Sunday, 29 November 2015

Change of Tack

Our last blog post may have caused some confusion, for which we apologise. In describing our maiden voyage in Seahorse, Alex was reflecting back on the trip which took place in the summer of 2014. We have not moved her from Lanzarote since, although we plan on doing so very soon.

Enjoying the sunshine at Marina Lanzarote, with our friends Andrew and Juliet

In my last post, I described our plan to move to a boatyard in Gran Canaria at the start of November. Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, our plan has changed and this is no longer the case. Seahorse is currently still on Lanzarote. When discussing our plans with another yachtie at the marina, we discovered that he had experienced problems with the yard on Gran Canaria, with respect to being allowed to work on his own boat (or not, as the case may be). Given the fact that we plan on doing most of the work ourselves, and had not been able to obtain explicit permission from the yard that we would be able to do this, we decided not to take the risk and cancelled our reservation.

We've also had some very wet weather, with large amounts of rainfall

Back to square one, we began looking for other suitable boatyards in the Canaries, which would definitely let us work on Seahorse ourselves. By happy coincidence, a day or so later, a yacht arrived on the pontoon opposite us with a familiar face aboard. It was Fran, a friend of Firebird's new owner on Tenerife, who was sailing on a yacht with two other friends around the islands. It was really nice to catch up with him, and meet his friends. Through chatting with them over the course of their stay, we learned that the yacht they were sailing on had spent time in the boatyard at Marina San Miguel on Tenerife, and the owner had found it to be a very good yard which allowed owners to live aboard and do the work themselves. We had enjoyed our stay in the marina itself whilst on Firebird (although, it is slightly isolated and at the bottom of a rather large hill) and so this became a viable option for us to consider.

Lanzarote's drainage didn't seem to be able to cope with all the water

Fran spoke to the marina manager on our behalf, and discovered that they would have room for us in the yard from the end of December. He also told us that he knew of another steel boat who had spent time in the yard, and would be able to recommend a very good welder if we should need one. We really started to feel positive about going to Tenerife, which has a wealth of chandleries and supplies in the capital Santa Cruz, and where we would have some local friends who may be able to help us in terms of valuable local knowledge. Our plan began to evolve into staying in Lanzarote until our mooring expired (7th December) and then setting sail for Tenerife.

Captain Cook managed to rustle us up a pumpkin pie... using just a frying pan!

Meanwhile, besides the planning, we have been making great progress on clearing excess weight off the boat. This may be hard to believe, but we actually hit the 300kg mark on our progress chart. It's amazing how all the small things begin to add up – even foreign language pages from instruction manuals have been expelled, and the grams soon amount to kilograms. Every little helps. Seahorse is now sitting a lot higher in the water, and feels much more buoyant. We celebrated our 300kg milestone with a breakfast at the Arrecife Gran Hotel (after which we probably brought a few extra kilos of body weight each back on to the boat, but never mind).

Alex enjoying unlimited buffet breakfast for only €12 each at the Arrecife Gran Hotel, having reached our 300kg milestone

As well as shifting weight, we have a good deal more space on board now, and can now sleep in the forward cabin at night – luxury! For a while, this meant being unable to sit in the saloon, with the benches being taken up by sails, but we soon cleared enough space in the aft cabin to accommodate these. Additionally, Alex installed our decent foot pump in the galley and we filled the water tank, meaning we now have running water! Progress indeed. She is slowly taking shape, and becoming a lot easier to live aboard. Of course, this will all change once we get her to the yard and start pulling her to pieces, but for the time being our quality of life has much improved.

We can now sleep in the forward cabin, having cleared
Seahorse's sail wardrobe out of it

So, December is fast approaching and we will soon be on our way again. Hopefully our next voyage will be less eventful than our maiden one, and perhaps we will even be able to raise our sails on this trip! We hope that we can coax our ageing engine into service for us just a few more times, to help us reach our destination, whereby we can retire it and eventually replace it with our new Beta engine. Exciting times, and a good deal of hard work ahead of us, which we are eager to begin. No doubt it will be the New Year before we can really start our refit in earnest, but just to have arrived at the boatyard where the work will be taking place will feel like a big step forward for us, and one that I very much look forward taking.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Maiden Voyage

Kate enjoying our maiden trip on Seahorse, with Fuerteventura in the background.
That smile, and the calm waters, wouldn't last.

"Alex, there's a flashing light"

My eyes snap open and in the darkness I'm thrust into that strange post-waking state of being fully alert, but completely confused as to where I am.  It takes a couple of seconds to shake the fog of confusion from my mind.  Ah yes, I'm on Seahorse, halfway between Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, motoring into the wind and swell.  The first trip of our new boat.  I fumble for my head torch and check my watch in the red glow of it's night-vision preserving mode.  02:30.  I shouldn't be back on watch for another thirty minutes.

"How far away is it?"
"No, not that kind of light, it's on the dashboard"

Anything out of the ordinary while offshore at night immediately grips me with a primal gut feeling of negative emotion and racing adrenaline.  On an as-yet strange boat that we know next to nothing about, the feeling is especially intense.

I slip out of my sleeping bag and poke my head out of the companionway to make an inspection.  The dash is a sparse affair.  There are a couple of gauges, a rusty key in the ignition with a green light next to it to tell you that the ignition is on, a faded yellow button that engages the starter motor, and a small orange light.  As Kate observed, this little orange light had started to slowly flash.  It's immediately obvious, despite the complete lack of markings, that this light is not flashing in celebration.  It's not telling us that we made a fine choice in the diesel we purchased and that the engine is running particularly well.  No, the engineer who decided to add this little light did so to tell us that something is wrong, but what?  My brain does a sub-conscious evaluation of the situation and lets me know the most probable issue.

"I think it must be the alternator.  Let's lift the hatch and have a look"

The engine is situated beneath the cockpit sole on Seahorse.  As Kate bent down to lift the floor panel, I was running through what we might find.  I was thinking that maybe the alternator belt had snapped or slipped off, or possibly a wire had vibrated loose.  What I definitely was not expecting, when Kate lifted the hatch off, was to be met in the face by an absolute torrent of water spraying out of the engine bay.

This trip wasn't going well.  We had only travelled about 40 miles in our new boat and now, in the middle of the night, she was sinking.

This was actually the second time we had to lift the engine cover in a hurry.  The first time was as we were leaving Gran Tarajal marina.  I had started the engine, checked I could engage forward and reverse gears, then Kate slipped the lines so we could leave our berth.  I reversed out, straightened her up using a bit of forward prop wash over the rudder and was now nicely aligned between the rows of boats, pointing towards the rocks at the edge of the marina with the open end of our channel behind us.  All I had to do was engage reverse again and motor straight back.  Nothing could be simpler, except that when I engaged the reverse gear, nothing happened.  RPMs increased as I applied more aft power, but it seemed that we were still in neutral.  I tried again and still nothing.  Now I was beginning to panic because we were being blown sideways, onto the row of boats opposite us.

We were in a right spot of bother.  We no longer had any lines ashore, there was no one there to take one if we wanted to throw one, and we were soon going to smash and scrape the bows and sterns of four or five boats.  The first thought that occurred to me was to jump in and swim back to our pontoon with a mooring line, so I could pull Seahorse away from danger.  The chances of succeeding in time seemed limited so I quickly dismissed the idea, ripped the cockpit floor up and in a last-ditch effort to save the day, stamped on the gear lever with my foot.

The engine is below the cockpit sole
It worked!  We slipped backwards down the channel, engaged forward gear again and motored happily onwards, right up until the point when I was getting a face full of the Atlantic Ocean, gushing out of our engine bay.

I sprung into action, attaching the bilge pump handle and getting to work.  It is generally known that nothing is faster at emptying water from a boat than a scared man with a bucket.  It turns out that a scared man and a manual bilge pump works pretty good as well.

Upon discovering a leak, the first priority, instead of pumping, should be to discover where the leak is coming from and trying to figure out a way to stop it.  I couldn't easily inspect the area, however,  because the engine was running and it would be dangerous to lean down there, especially as the boat was ploughing through quite a large swell by this time.  I didn't want to stop the engine, because with the low voltage warning that was flashing, we probably wouldn't be able to start it again, so I just had to hope that I could pump the water out faster than it was coming in.

It soon became apparent that I could, and the water wasn't actually gushing in as fast as it had seemed.  A relatively slow leak had filled the engine bay to the point where the alternator belt had become submerged.  This had the effect of spraying water at high speed upwards, heavily dousing the alternator and stopping it from working.

Once I had pumped the water below the level of the belt, the apparent gushing stopped and it wasn't too long before I had cleared all the water.  Still being dark and dangerous to properly inspect the engine bay, we closed the cover and kept pumping every twenty minutes or so, to keep the water level down.

All the excitement of thinking we were going to sink had nicely displaced my other worry: was I going to be able to moor successfully when we reached Marina Lanzarote, or would reverse gear fail me again?

Thankfully, we did manage OK when the time came, although we hung around outside the marina until 08:00, when staff would be on hand to take our lines should we need it.

Enjoying fried egg sandwiches.  At this point, we were still having great fun

Once we were safely tied up, a friendly Dutch man came over for a chat.  He had recognised the boat, but was wondering where the owner was, not realising that we had just bought Seahorse.  The story about our trouble with reverse gear came out and he told me that the previous owner had experienced a similar problem, and had said that he was going to Gran Tarajal (where we bought Seahorse from him) to get the issue fixed.  Well I guess that after we approached him about buying Seahorse, he decided that it wasn't his problem any more.  Nice of him to warn us about it before we set off!  What with that, and the leak in the engine bay, it's no wonder that he made his excuses at the last minute and hadn't wanted to accompany us on the voyage from Fuerteventura to Lanzarote, which he had agreed to up until the point he had taken our money and we had paid the outstanding marina fees for Seahorse.