Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tales from the North Sea - part I

It's been a slow start to the season but at last we have done some proper sailing and the longest passage with Sam on board since he had his stroke three years ago.

Kalessin finally went into the water in May after a false start when I failed to attach a new seacock tightly enough and it had to be hauled out again rather quickly (and rather badly by SYH who broke a bronze rubbing strake). Once in the water, Sam, Guy and I took her for a test sail in the Orwell and everything seemed to be more or less ok. Our plan was to join the Westerly Owners Association annual cruise to the Dutch delta for the last two weeks of June, and the shakedown was to be the Haven Ports Yacht Club cruise to Burnham on Crouch over the late May bank holiday weekend - we'd even found a crew for the weekend, Tim Moynihan, whom I met through the Cruising Association crewing service.

On the afternoon of Thursday 21 May, Sam clearly wasn't feeling very well, and Guy and I were trying to persuade him that he shouldn't go to a concert at Norwich Cathedral for which I had tickets. He was literally attempting to convince us that he was absolutely fine when he had a fit - stopped breathing for a minute, twitching, blue lips, totally unresponsive and extremely scary. Guy called an ambulance and Sam was taken to A&E at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital. To cut a long story short, he was very weak and wobbly and they wouldn't let him out of the N&N until Tuesday, by which time Sam was so weak from staying in bed that it took two nurses to get him from the bed to a chair and the physio wanted to discharge him to a community hospital instead of coming home. Guy and I were very firm and assertive and insisted we could cope and eventually managed to get him home. By Friday he was walking around the house, not quite as if nothing had happened, but definitely recognisable as the Sam we know and love.

Sam and I went to see our GP and ask, rather hesitantly, about travelling & sailing. His response was basically "go for it" - he said life is too short to stop doing the things you care about, because of the risk of another seizure which might never happen. (Sam is now on levetiracetam, better known as Keppra, which is anti-seizure medication). So we alerted Tim the very nice crew again and signed up for another HPYC weekend cruise, this time to Tollesbury over the weekend of 6/7 June.

The delay had given us time to arrange for Phil our electrician to remove one of the cockpit speakers whose powerful magnet had stopped our autopilot from working, reroute the VHF to the other existing speaker, fit new (music) speakers on the pulpit rail, and diagnose the Navtex aerial as a complete failure (and an expensive one - a new aerial is more than £250 which is an awful lot given that 95% of the time you can get a better forecast using a phone). We also found a marine fridge engineer who fixed the fridge - just a top up of coolant and a repaired thermostat.We also rigged a new main halyard and topping lift.

The passage to Tollesbury went well - a bumpy beat down the Wallet, but quite manageable, although Sam stayed below. The evening barbecue was pleasant but got very chilly and we were fortunate that Tim the Tollesbury harbourmaster, his strong son, and Tim our very nice crew, were all able to help get Sam down the low-water (steep) ramp, hoisted straight out of his wheelchair and straight down inside Kalessin where he could warm up.

We set off from Tollesbury on the afternoon tide and only half a mile out heard a sound we had really hoped not to hear again - the bl***y engine overheat alarm. Lindsay Rufford had replaced a twisted pipe last season which we hoped had fixed the problem - but evidently it was not fixed at all. We picked up a mooring and Tim, who in private life is a civil engineer with a much better understanding of engines than mine, did a sterling job of checking all obvious options before returning very slowly to Tollesbury marina, who offered to come out and tow us in, and put us on the crane berth. (I later discovered that the crane hasn't worked for two years).

After discussion with Tim the harbourmaster, who is also an engine guru, we felt we might detach the overheat alarm and leave on the 0400 tide. This time we got slightly further, with Tim below watching the engine like a hawk, before the coolant suddenly boiled, again we hung on a mooring to let the engine cool, and again returned to the crane berth. It was a wonderful sunrise over the Tollesbury saltings but I wasn't really in the right frame of mind to appreciate it. At 0900 Tim and I strolled the 30 yards or so to Volspec, specialist Volvo Penta engineers, to see if they could find someone to look at the engine. Sharp intake of breath, but they might be able to find someone who could just look at it by the afternoon. At 1100 we got a cheery call from Ben the engineer, who just happened to have a cancellation and could look at our problem. Again, a long tale unfolded - he found several internal blockages. We got Guy to do some complicated manoeuvres with cars and take us all to SYH where Tim could collect his car and head back to London, and then head home. The pontoon at the crane bay was quite impossible for Sam to walk along, and once again it was low water and the ramp extremely steep, so the fine chaps at Tollesbury marina put Sam in a full body harness and hauled him from the boat to the shore with their mast derrick - well above and beyond the call of duty.

Meanwhile Ben spent many happy and expensive hours working on Kalessin's engine and eventually diagnosed the main problem as the electric pump which powers the aftermarket conversion of our engine, originally directly cooled by sea water, to an indirectly cooled engine which means we can get hot water. The problem was that the pump was working intermittently, hence the fact that it would sometimes be fine and other times overheat. Ben thought it would be possible to start the pump by tapping it with a winch handle but that really didn't fill me with confidence. A new pump was ordered but could take anything from a few days to a few weeks, so a better solution seemed to be to reconvert the engine to raw water cooling which could be done, Ben thought, with just an engine anode and new thermostat. Alas it turned out not to be so simple, an extra pipe was needed which had to come from Volvo in Sweden and cost over £100!!! and could not be delivered until Monday.

So we determined to head off to Zeebrugge on Monday 15 June. We had overcome Sam's seizure and engine failure - what else could go wrong? Find out in Part II....

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