Libby's Birthday / Delivery to Palma / Shipping to Caribbean
I've just dropped the girls off for their trip back to the UK. They're flying from Corfu because the flights were all full from the local airport, so I had to rent a car and drive them up to the Corfu ferry at Igoumenitsa. As Penny and Libby climbed up into the bowels of the ship, I suddenly came over all emotional. Just before they disappeared from view, Libby turned for one last glance at Daddy. I blew her a kiss, and with her hand clasped firmly in her mother's Libby placed a kiss on her own bare shoulder and blew it down to me. I don't remember much about the first part of the drive back south.
What a day. A day early, it's been Libby's "official" birthday. We'd rigged bunting and balloons inside the boat, and the signal flags fluttered in the fore-triangle so she could see them when she woke up. She inspected them soberly through the overhead hatch, and decided they were just as good as last year. The decorated saloon had her chuckling and giggling with delight, as did the pile of presents. These included thoughtful gifts from her Aunty Mary and also "Chicken Nico", proprietor of our favourite fast food joint. Yet again I'd forgotten to roll the video camera. I dislike videos in general, but I do want her to see just how cute she was at this age when she's later battling with adolescence. Ah well, maybe next year.
Libby went to the kids club while Penny and I ran around in circles doing last minute jobs before joining her at the Sunsail club in time for the lunch party and cake etc.
Back here alone on the boat and I'm struggling to keep it together. It feels like it's all suddenly come to an abrupt end. In sympathy with my feelings, the weather is utterly miserable with deluges of rain, cloud and high wind. I've made myself a last Mojito before ditching the mint plant which we've toted around since the Spring. It doesn't taste right though. I could go for a beer with mates at the local bar, but right now that doesn't seem right either. Not without my girls.
In short, Wild Bird's two-year Mediterranean cruise is over. My crew, Phil and John arrive tomorrow, and weather permitting we'll embark on the 900 NM passage to Palma on Monday.
We were supposed to leave on Monday 10th, but the forecast was atrocious - a deep low over the Ionian sea which lies between Sicily and the Greek Ionian Islands. The boys had turned up on Sunday evening and in the morning we roamed around Paleros and strolled up to the Sunsail base to see the entire fleet stuck in the marina, storm bound. We shouldn't have, but we ended up having a few beers, and then some more. In the evening at Spiros taverna they insisted on sending us off full of wine and Metaxa. Yes, we should have refused their generosity. And no, having got a taste for the Greek brandy we shouldn't have indulged further in the wicked stuff once we were back aboard. Oh dear!
Tuesday saw calmer conditions locally, and we slipped from the dock in Paleros at 10:30. A brisk sail to Lefkas was followed by a few hours motoring. West of Lefkas we found the wind. And how. The sea was all bunched up from the windy weather that was supposed to have moved south by now. In short we had a hell of a first night being tossed around like a cork. The boat held up well and I was thankful we'd chosen such a strong and well built vessel. I warmed up a curry - one of the fabulous meals that Penny had lovingly pre-prepared for us. However only John gave it the attention it deserved. I managed half a portion, but Phil lost his over the side poor chap. It was a combination of over indulgence the night before added to the bucking boat.
We reached the coast of Italy in calmer conditions and motored up the Messina straits on the second night. The wind petered out on day three, but it was a beautiful morning. We chugged along south of the Aeolian islands. Our spirits were up, and we were getting into the groove. We even set about some jobs on the boat. There was a plethora of fishing gear in the water, and we avoided almost all of it. Then near disaster struck as we ran right over some gear. It wasn't marked by anything more than some plastic bottles, but we should have seen it. There was a bang and some loose bottles appeared in our wake. However the engine was still going and we cursed our stupidity and carried on. Then I decided to check the engine room. There was a flood coming in from the stern tube - the aperture through which the propeller shaft passes. We stopped the engine and I went over the side with a mask to see if there was anything amiss with the propeller. If it had had some detritus attached it might account for vibrations which could be causing the leak. Underwater, all appeared as it should. We have a rope cutter on the shaft which would have sliced through any obstruction. Again I spared a thought for the fishermen, but we now had a situation. Water ingress slowed to a trickle when stationary, but as soon as we spun the shaft, water resumed its inward rush. We were off the coast of Sicily, and the prospect of seeking help there was a grim one. There wasn't a breath of wind and without the engine we were stranded.
Back in the engine room I made some frantic adjustments to the stern-tube seal, but with little effect. Finally I decided to make way and just see if the electric bilge pumps could cope. They could, but for how long? We still had a good three days or so before we expected to make landfall in Mallorca. What if they burned out - then what? There's a mechanical pump too. What the heck, we had to keep going. After a few hours of gentle motoring, we found that we could keep the water down by pumping for a few minutes in every 20. So, a new routine was devised with 20 minute engine room checks and pumping. We used the mechanical one too to reduce wear on the electric ones.
The following day I had a suddenly resolute moment and got to work on the shaft again. It was stiflingly hot in there and I glided around in a pool of sweat With the judicious application of a handful of jubilee clips however, I managed to stop the shaft slipping forward under thrust - the action which was parting the stern seal and causing the leak. Back under way, and miraculously there was no more water ingress. Spirits starting to soar again! I relaxed the engine room watches to once every half hour, then every hour - back to normal. Almost. Sleep had been hard to come by what with one thing and another, but that nights off watch gave me a blissful four hours probably with some dozing too.
We caught a fish on the trailing line. It was a decent tuna, and Phil gutted and cleaned it up. We were looking forward to our finest feast yet; Phil has not inconsiderable talent in the culinary department. However, it was not to be our meal that day.
I spoke to Penny on the satellite phone and she told me we could look forward to a brisk nor-easter later. And so it was, but it built and built as we approached Sardinia. Cooking on our non-gimbaled stove was out of the question. We shortened sail but kept the main up - fully reefed. In the wild beam seas, I feared that without the main, the boom would fly around and become a risk generally. So we were somewhat overpowered in the gusts that approached 40 kts. The ancient Neco auto steering complained with loud bangs as it struggled to stop the boat from rounding up. In the filthy black of the night, it was all but impossible to hand steer without removing the windscreen canopy - and that would have exposed us to the savage sea. Great green waves broke over the boat and then an electrical storm bore down on us, eventually fizzing and cracking all around us. I disconnected the VHF antenna, but I suspect that if you're going to get hit, there's little you can really do to save the electronics at least. A direct strike will destroy any circuit board with a coil on it. Virtually all the instruments have a coil of some sort.
Finally we got a lee from Sardinia as we left the south west coast behind. Things calmed down and the rest of the passage was relatively uneventful. We DID get our fish dinner, and a very fine one it was too. A stowaway came aboard and made friends with the crew!
We came alongside the waiting pontoon at Real Club Nautico on Monday morning in glorious sunshine.
We went and had lunch, a celebratory beer and a few games of pool. [Guys, if you read this I want you to know that I'm SO grateful to you both; you good natures and professionalism completely saved the passage from turning into torture. I do hope we get to do it again together.] Phil sadly had to fly out that evening, but John and I went out for some Tapas and were joined by my good old pal George Parkinson. John sensibly went to bed after a sojourn at the Escape bar, but my favourite venue in the whole world was nearby - Bluesville - and I couldn't resist. It's a dark smoky place with cool live music. Strangely the smoking has had to be moved to outside, which considering the joint seems to attract mainly smokers makes for a rather disrupted experience. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening in the company of a superyacht crew who I sort of maybe knew but it didn't really matter!
Another great friend here in Palma - Pete put me in touch with some trusted engineers who agreed to look at the prop shaft situation. They laboured to discover the problem, and in the end my worst fears came true as they said the boat would have to be lifted out. Another low point, and Penny off to the bank to get some more funding. No point on dwelling on it though. It turns out that the fault lay in the thrust bearing which transfers power from the prop to the hull. (On other boats, the power is often transmitted through the engine mounts.) There was much at fault with the thrust bearing arrangement, and it is not unreasonable to conclude that it may well have failed at some point entirely independently of striking any fishing gear. The failure may have been whilst the girls were aboard, and could conceivably have gone unnoticed until serious damage was caused at the very least. It also transpired that the cutlass bearing (where the shaft emerges into the sea) was teetering at the end of its service life. So, all in all this whole calamity may have prevented something worse in the near future. In the depths of gloom it was really hard to put a positive spin on these events, but with support from Penny and Libby at the end of the phone and also from friends around me I'm back on an even keel. It just so happens that the keel is still on the hard standing, but I'm assured the drive chain will be fully reassembled and working for launch tomorrow afternoon. I'm retaining a right to a margin for disappointment, so I'm not leaping for joy just yet! I'll have a quiet night on the boat apart from a stroll up the yacht club to attempt to post this and get my mail. There's no internet in the yard.
Palma Nova is known as a nice cheap place to come on holiday. There are masses of bars, discos etc and a lovely sandy beach. As an anchorage however, it's perfectly horrendous! I had to leave the comfort of the marina last Monday. At €45 per day we were spending way beyond budget.
So I got here Monday evening. Now in general I love being at anchor, and would usually choose this option over being tied to a dock. However this place is very exposed. Nevertheless it was a beautiful evening, and I picked a spot amongst the few yachts already there. I knew the holding was iffy, so I left a clear path to leeward. Just as well. Shortlyt after dark a squall blew up. We had horizontal stair-rod rain and massive gusts. The Bird was gathered up in the wind and whisked off as if there were no anchor at all. I put the nav lights on and started the engine, but as I contemplated what to do next it started to ease off. The boat rounded up into the wind suggesting the anchor had found something to cling to, however tenuous. The bay was bible black, and I feared that if I started charging around that we might meet with misfortune. Consequently, I veered another ten metres of cable, checked some transits, and shut down for the night.
By the morning we were somewhat further out so clearly I had to take action. When I weighed anchor, I had the bonus of a second anchor and chain wound around ours. It's too small for us, but I'm hoping to pass it on to someone who can use it. Anyway, I thought I'd try the other side of the bay where I remembered anchoring years ago. I had an idea it was a sandy bottom. It isn't. There are patches, and if Penny were here she would have directed me to one and no doubt all would have been well. In my shenanigans, dashing up and down the deck trying to position us for a drop into a sandy patch, the dinghy became detached. Off it bobbed downwind. Fancy tying it on with a clove hitch Andrews! In the event, I lowered the main anchor and veered a score of metres of cable. Then I chucked over our danforth kedge which I'd rigged in preparation for a double drop, grabbed the kill cord, stripped off, leapt into the surprisingly warm briny and struck out after the little dinghy.
So, back on board and one cup of tea later, I started work getting the mainsail off. All the sails and running rigging have to be stowed for her journey across the pond. I got a good bit of work done in the first couple of days, but then the weather kicked in. For a day and a half after that I couldn't do a thing except stow every loose object and ride it out. The boat was bucking and rolling as if she were in a big sea. The good bits are that the anchors seem to be holding well enough, and I had a really good book. (C.J. Sansom - Winter In Madrid. It's now the third historical novel of his I've read and I think he's absolutely brilliant.) So, all in all, mustn't grumble.
I was able to get ashore Friday, and splashed out on a beer and burger at a local bar. For the last days I'd been eating the same chicken sweet/sour thing that I'd made a huge pan of to use up the chicken we had left over from passage. I was therefore ready for a change.
Saturday, I thought I'd maybe rent a moped so I could visit the city for a meal with old friends. It wasn't to be. As I let go the painter, the wretched engine cut out for no apparent reason. It's always been so reliable, and guess what, I hadn't got around to digging the oars out from the bottom of the bow locker. I was dressed in jeans and proper shoes in anticipation of getting a bike. This dinghy is just too small and unstable to be able to undress, (otherwise I could have slipped over the side and pushed back to the Bird) and there would have been nowhere to put my togs; the thing was shipping water in the swell. So, for the ensuing hour I drifted shoreward, tugging on the pull cord initially in hope of action, but latterly to try and clear an outcrop of rocks. The feeble bit of push from the prop with the thing in gear just got me around, and I wound up on the sand. A resting wind-surfer kindly leapt into the surf and helped prevent what might otherwise have been complete disaster.
A strolling elderly German lady stopped to offer her condolences. She said "I haf been watching you all morning, pulling and pulling on the motor. You should have some paddles!" Then she cast a glance over the little dinghy and said "it's not much of a cruiser is it?!". Very fortunately, I have a new determination to be nicer to people generally, so as I pulled off my sweat and seawater soaked fleece, I merely smiled and agreed. There was no need to be rude, nor to tell her that my lovely RIB was laid up on the foredeck......and I calmed down surprisingly quickly. I whipped the motor off the transom and lugged it up the beach to a wall where I propped it up and set about it with my wonderful "Leatherman" multi-tool. Initially it seemed straightforward. The spark plug came out without much protest, and I cleaned it up and heated the contacts with a cigarette lighter. This is a trick which sometimes used to work in my old moped days. It did again. The motor roared into life, and I put it all back together and reunited it with the tender. During this process, the German lady appeared again to ask what the problem had been. I gave her a brief explanation and then said pointedly and somewhat inaccurately that "it has been nice to meet you".
The next ten minutes would have been comical if it hadn't been so tragic. I waited for a lull in the rollers and with jeans rolled up went surging into the water, got the engine started but...... just couldn't hinge the leg down. It was stuck. Yep, the rig went sideways and got swamped. The engine stopped. Really stopped. The German lady appeared at my side. "Maybe you should try a different part off the beach!" She was right though. A quarter of a mile down, there appeared to be some sort of concrete jetty which I might make use of. So I set off, dragging the outfit behind me. I was getting quite tired by the time I reached my objective, and the jetty was by no means protected but it did give me a chance to get the boat into a foot and a half of water before leaping in and hauling on the starter cord. Except the motor was very dead, and now fuel was pouring out of the carburetor. Well in these situations you just have to keep going. I found a railing to lean the motor against and stripped the covers off. The carb came out fairly readily, and I started to disassemble it. You know what's coming don't you?! Out of the corner of my eye I perceived that something tiny had fallen from the apparatus and into the sand. At the same moment I realised what it was - the tiny little pintle around which the float hinges. OK OK, the Feritaria is probably open. Maybe I can find something that will do as a replacement. Oh God Oh God. So this pin is about 8mm long and maybe 1mm in cross section. It's TINY, and it was somewhere in the square metre or so of sand before me. I got carefully down on my knees, still clutching the rest of the carb in one hand, and was very still. I stared and stared at the sand, prayed a little, (well I was already on my knees) but above all kept very still. Any slight movement was likely to disturb the sand and it would be gone for good. As it happened, patience paid off and finally there it was. Alleluia! Taking my time I cleaned out the float bowl as bet I could, but it was hard to say if I was doing much good, and all the time it was in bits it was at very serious risk of becoming filled with sand. So, I tensioned the springs on the float and put it back together. I attached the fuel line and there was no obvious leak. Great. I put it back in place, pulled the plug again for good measure and fetterd it as best I could. There was still a small dry patch in my jeans just by the pocket, and I used this to clean up the blessed thing once more.
Well, she started and sounded more confident than ever. Back to the dinghy then, and with not all that much further effort we were buzzing away from the shore line. I could have cried with relief. One of the worst things in situations like this, is being alone. No loving arm draped around your shoulder with words of encouragement. (Maybe that's why the German lady chose to attend the sordid spectacle. To her inadvertant credit though she had at least provided me with some comic relief.)
After sharing my grief with Penny on the phone and another cup of tea I started to come around to the idea that maybe I should still try and get ashore for the evening meal. First, I sorted out the paddles and just as well, because I returned to the tender at the end of the evening only to find the tank was dry. I'd left the tap on which isn't normally a problem, but I guess there's still something amis with the carb. However, I fuelled her up this morning and the engine gave every indication that henceforth it is going to behave. So given the risks of hoiking the motor on and off the yacht's bucking deck I'm going to leave it alone now. The tank's full, and the tap is currently off!!
The evening made the effort all worthwhile. I didn't need a bike in the end coz I was very kindly collected, and later delivered back by friends with cars. The Thai restaurant was fantastic, as was the company. Apart from one lady I didn't hitherto know very well, there were Pete and Christine whom I've known since the mid 90s plus Mikey and Holly. Mikey also dates way back, (co-author of the hit song "Sunsail Bloody Sunsail") and Holly is his lovely wife. It was like old times except, we're now all parents. Mike and Holly have just produced the gorgeous Isabella who was home with grand parents, and of course Pete and Christine have Maliyah, Libby's lovely playmate earlier in the year.
Christine with Isabella and Maliyah at Bar Coto
Holly, Mikey and Isabella
We hope to have Christmas with friends in the BVI, and then head down island. In the Spring the plan is to head back up again and on to the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida and north from there.