Over the last few months I have been on the list for filling in any spaces that might be available on the Clipper Race training courses. I really don’t mind which level, I am just happy for the opportunity to get any extra experience. So I was really excited to be given the chance to repeat Level 2. It was all organised, my travel tickets were booked, then literally three days before I was due to go, my mobile rang and it was Ben, our Race Director, who said I was no longer needed. I was gutted, my bag was packed and I was ready to go, my train ticket was in my purse and my overnight accommodation booked too. Ben had a plan! I could join a level 1 course and the great news was that it was being led by Chris Kobusch last years, 3rd placed race skipper from the team Qingdao. The opportunity for learning those little gems of information that can only come from the experience of actually doing the circumnavigation. The rest of the gang where already on board when I arrived, my train ticket was for a Saturday level 2 start, not a Friday level 1 start so I knew I would be the last one joining the boat. The group was fabulous, they had already done their introductions and had settled into their bunks and life on board, so for the first day I was playing catch up a bit, learning names and fitting into the established routines. Most importantly working out the brew list…… OH MY GOODNESS! it was the most complicated list of hot drinks ever. Green Tea, peppermint tea, hot chocolate, black coffee, white coffee with extra milk…. hilarious! We had 15 people on board with literally 15 variations. #RACELESSON onboard limit the options! I was my lucky number 12 though so I knew it was going to be a good week.
The weather for the week was forecast to be windy, really, really windy. Storm Freya was in residence and Gareth was on his way. Gusts of up to 70 mph were forecast in the Chanel over the next few days. Saturday afternoon looked like it was going to be ok so after the morning safety brief was over and Chris had run through the plan and the procedures for hoisting the staysail and the main we set off for a quick sail. Literally to go through the evolutions of sail raising and lowering and then dash back to the safety of the marina and sit out the very worst of the weather that was forecast for Sunday. The engine had been running for about 30 minutes in the marina whilst we had been preparing to cast off. It was a tricky manoeuvre, as tide and wind were against us. It was a slow process as we had to walk the boat out from its spot up in the corner next to the 70s. We were using a combination of lines on winches to our neighbour and springs and gradually edging the boat along then reattaching to the bollards on the pontoon up to a point that Chris could use the engine to whip us out into the river. A 32 ton boat is not that straightforward to just drive out like you would in a car, so many things to think about. The effects of the tide and wind direction, speed and effects of gusts most important. All went well and we were off, 15 people huddled up in our red foulies, day glow yellow hoods up, heading out on a miserable afternoon but with huge grins plastered on our faces. It was the first time this team had sailed together and for many it was the first time on a Clipper 68. We were motoring out towards the forts in The Solent when the disaster happened. Our engine cut out! it wouldn’t restart! We had completed all the checks and it had been running fine for about an hour. What the hell was wrong???? It was an emergency situation, we had no sails up and an inexperienced crew that had never actually raised the sails on this boat before. The weather was on the cusp of being wicked and there was a steady 26 knot wind blowing with gusts much greater. Chris K was incredible, he got everyone in place and the team had the little yankee 3 raised in a flash and we were safe, sailing away from danger and back in control. No engine! but that initial panic was over.
Chris B was now in charge on deck, Chris B is one of the potential skippers for this years race, he was sailing with us to gain experience of sailing the Clipper 68s. Chris K shot down below to try to diagnose the engine problem. Jasper one of our crew had some experience with diesel engines so he went to help too. Before I knew it I was the ‘go between’, initially trying to communicate with CV7, our sister boat to arrange a tow, then getting tools and replacement filters for Jasper and Chris, getting clean diesel from our lazarette, filling in the log, passing messages between the guys on deck and what was happening down below. It was getting dark and after an hour or so of sailing up and down the channel in the Swashway we had CV7 right on our tail ready to pick us up for a tow. We had our lines ready, the Harbour Master and the Coastguard on standby. Jasper and Chris had checked all the obvious points that could make the engine fail and it was when they changed the last of the filters and we were ready to give up and accept the tow back in that we tried the engine just one more time.
I did a quick check that it was in neutral, flicked the switch to on, then heat for a second or two then hold the start switch down, IT FIRED….. IT RAN …… and it stayed running. WHOOOOOOO HOOOOOOO it was working. With the sail still up, just in case and CV7 hot on our heels we turned and headed home, in the dark with a howling gusty wind blowing. Our quick ‘couple of hours sail’ had turned into a drama but with a happy ending. Jasper and I spent the remainder of trip back to the marina washing down the stinky saloon, everything was covered in diesel, even though the guys had been careful, it got everywhere, slippy stinky stuff that is really hard to wash off with cold water. What a relief as we stuck our heads out of the hatch to see Spinnaker Tower and the entrance to our marina. We had made it! I know it might sound odd, but that day was one of the best days for me of this training course. I learnt way more about diesel engines than I could have dreamt. I would feel confident now to perform some of those diagnostics, checking the lines, coolant, changing the filters, taking a fuel sample from the day tank using a selection of bits cobbled together from what we could find onboard. So thank you to Jasper and Chris for letting me be ‘the gofer’ and contributing to the team that saved the day. Our conclusion was that as the engine hadn’t been run out on the water since last October there was some build up of bits settled at the bottom of the day tank. When the engine was really running, under pressure, rather than just ticking over, the bits blocked the filters and therefore the fuel could not get through. It was time to put the kettle on and make everyone a well-earned hot drink, it was a late finish that night after a long day. When everything had been stowed, our meal had been cooked and stories of great adventure and derring-do regaled it was time to climb up into my bunk, pull up the leacloth and sleep soundly until 6am next morning ready for a new day and a new challenge.