Saturday, 25 May 2013

Youghal to Port St. Mary ...

We sailed from Youghal about late lunchtime Monday and picked up a favourable tide up the Irish coast. As we'd made an afternoon start we felt well rested and decided to carry on through the night.

About midnight we went through the inner channel behind the Tuskar rock. The tricolour wasn't working and the bow light (port and starboard) wasn't either. This was disappointing - I thought they'd been checked (later we got the tricolour working by changing the fuse, but the bow light is still a small mystery). We let the coastguard know, in case they got reports of strangely lit vessels - we still had a masthead light and a stern light.

Russell (my crew) had a sleep on the way up from Youghal as the sun went down. In the early morning I also had a couple of hours sleep. We were motorsailing by this point, because the wind had dropped - we had the mainsail up but the engine was driving the boat.

When I wakened up I realised the boat was barely moving (less than two knots).

I'm fairly sure I know what happened now, but at the time it was a mystery - the engine was running at cruising revs. We should have been doing about 6-7 knots.

I'd had a worry about this earlier, because the engine didn't seem to be driving the boat as fast as it should. Three to four knots maximum. Unfortunately, I didn't notice this when we did a brief engine trial in the Youghal river - then I was mainly interested in whether it worked, and whether there were gearbox or other mechanical problems.

Anyhow ...

What I think happened is this:

We had some drive from the mainsail, and although the motor was running at cruising revs it was in neutral - the little button that allows you to rev the engine in neutral without engaging ahead or astearn is a bit sticky. The drive from the mainsail, and his state of sleepiness meant Russell didn't notice there was anything wrong.

When I wakened up, I tried the engine in forward and astern and nothing seemed to happen. Together with the fact that the boat hadn't been moving, I came to the conclusion that we had lost propulsion. I knew it wasn't the engine or gearbox, and suspected that something had gone wrong with the prop - either it was spinning on the shaft, or had fallen off.

With no wind and no drive we were drifting aimlessly. I thought it would be a good idea to let the Coastguard know, in case we got into worse trouble as a result. Otherwise I was happy to wait for wind.

The Coastguard decided that Rosslare lifeboat should tow us in.

In Rosslare, I paid for a local amateur diver to have a look at the prop (this was cheaper than slipping the boat, and there was nowhere to dry out). He could find nothing wrong. We then tried driving the boat around Rosslare harbour, and it seemed to work OK - although with a very low cruising speed.

With a northwesterly forecast and rising winds, we decided to head for Wales on Tuesday afternoon. Based on the wind we had a range of options from Holyehead to Aberdaron. In the morning, the wind had risen to NW 7. The boat was making good progress upwind, but we weren't going to make Holyhead.

We decided to head for Caernarfon, and the Menai straits.

We'd been running the engine periodically during the night to charge the batteries. Once or twice it cut out and seemed reluctant to start. I thought it was the angle of heal and general violence and melee. We had the lee rail in the water more than once or twice.

The boat sailed exceptionally well - close to the wind and maintaining a steady 6 knots.

The Caernarfon bar, at the south end of the straits, was a challenge. We were tired and it was extremely windy. Also, the bar moves around - as it turns out it moves around more than we expected.

I'd been cautious about relying on the engine, as it had been cutting out, and had decided to sail in. Unfortunately the bar (and the relevant bouys) had moved northwards from their charted position - it took us a while to find them. During this while we came dangerously close to putting the boat on a sand bank, and we also started the engine again.

This time, the engine appeared steady and took us right into Victoria Dock in Caernarfon.

I have a ten minute battery warning, so will post more later. Pictures to come when I get a fast connection.

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