Sam is not one to give up easily and hand over the reins to a paid professional. It’s one of the things I admire about him; he learns from every experience. The Googling and forum-consulting resumed with a vengeance on our glum return from the broken engine. First of all we needed a tool to remove the broken screw. Despite dire warnings that we could further damage the thread, we bought a device for a few quid and returned to Joker the next day. (Sam’s note: Don’t buy the screw in ‘easy out’ but rather the square one that you bash in.)
Russ was deep into moving boats about, as Ashlett Sailing Club geared up for lift-out- when most boat owners get their boats out of the water for winter. Russ pushed us some more on how we were going to get her off the moorings, and joined the chorus of pessimism on our ability to fix it.
I offered to help Sam get the thread out- I’ve got those spindly fingers after all- but he refused. I was vindicated when 15 minutes later he emerged with a huge grin and brandished the remains. Turned out I’d been turning the damn screw the right way after all! It was just old.
Once we’d replaced it we poured in the RydLyme, ran the engine for a minute to fill the cooling system, and returned to Mum and Dad’s with all our fingers and toes crossed.
The next day Sam went back and ran the engine for 20 minutes, tethered to the pontoon. To his delight, no overheating. We packed that evening for our first night on Joker, planning to head for our new moorings up the Portsmouth estuary, towards Fareham.
It was clear from our first cosy night on board that we’d made a major upgrade. I could bang on about the comparative sanity and comfort of Joker’s interior at length, but that’s for another post. This one is all about struggle. Yeah.
The following morning Sam was buzzing all over in a state of nervous tension- checking tides, GPS devices and getting me to turn the engine on and off repeatedly. I was excited about our first inter-city journey on Joker, but it was only a hop down from Southampton.
“It might be fun love, you never know. It’s a gorgeous day. People do sometimes sail for pleasure.”
His response was a tight smile before he jackrabbited off to the prow to check the halyard again. Within minutes of setting off I was at the helm, in seventh heaven. I love the ‘present-ness’ and the relaxed but ready focus that is forced upon you when sailing. All was bright light, big sky and sparkling water. Oh, and about six different yacht races right across our path. We probably should have gone round the edge but I enjoyed the challenge of getting through while keeping out of their way and managed it very smoothly. Even Sam’s nerves couldn’t resist the beauty of the day and Joker’s sleek movement. But we couldn’t glide forever.
The tides into Portsmouth are really tough as the currents around the Isle of Wight cause a lot of criss-crossing. There’s also a lot of huge traffic at the entrance to the harbor so small boats have to lower their sails and go through a tiny channel at the edge. As we entered the tide tried to sweep us first to the West and then as we got further in, it was straight against us. Shouldn’t be a problem, at full throttle. We revved the engine and started making headway, though it felt like an inch at a time. The rickety wooden rollercoaster of Clarence Pier loomed, almost static to starboard.
Suddenly, the overheat alarm howled.
We eased down the engine but it kept going.
I shouted to Sam “Let’s go back out and sail some more, we can come in when the tide turns”.
“We can’t. We have to get in now. It’ll be dark later.”
He leapt into the cabin as I held the tiller against the currents. A steady stream of yachts passed us with ease on both sides, pinning us in the middle. I could hear Sam on the radio.
“We’ve got engine trouble, can we get some help?”
We were advised to get out of the main channel and wait. We still had to keep the engine running to stay in one place.
Ever the documenter, I glanced at the GoPro strapped to the transom. Maybe we could at least get some footage out of this.
The battery had died.
Two men in a dinghy with a 60 horsepower outboard reared up towards us, and Sam threw them a line. The noise was immense and it got tougher to hold the helm straight. The rescue guys were shouting and gesturing at me to cut the engine, but the boom was lashing back and forth and Sam was still up at the prow. I leapt into the cabin, cut the engine, leapt back out and started grabbing at the boom. Sam was still sat at the prow, yelling
“Get up and STEER! STEER!!”
So I did. As the dinghy towed us into slack water I felt crushed and angry. I’d been left in the cockpit with everything to do and no help, just panic, yelling and blame.
“You’re a shit Captain, Sam.”
“Sorry. I know. I’ll work on it.”
In sullen silence, we made it on low revs to our new moorings. Past patchy grey battleships and a constellation of white yachts. Past the landmarks of my hometown, transformed to a fairytale skyline by the view from the water. Our spirits gradually calmed and lifted.
Our new moorings were windswept pontoons strung across the estuary, inaccessible to the shore except by dinghy. Sam had a rummage for our dinghy oars. We hadn’t packed them.
We ate some bread and sardines from the cupboard and went to bed.