More of that later…Heydays is finally on the move again after a summer where we have been doing things other than floating around on our bit of Moody plastic, although Yee Tak and James had a week just lazing around on the river and a brief foray out into the sea with granddaughter for her first time on the boat.
Our original plan had been to mooch over to Southern Ireland and explore Wexford, Waterford and Cork before heading to the Scillies and then a trundle East and home. However, hospital appointments conspire against us and we finally slip the mooring at Rudders around 5pm on Saturday 16th September. Rudders was a great place to leave Heydays and despite a few damp trips in the tender we would very happily visit again and explore Pembrokeshire some more.
We have now decided to miss Ireland this time and head instead for Newlyn, where we will pick up Yee Tak and Chris with a plan to spend a few days in the Scillies before perhaps leaving Heydays in Falmouth or thereabouts while we return home again for yet more domestic stuff.
With a forecast F4 or 5 occasionally 6 from the North and a sea state of slight we settle in for a run across the outer reaches of the Bristol Channel and a quiet but longish night. With 10 hours of darkness ahead, we are already missing the short not-quite-nights of our summer days in Scotland. The sea is definitely more than slight and gives us a very short yet steep chop over the stern. The autohelm struggles to keep a steady course and the wind is nowhere near F4. Every sea shakes what little wind there is out of the sails and once more we need to motor-sail to keep up sufficient speed to get us to Runnel Stone off Lands End before the tide turns. As darkness creeps over us, we settle into a watch routine and have a fishing boat and another yacht for company, albeit some distance off. Occasional bursts of torrential rain add to the discomfort of a rather violent motion and a few flashes of distant lightening do little to cheer us up. Nothing like sitting on the sea with a huge metal pole sticking up amidst a thunderstorm…this is not what was forecast.
The night trundles on and around 3.30 a very sodden John retires thankfully below while James huddles under the spray hood. The radar is reassuring and we have overtaken the yacht a few hours ago. No sooner than John shuts his eyes than the engine dies. This provokes instant reaction and all thoughts of sleep vanish. We go through the routine of trying to restart without success and finally accept that we are going to have to bleed the diesel lines through…not a great prospect in a heaving boat…
Bleeding yields no success. In fact it yields no trace of diesel at all. This is worrying as we should have at least 90L of fuel, enough for around 35-40 hours of constant motoring. We manage to put another 15L into the tank from our reserve cans but to no avail. Next step…filter change. This shows finally the true extent of the problem. A black slimy sludge lies across the top and we have read enough to know that we have diesel bug. Enter Klebsiella, Candida and Cladosporium. These are the diesel equivalent of STDs. We wouldn’t have minded but we never refuelled without the full protection of biocides and inhibitors.
The fuel line is completely blocked and we gradually accept the fact that we are not going to get the engine running again without some major work and certainly not something we can attempt at sea. However we are a sailing boat so we will sail out of trouble…By now, dawn is breaking and the sun brings a lessening of the sea but sadly no more wind. In the last 3 hours we have made just 8 miles and we start to wonder if we will make the tide gate off Lands End. There are few options open to us…the north Cornwall coast is notoriously inhospitable with neither Padstow nor St Ives especially easy to enter and certainly not without an engine. Pressing on is the best bet and yet we doubt if we have enough wind to get us to Runnel Stone. We also doubt that we will be able to stem the adverse tide that will then be pushing us back round the north Cornwall coast. Option 3 is to head out to sea and away from what is now a lee shore. This solves the immediate problem but does nothing to address the longer term problem of needing to get into port. The forecast is for the very light winds to continue. We are now in the shipping lanes and have no ability to get out of harm’s way, relying solely on others seeing us.
Reluctantly we decide that we ought at least to inform the coastguard of our situation so that at least they can warn other shipping. This now throws up a secondary problem…our main VHF appears not to be transmitting. We check all the on board connections and realise that the problem is either at the top of the mast or with the set itself. Our only recourse now is to close the coast and hope to get sufficient signal from our back-up hand-held VHF to talk to the shore.
Yet despite all this, not only are we in no danger, but the day is glorious and a pod of dolphins spend ages surfing and playing around us. They truly are magical and inspiring and there are many worse situations we could be in….
Around 11 we finally get a weak signal to Falmouth Coastguard. After much consultation on their part they finally decide that they would rather not have a small boat chuffing around with limited manoeuvrability in the shipping lanes, especially as we have no prospect of getting to Newlyn before darkness descends once more. They ask us if we would accept a tow and we agree. Sennan Cove Lifeboat is duly launched at 11.15 and by 12 they are in radio contact with us and we can see the sun glinting off their windows. In the last couple of hours the wind has become even more fluky and we are down to just 2kt. We try to look reasonably efficient and have sails down and lines ready by the time they make a final approach.
In short order they check we are all OK and they feel they have no need to have a crew on board. This makes us feel marginally less like a couple of incompetent geriatrics. With a 60m-70m rope there is no nasty snatch and Heydays is soon creaming along at just under 10kts. Being towed is not easy and it is quite hard to keep from yawing from side to side. We take half hour stints at the wheel for the 4 hour trip to Newlyn.
Unbeknown to us, a watcher on the cliffs takes some picture of us being towed with the Longships Light in the background…it is now on the Sennen Cove Lifeboat website!!!
We pass Lands End and some great coastline and soon Penzance Bay opens out before us with St Michaels Mount majestic in the afternoon sun.
Just outside the harbour entrance we drop the tow and they tie up alongside to take us into a berth. The seamanship of the cox is incredible and he brings Heydays alongside so gently that he wouldn’t have crushed an egg! No sooner are we tied up than they are off. We just have time to ask about charges and donations, but his parting shot is “…as long as you’re happy, we’re happy”. With that, the magnificent rumble of the big diesels pushes them back out of Newlyn, back to Sennan Cove and presumably back to their disturbed Sunday roasts.
These guys were not especially challenged today in our ‘rescue’, but we were equally humbled and inspired by them….humbled that they ask for nothing (although we will of course donate) and inspired by their selflessness and seamanship. Thank you so much to the Cox and Crew of the Sennan Cove Lifeboat.
As a footnote, Newlyn is home to the Penlee Lifeboat and this is an added and poignant reminder of the danger they willingly put themselves in to serve and save others.
As a further footnote: John’s brother Pete and his wife Wendy drive over from The Lizard and join us for dinner in the Red Lion on Sunday evening. This was a real treat and we resolve to return sometime soon.