The next couple of days were quite productive. Since Lut, my lady-friend from Belgium was due to arrive in a few days, I decided that the boat ought to be made to look more respectable. First, the heads needed an overhaul, and I wanted to find out how the mechanism operated. So I cleared myself some space for the bits, assembled a few tools, and braced myself for an unpleasant task. I gave it a good flush with a few gallons of that copious disinfectant outside the hull, shut the seacocks and started dismantling the thing. Miraculously, none of the screws were seized, rusted, cross-threaded or otherwise troublesome (although most were awkward to get at); there was no flood and I soon had the pump off and in bits. For cleaning I used a mixture of disinfectant and detergent with an old washing-up brush although, truth be told, it wasn’t that dirty. What’s more, I didn’t lose any bits – and when I put it all back together again (once I got the joker valve the right way round) it worked!
Thus encouraged I resolved to attack the deck, which, after the application of soapy water with a scrubbing brush, and an old toothbrush for the crevices, showed a considerable improvement. This, I suspect, is a job which will require frequent repetition – it was done daily in the days of England’s wooden walls. But then they were, indeed, wooden, and were spattered from time to time with the blood and guts of our jolly tars. And tar, come to think of it. New non-slip paint where the grotty old stuff is; all the gel coat rubbed down and polished and then a decent scrub now and then should do the trick. The gel coat job will be long and tedious but it’ll get done as if I were eating an elephant
Then there was the vexed question of stowage. The Centaur has a lot of stowage space for a small boat and I wasn’t making anything like the best use of it. In fact I’d more or less just thrown all the boat’s and my personal gear into any convenient locker when I’d first come on board. Consequently of course, by the time I’d found what I was looking for I’d forgotten why I wanted it. After a little thought I decided (clever, this) that the stuff I’d need only rarely, such as paint and the diving gear I’d found on board should go in the least accessible lockers, under the after end of the quarter berths. The lockers with the cockpit drains, I decided, were not to be used, for fear of causing damageand likewise for the battery lockers. That still left plenty of space for tools, food, cooking gear, clothes and all the plethora of bits and pieces needed to operate the boat.
There is even a lazarette, fairly capacious though awkwardly shaped, but no dedicated gas locker, as such things were unheard of when these boats were designed. The previous owner had got round this deficiency by installing a bucket with a hole cut near the base, joined to a pipe which drained it through the transom, thereby obeying the spirit of the regulations, but I’m not convinced that it would drain any leaks. The system really needs a complete overhaul – another of the mounting array of tasks to be undertaken.
Even with everything stowed (and labelled – now there was a good idea) there were still a number of empty lockers, which will be used, in the fullness of time, for crew members’ personal kit. Since the lining is in poor condition they’ll need a good sand, clean and paint before anyone’s going to want to put their clothes in there.
And then the time came to Go Sailing.
I’d joined the Go Sailing Association a year or two earlier. As the Gas Sailing Association it had started as part of the British Gas recreation organisation, but with the privatisation and splitting of that company, renamed and reconstituted itself, becoming open to anyone wanting to go sailing without having to buy or charter a boat. The GSA owned four boats (although one has subsequently been sold), one of which is in the Itchen, just a couple of cables from mine. I’d been roped in the previous year by a friend in need of a crew member in Scotland (which turned out to be a great week featuring running aground, a thunderstorm off the Mull of Kintyre, the islands of Islay and Jura, the Gulf of Corryvreckan and the Crinan canal) and decided to continue my membership although I could sail my own boat now. (If only I’d known…)
I was due to join Solent Flame IV for a half-week’s ‘Skills Development Cruise’ in the Solent and had rashly volunteered to cook the first night’s dinner. Accordingly, I hit Sainsbury’s in the morning to acquire the ingredients and set off for Shamrock to meet the skipper, Paul, get on board and cook the Bolognese sauce so that it could sit and mature for the rest of the day. One I found him we obtained the keys from the office, opened up the boat and having shown me how the gas system worked, he returned to his own boat while I grappled with an unfamiliar but well-equipped galley. That done I locked up, returned the keys to Paul and took myself back to Tyro to tidy up, pack some kit and lock up, getting back to Solent Flame at the appointed time of 1500 to meet the rest of the crew.
It was an eventful week. On the first evening, as we reached the Itchen Bridge, an ominous cloud emanated from the companionway step which we (experienced sailors all) interpreted correctly as an overheating engine. We turned it off, hurriedly unfurled the jib and sailed very neatly onto one of the convenient pontoons in the middle of the river. A nearby youthful Instructor in a big RIB saw what we were doing and didn’t hesitate to come over and offer us some help. We secured for an alongside tow and he very competently towed us back to the marina. After copious thanks (later reinforced by a crate of beer) we set about investigating the problem. It turned out that the water filter lid was loose – a previous user had failed to replace it correctly, and we’d failed to spot it during our pre-flight checks – so air instead of water had been sucked into the sea water system and the primary coolant had boiled. No serious damage done but too late to go anywhere, so we had our spaghetti alla Bolognese in Southampton rather than Cowes.
The rest of the ‘cruise’ involved the usual destinations: Cowes, Lymington, Newtown Creek and back to Shamrock. I’m not sure we learned a great deal, but we had a good time, including, at the Folly Inn, a stag night for one of our number, which featured the stag and others dancing on the tables. One of the objectives, however, was for Paul to assess my ability as a skipper with a view to going onto the GSA list. This was achieved without any setbacks, and I was eventually (for the wheels of the Association grind exceeding slow) notified of my new status. I am now allowed to skipper the boats in coastal waters, running charters, club cruises and ‘Skippered Cruises’. The bottom line there is that I can go sailing without incurring any significant cost beyond a share of food and berthing.
Later on the day the cruise finished, Lut arrived at the station, having travelled from Belgium on Eurostar via my mother’s in London. Once I found (a) the station and (b) the relevant platform we returned to Tyro for a cup of tea and the guided tour. I showed her the ropes and formed a plan of action for the next couple of days. Neither the tide nor our inclination was right for a major trip out the next day, so we contented ourselves with a short pootle in the river over high water at tea-time and quite a lot of ship husbandry. However, we planned an overnight excursion to Hamble and Cowes for the following day.
The morning of 28th (my mother’s birthday, now I come to think of it) dawned somewhat overcast but the tides were propitious for leaving at a civilised time of the morning and heading south. Starting the engine required several attempts and, what with other delays, we only just got over the mud (well, nearly – I suspect we ploughed a pair of furrows through it) before the tide fell too far. The wind allowed us to broad reach and eventually run down Southampton Water and we were therefore able to practise gybing, Lut proving remarkably adept at steering for a beginner. We passed the sail training brig Stavros S Niarchos and a rather less picturesque Red Jet ferry as they crossed. Approaching Hamble Spit it was time to start up the engine to head in: I wanted to fill up with fuel, and it was a good opportunity to acquaint my new crew with one of the biggest yachting ports in the world.
The attentive reader will now recall the events at the start of Chapter 1 for details of what happened next. Engine failure, even in busy waters, is not a lifeboat matter as long as one can sail, and we could. So once I’d given up all hope of starting the beast the decision was obvious. I pulled down a second reef and rolled up some more of the jib and we started an entertaining and remarkably efficient beat back to the Itchen. Consulting my navigation notes I saw that there wouldn’t be enough water to get back into my berth at Kemps for some hours so after considering the options for about ten seconds I called up Paul on the mobile (which in this instance was greatly preferable to the VHF) and arranged for him to meet us on a hammerhead at Shamrock. We arrived back there safely, coming alongside under jib alone, a manoeuvre which he recommended and I was very familiar with from sailing dinghies.
After the engineer’s visit we tidied up the boat and I arranged a tow back to Kemps the following morning; while we were relaxing with a cuppa some of the marina staff appeared and without a by-your-leave started moving us around the end of the hammerhead into a finger berth. My protests were mollified a little by their explanation that a large vessel was coming in to use the hammerhead, but they might have asked! It also meant, to my annoyance and inconvenience, that we ended up stern to the freshening and drizzle-bearing wind. We treated ourselves to a mediocre meal and an overpriced bottle of wine in the on-site bar/restaurant and I resolved to get at least a second opinion about the engine.
In the end I removed the
starter motor (taking care to tie up and label all the wires removed therefrom)
and took it to my local garage at home, who recommended a specialist
nearby. They overhauled it, replacing
bushes and brushes, for under £50.
 A bit at a time