Saturday, 1 June 2019

Arctic Smoke and the RNLI

My complete failure to find any paid work since my last contract ended in November of 2018 meant that my participation in the single-handed Jester Baltimore Challenge from Plymouth to Baltimore in Ireland, departing on Sunday June 16 now looked on the cards and so I re-doubled efforts to prepare the boat. Arctic Smoke is actually three feet too long to qualify but the organisers were willing to bend the rules for me and few other similar sized vessels. Bernie and Tony, two pals from Hooness Yacht club of which I am a member, were also planning to participate and the it sounded like it should be good fun.

The problem with having no work was of course that the pennies were running out and so I needed to cut down on the outgoings. This included getting out of the marina and putting the boat on a club mooring on the river. I nervously motored the boat down the river a few days later and picked up the mooring. The flywheel stayed on and no nasty noises and the engine sounded sweet.

On her new mooring

Yet more jobs followed over the next couple of weeks.  Family logistics complicated my plans too. The whole family were flying out to the USA to visit Sharon’s family and to attend my niece’s High School graduation. I would have to look after the dog. They would be away between 31st May and 11th June. This gave me precious little time to get to the start on 16th June. Stephen’s girlfriend Innes and Uncle Winston kindly agreed to look after the dog on the 10th and 11th and so my plan was to try and get Arctic Smoke down the coast a bit before the family left on the 31st May and to continue on the 10th. My objective was Newhaven where the marina costs were slightly less than nearby Eastbourne. I would still take a hefty hit but it seemed like the best option. More jobs got done over the May bank holiday weekend and I took the boat back into Chatham on the Monday to have a day with the family including all the Grandchildren. An enjoyable day was had by all and after the left I sailed down the river to Stangate Creek for the night to catch the ebb tide towards North Foreland in the morning. This was Arctic Smoke’s second outing since relaunch. The previous weekend I had participated in a couple of Club races on the river. 

Last place!

A lovely day but my results were mediocre. I’ll leave it at that!!
Happy being afloat again

Bernie was returning from a Club rally to Ramsgate as part of his shake down preparations on his 24-foot Achilles, ‘Mischief’ that night, and so he rafted alongside at 2230 and we spent a convivial evening together. He left to catch the last of the flood up the river at 0500 and I left at 0700 to catch the ebb towards North Foreland.

It was a lovely day with a following wind and good progress was made. Shortly after rounding North Foreland we picked up the flood tide heading south and we made Dover a few hours later. We left the next day Thursday at 0930 bound for Eastbourne. Conditions were not so good this time. The south westerly wind had returned at Force 4-6 and I knew that to make Eastbourne the same day I would have to motor into a headwind at least as far as Dungeness. Early progress against a foul tide for the next 2-3 hours was painfully slow. Once the tide turned progress picked up. At this point around 1500 I decided to email various pals to update them on progress and to sing the praises of my ‘new’ engine which had now been through its first sustained test. At around 1600 with Dungeness still about 5 miles to the West I was having a little nap down below when I thought I detected a slight change in the engine note. Shortly afterwards it definitely faltered and then stopped!!

I quickly rolled out the Genoa as far as two reefs and headed out to sea. By this time the wind was up to Force 6 and so I then set the mainsail also with two reefs. Angus was brought into commission too but he was handicapped by the tiller fitting having worked lose. I knew it would need repairing/replacing but thought I could manage for the time being. It was indeed still usable but every tack required a lot of adjustments to be made. Conditions were quite boisterous and we were taking a lot of water over the bows and down the side decks. The odd wave was breaking into the cockpit but for the most part I was reasonable sheltered by the sprayhood. I decided there was too much movement to examine the engine and contemplated my next move. There seemed to be two options. Continue to Eastbourne and hope I could get the engine going later or get a tow into the harbour, or turn round and head back to the Medway where I could sail in and up to the club moorings. I decided that the possibility of tackling Dover, the busiest harbour in the UK without an engine to fall back on was not on. I might end up causing a real nuisance of myself. I would have to spend a long time at sea to get back to the Medway and would probably get little rest. It seemed that the risks associated with going back were probably greater than those associated with pressing on to Eastbourne. I reckoned I should be able to get there by around 2200-2300. I still had to round Dungeness against a headwind but had a few more hours of a fair tide and there was the possibility of the wind backing into the south later which would enable me to lay Eastbourne from Dungeness.

I got Tony on the phone who by chance was in Eastbourne and asked him to sound out the authorities there about the prospects of getting a tow into the harbour if required. Over the next couple of hours, I was pre-occupied with tacking around Dungeness. During one of the tacks we suffered a significant gear failure – the shackle-like fitting on the main traveller car broke and therefore the boom was left flapping around in the stiff breeze – and of course the mainsail was completely ineffective. 

The broken Main Traveller car
Eventually I jury rigged a solution with bits of line and we got round Dungeness. Then the wind did go further into the south and for a couple of hours we were able to hold a course for Eastbourne. Just as well as by then we had lost the tide. We were making 5 knots over the ground in the right direction and while not exactly happy I was feeling OK. Time to talk to Tony again about the tow. I had still not risked moving the companion way steps in the bouncy conditions in order to examine the engine but resolved to do so later.

The news from Tony was mixed. The marina was not allowed to send their work boat out beyond the harbour. Advice from one of the marina staff was to ask for the lifeboat to tow us in once nearer the harbour. This was unexpected. I really did not want to do that. I was not in immediate danger. They might in any case have much more urgent things to deal with and if truth be told I felt rather ashamed at the prospect. However, by now the thought of heading back to the Medway was even more unattractive. Perhaps I could get the engine going after all? Time to take a look. We were still on course for Eastbourne with plenty of time before having to change course.

First things first though. I might as well check that there was fuel in the tank! There was. I got the engine cover off and wedged it as best I could in the bouncing saloon and peered at the red lump iron sitting passively in front of me. I suspected a fuel supply problem but the prospect of successfully loosening the various screws and nuts in order to bleed the engine felt remote. I decided first to check that the engine turned over and got the hand start handle out. To my utter dismay the engine seemed to have locked solid. I could not move the flywheel a millimetre. I then check the oil. The level seemed to be fine and it felt OK. That seemed a bit odd for a seized engine. Had it over heated? The exhaust pipe coming out of the back of the engine was a nice new red when I installed the engine. It was now black. Did that suggest over heating? Neither the temperature alarm or oil warning light had come on! I had quite a lot of experience of over-heated engines – much of it caused by my own ineptitude and I had not noticed any of those symptoms. The cabin did not get hot, the plastic and rubber bits of the exhaust system had not melted. There was no smoke. The fact was though, I could not turn the engine over. There therefore seemed little point in inspecting the water pump. If it had failed, repairing it would not overcome a seized engine. The likelihood of having to ask for help from the Lifeboat at Eastbourne seemed high. A further period of indecision followed. Should I turn back after all? I decided to press on and updated Tony.

By now the conditions had deteriorated a little further. It was raining the wind had increased and it had veered back into the South West. I was forced to put in a tack just off Hastings or go up the beach! Over the next couple of hours we tacked twice more which brought us within 5 miles of Eastbourne. At round 2200 I took a deep breath, picked up the VHF microphone and on channel 16, uttered the words I had been most reluctant to utter… “PAN, PAN, PAN, Arctic Smoke, Arctic Smoke, Arctic Smoke, over”. Solent Coastguard replied immediately and I explained the situation. After we had established my position and that I was in no immediate danger I was asked to standby. Within another twenty minutes they confirmed the Lifeboat from Eastbourne would be with me in about an hour and a half to take me in tow to Eastbourne and that in the meantime I should continue towards Eastbourne. After a further twenty minutes they updated me again to say the lifeboat was on its way immediately and would be with me in ten minutes.

By this time, I was entering shallower water off Eastbourne and so put in another tack and stood out to sea. I wanted to ensure we had plenty of sea room for what I expected to be a tricky operation. I was quite anxious about it. I would have to get the sails down before they could tow us in but on the other hand, I thought it would be very difficult to get a towline on board with the boat being tossed all over the place without any sails to steady her.

About twenty minutes passed before I heard from the lifeboat and I noticed lights approaching from the east. They asked me to put all the lights on that I had in order to make visual contact. It would appear that they must have missed me on their way to the position that I had originally given. Since then of course I has sailed west and north.

I originally wrote the account of the next events on the RNLI Eastbourne Facebook page and have reproduced that below.

“My sincere thanks to the RNLI and in particular the boat and shore crews who left their homes and loved ones on Wednesday night to get me safely into Eastbourne harbour. As mentioned elsewhere the boat suffered engine failure off Dungeness when motoring into a strong headwind and whilst it's a sailing boat it would not have been possible to enter any of the harbours in the area safely under sail. I considered staying at sea to head either back east to the Medway or West to Chichester where I could sail in but decided that with increasing tiredness in busy coastal waters I risked a more serious situation developing and so decided to sail on to Eastbourne and put out a pan pan when approaching the harbour. The conditions were quite blustery with significant waves which required highly skilled work by the Coxswain to manoeuvre the lifeboat along side without colliding. This he achieved. The most dangerous part of the operation then followed, the transfer of a crew member to Arctic Smoke, to assist me in getting the sails down and to receive the towline. Prior to the transfer I put the boat before the wind and Hove to, to provide a steady as possible platform for the lifeboat to approach. Jim was duly transferred safely - but my goodness what a hero for doing it. He then took the helm whilst I got the sails down. The lifeboat then had another tricky manoeuvre - to get close enough to get a towline to Jim on the bows of Arctic Smoke. Mission accomplished again and we were then towed in to Port. On arrival, a significant shore crew from the RNLI were there to help get us safely into and through the lock. 

Image may contain: boat, outdoor and water

Finally, the lifeboat deposited Arctic Smoke very gently into a marina berth and I said my thanks and good byes to the wonderful bunch of people it has been my pleasure to meet. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Postscript: a further thank you to the lovely couple who helped diagnose the problem with the engine. Also the next evening they were called out again to deal with a similar situation!”

The very helpful person who helped me out with the engine may not want his identity thrown around the internet and so I have not mentioned it. However, I was greatly relieved and very grateful when he announced that the engine had not seized up after all.  After I explained situation and we confirmed it was locked using hand start, he tried turning flywheel independently. It was free! It turned out that it was the hand start mechanism that had locked up not the engine itself. He then spent a good hour or so trying to get the engine going. He too suspected a fuel issue and after a while noticed air bubbles in the water trap indicating air was getting in. Very little fuel was getting to the injector. Eventually he concluded the lift pump was faulty. Most probably the diaphragm was damaged and sucking in air. The lift pump you may remember from the previous post was suspected much earlier on!

So now I need to replace it. I have ordered a replacement which should be with me next week. As of today1/6/19, I am on dog sitting duties and cannot return to the boat until 10/6. Installing the new pump will be one of a number of jobs/repairs. Hopefully, I will be able to get going towards Plymouth again on Tuesday 11th. If not and if the problem cannot be quickly resolved I’ll have to get the boat back to the Medway preferably with the help of ANO. Updates will follow.

For now I’m signing off with sincere thanks to the RNLI crew at Eastbourne!

Arctic Smoke Refit – Trials and Tribulations, Autumn 2017 to Spring 2019

On my return to Chatham from the Azores in July 2017, my plan was to undertake a few local passages over the summer and then lay Arctic Smoke up for a long-deserved re-fit. Replacement of the engine and the stern gear being the most obvious and significant jobs on a VERY long list (see previous post). The engine had slowly been losing power over the last couple of years – not helped by a number of over-heating episodes some of which were self-inflicted as described in earlier posts. However, first I needed to get a fractured water pipe in the cooling system repaired and a combination of laziness and family duties meant that didn’t get done until late in the summer and then Autumn was upon us and so Arctic Smoke was hauled out and put to bed in the yard at Chatham in November 2017. 

I had also found work by then and so work on Arctic Smoke was restricted to single days over the weekend for many months.

A Typical scene during the long months of re-fit

The longest job was scraping off the old failed copper antifouling. This took weeks of effort over the following months. 

February 2018

April 2018

June 18 - Clean bottom with treated Keel

A whole host of other jobs were also undertaken including the replacement of the engine and stern gear. I eventually sourced a second hand Bukh DV10 to replace the existing one. I managed to get the old one out myself making use of a borrowed engine hoist and removed the old stern gear and sourced the various replacement parts. 

Old Engine



July 18 Old stern tube and propeller shaft

I found a local engineer to help with the installation of the ‘new’ engine in early spring of 2019. Two attempts were required because it turned out that the configuration of the newer model gear box on the ‘new’ engine meant the output shaft did not line up with the prop shaft. It was out by about 1/8th of an inch. The only solution we could think of at the time was to put the old gearbox on the new engine. This would however also require yet another propeller shaft because the gearbox’s were of different lengths. However, it turned out that there had been an earlier misunderstanding at the supplier and they had actually made two shafts; the first one of the ‘wrong’ now correct length.  With the help of the engineer the ‘new’ engine and old gearbox were duly fitted.

New Engine

In she goes (first attempt)

February 2019
Painted the decks during the February 2019 Heatwave
March 2019

Eventually, having worked through myriad other jobs including applying 6 layers of epoxy paint on the bottom of Arctic Smoke, relaunch day approached. In preparation I thought a very quick engine test would be sensible just to make sure the ‘new’ engine did actually work.
First though I needed to get all the engine electrics connected in order to be able to start the engine and charge the battery. I therefore dragged Mick out over a couple of chilly weekends in April. I have failed to make a note of where all the various wires went when I took everything apart and so that all had to be figured out from first principles. An electrical challenge beyond me but which Mick was able to figure out.

Once that was done, I bled the fuel system which (and this should have rung alarm bells) was much more difficult than I anticipated. The only way I could get fuel all the way up to the fuel filter outlet was through a combination of syphoning and manually filling up the filter bowl. Anyway, the engine started and I ran it for a few seconds and then shut it down (the boat was in a cradle out of the water with no water supply other than a bucket of water). I was so pleased with the result that I ignored the ‘little questions’ at the back of my head about the fuel and proceeded to launch day.
My pal Howard was on hand to help. The engine started fine…. and then stopped! Air leaks were suspected and we worked through various possibilities but the same thing kept happening. The lift pump was then suspected and so I took it off and placed an order on the Friday afternoon for a replacement. The boat would be able to stay on the lift dock over the weekend but I would need to get a tow to a marina berth on the Monday. The next day another pal, Bernie, came over and we went through everything again. He tracked down yet another air leak. We put everything back together – bleeding the fuel system was still difficult! But bingo. The engine ran for 20 minutes plus.
Great, next step motor over to the marina berth. Less than two minutes into the short trip, the most horrendous banging/knocking noise developed and so we headed back to the dock very slowly and tied up. Our inspections eventually revealed a loose flywheel bolt and then another and another. 5 out of 6 had completely sheered and the 6th was about too. We were probably within 30 seconds of an extremely heavy spinning lump of iron flying off the engine through the bottom of the boat!!
Much scratching of heads. I then recalled that earlier in the year I had noticed the pipework to the water pump was loose and that the only way of sorting it out required removing the flywheel. I had done this before on the previous engine and so followed the same routine which included doing up the bolts has tight as I could manage. They have Allen key heads and so that involved putting a chunky adjustable spanner on the end of the Allen key and applying as much brute force as I possessed – not a great deal. Bernie and I concluded however that this must have been too much and that I had weakened the bolts.

It was approaching 1830 on the Saturday evening and we just had time to get to the local Toolstation to buy a bolt extractor kit and some replacement temporary bolts. Bernie worked long into the night but by around 2300 there was still one sheered bolt left in the main shaft. I called a halt and rather sheepishly sent Bernie back to his boat across the river at Hoo for a kip.

The next day a new pal, Mike from the wonderfully named yacht ‘Tardis’ gave me a tow to the marina. I then managed to get the last stud out and replaced the flywheel with the temporary replacement bolts – being very careful NOT to over tighten them. Feeling very smug and pleased with myself I started the engine AND… the same awful knocking noise appeared.

Once again, I was back in the depths of despair. “That bloody engine was a dud. The big end must have gone, I’ll have to get it out AGAIN and get it fixed/replaced. I drooped over to Tardis to bleat my woes to Mike. He came over and prodded and listened and scratched his head. ‘Sounds like the noise is in time with the injection stroke. Does it happen when the engine is de-compressed? Perhaps the fuel timing has slipped. If we ….” It turned out that the noise was not present when the engine was decompressed suggesting it might well be linked to the injection of fuel into the cylinder. He explained how to make a quick and dirty change to the fuel timing to see whether that made any difference… He went on to help me do that. It didn’t. We went through everything again. Now the noise was present when the engine was decompressed! That did it must be the big end. Bugger, bugger, bugger. A little later after a consoling cup of tea with him and his pal we all gathered round the engine again and I retold the story again! Oh, said his pal, “so the flywheel is secure now”. “Oh yes” I said “apart from the fact that it seems to have a slight distortion that makes it look like a little wobble (that Mike had spotted earlier), it’s fine look…”. I got a spanner out and applied pressure on one of the bolts that turned… and then another and another….They were all lose and on the verge of sheering once again!

I dashed round to Toolstation again and bought some more bolts. Tightened them up as tight as I possibly could. Stood back started the engine. It ran as sweetly as one could want. By this time my nerves were shredded but I was mightily relived. The only thing left to do regarding the engine, was to cancel the order for the expensive lift pump which was no longer required. I did that first thing on the following Monday morning.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

A clean bottom at last!

Following her Atlantic adventures, Arctic Smoke has been out of commission and still is and will be until at least this time next year. The poor old girl is in need of a lot of TLC!

Today, after which I estimate must be the equivalent of 15 days hard scraping and sanding since early January, I finally finished perhaps the worst job any boat owner has to face - scraping off the old anti-fouling! It's actually the second time I've done that in 6 years. I bought AS at the end of 2011 and between then and 2013 I did the usual annual job of sanding off the old loose stuff and then anti-fouled over the remains of the previous coat. In 2013 I stripped the bottom back to the epoxy coat. That was relatively painless - it came off quite easily! I then applied a copper based anti-fouling at considerable expense. The following year when I had her hauled out she very badly fouled and the copper around the hull anode had leached out. I fired off a letter of complaint to the manufactures and they sent me another consignment. After getting all the growth off and sanding down I repainted another coat. This worked better - not great but acceptable. Before pushing off in the spring of 2015 I patched up the suspect bits. When I hauled her out again in Gran Canaria in 2016 she was badly fouled again. I patched the bottom up with normal cheap ablating anti-fouling before pushing off for Cape Verde. By the time we got to the Caribbean she was clearly fouling quite badly once again and I was over the side almost every week to keep the growth at bay. It's surprising how cold you get after 30 minutes or so even in those warm waters!

Back in the UK after hauling her out, it was clear that the copper anti-fouling was not working effectively - indeed the cheap stuff applied in Gran Canaria was more effective.

 Since we got back in August last year the furthest AS has travelled was from the marina berth to the lift out crane - twice - a voyage of perhaps 500 meters. The first of  these two voyages was to get her bottom pressure washed so with the intention of making her fit for local sailing over the summer. However, on the way over I noticed the water pump was leaking and so on our return to the berth I took it off. Off it remained for many weeks. Family life, job hunting and goodness knows what got in the way of any more boating activities. Eventually in the late summer I got it repaired and re-installed it, but spare weekends and good favourable Autumn weather never coincided and the poor old girl sat in her berth rather neglected until 5th of January when I got her lifted out once more - this time in preparation for a long programme of maintenance. I have a very, very long list.......

Timing Job Status
Before re-launch Chainplate attachments - check Not started
Before re-launch ‎Fuel tank - drain/clean Not started
Before re-launch Re-paint deck with non-slip Not started
Before re-launch Engine refurb/replace Not started
Before re-launch Keel bolts check/replace Done
Before re-launch Propeller shaft & cuttless bearing Not started
Before re-launch Stern gland Not started
Before re-launch Rudder shaft/bearings check/replace Done
Before re-launch Remove rudder stand-pipe & grease bearing Not started
Before re-launch Osmosis? Done
Before re-launch Remove old copper anti-foul 99%
Before re-launch Paint bottom with Epoxy treatment Not started
Before re-launch Antifoul Not started
Before re-launch Clean/polish gel coat Not started
Before re-launch Windless – seized-up Not started
Before re-launch Finish off saloon windows properly Not started
Before re-launch Re-fit windows in heads (Starboard one now leaks) Not started
Before re-launch Refurb cabin sole Not started
Before re-launch Refurb cabin woodwork Not started
Before re-launch Remove locker doors and take home Not started
Before re-launch Remove sliding doors and take home  Not started
Before re-launch Refurb locker doors Not started
Before re-launch Refurb sliding doors (tracks & wood)  Not started
Before re-launch Refurb galley work surfaces Not started
Before re-launch New cabin table (Tony) Not started
Before re-launch New upholstery Not started
Before re-launch ‎Renovate/replace cooker Not started
Before re-launch Various chips in gelcoat in cockpit area Not started
Before re-launch ‎Chips in gelcoat around stern Not started
Before re-launch ‎Gelcoat behind tiller Not started
Before re-launch ‎Mast Boot Not started
Before re-launch ‎Lightening conductor ground to keel Not started
Before re-launch HF Ground to keel Not started
Before re-launch Rudder stock fitting Not started
Before re-launch Repair tiller (Awlood varnis) Not started
Before re-launch Overhaul Angus Not started
Before re-launch Annode replace Not started
Before re-launch Rudder heal bolts Not started
Before re-launch Smaller prop (Rob) 20 Not started
Before re-launch Refurb Front bulkhead in anchor locker Not started
Before re-launch Nav light wiring Not started
Before re-launch Hatches remove and re-fit bed on a soft mastic Not started
Before re-launch Stanchions sleeve with thin rubber. Re bed fittings Not started
Before re-launch Windows - rake then bead with Arbomast sealant from marine scene. Try cutting off tape around window frame with sharp knife first. Not started
Before re-launch Mast section in Bilge acf50 after clean and dry out Not started
Before re-launch Keel rake out and sikaflex 291i Clean up fully. No need to replace keel bolts. Then fair keel to hull. Not started
Before re-launch Fuel lines Not started
Before re-launch Replace noise insulation with foil backed engine insulation from ASAP Not started
Before re-launch Replace Gas pipe and hose- armoured and re-site to bottom of cooker Not started
Before re-launch Hatch runners sister Not started
Before re-launch Refurb cockpit sole  Not started
Before re-launch Anchor locker bulkhead Not started
Before local sailing Replace Batteries Not started
Before local sailing Stern light Not started
Before local sailing Deck light Not started
Before local sailing Winches refurb Not started
Before local sailing Fresh water system/tap Not started
Before local sailing Radar reflector (falling off) Not started
Before local sailing ‎Spray Hood - repair Not started
Before local sailing ‎Cockpit chairs (like Chris) Not started
Before local sailing ‎Longer spinnaker pole Not started
Before local sailing ‎Repair/replace Dinghy Not started
Before local sailing Anchor shackle Not started
Before local sailing Gooseneck nylon washer Not started
Before local sailing Replace fire extinguisher and relocate to Not started
Before local sailing Fire hole in companion steps Not started
Before local sailing Fire extinguisher in engine bay Not started
Before local sailing Name on life bouy Not started
Before local sailing Boom end fitting change position  Not started
Before significant passage Weld cracked Pullpit leg  Not started
Before significant passage Anchor roller (plastic)/Stowage  Not started
Before significant passage Electrics - various re-furb Not started
Before significant passage Mast/rigging check Not started
Before significant passage Wash boards & companion way hatch runners/security (rough weather) Not started
Before significant passage Imrove Solar panel mountings Not started
Before significant passage Re-mount various antenna Not started
Before significant passage Cabin heater Not started
Before significant passage ‎Granny Bars? Not started
Before significant passage Single Line reefing? Not started
Before significant passage Trysail? Not started
Before significant passage ‎Fit Angus remote control Not started
Before significant passage Check mast partners Not started
TBC Toerail? Not started
TBC Other deck fittings Not started
TBC ‎Extra Winches Not started
TBC Gantry for panels & antennas etc /cum bimini Not started
TBC Upgrade instruments Not started
TBC Convert to cutter Not started
TBC Fit cleats amidships Not started
TBC Make Dodgers? Not started
TBC Fit ‎Dodgers? Not started
TBC Radar? Not started
TBC ‎Tow charger and/or wind generator? Not started
TBC ‎Cup-holders in cockpit Not started
TBC Cockpit table – re-design – get new one made Not started
TBC Fit ‎HF Radio Not started
TBC ‎Rigid spray-hood with water capture system (see photos from boat show 2018) Not started
TBC Starboard side deck two areas - drill and inject epoxy cap starboard shroud and stanchion aft of it Not started
I wasn't kidding was I?

So now at the end of May, one job on that list is almost finished. Things should speed up now especially as it looks like I will be working part-time over the summer. But there is as you can see, an awful lot still to do. And I've got two, 2 week holidays to fit in!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Journey's End

Just after I posted the previous entry from a very noisy pub in a wet and windy Ramsgate, I had a call from Mick asking if I would like crew for the last leg to Chatham. "Yes please but I'm planning on leaving at 0800 to catch the last couple of hours of the ebb" was reply. The earliest he could get to the Marina was 0930. I checked the tides again and decided that given the fresh south west winds  we were due to have we should have enough time to round the North Foreland before the tide turned against us. And so Mick arrived at 0930 the next morning. He doesn't really do mornings so I was impressed that he got up at 0530 in order to join me.

We departed within minutes and after a further 30 had crossed the entrance channel to Ramsgate and were on our way to the North Foreland across the shallows off the coast. The strong winds didn't materialise but there was enough for us to make 3+ knots over the bottom under full sail which is the speed I had based my calculations on for rounding the Foreland before the tide turned foul.

The sun was out and the water for the most part was flat and so we enjoyed a pleasant broad reach/run up to the Foreland. On rounding the Foreland  we commenced beating towards the Swale. The water is fairly shallow in these parts with numerous sandbanks and some narrow channels between them that we had to get through to avoid going aground. I've taken this route a number of times before and so knew we would have some lively beating ahead of us. Having access to a chart-plotter on a Tablet makes the the pilotage much easier but one still needs to keep a careful watch on the depth gauge because the sand-banks round here are liable to move around a bit.

I planned to rendezvous with my friend Alan on The Swale in his Junk Rigged schooner. He would be there to watch the annual Swale Barge and Smack  Race. I was hopeful that we might see the tail end of the action but by the time we arrived at 1730 it was all over. The  organisers had shortened the course due to the poor weather and so the boats got back in early.

We met Alan and went ashore for the prize giving, some food and beer. Both of which were excellent.
The weather however was decidedly miserable!

The next morning I cooked a hearty breakfast

which was enjoyed by all the crew and then at low water we upped anchor at 1230 and headed up The Swale. As expected we went aground after an hour in the shallowest section of the river and had to wait for the tide to rise enough to float us off. We got going again at about 1415 after a few other yachts who had been more patient passed us. One of them still went aground shortly after passing us however. With the help of the Genoa, we followed them up to KingsFerry Bridge and got there just behind them. We all had to wait 15 minutes for the bridge to open. Once through we unfurled the genoa fully and were soon speeding along and passed all but one of the four boats that had been in front of us.

Just passed Queenborough Spit we set the fully reefed mainsail put two reefs in the genoa and commenced beating up the Medway for Chatham in a very fresh wind. It was a lively but enjoyable final leg to Arctic Smoke's Atlantic Cruise.

We locked in at 1830 during which and I rather embarrassingly rammed the side of the lock with the Anchor and split one of the wooden uprights! We were tied up in the marina 15 minutes later.

Arctic Smoke moored up in Chatham once again

And so we had reached the journey's end, two years and four months after Arctic Smoke left Chatham in March 2015 and 8 months after leaving Gran Canaria in November 2016.

Sharon arrive shortly afterwards and we undertook a quick tidy-up of the boat, loaded our gear into the car and set off for home.


The sort of boat Sharon likes

Sunset over Chatham

Mick prepares for departure

A happy Sharon
Now I've got to get used to a normal life again, including finding work to pay for it all!

Friday, 28 July 2017

Nearly there!

We motored out of Sutton Harbour just after 0900 on Wednesday 19th July and shortly afterwards set sail for Salcombe. After a few hours gentle and uneventful sailing the wind died and we motored the last 6 or so miles to Salcombe. Salcombe like the River Yealm, has a bar across its entrance which we got across without any issues against the falling tide. Initially we picked up a mooring off the town but were soon moved on by the friendly Harbour Master due to it being a private mooring. Our next option was to moor up on the visitors’ pontoon in “The Bag” an arm of the harbour valley a little further up ‘river’. River is in quotation marks, because whilst the harbour at Salcombe is comprised of a river valley, there is apparently no river draining into it.

Unfortunately, we cocked up our approach to the pontoon – the strength of the ebb tide was misjudged and we came to a premature halt only inches away from our neighbour to be. It takes a long time to stop Arctic Smoke and just as long to get her moving again and so by the time she did start to move forwards in response to increased engine revs, the tide had already pushed us alongside the other boat and so we slid and scraped along their topsides! It might have been better to have allowed Arctic Smoke to come to a rest against our neighbour before trying to extract ourselves from the rather embarrassing predicament, but we would have had to have been very quick with a spring to stop the tide sweeping her backwards and at the time that option did not in any case occur to me. Instead, with forward momentum restored it was now a case of frantic fending off by both crews to minimise the damage. Arctic Smoke was clearly scraping along the other boat but we seemed to be avoiding any serious entanglement until I noticed the leading edge of her port side solar panel advance remorselessly towards the back edge of the other boat’s anchor. I shut my eyes at that point and simply imagined the tangle of broken panel, bent stanchions and railings that it seemed to me would be the inevitable consequence. I did however console myself with the thought that their anchor and push-pit appeared not to suffer any damage as we bumped and scraped past her bow and onto the pontoon in front. Only to aware of the risk of the ebb tide sweeping Arctic Smoke back onto the other boat, I kept the power on to prevent it. Unfortunately, our fenders which had been placed at the widest part of the boat were therefore in the wrong place to prevent Arctic Smoke’s forward topsides from scraping alongside the pontoon This was despite the helpful efforts of another boating couple to fend her off. By now we had clearly demonstrated our complete incompetence because our new helpers then proceeded to provide advise on how to go about mooring up the boat. Understandable in the circumstances. I briefly considered a retort along the lines of “I’ve just sailed across the Atlantic you know” but thought better of it and tried to persuade them, that despite the very clear evidence to the contrary, I was in complete control of the situation and was quite capable of tying up by own bloody boat! I don’t think they were convinced!

I could not have blamed our now neighbours if they had reacted with indignation over our antics but they were very calm and polite, even as we took the shine off their newly restored top-sides (as we later discovered).  After a close inspection of the damage they announced there was nothing that a good polish would not sort out. Nevertheless, I felt very abashed and provided my contact details should they later change their assessment. To date they have not done so.

I then turned by attention to Arctic Smoke to assess the damage to her. The poor thing. She’d got us across the Atlantic and back without damage despite the skipper’s numerous short-comings, only to be unceremoniously scraped in home waters.  To my surprise and relief the solar panel was undamaged and there were no bent stanchions!

The all-too ‘flexible’ Heath-Robinson installations I had rather hastily cobbled together for the solar panels had come into their own. The attachments of both the port and starboard panels comprised a horizontal stainless-steel tube with the wire guard-rail running through it between the push-pit and the original rear-most stanchion supported by two additional stanchion tubes I had bolted to the toe-rail. The panels are suspended from the horizontal tube by via plastic mounting brackets on the inside edge of the panel that allow the panel to swivel up and down/in and out. The panel is prevented from sliding backwards and forwards by the simple but effective addition of jubilee clips around the stainless-steel tube at the front of the forward plastic bracket and the back of the rear plastic bracket (Mick’s innovation). A simple/crude telescopic tube is attached to the toe rail and the outside horizontal edge of the panel (from which it can be removed to enable the panel to be stowed in the vertical position). Finally, in an effort to provide additional rigidity to the whole installation, I had also added a diagonal strut at the front and rear of the port and starboard installations, between the additional stanchions and the toe rail.

This last addition was, it turned out, thankfully, only partly successful. Rather then the panel crumbling under the impact as it was forced onto the boat’s anchor, the diagonal struts pivoted under the pressure and the ‘T’ connections between the horizontal tube and the additional stanchions popped off, allowing the whole panel assembly to flex under the pressure and move away from the point of impact. All I needed to do was push everything back into position and tighten up various screws and bolts and the panel was back in its original position! I could have sworn I saw the point of the anchor drag across the surface of the panel but I couldn’t detect even a minor scratch. The rather flimsy Bimini installation reacted in a similar way – the push-fit joints between the various tubes simply popped apart under the impact leaving the tubes undamaged. All that was necessary was to re-insert the tubes into the joints and the Bimini was restored to its original shape without a scratch or distortion. The only casualty in the vicinity of the solar panel was the plastic back-rest suspended from the guard-rail.

However, the gel-coat on Arctic Smoke’s topsides was badly scratched as a consequence of scraping along the pontoon. There’s no structural damage but at some point I will need to make-good the gel-coat.

After we had recovered from the escapade, Tony and I went ashore by water-taxi to explore the town. I was last here in 1976 when sailing my Dad’s old Gaff Cutter back to Portsmouth after spending that wonderful summer in the west-country.

The surrounding countryside is still beautiful with the numerous sandy beaches providing a lovely scene on a bright summer’s day. The town is also still attractive with its many original old buildings and more recent developments sympathetically undertaken. It has however, been turned into something of a chocolate box town with a multitude of trendy restaurants, outfitters, and Art shops/galleries. There’s only one small general store (plus a trendy Bakery and a Butchers) and not surprisingly prices are high – central London levels! The Fish & Chips served up by my local Chippy in Penge are significantly cheaper and tastier than those we had in Salcombe. It gives the impression of being a town entirely dependent on tourism without any indigenous industry or trades. On the up-side it’s re-invention as a 100% tourist town demonstrates that the traditional British summer holiday is in rude health. It must though, be a very quiet and strange place in the winter.

In fact, all the west country towns we visited (with the exception of Plymouth which is still a real working town where normal people live and work), i.e. Falmouth, Fowey, and Salcombe, have enjoyed/suffered the same chocolate box experience. It’s interesting to contrast them with Eastbourne and Ramsgate (where I am writing this) which whilst also sea-side resorts have retained much of their original character and clearly cater for a more diverse clientele. Mind you I managed to plonk myself in probably the trendiest bar on the harbour front and paid £4.50 for a pint of Italian larger. Also in Eastbourne, in the rather soulless retail park by the marina, I had quite the best cream tea since arriving back in the UK. The scones and jam were both home made and the portions were generous!

Another comparison that occurs is with the Caribbean on the one hand and the Azores on the other. It's a gross generalisation of course but so much of the Caribbean is tourist centric and it's difficult to imagine what one would encounter if there was no tourism. The major exception being Dominica, where tourism was much less intrusive and was therefore somewhere where one got a real feel for the indigenous culture. All the islands in the Azores I visited gave me the same feeling. There local communities clearly had their own indigenous lives to lead. Tourism played a part but it did not overwhelm them. 

I'm putting the finishing touches to this post in a chain pub in Ramsgate with probably the largest flat screen TV I have ever seen. Perhaps unsurprisingly a Darts match was on, featuring the usual over-weight white males strutting their stuff. I can't stand televised Darts...The food - a medium rump steak was surprisingly good. The desert options included the obligatory chocolate fudge cake which I love but as usual it came with ice cream rather than cream. I nearly asked if they could do it with cream but the computer managed menus in these places can seldom deal with any variation and even if it could I 'knew' the best I could hope for would be that disgusting squirty stuff. I went with the off-the-shelf option. It was fine. Whilst consuming my last land meal of the cruise I found myself pondering on the comparison between this pub and the once upon a time 'real' pubs in the west country towns. There is no doubt that those pubs for me provided a more pleasant physical environments. But which was more authentic? I concluded that the Ramsgate Pub was. There were holiday makers there but locals too. The clientele was diverse. In the west country pubs, in their lovely old buildings, it didn't seem like there were any locals. Indeed, I'm not sure if there were any locals to patronise them! I'm probably letting my new found prejudice get the better of me, but I pretty sure the 'landlords' were all ex-city Bankers who had retired early to the country after making their millions!

So to sum up with marks out of 10: 

Dominica 10, BVI 0
The Azores 10, the Caribbean 5
Plymouth, Eastbourne & Ramsgate 7, Falmouth, Fowye & Salcome 5 (countryside excluded)
West country sea-side pubs 5, Chain Pub in Ramsgate 7
Real life 10, Theme Parks & Virtual Reality 3

That's enough of my pontificating, I'm probably slightly tipsy anyway...

My brother Sebastian arrived the following afternoon – Thursday 20th July - and Tony cooked a quite splendid lamb stew. The next morning Friday we were up early and departed the pontoon at 0800. Our poor neighbour noticed us moving about and came over to help us off!

I was hoping to make Chatham for the weekend and so the plan was to continue through the day and least the following night. We sailed on a broad reach under full sail until the mid-evening when two thirds of the way across Lyme Bay the wind died and so we switched the engine on. Tony was finding it difficult to find his sea legs and as is so often the case the slackening of the wind did nothing to ease his discomfort. The swell from the quarter continued to roll the boat around and with no wind to steady her, the motion, was if anything, even more uncomfortable. Tony and I split 3-hour watches between us with Basty doubling up for the 2nd half of one and the 1st half of the other watch. I did 2100 – 0000 and 0300 to 0600. When I got up for the 0300 I notice the wind had returned so we started sailing again under full sail. By 0800 when 10 miles south of Selsey Bill, the wind had freshened considerably and so we put three reefs in the main. The wind was generally from behind the whole time and so we ran under goose-winged rig first on one tack and then the other as the wind backed and veered. The boat’s motion did not improve and poor Tony was still feeling less than chirpy! Basty however was feeling much better 

Brother Basty in repose - Gill his wife did not recognise him!

and able to help Tony out on his Watches. Even with 3 reefs in the main, Angus was struggling to cope in the gusts when the increased weather helm over-whelmed him and so someone was required on the helm to help him cope. After another hour or so I therefore decided to put the fourth reef in.

This was the first time I had attempted it with a fourth pennant already rigged – previously I had had to transfer one of the existing pennants to the fourth rear cringle (the pennant is the piece of rope that goes round the sail to pull it in when one reefs and the rear cringle is the eye at the back edge of the sail through which the rope passes). The existing reefing pennants run down from the rear cringles into a pulley at the end of the boom and the run inside the boom to the mast where they can be hauled in/let out. I had to add the fourth one on the outside of the boom by attaching a pulley block to the end of the boom. I used the only piece of long line I had spare, which was thinner and of course longer than the existing pennants. My new system was a complete disaster. The combination of the new pennant’s length and thinness caused it to flap about wildly when I lowered the sail to reef it and it ended up in the most horrible tangle with the other pennants. I therefore had to spend even more time on the pitching and rolling coach-roof to untangle it than I would have, had I simply used the previous approach of transferring an existing pennant. Anyway, the job was finally done and we were able to set off again. With the boat rather more manageable and Angus far less stressed I was able to let Tony and Basty get their heads down for a few hours.

By the time we were approaching Beachy Head, Tony was feeling slightly better and said he was happy to by-pass Eastbourne and continue onwards. 30 minutes later the coast-guard issued a gale warning over the VHF and so we decided to put into Eastbourne anyway! We continued to storm along with the freshening wind behind us until we got to the Fairway buoy when on turning we had the wind right on the nose. The little Bukh could not make headway against it and so we had to motor sail and tack with the aid of a partially furled Genoa. The last mile must have taken more than an hour, but we finally through the narrow entrance without mishap and moored up in the marina at 1950.

We had a meal ashore and the next morning tidied up the boat before heading off home by train. Tony and Basty had finished their stint. I was returning home for a few days to see the family and attend a cousin’s wedding celebrations. I would return on Wednesday 26th with the intention of setting off again on Thursday 27th.

It was a strange experience being back on a train and travelling across so much dry land. Sharon met me at East Croydon and back home we went. It was great to be back and to see the immediate family (except Stephen who’s currently living and working in Stoke on his GP training) whom I had not seen since March when they all came out to Jamaica. Other family members were in London for my cousin’s wedding celebrations which we went to on Saturday and it was great to see them again too. On Tuesday we had a gathering of family members at our place and it was lovely to see them all again after 9 months away. My mum, Stepmum and Stepfather were all in good form and my brother Richard brought along some of his kids and Grandchildren. Mick came over too and the family enjoyed hearing his recollections of our crossing to the Caribbean. The star of the show however was my beautiful baby Granddaughter, Maliyha, first born of my beautiful daughter, Ursula. 

Hmm, not a very good photo - sorry
Whilst at home I also started the task of looking for work and have found a couple of leads. Going back to work will be the strangest part of my re-entry programme I am sure! Keeping in touch with the new boaty friends I made whilst away will be a two-edged sword. Most are continuing their sailing adventures and so I will probably become rather jealous of them once the novelty of dry land luxury has worn off. Some will be visiting the UK in the coming months and others have, or will be returning and so there should be a number of opportunities to meet-up again and introduce them to the family.

I had an early start on Thursday, the marina at 0700. The first hour or so was calm and so I motored Eastwards to begin with. The forecasted strong westerly winds began to build from about 0830 hours and by 1000 we were making 4-5 knots against the foul tide. My passage plan was to push the tide to Dungeness and arrive there for around 1100 at slack water. We arrived an hour or so ahead of schedule after being warned off the firing range by Range Control on the VHF. We were now significantly over-canvassed in the still freshening wind and so after rounding Dungeness I hove-to and put three reefs in the main and 2 in the genoa before carrying on.  

The wind continued to build and I hoped we could get past Dover without having to take avoiding action to dodge the numerous ferries operating out of there. Doing that with a poled-out genoa single-handed would be a right pain. As it was I was already a bit frazzled having had to gybe several times in order to stay on course. Thankfully there was no traffic as we passed about a mile off-shore. After Dover we held 10k over the ground for quite some time – the highest sustained speed I have ever seen. We must have been doing 7.5 knots through the water and all with a dirty bottom. The boat was though difficult to control once again and we really needed that fourth reef back in but I couldn’t face the hassle and rationalised that we’d be in port soon. The wild ride continued up to the approach to Ramsgate, when once again we were faced with the strong headwind and a foul tide. Again, I had to motor sail in the confined waters in order to get in the narrow entrance. It was hard work and quite nerve-wracking. To top it all it was Ramsgate week and there were therefore very few berths available and I was allocated a berth designed for a much smaller boat. Getting in to it was a little tricky. Fortunately, someone noticed my approach and helped me in.  I was very glad to make it without incident.

I had intended to recommence the journey today (Friday 28th July) but the forecast included the possibility of westerly gale force winds which would have made going West across the Kentish Flats very trying. As I write this it does sound as if a full gale is blowing and the boat is shaking in the wind in her marina berth.

A gloomy Ramsgate

 It should have moderated by tomorrow morning and there’s the possibility of a more southerly component. I therefore plan to leave at about 0800 to catch the last of the ebb to the North Foreland and then the flood across the Flats to the Swale. I’ll have to be careful not to go aground especially if I do have to beat across the Flats!