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The Boat

Joker’s First Joke

On leaving London we moved into my parents house in Southsea, Portsmouth- half an hours drive from Joker’s moorings. We liked Joker and had put down a deposit but still weren’t sure if we were going to buy. But, having sold our home for the second time this year, we had to go somewhere. And home is where they have to take you in.
My parents are as ever immensely helpful and generous. Dad is retired and Mum’s time is flexible since she stopped commuting so they’ve been able to take part in our adventure more than expected. Taking a day to help us through the 29 locks at Devizes was brilliant. Mum making two trips from Portsmouth to London and back with everything that we had on Lexia was far beyond the call of duty. But we really want to get sorted and get on with our adventure. Otherwise it’ll be ‘How to Survive the Future? – Move back in with your parents!’ (Not inconceivable as a decent future strategy, but more on that in a later post…)

When we arrived we went straight to Ashlett Sailing Club for our first outing. The owner Russ was there, a tanned 86 year old Cornishman who lives 10 minutes from the club, and manages the moorings. Russ is not up to skippering these days, but his friend Chris offered to take us out. Chris is an influential club member, and his passion for junk rigs shows in unusual numbers of them at ASC. He was warm, friendly and commanding- the sort of overwhelmingly competent person who makes me nervous to touch anything on the boat for fear of revealing my ignorance. But that’s my problem.
Joker is an Etap 26, a boat made with an ‘unsinkable’ hull. (We never tempt fate by typing or saying this without quote marks). While the Etap can get a hole in it and leak, its double hull with foam filling has enough buoyancy that even full of water it can still float and sail.
It’s caught the attention of 2012 Doom Prophet Patrick Geryl and friends, who have picked it out as the best possible place in which to survive the apocalypse. They’ve created this video from the old Etap marketing material, and Etap are hosting it on their site. So, perfect then! As far as we can make out, Joker is the only junk rigged Etap in existence.

Chris was a big fan of Joker and talked her up as we set out into the harbor. And boy, was he right. On top of the cosy wood paneled living quarters, her light, elegant cream sail glides up and down the mast like butter and catches the wind beautifully. Her hull responds so elegantly to the wind and waves that I felt exhilarated and safe at the same time.
But the engine? Argh. Having heard there were problems with overheating at high revs, we insisted on running it hard. After 5 minutes at top speed, the overheat alarm was howling like nails down a blackboard.
For the rest of the trip, I could see Sam trying not to enjoy it too much- staying cautious and holding back. I was already head over heels and ready to throw chunks of capital from our house sale at this gorgeous boat until she was good to go. Sam is often more sensible than me.

Back in Portsmouth, he started calling engineers. The first one sucked his teeth and said the engine was discontinued after 2 years in production, the parts were impossible to get, and it was likely the engine block was irretrievably clogged with sediment from its seawater cooling system. Ouch. Over the next week Sam threw himself into in-depth Googling and sailing forums, and started seeing some light.
We decided to try running RydLyme, a sediment-loosening acid, through the engine, and if that didn’t work we’d reconsider buying Joker. A replacement engine, including lift-out and work costs, would come to about £5k. We couldn’t justify that, and started looking at other boats. But none of them measured up.
Next time at Ashlett, Sam got down in the engine hatch to try and open the tube to pour in the acid. I took an interest at first, then retreated to the comfy seats to read. After 15 minutes of strenuous upside-down grunting, Sam asked me to try.
“You’ve got skinny wrists and little fingers”.

Pleased to be involved, I slipped my hands round the engine block and got the spanner in position. I started the awkward process of unscrewing a weathered piece of brass I couldn’t see. Sam hovered anxiously, asking if it was hard to turn and if I was sure it was the right direction. I was pretty sure. It was getting looser. We joked that I would be the mechanic from now on. I felt good. Learning stuff. Doing stuff. Competent.
Suddenly, the bolt fell off. Sam rummaged for it and brought up a sheared-off stub of brass thread. The stub was warped and wedged into the pipe, impossible to get out with our tools and hard to reach.

“You must have turned it the wrong way.”
“Have I broken the engine?”
“Oh. Shit. Sorry.”

We reeled for a bit. I felt useless and cursed my dumb spindly hands and mechanical idiocy.
Out of a dull silence, Sam said “Well, we probably have to buy it now don’t we?”
Just then, Russ appeared.

It was hardly the jubilant transfer of ownership any of us had hoped for. Russ was sorry for us.
“This… it’s not how it should be, is it my boy?”
He knocked £300 off the asking price there and then. Sam and I shook on it gratefully, anticipating a long list of engineer’s bills.
On the journey back we swung between the excitement of committing to a beautiful boat, and the frustration of having to pay someone thousands to fix our problems for us. Even if we could get the brass thread out without damaging the pipe, there was still the overheating problem- and who knows what else?

And now she was ours, we had no mooring- it belonged to the club and we weren’t members. Russ needed us to get Joker out of Ashlett by the middle of next week. Without a working engine.

Not, in any sense, ‘How to survive the future’. More like ‘How to make stupid mistakes and squander your resources’.

But maybe the interwebs could save us…



2 thoughts on “Joker’s First Joke

  1. I know the feeling, i’ll never forget drilling a hole in my girlfriends engine block by mistake (not a euphemism!). Still it was sorted (replaced the head or top bit!) and it’s now a distant memory. hope yours doesn’t cost too much, either way you’re learning tons all the time!

    Posted by Michael Wray | November 2, 2012, 2:52 pm


  1. Pingback: What Went Wrong and What’s Next | How to survive the future.. - November 11, 2013

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