‘Equinox’ makes passage from Dartmouth to Plymouth

We bring the second of three parts from the skipper’s account of ‘Equinox’, a Cornish Crabber 24, taking part in the OGA50 ‘Round Britain Challenge’ as one of the Relay boats. On passage from Dartmouth, there’s trouble with the engine, but safely ashore in the Mayflower Marina, illustrated by Ben Collins, the single-handed skipper joins the extended OGA parties in Plymouth for the stormbound fleet, and attempts to fix the engine for the return passage to Chichester.

A short hop the next day to Dartmouth was well worth making. It’s beautiful, the sun shone and as it’s not yet summer, relatively empty of boats and tourists. A two hour jaunt up river in the tender with my little Seagull purring away, the highlight. Both me and the ducks coughing in the 10:1 fuel oil mix! I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was after this my luck seemed to desert me.

Motor sailing out of Dartmouth at 8am into a strong gusty wind, annoyingly bang on the nose, made for slow progress; eventually we sailed into Plymouth Sound taking the Eastern Sound and clearing the massive breakwater just before 9pm. Made worse, by the engine alarm sounding again as, getting tired and with the light fading, I resorted to starting it to clear the final headland.

For some reason throughout the whole passage I just couldn’t get ‘Equinox’ into any kind of rhythm; she kept getting knocked to a virtual standstill by the confused seas, which made for painfully slow progress, especially in the proximity of the headlands. With hindsight I made the mistake of short tacking to keep the beautiful coastline in view. And now, to cap it all within a mile or two of a warm pub, I’ve to contend with a hollow exhaust note and steam venting out and that piercing alarm again!

With engine off, progress against the ebb tide was painfully slow before I came within grapeshot range of my destination, Mayflower Marina. From the berthing master came advice on the VHF that my allocated berth suffered quite a rip through it, the flow taking me sideways off my pontoon at a knot!

An alternative was not offered, despite saying I was on my own with engine trouble. But by the time I had got to within a few hundred metres of the marina my engine must have been stone cold, so reckoned I had a little over two minutes of use before I had to shut it down to avoid permanent damage! Needless to say, it’s rather stressful on your own in an unfamiliar marina, hoping you’ve got the berthing master’s tortuous route instructions to your allocated berth right with a deafening alarm jangling every sinew in your body as you make your final approach! Friendly hands including the berthing master came to the rescue while I tied on. A large Scotch did the trick and calmed ragged nerves!

Three days in Plymouth, so time to try and get to the bottom of the overheating problem. Yet again I stripped down the pump, fitted another new impeller and forced water backwards through the Kingston Cock and then through the engine using a pontoon hose, everything clear as a bell.  Assembled, it pumped again, but, I’m uneasy, I still haven’t found the root problem. It appears that as soon as the boat is either heeling or bouncing around the water content of the engine flows back out past the impeller; so the next time you start up, the pump has to completely refill the engine; assuming it will, given sufficient time. But I don’t have the courage to wait that long, as the alarm by now has long deafened.

Phone calls to marine engineers back in Chichester and in Plymouth provided little comfort. I had gone through the same routine they would have done to form their diagnosis. A worn pump body seemingly the most likely culprit; yet it looked fine, no score marks. Checking the thermostat will have to wait. I don’t have a replacement gasket.

Mayflower Marina in Plymouth was epic. Good showers and facilities, everything a sailor needs close by, including a great watering hole ‘Jolly Jacks’ with Doom Bar on tap and really excellent food. The Dutch OGA contingent are great fun as were the SW OGA members, our hosts. Two musical nights in the bar, one with French dancers and musicians keeping us entertained on accordions, Breton bagpipes and strange French wind instruments like chanters or small oboes. The tunes and dances unchanged for many a decade were beautiful, enchanting and moving to watch, delicate little steps that I gather may have evolved from clog wearing, which I learnt the Bretons wore. On the other night, a repertoire of folk songs accompanied by a guitar, including of course, the Gaffer’s Anthem, ‘there were white ones and white ones, and white ones all made out of ticky tacky, etc., to the tune of ‘messing about on the river’. Those who had not heard it before in fits of laughter. Time to go, I’m settling in!

With an important wedding to attend on the 16th I was under growing pressure to head back East, the weather forecast unforgiving. The concept of sailing to the Scillies sadly abandoned as our time in Plymouth was accompanied by squalls rushing through one after another. Not helped, by my cooking sausages onboard one evening, which promptly decided they preferred being ‘ground bait’ rather than human nourishment; so I returned them to the sea over the stern in a very undignified manner! Just what you need before a long passage – a dose of self inflicted food poisoning!

A short window was forecast before a new Low eased its way in from the SW helped me cement a plan to sail to first Studland Bay; sailing ahead of it as a first leg, then onto Chichester as the second. I was still feeling the effects of my unwholesome sausages but set about fish and chips at Jolly Jacks as ballast for the following day, which I knew was going to be tough but expecting to be in the familiar more sheltered waters of the Solent before the worst of it arrived.