Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sinking, Part 2

Having established that our beloved Briongloid was letting in something on the order of 40 litres of sea water every 24 hours (see Part 1), it was time to get her hauled out and fixed by the yard that fitted the loo (and the leak). So, last Saturday, I got up before the sun did to drive to the cove and sail her to the yard.

I pulled up on the slipway just in time to see the sun touch the western face of the cove, painting the steep slopes and cliffs in warm gold. The air was crisp and clear, and the sky perfectly, completely blue, and only the gentlest of sail-able breezes ghosted in from the sea - the perfect January morning. This sailor had the cove entirely to himself: the convenient (but exposed) moorings by the slip were empty - too many storms these last months - and even half a mile across the water, where the inconvenient (but gale-proof) moorings lie, Briongloid was one of the last three boats, surrounded by a sea of empty buoys.

Aboard, things were good: the automatic pump wired in the previous week had kept up with the inflow; even better, the solar panel seemed to have kept up with the pump's power consumption, even now, at the least favorable time of year (short days, sun always low in the sky, plenty of cloud). I ran up the main and the working jib, and Briongloid and I rode the ebb tide out of the cove.


In open water, conditions were just as beautiful; Briongloid moved smoothly over an achingly blue sea, framed by a crystal-clear horizon to the south and the cliff-girt Old Head to the west. The dawn picked out gold highlights on the land, and the low angle of the light threw every detail of the sea caves and precipices into sharp relief.

I looked longingly south and sea-ward... but Briongloid and I had a flood tide to catch, the boat yard being far up-river, and so I turned my eyes from temptation and hugged the land, passing inshore of the reef that guards the mouth of my first stop, a harbour downstream of both the destination boat yard and a crucial low bridge. My chart showed plenty of depth on my chosen route, but my faith in the Admiralty was sorely tested when a long low swell to seaward rose up and steepened to become a perfectly peeling breaker, on course to catch us beam-on. As a surfer, I can say that it was a beautiful wave; as a sailor, it inspired an intense desire to find some very deep water, and stay there. A few seconds later, that gorgeous, murderous wave subsided into the depths (as promised by the Admiralty chart); and I resumed breathing, switched to worrying about the sandbars in the outer harbour.


For me, growing up as a free-diver and sailor in an unusually wide and deep bay, open water has always been a refuge; in the waters of my boyhood, "narrow" meant "less than a mile wide", and "shallow" might mean "50M". Now, entering the very alien environment of a long, bending harbour that also happened to be a river mouth, I concentrated very hard indeed on lining up features from the chart with the land-marks and buoyage.

Motoring in a silky-smooth calm, all went smoothly - except that every now and then, my outboard would be seized by gremlins, and Briongloid would pivot sharply to port, and make a run for the nearest sandbank. I planned to devote some serious attention to that treacherous locking nut, and also to do some proper swearing, just as soon as I had less than four simultaneous tasks to worry about.

Briongloid and I passed on serenely (but with occasional abrupt swerves and even more abrupt corrections) up the harbour mouth, slipping unnoticed below the great battlements of the fortress; I winced at the thought of what those interlocking fields of fire would do to a boat catching them on its length. Soon, we gained the inner harbour, and I prepared to dock solo at a marina for the first time in my life (we have always been swing mooring kind of people). As always, the secret to solo sailing lies in preparation; I had already cleated on two long ropes - one at the bow, one at the stern - and hung every fender out to port (having checked the chart, and established the orientation of the visitor pontoon relative to the wind), and carefully read and re-read the art of pontoon docking (grasping for the first time the role of springs). I gritted my teeth, throttled back till I barely had steerage way, and prepared to dock...

In the event, Briongloid made it very easy for me; she came gliding in very slowly smoothly to an empty visitor poontoon, turning to meet it nearly at a tangent; I didn't even need flip the engine into reverse, but simply stepped ashore and checked her movement first with my own weight, then with the stern rope, finally with the head rope. Seconds later, my little craft was secure, and I was wondering what I had worried about.


A little later, C and Junior turned up; with the help of passing strangers, we rigged the mainsheet as a block-and-tackle in the bows, and dropped the mast. By now the was rising, and so was the tide; time to go, but the boatyard phoned and postponed my river pilot. We'ld not make the boatyard today.

Now, as forecast, the wind rose and rose, until it sang in the stays of every mast in the marina. The once-glassy waters of the harbour now rose up in a vicious chop, and tried to bash Briongloid to pieces on her shelter-less visitor pontoon. On the other side of the pontoon, massive 45 and 50 footers sat near-motionless in perfect safety, while I almost cried to see our poor little Pandora enduring such a battering. Could her fenders really hold against such impacts? Had the mast still been up, I would have been seriously tempted to brave the gale and simply sail back to the safety of our cosy cove. I tied and re-tied her lines; then added heavier ones; then checked and re-checked her fenders; and finally, feeling like a rotten traitor, I slunk off, and left her to the gale.

P.S. Although I spent most of a Saturday either in or immediately outside a town with hundreds of yachts, Briongloid was the only one that I saw move so much as an inch. Bit sad, really.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sinking, Part 1

Briongloid was always a wet boat; ever since I launched her, pumping her bilges has been a regular pre-sail ritual. On overnight stays, I got used to pumping out in the mornings. Every now and then, I would work my way around her deck, looking for weaknesses and blasting them with sealant. Bucket-testing proved I was making progress, although oddly, her bilges didn't get any drier.

After a couple of years of pretty regular sea-faring - and equally regular pumping - I selfishly left Briongloid entirely unvisited for two months or more , til an e-mail forwarded by a friend of a friend told me all was not well...

Briongloid - heavier by 2000+ litres

He was right. As my dinghy skipped across the inlet, my heart sank further and further. Boarding her felt very strange; although logic told me that another 70 kilos should not sink her, an older part of my brain took one look at her freeboard and engage "fight or flight". My first act was to - very gingerly - inch up to the foredeck to see what difference my weight would make to her attitude in the very worse-case scenario. A boat this length (just under 22ft) shifts slightly under her crew's weight, which never bothered me before - I trust my keel; this time, every tiny shift in balance seemed like an opener to a death-plunge.

Logic was right; so an immediate sinking was out. I pulled out the wash boards (a kind of door into the cabin, for non-sailors) and horrified - if not very surprised - to see that water had filled her as high as her bunks. It was my great luck, though, that although the sea had already claimed cushions, charts, tools, it had not reached - by about an inch - the battery that powers all things electrical aboard Briongloid. Very, very gingerly, I got the battery to a place of relative safety. Then, I rigged up the electrical bilge pump that I hadn't quite got around to permanently installing, and watched order return to the cabin. Fifty minutes and above 2000 litres of seawater later, the pump sucked dry - but not before I had gingerly tasted the flood. Salt water.
Oh dear.

In a fibreglass boat, sea water really doesn't have a lot of routes into the hull. Unlike, say, a wooden boat, the hull material itself is continuous - no seams. Typically, the hull will have a few piercings, though - in Briongloid's case, several bolts for her fin keel (with about 440 kg of ballast down there, having lots of bolts is nice), and also two thru-hulls for a loo I had installed. Now, one of these had nearly killed her - but which one?


I ran the electric pump till the remaining water was too low to reach; then, I got a little further with a manual pump. After that, I rigged up a pretty hair-raising contraption involving Briongloid's battery, an inverter, and a tiny water pump intended for a desk-based fountain. Finally, I actually sponged up every remaining puddle that could be reached. With the bilge as dry as I could make it, I retired to the cockpit, and spent an hour or so admiring the view - which, it has to be said, is pretty fine (house prices around here are - or were - just over the million euro mark - quite a few orders of magnitude above the price of Briongloid and her mooring). At the end of my hour. a puddle had collected in little fibreglass pocket below the loo's thru-hulls, and I was practically jumping for joy. There is a leak, yes - but it is fixable.


having had an automatic bilge pump rigged, my mind was at ease again; I put-putted across the inlet in perfect serenity an hour or so after sunset, and nature's mood matched mine, with the waters almost spooky-still, and just a hint of mist in the frosty air. The blackness around me was pierced only by warm windows of the cove's few houses, and the brighter heavenly bodies - like Capella, a bright beacon above the invisible slipway, and Venus, putting on a fine show high above the silent forest. The winter sky is a beautful thing.

Coming up next: off to the boatyard.