I accidentally set my Sunseeker on fire
DEBBIE GREEN: I thought nothing of having a candle lighter on board my boat. But when I saw smoke billowing from the galley, I knew I was in imminent danger
Summer 2016, and I’d taken a week off to enjoy my Sunseeker 31 Offshore, Americano. I keep the boat in the Royal Southern Yacht Club marina on the Hamble, and as it was Cowes Week, five friends and I took the opportunity to visit the Isle of Wight and see what was happening during the celebrations.
We stopped for lunch at Yarmouth, picking up one of the visitor mooring buoys ranged just outside the harbour mouth. The Yarmouth Harbour launch took our fees as usual, and we settled down to a pleasant meal. After lunch, I brought out the Danish pastries and lit the gas stove, using the candle lighter I keep in the cutlery draw, to boil a kettle and make a cup of tea. Once it was lit, I dropped the lighter back in the drawer and slid it shut.
It was only when we were all back in the cockpit that we noticed smoke billowing from the galley. I immediately isolated the gas supply and put out a Mayday as we were in serious imminent danger with no means of abandoning ship.
The call was received by Solent Coastguard but also, as it happened, picked up by Yarmouth Harbour. I’d bought a Go Earth JE-150 aerosol fire extinguisher and as it was to hand, I gathered it up and pointed it at what I hoped was the general vicinity of the fire. At that point, I did not know exactly where the fire was coming from. To my immense relief, the fire went out in seconds, and the drama was very quickly over.
Meanwhile, the Yarmouth Harbour launch, having heard the Mayday, was quickly alongside and we evacuated the boat and were taken ashore. The fire brigade and the RNLI were there waiting for us, as was an ambulance, the crew of which checked us for smoke inhalation and gave us a clean bill of health. The lifeboat took firefighters out to the boat, and they stood off initially to assess the situation before boarding (quite sensibly, given that there is a gas system on the boat, and I’d just filled up with £500 worth of petrol!)
Once happy there was no imminent danger, they boarded and checked my boat. They reported that the fire was completely out and that the boat was safe to enter. My boat was later towed to the harbour. There was virtually no mess caused by the fire extinguisher.
The fire brigade told me that it appeared that the residual heat or a stuck trigger from the portable gas lighter had set the cutlery drawer on fire. I was able to quickly clear up the small amount of mess, and incredibly there was virtually no damage to the boat. That evening, we were even able to entertain a friend on board and he didn’t even realise there had been a fire until we told him. What could have been a serious disaster turned out to be no more than a minor inconvenience. Another friend later repaired the back of the drawer in return for a bottle of wine – the drawer front was undamaged.
However, I learned two very important lessons that I’m keen to impart. The first is never to have a pressurised gas-powered candle lighter on a boat. The RYA, I found out later, actually offer this advice themselves. I won’t even have one in the house now. Long-handled safety matches with the box kept somewhere visible are the way forward, with the match doused in water before being discarded.
The second lesson, perhaps slightly bizarrely, is always back up your mobile phone. It was only after we abandoned ship in such a hurry that I realised my phone was on board (along with my handbag containing my purse), and that it was the only source of every phone number and contact that I had.
With no way of exiting the cockpit and no idea where the fire was coming from, I grabbed an extinguisher and put out a Mayday