Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Harwich bound…

OK… so that was the plan… We did however only make Ramsgate… To find out more read on… After an early start on Saturday morning, the crew had been collected, many milesb driven by respective SWMBOs, and we all found ourselves at the waterside, on the Hamble….. Things looked promising. The boat had been launched as promised, and despite having all her seacocks wide open was still afloat…. So far so good….! So, about 10:00in the morning…. A fully victualled boat, with the crew on board…. 4 hectic hours of activity, and we found ourselves ready to set off. We had bent on the sails, stowed god knows how much extra kit, got the GPS up and running, installed the freshly charged battery (taken home the previous weekend), and got the engine started which was one of my great concerns, as she had stood for 2 years prior to me buying her……in fact, she started pretty much on the first turn, albeit with the help of the cold start button, and the decompression lever…. A conspicuously good beginning! So, we slipped, and off we went…. The Hamble amazes me…. Its just hard to believe how many boats there are in such a relatively small piece of water…. Passed them we motored… As we reached Southampton Water, we raised the sails, and shut down the engine….. peace, and joy… after nearly a year of planning and research, I was at last sailing in my own boat… heaven…. If you harbour the same kind of dreams as I have done, then do it… the feeling of satisfaction is unbelievable…. Unfortunately, the wind was quite light, about 8kts, and a Southeasterly… so it was a beat up towards our first planned stopover, Gosport…. Which she seemed to enjoy enormously…. A delight to helm to windward… with the sails balanced up, she was light and responsive on the helm…. Our only real trimming issue was that the leech of the main seemed very open, and we were unable to trim this out with any combination of controls…. My initial reaction to head straight for the kicker revealed that the rod kicker (adjusted by winding up clockwise or unwinding anticlockwise) was fully cranked on… I was a little disappointed with the set of what is after all a nearly brand new set of Hood sails…. Later after much head-scratching we discovered that the kicker was actually completely wound out, to the extent that the threads had started to bind, and she appeared locked right down…. A little brute force, and on she started to wind… easy as anything after the first turn!…. the leech closed right up… and there she was… a lovely main, set like a blade… a real upwind beast! So, after 4 hours of pleasure and passing through the middle (with respect for their racing status) of a HUGE sunsail racing fleet… we dropped the sails, started the engine, and slipped into Haslar for a pleasant evening. The crew decided that the light ship was the venue for the evening, so we decamped to the lightship bar…. A very nice meal, and a couple of good pints later, and the worlds seemed good….. one of the evenings highlights being when a rather drunken member of another crew (from a SunSail fleet) spilt his beer down his oilies, and set his lifejacket off to a very loud cheer! The tide called, and an early rise of 05:00, saw us setting of for what would prove to be the longest passage of the trip, towards Eastbourn. The wind, having built slightly, still teased us, by threatening a great days sailing, but stubbornly, turning due East, meaning a thrash to windward….. we tacked across the desired course for a few hours, making good progress, and having a super sail, but eventually calculated that the required speed towards the destination would require a little better VMG, and with the threat of a turning tide, on came the engine, and we motored for 8 hours…. With hindsight this was a decision we should have perhaps made an hour or so earlier, as we ended up having to plug through the tide around Beachy Head, making a sad 2 kts over the ground. As we had motored for so long, we had used a good deal of fuel…. And the gauge was reading pretty low….not knowing how much fuel this meant we had left, with a new boat, a major concern for me as the skipper was the threat of running out of fuel approaching a lee shore entrance which is tight enough anyway, at very close to Low Water on a big spring…. So a nervous minute for two… I had briefed the crew about the need to be ready to hoist the sails again in a rush…. But, my fears proved unfounded, ands we slipped into Sovereign on the transit, and were admitted straight into the lock….. for those of you permanently berthed there…. What a nice group of guys you have running the office and locks… a very friendly welcome…. with a passage of 65nm logged, It transpired that all of Eastbourne was still shut for the winter, so we decided to eat on board, and planning another early departure, retired to bed, tired at about 21:30!. A 06:30 alarm call, and we were soon up, breakfasted, and ready to go on towards our next destination, Ramsgate…. We slipped at about 07:20, and caught the 07:30 lock….. into the lock, and as instructed, switched off the engine…. As the second gates opened, we tried to start the engine, and nothing!…. a brief panic revealed that the battery selector switch has been moved to between two positions, and switching to Engine only, we soon fired up, and away we went…. I thought nothing more of it…. Maybe I should have, as it was a warning sign of problems ahead….. A forecasted SW 3 to 4 materialised as a variable 0 to 1, with the sea at times glassy, and visibility of about 2 miles….. so we motored again! And we carried on motoring….. the wind despite threatening to appear several times, never quite made it, and we ended up motoring the whole way…. As we approached Dover the visibility started to deteriorate. Fortunately, I had set a course to clear Dover port by over 2M, so despite the visibility reducing to between half and three quarters of a mile, we did have time to spot the ferries, and take avoiding action in time. Twice the boats appeared out of the fog, in both cases silently, with no fog horn that we heard…. In one case we just saw the wash….. The tension was clear in my crew’s faces when I order everyone on deck to listen and watch, and lifejackets on. Such things are designed to test a skipper! This would have been OK, until I explain, that just as we approached Dover, despite the engine running, and having been running for 15 of the last 30 hours, we started to lose electrical equipment….. first the laptop with navigation shut down…. Then the GPS!….. I immediately disconnected and powered down any non necessary electrical equipment, especially the autohelm, and thank god, the GPS restarted and stayed up! I was by this time, plotting our position, course and log very carefully, as I am sure you can imagine!, especially, as we were within a mile of entering the insore passage through Goodwin sands, the NW passage…. Infamous as a wrecker of ships through the last 300 years! I ordered that the engine be left running at all costs, and we continued on, and sighed with great relief as the entrance transit/channel for Ramsgate appeared…. We followed ito in, and took up a berth at Ramsgate Marina….. Holding my breath, I shut the engine down, and then pressed the starter button….. CLICK….. Press CLICK… The switched was moved to the various batteries… in parallel. In isolation… all three dead as dodos…… My decision to leave the engine running was obviously vindicated!….. by why did 12 hours of motoring seme to have not placed any charge at all into any of the batteries? It was by this time, 17:30, and local business had closed for the day…. We did however, get a generous piece of help from a liveaboard boat owner in lending us a battery for the night, which provided us some valuable internal lighting…. Thanks Mark… much appreciated…. We retired to a local hostelry for a bite to eat, and to think through the potential causes… we had some breathing space, as tides suggested a departure of about 10:00 was ideal…..consensus was that the alternator must be knackered… perhaps we had inadvertently blown the diodes when we had not got the switch in the right place at Eastbourne?… but don’t they make before they break for just that reason?…. any way, the alternator seemed like the most likely culprit, so off it came at 08:30 the following morning….we took it to a local electrical business to get it tested… pretty confident that it would be the problem….. they had other jobs to do first, so didn’t get back to us until nearly midday to surprisingly tell us that the Alternator was outputting a healthy 14 plus volts…. Ah. So, we refitted the alternator, and after much testing, decided that it must be the batteries... that three would fail at once seemed highly unlikely, but they had stood for two years….. untouched… but with an wind generator connected…. However, it is possible that they had either died through neglect…. The only other component we could see was the Power Control Unit, a ‘Sure Power’ component which might have been to blame…. It however, seemed to be only dropping 0.4 volts across it, and had continuity in the right places… so was unlikely to be the culprit…. I decided that I needed to replace a three batteries, which upon proper removal where all dated 99 or earlier… so due replacement anyway…. By this time it was 14:00…. I then had a difficult decision to make…. We could cross the Thames estuary under engine….. but we had a possibility of loss of ewlectrical power…. Traditional navigation didn’t concern me…. I am confident in my ability there, but the thought of entering Harwich with no navigation lights didn’t fill me with enthusiasm… plus there were no guarantees that if we stalled the engine for any reason that we would be able to re-start it… so with a Westerly blowing, pushing on towards the Thames sandbanks, and a falling tide, I made the only sensible decision, albeit with a heavy heart, to leave her in Ramsgate for the week, and complete the journey next weekend….. So, after much grovelling to our various SWMBOs, we arranged to be picked up, and taken home….. It was hard work carrying the batteries up to the marina car-park… naturally it was low water, so big climbs up the gangplanks with heavy batteries… I took them, as I want to get them tested to confirm my suspicions, even though they are still 100% being replaced… otherwise I’ll just worry about them….. Final comment…. Lessons learned…. 1] If you don’t have a voltmeter on your battery bank… fit one! 2] When you have fuelling opportunity take it…. That extra 2 gallons could make a big difference! 3] Carry a handheld GPS as a back up… 4] Carry a handheld VHF as a backup 5] Make sure that you test your batteries before a long journey…. And replace them as a matter of course at 4 years old…. They fail quickly, and often without warning 6] Be prepared to make tough decisions… The positive for me, is that we had a good trip, with just the end being different from what was planned….. Secondly, I think that I made good decisions through out the trip… safety was maintained, and we had a safe outcome…. It would have been very easy for a series of poor decisions to have turned this into a very dangerous situation...... and most important of all…. I discovered the pleasure of owning your own boat!

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