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

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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

If it weren’t for Deb­bie’s quick think­ing, the small fire could have spread to the whole boat

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