RNLI's Helensburgh Lifeboat Station website
so there's no hiding the fact that we broke down in the middle of the Firth of Clyde. There's a story, of course there's a story... but you're going to have to wait for the full version. Here are the bare bones...
We set off from the Bowling Sea Lock shortly after 1600, a little ahead of the top of the tide at 1725. Our sweet, warm send-off party (Jimmy, Gerry, Colin & Anne) had immediate validation of the furrows on their brows as I turned 50 yards out of the lock and sailed directly over the breakwater (it stands well above water at low tide) instead of proceeding to the exit. What they couldn't see that we were greeted, on exit, by an enormous wave, the wake of a passing tug. I had no choice but to turn and meet it head on or we would have been flipped before we even left to wreck dock. The wee yacht that came out with us was tossed about like a paper cup.
But there we were, off at last. That beautiful river all about us and the exhaust roaring in our ear (Jimmy has made a high extension for tidal waters). Our trusty crew for the day was Mike Storry, Adrian and Billy Billy Billy... singing in the galley again; oh Peccadillo was smiling. At Dumbarton Rock we tested the radio back to Bowling and Alec said the signal was weak so we tested it on the Clyde Coastguard. It's quite something getting past the embarrassment of talking on the vhf radio (yes sweeties, even for me). I mean
Clyde Coastguard Clyde Coastguard Clyde Coastguard
This is Peccadillo Peccadillo Peccadillo
You just feel like such a pratt. But as the communications progress you come to grasp the reason for all the formality... the form of it that makes it clear who's saying what when in the rush of wind and water... and the roar of the engine. Mike found this exhaust noise most disconcerting and Adrian, and engineeery sort, began to suggest all sorts of baffle solutions. But me? The closer I am to the heartbeat of my engine the happier I am, and she was running so sweet I didn't mind the noise at all.
We never did find the raft though we did see some old timber posts that could easily have been mistaken for people... we abandoned the search and carried on. The sea was slight but the wind, between a F2 and a F3 began to make a nuisance of itself as the tide turned against it. For any other vessel it would be a giggle but the wind resistance and uncomfotable water makes the engine work doubly hard and I decided that it would indeed be Sanbank (Dunoon) and not Rothesay (as we had tentatively hoped) that we aimed for this night. The engine is the bottom line for me and I've come to know when she's working hard... as Joe says, just continuously running that engine for 5, 6, 7 hours... it adds up. The temperature was sitting lovely and I just kept the throttle comfortable but that dastardly wind kept our speed below 5 knots (over the ground), even when the tide started to trundle.
As we passed the Coastguard at Greenock point the sea began to rough up a bit. Although the recorded wind was still relatively slack, there seem to be ribbons of fast stuff that whip along, and then there was the wash, broadside, of those blasted ferries. Anyway, Pecc was managing it all well, but after nearly 5 hours of uncomfortable water I wanted to check the prop shaft coupling (on the nastiness of the Forth a couple of bolts came loose). I asked Mike to ease back on the throttle, count to five (to let the prop shaft stop spinning so I could look at it) and then carry on.
Here was the mistake. As the throttle slowed some shaken up sludge settled in the pipe, and as he opened it again it shlurped up against the lift pump filter and blocked it. The engine died. This is the first time I've heard that sound in 12 years (apart from the time I ran out of diesel). Nothing I could do would get her going again, bearing in mind that getting into the fuel line is out of the question as it is a mighty mission to bleed this baby. Indeed it took the mechanic and I six hours to do so the next day... Joe remotely diagnosed the problem immediately but even after we'd cleared the lift pump we kept heading off on one investigative red herring after another because we couldn't start her... even though the engine was turning over ok. But that was just it... she's a pig to bleed. Won't stop once she's going, but won't start once there's air in the line.
Anyway, blah de blah you're saying, what about he drama bit... Mike called in the Pan Pan (step before mayday - to warn other vessels to stay clear). The police launch was upon us in minutes because we were strategically bobbing in the MOD Submarine lane. They offered to tow us but the Coastguard said they'd prefer us to wait for the RNLI boat from Helensburgh. Peccadillo was beginning to rock rather wildly with the waves from the ferries and passing tankers and I had to ask the Police boat to shield us from them at one point. Note to self: priority in a situation like this to perhaps get the dinghy in the water to try and hold the bow to the waves... she naturally swings broadside and begins to roll really uncomfortably.
The miraculous RNLI men, Robin, Davie and Chris, were there within half an hour... in fact I think it might even have been less, and the Coastguard watched the whole drama unfold from their window! Mike and Adrian leapt into impressive action and Billy defused some of my tension with his unassailable good cheer... the bastard LOVES adventure... I don't think I'll take him again cos I want a BORING trip.
I sent a silent thank you to Jimmy, Scott and Davie Brown with who's help and advice I had attached, with great difficulty, a HUGE tow-rope right the way round the boat (danger of towing a boat like Pecc is that she can just split... or things snap off). What a mission it was but I think the whole setup made it clear to the RNLI that I had approached the journey with every possible caution, and they didn't give me a hard time at all.
Sooooo, as we hurtled into Dunoon at 6.5 knots and Stevo and the Dunoon gang set out to meet up with us in their boat, everyone was just so kind, and so busy, and so enjoying the adventure that the abject humiliation dissipated long before we got there. I marvelled at the energy of these magnificent men in their shiny yellow boots and space-age helmets; at the alacrity and strength of Mike and Adrian skipping over the top of the barge, at the indominable good mood of that Billy boy and at the relentless encouragement I've had from one and all to keep going.
But as this was all going on I stood stunned at the stern... the first time in 12 years that she has so much as missed a beat and this is fundamental to my journey. I dropped down and tried one thing after another... tried again and again to start her... sinking in disbelief. Yes I had cleaned the diesel tanks... I do it every spring (this comment for any of you who might be considering putting yourself in mortal danger by suggesting as much) and I now have a contingency plan for this event.
But the whole escapade has shaken and drained me beyond measure. Pecc feels tired too, though she warmed to our carresses the next day, Dr Stewart and I as we gently explored every bolt and wire, pipe and charge till she was sitting snug and sweet, purring again and ready to go.
To go? Where do I draw the line between adventure and irresponsibility? I have passed hundreds of boats on my journey so far... less than 1% of them moving. Dare I say the report on the RNLI website was a little pleased to have been involved (not a single canal barge callout since they opened in 1965). And here I am on MY Peccadillo in DUNOON! It's stunning... and I'm going to stop and think... for a week at least. A big think sweeties... what to do... I'm just sooooooo tired after all this preparation and trying to get the money in.... need to rest and think
Anyway... by way of therapy I did do some writing in Dunoon
Reach for the stars
and feel the ground dissolve beneath your feet.
Watch, wide eyed, as the hard facts of your life
slip out from under your searching toe
and you are left clinging to the spar of the billowing sail
of an unknown yacht
shaft of an arrow let loose to cry
Fade to mist in the suck and blow that is
the air in your lungs,
to the one hard fact...
that you are everything and nothing
even the questions are no longer your own
all you can do