Don't be deceived by the paint-spattered overalls and generally scruffy appearance. This man is a genius. And he's designed what appears to be the best steering system ever to appear on an ocean rowing boat.
Richard Uttley of Dolphin Quay Boatyard worked on the steering system of David Pearse's Petrel, now reincarnated as Ollie Hicks's Miss Olive. He's taken that and improved on it. We now have a heel-steering system that allows me to control the rudder without needing to use my hands, but also avoids the awkward leg positions imposed by toe-steering. And it's low-tech and simple, unlike electronic autohelms.
It looks great on paper. In a few weeks we'll know how it works on the water.
Pity my poor Mum. First I commit the crime of causing her massive worry, then I force her to become an accessory to the crime by helping me kit out my boat. And make her handle noxious chemicals necessitating plastic gloves. But she's still grinning, bless her.
In fact, she's been rather a star. As we've been skivvying away on the Solo at Dolphin Quay Boatyard we've attracted a lot of attention from passersby, many of whom stop to ask what sort of boat it is and what it's going to be used for. As I've been generally stuck inside the cabins epoxying away, Mum has borne the brunt of the enquiries.
She's been doing a great job - and maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but maybe I detect a faint note of pride in her voice as she tells them her daughter is going to row across the Atlantic.
03 Aug 2005, Dolphin Quay Boatyard
Work on the boat is now underway in earnest. We plan to have her ocean-ready by the end of August. Richard the boatbuilder (photo to come soon) is bringing huge amounts of enthusiasm and energy to the project. This morning I arrived at the boatyard to find him clad in a very fetching white paper boilersuit, covered from head to foot in paint dust and bleeding from a head wound.
He'd been sanding back the paintwork so I could apply these battens inside the cabin for fixing control panel, cargo netting, etc. He'd also discovered the painful way that there are some bolts sticking out from the inside wall of the cabin, at just the perfect height to deliver a nasty cut to the head.
It's not always easy, sitting in a sunny boatyard in Emsworth, to picture what will work and what won't when I'm rolling around in mid-Atlantic. Will that corner bruise me? Will that hatch crack my head open? Will this seat cause blisters that might get infected? But it's these details that could make all the difference between success and failure - or at least between having a good time and being flippin' miserable.
Honestly, Mum, ocean rowers are nice, normal, well-balanced people. The All Relative crew (2 brothers, 2 cousins and winners of the Men's Fours time trial) were just playing up for the camera... We've just had the Ocean Rowing Challenge Weekend, and ocean rowers past, present and future assembled to enjoy a freebie barbecue (courtesy of Woodvale Events) and possibly a beer or two.
Before the weekend, I wasn't quite sure how it would go. The night before I left for Torquay I woke up in a cold sweat, thinking everybody else would have their boats ready and raring to go, and I'd come away feeling hopelessly under-prepared and behind schedule.
I also thought I'd be looking around the other boats, thinking, 'Wow, so THAT'S how it steering/solar panels/electrical systems should be done.' I expected to learn a lot.
But what I learned is that there are as many different ways to kit out your boat as there are ocean-rowers. It's such a new sport, there is no right way and no wrong way - just your own way. And so my ideas are as valid as anybody else's.
I also learned that as readiness goes, I'm on an equal footing with many of the other crews... in fact, even ahead of some.
So the panic is over. With the help, support, and positive can-do attitude of the Dolphin Quay guys I know I can have my boat ready on time. And I know exactly how I want it done to suit ME - the glorious, selfish, advantage of being a solo rower with a brand new boat. By the time I set out, the Solo will be totally Roz-ified - designed to my precise specifications - a place for everything, and everything in its place.
And Mum, the All Relative crew will be well ahead of me and many miles away, so DON'T WORRY!