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. 

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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!

1 comment:

  1. Well done Tom,good luck with the lifter pump and good luck with the rest of your adventure.


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