Wednesday 26 June 2019

Photos from the Jester Baltimore Challenge, Baltimore and Cork

Cork. Not a place for the Red Duster!

Cork Busker

Cork Centre

By the Water in Cork

Local Transport


Sunday 30th June


Bernie, Duncan, Don, Me, John, Mike

What a view  (over  Baltimore)

Me and Mike

Bernie and Mike

Lot's Wife (entrance to Baltimore)

The Finish Line (Loo Bouy)

The Cove, Baltimore)

Quiz Night


The Jesters

Pirates Dinner

Bernie in the Baltimore Sailing Club

John, me Austin

John, Austin, Bernie

Baltimore Sea Front

We made it!

The Fastnet - honest!

Land ho

Drying out under way

Bernie's last shot at the beast!

Sunday 23 June 2019

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge Part 5 - Sailing The Challenge - 16th -20th June 2019

Mischief and Arctic Smoke let go our mooring at Cargreen around 1900 shortly after high tide on Sunday 16th June some 8 hours after the start of the Challenge from the Plymouth Breakwater at 1100 that morning. It was a beat all the way down the river into a strong blustery wind and we both had two reefs in. With no engine there were 3 potential hazards I was a little concerned about. The first was the Tamar bridge (or rather bridges – there are two next to each other), the wind can be unpredictable through there. The second was the chain ferries that have right of way. I would need to be extra careful without an engine not to get in their way – particularly given that the ebb tide would be pushing us down river. However the headwind should ensure I had plenty of manoeuvrability. The third was 'The Bridge' – the short cut by Drake's island. It seemed likely the wind would be dead on the nose through that narrow channel. We got through the first two without undue anxiety. The Bridge looked more challenging however. The wind in the Bridge itself seemed very strong – it was out of the shelter of the nearby hills – and was almost on the nose. Outside the bridge there were breakers on either side indicating the shallows through which the bridge cut. The lead up to the bridge was an area of very fluky winds one minute gusting strongly the next almost calm as the affects of the nearby hills and trees waxed and waned. I tacked closer through the gusts and lulls keeping to the west of the entrance in order to try and ensure I had the wind free right up to the start of the channel hoping that if I got headed in it I would have enough way on to drift through on the tide. I looked back to where Mischief was a few hundred yards astern and noted that Bernie was taking an alternative approach – he was getting lined up well before so as to go through on the same point of sail all the way through. Probably a better tactic. But by now I was committed. I would either have to go through from this point or abandon exiting via the Bridge and sail round Drake's Island. I decided to go for it and on a close reach in a gusty Force 6 but initially flatish water, we stormed down to The Bridge at 6-7 knots. At the entrance I hardened up close hauled and within about 30 seconds with white water to Port and Starboard, Arctic Smoke squirted out the other side like a cork out of a champagne bottle and in to the now decidedly bumpy waters of Plymouth Sound. It was quite exhilarating! I looked back as Mischief completed the transit safely too.

After all the excitement I decided to head over to the shelter of Cawsand Bay and heave to to stow the anchor properly and to tidy up the chaos down below. I had neglected to stow things properly including putting the stove on its gimbals and the cabin sole was strewn with various bits and pieces. After completing those chores I made myself a mug of Bernie's 'secrete' hot chocolate/Co Co mix and filled up the non-spill/non-knock over travel mug my Daughter Ursula had bought for me. Unfortunately Ursh, it won't stay upright in strong blow but the contents stayed in until I dropped it later in the passage and lid came off! It's nevertheless a very useful addition to the Galley and was made good use of.

I got underlay again after about 45 minutes and exited the Breakwater at about 2200 hours, 11 hours after the official start. There were a few yachts in the Bay as I left and I guessed that some of them may have been Jesters.

I steered SE close hauled on the Starboard tack under two reefs until around 0500 when I put in a tack to make some Westing. We were heading north of west with the tide against us but at least it felt like we were sort of going in the right direction. The tide was due to turn in around 3 hours and I was hopeful of rounding the Lizard on before the end of that west going stream. The wind eased slightly around this time and so I unfurled the Genoa to its full size.

At 1000 on Monday I put in another tack to head south eastwards once again. My principle objective at this time was to ensure I was well away from the Traffic Separation Zones (TSZ) around the Isles of Scilly by the time the expected calms arrived on Tuesday. At 1300 I tacked westwards again and found I could lay the waypoint I had set south of the southern TSZ. That I hoped would give sufficient margin for drifting. By 1500 I was having second thoughts about that. Progress was slower than I had hoped, the winds were failing ahead of time and the tide was now pushing us north toward the TSZ! Over the next few hours in fitful winds we tacked repeatedly trying to find a course that would enable some progress to be made.

By 1800 AS was going a little better and the tide was slackening enabling us to make some distance southwards. Around 2100 we were encouraged on our way by a pod of Dolphins as we made slow progress southwards. By 2200 were sailing slowly rather than simply drifting on course for our waypoint south of the Souther TSZ. By 0100 on Tuesday 18/6 the wind had died again. At 0300 we had just enough wind to get steerage way but the tide had changed again and although we were heading South we were actually going North! Just after 0400 a slight breeze sprang up from the SE and we were once again moving towards our southern WP. By 0800 the wind had died back to almost nothing again and we moved very slowly southwards.

Things picked up a little during the morning and we rounded our southern WP and cleared the next to the SW of the SW TZS and for a while we had a light breeze from the SE and were goose winged on course for the Fastnet! However, the wind veered during the day and within a few hours we were close hauled into winds north of West and struggling to lay Fastnet. The sailing for the most part was good during the day but the weather was miserable, cold, wet and grey. We didn't see the sun at all and no charge got into the batteries.

We were becalmed again between 0100 and 0200 on the 19/6. By 0330 the wind had strengthened to Force 3 but we had foul tide slowing us once again. This was also pushing us South of west and so we tacked back in a northerly direction. The wind backed gradually over the next few hours and we were almost able to lay Fastnet on the Starboard tack but I knew the tide would start pushing us NE again that afternoon. Around 2000 I noted we were only making 3k over the ground. We still had 60 miles to go to our waypoint west of the Fastnet TSZ by this point but we were once again on course for it and I nursed a hope that we may be able to avoid another dispiriting tack to the SE. At 2100 I again noted our disappointing progress. At the time I put this down to the foul tides being around for longer but I subsequently realised I was probably pinching the boat too much – trying to sail too close to the wind such that the boat's speed is adversely affected. I should have noticed this before but after my long lay-off from sailing AS I was perhaps not as well in tune with her as I once was. Later I also suspected that Angus' wind vane was also working slightly lose in the lumpy seas and that resulted in steering closer to the wind than the angle to which I had set the vane. I got the pliers out later to tighten it up. The wind had also been increasing over the last few hours and I released that I probably also had too much sail up for the conditions. This will naturally force the boat to steer closer to the wind AND lean her over more which can give the impression of increased speed when in fact the opposite is occurring. At around 2100 I therefore eased her off the wind a little and took two reefs in the main and an immediate improvement of 1.5k in speed was apparent. Our track over the ground did not suffer either probably because sailing better she was making less leeway.

At 2300 we had the only close encounter with a fishing boat and had to tack to the SW to avoid her – fishing boats having right of way over sail. Having been forced into the tack, I decided to stay on it for an hour to gain the westing that I suspected we would eventually need if we were going to round Fastnet to Starboard. I had not been in these parts before and was keen to both see the Fastnet up reasonably (but not too) close and to complete the full Jester course and had decided so to do despite the 'additional' hours this would incur. At midnight on the 19/20th I tacked back NW again. The rest of the night was pretty bumpy with the two reefs proving to be a good investment. At 0600 on the 20th I had to tack south of west once more because we were being pushed too far NE by the wind and current. At 0700 I tacked back for the Fastnet TSZ WP again and it appeared we might make it on that tack. At 0800 I noted that the wind had eased and perhaps should shake out the reefs which I did about an hour later. We reached the WP around midday and turned headed for the next North of the Fastnet which we rounded at 1515 and headed East for Baltimore. As luck would have it the tide had just turned in that direction too. Now with the wind and tide behind us we had a most glorious run to Baltimore in the sun and I even got down to shorts and T shirt. The previous night I was so cold I had 6 layers on!

At 1634:30 the Looe Buoy in the entrance of Baltimore Harbour bore due east and we had completed the Jester Baltimore Challenge. Now I needed to find somewhere suitable to Anchor. After stooging around and very nearly putting the boat aground on a bank when we missed stays under mainsail alone, I anchored at 1500 in 3.5 metres off the quay.

Passage over.

I stayed on board that evening and tidied up the boat.

On my approach from Fastnet I picked up an email notification from Marine Traffic giving Mischief's noon position some 20 miles to the East of Baltimore. I new Bernie would therefore have a long final stretch against both the wind and current. He got in at midnight whilst I was asleep but I noticed him at Anchor when I popped my head up at around 1400.

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 4 - The White Knight, The Engine (again) & the Jesters

In the morning around 1000, Bernie came aboard and we considered our plan for the day. It was Friday 14th and a BBQ had been arranged for 1900 that evening at the Tamar River Sailing Club. Bernie suggested we do battle with the engine for a few hours and then if it was still not going, take Mischief into Mayflower Marina for the night and a taxi to the sailing club. Sounded good to me. In practice I was the Assistant and Bernie the Chief Mechanic. He put a message out on the Jester Facebook group asking if anyone had any suggestions and got a message back from Geoff offering advice and help. He was on a mooring elsewhere on the river and would be heading over to Mayflower Marina later. It was too choppy for any dinghy trips. We had a lengthy chat on the phone and Geoff's suggestions were in keeping with Bernie's approach. We agreed to have another chat later once we had got through all the steps discussed. Bernie therefore set to with a methodical approach and diagnosed that there was still a lack of fuel getting to the injector. The replacement lift pump was suspected at first but there seemed to be enough coming out of that. Next up the fuel filter. Not a lot seemed to be coming out of it. So 'we' took it off and it did appear partially blocked. Bernie blew some crap out which improved matters but another would be required to make a proper job of it. I didn't have a spare – just about the only spare part I did not have. I had assumed the filter was new as the engine was sold as fully serviced, but it was clearly not. The pipes between the lift pump and the filter, between that and the high pressure pump and between that and the injector were also checked and possible partial blockages removed. At this stage the original lift pump was back on following the fun and games I had in Eastbourne. Everything was reassembled and the system bled. An improvement in fuel flow to and out of the injector was noticed but still the engine refused to go. Bernie had also noticed that the engine oil had emulsified. We hoped this was a consequence of fuel leaking into the crankcase from the old knackered lift pump but could not be sure. It would need to be changed anyway. By this time – approaching 1530 we had to head down to Mayflower in Jester so that we had enough time to get washed and to the Sailing Club for the BBQ.

That evening The Tamar River Sailing Club put on a most welcome BBQ and it was a chance to meet some of the other Jesters and for Bernie to meet up with Jester friends he had made a couple of years ago when he completed the Challenge in his even shorter (but more spacious) Mackwester, 'Chantilly'. I discussed the engine with a number of the others I the hope of stumbling across a trick that had escaped Bernie but despite lots of sensible suggestions nothing new emerged.
After the BBQ Bernie and I caught a bus back to the town followed by a pleasant walk to the Mayflower Marina where we spent the night on board Mischief. Earlier in the day we had transferred bags of Bernie's gear onto Arctic Smoke to make enough room for me to sleep in Mischief's forepeak and very cosy it was too.

On Saturday morning we did a little shopping including a long walk over to Queen Anne's Battery in order to buy a replacement fuel filter for the Bukh. On the way we had an excellent breakfast fry up in one of the local CafĂ©’s on Union Street. Then it was back to Mischief followed by a trip back up the Tamar to Cargreen and Arctic Smoke where battle with the engine recommenced once again. Engine oil changed, fuel filter replaced, fuel system bled. Nothing, not even a bloody cough, splutter or wheeze. Come 1600 it was time to head back down the river once again for the skipper's briefing and Dinner at the Tamar River Sailing Club. This time with time short the plan was to pick up a mooring off the sailing club and to dinghy ashore from there. So we transferred my inflatable dinghy (which was in slightly better nick than Bernie's) and outboard motor on to Mischief and set off. We got ashore just in time to have a very quick wash-up before the briefing started.

The briefing was conducted by Ewen in his wonderfully laid back, sardonic, self deprecating humorous manner under which one sensed a man of enormous sailing and combat experience who nevertheless took great interest in the welfare of this band of sailors assembled under the Jester banner. We had all signed up voluntarily for this baby Jester and the main theme behind it and all the other was personal responsibility and good seamanship each to his own abilities, capabilities and experience. Turning back in the face of a Force 4 on the nose or continuing into the teeth of a bitter gale were both equally valid decisions. The only outcome that mattered was that we all ended up somewhere safely. The 'rules' were simple, each skipper was responsible for him/herself and boat, no inspections, it was not a race, depart Plymouth from 1100 on Sunday, leave Bishop Rock off the Isles of Scilly to Starboard, round the Fastnet to Starboard (if that was sensible it the circumstances) and on into Baltimore, or put into anywhere that you wanted to. With that message ringing in our ears it was time for dinner put on by the Sailing Club. Food, drinks, making new friends and yarning followed in equal measure.

After the do, Bernie and I repaired back to Mischief around 2300 and headed back up to Cargreen once again.

The start was at 1100 the next morning but the weather was pretty grotty with strong headwinds from the SW and so Bernie and I agreed we would give that a miss and spend the day doing battle with engine once again and leave either the following morning or later on Sunday. I cooked a hearty breakfast and we (mostly Bernie) set too once again. The last line of attack was the Governor mechanism that linked the throttle mechanism to the high-pressure fuel pump. Bernie suspected that perhaps it was malfunctioning in some way preventing enough diesel from getting to the injector. This was a fiddly operation that required gaining almost impossible access to the back of the engine using a mirror and numerous contortions. After a few hours of fiddling and a lengthy phone call to Mark, the engineer who had helped me install the engine we were not much wiser. I had a workshop manual but it was very difficult to establish with the very limited access whether or not the governor mechanism was working properly or not. At the end of all the poking about Bernie got what he thought was a reasonable if not particularly strong spray of fuel from the injector. The result was the same though. Not the semblance of a cough other than a very feeble one with a good squirt of Easy Start in the air intake. Time to face the fact that if I was going to undertake the Jester it would be without an engine. I confirmed my decision to carry on and spent the next few hours getting the boat tidied up and doing a few odd jobs in preparation for departure from Cargreen at around 1900. The weather had moderated slightly but the wind was still strong. The forecast was – Force 5-6 from the South West for the rest of the day and into Monday with calms then due on Tuesday. We wanted to make as much progress as possible before being becalmed. I was particularly concerned not to drift into the shipping lanes off the Isles of Scilly and be unable to take avoiding action! I then cooked a hearty curry which we consumed before our planned departure from Cargreen at around 1900.

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 3 - Another Decision and onward to Cargreen

Having relaunched AS and completed just enough of the 'must do' jobs on my very long list of never ending boat jobs and after spending a day in Chatham Marina with the family I motored out and of the Marina on the Bank Holiday Monday 27th May bound for Eastbourne for Thursday 30th May, via Stangate Creek for the night and then Ramsgate or Eastbourne where I would have to leave the boat for 10 days and return home to look after Kayha our ageing Alaskan Malamute while the rest of the family were away visiting Sharon's family in North Carolina. I was due to return on Sunday 9th June and planned to depart on Monday 10th June to continue the passage to Plymouth.

On the way down the river I rang Bernie who I knew would be returning from the Hoo Ness club rally to Ramsgate. We arranged to rendezvous in Stangate and he turned up at 2230 after a long slog back. He rafted up and we had a chat and supper of Baked Beans on Toast on AS. He left around 0500 Tuesday 11/6 to catch the last of the flood up to Hoo and I left around 0700 to catch the ebb out and then the next flood around the North Foreland.

We had a very pleasant sail on a lovely day and made good enough progress to make Dover that evening. Moored up in the Marina and had a quick walk around the lower town and docks where I noticed the rather ironic hoardings proudly exclaiming the renovation of the Western Docks curtsey of grants from the European Union! The next day the wind was on the nose and so it was time for the 'new' Bukh's first sustained period of service. For the first few hours all went well and I even emailed all my pals to announce the good news. A fatal mistake! Within the hour the engine faltered and stopped and I was still East of Dungeness with a boisterous headwind. The account of that episode is written up in full on the blog entry “Arctic Smoke and the RNLI”. Despite much advice and help and fitting replacements for the Lift Pump, the High Pressure Pump and the Injector and it proved impossible to get the Bukh back into service.

Time for my next decision. The staff at Eastbourne were wonderful but the marina fees were costing me a fortune and given my complete failure to earn any money over the last six months I had to get out of there. Should I pull out of the Challenge and sail back to the Medway or carry on without the engine and hope to get it going in Plymouth. I very nearly decided on the former. Next to staying put until the engine was fixed it was the most obvious thing to do. However, it seemed to me it was not really in the spirit of the Jester. The whole point it seemed to me was to overcome challenges where possible. There were risks of course but it did not seem to me to be reckless. AS was a sailing boat after all and in days gone by plenty of sailors (albeit far better ones than me) had sailed the route without the aid of an engine. My decision was made. The most difficult part of it was explaining it to Sharon and knowing that she and the rest of the family would now worry even more. To her great credit she took it like all my other crazy sailing decisions and wished me well.

Next I organised a tow out of the marina and at 1530 on Tuesday 11th June, two of the lovely ladies from the marina office towed us out to the safe water mark off Sovereign Harbour. As we moved out a light breeze was blowing from the South. Once I was cast off it died completely and so I anchored to wait for the tide to carry us round Beachy Head. After an hour or so a breeze came in and so got the anchor up and set course to round Beachy Head. The breeze stayed light and fitful but gout round Beachy Head with the tide's help. Light winds and a foul tide meant little progress for the next few hours. A light north easterly was forecast and so I was hopeful we would make progress soon. By 2200 with a fair wind and tide we were making 7k over the ground towards Saint Catherine's Point on the Southern corner of the Isle of Wight. We rounded St Cat's in the early hours and then had a very slow leg to Portland in light winds and a good dose of the inevitable foul tide. The weather was pretty miserable too – wet and cold. My biggest fear at this stage was getting sucked into the Race off Portland and losing all the precious Westing we had made. The Pilot described the Race as “quite simply the most dangerous headland in all England. Ships have been known to get sucked into it never to reappear”! The calm weather meant the Race should not be dangerous on this occasion but I wanted to be well clear and therefore stayed a good five miles off shore. I had contemplated anchoring somewhere to wait for the tide but even if I spend a few hours going backwards it would take less time than the detour to anchor.

That evening whilst still South East of 'The Bill' and barely stemming the tide in light airs a 'PAN PAN' was issued by a yacht to the west of 'The Bill' and a couple of miles further inshore. They had suffered engine failure and were drifting into the The Race becalmed. A tow was organised by the Coastguard and they were towed safely into Portland. This made me extremely nervous and I hoped I was far enough out to avoid the same fate. The thought of calling for help again so shortly after the previous incident was too much to contemplate! I avoided that fate but did indeed spend a couple of hours going backwards. I thought my electronics had gone awry. We were heading South East but the plotter showed us going North!

After getting round 'The Bill' I laid a course to round St Albans Head and the pattern of the previous 18 hours repeated itself with some great sailing mixed in with calms and light airs and once again we were virtually becalmed in a foul tide as we attempted to round the Head outside the notorious overfalls. The Pilot makes the place sound almost as bad as Portland! Again I had to make sure we kept well South of trouble. By 0900 on the 14th June we were still East of the Head and it started blowing hard – around Force 6 on the nose! I put two reefs in the main but left the Genoa fully set. I wanted our windward performance to be as good as possible and I new AS went well under this configuration. I say two reefs but in fact having invested in a fourth reef point in the Canaries the main is now rigged so that the second reef is in fact the first and the fourth the second. Got that?

Sure enough we ran out of fair tide well before the Head. After a tack to the South and in the increasingly shitty night time weather I decided I had had enough and would make for the shelter of Start Bay. I'd lose a lot of time but this was not fun. To my surprise however we made rather more westing on the next tack and for a while it looked as if we might even lay Plymouth. I therefore decided to carry on. In the event we did not get around the Head on that tack but at 1945 had to make another short tack south about 5 miles south of Salcombe in order to lay Plymouth. At 2040 we were able to make our final tack and head directly for Plymouth. The wind gradually eased on our approach and by 2300 I had to shake out the reefs in the main. At 0100 on the 14th June we passed the western end of the breakwater.

I got on the phone to Bernie and discovered he was moored up the Tamar at Cargreen, north of the bridges. When I asked him what his plans were for tomorrow he said to come to wherever I ended up and help me try and fix the engine. What a 'Jester'! With 4 hours of flood tide still left I had enough time to get up there too and so decided to attempt just that. The wind would be fair for the most part and although there was a risk of losing it here and there due to shelter, I reckoned the flood would see us up to Cargreen. Bernie said he was happy to stay up and guide me to a buoy or help me raft alongside Mischief. I estimated we should be there by 0330.

It was by now a very pleasant night and the sail through the harbour and up the Tamar in the dark was delightful. I had a few anxious moments navigating through 'The Bridge' the short narrow channel to the west of Drake's Island and the mainland that provided a short cut for small vessels into the harbour. It was in the lee of the wooded hills and so the wind was light and fitful. Every now and then we drifted on the current before and after 'The Bridge' but got through without incident. There was a decent breeze through the main harbour but that then died considerably after rounding corner south of the (real) Tamar Bridge. I had steerage way but with the wind directly behind us I doubted we would be able to stem the tide in the opposite direction should the need arise. The next obstacles before the bridge were the three chain ferries. At that time of night they should be pretty quiet and so there was every chance I could carry straight on. That indeed proved to be the case with a Ferry commencing its crossing just after I passed. Next up the Tamar Bridge. Plenty of air draft but even with a following wind in can be fluky going through the gap. Bernie recommended going through the central gap but there were two, I went for the eastern one and survived just fine. The current was racing through and the wind picked up two so we shot through like a cork out of a bottle. The Tamar River Sailing Club was on the eastern bank just south of the bridge – they were hosting a BBQ for us Jesters later that night and the Jester Briefing and Dinner on Saturday night.

We continued up the river on the last of the flood and arrived at Cargreen right at the flood's end. Perfect timing for manoeuvring under sail in confined waters. The only problem was the wind was decidedly iffy – sometimes a gentle breeze otherwise nothing. I soon spotted Bernie's lights and he had previously sent me a WhatsApp message to explain he had rigged lines and fenders on his port side. I did the same with the plan being to pass round his stern and turn into the wind and remnants of the tide and drift onto Mischief. Fortunately Bernie had the presence of mind to heave a line into my cockpit as we drifted by because it was unlikely we would have had enough way on to carry against the tide. It was 0400 and between us we shortly had everything squared away. Time for a cup of Bernie's special Hot chocolate and Co Co mix and a chat before a bed that I was really looking forward too.

Passage over!

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 2 - The Decision and Preperations

Following her Atlantic Adventures of 2015 and 16/17, I was undertaking a fairly major re-fit on Arctic Smoke over the period Autumn 2017 to Spring 2019 when, over a cup of tea with my pal Bernie, we got round to discussing his progress in preparing his 'new' boat, 'Mischief' an Achilles 24 for entry in the 2020 Jester Azores Challenge. As part of his preparations he intended to participate in the 2019 Jester Baltimore Challenge. He had already completed that Challenge in 2017 in his 22 foot Mackwester but found her windward performance too poor to contemplate using her in the Azores Challenge. Bernie is quite remarkable. An ex merchant seaman who can make or fix just about anything you care to mention and of course a first rate mariner. He has turned Mischief from a neglected river racer into an off-shore passage-maker and has helped me with a variety of jobs on Arctic Smoke when my limited practicable skills ran out of puff. He is an archetypical Jester.

Anyway back to that cup of tea. As we discussed his plans I started to consider the possibility of my own participation. After more than a year's no sailing on Arctic Smoke, I was keen to get sailing again and realised that there was no way I would get Arctic Smoke ready for Iceland in time for sailing in 2019 which had been an objective lurking at the back of my mind. With Bernie's encouragement, I therefore approached Ewen with my request and the rest is history. Work re-doubled on Arctic Smoke including the installation of a replacement Bush DV10 engine and stern gear. The trials and tribulations of that episode can be read in the Arctic Smoke blog.

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 1 The Challenge

Image result for the jester challenge burgee

The Jester Challenge was conceived and originally organised by WW2 Marine, Blondie Hasler who led crews of Marines in daring raids on enemy shipping in French ports in canoes during the war. A man who undertook amazing acts of skill, determination and courage but did not regard himself a hero. After the war he instigated and took part in a number of the first single handed yacht races across the Atlantic – the OSTAR (originally the Observer Single-handed Trans Atlantic Race) from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island in his modified Junk Rigged Folkboat 'Jester' of around 26 feet in length. However, as the race became an established feature in the yachting calendar, bureaucracy grew and boats under 30 feet were excluded from the event. Blondie established the Jester in response with the ethos being focused on minimum rules and skipper responsibility. The Jester is not a race. After Blondie's death, Mike Richie took over responsibility for Jester and the event. He lost the original Jester at sea and replaced it with a replica. After Mike Richie's death organisation of the event was taken over by Blondie's Biographer, Ewen Southby-Tailyour – commander of the Falklands forces in the 1980's.

The Jester Challenge to Newport is run every 4 years. Recently the intermediate Jester Azores Challenge was added and run every 2 years between the main event challenges. More recently still the Jester Baltimore Challenge was added to run in the remaining empty annual slots. The Baltimore Challenge is from Plymouth to Baltimore in Ireland with Bishop Rock on the South West coast of the Isles of Scilly and the famous Fastnet Rock off South West Ireland left to Starboard. The course is about 250 miles in length (in a straight line). As with all other Challenges, use of an engine is at the skipper's discretion. More engine, less challenge!

Arctic Smoke is three feet to long to qualify as of right to participate in the Challenge but Ewen kindly gave permission for her and other similar sized vessels to participate.

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.