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Sunday, 25 April 2010

Unveiling the mystery of the marine diesel engine

Back to school in Morcambe for a one day course in diesel engine maintenance yesterday. It's not as exciting as sailing but it's something we need to know about. So today it's seawater filters, water fuel filters, fine filters and impellers.
When I bought my first car back in the 60s I did quite a bit of tinkering with engines, although they were petrol, but the bit's of engine exploded on the table looked vaguely familiar.

Seems that marine engines, which are diesel, are just a bit simpler with fewer bits to go wrong, although I learned that sea water is not very kind to them. But if we stick to the manufactures recommended checks and regular maintenance then they should go on for years with very little trouble, so that was reassuring.

John, our tutor, led us out to a lock up where he unveiled his practice engine mounted in a small trailer. With one pipe stuck in a bucket and a big rubber exhaust pipe in another we tinkered with changing filters and tensioning the alternator belt. Then the big moment came as John hit the starter button. The poor old engine, rescued from some long gone tub coughed and spluttered but refused to kick into action. Johns partner in this enterprise, Ken looked on hopefully as the garage filled with pungent smoke but she wouldn't start. Ken reckons it's the valves that need grinding in as it's been standing too long and has lost its compression. We were losing interest as starting the engine wasn't a big priority, and the fumes were just getting too much for everyone. Give it one more go said Ken, but thankfully John said no.

Anyway we've got a good working knowledge now of engines, the mystery has been unveiled and we feel more confident that when our engine fails out at sea we'll know what we can fix, what we can't fix and the wisdom to know the difference.

The only fly in the ointment as far as I can see is that our practice engine was very accessible where as most of the pictures I have seen of boats for sale seem to have very little access coupled with a series of previous owners additions to the wiring and the plumbing making for a very chaotic engine room, or should I say cubby hole. But if they seldom go wrong then maybe Jackie won't have to crawl about there too often.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Now we're Day Skippers

Largs Marina, Sunday March 29th
We meet with Tobe, Pat, Derek and our skipper/instructor Brian and the 41ft Hanse SV Bolero for our 5 day RYA Day skipper practical sailing course. The forecast for the week is for strong north easterly winds and temperatures down to zero.

We set out on Monday at 10am under leaden skys and head out into the sound for some MOB practice, short for man overboard, and some lessons in heaving to,..... that's stopping a boat under sail. It was a bit windy, maybe force 5 or 6 and decidedly chilly; at lunch we sought shelter in a small bay on the Isle of Bute, where it was still very raw. In the afternoon we practised points of sail before heading for Rothsay harbour where we would spend the night.

By the time we berthed in the harbour the wind had begun to really blow and the forecast on the VHF sounded decidedly bleak for the next 24 hours.
Brian had called his boss Steve back in Largs who suggested we head back tomorrow and cancel the course because the forecast wasn't going to allow us to continue but by the morning there was no way we were going anywhere.

On the harbour front we are leaning at 45 degrees into the wind with rain pelting down and a chill factor that feels like we've come sailing in the Arctic. All day tuesday we hunkered down, read a book, snoozed and whiled away the time. Every time I go out into the cockpit for a smoke I'm overawed by the ferocity of the storm, this is almost Easter for Gods sake.Even the car ferry is cancelled, which never happens, seemingly. We're all resigned to going home and rescheduling the course but by Wednesday morning, even though it's bitterly cold and still blowing at force 5 to six we're told that the course will go on.

The Foul weather gear that we hired does its job but my fingers, toes and face are so cold that it hurts, but the wind is up and the sailing is exciting. We decide to follow our passage plan we made yesterday and head up to Holy Loch. It's a lot of tacking to make way, and we have to abandon our exact plan to get to where we're going but this is what they call pilotage and our bearings and waypoints are spot on, which bring us into Holy Loch Marina where we run aground. This, it turns out is not because we miscalculated the tide, but because of an undredged berth,....... it' not our fault.

Thursday morning is bright and clear, and the surrounding mountains covered in snow look spectacular. It's still blowing strong though and our Skipper has a tricky exit from the pontoon, catching a stowed anchor on the adjacent boat, whoops, but it's only a small scratch. Manoeuvring a 41ft yacht in a tight space, especially as he's never sailed this boat before, is not a piece of cake I can tell you.
We sail round to the open side of the pontoon and practice docking, which with the high winds was not easy but we all do well with this. Next up is sailing onto a mooring bouy, learning to spill the sails to slow down. Suddenly from out of nowhere the wind gets up and we're in a fierce hailstorm, time to tie up for lunch till it passes.

We plan another passage of about 12 miles which takes us to a marina just north of Greenock for dinner before our night sail back to Rothsay harbour. The night sail takes us about four hours, and just after we set off we're visited by a high speed police RIB. They tell us that a nuclear submarine will be following us out, and we need to stay out of it's way. Ferries criss cross our path so we need to keep vigilant at all times, this is a very busy area. As the dark descends it also gets very cold as we all scan the dark waters for various lights that mark our way. The night sky is crystal clear as the stars drift above our masthead and by the time we reach Bute, and Rothsay harbour the sea is almost flat calm.

This is where we sat hunkered down on Tuesday, and now it looks serene, it's a totally different place altogether. Although its gone 11pm there's a pub that still open so we all head off for a well earned drink, for me a double scotch to warm my frozen bones before turning in for our last night aboard.

Our Friday morning sail back to Largs is under a clear blue sky and a strong westerly which zips us along with Jackie at the Helm. At points we touch over 8 knots which is exhilarating stuff, with full sails up Bolero flies through the water and I do believe we have now got the hang of sailing.

Back at Largs marina we find out that we've passed our practical course and are now Tidal day skippers, official, with certificates to prove it.

This week has been brilliant, even if the weather has been at times horrendous, it has confirmed that we love doing this, whatever the weather. Although I must say that the Caribbean appeals so much more than Scotland, but saying that, this is a very beautiful place to learn to sail, if just a little too cold for my liking.

So from buying those full length deck boots last August to Day Skippers in March is no mean feat, but hey we did it. Next up is coastal skipper and ocean passage making and some courses in radio and diesel engines. We're on course and on schedule for our big adventure in late 2011.