The ups and downs of boat maintenance

Lifting the boat to do some boat maintenance

When you say to someone you’re quitting work to sail the world they turn green with envy. I am pretty sure they imagine turquoise waters, beach BBQs and cocktails on the deck. Luckily, Adam and I had already had a big dose of the reality of owning a boat before we decided to sail away into the sunset. Living on a half finished boat in England in the middle of winter was a pretty big challenge, so we knew the amount of maintenance living on something that floats requires!

After a month away from Hot Chocolate it was time to return and face reality. We would have to leave the safety of the marina and set sail on our own. It was a pretty tense few weeks. With marina prices tripling for every month we overstayed we just couldn’t afford to be there. But there was also so much work to be done on the boat still.

Sad face!

The biggest boat maintenance challenge we faced yet was changing the folding propeller. The survey had given it a damming report and we had sleepless nights imagining all sorts of disaster scenarios. Would we be entering a busy port when it fell off, powerless to steer the boat out of danger. Or perhaps we would be trying to anchor when it failed and we would be blown onto rocks. As new sailors we needed to know we’d done everything within our power to make the boat safe. We spent thousands of pounds of safety equipment. How would it feel to lose the boat (or worse) because we hadn’t changed the propeller?

No problem, we thought, we’ll just order a new one! It turns out you don’t just buy a propeller off the shelf. You need very specific measurements, none of which we knew. We scoured the piles of paperwork and found every bit of information we needed bar one key measurement. There was nothing we could do, we would have to get the boat out of the water.

Inside the boat maintenance yard

So now for the next dilemma (still no cocktails on deck). The marina we were in has a yard, a very expensive yard. We would have two options-take the boat out of the water, take the prop off, get the boat put back in the water and wait for our new prop to arrive, then get the boat out of the water and get the prop fitted. Or option two, get the boat put on the hard for several weeks and rent an air bnb to stay in. The yard doesn’t let boat owners work on their own boats so we would just be sat around for several weeks, paying rent and paying someone else to work on our boat. Both options were bank breaking and depressing.

Feeling disheartened we sat around and moped for several days. Until we spoke to someone who had hired a diver, and it wasn’t too expensive! Amazing! The diver agreed to come and assess the situation before we had to part with nay hard earned cash, but we were feeling hopeful. If he could remove the prop we wouldn’t have to get the boat lifted.

We spent a tense half an hour waiting for his verdict. It was a solid no. He was too nervous that he would break something by pulling the prop off, and refused to do it. We were back to square one. Queue several more days of moping and a few tense conversations. This prop was ruining our mojo!

Diver in the water

Finally some good luck came our way in the form of two folding bikes. Someone who had been at the marina three years ago had left these bikes behind and was desperate for them to go to a good home. We happily saved them from the scrap heap, got the brakes fixed and saved hours of time carting provisions from the supermarket by foot. But before we spent money on getting them fixed we needed to be sure they would fit in the lockers. We had already emptied the lockers and thrown away truck loads of things we wouldn’t need. We’d emptied them bar one thing. A rusty old alternator lying on a piece of foam at the very bottom on the locker. Miraculously the bikes would only fit if we removed the alternator, so remove it we did. And what was lying under the crusty old foam? A propeller!

Sailing boat out of the water to do boat maintenance

We had what we needed. A propeller that fitted our boat that could replace our folding one. The yard agreed to give us a lift and do the work in the slings, as long as we were happy to wait until they had a free slot and be ready to go at a moments notice. They would only charge us per hour. It was going to be expensive but we could afford it. It felt like the best day ever after a roller coaster few weeks. But as always, nothing is that easy when it comes to boats.

We waited tensely for a week and a half. We couldn’t leave the boat in case we got the go ahead and we were edging closer and closer to June when we would have to pay nearly £1000 marina fees. The BBQ on the beach was looking ever further away…till Thursday morning came and we got the call. The boat came out of the water, the yard manager came to change the prop and his face dropped. We had the wrong attachment. He couldn’t do it. We must have looked so incredibly crest fallen that the manager took pity on us. They would give us the lift for free, but they couldn’t remove the prop until we had a replacement.


At this point there were a few tears (Adam obviously, he’s such a cry baby, I would never cry over something so silly). While I was busy trying to find a solution (crying to our neighbours) Adam was on the phone to the prop manufacturers. He wanted to know how serious the problem with our current prop really was. The conversation went something like this…

‘We’ve been told our current prop needs replacing, but we aren’t sure how serious it is.’

‘Yeah that’s what I thought’

‘That would be really helpful, thank you’

‘Oh, that’s interesting’

‘If you could that would be great’

45 minutes later…

‘Thanks so much for your help, speak soon’

By this point I was pacing the boat with anticipation, feeling sick to the stomach and none the wiser. ‘Oh yeah, I could have put her on speaker phone, it’s good news’ Adam finally relayed. It turns out they get a phone call several times a week from people asking the same question. So much so that they made a video about how the prop will always have some play. After watching our video she informed us it does need changing, but not urgently. She told us to go and enjoy the season and get it looked at next time we’re out of the water. After all of that we were free to go! After that cocktail of course!

Happy the boat maintenance is over