Thursday, 26 October 2017

Preparing for winter

I drove to Bristol with an empty car, and came back home with one full of ropes, cushions, kitchen equipment... Robinetta will be lifted out for essential maintenance soon (hopefully) so all that is left aboard is paint. (The sails came home with us when we left her last week.) We are getting the mast taken out and varnished, so I had to undress the mast as well.

Robinetta always looks sad at this time of year with all her home comforts removed. Luckily the oil which went into the bilges has been moped up very effectively by the diesel wick sheets, so although she is still leaking, (the pump ran twice when I was aboard) the water coming back out into the harbour is not polluting it.

I ran the engine for half an hour, which let me use the electric pump to empty the water tanks, then I filled the diesel tanks up to the brim which should help keep diesel bug at bay.

Next time I go to Robinetta should be the day she is hauled out. 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Early thoughts for 2018

I've had a little look at the practicalities of what we might do next year.

I know Alison is dubious about part of this but it really does all depend on the weather.

The idea is that we might make the Douarnenez festival, the OGA 55 party and get home to Tollesbury.
The hard part is getting from Scilly to Ushant. The song Spanish Ladies has the distance as 35 leagues and Wikipedia says a nautical league is 3 nm and 105 nm looks about right. We've done nearly that as a coastal passage but this is across open sea, We would need perfect settled weather.

Douarnenez is the 25th to the 29th July so we have a lot of time to find a weather window, work permitting. The OGA event starts on the 16th August.

So there are 18 days to get from one to the other and its about 300 nm, depending on route. So we only need to average 16 miles a day. The longest legs are Paimpol to St Peter Port and Alderney to Weymouth - about 45 nm and 55 nm respectively so even in Robinetta they are day sails. has statistics. There are nice charts of the average wind speed and direction for a given month.

They don't look too bad for May to July

In particular Ouessant (Ushant) has mostly OK north-westerlies in May and July and gentler northerlies in June. It seems to never get south-easterlies in summer. Well, maybe.

The winds at Scilly are lighter but with more west in them. So we should be able to head south-east from Scilly at some point.

Now we need the repairs to go well, nice weather and lots of time off work!

Map for the year

Here is the completed map for 2017.

We started the year in Holyhead and were in Holyhead again at the beginning of August so our southerly progress was, as usual not spectacular.

We went to bits of the inner Hebrides previously missed and I got to see the Antrim coast I missed last year but we missed most of Galloway, Cumbria and Lancashire.

Robinetta and Worm have travelled 864 nautical miles in 231 hours, since launching in April. The engine was on 160 hours. We were on board for about 7 weeks. As Robinetta gets closer to home it has become possible to sail her just for weekends, and we did so twice, so the week count is not as clear as in previous years.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Cardiff to Bristol, last sail of the season

The tail end of Hurricane Ophelia is supposed to reach Britain on Monday, but the forecast for today showed SW force3-5, increasing SE later. With enough time to get safely to Bristol we left the pontoon at 08:00, and had a little motor round Cardiff Bay before locking out at 08:30, two hours before low water Cardiff.

With plenty of time to reach Bristol we decided to sail as much as we could. With the tide against us for the first two hours it was pretty slow going, but we knew that when the tide kicked in we would have at least an extra 2 knots, so did not worry. We broad reached across the estuary, since running is much harder work, and were treated to good views of Western-Super-Mare before we turned back north west.

The morning was overcast, and terrible for photography. We did a lot of sail changing, reefing down, then all sail up, then reefing down again. At one point we were doing 7 knots (with the tide), and dropped the main altogether so we would not be too early at the entrance to the River Avon. Once the tide really kicked in we were using just the stay sail to give us steerage way, while the tide just carried up along. Maybe we should have left Cardiff later....

The clouds thinned and sun appeared as we passed Portishead. We saw our first yacht of the day under sail here. He came close, and commented that he not not seen a boat towing a punt recently. Once again Worm attracted as much attention as Robinetta! The wind also dropped, and we needed the engine to give Robinetta steerage way, but we kept the revs very low.

We would see a big ship moving behind a bank near the river mouth. This being our first trip we were not really sure if it could be in the river (which did seem unlikely), or was inside a dock, so we called up VTS to check we would be clear to enter the river. “No Problem” came back the reply, so we headed until the Avon at 14:10. 
Crockerne Pill
There was plenty of water and a good tide under us, so we pottered up the river with the engine in tick-over. Once we were clear of the industrial entrance the Avon became delightful, with little inlets known as Pills, and wonderful Autumn colours in the woods. 

Three trip boats out of Bristol passed us, including the Matthew replica, on their way down river. We knew they would be locking back in to the floating harbour with us. The only other yacht we saw on the way up river was a large gaff cutter, Jan Roelan.
Under the Clifton Suspension Bridge

We reached the lock at 16:10, just as Jan Roelan finished tying up, and were called in immediately. There were two boat handlers waiting to throw us lines, which would then be used to pull our ropes up. Very civilised! When I commented the man taking my line replied that this was Sunday. Not sure if this means that on Sunday the lock is used by people who need more help, or not!
The lock was supposed to close at 16:25, but the Matthew did not arrive back until 16:30, then the other trip boats and some motor boats appeared. The lock stayed open until 16:45, as 2 other yachts had apparently booked places. They did not appear, and the lock gates closed. 
We rose about 2 metres to enter the floating harbour. Once the lock gates opened we had to wait for the bridge immediately beyond to swing before we could leave the lock, then wait another 10 minutes in the Cumberland Basin for the next bridge to swing. 
Matthew entering Bristol Lock
It was a little like waiting for the Dutch bridges, with a variety of different boats, with different ability to manoeuvre trying to avoid each other. Luckily there were not too many boats.
 Once past the Cumberland bridge we easily found the marina, and with the excellent and detailed instructions on finding the berth the marina staff had e-mailed to be we had no trouble finding our berth and tying up.
Robinetta's 2017 sailing season was over.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

On our way again

Tides dictated as early a start time as the lock would allow, so we were awake at 06:00, and had the engine on to warm up at ten to seven, ready to lock out of the marina and the Tawe Lock at their earliest openings of 07:00. We shared both locks with a 40' ketch called Piel Piper, who gave us a thumbs up on hearing we planned to go through the Nash Channel. There was no time to exchange more than a few words though.

Julian had been ready to hoist the no1 jib, but we sailed into the Tawe Lock on bare poles, so decided to bend on the no 2 instead. We raised the main in the harbour, and put a reef in, but once we were out into Swansea Bay we rolled even more round the boom.

The swell and the wind were both higher than we had hoped, but Robinetta loved the course we were on, and we romped along at over 4 knots. Peil Piper raised sail here, and soon disappeared ahead. By 08:50 the wind had eased and we were back to no 1 jib and full main. The swell was still uncomfortably large.

We sailed inside the Scarweather sands, and saw the swells breaking with a roar on our starboard side. The same happened as we headed inside the Nash sands, and felt very disconcerting, especially as the wind went very light, and the sands funnel boats in towards Nash Point, which has overfalls off it. Luckily we had a fully functioning engine, and we used it to give us proper steerage way through the Nash Passage and across the overfalls, which were not too bad, since we were only a day after neaps.
Nash Point
Once we were clear of the overfalls the swell was much reduced, and we turned the engine off and ate lunch as we sailed towards Aberthaw. The contrast between the flat water now, and the swell by the Nash Sands was incredible.

I phoned Bristol Harbour up, to tell them we would be coming in tomorrow. Apparently I should have done it yesterday, to give them 48, not 24 hours notice. This is not for the lock, but for the bridge swing on the Cumberland Basin exit. Luckily the Matthew caravel replica had already booked a swing, so we were okay.

By 14:40 the wind had gone very light, and since the tide would soon turn against us the engine went on to help us past Lavernock Spit. By the time we reached Ranie Head we were on engine power alone, and with the tide against us were only just making 2 knots.

We got all the sails away once we rounded Ranny Spit bouy, and began to head towards the Cardiff Barrage. We called the Barrage up as instructed, and they told us to go in on the 1645 lock in. We were still over half a mile away though, and missed the lock in by 3 minutes.

Twenty minutes hanging around inside the barrage with the engine in idle, waiting for the lock to cycle through, was not stressful. Robinetta just sat there, and it gave Julian time to bring the bowsprit in. We were glad he had done it when another 4 boats appeared through the breakwater just in time to go ahead of us into the lock. We squeezed in on the end, with Worm alongside, then a big rib came in to take the last space in the lock.
Cardiff lock no 1
We headed for the Cardiff Sailing Club (free pontoon berthing and showers!) and tied up at 17:40. Martin, from Piel Piper appeared to take our lines. He was glad to see us, saying he had wanted to tell us to come to the Club when we were in the lock together at Swansea, but had not had time.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Engine repairs completed

The new pipe turned up about 4 pm on Wednesday but we were in Tenby having taken the train to Milford Haven to fetch the car. The train had taken us to Johnstone between Haverford West and Milford Haven. From there we got a bus to the outskirts of Neyland and walked to the car. It was a really short walk.

The part turned out to be copper alloy - not mild steel so that was good. The bolts which hold the pipe in are hollow at the end and have a hole through them at right angles so the oil comes up the bolt and through the hole into the pipe.

So its really important that the tightening leaves the hole in the bolt lined up with the pipe. I marked the bolt heads so I could see the angle of the hole.

I fitted the new short pipe. The bolts seemed to tighten at about the right place. The long pipe seemed a bit less picky but tight enough when the holes were aligned.

We checked the oil level - there seemed to be enough left in so we started the engine.

No drips!

We left it running for a few minutes just above idle while Alison replaced the pads to soak up more oil from the bilges. It all seems fine.

So we are good to go.

I got on to the other job I had planned for this stop - putting the ICOM radio back into service. We had sent it off to ICOM for repair after its shenanigans in Scotland. We have been using the old 1970s radio that came with Robinetta. I don't really think DSC is much use but the ICOM is louder and easier to hear in the cockpit and its dual watch and scanning capabilities are really useful.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Engine Repairs

When we made the decision to sail to Swansea with a major oil leak the idea was to get a professional engineer to look at it.

Neither of us are confidant about engine maintenance.

There are at least four people who service marine diesels in Swansea. We spoke with three of them. All were fully booked for weeks ahead. I guess a lot of boats are coming out of the water and wanting winterising.

We bought a pack of diesel wick pads and Alison got to work mopping the spilled engine oil from the bilges. This meant I couldn't investigate the leak until she had finished so I went onto the internet and found and downloaded the service manual and workshop guides for the engine. I also posted a question on Facebook. Peter Lyons quickly replied - remembering the 1GM10's known problem with the external oil pipes. There are two of them and we had the longer one replaced in 2014. The drips I had seen yesterday could indeed have been coming from the shorter one, and dropping down onto the suction pipe nut.

The only way to know would be to remove the pipe. I got the spanners out and a 19 mm one fitted perfectly but I couldn't get enough leverage to loosen the nuts. So off we went to Screwfix to get a socket set. We combined the trip with a light lunch and a trip to Swansea's excellent indoor market where we bought the ingredients for a seafood stew.

Back on the boat I got the first bolt out but I couldn't get the socket onto second one - it was blocked by the longer pipe. So the long pipe had to come off first. Then it was easy.

At first sight the pipe looked in reasonable condition but then I spotted a tiny dimple. A little poke with a sewing needle exposed a hole maybe 0.5 mm in diameter. I had found our leak!

Back on Facebook Andy Abraham offered to make a new pipe using the old banjo fittings but there was no way to do this quickly - we were at opposite ends of the country! I could feel Andy's horror at the idea of my paying Yanmar the excessive price for a replacement but it was the simplest way to get us sea-worthy.

Yanmar make these pipes of mild steel. I presume this is to minimise the galvanic potential with the engine block. The trouble is that they live in a damp environment and any problems with the raw water cooling system drip boiling salt water onto them. Most engineers, including Andy and Barry Watt who had replaced the long one for us in Tollesbury in 2014 replace the steel with Cunifer - a copper/nickel alloy which is much more resistant to corrosion.

So the official part is more expensive and inferior to the one Andy wanted to make for us but it was available to be delivered in a couple of days.

The other option would have been to make a temporary fix to the existing pipe. Andy suggested slipping a 30 mm length of small bore petrol pipe over the pipe and gently tightening a small jubilee clip over the hole and covering it with 3 layers of insulation tape.

This was very sensible but for once I felt like spending some money for peace of mind.

I went up to the dealer's office and ordered one. It will be here on Thursday.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Caldey Island toward Swansea

Alison woke up with a horrid headache. It got slightly better after tea and a lie-in but she wasn’t properly operational until about 10 am.

My idea was to hop over to Tenby and get there about an hour before high water, maybe have breakfast and a quick look around and then leave on the ebb. The pilot recommends pushing the weak tides across Camarthen Bay to Worm Head and then picking up the east going flood past the Gower.

I started getting the boat ready - unfrapping the lines and getting the crutches off and then went below to do the engine checks. There isn’t much to do - just the alternator belt tension and the oil level. It is always fine.

Except it wasn’t. The dip stick showed empty and however many times I checked it still showed empty. Alison checked too. Empty.

I looked down into the bilges. Black. I put my finger in. Oil.

I poured a little oil into the reservoir, and got Alison to start the engine. As soon as the engine turned over I saw oil dripping from the front of the engine. We stopped the engine.

The good news was that the engine would start, and that the oil was dripping, not spurting, so we should be able to run the engine for short stretches of time if we needed to. “Need” was the operative word.

The wind was light, but useable, from the west and forecast to increase, so we should be able to get to Swansea under sail. Without the engine we would be very slow against the tide so we needed to leave. Now.

I got the staysail and the main up and went forward to haul up the anchor. Even with her headache Alison could helm. We had 30m of chain down to cope with the 7m tidal range so it took a little while to haul in but the anchor came up clean with a little kelp. We picked up speed as soon as we were off and the only difficult bit was getting the anchor out of the water with the chain being pushed under the keel by the forward motion.

I don’t think we have ever arrived at an anchorage with the engine off and anchored for the night and then left again the next morning all without the engine. We’ve done one or the other but not both. It felt good.

We got away about 8 am.

Alison laid in a course to take us straight to Worm Head, but I looked at the tidal streams and decided we would be best staying inside Carmarthen bay for as long as possible to stay out of the strong ebb in the main channel, so we aimed much more inshore.

We heard a firing range calling up the coast guard at 08:40, to announce that the range as active but did not catch which range was calling. If it was Penarth range we were in potential trouble. Alison tried phoning them, but got no reply, so we relaxed; two minutes later she saw a rib heading toward us at speed.

Yes, Penarth Range was active, and our original south-easterly course was OK but we mustn’t head across the range.

We gybed.

The rest of the day was a series of long gybes. We had about knot (mostly less) of tide against us until about 15:30. We were really lucky and never lost the wind but our speed over the ground was between 1 1/2 and 2 knots so it took until then to get to Worm Head at the western end of the Gower peninsula. It did go very light for a while and we dropped the jib and stay sail and managed to goose-wing the main with the old spinnaker we use as a down wind sail in light airs. Once the wind picked up again it was much easier to broad reach on the normal fore-sails.
Worm at Worm Head

Then we started to pick up speed. Slack water let us get up to 2.5 to 3.5 knots and then the flood got going and we got up to 4, 5 and sometimes 6 knots.

Alison called Swansea Marina to let them know we wanted to come in and we only had very limited ability to use our engine. They were comfortable with that and said to radio once inside the breakwaters.

We really had no idea what time we would arrive. The last lock in (in Summer) is 21:30 and for most of the afternoon the chart plotter said we would not make it. But we knew the flood would help and once it started our arrival time on the plotter started coming down. Once we were less than 10 miles away it stuck stubbornly at 19:41. That was good - we had both the 20:30 and 21:30 lock times available.

Our last gybe took us onto the track into Swansea. For the first time we were on a beam reach and Robinetta creamed along as the sun set. By the time we were a mile outside Swansea breakwater it was dark. The channel was narrow and well lit. Alison put two fenders on each side, and set bow and stern lines so we wouldn’t be in a hurry later.

I was slightly confused by what looked like two orange lights where the breakwater should be. We found out soon enough! They were the headlights of a large coaster coming out of the harbour. We had drifted over to the port side of the channel so I turned sharply port to give her a bit more room as she stormed past.

I never saw a green or a red light on that ship.

We looked forward and there did seem to be another pair of similar lights ahead. It didn’t look like they were approaching so we carried on.

Then they got bigger and further apart. A second big ship was coming out. This time we had got onto the starboard side of the channel and the ship turned a little to starboard, presumably to give us room.

If we come into Swansea again, we will find out what the shipping movements are. If we had left a listening watch on channel 14 we might have heard their departure announced. We did that in Liverpool - we had been too pre-occupied with our engine to think about it here.

After that it got easier. The wind eased and we passed between the breakwaters doing about 3 knots and I called the Tawe Lock on the VHF. I didn’t get any answer on the main VHF so I got out the hand-held and tried again. Nothing. I brought the hand-held on deck and we carried on. The wind kept dropping.

Then I got a call from the lock. They had been in the Marina Office and were moving down to the lock for us.

Even though we had missed the 19:30 inbound lock and the 20:00 outbound one was due there didn’t seem to be a problem. We discussed our situation and they were happy we continued on under sail up the river but we would have to be under power in the lock.

I went down and put oil in the engine. I waited a bit and checked the dipstick - it read just full - good.

We furled the jib and dropped the main and put a single tie on it. The engine went on and I went onto the foredeck and pulled the staysail down and we motored gently into the lock and tied on.

A big catamaran came in beside us. I put a little more oil in. We locked through and were guided to a marina berth.


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Neyland to Caldey Island

We got to Neyland at 23:30 last night, so were in no mood for an early start. Luckily high water Neyland was at quarter to nine. Since that was the earliest sensible time to leave we were in no rush.

Julian cooked breakfast while I got the cockpit cover off and folded, then after breakfast I walked along to pay while Julian carried on getting Robinetta and Worm ready to leave. By the time I got back from the marina office he had the engine on to warm up, the bowsprit out, the chart plotter hooked up... There was very little left to do, and we motored gently out of the berth at 09:20. The whole process was made easier by the fact that Robinetta was bow out on the berth. 
It was a beautiful morning for October, bright sunny and warm, with the only drawback a lack of wind. We got the staysail up as soon as we were clear of the marina channel, and realised there might be a breath of wind, so Julian got the main sail up (the wind was so light we did not bother trying to go head to wind to do this). With 2 knots of tide beneath us we turned the engine revs down, and then off as Julian found there was just enough wind to give us steerage way.
Thorn Island Hotel, Milford Haven
 We sailed gently down the Haven, turning the engine on again when the wind died away to nothing, but keeping the revs low. We were in no hurry to leave the Haven since once we were outside the haven the tide would be against us until 12:25. We motor sailed through Thorn Island Sound, and once we were clear turned off the engine and headed for Sheep Island. Unfortunately we had to put the engine back on to clear the headland, and it stayed on. 
Sheep Island in the sunshine
Once we had the tide under us again we made good time, with a gentle following wind and swell. Every now and then we put the engine in neutral, but there was never enough wind to give us steerage way in the swell. We took the Crow passage past Linney Head, inside Crow rock and the Toes, and stayed well inshore past St.Govan's Head. Even with the very gentle wind going with the tide the seas got much shorter just off St.Govan's Head. It was easy to see how overfalls could develop here. 
Julian did not fancy cooking lunch in the swell, and our breakfast kept us going until we reached Broadhaven Bay, just south of St Govan's Head. We dropped anchor there for an hour and had a lovely late lunch of scallops. The wind came up a little, and we raised sail at anchor. We managed to sail up to the anchor and raise it, but did not have steerage way, so had to put the engine back on to clear Church Rock in the centre of the bay.
Church Rock in Broadhaven Bay
Motor sailing, with an occasional quarter of an hour of pure sailing brought us to Lydstep by 16:40. We then headed for Priory Bay, Caldey Island, and managed to sail into the bay. This was our planned overnight stop if the swell was slight enough, and since it was we headed in under sail. 
Anchoring under sail felt really easy. We dropped the anchor in 5m of water beneath the keel at half tide, and put out 30m of chain, expecting another 3.5m of tide by 21:00. The pilot book says this anchorage is safe, but rarely free of swell. It was flat calm when we dropped anchor at 17:30, and only occasional swells rolled us in the evening.