Category Archives: Projects

Beaches and Plumbers

Our furniture is still in a bonded warehouse just down the street, Despite the fact that they’ve had the inventory for months, Customs keep coming up with new and interesting reasons to delay signing off the paperwork. The most recent one required a description of the precise chemical composition of the insulation foam in the freezer (how would we ever know that?), and a signed letter stating that we wanted our domestic freezer for, er, domestic use. In the meantime, we are camping in the apartment in sleeping bags with one plate, two mugs and a coffee machine.

Christmas is round the corner, and so it doesn’t look like they’re going to deliver our stuff before we leave at the end of the year. This is quite frustrating as it means that we’re going to have to fly back here in the new year, but as a Brazilian lady said to us in the hardware store the other day, the only way to deal with South America is to stay tranquillo.

We stopped worrying about it and took a two-hour bus ride to the resort town of Punta Del Este. Unfortunately an enormous storm rolled in and battered the town with 40-knot winds, so we didn’t get to spend much time on the beach, but we amused ourselves by trying out different restaurants and bars and thoroughly enjoying the experience of a room with real furniture.

Bronwyn rediscovers the wonders of bedroom furniture

Bronwyn rediscovers the wonders of bedroom furniture

Unemployed foreign gentleman of no fixed abode

Unemployed foreign gentleman of no fixed abode

El Mano de Punta Del Este, in strong wind

“El Mano de Punta Del Este”, in a gale

Bronwyn is surprised by a cold foot bath

Bronwyn is surprised by a cold foot bath

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and back home to Montevideo. The search continues for a carpenter to help fix our weathered windows and to install some shelves and cupboards. Carpenters are mysteriously hard to track down, and although we did finally get one to come to the house, in the end he decided that he didn’t want to do the job. Today we had a visit from a second carpenter, a friend of the electrician who helped install the air conditioning. Hopefully he’ll come back to us with a proper quote.

Plumbers are much more relaxed than carpenters. The gas and central heating specialist turned up today and moved a radiator for us, because it had originally been installed smack in the middle of the bedroom wall, right where we wanted to put the bed. While he was bleeding the radiators, he checked the whole system and also decommissioned our old electric boiler, and all for just a handful of dollars.

We were just about to catch the bus into town, and Bronwyn had popped up onto the terraza to hang a towel on the washing line. A sanitation engineer hailed her from the neighbour’s roof. It turns out that each apartment has a grease trap under the sink, and once a month somebody is supposed to come round to clean it out. I doubt that ours has been done for years, as it smells pretty bad, particularly since we’ve dismantled all the kitchen units and exposed the drain cover.

Under the big round lid is a big smelly basin full of old grease

This big round lid (previously underneath the kitchen sink), hides a big smelly basin full of old grease

It didn’t take the engineer long to vacuum and deodorise our grease trap, and lift and clean all the drain covers. Since he had been engaged to stay on site all day, and since we were practically the only people home on this working weekday, he was going to have to hang out on the stairs on the off-chance that somebody else came home. Instead he went round our whole apartment, turning on taps and flushing toilets and making sure that all the drainage pipes ran smoothly, removing several years worth of hair in the process. He tut-tutted at the slow drainage in the upstairs sink, disassembled the pedestal, removed a good handful of old builder’s putty, and then reassembled it all with fresh sealant. Since he’d accidentally spilled about a teaspoon of water onto our already filthy tiles (we’re currently cleaning all our tools in there), he took it upon himself to scrub the floor, toilet, bidet and basin sparkly clean, and then repeated the process in the downstairs bathroom. Amazing.

Renovation Time

After five years of long-term tenants, we finally got to stay in our now unfurnished apartment in Uruguay for the first time. We arrived equipped with decorating tools and building supplies, because we intend to redecorate and move in our own furniture and offer the apartment for fully-furnished short-term lets when we’re not here, giving us the opportunity to use it ourselves once a year or so. The furniture is currently snarled up in red tape at Customs, so it is lucky that we also brought camping gear.

We were pretty glad that we came prepared to do some work. Although we easily fell in love with our apartment all over again, the previous tenant had left under a bit of a cloud, and it soon emerged that our previous letting agent has utterly failed to do any proper maintenance over the preceding years. The paint is peeling from the windows, there’s no cold water supply upstairs (including to the toilet) and no hot water supply downstairs. The chimney has obviously never been swept, the shower trays are leaking, and the very expensive US$1500 painters engaged by our agent had simply splattered white paint everywhere, including over the woodwork, radiators and electrics.

The paintwork needs attention

The window frames desperately need attention

The stove is warped and sooty

The stove is warped, partially dismantled, and sooty

The tenant left us his curtains. Thanks.

The last tenant left us his curtains. Thanks, mate.

Might need to tidy this up a bit

Might need to tidy this up a bit

In theory I suppose we could go back and argue with our previous agent, but we’d much rather just draw a line under the experience, roll our sleeves up, and get on with a renovation.

Some information has been lost during the shuffle between tenants. For instance, we were a bit puzzled about why we had been left with both a gas boiler and an electric boiler, apparently simultaneously making hot water in the same system. We brought in a gas engineer who established that the gas boiler was all that we needed, so we disconnected the electric one. A friendly plumber soon discovered that our tenant had randomly turned off and disconnected some of the pipework, which was another easy fix, and while he was there he replaced our leaky toilet cisterns.

While a couple of the light fittings have been upgraded by tenants, most of them are still the temporary single-bulb mountings put in by the original builders, so after five years it’s really time to sort that out. Shopping for lights is no hardship here. Montevideo glories in lighting shops; there are hundreds of them in our area alone, often side-by-side. It is a mystery to us how they all co-exist, but it certainly provides for a lot of choice.

Let's paint the mezzanine. You can also see the original light fittings.

Let’s paint the mezzanine. You can also see some of the original “temporary” light fittings.

A typical Montevideo light shop

A typical Montevideo light shop

There's always time for a snack while shopping

There’s always time for a snack while shopping

One of our tenants had fitted some kitchen units, which were fine in themselves but had been arranged in a curious way so that it is impossible to fit standard-sized appliances. We talked through a few options, and then simply ripped the whole thing out.

There goes the kitchen. It's restaurants from now until Christmas.

There goes the kitchen. It’s restaurants from now until Christmas.

In the new year, kitchen fitters will install something a bit more impressive to our own design. One bonus of removing the old kitchen is that we ended up with two rather expensive pieces of granite, complete with double sinks and plumbing, which we are planning to install on the rooftop terraza.

These sinks will go nicely on the roof

These sinks will go nicely on the roof

New light fittings, much more classy

New light fittings, much more classy

Summer is in full swing, the temperature is climbing into the thirties, so we ordered an air-conditioner. A couple of lively lads came to install it, which was a lot of work that took all day, but it works wonderfully and will be a good selling point when we rent.

We had the air-conditioning fan installed in the light-well of the building. The trouble with looking out over a shared light-well is that your lounge and bedroom look directly into your neighbours’. Many locals get around this by installing wooden panels over their windows, or keeping the curtains permanently closed (as in the photo below left), but we had thought of a sexier solution and had (not without some difficulty) imported some rolls of plastic film from England, which we used to make our windows translucent. It worked out rather well, giving us privacy while letting through the sunlight.

The air conditioning guy has a fun job

The air conditioning guy hanging out in the light well

Through a glass, obscurely

Through a glass, obscurely

And finally, we have always thought that our 4.75 metre ceiling deserved a chandelier, so after a lot of entertaining window-shopping and many changes of plan, we finally had one installed. We think it looks rather nice.

Luckily we found a brave soul with a tall ladder

Luckily we found a brave soul with a tall ladder

Because every man needs a chandelier

Because every man needs a chandelier

The Box Embargo

We were late for the airport, thanks to an idiot pre-booked taxi driver who hadn’t bothered to research his pick-up address. However, we weren’t too concerned because we’d already checked in online and just had to drop off our luggage.

We’d deliberately flown American Airlines because their allowance is two 32kg pieces each, and we had a lot of tools and decorating equipment to take with us to Uruguay, including a roll of specialised frosting film that we intended to use on our windows. At first, the check-in ladies reckoned that we could only take a single piece each, but that misunderstanding was swiftly cleared up because Bronwyn knows her small print. Then, just as our luggage stickers were being printed, the lady said “Isn’t there a box embargo on this flight?”

We were beginning to suspect  a conspiracy. The US government had already done its level best to prevent us from paying for our container shipment (see previous blog), and now they were randomly instituting a rule against our box of window film.

This “embargo” wasn’t mentioned anywhere even in the very small print of our tickets, which we had read very thoroughly because our box was only one centimetre short of the maximum length for American Airlines luggage. We encouraged the flight staff to check in more detail. Eventually it emerged that while there was indeed a “box embargo” on American Airlines flights out of our stopover destination Miami, the rule did not apply to flights into Miami. Our bemused but helpful assistant agreed to check in our box for the first leg, as long as we promised to repack the box into a bag in Miami, as apparently this would satisfy the regulations.

We had a pleasant flight, and no trouble with Miami Customs, especially as we got to bypass the enormous queues of US citizens’ waiting to use their “streamlined” automated gates. Instead we ambled up to the “foreigners” exit where a cheerful young man stamped us through without any delay. Our box was even waiting for us on the baggage carousel.

There was a dicey moment at the airport Left Luggage office when the rude attendant demanded to see our boarding card before he accepted our luggage. Who keeps their boarding card after getting on a long-haul flight? Luckily Bronwyn found hers screwed up amongst the empty food wrappers in her bag. We dropped our other three bags of tools and made our way to the Miami metro system with two small carry-on bags and a one-and-a-half metre box over my shoulder.

We found ourselves unable to decipher the metro map, but were helped by a friendly transit cop who showed us where we needed to go. He then accompanied us to the ticket machine, which didn’t accept notes larger than $20, something of a problem because all of our currency was in a paper bag full of hundreds (see previous blog). The machine supposedly accepted credit cards, but not without a numeric US ZIP code, so we couldn’t get it to accept our foreign cards. The nice guard spent a lot of time trying to find a US postal code that would work with our cards, or to get it to accept a truncated foreign post code, but in the end he reasoned that if the system was too stupid to let us buy a ticket then we might as well ride for free, and waved us through the barrier.

Much of Miami seems to be under construction

Much of Miami seems to be under construction

Out with the old

Out with the old

Little boxes

In with the little boxes

Miami streets from the elevated train

Miami streets from the elevated train

The box arrives in Miami

The box arrives in Miami

After delivering the box to our hotel room, we took a long bus ride to the waterfront and enjoyed a stroll, a paddle and a nap on Miami Beach.

Catching some rays on Miami Beach

Catching some rays on Miami Beach

We had pre-booked a late dinner at the excellent River Oyster Bar, reasoning that if we ate really late after lying in the sunshine we would reset our body clocks. The food and the ambience were wonderful, and we whiled away the hours over salt-encrusted bronzino, grilled mahi-mahi and excellent local wines, before returning to the hotel and sinking into a deep and satisfying sleep.

On Sunday we woke with a whole day to tackle the problem of finding a bag for our oversize box. The tourist shops only held expensive regular-sized rolling luggage, but while exploring some of the poorer Spanish-speaking quarters of the city, we eventually came across a little shop that carried simple nylon bags. The helpful lady located her largest bag, technically 50 inches, for just 20 dollars.

With that job out of the way, we returned to the River Oyster Bar for a happy-hour feast of oysters, locally caught cobia, and wine.

Lots and lots of oysters

Lots and lots of oysters

We headed back to the hotel, and found that even though the roll would probably almost fit inside, there was no way of getting it through the mouth of the bag. We knew from our original architectural plans that our film was oversized for the windows that we were going to fit it to, so we borrowed a pair of scissors from the bemused receptionist and shortened the roll until it fit.

Finally we grabbed a taxi to the airport, had no trouble checking in our box-in-a-bag, and enjoyed a relatively comfortable red-eye flight to Montevideo.

On our arrival in Uruguay, we quickly made our way through Customs and down to the baggage hall. We found our new bag patiently circling on the carousel, and to our complete lack of surprise, noted that it was sitting amidst a plethora of cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes. “Box embargo”, indeed.

 

A Container Full of Dollars

We were shipping a container full of furniture from the UK to Uruguay, without any clear idea of the import charges that would be levied at the other end. The wheels of South American bureaucracy grind but slowly, so although we had already forwarded a full inventory of our intended shipment complete with individual photos and descriptions of every item, the deadline for our own flight to Montevideo was looming and so we just had to let the container go, otherwise there would be no chance of it being there when we arrived.

Fast-forward to several weeks later, and we finally heard back from Uruguayan Customs when our container was already steaming past Brazil and just days from docking in Montevideo. At this point, of course, they could have imposed their 60% tax on whatever valuation they chose and we’d just have had to pay it, so we were pleasantly surprised when they gave us a figure which, although still in the thousands of dollars, was about 25% less than our own valuation.

We took a deep breath and set out to pay the bill. International bank transfers into Uruguay are problematic at the best of times. Uruguay’s banking laws are very strict and secrecy is paramount; for instance our simple monthly statement cannot be trusted to the postal system and must be couriered to us once a month. Since the peso, although currently well-behaved, has a slightly dicey past, most medium to large transactions are denominated in American dollars. Unfortunately Uruguay’s privacy laws offend US authorities, so getting any money through the international banking system is always interesting.

We had previously paid our Uruguayan shipping agent via Western Union, which had gone reasonably smoothly after we had supplied sufficient documentary evidence to prove that we weren’t international terrorists. Sadly, the US had changed the rules overnight, and our attempt at sending the balance of our account was refused. We were informed that we had infringed some international terrorism criterion somewhere, but were not permitted to know which one, so there was no way that we could fix it. To add insult to injury, having rejected our transfer, Western Union now get to keep our money for several weeks, presumably so that Homeland Security can wipe their bottoms with it or something.

Luckily we still have enough remaining funds to cover the bill, so we’re going to put used hundred-dollar bills in a paper bag and take them overseas in our underpants. It’s perfectly legal, but isn’t it the kind of thing that American money-laundering regulations were put in place to prevent in the first place?

What the heck, we have a plane to catch.

Zipping up Elizabeth for winter

Zipping up Elizabeth for winter

Goodbye to our cottage in Wales

Goodbye to our cottage in Wales

Globe-trotting furniture

Our apartment in Montevideo sits empty. We don’t mind that it isn’t generating income, but we do worry that nobody is collecting the mail, cleaning the windows, or paying the bills. To address the problem, we contacted Reynolds, one of the agents that we used when we were originally house-hunting, because we know that they manage short-term lets for tourists and business people. One thing swiftly led to another, and they agreed to take over the maintenance of the flat while we were away.

The idea now is to rent the apartment fully furnished to short-term visitors, giving us the opportunity to use it for ourselves whenever we are in Uruguay. Since the previous tenant took everything with him, the property is completely empty of fixtures, so we decided to fly over this coming December to decorate and to furnish. Bettina, our contact at Reynolds, warned us that it would cost about US$10,000 to furnish an apartment of that size, and that the workmanship was liable to be far inferior to what we were used to. Her advice was to import the furniture from abroad, and just accept the massive 60% import tax that would be levied by Uruguayan Customs. The price would end up about the same, but the fittings would be far superior.

This set us thinking. During a lifetime of travelling, we have acquired a lot of stuff. Flitting as we do from job to job and city to city, we are always moving into new houses. Unfortunately there is rarely time to move the existing furniture from our previous residence to our new one, because usually at the end of a contract we throw our locally acquired junk into some local storage and go travelling. When news of a new contract comes in, we’re usually far away from our furniture and in order to make an immediate start, we have to set up a new place from scratch. We are pretty good now at completely furnishing a new property within a day or so of arrival.

Moving house again!

Moving house again. I can’t even remember where this was.

We had thus accumulated a succession of storage units, each containing a full household’s worth of stuff. In addition, when we sold our yacht Pindimara, we filled yet another storage unit with five years’ worth of liveaboard and cruising gear.

Yet another darn storage unit

Yet another darn storage unit

Storage in Canberra 2012

Stacking the stuff… which city was this again?

Over the past couple of years, we have been slowly consolidating all our stored items into a facility in Canberra, Australia. Once we were pretty sure that we had everything in one place, we had the whole lot shipped here to the UK, where we happen to be working.

When the container arrived last month, we had no real idea what was in it. Certainly there would be a number of tables and chairs, some washing machines, a handful of fridges and freezers, and boxes and boxes of books. That much we knew. But there was another 10 cubic metres of mystery, stuff that we’d forgotten about, stuff that we thought we’d destroyed, stuff that we thought we’d lost, even some boxes that had been travelling around unopened for over fifteen years. It was time to have a shakedown.

We were renting a three-bedroom cottage in South Wales, and spent a lot of time shuttling van-loads of boxes back and forth between our large lounge and our storage unit. Whenever we had some spare time, we would open a box or two and itemise its contents. Some of the boxes were beautifully packed but contained nothing of any use. Others were a jumble of really expensive and useful stuff obviously thrown in at the last minute. We assembled a collection of over a dozen travel adaptors, innumerable bottles of skin and suntan lotion, and piles of crockery and cutlery.

We've probably got any power question covered

We’ve probably got any power question covered

We were glad to discover that the few remaining bottles of wine from our wedding (gifts from our friends) arrived intact, along with a surprise half-empty bottle of rare whisky and, mysteriously, tucked here and there amongst towels and sheets, a handful of small bottles of cider. Since these latter have no value at all, we could only assume that we couldn’t bear throwing them out at the time and had quietly tucked them away for later, not realising that they would not be unpacked again for years.

Slowly we separated our stash into three piles, representing the three forks of our future plans. One huge pile contained all the stuff that we needed to move onto our new yacht, Elizabeth. One small pile contained sentimental stuff that we couldn’t bear to part with, and which one day would find its way all the way back to Australia and into our building project in Tasmania. And finally, a much larger pile comprised of furniture and fittings which we wanted to ship to our apartment in Uruguay.

On the face of it, it may seem insane to ship several apartments’ worth of furniture from Australia to Britain, and then to ship a large proportion of it on to South America. However, if you factor in the savings of closing all those storage spaces and the time and flights that would have been necessary to sort things out ourselves, and also the fact that we already own all this stuff and so don’t need to purchase it again, it was much easier to pay somebody to load everything into a shipping container and then deal with it here. It’s also surprisingly difficult to freight things directly from eastern Australia to Uruguay, because most of the shipping is travelling in the opposite direction.

There is a great deal of paperwork involved in importing goods into Uruguay. Just for starters, every individual item needs to be photographed and valued, and that valuation must be agreed by Uruguayan Customs, who will then levy 60% import duty against it. Because we envisage that any problems will occur at the Montevideo end, we chose to arrange the freight using a Uruguayan shipping agent, rather than a UK one. This has the advantage that they know how the import duty system works, but the disadvantage that the UK packers and movers are contracting for a foreign company, and calmly inflate their prices to suit.

In order to minimise our costs, we chose to pack our goods ourselves. Generally this just meant unpacking everything, photographing it, and then shoving it back into boxes (and after our clear-out we had plenty of boxes!), but for a few of the larger items, we had to construct crates from rough timber. Luckily there happened to be a power outlet in our storage, presumably for the cleaners, so we’d sneak in at night with a power saw, and then try to sweep up all the sawdust before anybody noticed.

Boxes... boxes... endless boxes...

Boxes… boxes… endless boxes…

Bronwyn helps to crate up a sofa

Bronwyn helps to crate up a sofa

After a good many sweaty nights in the storage, and quite a bit of rethinking and repackaging, we were all finished and ready for the removal men. The next day, the storage facility was hit by lightning, which didn’t damage our goods but took out the freight elevator, leaving us with the prospect of carrying twenty square metres of gear down a small metal staircase. By the time the truck arrived, we had established that the hydraulics were fine, it was just the safety interlock that was broken, and the owners had the good grace to allow us to use it even though the safety doors weren’t functioning. In a world gone mad with health and safety, thank goodness for some common sense.

We heard today that our container has been loaded on board a vessel. Our stuff is en route… but we still haven’t heard whether Montevideo Customs have agreed with our valuation. Still, there’s nothing we can do about it now. Forward to Montevideo!

The Tenant Departs

For a number of years now, we have been renting out our apartment in Montevideo. Once the building was complete and we realised that we were going to have to go and earn a crust somewhere else for a few years, we had a choice of either short-term letting to tourists (for US dollars), or long-term letting to locals (for Uruguayan pesos). Having very little wish to earn dollars, and with a vague feeling that we should be giving something back to the community, we engaged a local rental agent to find us a local tenant.

Uruguayan tenancy law is interesting. Before moving in, the tenant needs to provide an initial deposit to cover six months of rent. Since most people don’t have this kind of cash, they typically achieve this by using the title deeds of their parents’ house as collateral. On the flip side, the contract is unbreakable and the landlord is obliged by law to extend any year’s tenancy for a second year on request, and almost certainly for a third year, provided that the rent has been paid.

One of our early discoveries was that the concept of ‘being up to date with rent’ is marvellously flexible. It’s perfectly normal for the tenant to be months behind, or to make a part payment because they happen to be short of cash. We had one tenant who continued to pay back-rent long after he moved out.

Another aspect of tenancy is that you really do rent just the walls. A tenant will typically bring all their own furniture, white goods, light fittings, and even (and especially) their own hot-water boiler. The tenant can thus choose whether they want to use gas or electricity to heat their water.

Here are some agency pictures of our apartment, taken during an inspection.

The place looks quite different when furnished

The rear lounge, adjoining the kitchen

View through the stair from the lounge

Stair, kitchen and mezzanine from the front lounge

Restful nook on the mezzanine

Restful nook on the mezzanine

Bedroom area on the mezzanine

Bedroom area on the mezzanine, looking toward the lounge, with stairs up to the rooftop terrazza

In general, we have had a positive experience of long-term renting to local people. However, our relationship with our latest tenant, and with our agent, has become rather disgruntled of late. Out of the blue, the agent reported that the tenant was upset because the gas company wouldn’t turn on the gas supply due to a fault. This came as something of a surprise to us, because although we do have a gas supply, neither he nor any of the previous tenants had shown any interest in using gas, so it had never been connected and we’d never known that there was a problem.

It took a little while to organise a repair because the fault was located inside a neighbour’s apartment, and we had to knock down part of their wall to fix it. In the meantime, our tenant started withholding rent to compensate his loss, even though he hadn’t been using the gas supply at all throughout his tenancy. He then started angling for a decrease in rent. Instead of fighting in our corner, our agent began backing off from the whole affair and wouldn’t deal with either the tenant or us.

We did a deal with one tenant to fit kitchen cupboards

Note the new gas cooker in the corner, which appears to be working.

To cut a long story short, we got fed up with the whole thing, but we were far from the action and the agent was not providing us with any support. Then suddenly the tenant announced that he wanted to break the contract from his side. Officially he should have bought his way out of the contract, but we jumped at the chance and told him we’d call it quits if he cleared out, while simultaneously informing our spineless agent that we didn’t require his services any longer, and we were going to leave the apartment empty.

The upside is that finally, after five years, we now have the opportunity to use the property ourselves. Even though we have visited Montevideo on several occasions, we haven’t been able to spend even a single night in our own apartment, and we’re really looking forward to it. But first, there’s the little matter of redecorating and refurnishing…

Overwrought over ironwork

Although there seems to be little obvious crime in Montevideo, it is noticeable that many ground-floor windows are protected by wrought iron grilles. We had always assumed that this was a throwback to the bad old days, but when our rental agent asked for a cage over the glass hallway to the rooftop garden, we were happy to oblige because although it is our own private terrazza, it is at least theoretically accessible from neighbouring rooftops.

Iron cage and door protecting the access to our rooftop terrazza

Simple wrought iron grille and door protecting the access to our rooftop terrazza

We were a little surprised when, a couple of years later, a tenant asked for a grille to be put over the lounge window. Bear in mind that this window is indoors, looking out over the building’s main marble stairway. The panes are tall and slender, an attractive feature of the stairwell, and the first thing that a visitor to any of the apartments sees when they enter from the street.

The tenant sent us a photo of the sort of thing he was expecting, even worse than our rooftop bars, like the security on a basement window, a thickly barred affair reminiscent of a Dickensian workhouse.

The subsequent conversation got quite heated. It was his contention that it was his right to demand that the landlord turn his home into a fortress on request, and that he intended to withhold rent until it was done. I was equally adamant that I had chosen the apartment for its Italian colonial styling and the last thing that I was going to do was turn it into a prison, particularly since he had presumably chosen to rent it for exactly the same reason.

If we had been on site or in the same time zone, the situation may well have been resolved amicably, but the increasingly acerbic conversation was filtered by email through the weak translation skills of our increasingly ineffectual agent, who in the end gave up and just forwarded our emails back and forth in whatever language they happened to be written.

Getting rid of a tenant in Uruguay is practically impossible. Officially they must pay their rent or get evicted, but in reality this is more of a promise that one day, the rent might be paid, eventually, if things go the tenant’s way, and until then it seems that they can just sit and argue and make small token payments until the situation is resolved to their satisfaction. Even in the normal run of things, when there were no arguments and everybody was happy, it was perfectly normal for our tenants to be months behind in their rent, which the agent regarded as nothing to be concerned about.

Something had to give, and it seemed that both the tenant and the agent thought that we were being unreasonable in quibbling about paying for pointless structural alterations to our property. Thankfully we had already had experience with the iron-workers who had built the rooftop cage, who had done quite a large job at reasonable cost. We sent them a series of photos of nice ironwork that we’d found on the internet, and asked if they could make something more in keeping with the style of our property.

Luckily they were able to oblige, and if we have to have a grille at the front of our apartment, then at least this one is pleasant to the eye.

During building works in 2009

During building works in 2009

Now safely protected

Now safely protected in 2013

Pindimara costs

There is a saying in Australia that BOAT is an acronym for Bring Out Another Thousand, and it is spooky how often the answer to the question, “How much is that cool sailing gadget?” is “a thousand dollars”. It is also an oft-quoted statistic that the running costs of your pride and joy will be about 10% of the orginal purchase cost, per year, forever. In order to test this theory, we have kept detailed records of all our expenses, and found that, for the two of us living aboard Pindimara, it was closer to 15%.

For the benefit of others who are considering dipping a toe into the lifestyle, I have provided a breakdown of our expenses year by year. All prices are given in Australian Dollars. To convert to your own currency, you could use the Oanda converter.

Annual costs as a percentage of the original Purchase Price (172,900)

Total Expenditure 2005-2006 (Live aboard, not cruising) 14,206 08.2%
Total Expenditure 2006-2007 (Live aboard, not cruising) 27,402 15.8%
Total Expenditure 2007-2008 (Live aboard, not cruising) 17,021 10.0%
5 months Expenditure 2008-2009 (Live aboard, not cruising) 17,304 24.0%
6 months Expenditure 2008-2009 (Cruising) 13,186 15.3%
Average per year over four years 22,972 13.3%

 

Breakdown of costs

Preparations, not cruising 2005-2006

Fixtures and Fittings  
Duvet, pillows, glasses 200
Bedding, pots, pans 250
Kitchen equipment 100
Tools, kitchen equipment 90
Water hose and connectors 25
Maintenance and Tools  
Toilet maintenance kit 80
Lubricant, polish 20
Quick-cover tape x 2 20
Brushes, sanding, cleaning 45
Antifouling, thinners, tape, epoxy 920
Socket and wrench for propeller 60
Slip at RPAYC 535
Slip and replace prop 550
Solar powered vent 310
Silicone sealant, brush 10
Headsail sheets 169
Silicone lubricant x 2 19
Hacksaw, bastard, molegrips 75
Hire upholstery steam cleaner 32
Fluids for steam cleaner 16
Sump pump 88
Strap wrench 8
Caulking gun, superglue 24
Filters, impeller, oil, coolant 154
Safety Equipment  
PFDs, flares, grease 450
Tender  
Zodiac tender, used 750
Zodiac seat 140
Tender tow rope and fittings 30
Tuff Cote paint for Zodiac 120
Zodiac glue 10
Zodiac repair kit x 2 100
Zodiac rowlock adapters 40
Running Costs  
Diesel Fuel 200
Cooking Gas 20
Fees  
Registration to 17/11/06 160
Registration to 17/11/05 20
Mooring fees (Gibson) 3000
Visitors berth (RPAYC) 70
Insurance 1630
Loan interest to 10/06 (on 75k) 3666


Preparations, not cruising 2006-2007

Fixtures and Fittings  
Cutlery, towels, hangers 72
Maintenance and Tools  
12 vac, furler sheet  90
Antifouling brushes, tape etc 72
Mainsail and foresail service 1077
New foresail and trysail 3236
Buff and polish (Reflections) 650
Tarp., pole, tubing  20
Rubber for snubber 5
Foresail sheets 83
10m anchor chain  90
50m anchor warp 60
Spare plough anchor 79
Shackles, hoses, screws 33
Stainless work (Bluewater) 7335
Haul out, gelcoat repairs 1909
Safety Equipment  
PFDs, boat hook, chart 280
Bearing compass 180
Sailing gloves 38
Manual bilge pump 29
PFD yokes, harnesses  1000
Yoke recharge kits 70
EPIRB 400
Jackstays (Riggtech) 281
Tender  
Walker Bay  2000
Running Costs  
Diesel Fuel 258
Cooking Gas 15
Fees  
Mooring (Gibson) 1750
Visitors berth (RPAYC) 30
Visitors berth (LMYC) 25
Mooring (LMYC) 75
Visitors berth (Anchorage) 290
Mooring (Anchorage) 650
Visitors berth (Nelson Bay) 500
Mooring (Soldiers Point) 997
Insurance 1549
Registration (NSW) 163
Loan interest (on 40k) 2011


2007-2008 (includes 4 months liveaboard, not cruising)

Fixures and Fittings  
Engel fridge 1300
3 new batteries and regulator 1406
Canvas and panel mounts 990
Labels and lettering 68
Lights and small parts 210
Solar panels 920
Electrical wiring and parts 768
Electrical wiring and parts 112
Cigar lighter Y adaptor 10
Water tank sensors and gauge 366
Electrical and plumbing parts 89
Cool boxes 170
Lamps and small parts 162
Mounting brackets 35
Maintenance and Tools  
Oil filter wrench 10
Hammer, screwdriver 37
Plumbing 16
Plumbing 16
Solder sucker 15
Solder, wire, torch 31
Rigging check and halyards 3258
Plumbing and electrics 120
Waste tank  ??
Plumbing for waste tank 80
Safety Equipment  
Musto Trousers 259
Sailing jacket and trousers 275
Running Costs  
Cooking gas 55
Fees  
Mooring (Gibson) 3380
Insurance (Club Marine) 1630
Registration (NSW) 168
Loan interest to 10/08 (approx)  1000
Tender  
Rowlocks 65


2008-2009 (first 5 months only, liveaboard but not cruising

Fixures and Fittings  
Kiwi Prop feathering propeller 1975
Cooking gas tanks 60
Flexible LED lamp 80
Water Maker 4216
Shock cords and cockpit tidies 101
Shade sails 240
Latex mattresses 850
Cover mattresses 500
Maintenance and Tools  
Antifoul, polish etc at Bayview 3476
Shurflo water filter 21
Antifouling 153
Tools, blades, screws, wire etc 418
Plumbing supplies 89
Fuel fixtures 80
Caulking 27
Safety Equipment  
VHF and dry bags 285
Repair kits and dry bags 405
Deck shoes, gloves, jacket 289
Fog horn, grab bag, flares 125
Running Costs  
Cooking gas 30
Diesel Fuel 80
Fees  
Mooring (Gibson) 1800
Insurance (Club Marine) 1623
Registration (NSW) 173
Tender  
Outboard mounts and fittings 52
Seven foot oars and stops 75


Cruising Mar-Apr-May 2009

Fixures and Fittings  
Fishing gear 92
Maintenance and Tools  
Engine oil and filters 94
Printer USB cable 5
Plumbing parts 242
Electrical parts 145
Install tank, blast hull (Noakes) 499
General chandlery 383
Supplies  
Provisioning 1954
Eating and drinking out 704
Clothes 238
Hairdresser etc 83
Public transport 15
Running Costs  
Cooking gas 56
Fuel 269
Batteries 32
Fees  
Mooring 62
Tender  
Outboard Motor 985


Cruising Jun-Jul-Aug 2009

Fixures and Fittings  
Spare fuel tanks 60
Fishing gear 40
Maintenance and Tools  
Electrical parts 46
Plumbing parts  45
Computer parts 660
General chandlery 163
Supplies  
Provisioning 1875
Clothes 150
Eating and drinking out 2609
Public transport 68
Running Costs  
Cooking gas 66
Fuel 281
Fees  
Marina 1265

Monsoon Goodbyes

Our yacht, Pindimara, had been on sale for a few weeks in Darwin, and had in fact already attracted the interest of a couple looking for a production cruising yacht. We were, however, painfully aware that she was stuffed full of our junk, and that we had left all the sails and cushions and cupboards open in an attempt to keep her aired during the hot Darwin summer, so that she looked more like a Chinese laundry than somebody;s pride and joy.

Chinese Laundry

Chinese Laundry

We took a few days off work and flew up to Darwin to move all our gear into storage and give the boat a bit of a scrub; after all, she’d by now been sitting in the marina for almost five months and we thought that she would probably need it. In actual fact she was in fine fettle, just a little damp from several months of tropical humidity which had settled in the bilges. Her decks were tolerably clean and we had suffered no cyclone damage.

Then the monsoon arrived, a monster that settled in across the entire northern half of the continent. Being tolerably well travelled, I thought that I’d seen a bit of rain in my time. This was fundamentally different. Firstly, the air temperature in Darwin’s summer months is up close to forty degrees, and humidity is hovering in the nineties. When the rain comes, it’s warm. And in a monsoon, it’s moving sideways. Reports started to come in of minor tornadoes, and photographic evidence of fish raining out of the sky. There was so much rain that the marina started to fill up and overflow from the run-off, and the boats were bucking at their berths as the water poured in through the storm drains and out through the sluice gates to the sea.

The lock master, Keith, was kept very busy monitoring the levels and adjusting and readjusting the sluices, as well as pumping out sinking boats and rescuing overwhelmed pontoons. Despite all this, he very kindly allowed us to use his office as a sort of half-way-house for our gear, because we had to get it off the boat before we could do anything, and although we had brought many cardboard boxes we only had a limited number of plastic containers that could withstand the torrential rain.

We worked out a system where Bronwyn sweated below as she uncovered ever more boxes of supplies and packed them into plastic containers, while I ran with them back and forth up and down the slippery marina to the office. Whenever the rain paused for a moment, we piled all the boxes we could into Keith’s ute and took them to a storage locker, where I unpacked again and then repacked into cardboard boxes before returning to the marina with the empty plastic ones for another load.

However fast we worked, there were always more lockers to open and more gear to check and to move. It took two days to shift a five-year accumulation of gear and stores. The food was particularly exciting; we had a rough idea that we had a few months worth of stores left aboard, but we could have eaten well for almost six months with the stuff that we found. Some of it was pretty exotic, but its hard to move food across state quarantine lines in Australia, so rather than try to ship it back to Perth, we gave most of it to a delighted Keith.

A lot of the gear that we removed consisted of useful bits and pieces that we had kept in the lazarette in case we needed to repair something; spare sets of oars, bits of marine ply, old rope, propeller parts, broom handles and so on. Rather than dump this gear in the skip, I placed it neatly nearby, thinking that perhaps somebody else might like to keep it. To my amusement, the length of time that each part sat by the skip became shorter and shorter as other yachties began to regularly check what was there. After a few hours, I couldn’t even walk the length of the pontoon without somebody calling out “Are you throwing away that old rope?” and taking it off me.

We became especially popular when we started giving away fuel, because our tanks were full and we wanted to ship the empty deck jerry cans down to Perth. Bronwyn had a similar experience when she started putting dried food, books, and boxes of cleaning products in the marina’s launderette. This was all perfectly familiar, of course. Some of the gear was stuff that I had myself picked up from skips along the way.

Finally the boat was empty, and we began the long process of scrubbing, cleaning and polishing from the bilges to the mast. Still dodging monsoon squalls, we were forever opening the hatches to let in some air, and closing them again to guard against horizontal rain. I was so thoroughly wet that I didn’t dare enter the cabin for fear of dripping water into the bilges, so I crouched under the dodger as each squall rolled over.

Finally, only twenty minutes before we had to leave to catch our flight, we were done. Pindimara looked like a million dollars, and pretty similar to the way that we’d first seen her, all those years ago.

Saloon

Saloon

Galley

Galley

Forepeak

Forepeak

We had thought that we would be shedding some tears, but in the event we never had the time. To a large extent we had got over the grief of parting over the previous months, while we were negotiating with the dealer and putting together a suitable collection of photographs. It’s still hard to look back at those pictures without our eyes misting over, but if there’s one thing that we have learned, it is that the sea is now in our blood, and we will be back.

Life on land

Adjusting to life on land is weird. Our apartment backs on to the Swan River, and on the first day we ambled down to have a look at it. Standing on the shore, I had a strange feeling of disconnection. It took me a little while to understand that where I had previously regarded water as a highway and the land as a barrier, now the roles were reversed. I can’t just hop into our dinghy and cross to the other side; I have to find a bridge or a ferry. The water is no longer my home.


LASERS ON THE SWAN RIVER

It was not all negative. It was nice to have electricity on demand, without continually having to consider the state of the batteries and generators. It was very nice to have unlimited fresh water, although neither of us could bring ourselves to ever waste any of it.

Australians have a strange relationship with fresh water. Whereas Bronwyn and I both come from countries where water is plentiful and yet we were brought up to respect it as a scarce resource, Australia is largely desert and yet the locals are so profligate that the water tables are irreparably sinking and the few major rivers are in the process of drying up. There is no concept of recycling; all used water goes straight into the sea. We had already had an argument with our tenants in Sydney, when we found that their water usage in the little one-bedroom flat was 12,000 litres a month, compared to our 6,500 a month when we had lived there, and of course our 600 litres a month on the boat. They did have the grace to offer to pay the bill.

It was also nice to be able to sleep the whole night through without springing out of my bunk to check the set of the anchor, investigate an unusual noise, or take over a night watch. We had particularly suffered on long passages when our watches spiralled into ever-shorter increments because it wasn’t really possible to get a proper rest while the boat was under way.

Even though we are now on land and none of these problems apply, we have once again found that cruising has changed us. We remain attuned to the cycles of the sun, springing fresh-eyed from bed every morning at dawn (even Bronwyn, who before we went sailing would cheerfully sleep until lunchtime). At the other end of the day, only a few hours after dusk will find us yawning and making our way to bed.

What we miss

We know that we miss the cruising lifestyle, but it is hard to put our finger on exactly why. Some of my happiest moments have been dozing on deck under an infinity of stars, as Pindimara blazes a phosphorescent wake across a boundless sea. Some of my angriest and most frustrated moments have been while dog tired and fighting gusty squalls as angry swells tower above the cockpit. Some of Bronwyn’s worst times were the long uncomfortable passages that seemed to extend forever as the wind and current conspired against us, and some of her best were the explosion of taste in a perfect salad lunch eaten on a sparkling blue sea under a tropical sky.

In short, much of the actual mechanics of sailing wasn’t a great deal of fun, but the opportunity to go where the wind blows and to visit faraway islands, to swim ashore and explore or just to sit on a flawless beach, to snorkel amongst the fearless fish of the reef, to stay as long as you want with nobody to tell you otherwise, all these things made it a way of life worth pursuing.

And when the passage is over and the anchor is safely down, then there are the fascinating people. Old and young, waiters and doctors, paupers and millionaires, all have chosen to live out on the edge, at the interface between the land and the sea. None of them are interested in picking a fight, stealing your wallet, or spray-painting graffiti on your home. All are content to accept you as you are without prejudice or judgement, to be entertained by your story and to swap it for another tall tale in return.

We’ll be back

We will go cruising again. Obviously we need to replenish the coffers, and we are already quite deep into discussions about what “the next boat” will look like. In the meantime we have a few other projects on the go, some of which will take several years to complete, and which require some of the capital that is currently tied up in our yacht. Regretfully, then, we have decided to sell Pindimara where she is, at the marina in Darwin.

That brings this little portion of the blog to a close. Thankyou, gentle readers, for following us this far. For those of you who want to follow the next stage of our plans, keep an eye on The Virtual Reinhard.

In the meantime… anybody want to buy a yacht?