Learn­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence

Thomas Bourne takes his fi­ancée on a West Coun­try cruise, hop­ing to turn her into a keen sailor... but the boat engine has other ideas

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

West Coun­try cruise engine trou­bles for a new sail­ing cou­ple

Dur­ing our boat­less 2008 ‘sum­mer cruise’ in my dad’s con­verted Mer­cedes Sprinter camper­van, we parked at the top of the lane lead­ing down to Helford Pas­sage and walked into the vil­lage. Af­ter our evening pint over­look­ing the boats, I’d sunk into what can only be de­scribed as ‘a grump’.

On our way back up the hill, I turned to my fi­ancée Ge­or­gia and told her I’m not com­ing back un­less it’s in our own boat. That evening I started writ­ing let­ters to line up a 2009 moor­ing for a boat I didn’t yet own, let alone could af­ford to run.

Else­where, friend Bean Ni­chol­son, on the point of giv­ing birth, was con­tem­plat­ing the fu­ture of her Contessa 26 Blue Fox. Not long af­ter our trip, she rang me out of the blue: “Thomas, I’m sell­ing Blue Fox,” she said.

“You’re buy­ing her.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing the pur­chase around Christ­mas 2008 I spent sev­eral months in Torquay Ma­rina paint­ing, var­nish­ing and re­pair­ing the join­ery that had pre­vi­ously been de­mol­ished on a rough and tum­ble win­ter pas­sage.

For our first proper cruise, at Easter, Ge­or­gia and I, to­gether with a univer­sity friend, took Blue Fox round from Tor­bay to her new moor­ing at Car­green on the Ta­mar. We weren’t to know it at the time, but this lit­tle cruise, which took in Dit­tisham and Sal­combe, would pro­vide the best weather of a sea­son which was oth­er­wise dom­i­nated by rain and wind.

Ge­or­gia was a rel­a­tive new­comer to sail­ing and, given our im­pend­ing nup­tials, my key aim was not to put her off for life.

We had a num­ber of aborted week­ends when the weather was too un­pleas­ant once we were aboard. An­other time the engine – a Dol­phin petrol 2-stroke – failed us, wa­ter hav­ing found its way through a cor­roded seal on the fuel filler cap and into the petrol.

Even­tu­ally, our sum­mer cruise was at hand, not a mo­ment too soon for ei­ther of us. I’d not had a hol­i­day since Christ­mas (apart from a day sail down the Chan­nel in Jan­uary) and Ge­or­gia was mid-way through an in­ten­sive teacher train­ing course.

Both pretty much on our knees from the pres­sures of work, we fer­vently hoped for a rest­ful first cruise to­gether on our lovely new boat. I watched the weather ev­ery hour for two weeks lead­ing up to de­par­ture and was en­cour­aged that the

Azores high showed signs of branch­ing up to the UK. In the event, the fore­cast­ers were wrong and the jet stream con­tin­ued to usher the At­lantic lows far too close to our pro­posed cruis­ing ground of Corn­wall.

Away at last

Satur­day 15 Au­gust was our de­par­ture date. The tides dic­tated we should come along­side at noon to ship our sup­plies be­fore en­joy­ing the ebb all the way down the Ta­mar and out to sea. At noon we were still at home, pack­ing the car.

By 1330, when I made it to the moor­ing, it be­came ob­vi­ous that the boat’s engine had no in­ten­tion of start­ing, at least not with­out half-flat­ten­ing the bat­ter­ies and caus­ing the first stress of the hol­i­day.

We even­tu­ally cast off and mo­tored down the river to the Mayflower Ma­rina for a cup of tea with friends from the Royal Cruis­ing Club (RCC). That evening we re­paired to the vis­i­tors’ moor­ing on the Yealm to en­joy sup­per and end-of-re­gatta fire­works in New­ton Fer­rers.

The next morn­ing gave us an op­por­tu­nity to stow our gear prop­erly. We de­voted one fore­peak berth to the beach­ing legs, an­other to hard­ware and the other to a crate of onions and po­ta­toes and all our clothes (which soon found their way into dis­or­derly piles around the cabin). The engine took us the half-mile or so to Cel­lars Bay, where it conked out just about where I had planned to drop the an­chor any­way for a sunny spot of lunch and an­other ren­dezvous with friends.

It was fun hav­ing my 4-year-old god­son, Hec­tor, on board with his sib­lings, par­tic­u­larly to hear their anal­y­sis of Blue Fox af­ter be­ing used to their own rather more spa­cious boat.

Rory: “She’s very small.” Hec­tor: “I need the toi­let.”

Tilly: “Where am I go­ing to sleep?” That evening we an­chored off Kingsand in glo­ri­ous weather and ev­ery­thing boded well for the fort­night to come; so good that the morn­ing in­cluded a swim and deck shower for the skip­per be­fore a ba­con sand­wich and cup of proper cof­fee. The hol­i­day was un­der way as planned.

A promis­ing fore­cast of west-south­west Force 4 gave us hope that we could en­joy a fairly civilised beat to Fowey that day and we set off at around 1200.

We en­joyed a fairly fast fetch across Whit­sand Bay in stun­ning sun­shine and closed on Looe at around 1630 to in­ves­ti­gate what turned out to be the na­tional RS200 fleet.

Un­for­tu­nately, that was as far as our luck would take us: af­ter teatime the wind fell light and the sea stayed lumpy un­der a grey sky.

Seek­ing calm

We had a peek into Polperro, which looked lumpy and empty of boats, and de­cided to press on for Fowey.

When con­sid­er­ing mo­tor­ing, I checked the wa­ter trap and found it full of wa­ter and grit. I emp­tied it and got the engine run­ning, but the wa­ter trap soon filled up again with con­tam­i­nants. It was clear that

‘Dur­ing the evening’s tribu­la­tions I promised my fu­ture wife that we’d not leave Fowey un­til the engine was fixed’

the petrol was badly con­tam­i­nated and I couldn’t run the engine fur­ther.

So we drifted on, spend­ing a frus­trat­ing hour or two just out­side the en­trance to Fowey in the gloam­ing.

Even­tu­ally, I lashed the dinghy along­side and used the 2hp out­board to tug us in past St Cather­ine’s Point.

Ar­riv­ing on a moor­ing at around 2130 (nine hours af­ter leav­ing Cawsand Bay) we were just in time for a spec­tac­u­lar fire­work dis­play to mark, we later learnt, the start of the re­gatta rather than our vic­to­ri­ous ar­rival. Curry, wine, rum, the song­book and a ukulele brought our spir­its back into good shape.

Dur­ing that evening’s tribu­la­tions, I promised my fu­ture wife that we would not leave Fowey un­til the engine was prop­erly fixed. Lin­ing up an en­gi­neer proved an im­pos­si­ble task in re­gatta week, but some shore-based re­search gave me a clear idea of what was needed, and that I could do most of it.

Af­ter be­ing shunted onto our own pri­vate barge (the Yel­low Peril, a rust and oil streaked con­trap­tion used by the Fowey har­bour­mas­ter to ser­vice moor­ings over the win­ter), I rolled up my sleeves while Ge­or­gia in­ves­ti­gated the shop­ping fa­cil­i­ties. Fowey har­bour, al­though not cheap, earned my grat­i­tude for help and flex­i­bil­ity.

Flush­ing the fuel tank

I spent most of the fol­low­ing day flush­ing the tank through with 10 litres of clean petrol and then the whole fuel sys­tem down to the car­bu­ret­tor, which had not been badly gunged up. About a teacup full of rust came out of the tank, in­di­cat­ing the ex­tent of the prob­lem.

Once I had fin­ished, I per­suaded a friendly en­gi­neer from Fowey Har­bour Ma­rine to dou­ble check ev­ery­thing was OK, help me jump start the engine (the bat­ter­ies were to­tally flat) and pro­vide me with a new O-ring for the petrol filler cap which had caused all the prob­lems.

We were also well looked af­ter by our neigh­bours on Wave Chief­tain IV, a Fal­mouth dive boat. They charged our bat­ter­ies and light­ened the at­mos­phere.

It was not all bleak in Fowey, par­tic­u­larly in re­gatta week, and we en­joyed some spec­tac­u­lar walks, in­clud­ing one to Lan­tic Bay, and lapped up the du Mau­rier at­mos­phere. The Car­ni­val and Red Arrows fly-past (al­beit a lit­tle shrouded by rain) were real high­lights.

By the time the engine was fixed and we had waited for a near-gale to blow through, har­bour rot had set in. On Fri­day 21 Au­gust we made it out into a west­south­west Force 4 with an easy sea and set off to the Dod­man. Rain squalls brought gusts and we reefed down.

It was fast and fun for the larger cruis­ers rac­ing around us, but the at­trac­tion for Ge­or­gia was wan­ing. Out past the Dod­man it was quite un­com­fort­able, and with an eye to our fu­ture re­la­tion­ship I turned round to seek refuge in Me­vagis­sey.

My run of bad luck with the engine con­tin­ued, this time en­tirely my own fault as I’d for­got­ten to open the cool­ing wa­ter sea­cocks. Ge­or­gia heard the hiss­ing and I turned the engine off be­fore any dam­age was caused.

Me­vagis­sey was bumpy. The vis­i­tors’ moor­ings were out of ac­tion and I had no in­cli­na­tion to lie along­side the wall in the chop, so we mo­tored back out and over to Port Mel­lon. There we found friends on Ca­per. Not for the first time, I took heart by find­ing an­other RCC boat in an an­chor­age. Port Mel­lon has a rocky bot­tom and was quite rolly that night, but is a fine and se­cure al­ter­na­tive to Me­vagis­sey.

The next day the breeze filled in from the south-east and gave us a bumpy ride down to Fal­mouth, par­tic­u­larly when we passed too close to the Dod­man and poor Blue Fox was bumped around in the over­falls. We an­chored off St Mawes for lunch but de­cided to head up­river to bet­ter shel­ter.

Re­stronguet was pretty but ex­posed to the south and not deep enough for us to an­chor clear of the moor­ings. Off Tur­naware Point all the good spots out of the stream were taken. We we car­ried on past King Harry Ferry and Trelis­sick House

to where all the ex­cit­ing ocean-go­ing ships are moored in­con­gru­ously amongst the creeks.

We sniffed into the en­trance to Lamouth/ Cow­lands Creeks, which would have been a nice an­chor­age, but even­tu­ally set­tled on one of the vis­i­tors’ buoys at the Smug­glers Inn at Tolverne (£8 per night, with some rather ec­cen­tric rules).

We lay very com­fort­ably in this peace­ful spot, the stern­ham­per of a cargo ship tow­er­ing above us less than a ca­ble away. Ap­par­ently, it costs £10,000 to have one of these ships tugged up the river, £700 a day to keep her there and £10,000 to go back down, which rather puts Blue Fox’s run­ning costs into per­spec­tive.

The Smug­glers’ Inn has a wel­com­ing bar in the evening and cream tea dur­ing the day, and Trelis­sick House (a short dinghy ride away) is a pleas­ant ex­cur­sion in bad weather.

The fol­low­ing night we went up to drop the hook off the next bend, at the en­trance to Ruan Creek, where I scraped bar­na­cles from the wa­ter­line while Ge­or­gia called out a run­ning com­men­tary of Eng­land’s Ashes win.

The an­chor chain growled might­ily at the turn of the tide, but it was oth­er­wise a peace­ful spot and the hold­ing is se­cure. I re­gret­ted that we didn’t have enough bat­tery power to run the an­chor light as the river, even this far up and late at night, was sur­pris­ingly busy.

The engine’s lat­est trick – the air fil­ter pop­ping off as soon as it is started – did not de­ter us from mo­tor­ing back down the river to­wards Fal­mouth. By this stage, the bat­ter­ies had taken such a ham­mer­ing that they were re­fus­ing to charge prop­erly, adding to my anx­i­ety.

Into Fal­mouth

We picked up enough of a breeze to en­joy a gen­tle beat un­der jib alone into Fal­mouth where we picked up a vis­i­tors’ moor­ing. Had we not been plan­ning a fairly ma­jor run ashore that night and want­ing the se­cu­rity of a buoy, we would have taken ad­van­tage of the fact it is one of the few towns one can an­chor off. Here we met friends on a Contessa 32, which Ge­or­gia made it quite clear she liked.

Af­ter a fine sea bass sup­per and some Bre­ton mu­sic in a har­bour­side pub, we turned in to con­tem­plate our next move.

The next day brought a lovely sail across Fal­mouth Bay in plenty of wind and sun­shine into the Helford River.

At the start of the sea­son, with very lim­ited am­bi­tions, I’d de­cided that if we made it to the Helford, we’d have done well, and I’d have ful­filled my 2008 vow. At the start of our cruise, how­ever, I was barely ex­pect­ing to make it past Fowey.

The only blight on our oth­er­wise lovely visit to this idyl­lic spot (apart from yet more rain and gales) came on our last day. We had been ashore and got back to the boat at around 1700 in­tend­ing to head out to an an­chor­age ready to leave at first light. The har­bour­mas­ter pounced on us ask­ing for the pre­vi­ous night’s fees, mak­ing it clear I was lucky not to be charged an ex­tra night for be­ing on a moor­ing af­ter 1630 and telling us we were mad to be con­sid­er­ing an­chor­ing ‘with this fore­cast’. So we de­fi­antly headed out to Bosa­han Cove for a night dis­turbed only by the chirrup of oys­ter­catch­ers.

When 0715 on Thurs­day 27 Au­gust brought flat calm we crossed our fin­gers and started the engine. It kept go­ing un­til a sail­ing breeze filled in at 0940 and we hoisted full sail. By mid­day the pole was up and we had a few reefs in the jib as we made good time with Ge­or­gia on the helm.

A few hours later we were deep-reefed be­ing chased by a southerly Force 5-6 and a build­ing grey sea, which es­corted us into Ply­mouth and up to our moor­ing at Car­green, 10 hours from Helford.

The six weeks fol­low­ing im­me­di­ately af­ter the end of our cruise were mild, calm and sunny. We had, how­ever, achieved our goal and felt very priv­i­leged to be afloat in such a lovely lit­tle boat.

‘Out past the Dod­man it was quite un­com­fort­able, and with an eye to our fu­ture re­la­tion­ship I turned round to seek refuge in Me­vagis­sey’

A West Coun­try cruise was Thomas Bourne’s sum­mer am­bi­tion

Blue Fox moored up next to the big boys at Tolverne in the Fal Es­tu­ary

West Coun­try bolt hole: Pol­ruan spied from Fowey on a grey day

De­spite the best ef­forts of a re­cal­ci­trant engine, Ge­or­gia grew to love sail­ing aboard Blue Fox

Blue Fox sit­ting qui­etly at an­chor

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