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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Not exactly sinking

Tuesday we were told at the 9.30 briefing we were to sail to Laka in Paxos, a distance of some 20 miles south, the wind was forecast force 4 to 5 from the south east. We had a slight delay getting away as we had to wait for the lead crew captain to change one of our main sheet jammers that had been slipping yesterday, this meant that by the time we got away it was almost 11am. It later transpired that this replacement was almost as bad as the old one, but that was to be the least of our problems today.

We had been warned about lazy lines, they're ropes that lie in the water to tie your boat onto and can foul your prop, so you have to be extra careful as you leave the quay. I'm on the helm as we drift away from the quay, Jackie insists I should wait a little longer before putting her into gear but I'm keen to show off my getting underway skills and ignore her advice.

I push the tiller hard to starboard, engage the engine, and line her up with the port exit when the engine suddenly dies. I try starting her again but she instantly stops. We've snagged a line, we've got prop wrap. Sciroco, Sciroco,(thats our lead boat) this is Othoni, I think we've got a lazy line around our propeller.

This requires Hannah, one of the lead crew, to come over in their dingy who has to dive down and free the offending line from round our prop. This is not the best of starts and it's another half an hour before we're underway again. Luckily most of the flotilla have left by now so miss our embarrassing start to todays' voyage, Hannah wants Tom, the engineer to come and check that all is OK for us to go but Tom, , doesn't think it necessary to check it. We're drifting perilously close to a menacing looking rusty metal jetty when he radios to say that all should be fine. If the engine fires up we'll be OK to get on our way. When I press the start button the engine coughs into life and we sheepishly putter out into the open water beyond the harbour.

Once we're clear of the harbour and headland the seas are considerably bigger and choppier than yesterday and the wind is coming directly from the way we want to go. From our training we know that we can't sail into the wind and will have to tack our way south. Jackie has marked a waypoint on the chart which is about three miles off the coast where we will head before turning south. On reflection, the next day we realise that this was perhaps a mistake, but at the time it gave us a point to aim at. We turn into the wind and hoist the sails, main sail first, then the jib. With the wind blowing on our beam, that's the side of the boat, Othoni takes off at a pace, heals over and scampers off at a steady four knots, sometimes touching five.

About half an hour into our exhilarating sail I notice that we have a trickle of water seeping from the engine cowling which seems to becoming more of a flow with every passing minute. The floor of our cabin is very wet, not that we're actually sinking but we decide it's serious enough to call up Sirocco on the VHF. Scirroco Scirroco this is Othoni, over, Go ahead Othoni, Erm, not sure if this is serious but we've sprung a leak, over.

They are a few miles ahead of us and ask us to heave to. this is a way you can stop a sailboat, and as Jackie has accidently learned how to do this once or twice since we started this morning,we do, and they turn back to come check us out. This takes them about half an hour to find us and Tom leaps aboard to see what the problem is. He removes the bits around the engine and scrabbles around the back of it to check on our leak. After about ten minutes he declares all is well and that the prop wrap may have allowed some water into the boat. However there's none coming in now and this water is just old stuff sloshing about once we started sailing, and healed over.

He gives us the OK to carry on but suggests we keep an eye on it and pump the bilges occasionally. The only thing is we can't find the bilge pump handle. He gives us a spare off Sciroco, but it doesn't fit. "Have you got a wooden spoon on board?" Yes we've got one of them, OK he say's that should do as a makeshift pump handle, and we'll sort out a proper one when you get to Laka in Paxos. Great well that's reassuring, at least we'll be able to use the pump if things take a turn for the worse. We don't have cause to use the wooden spoon on the rest of this voyage but when we do try it the next day whilst in port it makes two or three pumps before snapping.