The Kindness of a Stranger

Eleanor Tims, aka Ryllis Tims
Mon 7 Jan 2008 18:06
An alternative title could be "Sea Trials of Both Kinds"!
Avanti had to be rescued from her temporary berth of abandonment in Dartmouth, not only because of the expense of having her moored there, but also because of the distance from home and the impracticability of looking after her.  No electricity or water on a mid-river pontoon.
I needed help.  And a stranger came to help.  Alan J. Morgan.  I could not have had a better aide: a professional skipper who gave four days, four very cold winter days, of his life to helping me bring Avanti back to the berth she had started from two months previously, at Quayside Marina in Southampton.
We studied the predicted weather and found a slot when the winds were supposed to drop right away for two or three days.  Perfect.  So we took various trains down to Paignton, meeting up at Bath Spa en route, where we both had had to change trains.  Taxi from Paignton.  Water taxi in Dartmouth.  And this is where our troubles started, out in the middle of the river, with darkness falling.
Too much wind to leave that evening, which is what we had considered doing.
OK, what is the British solution to every problem?  Put on the kettle, of course; make a cup of tea. 
Only I couldn't.
No gas.  All three tanks empty.  I had been absolutely certain there was a full one, but clearly two had been connected together, while we shivered in Plymouth, before Christmas.
No gas meant also no heating and the boat was icy cold.
Solution?  Dig out the emergency one-ring gas cooker; make a cuppa.
Look at the evening meal.  Ready -prepared, it needed to go in the oven.  Instead it went in the frying pan.  Not the best way to heat a fish pie with prawns, but in an emergency anything goes.
We sat in the cold cold boat, wearing our full out-door clothing; ate our supper and longed for
some whisky.  It was a couple of days before I succeeded in unearthing the secret cache - a half bottle of Bell's.  Joy!
Slept fully clad; up early; listened to the weather forecast.  It made gloomy hearing.  A lot of wind was predicted.
However, we decided to get out of Dartmouth, see what conditions were like out there, but first of all go to Brixham, about 10 miles north up the coast, to fill the two tanks with diesel.
When we got to the marina, there was no sign of the fuelling barge: it had been moved to where it itself could be refilled!  Two hours later, we got our diesel.  By that time there was a Strong Wind Warning out on the radio which was soon upgraded to Gale Warning.  We realised we had to stay put.  Managed to obtain the one and only propane bottle 6kg refill in Brixham.
Another long and cold day.  Alan spent some of it sorting out the rigging on the two masts and inspecting the sails.  He was not impressed at what he found, and I learned things I hadn't known about rigging reefing lines, among much else.
Next morning the weather report gave warning of the possibility of very strong winds.  After a discussion, Alan decided we should set off, (you can well imagine we were pretty fed up), but we were both aware of the fact that once we had left, there would be no turning back, with the wind more or less behind us.
So, off we went: the delivery of Avanti back home had begun.  I was pleased to get the electronic chart working on the computer, showing our track.  Alan had his own gps chart map, which he stuck up in the cockpit in front of the steering wheel.
During the day the wind increased; we had our genoa (foresail) partly out, and our mizzen fully up (that's the small sail on the smaller mast at the back of the boat).  The mainsail could not be used because a fitting had fallen off the end of a batten.  We ran both motors at just under 2000 revs, using the auto-helm.  The sea was building all the time; the wind about force 6; and it was very cold.  Although Alan did the lion's share of the sailing, we did do turn and turn about to an extent, but I tried to provide hot meals three times a day. 
When we were off-watch, I found it difficult to rest because I was so cold!  I'm a person who likes temperatures which start at about 80, and keep going up!  One excellent thing on the boat turned up to be a canvas shelter I had had made, which could totally enclose the cockpit, but allowed good visibility through its large plastic windows.  This enclosure almost completely sheltered us from the following wind.  Without it I felt sure I'd have died of cold!  And yes!  I know some of you will say, "Well, how come you can go skiing and enjoy it?"   The difference is moving and not moving, of course.
While we were en route we made some unhappy discoveries.  One was that the starboard hull had quite a lot of diesel fuel sloshing about in it.  As this is the second time this has happened it's obvious there's a leak somewhere in the pipe-work on that side.  The next discovery was that both engine spaces had water in them.  The electric pump coped with the starboard engine space and adjacent bilges but the port side was a different and an alarming matter.  There was so much water in there that the battery was in danger of being swamped.  When I switched the bilge pump on, it seemed as if I was pumping half the ocean back out, plus a LOT of gear box oil (ATF).
This port engine was the engine and gearbox which had been fixed in Plymouth, when a broken oil seal had been replaced.  We were unable to determine whether the sea water was coming in through the valve which brings the cooling water in, or whether it was coming through the place where the prop-shaft goes out through the boat, because it's impossible to see it; it's under the machinery.  Either way, I found it alarming.  Not only from its being very dangerous, but also because it is going to cost me a lot of money if the boat has to be lifted ashore and engines taken out again.
After 15 hours of motoring, we ended that day in Cowes, found an empty pontoon.  Up by 7 next morning, and to our joy found the weather was perfectly beautiful, and not just cold, it was extremely cold.  When we motored into our berth at Quayside, the pontoon was shiny and slippery with frost.  Someone saw us arrive, though it was still early morning, came to take our lines.  "Didn't expect to see you for a few years" he exclaimed. 
A couple of hours later we both made our way to the train station, thankful to be back in Southampton, and happy to be going home.  I slept for hours and hours, after my shower; I was shattered. 
What now?  Initially, go to Avanti; fill my car with damp bedding and so on, bring it home.  Go back another day and start the unpleasant task of cleaning out the bilges.
After that?  Who knows?  Sell this expensive liability?  I fear I'd get very little for her.  Or, work on her and sail her away in the summer?
On the financial side, this whole sorry saga has cost me nearly £1200, with more expense to come.
On the plus side, I have gained a new friend .  My 'stranger' is Alan Morgan; he has a CV which runs to 5 pages.  Just reading his qualifications and huge amount of experience makes my eyes swivel. He must be the most experienced delivery skipper ever.  He has a web-site too: Blue Water Sailing Adventures.  Below you can see two photos of him.
On the plus-plus side, he is the nicest person and has been so very kind to come and help me with Avanti and to give me so much helpful (and much needed) advice.  Alan, if you see this page, I hope you will realise that I am so very grateful to you.