Fixing the frenchman’s fractures.

The pain is palpable.

13th July 2023

Shell Bay, Rio Dulce, Guatemala – Nanajuana Boat Yard, Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Fixing fractures is never easy. It always involves a painful visit to a special place, immense amounts of suffering and expertise that is gained through years of training. These words could could be used equally for fixing people with broken bones or the pain and suffering that has been bestowed on Ruffian after she was beaten and broken by a Belligerent Bretton Boater*.

After weeks of administrative red tape we were finally ready to put Ruffian ashore where the injuries she sustained in Cuba could be attended to. As she was gently pulled from the water and out of an environment where she feels slick and smooth, the water dripped off her keel and it seemed as if she were finally crying from all her damage. The spars were bereft of sails, the davits dented and bruised, the gantry twisted and crooked, the cabinetry splintered and fragmented, and the hull cracked and broken, but we were now in a place where the pain could subside and expertise could put her back on an even keel.

As the last of the stands that supported Ruffian were put into place the disassembly began. Nery who was giving Ruffian’s upholstery a new lease of life removed every cushion, every mattress and anything that we could get comfy on, Tristan and his team then bounded on board and removed anything that would be in the way of the fibreglass work and Arturo, the master metalworker, started to dismantle the gantry (for the non English speakers, the arch to mount the solar panels). Bits of Ruffian were scattered all over the yard, all over the town and into the few parts of Ruffian that are not impacted by the Frenchman’s damage.

Ruffian was now feeling empty, but the work of clearing space had only just begun. Cables that ran past the crack and up the gantry had to be traced, labelled and disconnected. This task wasn’t helped by every black cable looking like every other black cable, every red cable looking like every other red cable and all these black and red cables then disappearing into a birds nest of cables that have been added to over 35 years. If we thought the removal was difficult then we dread the reinstallation, where we have to remember where each wire went, how they were connected and what they were meant to do.

The disassembly inside was completed to a worrying soundtrack of power tools outside. Grinders were cutting Ruffian open and the smell of broken fibreglass and gel coat filled the air. The crack changed from a nasty gash, to a smooth open wound, to a gaping tapered hole. Daylight flowed into the pilot berth where no daylight should enter and the glass was ground so thin it was nearly translucent. This however was all part of the healing process.

As Ruffian was healing there was nowhere for us to live and so we moved from her compact confines into a Cabin with a square bed, a huge refrigerator and a garage for Brock. This sanctuary away from home didn’t allow us to escape from Ruffian’s jobs list as the veranda was turned into a sail loft and cries of the jungle were silenced by the rhythmical drumming of sewing machines joining sailcloth, canvas and mosquito netting.

The healing process was in full effect on Ruffian as the skies were cloudless and the forecast dry. Layer after layer of fibreglass matting and polyester resin was masterfully laid over the hole and with fumes making us high and filling Ruffian, we retired knowing that more lay in wait for us. Once again the grinders and sanders came out filling the air with noxious dust and preparing the surface for yet more fibreglass, more polyester and more fumes. This happened time and again and slowly the deck was restored while the fracture in the hull simply disappeared, just leaving a scar that time will heal.

With Ruffian ashore, the Frenchman’s Fractures are slowly being fixed, however there is still scar tissue to mend and plastic surgery to complete. We are far from being given a clear bill of health and the road to recovery is a long one, but at least we have started the journey and are in some expert hands who can guide us along the way.

*This is in preference to Iain’s saying of ‘Filthy French F*&£er.’

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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