Chapter 28 Porto Again – L’Image

Friday 18th and Saturday 19th August 2017

The Ham (1889) Paul Gaugin

The Ham (1889) Paul Gaugin

I get up on Friday ready to start the job of fixing the steaming light. I will need help with this, but I have a plan. I have got to know my neighbours on my starboard side. Francis and Marcelle are french speakers from Belgium. They live on L’Image. Hand built by Francis and a friend who has unfortunately since died, the boat would not be out of place in any pirate movie. Not long after arriving in Porto I was given the full tour and I was amazed at the engineering and ingenuity that had gone into making and maintaining the boat. My plan is to get Francis to operate the winches while I climb the mast.

Like many plans this comes to nothing, as I soon realise that Francis is preparing L’Image to go to sea with Marcelle’s family. At one point I spy him at the top of his mast where he has climbed, without a safety harness, to solve some problem with a fore sail. Marcelle is sitting in the cockpit below terrified, unable to watch her partner so high up. Francis will later explain over beers, while carving slices of ham and offering them around on the tip of a large knife, that he used to work on electricity pylons and knows what he is doing.

I have none of Francis’s fearlessness when it comes to mast climbing. I will be in a safety harness connected to two safety lines. I just need to find someone to winch up the lines. The marina folks are busy so in the end I manage to find someone from one of the companies around the marina to lend a hand. He arrives with his boss and I don’t learn either of their names, probably as I’m quite stressed by the work I have to undertake. We work out a series of signals and I start to climb the mast with my aid winching up the safety lines.

My safety harness has a number of loops which have been used to attach electrical crimpers, a hammer, a portable drill and a rivet gun, as well as a canvas bag containing smaller tools and parts that I will need, including the new steaming light. With all this gear strapped to me the climb is awkward. I pause, where I can, to allow my partner to take up the slack on the safety lines. Eventually I’m where I want to be, sitting with my feet resting on the first set of spars, the steaming light in front of me with a 5 meter drop to the base of the mast. I fear not just falling, but also dropping tools and damaging the deck, a hatch or some other part of the rigging.

The first task is to remove the electrical connections from the old seaming light. I am very careful not to lose these into the mast as that would mean having to get the boat out of the water, to step (remove) the mast.This would cost hundreds of Euros. I get the old light disconnected and safely into my bag. I take out the new light fitting and, to my not inconsiderable joy, discover that the electrical connections are the same size. This allows me to connect the new light without the need for any electrical crimping.

With the electrics connected I just need to drill two new holes and rivet the light to the mast. This would be easy at ground level but hanging from a harness 5 meters up it seems really difficult. First I mark the holes with a pencil. I then feel in the bag for a centre punch. I align this to the centre of my pencil marks and hammer to create two indentations to the mast. I use the drill with a centre drill bit to create a bigger indentation. I then have to change the drill bit so that I can drill the holes for the rivets. Swinging around in the harness, this is very fiddly. Eventually I get the holes drilled. I swap from the drill to to the rivet gun, remove a rivet from the canvas bag and rivet through the first hole.

I immediately see a problem. The rivet from the old light fitting is still in place and sitting prouder than I thought. It is forcing the fitting out making it impossible to get the second rivet in. I sit back in the harness and assess the situation. As I do so, I feel the sweat running down my back. I’m unsure if this is from the heat, the exertion or the stress of my prediciment. What I have done should work but it’s just not ideal. The perfect solution would be to drill the old and the new rivet out and start attaching the fitting again. I have been up here about an hour and that is more than enough for me. I test the light fitting, it seems fairly firm, so I decide to leave it as it is, with just one rivet. I get my helper to lower me down and though I know I haven’t done a perfect job, I am relieved to have my feet once again on the deck. When darkness falls I test the light and realise that it is fine and will certainly do me till I get to Lisbon.

Saturday is about plotting courses and provisions. I plan to get the provisions sorted first but on my way back from the showers I get talking to Stéphane, another Belgian and owner of the beautiful Blue Pearl. He is going shopping in the afternoon and offers me a lift in his car. Back at my boat I get out the paper charts and plot my first solo sail in foreign waters, to Figueira da Foz. Later Stéphane and I head up the big hill to the Continente and I get food for the next few days. I buy beers to say thank you.

As Stéphane and I sit talking and drinking on the back of Kite in the evening sun we are joined by Francis and Marcelle from L’Image next door. It is not long before Francis is once again carving slices of ham from a giant leg and handing them around. We decide to go for something to eat, and this time, thanks to Stephane’s Portuguese, on my last night in Porto, I do get to savour the food from the traditional restaurants in the little former fishing village of Afurada.