Celtic Sea Breakdown

Pippin slipped away from her dock pushed by the dying ebb tide at pretty well exactly 0900, my sleeping neighbour David still abed (he declared he was a 9 hour a night man!).  It is alarmingly shallow – if you prefer a mile beneath your keel as I do – in places, as you head out into the vast Cork  harbour from Crosshaven.  Once again I had the entrance/exit route to myself and made the most of it, plumb down the middle of the ship channel, Pippin pushing hard into a very short sea, her speed barely above 3.5 knots.  It was at this point I realised the forecast was on the optimistic side of reality, as I watched the pilot boat head out to shepherd an incoming tanker, rearing and diving, throwing spray high over her bows.

In the relative quiet of a bay I put a reef in the main, furled the yankee and headed out  in the direction of Land’s End 130 or so nautical miles away.  It was on the rough side for smaller boats, as shallow seas so often are, and it was hitting Pippin on the beam, but she rolled and dived comfortably and charged off at an easy 6.5 knots – what a girl!  Once again I had the feeling that her passenger wasn’t as happy as she.

The master plan was to make direct for Guernsey, if I managed to sleep, or Penzance if not.  Well I managed plenty of rest, but no sleep for the motion of the boat was lively, though I managed to consume almost a whole book by the end of the journey.  During the day the wind was nudging 25 knots, the sea confused, not that Hercule the Hydrovane cared – it was business as usual, come what may for the old trooper.

I saw a few trawlers and not many ships but as dusk fell, a little modern gaff rigged red coloured yacht passed half a mile off, her skipper standing high in red oilskins, battered by the elements.  Tough guy, for she was small but going well.  The only other yacht was a biggie heading rapidly South, West of the Scillies so I guessed for Spain or France.

I always check out the weather and sail plan before nightfall and usually put an additional reef in for the dark hours, so much safer to do in daylight and at 2000 I did just that.  It didn’t slow Pippin and perhaps the motion was a little easier and my radar alarm only disturbed me twice before dawn.  By daybreak the wind was a puppy of 16 knots, though as I had suspected, Pippin’s bowsprit was aiming for the Scillies 40 nautical miles ahead, so I tacked East to close the Cornish coast, crossing North of the TTS (the route ships converge on to clear North and South of the Scillies and Land’s End).

I was just beginning to think things were going pretty well when the engine, which was running in neutral to charge the batteries, after a long day and night powering the fridge and instruments, coughed and died.  I knew exactly why – the primary filter was clogged with the crap I had inherited from a small garage in Spain last year.  I had checked it, and guessed – wrongly – that it would take me home.  These lovely diesels don’t demand much from their boss; just clean oil and fresh diesel and they’ll run forever, and I had failed it.

Well, I have never changed a filter or bled a diesel but I was going to give it a damn good try, though you can imagine the chuntering going on in that wheelhouse just then.  The boat’s motion was all over the place and lifting off the heavy engine box, getting at the fuel filter and trying to find the right spanners, which I knew I had …. somewhere, was taxing for an old git with a bad back.

Fortunately the filter was a new Racor, which I had watched being installed and on which I had been given a verbal brief on draining and changing it.  The engineer had also fitted an electric lift pump for bleeding and boy was I glad he had.   Trying to remember all this, whilst bent over first a smelly fuel filter and then an equally smelly hot diesel engine, combined with Pippin imitating a horse in the Grand National caused the inevitable result – I was violently sick, which also didn’t help.  Fortunately as I cracked each bleed nipple in turn and flicked on the electric pump, first bubbles and then pure fuel flowed in seconds, something that could have taken half an hour or more with the pathetic little Yanmar manual lift pump – if you could reach it at all.

The joy oh the joy, followed by a celebratory vomit, as the engine coughed and ran as sweet as a nut, though I don’t know why a nut is considered sweet in that sense.  Of course the skipper’s amazing brilliance was captured in the log and later I gushed about it to long suffering wife Angie.  I am  not making too much of this because though my theoretical knowledge of basic engine stuff is pretty good, my practical experience is zilch and my confidence not much better.  But being out there, with only your own resources to hand, is a pretty good motivator, and I want to finish my sailing days without a visit from those great guys in their blue and orange boats, the RNLI.

The last hours of the journey down past Longships and round Land’s End into lovely Mounts Bay was a 50:50 motor-sail, both to charge the batteries and to make quite sure the engine was running just fine – which thankfully it was.


Penzance Lugger

Penzance.Harbour Entrance

Penzance Harbour Entrance

My patented method for capturing a mooring buoy solo first time every time (well, almost first time every time), involves running gently alongside the buoy and using a length of chain, each end attached to a rope, which I drop over the buoy (having remembered to attach said ropes to the boat of course, not necessarily a done deal) and put the kettle on, before fitting a proper mooring strop.  35.75 sleepless hours out that tea tasted good and although as the crow flies the journey was only about 155 nautical miles, Pippin had travelled 186 (a further 7 hours) averaging 5.2 knots – about the same as my run from Shetland to Whitehills on the North Scottish coast 4 years before.  It was time to call Angie and brag about my automotive brilliance.


View Across Penzance Harbour

I won’t say yet again how much I adore barmy Penzance Harbour — oops!!  I just have -but I really do.  The harbour guys, who once towed Pippin in when her engine start played up, know the boat now and are always so helpful and friendly.  The shower code is the same as 15 years ago – in fact probably the same as 1989 when they were installed, the few power points are almost all inaccessible, if they are there at all,  and the water hose is likely to be at full stretch 2 boats away.  The office card machine didn’t work 15 years ago, and still doesn’t, but it wouldn’t be Penzance if it was all slick and shiny.  Certainly those pesky twins Elf and Safety haven’t visited, or they would never have approved the rickety ladder up which I gain terra firma, 3 metres above Pippin – a. it is further away than I can safely reach with my little chicken legs and b. it hangs from a chain and groans audibly and wobbles when I haul my bulk up it.  One day, perhaps not so far off, it will give up and collapse into the harbour with whomsoever happens to be on it, and no doubt Penzance will never be the same again.

I am not the only one to be captivated – I recall a Swiss couple who loved the place so much, a one night stop-over turned into a 6 week sojourn, by which time they were growing herbs on the poop deck.  As for Pippin and I, we’ll stay and rest, clean up and wait for nice gentle conditions for a back friendly 24 hour run home across the World’s busiest shipping route.  Disappointed not to be continuing North for further adventures, perhaps even a feeling of failure?  Of course, both those things.  Sensible not to be?  Definitely.  But we will continue cruising for the summer, nearer to home.

Incredibly Pippin is a small boat these days which had the advantage that the 3 very large boats coming in next day were rafted up elsewhere.  Meanwhile I am moored alongside a lovely local gaffer and met the self-build owner.  Its a small World, for he knew of Pippin and her owner 2 back – I suspect he might have been hoping to buy her, but PG got there first.


Penzance.Centre (4)

There is a Chinese restaurant in Penzance, where you can gorge all night at the buffet for less than a tenner – so I did, though probably ate half of what other diners put away.  The lovely waitress noticed immediately when I took a soup bowl and Chinese soup spoon to tackle my lychees for pudding, and brought the correct implements, which I confess I hadn’t spotted; well of course I told her that she had done well, passed the test.  Giggling she then pointed to the fridge full of gateaux, the last line of the buffet, whereupon I explained she would not wish to clear the mess if I tried to scoff a slice of one of those.  I guess she wasn’t used to customers actually not completing the whole course and who admitted they were, frankly, stuffed.  A group of comfortably upholstered ladies at the next table clearly thought I was a wimp and wobbled, salivating, over to the gateaux fridge.

Penzance.Drying Harbour

You can’t have a curry on board Pippin without banana, peanuts and poppadum’s – so it was a real triumph to acquire these on what was very likely the last day in Penzance.  As I write, the sky is blue, the wind pleasantly warm and just brisk enough – true its not quite the best direction to get Pippin home, but we will make the most of whatever hand we are dealt.

In the meantime, a gable notice seemed to sum things up nicely:

“Laughter is the best medicine….

or Gin ….

or Whatever”.


Pippin and her New Friend



By ajay290

2 comments on “Celtic Sea Breakdown

  1. Changing a fuel filter at (lively) sea is what is called an ‘urge’ent repair. I felt quite nauseous reading your description. And only slightly better reading about your chinese meal in Penzance.

    I was watching the gate open one evening, and a bit after it opened, a frenchmsn approached me, to say ” where is the bridge? What has happened to the bridge?”
    Of course, it went sideways with the lock gate, and was invisible in the murky water. I don’t think he believed me when Imsaid it had fallen in the harbour.

    You had a ladder, you were lucky. Imhad two chains, with wooden rungs, free to swing. My lady crew was terified by it.

    I really enjoyed your blog, and hope to read the final chapter (of theis trip) soon

    Best wishes


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