Azores to Gibraltar Day 6 - It's the first of April - What c ould possibly go wrong?

Martin and Elizabeth Bevan
Sun 2 Apr 2017 01:42

Position                    36:00.47 N 006:13.38 W

Date                          2359 (UTC) Saturday 1 April 2017

Distance run             in 24hrs 159nm over the ground, 157nm through the water

Passage total            948nm over the ground, 935nm through the water

Distance to go          47nm

Planned distance      Ponta Delgada, Azores to Gibraltar 986nm


Yesterday’s position was at the south-east end of the St Vincent Traffic Separation Zone (TSZ) and tonight’s position is 2nm from our waypoint south of the Trafalgar Shoals and at the north west end of the Cape Trafalgar TSZ.  In between the two positions we have, of necessity for going through the Straits of Gibraltar in the northern small vessels channel, crossed first the east going shipping route and then the west going route between the two TSZ’s.  As forecast, at about 1000 the wind dropped away to almost nothing and the engine went on.  With ships in quantity trundling along in both directions and it being All Fool’s Day, what could possibly go wrong?  Well after nearly seven years away, 50,000nm under the keel and for the first time the engine decided to stop.  First when restarted it ran for 15 minutes or so but then it stopped again.  In the absence of a genoa, forward speed went down to just over one knot, barely enough to maintain steerage.


Fault indications appeared on the Engine Control Unit but whilst I have books to tell me what the fault codes are I could find no reference on how to extract the codes from the unit; there is a sequence of button presses to reveal the codes but I could neither remember what they were or find them in the extensive manuals.  Who to call who firstly would understand the nature of the problem, secondly had good internet access to look it up and thirdly was in a suitable time zone?  First try Steve Bunting in the UK, early afternoon.  Elspeth was in and answered the phone but Steve had gone to a Rugby Club lunch.  Second call, Sid Shaw in Washington DC, 0930.  Sid was definitely up for the chase; however, this particular piece of information is well hidden.  I suspect it is a secret squirrel job and only imparted to Volvo Engineers in mysterious ceremonies with dreadful penalties for disclosure to the uninitiated.  Certainly, it was not going to reveal itself through Google but thank you Sid for trying.


Our engine is designed to meet international emission control regulations.  To do this Volvo employ electronics and the engine is therefore far too dependent on sensors and control units for a piece of equipment that takes you to remote places.  We have got away with it but not without hidden fears of the consequences of a failure away from assistance.  The result of this fear is that the first suspect for any problem tends to be in the intricacies of the machine.  In the absence of fault codes and starting again with basics of what we could do rather than what we could not, further investigation revealed the nature of the problem.  When the engine was running the simple mechanical pressure gauge on the boat’s main diesel filters showed very low pressure which indicated a blocked filter.  This reduced diesel flow and would be enough to upset the engine’s electronic control and make it shut down.  Why it should be blocked is something to be investigated; for the time being switching over to the second filter made for a happy engine once more – and a relieved and happy crew.


Having got that lot off my chest, and recorded so that in the future I do not forget the “what the H**L do we do next” moment, let us look at where we are at midnight.


In daylight, the effect is not, I suspect, quite as evocative as there is little to see other than ships until you get into the Straits.  At night, however, you have the lights.  To the south of us we have the lights from ships streaming towards or away from the Straits of Gibraltar.  To the north west we have the lights of ships at anchor off the shoals of Cape Trafalgar.  Then there are the light houses, to the north at Barbate, just east of Cape Trafalgar and to the south the flashing three every ten seconds of Cape Ceres at Tangiers.  To help all this along you then have 200 metres of ship coming towards us, outside the TSZ and passing three quarters of mile to the north where you would not probably expect it to be.


The magic of an exceptional night watch as we wait for the dawn to appear, hopefully by that time through the Straits and with the sun coming up behind the Rock just as it did when we passed this way in October 2010 on our way south towards the Canaries and our first major ocean crossing.  Along time ago in years, in miles and in experiences.