Continued from Part 1 We trudged down the howling stretch of freezing mud and huddled under the hull. The wind rocked Joker on trembling toothpick legs. We could already see that the rope was so tightly wrapped round the prop that it had busted off several parts, now lost to the sea. Sam crouched under the teetering bulk of our home and cut the blue knots away. I tiptoed back onto Joker to turn over and see if the drive shaft still worked. After a few knocks with a hammer, it did. But we couldn’t risk using it until we’d replaced the parts.
Now we knew the state of play, I left Sam to puzzle over engine diagrams and identify what parts we were missing. I had my own delightful job to do. Skip the next paragraph if you have a sensitive stomach.
During my illness I’d temporarily forgotten that even one piece of kitchen roll will clog our sea toilet. I’d chucked one down after a bout of vomiting and there it had stuck. For two weeks. It’s impossible to fix while afloat, as soon as you detach the U-bend the sea wants to come in. Which we can’t for obvious reasons allow. I have never smelled anything quite as disgusting as the green-grey rotted-puke and paper plug I had to dislodge from the pipe. I spent the next few hours cleaning the entire cabin so the smell would dissipate. After I’d stopped dry-heaving I was able to reflect that having a very simple plumbing system puts the power to deal with it firmly in our hands. Lucky us!
By now it was dark and freezing. Sam’s boots had filled with mud. It was four hours before we’d be afloat again. We hauled ourselves to a brasserie, who fed and warmed our mud-smeared carcasses with astonishing good grace.
At around 9pm the waves were lapping at the hull again. We lowered ourselves back onto Joker, ready for another hour or two of tightening ropes. As Joker started to lift off, she rocked side to side, the beaching legs stomping like an angry toddler. Pretty disconcerting, but only for fifteen minutes or so. Soon we rose with the tide, our surroundings back in friendly motion.
Knackered, frozen and frazzled, we listened for the bell signalling the opening of the lock gates. We really wanted to be back in the marina, safe, warm and still. The gates were less than 100 yards away.
The bell rang. The gates cracked open. We made a big mistake.
I loosed off the lines and pushed off with my foot. Sam kicked our puny outboard into reverse and we swung out into the tidal current. Suddenly we were helpless. Sam was still trying to reverse to get a good run at the gates, but in the meantime the current was dragging us straight for the seawall. As soon as we were pointing forward, our speed increased. I started shouting at Sam to steer this way or that, but he clearly had no say in it.
“Are we going to make it?”
I leapt for the bow, as I would in any other impending collision, to fend off with an arm or foot. 2 metres from impact I realised if I tried it I’d probably lose a leg.
I remembered that from the in-flight safety card. I threw myself to the deck with my arms around my head.
Joker shuddered and slammed bow-first into the wall. The current and driving winds were too strong to let us rebound. We were instantly slammed side-on to the wall and pinned there. The impact had bent the steel guide for the anchor chain at right angles, but otherwise no damage. Tough little boat.
What followed was a shaken, slightly hysterical wait for the tide to slacken. At one point a huge fishing boat lumbered in, nearly hitting the first seawall and looming far too close before making it through the gates. As soon as the pressure of the tide slackened a bit, the wind took over and we slammed repeatedly against the side.
We were just getting up the courage to try, when a man ambled over. The weathered, competent species I instantly recognise as ‘Proper Sailor’. We stammered through a stilted explanation in Franglais of what we were doing, that our main engine was broken and the other too weak to help much. Nonplussed by our indecision, he grabbed the bow line and hauled us along the seawall, while Sam fired the outboard and I fended off with my feet. As soon as we got past the wall the tide swung us into the main channel and we were swept into the marina, waving gratefully to our rescuer.
Feeling embarrassed but relieved, we chugged back to Pontoon E. Though free of the tide, the wind was still fierce enough to stop us reversing into our berth. We can’t plug into the shore power unless we moor astern, so we got off and manoeuvred Joker with her lines. The wind helped a bit too much on the final heave, and she crunched against the pontoon, breaking our self-steering gear. Joy.
We plugged in a battered, mud-spattered Joker and crawled into bed, firing up the heater and cracking a bottle of very cold red wine.
We still had to wait a week for parts before trying to fix the prop again.
We are not good sailors. Yet.