Sink or Swim

The wind, a strong southwesterly, allowed us to motorsail down the coast, making good progress in bright sunshine. All looked well until I noticed that the bilge pump, which cut in from time to time for 30 seconds, had been on for rather longer. Lifting the floor showed a shocking amount of water in the bilge, with the drive coupling fountaining water upwards. 15 minutes of frantic pumping revealed water spraying up from around the stern tube flange. This looked like a boat beaching exercise to fix, so a quick call to Stonehaven harbourmaster, 6 miles to Starboard, secured a place against the harbour wall and I duly informed the coastguard. 30 minutes later we were told that the Stonehaven MRI had been launched to guide us in to port. This rescue RIB duly appeared alongside and we were greeted in Stonehaven by a concerned and friendly group, interested to know our woes and to know if they could help. A closer inspection found that the fast ingress of water was in fact caused by a pipe fracturing, which had by this time completely come adrift, pumping water into the boat faster as the engine speed increased. This was a copper pipe installed while in Southampton to water feed the new cutlass bearing and it had been in my mind to fit a stop cock here. So now was the perfect time. My selection of plumbing fittings was dug out and a ball valve with steel pipe was installed, so much the stronger - a job I was pleased with! This complete we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in the local restaurant.

2 hours later, feeling replete, we returned to find that Ardent had changed her mind and had laid down to port, despite being tied to lean towards the harbour wall. The harbour almost dry, we scrambled on board to try and catch some sleep lying at a very strange angle. The feeling was akin to being quite drunk (so I am told) whilst trying to negotiate our way through the cabin at such a strange angle. The bonus is that I now know that Ardent will happily sit on her side and right again with no ill effect, and I now know that she prefers to lean to port!

We left happily in the morning having been let off harbour charges and headed south again for the Forth. Another glorious and bright but fresh day with a strong SW wind enabled us to make good speed. We were delighted with our progress, motorsailing with the reefed main tight and seas constantly washing across the deck. As we approached the Tee estuary, just north of the Forth, the engine died. A quick inspection found water in the fuel filter. So, in dipping seas, while Colin manned the helm, I put my head down the bilge again, bled the fuel system and changed the fuel filter. I knew how difficult the Perkins can be to restart after fuel problems and this was no exception. 2 hours later and with 3 of the 4 batteries exhausted from trying to start her I gave up. Following a quick confab, we decided that of the two options asking for a tow was the safer, as the alternative to sail back north and seek shelter behind a headland could be problematic considering the forecast of impending gales. So, prudence being the better part of valor, I called the coastguard and requested a tow. The Anstruther (pronounced ‘Anstra’ I’m told) lifeboat mustered in an amazing 12 minutes and appeared about 40 minutes later. The RNLI preferred operation is to transfer a man onto the casualty, i.e. Ardent, before taking in tow. The sun had set and the wind had picked up to a strong 6. From the Anglo Saxon expletive issued on landing by the crew, chosen from the 7 on board to make this jump, I guessed that this had been an interestingly challenging maneuver! Alec turned out to be a great fellow, cheerful and supportive and assured me that I had done the right thing as this was his job and that he would far rather do it now that in worse conditions when perhaps lives would be at greater risk. I was totally overwhelmed by the RNLI response that evening. We had been lucky that it was their training evening with many helpers available. There were 7 crew on the Mersey class, a further 3 that appeared in an inflatable at the harbour entrance (looking like Borg with red light implants strapped to the left of their heads) and a further group of maybe 8 on the harbour wall bearing fenders. Their help extended to the morning when I found that my engine still did not want to turn properly, despite the batteries being on shore charge over night. Their tractor and a long pair of jump leads materialized and Stephen (fisherman come RNLI Cox) demonstrated his diagnostic skills and eventually got the engine running. Then, he ferried me to the local garage with the engine battery for testing. The battery proved to be fine and further checking back on Ardent found the Vetus shore charger to be faulty, another £280 to spend for a replacement!

The weather that day kept us in port but we were not sorry to spend time in this delightful town. It exuded a friendly and helpful atmosphere and everything about the place looked smart and cared for. The evening culminated in the fish and chip shop, renowned for the coveted 'fish and chip shop of the year' 2006/2007, and I have to say that I don't think that I have had a better fish meal from a take away before.

The next day, Friday, saw gentle winds of 12 knots. We grabbed the chance of making the 26 mile journey to Port Edgar and left again with hopeful spirits. Gales were forecast again for Saturday, so we wasted no time, engine on full and the mainsail up, more for stability than assistance as the wind was due west. Our speed of 5 knots hardly reduced as the wind picked up and up and up over the course of 3 hours. To my amazement it peaked at 38 knots, not far off a severe gale, the wind whistling in the rigging and the wave tops combed into white foam. I was glad to be only in an estuary and not right out at sea. But still we made good speed. The only incident of concern was a call by the Forth coastguard checking on any boats in that area. As we were the only one within sight I radioed in our position and our status as all well. This check call was a result of an overzealous member of the public who had reported a yacht in distress, and flashing a Morse SOS message! I was thankful that I had heard the coastguard call and that the lifeboat had not been scrambled to investigate. Arriving at Port Edgar at last gave a sense of achievement, but the problems continued. A check of the bilge found that the steel replacement pipe had fractured and water was again intruding. After some food we regained the strength and enthusiasm to tackle this problem again and fabricated a shorter connection. Then a quick trip around the marina almost cost me my mobility. In the toilet area, in the gloom of dusk I stepped down a concrete step to find that there were two steps. As I lay on the floor gasping in pain, I wondered if my ankle was broken and if there was enough power left in my mobile to call for help. However, after 5 minutes I recovered enough to hop back to the pontoons and Ardent.

Investigation on Saturday found that the chandlers did not stock any electrical items due to a local agreement with the onsite electrician. Unfortunately he had gone home early, so the only way to get a replacement shore charger was to go out to Edinburgh. The charger had become imperative since finding that there was a small weep on the stern tube where it met the bulkhead, fixable only by a lift out. So, we decided to hire a car for this shopping trip and for the journey back to London. The 3 mile taxi ride to the airport to get the car stung us for £15! Then we thought we were going to be foiled at the last hurdle as we asked at first National then Avis to be told that they had no cars available. Fortunately, Budget still had a couple, so we were saved! A trip to Halfords succeeded in buying a suitable high powered charger. Unfortunately, on returning to the boat we found it to be faulty, displaying an F5 error! Returning the 10 miles to Halfords found that their stock records showing 2 more was incorrect and we were directed to another store 8 miles further on to pick up the replacement. Success at last and the batteries were on charge. The integrity of the boat while left was dependant upon the bilge pump working. I was not happy to leave without an auxiliary pump and switch, supplied by another battery and charger system. I had a spare pump but no spare float switch. Then inspiration struck and I removed the switch from the shower tray outlet pump which would be unused while away. Of course, it had gone faulty, the closed contacts measuring 5M ohms. What did I expect? Not to be deterred I set about making a float switch out of anything that I could find. One old toggle switch, piece of ply, copper pipe, spring, string and floating lamp later a monster emerged. Of course, this toggle switch was also faulty but being from another generation it could be opened up and cleaned. The results are a fishing line hanging into the bilge from the bent piping with the lamp as bait. If the water rises, the floating lamp rises and the pipe lifts by pressure from the spring. The switch operates and the pump activates. The power supply and Halfords charger are positioned such that a videocall made to a mobile mounted in the cabin shows that all is on charge and well.

The drive home to London was uneventful until trying to deliver the car back at Heathrow. There we found that Budget's operation was not 24 hours and stopped at 23:00. So return was deferred until the morning, which involved a 06:00 start to battle the 3 hour queues back around the M25 to drop the car off at 09:00 before work!

Repeat after me...

We do this for pleasure,

we do this for pleasure,

we do this for pleasure!