Tumeegun cruises to the Med (part 1)

After owning Tumeegun for a summer I only had about 10 days out on the water, despite going down to Brighton virtually every weekend from July onwards. I decided that having bought a boat, I ought to ensure I got some use out of it, and hatched a plan to take a 10 month career break from work. The initial plan was to bring the boat to the Med through the French canals to Sete and then coast hop East to Gibraltar before a big finale of a direct sail to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. However this never happened and I had to settle for a final destination of Barcelona.

Preparation for the trip involved deciding what on the boat should be tackled now, and what could wait. The survey for Tumeegun was good, main issues being out of date safety gear, and items such as surface rust on the keel, play in rudder bearings and cutlass bearing and replacement of stern gland if its age could not be confirmed.

The boat was taken out of the water in March 2012 and works I left to the professionals involved replacement of stern gland, cutlass bearing, rudder bearings, engine mounts and prop shaft. This is where my troubles began. I appointed a marine engineering firm at the marina in Brighton to carry out these works, which were due to be completed for the beginning of April. In the end it was actually June before the boat was ready for launch after hearing all sorts of excuses. The marine engineering company also cut the top off the rudder to get it out so the rudder bearings could be changed, rather than knocking off the bottom of the skeg and undoing the 2 bolts holding the lower bearing, which would have been the proper way to do it! At this stage alarm bells over the capability of the firm should have been ringing, however unfortunately they didn’t.

While the boat was out of the water I stripped and treated the keel before applying the primer and antifoul. Despite quite a bit of rust, the job was done in an afternoon. A new anode was installed and I removed the go faster stripes on the hull and replaced these with new, together with new boat name stickers. I cut and polished the hull and topsides, stripped the teak of varnish and treated with Wessex cleaner and renovator. All seacocks were stripped and serviced, toilet and water hoses replaced. On servicing the engine I noticed that the fuel filters were not as they should be, I had the diesel bug, so a full tank of fuel was drained and removed to be steam cleaned. While this was out I took the opportunity to install new fuel lines, filter and stop valve to ensure the bug didn’t come back. I also replaced the charging diode and the house battery, as the old diode was not functioning correctly. I also thankfully serviced the 30-year-old Whale Gusher bilge pump, which I (luckily) did successfully. I also rewired the boat and installed a Simrad TP10 tiller pilot that I was lucky enough to purchase second hand from a former Tomahawk owner and, I have to say, served me fantastically in all conditions and never once gave any reason for concern, even when getting totally soaked with spray continuously on a 20 hour passage. I also installed a Standard Horizon DSC VHF with AIS and CP300i Chart Plotter; again I cannot speak highly enough of these, both robust, and easy to use, extremely good bits of kit. Although a frustrating time for me as I wanted to set sail, during this time I did get to know how everything on the boat worked.

I had the standing and running rigging checked by a rigger who was recommended (and was very good) who advised that the standing rigging was fine and didn’t need replacing (which was a relief). On this news I decided I might as well replace the entire running rigging, as it was all very stiff and dirty, as the boat had been stood idle for a few years. The existing running rigging was all oversized, so when the new rigging was fitted, everything worked much smoother. The rigger also sorted a problem I had with the in-mast furling main, which went from being a nightmare to a dream. Despite having a bad reputation for trouble, my in-mast furling main was fantastic once the rigger had finished, and made singlehanded sailing so much more pleasurable. I had also had the sails serviced and cleaned.

I should add that as well as all the above, the boat was kitted out with new safety gear too.

Tumeegun was finally ready for re-launch in June (2012) on the Monday, and I had my ICC test booked for the Thursday which gave me a few days to check everything worked as it should. The first sail was on a sunny day in a steady force 4 with calm seas. I had one of my pontoon mates come for a sail with me and we had a fantastic afternoon blasting about off the Brighton coast. Everything seemed to be working as it should except for the tiller pilot, for which I couldn’t find the manual whilst we were sailing; it turned out it was simply that the tiller pilot was set up for mounting on the port side, but I had mounted it on the starboard, and after changing the setting, it worked wonderfully.

Finally I was ready for the final hurdle before I could set sail and the adventure could begin, the ICC test, or so I thought.

Everything was going well, and all the marina maneuvering had been completed when suddenly there was a spinning noise followed by a loud clunk when turning the boat around and going from forward to reverse. Initially we carried on, but then it happened again, so we aborted to a pontoon to investigate. I got the marine engineer who carried out the work to come and investigate as it sounded like the prop was spinning then catching. It turned out it wasn’t the prop, but the gearbox. Although the oil level in the gearbox was fine, the oil that had been changed less than 2 engine hours ago was now full of black specs. The ICC test was aborted and Tumeegun went back to her berth. The engine is a 1983 Yanmar 2GM so the next problem was that parts were no longer available for the gearbox unless you buy the whole clutch assembly at a cost of over £1000, and that isn’t even for a whole new gearbox. Plan B was to buy a reconditioned gearbox but those available had the wrong gear ratios. The engine was removed with the boat in the water so the gearbox could be removed, with the shaft left supported in the boat to stop water ingress. It was another month before the new gearbox was installed and the boat was operational again. The ‘new’ reconditioned gearbox was a newer version that is 1” longer than the original and required the flywheel to be reversed to enable it be used successfully.

The next week I went out sailing a number of times testing everything on the boat again to ensure it all worked, and then completed my ICC test, which I passed without any trouble. Lagoon Watersports at Brighton Marina were fantastic as the contract with them for using your own boat states clearly that if training or testing cannot be completed due to boat being unseaworthy or because of mechanical issues then you have to pay in full. However, they didn’t enforce this, and I completed the test when my boat was back in the water and operational at no extra cost, which was very good of them, and very much appreciated.

During this time I had noticed water in the bilge on a number of occasions, however I had put this down to water getting in when I hosed down the boat. After going out for a sail on a particularly choppy day, on arrival back at the pontoon, there was a substantial amount of water in the bilge. Yet again I dried it out and realized that the stern gland was dripping. Back to the marine engineers, who reluctantly paid to lift the boat, replace the stern gland and drop the boat back into the water. This was all done on 3rd August, just in time for a weather window that I needed to cross the channel.

Finally on the 5th August 2012 at 2.49am I set off from Brighton with my mother as crew on my first channel crossing for La Havre and my first passage to a strange marina since moving the boat from Hayling Island over a year earlier. Conditions were perfect if you didn’t fancy sailing, the English Channel was flat calm and there was little wind but this was coming from the South, exactly the wrong direction! Seeing the sunrise just as we approached the shipping lanes made for an excellent start to the day; things were now going to plan and although I was anxious about crossing the shipping lanes, they turned out to be no trouble at all. I had the AIS on but we really didn’t need it as the numerous ships were visible miles off. We only had to alter course once while 3 ships noticeably altered course for us, which gave me comfort that having the main out, coupled with my £25 octahedral radar reflector was enough to be clearly visible to the ships a few miles off. It was an uneventful but thoroughly enjoyable day and we arrived at Le Havre at 8.30pm. The harbor office was closed, but luckily we were able to find a berth. A yacht in front of us ran aground in the entrance, but we managed to navigate in without event using an old Seafarer depth sounder that is very accurate if you allow for the fact it is 5m out, all the time!

The next morning we visited the marina office and arranged for the mast to be lowered. We were advised by some fellow boaters heading back from the canals that this was silly and we should have this done at Rouen, however, it was 65 euro at Le Havre and much more at Rouen, so being from the north, Le Havre it was. All rigging was loosened ready, so when the boat was moved round to the crane it was a very quick and easy task, completed in 5 minutes. I had made 2 X frames for the mast out of 2” x 2” timber, which, luckily, were enough to support the mast weight; the mast was then tied down extremely securely and we were ready then to set off.

The next morning we set off from La Havre for Rouen at 7.15am to ensure we were past the entrance to Honfleur at low water -1. Progress to Honfleur was slow as we were against the tide, and I was wondering if we going to have to abort the attempt and moor up in Honfleur, however we made Honfleur at low water, which was within the limits of the passage indicated in the pilot book so we went for it. It was a beautifully sunny day with very little wind, so another relaxing and enjoyable but very long day on the water, with my confidence in the boat growing with every nautical mile covered.

Once past Honfleur there was very little traffic in either direction and I was well aware that there was nowhere safe to stop before Rouen, so we had to make good progress. As the day went on our speed kept increasing and on the approach to Rouen we were averaging speed over ground of 9.5 knots according to the plotter, which given the engine was only at about 1/2 throttle was a strange experience. Although everything said we would make it to Rouen, this was the passage I was most worried about, as if something went wrong, we would have a major problem – fortunately it all went well. We arrived at the new Marina at Rouen at 19.30 pm, and of course the marina office was closed, this is France after all! Luckily, moored opposite was a British flagged catamaran, and they lent us their key for the shower block so we could have a good wash. There were no shops or restaurants nearby, but this wasn’t a problem as we had plenty of food on board.

We left here at 6am on 09 August (harbor still closed, so felt a bit guilty having not paid) and then stopped at the pontoon in the center of Rouen to try and get a VNF Vignette. August in France meant that most establishments were closed, so I had to buy one on line and risk being fined for not having a printed copy. (Once we passed through the first lock at Amfreville it was a requirement to have bought the Vignette and have it printed out and on display).

Our first lock was a revelation; my mother was on the ropes while I was on the helm. Everything went well entering the lock and getting roped in place, however when the water started coming into the lock my mother was not strong enough to hold the boat and so we were not secured and at the mercy of the turbulent waters. Fortunately I was able to use the engine to get the boat under control and stop us becoming wedged between the 2 lock walls or from being pushed back into the gates. From this point on I did the ropes in the locks and my mother was at the helm, not a prospect I was comfortable with but I had no other choice. Straight after the lock we pulled into a commercial barge-parking wall for lunch and as we tried to moor, my mother somehow managed to get stuck between the boat and the wall. I was luckily able to jump off and move the boat so that my mother was positioned on a ladder so she could get out without falling into the canal. From this point on my mother sat and relaxed while I berthed the boat as though singlehanded. My initial opinion of locks and canals was not favorable and already I was wishing I hadn’t wimped out of the Bay of Biscay!

Once through the lock at Amfreville, the Seine changes from a picturesque but very countrified experience to picture postcard villages lining the shores; on this stretch of water we didn’t see a single commercial boat. We arrived at Notre Dame de la Garenne at 19.45 expecting it to be shut but luckily the commercial side was open and so we were able to get through and then moor up alongside at the top.

We were exhausted after a long day; this being only our second lock and being the first with my mother at the helm it was nerve wracking, however it all went to plan and without event, much to our relief.

We started early again the next day with another beautiful sunrise. This was an event free day with the highlight being some strange houses built into the side of the cliffs at the side of the river. We only encountered 4 commercial barges all day, navigated one lock again successfully and arrived at our destination marina called Nouvelle Marina Port St Louis at 16.48. The lock staff was present and extremely helpful and we were able to fill up the fuel tank and jerry cans with diesel. This was a relief as we had heard rumors that there were supply problems on parts of the canal system, but it seems that people were mistaking some refueling points which had been closed for holidays as something more dramatic.

We left at 07.30am on 11 August and passed through Andressy lock at 08.30 then Chatou lock at 13.15, both without event and with another day of glorious sunshine; we would be in Port Arsenal in Paris for the evening, or so we thought. We arrived at Suresnes lock at around 4pm and yet again we passed through without event; we had our lock techniques in place and locks were now no longer a problem.

Once we had exited the lock, I was going inside to grab a drink, which, it turned out, was extremely lucky as when I looked into the cabin, the carpet and floorboards were floating half way between the floor and the top of the seat lockers. I told my mother to steer to the barge-parking wall on our starboard side and jumped inside to grab the bilge pump handle, which I inserted and showed my mother how to pump. She had to steer and pump while I jumped back inside to investigate the cause. First thought was the heads, so checked the pipes and all looked in order but closed off the seacocks to be sure. Next stop was the engine and basin seacocks and hoses, which again all looked fine. The water level was going down, so I jumped out with the handheld VHF and radioed the lockkeeper for assistance. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English and my French didn’t stretch to explaining that my boat was sinking and I need help. Next I dialed 112 and again language was a problem. While I was trying to obtain help I had lifted the engine access panel (which luckily wasn’t screwed down) and carried on pumping. As the water level dropped all then became clear.

The Volvo lip seal stern gland had come off the rubber tubing that had been used to sleeve it onto the stern tube. We were now by the commercial barge wall and tied up, so at least we could get off the boat if we couldn’t control the water ingress. Having had no luck in summoning any assistance and not knowing what else to do I called Solent Coastguard in the UK (superb!) and they managed to raise a response from the French emergency services.

Whilst waiting for arrival of the emergency service my mother continued pumping to keep the water level under control whilst I tried everything I could to get the stern gland back over the rubber tube. I was not successful and there was not enough space to be able to get the sleeve off the stern tube. In the end the solution to reducing the ingress of water was a pair of mole grips on the shaft pushing the rubber tube and the stern gland together.

Everything was then much more under control when, out of nowhere, a police boat, fireboat, police cars, fire engine and ambulance all arrived. They got on board had a look and at first thought this was all a fuss about nothing until I showed them the inside of the boat. The firemen added some grease and material around the join between the stern gland and rubber tube to stop the leak down to a trickle and sent a diver over to add the grease into the stern tube around the prop shaft on the outside while the police inspected my ICC and questioned the purpose of our trip. All was going well until they advised us that as the boat was now not at risk of sinking it would have to remain where it was until it could be towed to Port Arsenal on the Monday and gave us some contact numbers. We pleaded to be towed to Port Arsenal so that the boat was somewhere where we could easily get on and off it, but they had helped as much as they could and it was now down to us.

As my mother couldn’t get on or off the boat easily we ended up checking into a hotel about 10 minutes walk away. We assumed that there would be no problem getting a tow and convinced ourselves that Port Arsenal would have a work boat that could come and get us. No such luck, and furthermore, when I explained what had happened to the lady at Port Arsenal, she said she must call the fire brigade! I told her not to as they had already been and wouldn’t do anything, but she ignored me and, when we went to pump out the boat, this time we have 2 fire boats a police boat, 2 fire engines, 2 police cars and an ambulance waiting! Luckily they were very understanding and accepted that it was Port Arsenal that had made the call against our wishes. Again, however, they didn’t offer us a tow so we were still stranded.

On the Monday the only company we could contact, and then only after much assistance from the lock keeper, quoted me 1,900 euro for a 16km tow. I had stupidly only taken out third party insurance so I couldn’t just get the insurance company to deal with it (big mistake and I am now fully comp and will remain so forever more!) and so I had a choice of spending 1,900 euro or come up with another plan. The whole week was spent on the phone and Internet trying to get some help or action from someone in France, but, being August, this was an incredible challenge. We even sat for days with a sheet over the side of the boat asking for a tow, but the only person who was willing to help spoke to his insurance company to check it wouldn’t be an issue and of course it was, so that glimmer of hope faded.

By this time we had decided our only hope of getting anything to happen soon would be to get an outboard (the one I had was still in bits as while trying to service it a bolt had snapped.). Even buying an outboard in France in August was impossible around Paris or the North.

Eventually, I bought a 5hp Yamaha engine over the phone from a shop in Brighton and was able to get some friends to agree to collect it and drive it over to me, which they did, delivering it on the following morning. When it arrived we tried attaching it to my inflatable tied to the side of the boat but this was not satisfactory for a 16km journey, so it was off to the DIY store to buy wood and bolts to build a frame. This was secured onto the pushpit by rope and allowed the engine to hang over the starboard side of the boat. This worked a treat and soon we were on our way down to Paris. The only problem with this outboard frame was that we had no reverse, but going slowly and carefully meant that this wasn’t a huge issue and the only lock we had to worry about was the one to enter into Port Arsenal. We were finally set off at 16.00 arriving at the lock entrance at 18.00. As the outboard was new, it had to be run conservatively, but even at quarter revs it pushed the boat along the canals at 3.3knots. It was such a relief to have Tumeegun back in a marina and not moored against a rough wall where every time a barge went past she was thrown around. It was also great to be able to sleep on board.

So it had taken four and a half months, nearly half the planned duration, just to get as far as Paris. Although Tumeegun was mobile again there was still the issue of a permanent repair to the stern gland, and then getting the boat to the Med and beyond, which I will share with you in the next Bulletin.
Brian Cairns