’s prop shaft inspected. Get a job. And move HC to London. Bosh!