Thursday, 25 July 2013


Simo ready for her final trip

The trip started well.  I had spent the 3rd and  4th July gradually getting stores and organising everything.  Getting crew was a problem, but I think on Sunday the 30th June I had resigned myself to doing it singlehanded.   Ok, it was a long trip and I just needed to convince Jackie but I knew how she was against it, she was the only one who realised I was not young anymore.
I had been chatting with Steve and Andrew about the gribs and all sorts of stuff, then Steve departed for Portugal and it was just me and Andrew.  We both planned to go to Falmouth, so I thought it was a good idea to leave together.  Andrew’s boat was slightly bigger than Simo, 32 feet , a Lyle Hess design and just as beautiful as Simo ( well not quite ) but hey,
Andrews very pretty Yacht

 after the first night at sea we knew we would not see each other again, so we planned on Thursday the 4th July.  David had done our painting on the wall just by dock 30, and had done a fab job.  Apparently it is tradition or superstition, that every yacht passing through leaves their mark on the wall or else!!!

Dave , Buck, Banks'y but most important our mark in Horta


The high pressure weather system all seemed very well established and it looked like it was going to be a light wind trip.  I was chatting with a very nice couple, Derek and Anthea  who had just about completed an 8 year circumnavigation on the fantastic little yacht “Sukanuk”, only 33 feet long but a real pocket battleship. 

  We were chatting about the weather and I mentioned that I might get a couple more fuel containers in case I had to motor for longer periods than normal, they both chirped up they had a couple of 20ltr cans brand new, that they would not need.  A deal was struck and I had extra 40 litres which would give me two days extra motoring if need be.  One of the cans went on David’s bunk the other strapped to the shrouds.  I had got plenty of water and soft drinks and even got half a side of bacon to hang in the cabin somewhere, how long it would last we would have to wait and see.  Trying to get green bananas and tomatoes was not easy, but I did the best I could, and finally the waiting was over.  Andrew and I had a meal ashore with a friend of his, and I was up early on the 4th to get round to the fuel dock to top up with diesel .  Rachel Turk from “Saltwhistle Two”, a Hallberg 42, came round to see me off.   She and Tony (her bloke) had very kindly helped set the dock bar television up with a dodgy computer link so we could all watch the Lions second test.  Unfortunately we lost it, but won the series and that’s what counts.
Fuelled up ready to go, I motored out into the expansive harbour and started to put fenders away and tidy up and stow warps.  When I was ready, I got the net book out and skyped Jackie so she could see my departure, she was worried I could tell, but me, I was not even anxious.  I was so looking forward to this challenge and had estimated that it should take 14 to 16 days, but could take up to 20 days.  Secretly I was hoping to do it in 14 days, it is about 1200 miles, maybe I was being a bit optimistic but that’s the way I am.
Andrew finally followed me out a couple of hours later and caught me up later in the afternoon.  We had both had to motor to clear the Island.  We had a chat on the VHF and decided what sort of course we would need to steer for the first 24 hours,  you never know we may stay in touch for a few days.  Dinner that night was lucky dip, below the starboard bunk were so many tins of meat of all descriptions, and I pulled out a lamb mince and onions, so it was a simple task to peel some potatoes ,carrots and an onion pop into the pressure cooker and 15 minutes later, dish up.  In the past with David on board, I used to go to more trouble to cook the evening meal.  It would come from the same stash of tins, but I would put a little olive oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker and throw in some chopped peppers onions and a bit of garlic, just brown if off a little and then add the contents of the tin into it, along with some herbs and spices and a little tomato puree it had the basis of a good meal.  I also had gravy granules to thicken the whole lot up and it was real tasty with the fresh vegetables.  Anyway, I was being lazy tonight and my track took me to the north of the island of Graciosa, where I was cooking the meal around 7 pm.  This lazy trend continued for the remainder of the voyage, don’t ask me why, but I did it that way, almost like cooking for yourself alone “why bother”.   Suddenly the mobile rang. I must have been three or four miles past the island and the next land was 1200 miles away.  It was Jackie, just one last chat before I hit the big ocean to wish me well.  
Night was down very quick and it was black.  I saw Andrew’s white light ahead of me, maybe a couple of miles, we were sailing now doing almost 4 knots and had been since about 8 pm.  I got my usual cat naps of 25 minutes and quickly got into the stride, falling asleep instantly when I went back to my bunk after a lookout.  In the morning I was as refreshed as when I started and you guessed it, the bacon hanging in the cabin had its first taste of the carving knife as I quickly chopped off four good rashers and put them in the pan.  It kind of brought a smile to my face because when I did the trip with David to the Azores, we tried desperately to get some bacon but failed, and I don’t think a day went by without bacon being mentioned, and the Bottle, but that’s another story.  I sliced four slices of bread and gave it a nice cholesterol filled spread with the tinned butter,  followed by a squirt of brown source, fantastic , what a way to start a day.
 Andrew had fallen a little behind during the night, but during the morning pulled it all back. The 24 hour run gave us 112 miles, but over half on the big red engine, which carried us along at a steady 4 and a bit knots.  During the Friday, the wind was in the south east and I gingerly put the genaker up.  Wind was about 10 knots but we made good speed as the afternoon wore on into the evening.  I decided to take it off before dinner for two reasons, one, it can be a pig to get down especially in the dark, and two, the wind had started to back a little and to lay the course I wanted I would be better with the flying jib, which had been expertly sewed up by a sail maker called Ralph in Horta, along with all the other sails that needed attention.  By 20.00 hrs the breeze was fading, so big red went on to help keep the speed up to 4 knots.  The trouble with the engine being on it was a bit difficult to sleep and rest.  All through the night the engine was on and off, and at 2am I turned it off to get some sleep.  Four hours later, it seemed a bit misty outside and I had lost Andrew’s stern light, so whether he decided to keep motoring I don’t know.  Dawn came and the second days run was calculated straight after a breakfast of left over sautéed potatoes, eggs, bacon and tomatoes, oh and not forgetting two slices of toast.  Wow this was really living, but to be honest, you have to take advantage when the sea is smooth because when it cuts up a bit, a twenty five footer does bounce around a bit and makes cooking a tad difficult.  Oh yes, the second days run was slightly down at 92 miles. Hey ho, on we go, I checked the oil and water before putting big red back on, the sea being glassy smooth, tried calling Andrew but no answer ( I found out later he could hear me but I could not hear him ),  I never saw him again.   At 15.37 hours, I noticed the log saying we only had 1000 miles to go.  We were still steering 040C and heading more North than East because that was the plan, to get North, and get into a westerly air stream, as it was expected that easterly winds would prevail due to the high pressure over the UK.  Now this is where we needed techy Dave with his magic ipad, to see how far north we would have to go to get the westerlies . I had made a waypoint on the chart plotter before I left where I thought I needed to go before turning right as they say. 
Sailing through Saturday was a bit like, engine on, engine off, one minute we would have a nice breeze then half hour later nothing.  Pretty frustrating.  Lunch came and went, and in the afternoon I  had more little snacks than I should have.  I had one big disaster on Saturday, the handle half broke off the kettle.  I got out the 90 second epoxy and slammed loads around it and left it for over an hour, but it never really recovered, and I had to be really careful when I boiled the kettle as the handle was hanging on by a sliver of metal .
Sunday came and I had got a lot of sleep, in fact I started to set the alarm for 1 hour instead of the normal 25 minutes.  Thanks to Dave,  the AIS was working a treat so would see ships at around the 20 mile mark giving plenty of warning.  Having said that, I had not seen too much in the way of shipping, but to change all that came a whopper of a container ship called “ A.P.L. AGATE”.   The captain who was American called me up on the VHF and we had quite a long chat about sailing and stuf , but then they soon disappeared over the horizon doing 18 knots or so.
APL AGATE, nice chatting with you

 Dinner was steak and kidney, but again I did nothing to enhance it, so the normal carrots and cabbage with gravy was put in the plastic food bowl and scoffed down.  Progress was not too great and by 9 pm Sunday our 12 hour run was only 44 miles.  The sea, for some reason, had been a bit lumpy and our heading of 034C was putting us in the right direction, but was generally hard on the wind.  It was still very comfortable down below and very warm, the other noticeable difference was that up to now very little water had come on deck and every time I tried the pump, the bilge was dry, and long may it continue I thought. I knew the decks leaked a bit, and being laid up in the yard at Olhao on the Algarve, despite being covered, there was going to be a bit of shrinkage, mind you, the amount of water that came on board for the trip out she should be as tight as a drum, fingers crossed.
Monday came round pretty quick with the fine weather continuing, and again the bacon took a bashing, and I always made sure I had potatoes left over from the night before to quickly sauté so the breakfast was kinda the highlight of the day.  I had used the last of the bread and knew I would have to bake some either today or tomorrow.  I was also thinking cake, lovely carrot cake, so may do one of those as well.  I did the 24 hour run at 9 am and it was a bit disappointing with only 82 miles on the clock but we had motored quite a bit and the wind, what there was of it, was bang on the nose, and now on Port tack heading towards north Spain, still we know how things change.  I had noticed yesterday how the wind was gradually backing starting in the south east, and here we are now with it coming straight out of the north east, so much so that even motor sailing, we could only lay about 085C. If we wanted to just sail, the speed would drop to about 3 knots and we would be heading for the bottom end of Portugal.  ”I know it’s nice down there Simo, but we wanna go back to Ipswich”.   I would sail on till starboard tack was favoured, even if it took me to the west of Ireland.  By 11 am the wind had backed another ten degrees, and I decided to sail, flyer no 1 staysail and full main. OK we were heading 090C but doing 4 knots plus.  Sometimes we would be heading south of east, but generally east, and you can’t keep tacking every five minutes when you’re on a long trip.  The weather was great, sunshine, bluish skies, people pay thousands for this.  I got quite a lot of sleep and also had crackers and cheese and tomatoes for lunch, and noticed that the breeze was still backing.  At the time I was steering 070C and gotta say I was smiling cos this was perfect, even though I knew at some stage the wind according to the gribs,( prediction of the weather for up to 7 day's ) would be coming straight out of the east.  Still let’s make hay while we can.
The sea was a bit messy, and although the hasler was doing a great job, now and again a stopper wave would catch us and the speed would drop right down to 2 knots, and I was reluctant to bear away and go for more speed.  I was still not really sure what the wind was going to do.  I had some pasta for tea with pesto and chopped up some luncheon meat to make it more interesting, loadsa salt and pepper,  and it was better than Jamie Oliver could do.
Shortly after dinner and a nice cuppa, I was doing the normal spot routine where I would set it going and let it run for half an hour to ensure the position was sent, when a really big slamming wave stopped us dead.  It actually knocked me off my feet, and I fell on the “spot”. When I recovered and looked down, I was horrified to see the spot blinking red, I thought I had damaged it.  The big wave was forgotten as I rushed down to get the spot book to see what it meant, and ten minutes later I had my answer, “It needs a clearer view of the sky”.
Ok, no problem I gave it the best look it could ever have but it continued to blink red although the send bit light did flash green.  I was a bit confused, maybe a bit tired but my major concern was that the signal may not be getting to the blog, and people (Jackie ), would start to worry.  I decided to turn the thing off and try some new batteries, but even then it still flashed red, but this time an hour had passed, and I reached down to open my snack box for a snickers bar, and then had another, greedy pig, but felt much better and decided to let the spot rest and would have another go in the morning.  I sat in the cockpit and put my feet up still worrying about the spot.  As darkness fell,  the wind held, but went a tad lighter.  We were still doing three and half knots on average and I did not want the engine on when I was going to try and sleep.   Around 11 pm or 2300 hours I decided to make a cup of chocolate and then start getting some sleep.  I had not seen any ships for a long time, not even on AIS , so would probably go to my hour long sleeps.  The alarm on the AIS always seemed to wake me anyway, and for the hour sleeps, I had the kitchen timer that I could set to whatever I wanted to.  When I went down, my first thought was there was a lot of water sloshing around,  and because the engine was off I could hear it.  I thought I must pump before going to sleep because I had not even looked at the pump for two days.
Casually, I lifted the floor board up, the one where we keep the butter always comes up quite easy.  I had the led strip light on over the galley, but when I lifted the board, I was a little shocked to see the butter tin floating around with another Tupperware container.  I put the main cabin light on and got a torch out of the basket.   Christ, I don’t think I have ever seen so much water, only once when we first got the boat on the Orwell and a hose came off and flooded the boat to the floorboards.  I must have been a bit tired because I remember thinking back to when Dave was on board and saying to him we must pump every shift, but it was fairly rough then, and so far on this trip, a wave had not come on deck.  I put the kettle on and went into the cockpit and started pumping.  I have got a big electric pump which I could have got out, it plugs into the ciggy lighter, but I just didn’t think.  Over the next ten to fifteen minutes I pumped, changed hands a few times, and went below to make my chocolate, came back up and continued to pump.  I don’t know how long I pumped for, but am sure it was at least an hour.  It sucked dry and I waited five minutes and pumped some more because it always takes time to get through the limber holes, my chocolate had gone cold, I just forgot about it.  I was absolutely knackered when It sucked dry again, and stopped to ponder.  The wind had gone light and we were hardly moving.  I decided to just hove to, and get my head down, so I just tacked, sheeted everything in, got my kit off and went to bed, I didn’t even bother looking in the bilge.  I forgot to set the alarm, and when I woke it was dawn and 6.30 am or 0630 hours.  It took a few minutes to remember where I was, and the funny thing was that I had a dream and it was like I was in a submarine with four other guys, and they were all doing something, and there seemed to be water everywhere, but as soon as I woke up, one of them said “ oh you’re awake, we’re off now, you’re on your own”,  and then I was truly awake and realised where I was.   My first thing was to get some clothes on and get Simo sailing again.  The breeze had returned, I eased off the jib and unlashed the tiller, and very quickly tacked and got her going.  Next was a cuppa and I was starving, the bacon came to mind and I had a quick look at it, it seemed to be a bit mouldy round the edges but it would do fine, but hey, I did not have any bread left, “Bullocks”.   My next thought was the bilge.  Again I lifted the floor and was shocked to see a similar amount of water to the night before.  Back to the pump and another long slog, I lost count after 300 pumps, but when it sucked dry my very next thought was the bread, and I proceeded to sort out the dough and give it a good bashing.   Simo was sailing along well, around 4 knots,  a little south of where I wanted to go, but that’s fine.  I dug out the bread tins, four in total, cut the dough into four, oiled the tins and popped the dough in each.  I put them the chart table and put a clean tea towel over them to prove, I guess the time must have been about 0900hrs and I was pleased with myself.  I gave Simo some more elbow grease with the pump, but gave up before it sucked dry.  I don’t understand why I was not taking this seriously. “The fucking boat is leaking like a sieve from somewhere, and all you’re interested in is stupid bread!”   After the hour, I checked the bread and it had doubled in size, so I got the oven out, made it up and tied it down with the curtain gadget, turned the gas on and in ten minutes she was up to temperature.   I popped the first two loaves in, and decided to have a look at why the water was coming in.

I lifted the boards one by one, and realised I needed to pump more water out, so had another spell on the pump.  Back to the boards in the bow, and I could see clearly it was coming from in front of the chain locker, I needed a torch, and must have spent ten minutes trying to find the leak.  I thought I could see the water seeping from around the outlet seacock for the toilet but was not sure.  Maybe I was trying too hard to find where the water was coming in, I dunno.   There was a steady flow coming from behind the chain locker but with the furniture all in the way, I could not see the source, and it was coming in like a tap opened up, not quite half, maybe a quarter.  Looking at it up here in the bow, it was more than I thought, and I guess for the first time I got a bit concerned.  I put the boards back down, and was hungry.  I had forgotten about the bacon, but half hour had gone by since I put the bread in, I went and had a peak in the oven, another five minutes and it would be done.
I turned my attention to the plotter and got the big chart out.  I slid the curser towards Falmouth, and it was showing about 800 miles.  The south west tip of Ireland was slightly less.  Next over to La Coruna in north Spain,  that was better, 606 miles.  I am now starting to think on miles per day.   I suppose you need to be conservative and say the boat should do 80 miles a day.  Spain was giving me eight days.  I am thinking, mind racing, well maybe not racing because my mind went to the bread that I turned out, and I popped the next two loaves in.  
These loaves were real tasty and I had four
 I put the warm loaves in the cockpit to cool down, I guess the time was about 1030 hours.  In the bright sunny morning, Simo was sailing along well and making 4 knots.  I think my mind was trying to block out the water coming in, because I took some pics of the bread and even did some gopro stuff, and on the gopro I even said it is not a problem. Twenty minutes later I had the biggest juiciest cheese and tomato sandwich in my hand with a cup of tea sitting in the cockpit.
What follows is the account of events as I wrote them fresh in my mind as soon as I got to Vigo.  I was in a state of shock and was well looked after by the port officer for the OCC, Alfredo Lagos and his wife, to whom I am very grateful.             
What a fuck up!  I was pretty sure I hit something at 2030 the night before, but never took much notice.   I had seen whales the two previous days, but I now think it wasn’t a whale to be truthful, I just don’t know.  At 1130 that night, I noticed a lot of water in the bilge, and the trip had been calm.  Over three hundred pumps cleared her, but I was knackered and went to bed after hoving to, woke at 0630 and got up and started sailing again.  As I am making cup of tea, I noticed water slopping around, took a board up and she was full of water again.  I pumped it out and decided to make some bread.  By 11 am the bread is done, by noon I had a sandwich, boat sailing fine at 4 knots, and took another look, more water!  I now start to worry.  I get a torch and go forward as that’s where it seems to be coming from.  I can’t really see anything except a steady stream coming from under the furniture.   I thought I saw water coming through a seam, but that may be because I was in a bit of a panic.  I made tea and my mind was racing.  I was checking the plotter for my nearest destination, it was going to be La Coruna , but that would be 7/10 days depending what the wind did.  It could be a whole lot worse 14 days.   I reasoned that I could not cope with the whole thing for that amount of time, maybe a couple of days most.   I realised then, I was 67 fucking years old, and what a twat trying to do this on my own.  I pumped some more.  I could keep up with it ok.  I thought about baling out and pressing the button, it was midday.  I could get rescued in daylight and in calm conditions.  I got hold of Dave’s personal epirb, but could not get the top off it.   I must have spent ten minutes trying, in the end; I put it down and thought I should stick it out.   40 minutes later, I changed my mind.  My head was in a frigging mess.  I forced the top off the epirb with a knife and pressed the button and put the aerial up.  I started to pack some things, I didn’t know what to do.  I stopped the boat and she lay hove to, I pumped up the dinghy and had it by the boat.   
An hour had passed and despite looking all round the horizon, I had seen nothing , what was I expecting ?  I grabbed the Spot and lifted the tab that protects the SOS button I pressed it, so now I had two chances .
The next bit is a saga, so will cut it short.  I saw a boat 45 minutes later, 8 miles away on the AIS, and spent an hour calling it on VHF.  By then they were only 3 miles away but I could not see them.  After 1 hour, I made contact, their English was very poor, but eventually they headed my way.  They were only doing 8 knots the whole time.  I fired some distress flares, 5 in total.  One semi backfired and burnt my hand, two more did not work, and two did work.  I then saw them coming, and it was a fishing boat.  They stood off, and I threw some bags in the dinghy.  I went below to pull out the speedo impeller because I was worried she would stay afloat and be a danger for a couple of days, then came out, got in the dinghy and rowed to the fishing boat, where they hauled me aboard with my gear.  That’s the last I remember because I just broke down.  The fishing boat was bound for Vigo from the grand banks after 2 months fishing, and would take four days to get there.  Those four days are some of the worst I have experienced, although I am extremely grateful. I spoke to Falmouth coast guard on the satellite phone and they got my Jackie on a link so I could tell her I was safe.

I stayed in a hotel in Vigo and then flew back to the UK the following Monday afternoon before taking a train north to Retford the next day. 
It has been almost like having a death in the family, and I am devastated.  I have to say that the O.C.C. have been fantastic,  in fact the port officer for Vigo met me when the fishing boat docked on Friday night, and I have nothing but praise for them.


ps I will post a lot more stuff on the blog in the future , there is so much to be said about the whole trip not just this last bad bit , also the podcasts I am told are a blast and very funny, up to now there are 18 and they are here

there is so much sailing film but I need to sort it out so please be patient 

1 comment:

  1. Mick - been following your adventures for a while now... glad you're ok, but dreadfully sorry about Simo...